Sam Saideman of Innovo Management: Five Things You Need To Successfully Manage A Remote Team

Weekly video chat happy hours are a great way to create culture without having to break quarantine. Something we did which I thought was a cool little initiative — I gave everyone in the company a $25.00 reimbursable fund as long as the money spent was on supporting a local business. Ordering food from a local restaurant and tipping the driver well, or buying bands merch, etc. Whatever it was, I think things like that help staff to feel more involved in supporting the community, which is vital right now.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Saideman, Co-Founder and CEO of Innovo Management, LLC,

Sam drives his company’s vision and success by managing beloved artists YONAS, danny G, Sansol the Artist, and Sam Johnston. With a background ranging from performance and booking to publishing and marketing for a global distribution company, Sam has acquired a wealth of experience that he leverages in his daily management strategies.

Sam has directly created, implemented, and managed label budgets for marketing campaigns on projects that include Thompson Square, CeeLo Green, LIT, Cherub, Method Man, and more. In 2015, 2016, and 2019, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and Nashville Entrepreneur Center nominated Sam for Young Entrepreneur of the Year. This followed awards and recognition from President Barack Obama and Nashville Mayor David Briley for his work in the community and execution of successful benefit concerts.

While Innovo has experienced over 200% year-over-year growth, the early days of the company and Sam’s discovery of his business acumen are what defines his entrepreneurial journey. As an immigrant from London, England who moved to New York in 2001, his lower-middle class upbringing taught him early on that there’s no substitute for hard work. By the age of 18, Sam had worked in real estate, property management, door-to-door sales, marketing, and any other educational opportunities that he could get his hands on. Living in an urban environment like New York, Sam was immediately immersed in the culture of HipHop and decided to switch his focus away from general business and move it towards the music industry as an artist. At 19 years old, he had signed with an independent record label in Philadelphia. After being promised the world, he was given nothing, resulting in a legal battle over his work. At this point, Sam discovered his true passion; providing a place focused on fair treatment and artist-centered career development. One year later, along with his business partner Ian Rodriguez, Innovo Management was LLC’d.

Innovo Management now employs 8 staff members, all of whom handle digital marketing and release strategy for the company’s project management services, leaving Sam to fully focus on the artist management roster and general business growth. A three time college dropout who believes in a sink or swim mentality with low barrier to entry businesses, Sam Saideman passionately empowers artists to create sustainable careers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Sam! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

In the spirit of keeping it short, I’m a Nashville based Entrepreneur and Artist Manager who Co-Founded Innovo Management in 2014. I was born in London, England and moved to New York when I was 7 years old. I used to make Hip-Hop music, and through a dispute with a label over ownership and budgets, I discovered my business tenacity. This led me to move to Nashville and pursue music business. Other than that, I have a puppy named Grace, a girlfriend named Molly, and I love to watch and play soccer, that’s basically it!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Hard to choose one, but I’d probably say getting to book a European headline run for a client without a booking agent handling was pretty…interesting. Also, getting to speak at Universities Entrepreneurship classes as a three-time college dropout is always an interesting experience. I try to never say no to opportunities to learn, teach, and create!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My Business partner, Ian and I started Innovo as transfer students at University. We used to store Innovo merchandise in our dorm room and every time we sold something, that cash would go in a little jewelry box in our dorm. We soon realized that a bank account would be a safer method to cash management, haha. Some of the best times of running a business are during those unknowns though! Blissful ignorance.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Feed your employees. Feed them with opportunities to try things and learn, opportunities to make mistakes, and opportunities to create and manage their own ideas. I think something Ian and I have always done a good job of is making sure that our employees feel both valued as humans and valued as staff members. If someone has an idea, we give them the space, connections (if we have them,) and funds (if needed and justified) to run with those ideas. Our staff feels a sense of ownership behind Innovo. That’s vital to future growth! You can also feed them in the more literal sense! We try to do a monthly lunch on Innovo as well as an annual company retreat, which we just started in 2019!

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Well the first few years of the business we had part-time staff that would go home for summer breaks and had to work remotely. We don’t love it because some of our best ideas come from being in an office together and breaking out into brainstorms, things that are frustrating us, etc. Up until recently, my Assistant has been remote as well. I always want to give people the freedom and flexibility to do those things, but it’s always a little bit harder to get the ancillary things done. I also find as a boss that I don’t delegate as well when I’m remote. I tend to just handle things rather than having to type out a whole explanation.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

I touched on this a bit above, however I’d say the biggest is keeping the energy levels and enthusiasm as high as in-person. I’m blessed with a team now that I know will get the work done wherever they are, because they’re awesome and they truly believe in the mission of putting musicians first. I’d say some other struggles of managing a remote team include delegating effectively, staying in constant and close contact, and making sure that any internal frustrations are met and chatted about. It’s a lot easier to see how people are doing when you’re in an office together. Things tend to brew more behind the scenes when working remote for extended periods of time.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Check in with your staff frequently. Set up weekly check in calls and take the time out of your day to make sure staff have the right work on their plates and don’t feel underutilized or overworked.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Ooo, that’s a good one! I utilize video calls. My team has all had to download Skype over this break (I refuse to use a product as terrible as Zoom.) If I have to say anything that may be perceived as harsh, I always try to do it over a video chat so those indicators of it being constructive can still be picked up.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I provide extensive reasoning behind the feedback. If I feel like something wasn’t done properly, why do I feel it wasn’t done properly and what did I do to hinder the success of something? Sometimes it’s as simple as having unnecessary tasks on an employee’s plate. My team knows that the NY in me can sometimes be very direct, but they also know that if it sounds harsh it’s because I’m passionate about helping artists. Same way back to me.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

If you’ve never done it, set firm structure to it. Check in with everyone in the morning, set a weekly call, and make sure you’re supporting them more than you ever have. You don’t realize how often you’re being a team member when you’re in an office, until you’re not in an office for months! If you’re not intentional about it, people will feel undervalued quickly.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Weekly video chat happy hours are a great way to create culture without having to break quarantine. Something we did which I thought was a cool little initiative — I gave everyone in the company a $25.00 reimbursable fund as long as the money spent was on supporting a local business. Ordering food from a local restaurant and tipping the driver well, or buying bands merch, etc. Whatever it was, I think things like that help staff to feel more involved in supporting the community, which is vital right now.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m not sure about being “a person of great influence” however, I’m a pretty big advocate for mental health. I think with the growth of social media, more and more people are getting sucked into a hamster wheel of FOMO and weighing their lives against others. I try to use my social media platforms to post everyday life stuff rather than over glossing only the bullet point moments.

I’m constantly talking about being unapologetically yourself and am involved with charities such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The movement I’d hope to inspire would be centered around being yourself without the concerns of how others might react. If we did more of that, people would truly live life how they want to!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s not ready, aim, fire, it’s ready, fire, aim.”

That quote has resonated with me for years. It was a large catalyst for launching Innovo. I see people all the time strategizing for years and then by the time they’re ready to launch, they missed their time. I learn by doing. Throw me in the deep end and I’ll either sink or swim!

“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”

Goes along with the quote above. Keep trying things and keep pivoting!

Thank you for these great insights!


Sam Saideman of Innovo Management: Five Things You Need To Successfully Manage A Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Janeen Gelbart of Indiggo: Five Things You Need To Successfully Manage A Remote Team

Have a few key, clear shared priorities for the organization. This will enable your people to focus on what matters most vs. trying to do it all. If done with transparency, this builds trust, decreases stress and provides a framework for thriving.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janeen Gelbart.

Janeen is the CEO and co-founder of Indiggo, a company that has been dedicated to creating Return On Leadership for over 15 years. Indiggo has reinvented strategy execution for leaders through an AI driven tech platform and a fresh approach to leading successfully in today’s world. She spearheaded Indiggo’s transformation from a premier boutique consultancy to a highly innovative tech company that continues to drive leaders and their organizations to excellence. Never satisfied with the status quo, Janeen relentlessly engages herself and others in being the best they can.

Thank you for joining us Janeen. What is your “backstory”?

I was an entrepreneur from birth. Always looking for opportunity and challenging the status quo and any arbitrary structures or rules. Always been passionate about going to the core of an issue, person or challenge; seeing patterns, reading signals and creating focused, fresh, action-based solutions. I started my first company in Paris, when I was fresh out of college, where we achieved significant growth. It was not easy against all odds as a female entrepreneur in France during that time. I sold that company prior to moving to the United States, where I co-founded Indiggo. The company was founded with intention and purpose; knowing how hard we work and wanting to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives vs. just doing business. There are great ripple effects we can create through impacting leaders who in turn impact others. The paradox is that, despite having worked in strategy for many years, I actually have more of an organic approach to life. I thrive on seeing opportunities, seizing them with a clear vision of success, and then figuring the journey out dynamically along the way. My driving forces have always been a big bias for clarity, action vs. theory, directness/truth, not settling for less than excellence and always truly caring about those around me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In a general sense, I think your career is more about what you make happen than what happens to you. As a young, inexperienced entrepreneur in Paris running an unknown company, I decided very early on to approach the largest relevant customer in Europe. They ended up becoming our customer and changing the trajectory and growth of our company significantly. I learned early that, despite the nerves, doubts and odds, it is often easier to go straight to interacting with leaders at the top where often these leaders are there because they are less fearful of taking risks to improve their business. This approach can make things happen much faster.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

I tend to make funny mistakes in general, so that can’t really be isolated to when I started my career. I have many stories, but one is when I forgot my microphone was on when I was off stage…unfortunately I noticed because I heard my voice seemingly come out of the guy who was then on stage in front of a large room of execs! Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? Keep your sense of humor and leverage perspective so as not to sweat the small stuff!

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Have a few key, clear shared priorities for the organization. This will enable your people to focus on what matters most vs. trying to do it all. If done with transparency, this builds trust, decreases stress and provides a framework for thriving.

Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team, while others have just started, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve had to collaborate closely and drive results with remote stakeholders from the onset of my career.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team?

Many of these are challenges that already exist in non-remote teams. Lack of alignment, lack of shared clarity, lack of focus, misunderstanding or misinterpreting information, missed goals, and lack of the human side of interaction. I think that we were already flying blind before the massive shift to remote work and that these have just been accentuated by remote work.

Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Don’t do this in writing until you have had a conversation. Provide specific examples to ensure shared understanding. Brainstorm together on how to improve the issue, but also be ready with a few concrete suggestions in mind. Acknowledge what they are doing well to begin with (the recommended ratio is three positive aspects to each area of improvement). Give context to explain why this improvement matters. Ask them what they think, where disconnects may have been created and how to put in place structures to succeed better moving ahead. Agree on specific next steps with clear ownership. Always follow up in writing.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Don’t do it.

Can you share any suggestions on effective leadership styles/actions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Don’t schedule too many meetings to compensate for being remote. Find a happy medium by having regular, brief scheduled video huddles to keep the human connection and see how they’re doing. Regularly align on the few vital areas of focus to ensure you’re not overloading them with too many demands. Strategically include time proactively to brainstorm and have conversations that may have happened more organically before.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

One of the most important roles of a leader is to create regular ongoing clarity on the few areas of focus that will create the greatest results for the organization. It’s then up to each business unit to do the same. We live in a world where strategy can no longer be static and organizations need to be agile and redirect resources quickly and efficiently. Part of the alignment needed to do this is to also agree to what to say no to in order to have the capacity to redirect resources. Mechanisms must be put in place to have full transparency on focus and capacity throughout the organization. This empowers people at every level to be able to make ongoing choices and decisions that support their success and the organizations success.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Living with clarity on, and in alignment with core purpose — if every individual was clear on the most inspiring purpose for their lives, and every group of people/organization remained clear on their ultimate most inspiring collective purpose, the choices and ensuing actions could only result in life and the world becoming a much better place for all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Anything is possible!


Janeen Gelbart of Indiggo: Five Things You Need To Successfully Manage A Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Kinyatta E. Gray: Five Things You Can Do To Develop More Grit

Follow your inner voice. Before my mom transitioned in 2018, many months prior I received thoughts and messages that I had never quite experienced before. The messages were distinct and clear, encouraging me to spend as much time with my mom as possible. I later realized my inner voice was guiding me in that directions because those moments I spent with her, eventually were my last. I was extremely grateful that I followed my inner voice. Trust your inner voice.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kinyatta E. Gray. Kinyatta wrote and published her first book in 2019, a memoir, called 30 Days: Surviving the Trauma and Unexpected Loss of a Single Parent as an Only Child. Kinyatta’s aspirations to become an author were as a result of a heart-gripping moment in her mom’s final moments of life. She committed to honoring her mother’s legacy by becoming a published author. Kinyatta eventually wrote and released two more books for a total of three books in six-months in 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?

The pleasure is all mine. Yes, I became a published author in 2019 for one reason only and that reason was to honor the legacy of my mother. My mother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in 2018. Before her transition she was a writer, who often wrote scripts for plays, narratives, blogs and songs! However, her dream was to one day become a published author. Sadly, she did not fulfill that dream, therefore I wrote a book called: “30 Days: Surviving The Trauma and Unexpected Loss Of A Single Parent As An Only Child” in honor of her.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

After my mother’s untimely death in 2018, I battled with the onset of Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety. I also experienced bouts of suicidal ideation during my darkest hours of grief. Losing my only parent knocked me off of my feet and turned my world inside out. I was suddenly a “motherless” daughter and didn’t know how I would face life without her. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. However, I found the strength, courage and determination to forge ahead and to complete my goal of becoming a published author despite the emotional hardships. I possessed Grit.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The drive came from within. After a few months had gone by, I wanted to channel my grief into action. I decided that I would spend the rest of my life being impactful and inspirational to others who have lost their parents. I made a commitment not to abandon my mother’s spirit and I wanted to start a movement encouraging others not to abandon their deceased loved one’s spirit, but rather find a way to stay connected with their deceased loved ones and by following their inner voice. I yearned to honor my mother’s memory and I also sought to create a legacy of my own. I did this through writing and becoming a published author.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Grit led to my success because my emotional pain fueled the courage, passion, energy and the commitment that it took for me to write and release three books in six-months. In 2020, I wrote and released two more books: “Passing As Straight: Beautiful Women’s Whose Sexuality Went Undetected by a Judgmental Society” and, “From Section 8 To CEO”. The common theme between all of my books is facing the unthinkable, survival, walking in your truth and following your inner voice.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?

Here are 5 pieces of advice on how one can develop Grit:

  1. Define your “why” purpose or passion. After losing my mom suddenly in 2018, I needed a will to go on. My desire to go on was fueled by my unstoppable desire to honor my mother’s legacy by writing a book and becoming a published author.
  2. Pursue your purpose or passion. I identified my “why” for wanting to become a published author, thereafter it became imperative for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work. With no prior experience as an author, the task was quite overwhelming, however I was committed to my “why” and stayed the course. I didn’t only write and release one book, I wrote and released three books in six-months.
  3. Learn to face obstacles instead of running from them. Losing my mom was very traumatic, however, instead of succumbing to the pain and despair, I decided to face it, and I shifted my thinking to that of a survivor and have worked hard every day to inspire others who have lost their parent or loved ones to do the same thing.
  4. Follow your inner voice. Before my mom transitioned in 2018, many months prior I received thoughts and messages that I had never quite experienced before. The messages were distinct and clear, encouraging me to spend as much time with my mom as possible. I later realized my inner voice was guiding me in that directions because those moments I spent with her, eventually were my last. I was extremely grateful that I followed my inner voice. Trust your inner voice.
  5. Practice being bold every day. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I spent several years concealing parts of my identity from strangers for fear of discrimination. One day, I decided to let go of my fear, be bold and courageous and walk in my truth. I have walked in my truth ever since.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

My spouse of 3-years has held me up during my darkest hours (after losing my mom), during my most trying times (raising two children) and during the most ambitious moments of my life (launching my business FlightsInStilettos, LLC and during my authorship journey). Having her support on my road to success is a key factor in my achieving success.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have used my success by sharing my stories of survival, grit, being unstoppable, walking in my truth and following my inner voice to inspire others not to give up and to live their best life despite the odds stacked against them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! I’m very excited about my latest project — the upcoming release of my new eBook called: So, You Want To Be An Author

A Step-by-Step Guide for Aspiring Authors

I decided to develop this guide for aspiring authors because it is the kind of practical easy to read and follow guide that I craved when I embarked on my authorship journey. Without doubt, I believe that this resource will be helpful and valuable to aspiring authors and will eventually produce more authors.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Executives should get to know their employees as people and not simply as a means to their success; show compassion and awareness of their needs as employees and create a culture of support, honesty, integrity, open communication and inclusiveness.


Author Kinyatta E. Gray: Five Things You Can Do To Develop More Grit was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Trevor Croghan of One Workplace: “Five Steps That Someone Can Take To Become More Resilient”

I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Trevor Croghan.

Third generation educator Trevor Croghan dedicated five years to middle school teaching and coaching sports in the San Francisco Bay Area before entering the business world. In 2013, he co-founded One Workplace Learning Environments — a group dedicated to designing and implementing dynamic spaces for teaching and learning. Trevor now leads four divisions across the One Workplace enterprise, the nation’s largest and most innovative organization delivering workplace solutions. Over the last decade, Trevor has consulted and collaborated on projects with IDEO, the Stanford d.school, UC Berkeley and the Office of the First Lady of the United States. Trevor received his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from the University of Montana and an EMBA from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I come from a long line of educators and athletic coaches. My father and grandfather were both educational leaders and competitive swim coaches. I grew up in classrooms and on pool decks watching my family teach, coach and lead. We lived in Hayward, CA, which is one of the most diverse communities in the country. These early experiences shaped my view on family, community and leadership. My path to college was through athletics. I spent five years in Montana pursuing my history degree and teaching credential, playing football and exploring wild and remote areas of the Rocky Mountains.

Returning to the Bay Area, I joined the “family business” as a middle school teacher and high school coach. Five great years later, my experience developing young people motivated me to seek new challenges and opportunities to drive impact in education at scale. I joined One Workplace as the first education-focused salesperson and consultant in 2007.

One Workplace was the first firm in our industry to recognize a growth opportunity in education, though personally the first few years in that professional transition were rough. I felt deep guilt for leaving the family legacy in education to pursue a capitalistic endeavor. But after a few failures and lots of learning, we identified and developed a dynamic need for a different approach to learning environments and a set of services that resonated with some of the leading schools and universities in Northern California.

In 2013, I co-founded One Workplace Learning Environments, a small team focused on designing dynamic spaces for teaching and learning that is now a standalone division within the company, and the most talented education-focused group of its kind in the industry. Currently, I lead several similar divisions across the One Workplace organization and spend a lot of my time identifying opportunities and developing new offerings to serve our customers.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In 2016, our team collaborated on an education-focused initiative at IDEO called The Teachers Guild. This collaboration was neither a paid engagement nor tied to any revenue opportunity. We joined because we enjoyed spending time with the smart, purpose-driven people involved in the project. With almost zero notice, we were invited to join a presentation with the IDEO team in Washington, DC. We hopped on a plane the next day and found ourselves in a room at the White House with educational thinkers and leaders from across the country collaborating with Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” team.

This engagement led to connections with leading organizations and an opportunity to have a seat at the table with leaders shaping the national discourse in getting young people from underserved communities to and through college. The key takeaway from the experience was my realization that some of the most impactful partnerships in my professional career were forged by diving in based on the quality of people involved, not the immediately evident business opportunity.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One Workplace is a 90-year-old, family-owned company, and we’re also a wildly entrepreneurial and innovative organization. Our founder, Elmo Ferrari, started by delivering books and office supplies to customers in downtown San Jose on a bicycle. He’d end every delivery with the simple question “What else can I do for you?” Over the years, that question has led the company to continually evolve to meet our customers’ needs, adding solutions and services. It also allowed One Workplace to grow, innovate in our industry and become a leader in the market. And we recognize how fortunate we are to be operating in the heart of Silicon Valley, working with some of the world’s leading innovators. One Workplace has been able to thrive because of this winning combination of the company’s humble beginnings, authentic commitment to service, entrepreneurial spirit and partners who challenge us.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m deeply grateful to Jan Hahn, a true friend and mentor. Jan was a consummate professional, and a veteran leader in our industry. While not an educator, she saw the potential for our company in the education vertical market and went on a search for someone with the passion, background and skillset to build upon. Jan saw something special in me and invested in a young educator with absolutely no business experience. She committed personal time and resources to “show me the ropes” and mold some pretty rough clay into a solid business professional.

After working together for several years to validate our model and build our business plan and strategy, Jan became very ill. She had to step back from the business to focus on her health. One Workplace Learning Environments launched with Jan on the sidelines. Over a two year period, we started, failed early, found our footing and ultimately began to experience some success. During all this, Jan was fighting for her health and unable to fully participate in the realization of her concept which was crushing to her and to me. Sadly, Jan succumbed to her illness, but I hold her in my heart and try to lead in ways that would make her proud.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I love this topic.

Resilience is an essential element of leadership and one that has deep personal meaning. I define resilience as the absolute refusal to be thwarted by the roadblocks and setbacks you’ll invariably encounter on any meaningful journey. In the face of 100 reasons why something is impossible to achieve, resilient leaders continue to pursue the ideas they believe in and thrive in the face of adversity.

I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement.

Encountering adversity is an indication that you’re on the way to building something great! Lesser leaders abandon the journey at that point. The ability to stare adversity in the face and overcome obstacles is what separates the wheat from the chaff. The ability to anticipate adversity, and to confront and overcome it, is a hallmark of resilience and great leadership.

Resilience is a painful muscle to develop, but those who exercise it are primed for success.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My first thought is my cousin and goddaughter, Korrine Croghan. She was born on my 16th birthday, and we had a special bond from the very beginning. We often spent time together and deeply enjoyed one another. When she was 14, Korrine was diagnosed with Choriocarcinoma, a rare pediatric cancer. She battled the disease bravely, always stared it straight in the face. As the cancer progressed and she endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, her grit and positivity inspired everyone around her. Her struggle with cancer brought together not only our family but her greater community.

Unfortunately, we lost Korrine after a 10-month battle — the most heartbreaking moment of my life. Strong to the very end, she lived life with determination and a heart full of joy. We keep her spirit alive through a nonprofit organization called Team KC, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support families of pediatric cancer patients. Korrine is with me always and I still miss her immensely.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

My early years with One Workplace were marked by a series of unsuccessful endeavors. First, I joined the company on the front edge of the financial crisis — not a good time for a career pivot into sales. By the time my onboarding was complete, the market for our products and services was anemic. In the absence of a deep skill set or an established customer base, my strategy was to look for opportunities in the environment I was most familiar with and passionate about: public K-12 education. The commonly held belief in our industry at the time was that there was no market for innovative learning environments in public K-12. It was a commodity-driven, low-bid environment. Schools were primarily buying cheap, bullet-proof chair-desk combos and lining them up in rows facing the front of the classroom.

That affordable, uninspired model had been in place for the better part of a century, heavily influenced by factory production settings. When I began engaging with school districts and pitching the idea of a dynamically different approach to classroom design, I was laughed out of the room. It didn’t help that the ideas I was espousing were about 30% more expensive than the norm — generally a non-starter in education. Though I had a lot of support internally, most in the company viewed the endeavor as a fool’s errand.

Early results of the endeavor proved the doubters correct. I failed repeatedly and had very little to show after almost 2 years of effort. But then a funny thing happened — the more I learned about and pitched innovative learning environments, the more convinced I became that schools desperately needed to reimagine their physical spaces. Bringing this concept to Bay Area schools became a singular focus that I refused to abandon.

Everything changed when I elevated my conversations to the highest levels of leadership in a school district. I found a few Superintendents looking to drive dynamic change in their learning spaces and willing to experiment with pilot spaces. We implemented, iterated and measured. The results were stunning, and the projects started flowing. Today we have a thriving and profitable practice in K-12 that is serving hundreds of thousands of teachers and students.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

In our education practice, the summer season is madness. Most schools that implement large classroom projects work within a three-month window between June and August. Seventy-five percent of our volume comes in those months. One of the most challenging aspects of our work is coordinating massive product shipments with manufacturers located across the globe.

In 2016, we were planning for our largest project to date: a district-wide classroom project that involved hundreds of classrooms. As installation approached, we began getting signals that our primary supplier was having manufacturing challenges. The situation deteriorated over the summer to the point that it became apparent that the supplier was going to significantly miss delivery deadlines. To compound the issue, the district had recycled all their old classroom furniture. The classrooms were empty and the first day of school was approaching.

My conversation with the Superintendent of that district letting him know the classrooms would not be ready for school was one of the most difficult of my career. He trusted us and staked his reputation on our project. I felt like a failure and had a deep sense of shame around the situation. But leaving the district without furniture was simply not an option.

We engaged with some of our largest corporate customers to borrow tens of thousands of tables and chairs from their storage facilities. We delivered these items to the district at no cost and were able to open school with furniture in every room. Almost 2 months later, the new items arrived, and we completed a dynamic refresh in every classroom.

Our relationship with the district actually improved as a result of this near-catastrophic situation. The Superintendent appreciated our honesty, communication and creative problem-solving. The district went on to become our largest customer over the next several years and a source of countless referrals.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

During my sophomore year in high school, my mother fell into a deep depression. For the better part of a year, she was bedridden and unable to function. She was in such a dark place that she attempted to take her own life. She survived the attempt, but this was the most challenging period of my young life.

Through this experience, I learned several important lessons. First, depression is real and can be devastating. Taking care of yourself is paramount. You can’t be good for anyone else unless you are good to yourself. I also came to realize that almost everyone is dealing with a challenge that is often invisible, even when all seems well externally. Many of the people we encounter every day are fighting a silent battle that we never see.

Today my mother is strong and vibrant. She is an incredible grandmother and a pillar in her community. She is forthright about her battle with depression and spends a lot of time mentoring other women through her church and in the recovery community. Seeing her take mental illness head-on and learn to thrive has been an inspiration to me. I love and admire my mom’s resilience and I’m grateful for her presence in my life.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Anticipate Adversity. The first step in the pursuit of anything meaningful is to expect the journey to come with challenges. If it was easy, someone else would already have done it.

2. Fill Your Tank. Prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally for your journey. Strength in these areas is key to resilience. Take care of yourself and stay sharp along the way. It’s amazing how much impact good sleep and regular exercise can have on your ability to navigate adversity.

3. Get a “Personal Board of Directors.” Surround yourself with strong people with skills that fill your gaps. Associate with people smarter than you. Seek truth-tellers who care enough about you to call you on your bullshit. A team like this will keep you honest and act as your rudder in rough waters.

4. Roll with The Punches. When you get knocked down the first time, bounce back up with a smile and renewed determination. Identify the reasons you faltered and fill those gaps. There’s nothing more discouraging to someone trying to defeat you than when their best punch fails to knock you out.

5. Give Generously. This one might seem out of place, but I think it is an essential element of resilience. Generosity is energy-giving. It allows you to step outside of yourself, develop empathy and focus on the needs of others. Your giving can come in the form of time, skills or resources. Give more than you think you can, and you’ll be surprised by the strength it returns.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d spark a movement to get people outside while they are learning and working. I’m a huge believer in the restorative power of the outdoors. Fresh air and natural light are an abundantly available resource that could radically improve people’s experiences if spaces were thoughtfully designed to handle the challenges associated with being outside.

With today’s reality of questioning how we will safely gather in large groups indoors, we have an amazing opportunity to reimagine how outdoor spaces can become an integral part of the working, learning and healing experience. We’re thinking about this idea a lot right now and looking for organizations willing to explore creative ways to come together outside of traditional four-walled settings.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I’m a huge fan of Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce, and would love to share a meal with him. I admire the culture he has developed within his organization and his leadership. Mark is committed to using his platform and personal wealth as tools to drive impact in causes he is passionate about. I aspire to reach levels of influence and success that will allow me to give generously and drive change in similar ways.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trevor-croghan-9866b32/

My Instagram handle is @trevcrog

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on an important topic. I really enjoyed the conversation.


Trevor Croghan of One Workplace: “Five Steps That Someone Can Take To Become More Resilient” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Barbara Duffield & SchoolHouse Connection Are Helping People To…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Barbara Duffield & SchoolHouse Connection Are Helping People To Overcome Homelessness Through Education

A number of years ago, a college student attended a workshop I was conducting at a national conference. She mentioned her struggles with the financial aid office (she was an unaccompanied homeless youth, and the financial aid office kept giving her a hard time about documenting her status, despite federal policies in place requiring financial aid administrators to remove these barriers). I connected the student to people in her home state who I knew really well — people I knew would advocate for her directly in all areas of her life. I also stayed in contact with her. Over the next few years, she experienced many challenges, including having nowhere to go during academic breaks and serious mental health struggles resulting from her traumatic childhood. A number of adults, myself included, pulled together to help her address these various needs, one by one, as they came up. This student not only graduated, but also became a tremendous advocate for other youth experiencing homelessness. For this student, like many students in our Youth Leadership and Scholarship program, advocacy can be both effective and therapeutic. In seeing her own power to change systems and impact the lives of other people, she came to more fully believe in herself and value her own agency.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Duffield.

Barbara Duffield is Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education. Barbara began her career as a tutor for children experiencing homelessness in Washington DC in 1990, served as the Director of Education for the National Coalition for the Homeless from 1994–2003, and as the Director of Policy and Programs for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in Washington D.C from 2003–2016. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan.)

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up in rural Michigan, the youngest (by seven minutes — I’m a twin) of four children. My parents were both raised in blue-collar families: my paternal grandfather worked in the steel mills of PA, my maternal grandfather was a butcher in a small village in OH, and neither of my grandmothers were allowed to finish high school. My parents were the first in their respective families to attend college, and my father ultimately became a children’s dentist. My parents worked incredibly hard to make sure that I had the opportunity to go to college. Coming from a rural community, I was enthralled to meet new people from different backgrounds at the University of Michigan in the late 1980s. It was there that the seeds of advocacy were planted and blossomed.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

When I first moved to Washington DC, I interned at Foreign Policy Magazine (my interest was international affairs, at the time). A copy editor took me under her wing and introduced me to Project Northstar, an after-school tutoring program for children experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia. Working one-on-one with children in Project Northstar was transformative. I saw their endless possibilities and potential — the same abilities and aspirations as any other child — but also the grueling deep generational poverty that threatened their futures. Seeing them struggle — but also seeing them succeed — inspired me to focus on education as a lasting pathway out of homelessness, one that transfers across generations. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to create and grow scholarship programs, and through them, I’ve been a part of many young people’s journey to self-realization through education. “It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” Brown v. Board of Education.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

In the big cities you mentioned, there has been a significant increase in visible homelessness — that is, homelessness principally among single adults living on the streets. But family, child, and youth homelessness is both longstanding and far less visible, because families with children and unaccompanied homeless youth are rarely visible on the streets or in encampments. Instead, most stay with other people temporarily because they have nowhere else to go, or in motels, or moving between many unstable situations. Family, child, and youth homelessness has never been only an urban problem, and it’s hardly a recent one. Nevertheless, it has gotten worse over the years. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, public schools identified and enrolled 1.5 million homeless children and youth, aged preK-12 — that’s the highest number on record. The U.S. Department of Education also estimates an additional 1.4 million children under age six are experiencing homelessness.

The causes of increases in homelessness are complex, and vary across regions. In some areas, the lack of affordable housing has gotten worse; in other areas, the opioid and methamphetamines crises have contributed. Deep poverty persists, particularly for young children. Domestic violence remains a leading causal factor for families, as does abuse and neglect, and the abject failure of the child welfare system for youth who are homeless on their own. Systemic racism, across all systems, has a pervasive impact on homelessness.

I’d also argue that the homelessness assistance system, such as it is, has contributed to increasing homelessness: the move to quick-fix, one-size-fits-all housing models; the defunding of services; and the de-prioritization and exclusion of most youth and families who experience homelessness from homeless services have contributed to entrenched homelessness. The bottom line is that we aren’t addressing the complex root causes, we aren’t supporting individualized and community-based solutions, and we aren’t prioritizing youth and families — we’re just trying to get the most visible people experiencing homelessness out of sight, without recognizing the steady stream into street homelessness, much of which begins in childhood.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

There isn’t such a thing as a typical progression into homelessness, but we do know that many homeless adults have histories of childhood homelessness. Many homeless adults actually did not start out as healthy young people with stable places to live, a job, an education, and a family, and with a social, and community support system. Instead, homelessness is often a multi-generational phenomenon. For example, 20% of unsheltered homeless adults in Los Angeles indicated that they first experienced homelessness when they were under age 18, and 25% when they were young adults between the ages of 18–24. In Seattle, 18% of homeless adults indicated that their first experience of homelessness occurred when they were under age 18, and 27% when they were between the ages of 18–24. And in the state of Minnesota, more than half (52%) of homeless adults surveyed first became homeless by the time they were age 24, and over one-third (36%) first became homeless at or before age 18.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) also are correlated with adult homelessness. Examples of ACEs include emotional abuse, neglect, mental illness, parental separation and substance abuse. As the number of ACEs in a person’s life accumulate, the likelihood of experiencing homelessness increases. In Minnesota, the majority (73%) of homeless adults had experienced at least one ACE, and over half (59%) reported multiple ACEs. For each ACE reported by homeless adults, the average age of the first episode of homelessness drops considerably.

Finally, some of the best research on pathways into homelessness comes from a study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. The study found that lack of a high school degree or GED is the single greatest risk factor associated with homelessness as a young adult, followed by having a child, and having a low-income.

Taken together, these findings reveal the long-term harmful impact of ACEs and how child homelessness can lead to youth homelessness, and then adult homelessness, where children of homeless adults may start the cycle again.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

People experiencing homelessness — which includes children, youth, and families — do not have the resources to move. In the case of families, it is also difficult to move with children. Youth who are homeless on their own may not even be old enough to sign a lease, so the cost of housing isn’t the driving factor and won’t remedy their homelessness.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

There is no best way, because every person is a unique. I do think it is very important to acknowledge each person’s humanity, through eye contact and/or a greeting. I also think it is important to imagine that person when he or she was child, and try to understand how many children are at risk of being in that same position some day if we don’t intervene and prioritize their needs.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Again, there is no best way. Minimally, respond politely and acknowledge their presence.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

SchoolHouse Connection engages in state and federal policy advocacy, from early childhood through higher education, and also provides practical assistance to communities nationwide. We’ve led efforts to strengthen federal protections and increase resources for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. For example, our advocacy led to a 32% increase in funding for public schools to identify and support homeless children and youth over the past four years — that translates to more children identified, enrolled in school, and receiving support to make it to graduation, which is their surest path out of homelessness permanently.

At the state level, we’ve achieved state policy reforms directly impacting over 600,000 youth by leading advocacy on 23 bills in 14 states, 16 of which became law. Those 16 new state laws are making specific, tangible improvements in the lives of homeless youth in a variety of areas, including increasing access to health care, shelter, housing and services; increasing access to employment; increasing access to vital documents needed for work and school; increasing high school graduation; and increasing access to and success in post-secondary education.

We work equally hard on making sure that laws are implemented robustly and with fidelity, which means creating and sustaining best practices locally, whether through tools like child-proofing checklists for shelters, assisting counselors with credit accrual for high school students, or removing barriers to financial aid for homeless youth in college. We also play a convening role, bringing early care providers, educators, and service providers together to share innovations and create action plans through webinars and trainings.

Finally, we support a Youth Leadership and Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to youth who have experienced homelessness to ensure their completion of a post-secondary education program. Our program also builds a stable peer and adult support network, and offers young people meaningful opportunities to engage in advocacy. Through this program, we ensure that all of our work reflects the lived experiences of young people and includes them as full partners.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

The outbreak has caused even more mobility and danger for families and youth, especially those who stay with other people temporarily and thus who are not protected by eviction moratoria, and who cannot self-isolate or stay safe. Many of these families and youth were asked to leave, yet there is no shelter for them; most can’t pay for motels; and they are not a priority of the local homeless response systems. Communities have undertaken great efforts to move single adults from the streets and shelters into motel rooms, yet many families are being evicted from motels, often because they have lost their low-wage or sporadic jobs and can no longer pay.

At the same time, the closure of schools and early learning programs due to COVID-19 has been devastating. Schools and early learning programs were the one safe, stable place in the lives of children and youth experiencing homelessness — the place where their basic needs were met, and where they had a routine, normalcy, and opportunities to escape the dangers of their living situations and to focus on their futures. Now, school district homeless education personnel, and early learning family support staff, struggle to maintain contact with these students, who continue to move so often that even food delivery is challenging. And even if these students are provided devices and hotspots, the places where they are staying are not conducive to learning. The outbreak has increased their trauma, isolation, and deprivation; it has split up families, and put many in harm’s way. In short, it has created the conditions for massive and unprecedented adult homelessness down the road.

However, even with closures, schools and early learning programs are still the largest and the best source of support for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Education is the only system with the clear mandate to identify and support all children and youth experiencing homelessness, regardless of the availability of shelter. Educators are still working to find students, connect them to resources, and minimize disruption to learning. They are still a lifeline.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I’m most proud of the creation of SchoolHouse Connection. Together with one of my best friends and co-conspirators, Patricia Julianelle, we founded SchoolHouse Connection just three and a half years ago. We have a dynamic team, a large and diverse national network, and close relationships with young people and educators who inform our policy and our practice work. In a “housing ends homelessness” world, we’ve been able to maintain the integrity of our vision, which embraces education as the only permanent solution to homelessness, and we’ve achieved numerous tangible accomplishments. Starting and building a new organization has been an astonishing amount of work, but particularly now, in the midst of the national crisis of COVID-19, I am proud that SHC exists.

Prior to SHC, I’m most proud of the amendments to the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act, and to the Head Start Act of 2007. I remember the days when liaisons were not required in every school district, when the right to stay in the same school and receive transportation did not exist, when preschool was not included, nor the transition to higher education. Similarly, Head Start programs now must remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, and participation of children experiencing homelessness. Seeing the impact of these policy changes over time, and knowing the lives they’ve changed — it’s profound.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

A number of years ago, a college student attended a workshop I was conducting at a national conference. She mentioned her struggles with the financial aid office (she was an unaccompanied homeless youth, and the financial aid office kept giving her a hard time about documenting her status, despite federal policies in place requiring financial aid administrators to remove these barriers). I connected the student to people in her home state who I knew really well — people I knew would advocate for her directly in all areas of her life. I also stayed in contact with her. Over the next few years, she experienced many challenges, including having nowhere to go during academic breaks and serious mental health struggles resulting from her traumatic childhood. A number of adults, myself included, pulled together to help her address these various needs, one by one, as they came up. This student not only graduated, but also became a tremendous advocate for other youth experiencing homelessness. For this student, like many students in our Youth Leadership and Scholarship program, advocacy can be both effective and therapeutic. In seeing her own power to change systems and impact the lives of other people, she came to more fully believe in herself and value her own agency.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

  1. One of the most important things people can do is educate themselves about the realities of child, youth, and family homelessness. This means getting answers to common questions, listening to children, youth, and families, reading their perspectives, and understanding what research has to say about the role of education and services.
  2. I can’t say enough about the role of public schools, and public education. Public schools do more to address the root causes of homelessness than any other public system. But they need help, whether it is calling the local school district homeless liaison to ask what is most needed, speaking up at school board meetings, working through parent associations, or advocating for more funding for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth program.
  3. Policymakers and the public are often focused on people who are visibly homeless, who clearly need help from all levels of government and society. But if we want to address the root causes, we need to start to talk about homelessness as a children’s issue. Practically, this means talking to local, state, and federal elected officials, and asking what they are doing to address child and youth homelessness. The very act of asking, and raising the visibility of the topic, can create change.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

  1. Congress needs to support homeless and trafficked children and youth in the next COVID-19 legislation. These children and youth have been largely left out of previous coronavirus legislation. In order to prevent further harm, dedicated resources are needed through the programs and systems that are best positioned to immediately help children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness, and ensure their long-term stability.
  2. Right now, the narrow definition of homelessness used by housing agencies keeps children and youth invisible, and prevents collaboration among systems. It is a non-sensical, bureaucratic definition that doesn’t match the lived reality for youth and families, and hides the harms they experience. Ultimately, it perpetuates homelessness. The Homeless Children and Youth Act, HR 1511, would change this by amending the housing definition of homelessness to align with the education definition. Not only would this allow some of the most vulnerable children and youth to be assessed and served, it would give communities a true picture of the extent of homelessness among youth and families, and more flexibility to use homelessness funding to meet local needs. It is a desperately needed “upstream” solution.
  3. In order to have the strongest chance of success, and obtain a job that pays enough to afford housing, youth need some kind of education beyond high school. While we’ve made great progress in early childhood and K-2 education, higher education does not yet have protections and supports in place for youth who are homeless or have come from foster care. The Higher Education Access and Success Act for Homeless and Foster Youth, S. 789, H.R. 1724, removes many barriers to higher education for homeless and foster youth — barriers that we see every single day with our students. It would help ensure that these youth benefit from college access programs, have access to financial aid without burdensome and prohibitive documentation, and receive the support they need to stay in school and graduate.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

On some days, rage and indignation — at how homelessness prevents children and youth from becoming whoever they want to be, at the apologists who defend broken systems and bankrupt paradigms, at the fundamental cowardice of “leaders” on both sides of the aisle. On other days, deep connection to, respect for, and inspiration from the educators and providers in our network who are moving mountains in their communities, making real and lasting change. And on other days still — most days, in fact — genuine love for children and youth, and genuine hope as I watch the young people in our scholarship program conquer their past and build their futures. They are worth it. All of it.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I don’t know that there will be a day where this great social challenge is solved completely. Child, youth, and family homelessness is the result of many different systemic issues and personal factors. But what I do know is that no child or youth should ever have to live without a home or basic needs; every child deserves the opportunity to succeed. We should be working together — policymakers, educators, service providers, agencies, and more — to build better systems and drive solutions that get at the root causes of these issues. By centering children, youth, and education in solutions to homelessness, we can get ahead of this challenge and prevent more children from struggling as adults.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. “You will always cry.” I used to get embarrassed at my open display of emotions — sorrow, joy, sorrow again. I used to think that maybe I’d get it under control, maybe I’d get used to the stories I hear from educators, providers, parents, youth. I wish someone had told me it’s just how I’m wired. But fortunately I learned from a close colleague, a homeless school district liaison in Alaska who modeled the best professional cry behavior. She just keeps talking through her tears, never missing a beat, her tears functioning as an involuntary physical adjustment to maintain her emotional balance, like shivering when a cold breeze comes through. It’s healthy, it’s who we are. I care much less if my crying makes other people uncomfortable. Homelessness should make us all uncomfortable.
  2. “Homelessness is an industry, complete with industry lobbyists, investors, and propagandists.” I began my career at the National Coalition for the Homeless, under the tutelage of the legendary homeless activist Michael Stoops. The orientation at NCH was very much of grassroots organizing — working directly with service providers and others on the frontlines, as well as people directly impacted by homelessness. It took a while to perceive that these grassroots service providers were separate from — and often at the mercy of — a larger apparatus of funders and industry advocates who have great influence inside and outside government, and who are fundamentally disconnected from local and personal realities of homelessness. The best example of this is the staunch industry opposition to aligning the housing definition of homelessness with the education definition to match the lived realities/vulnerabilities of children, youth, and families. Even now, the industry opposes change — despite research confirming the vulnerabilities for homeless children and youth, regardless of where they sleep; despite strong support from the professionals who are working directly with children, youth, and families who meet both definitions; despite billions of dollars being appropriated for homelessness in connection with COVID-19, and billions more proposed; and despite even higher risks for children and youth who are forced to stay with others and in motels. If I had understood how deeply entrenched, tightly controlled, and powerfully established industries are — and that homelessness is an industry — I would have adopted different tactics sooner. Certainly, I would have spent less time trying to persuade people whose ties to the industry are too strong.
  3. “The good guys aren’t always good.” After college, I started out with an assumption that Republicans always would be obstacles, and Democrats always would be allies. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not an issue that breaks cleanly along party lines. Far from it. The three greatest fights of my career — opposing separate schools for children experiencing homelessness; preventing the child welfare system from abandoning its responsibility on educational outcomes; and reforming the HUD homeless system to recognize and respond to child and youth homelessness — have not been partisan battles. Even now, in an incredibly polarized, divided political landscape, one can’t make assumptions about where legislators stand on issues related to children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Realpolitik is so much more nuanced. Personally, I embraced independent status in the mid-1990s. Professionally, I wish I would have found this pragmatism sooner.
  4. “Many things can be true at once.” Earlier in my career, I was prone to over-simplification; advocates naturally prioritize the issue they think they understand the best. But my direct relationships with young people, over time, have led me to embrace complexity. The personal and the systemic are interwoven: it is both the piling on of broken systems, and the decisions that adults make, that result in child and youth homelessness. Oversimplification makes for good slogans (like “housing ends homelessness”), but addressing one aspect of a complex problem doesn’t solve it, and also sidelines some of the players (like early childhood and public schools) that have the most to contribute. In our work, we strive to connect early childhood to K-12; K-12 to higher education; higher education to early childhood; and all to housing, health, and other services. The nodes between systems are leverage points for connecting these dots.
  5. “Hazy goals produce hazy results.” My 8th grade English teacher wrote those words on the top of a writing assignment. The purported goal of “ending homelessness” or reaching “functional zero” is an example of a very hazy goal that had produced tragically unintended results. At SHC, we’ve opted for clear goals around early childhood enrollment and participation, high school graduation, and postsecondary attainment, with interim measures in each area, to advance long-term change. Keeping a laser-like focus on those goals, which are tied to so many other measures of well-being (including housing stability), helps us achieve meaningful, powerful results.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Listening. We have lost the ability to truly, deeply listen to people whose views and experiences are not our own. We’ve closed ourselves off into toxic echo-chambers, surrounding ourselves with people who affirm our views and confirm our biases. Progress on social issues like homelessness requires being able to hear out people with opposing views, and adopt a solution-oriented mindset. It also requires listening to people who have experienced homelessness — including and especially children and parents. For all the emphasis on ‘centering people with lived experience’ in homelessness advocacy, it is shocking how rarely that includes children and their parents, and how rarely what they say is heeded. There is more “youth voice” in homelessness advocacy now than ever before, which is great, but children and parents are missing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother is full of life lesson quotes. “You never know until you try,” and “The worst they can say is no,” are two of my mother’s mantras that helped me get over my childhood bashfulness, and helped pave the way toward advocacy.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I am a Muppet fanatic. Being an advisor to Sesame Street Workshop continues to be a highlight of my career, especially working on the content for the family homelessness initiative, which features Lily, a seven-year-old muppet experiencing homelessness. I never got to meet Lily “in person,” and I would love to do so. Lily is an ambassador of hope for children all over the country. Just as profoundly, she has helped adults see homelessness through the eyes of a child. I’d love to make ribbon bracelets with Lily, paint rainbows with her (adding lots of purple, her favorite color), and give her a great big hug to say “thank you” for being so brave and sharing her experiences.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.facebook.com/SchoolHouseConnection/

@SchoolHouseConn

@DuffieldBarbara

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Barbara Duffield & SchoolHouse Connection Are Helping People To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Larry Seamans & FamilyAid Boston Are Helping To Prevent…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Larry Seamans & FamilyAid Boston Are Helping To Prevent Homelessness Before It Starts

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started our staff haven’t missed a beat in providing quality services to our families. They have gone above and beyond putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver food, supplies and financial assistance to our growing number of clients. Their willingness to do whatever they need to for their clients keeps me going every day.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Seamans, President of FamilyAid Boston.

Larry Seamans assumed the role of President of FamilyAid Boston in July, 2018 bringing with him 35 years of both corporate and nonprofit experience. Larry is well-acquainted with the detrimental effect of youth homelessness, as his two older adopted children spent a large part of their early lives in homelessness, as did his Little Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Since joining FamilyAid Boston, Larry has built a number of new and strengthened nonprofit, public and private partnerships, and developed new initiatives to meet the needs the needs of one of the nation’s largest per capita number of children and children experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

I’m a second generation American. I grew up with 13 family members in a three-bedroom household. We lived that way due to economic reasons which has given me some insight into the struggles of working-class families trying to make ends meet.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

As part of my long career, I had been working as chief program officer at Pine Street Inn, the largest individual homeless program in New England, when an incredibly provocative map of the United States — designed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness came across my desk. The map illustrated the rate of family homelessness in every state across the country. Massachusetts had a large red dot showing we had the 4th highest rate of family homelessness. Even as someone working in the field, I was shocked by this number. I realized the severity of child and family homelessness was an invisible crisis, with far more attention, focus and resources being paid to resolve a far more visible adult street homeless population like the one Pine Street helps.

Thinking of the number of homeless children resonated with me because homelessness has touched the lives of so many people I care about; my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, my actual brother, and my own children.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

For homeless families in particular it’s all economics. From 2018 to 2019 Massachusetts jumped from the 6th most expensive state to live in to the 3rd most expensive state to live in and wages aren’t keeping up. A single parent in Boston working a minimum wage job would need to work 3.5 full-time jobs to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market value. That’s in addition to all the time spent parenting — attending parent teacher conferences, helping with homework, cooking dinner — there aren’t enough hours in the day for a parent working a minimum wage job to make ends meet.

The recent COVID Pandemic has made the situation event more dire.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

This is interesting framing as most homeless individuals and certainly most of the children and parents experiencing homeless do not start as healthy young people with a place to live, a job, an education, and a large support system. The vast majority of homeless individuals have underlying and untreated mental health and substance issues and experienced housing instability as children. Most families who experience homelessness are there due to poverty and many are trapped in an unbroken cycle of intergenerational poverty. For all there are underlying class, racial dynamics to how and why families end up in shelter.

In the City of Boston there are nearly 37,000 children living in poverty without enough resources to live safely and that’s where our families start. Going from being unstably housed to homeless is not a large leap. All it takes is one incident to push a family over the edge: a lost paycheck because a parent misses work to take care of a sick child, an unexpected medical bill, or having to make the tough decision of choosing to feed your child over paying rent. It is an impossible cycle.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

In the case of homeless families, the goal of every family is to have a job and jobs are often located in cities where — at least in Boston — there is an unfortunate high cost to housing and less affordable housing in outlying areas accessible by public transportation. Almost all of our families are working and almost all are working lower income jobs because of education barriers and a lack of support to complete their education. Moving or commuting is also expensive, and for families it means uprooting their children from their schools and social environments. For most of our families, transportation to jobs poses another barrier, outside of cities there is little access to public transportation adding the additional expense of owning a car.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

In Boston, it is rare to see a homeless family on the streets. Despite the fact that 61% of the homeless population in Boston is families. You don’t see them on the street because it is an invisible crisis. Spending the night on the street with a newborn or toddler isn’t feasible, so homeless families stay in cars, hospital waiting rooms, or double up with other families teetering on the edge of homelessness. People are more like going to encounter a homeless individual on the street, who is most likely challenged by mental health and substance use disorders, the best way to help them is to encourage them to go to the local resource centers available in their communities.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Giving a homeless individual money or food encourages them to stay on the street. Best way is to encourage them to seek a local shelter or soup kitchen where they will also get counseling.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

FamilyAid Boston takes a three-prong approach to addressing family homelessness. The best way to stop homelessness is to prevent it. We recently launched two new, innovative prevention programs in partnership with Boston Public Schools and Boston Children’s Hospital. Teachers and doctors are often the first point of contact to know when a family is struggling. We’ve partnered with these institutions so we can catch families before they fall into homelessness and mitigate the trauma homelessness has on children. There is a tremendous demand for these programs and our success rate is among the highest in the country with a 99% retention rate.

During the pandemic our prevention numbers have swelled in 2020: we had 200 children and parents newly enrolled in these programs from January to March, and more than 1,200 more since the outbreak in Mid-March. The prevention safety net doesn’t catch everyone though, which is why we provide also provide shelter to families that have already fallen into homelessness. Our 123 shelters provide families with clinical case management services and housing placement services to ensure families can move out of shelter and return to stable housing as quickly as possible. To address the current pandemic’s economic fallout, we are opening a new shelter in the next few months. Each year, we move 40% of our families from shelter into stable housing, well above the national average of 25%.

Once we get families back into stable housing, we stay with them. We know that the first year back in stable housing is a precarious time for families and when they’re most likely to fall back into homelessness. Our case managers work with families throughout this time to ensure they can stay in housing for the long-term. 98% of the families we work with remain in their own housing a year after moving out of shelter.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

The homeless and housing-insecure families that FamilyAid Boston serves have been in crisis since schools, daycare centers, and all-but-essential workplaces closed their doors in March. With each passing week, the long-term economic damage to the families we serve only worsens.

Although it is nothing we have done before, we immediately began providing emergency relief to the 1,200 children and adults currently in our care who indicated that they were in dire need, providing food, supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to our families, increasing our shelters’, housing and office disinfection frequency, and installing equipment designed to reduce community spread or to monitor the health of sheltered clients and staff. In addition, we are supporting children’s access to education by upgrading internet service in our shelters and purchasing Chromebooks to children who have not received them from their schools. These additions also help parents’ to access public information, benefits and resources.

The humanitarian relief work that we are undertaking is happening while the majority of the staff works remotely in keeping with the Commonwealth’s stay-at home orders. Those engaged in the frontline work are fully protected by PPE and practicing appropriate social distancing when possible. All frontline staff working in the community, including shelter managers, facilities staff providing disinfection services, and all staff helping to procure, package and distribute food and supplies to our families are paid extra “hazard” pay. Utility costs at our shelters are 50% higher than normal due to families sheltering in place 24/7. We have forgiven 3 months of rent for families who are live in housing owned and operated by the agency to stabilize their precarious financial situations.

Through the end of June, we project more than $1.1M in pandemic-related expenses that are above and beyond our ordinary operating budget, but necessary to keep our vulnerable clients and staff safe. Given the likely closure of camps and slow return of the economy, we anticipate we will need to continue to provide support to our families well into the fall.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

Every day I am inspired by the amazing work of FamilyAid Boston’s staff and the resiliency of our clients. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started our staff haven’t missed a beat in providing quality services to our families. They have gone above and beyond putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver food, supplies and financial assistance to our growing number of clients. Their willingness to do whatever they need to for their clients keeps me going every day.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

I’d love to share a story about our work during the COVID-19 pandemic and our client Laura. Laura is a single mother of two girls, ages 6 and 9. Both girls are naturally curious and love learning new things at school. Laura’s 9-year-old, Kelly, had just started learning about volcanoes in science class before schools closed for COVID-19 and asks her mom every day to tell her about how volcanoes work. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura worked at a large retail chain in Boston. She had been there for 5 years and was being considered for a promotion to assistant manager. Once schools and non-essential businesses closed, Laura was furloughed from work, showed up at our shelters where she has had to turn her attention to homeschooling her girls in their shelter space. Laura had no idea how she would be able to feed her girls the next week as she no longer had any income. Previously, her children ate breakfast and lunch at school every day and she had just enough to get them by. Suddenly she had nothing.

Laura’s FamilyAid Boston immediately began triaging the situation with Laura expressed her worries about feeding her children. Within the day, FamilyAid Boston staff were knocking on her door in masks and gloves delivering food, supplies, and personal hygiene products. Laura was so grateful knowing she would have enough food to feed her daughters. After a couple weeks of food deliveries, her case manager reached out to Laura again and asked her if she had a checking account. Laura told her she did, and her case manager delivered the good news — FamilyAid Boston would be depositing $100 into her account each week so she can purchase the items her family needs most. The day after the first deposit, Laura went to the corner store (in protective gear provided by FAB) and bought ingredients for her daughters’ favorite meal. After she put her daughter to bed that night with full bellies, she wrote an email to her case manager: “I know you never forget me, and I am really grateful for that. I am at home with my kids all day and they do nothing but eat. I was just starting to worry about getting more food. Thank you so much for delivering supplies and giving me this money. I don’t take anything for granted especially now, and just wanted to say thank you on behalf of me and my daughters.”

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

  1. Advocate for more a low-income housing in high cost urban communities. There is a lack of low-income housing in Boston and across the country. If there is nowhere for working families to live then we should not be surprised by the growing number of homeless families we see.
  2. Advocate for minimum wage laws. Proportional to living expenses, the standard minimum wage is too low. We need people to speak up across sectors and advocate for a livable wage.
  3. Volunteer and donate to front line agencies that are trying to manage the economic crisis for low-income families at the bottom of the economic ladder.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

  1. Abolish super-majority requirements Sufficient low-income affordable housing
  2. Supporting low-income wage earners and their families
  3. Increase accessibility for educational and social supports for children

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

The sheer volume of children who are in need and the fact that unless we do something we are creating a second generation of homeless individuals. It is within our power as an agency and a society to change that.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

Poverty and homelessness have been with us since the beginning of time, but we have to hold out hope that it can be eradicated. There are moments in history when there has been a significant reduction in poverty and homelessness. In recent year, there have been successful efforts to reduce the number of chronically homeless veterans and individuals. If we can do that for individuals, then certainly we can do it for children and families.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

After more than 15 years in the corporate marketing world with Procter & Gamble and Viacom, among others, I thought I had been trained to take on the challenges of the non-profit world

  1. “Train for a marathon not a sprint”– in corporate marketing, the world evolves around short-lived campaigns, sales cycles, quarterly earnings/marketing share. Ending homelessness is a long-haul issue, and the cycles are intergenerational. It takes a different long-term mindset to make even short gains against it and to help children overcome their difficult start while also helping their parents find housing and employment.
  2. “Self-care is not a luxury” I have seen many professionals enter the non-profit world because of their passion for an issue. Without proper self-care, many nonprofit executives burn out out from “compassion fatigue” as their avocational interest and concerns sync up with their professional life. As a result, the average tenure, nationally of a nonprofit CEOs is little more than two years
  3. “A cow has more than one fly time” — This phrase was shared with me by a fellow corporate “transfer” from the Midwest. It means that one must remain tenacious and persistent regardless of rejection or defeat. It’s something we encourage our clients to consider and one I share with staff as we see and struggle with out clients as they struggle with many ups and downs on their way to self-sufficiency.
  4. “What you see is not what you get” — It’s very easy, I know, for some who are well-educated and financially secure to either pity or look down on the homeless. I was one of them a long time ago. But after more than two decades in human services and working with more than 5,000 individuals that have been disenfranchised, marginalized or forgotten, I have come to see that all that separates the haves and have nots is one unlucky situation, one medical illness or a societal prejudice that prevents a person from achieving their dreams. I’ve learned to see the commonality, dignity and determination in all of us to create a better life for ourselves and our children.
  5. “It takes more than bootstraps” — Having been raised in a large immigrant family, I was raised to believe that all it takes is hard work to succeed. Order the course of my career, I have found that it takes more that than that: being in the right place at the right time, knowing the “right” people, being on the side of the current political bent of a community, being deemed as having the physical ability or enabled, and often times having the preferred skin color or educational pedigree. And sometimes, just sheer dumb luck.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want people to join us in trying to end poverty and homelessness. There are 65,000 children and parents in Boston alone who are one missed paycheck away from falling into homelessness. I want people to join us in ensuring that our neighbors are able to have the basics: food, clothing, and housing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mentor, a nun from Philadelphia who came to our small coal town to educate its children, always told me, “Larry, to truly know the world, you need to walk a mile in everyone’s shoes.”

As a kid from a small town with a small perspective, I thought she just garbled the old proverb. Much later in life, I understood what these words meant as I had the opportunity to travel the world and see all of its challenges and beauty. I wish I had a greater understanding of the complexities of the world at an earlier age. Gaining a better understanding of the world, and remembering this quote, is what eventually inspired my career change from the corporate sector to the nonprofit world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Jeffrey Bezos — We were very fortunate to be one of a select few organizations to receive a grant from Mr. Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund to tackle family homelessness and early childhood education. I would love the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Bezos to let him know first-hand how his contribution to FamilyAid Boston has made a tremendous impact on families in the Greater Boston area.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on:

LinkedIn: Larry Seamans

Twitter: @LarrySeamans2

You can follow the work of FamilyAid Boston on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @familyaidboston.


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Larry Seamans & FamilyAid Boston Are Helping To Prevent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty

It starts with kindness. It is important to not look down on people who are experiencing homelessness. A smile or conversation can go a long way toward helping someone know you care. If they ask, I would be open to giving them a gift card to a grocery store or nearby fast food restaurant, or other food items you may happen to have with you.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaysen Van Sickle.

Jaysen Van Sickle is a father, professor and as of 2018, the Executive Director of Hope Faith — Homeless Assistance Campus. Jaysen completed his undergraduate degrees from KU and his masters’ degrees from Rockhurst, including an Executive MBA. Prior to joining Hope Faith full-time, Jaysen and his son were dedicated volunteers.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

Jaysen is a Texas native who relocated to Kansas City when he was 4 years old and jokes he’s been going to school ever since. With undergrads from KU and graduate degrees from Rockhurst, Van Sickle is now doubling as a professor and the Executive Director for Hope Faith — Homeless Assistance Campus (& Covid Relief Village) in downtown Kansas City, MO.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) is really to credit. This job brings me joy; it fills my cup.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

There are many contributing factors which makes this a very loaded question. As much as we all want to end homelessness, when you’re in it and really seeing and understanding the many contributing factors to homelessness, you know there are many underlying factors that must be addressed. We know homelessness isn’t going away. It is our goal to reduce the amount of time someone experiences homelessness. That sometimes takes long term dedicated one-on-one consultation (aka case management) and other times, a few quick phone calls. This is not a one size fits all crisis nor is it always viewed a crisis. We believe in taking care of each other, and regardless of what brings someone to Hope Faith, we are committed to doing that.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

Again, another loaded question as no two life journeys are exactly the same. We know a number of factors can contribute to this including but not limited to addiction, mental health challenges, tragedy, or any number of things that occur along one’s life journey. In this instance, for someone who had an income and a strong support system to become homeless, a catastrophic event, such as a job loss, an unanticipated medical expense or a divorce, may have occurred. If a person with the background you described came to Hope Faith, we would likely be able to provide them with the services and support needed to regain employment and housing.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

If only it were that simple, right? People experiencing homelessness cannot easily move. Transportation is a huge barrier. Without a car or money to afford a plane ticket or a bus pass, this is easier said than done. We have a program called Hope Cycles, which provides bicycles and cycling gear so that our guests can get to school, work and medical appointments. While this program helps with transportation locally, moving hours away or to another state is usually not possible.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

It starts with kindness. It is important to not look down on people who are experiencing homelessness. A smile or conversation can go a long way toward helping someone know you care. If they ask, I would be open to giving them a gift card to a grocery store or nearby fast food restaurant, or other food items you may happen to have with you. Granola bars are great to carry with you. Another way you can help is by becoming aware of what organizations provide homeless services in your community and making sure people experiencing homelessness know about those resources.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Rather than giving cash, it is a better idea to give food, water, gift cards, blankets, clothing or other necessities.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Hope Faith, Kansas City’s only daytime assistance campus, provides for the immediate and long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty throughout the Kansas City metro. In 2019, we served more than 6,000 unduplicated individuals.

As COVID-19 started spreading around the world and getting closer to the United States, my staff and I began planning for how we were going to continue serving our guests. Hope Faith has been designated an official homeless crisis center by the City of Kansas City, Missouri. To best meet the needs of our guests while complying with CDC health guidelines and social distancing recommendations, our homeless assistance campus expanded outdoors, allowing for services to be offered in a safe, secure village, where the risk of being infected with COVID-19 is decreased. Through working with the community partners and the city, we have also ensured guests exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 can be tested and quarantined at a nearby hotel.

We are serving approximately 200 individuals daily and providing the following services Monday through Saturday:

  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Sanitation stations
  • Heart to Heart International (International Medical Crisis Group) has their mobile medical unit assisting at our village. Swope Medical Group also reached out offering their mobile medical unit, too. We have acquired COVID-19 tests, so we are now able to help our fellow Kansas Citians even more.
  • Intensive case management that provides connections to human service organizations, area agencies and external mental health agencies. Hope Faith is the only agency currently providing case management services to people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Kansas City. Case managers also help with employment referrals and housing navigation.
  • Mail service
  • Men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing distributed as needed
  • Private indoor showers

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

There is a lot of anxiety right now. No one knows how or when this is going to end. There are health and economic concerns that the homeless community have and providers grapple with daily. Fortunately, though, we have been able to rapidly adjust to a new reality and continue offering services, which would not have been possible without the generosity of Kansas Citians and our community partners.

One of the main initial concerns was how to quarantine individuals who lack housing. Now that a housing plan is implemented in our community for individuals who could have COVID-19, we are continuing to make sure everyone has access to sanitation products, can get their temperatures checked and have access to food, wellness checks and other necessities. We are working hard to help flatten the curve and reduce the potential for community spread. A virus this contagious could quickly overwhelm the homeless community and strain hospitals. With many of our guests having pre-existing medical conditions, they are more likely to have a severe case of coronavirus and be admitted to the hospital. Our job is to keep everyone as healthy as we can. In the coming months, our case managers will also be helping guests update their resumes and search for employment.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I remember sitting at my desk on Monday, March 16, thinking about how the heck we are going to pull off having an outdoor campus. I was staring at giant wedding tents on Amazon and finally said ‘screw it’ — and hit purchase on three 20 x 23-foot wedding/event tents. From that moment, everything became real and timelines were now set in motion. In seven days, we went from a one-click Amazon order to closing off Virginia Avenue. We assembled the three giant tents then anchored them into the street. Simultaneously, Veterans Community Project (VCP) coordinated to install barricades, port-a-potties, and dumpsters while other homeless agencies, corporations, churches, etc., were calling and asking what we need to make this a success. Between the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness (GKCCEH), VCP, Hope Faith, Mayor Lucas and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, we had everything to man the front lines for months to come!

On Wednesday, March 25th, the Homeless Assistance Village went live. The night before, I was not able to sleep. My thoughts were consumed by how many people would need us in the morning and could we support and keep them out of harm’s way? From the moment we opened, I was shocked by the sheer volume of families, children and senior citizens who we had never seen before on our campus, asking for help. It became immediately clear to me that we were no longer a homeless assistance village, but a community assistance village.

Given that this is a medical pandemic, on Thursday, April 2, with help from my friend from Farmers Insurance, we received tents, tables and supplies to assist in creating our onsite first-aid space. That had an immediate impact. People from all over the Northeast community came to seek medical assistance. And the response from volunteer doctors, nurses, and even pharmacists has been mind-blowing. Non-emergency medical personnel have answered our call for a volunteer staff for our Hope Health onsite clinic. I will never forget the community support Hope Faith has received!

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

A guest was housed just last week (during this current pandemic) and he had this to say: “I’ve been on these streets for more than 7 years. I filled out a VAT because I thought what’s the hurt in trying since everything else has fallen through. Today, I move into my apartment. I woke up feeling like I could breathe for the first time in 7 years!” The fact that we can continue partnering with people in this way, during a pandemic, is nothing short of a miracle.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

Absolutely! 1.) Be kind. You never know what someone is going through. Lend an ear, a smile, whatever you can to lift someone up…it will lift you, too. 2.) Know your community. Know where people can go for help. Direct them there. 3.) Don’t look the other way.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

The main legislation I would push for is to provide more funds and resources to the agencies serving a population that get left behind or do not have the means to do it themselves.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

What is keeping me going is making sure Hope Faith can continue serving our guests during the pandemic. As the virus came closer and closer to KC, I got less and less sleep. I struggled with how I would keep my staff safe, but at the same time, how would we continue to serve those experiencing homelessness and poverty through the turbulent months to come? I felt like the weight of the city was coming down on me. Every human ponders what their preordained ‘dare to be great moment’ will be, but when you are facing it, there is no manual for how to attack it.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for the homeless community because of coronavirus. How many more waves will there be? As states begin to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, when will the economy bounce back?

If we are hit with a second wave in the fall, homeless service providers and society in general should be better prepared to care for our communities, but the road ahead is long. People experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable to pandemics and natural disasters because they lack access to health care and have pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Then there are the individuals who will become newly homeless as a result of losing a job. Losing an income makes it hard to pay bills, but the psychological impact can be just as profound.

What I hope happens is that the lessons learned from the pandemic cause great reflection that lead us closer to eradicating homelessness. Natural disasters, just like Hurricane Katrina did, demonstrate the flaws and inequities in our social structures. We need to realize that many Americans are a paycheck or two away from not being to make their rent or mortgage payment. When we start looking at the problem this way, then there becomes greater urgency to destigmatize homelessness and look at what policies need to be adopted to make healthcare more accessible and increase the affordability of housing and child care.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. This pandemic would be a marathon and not a sprint!
  2. You would carry the weight of a population on your shoulders
  3. There would be many long weeks and sleepless nights
  4. You would have to deal with so many “Zoom Meetings”
  5. You would become the face and voice of your fellow homeless agencies

Either way, I would still do it all over again!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

PAY IT FORWARD! I have always been a big advocate for your actions speaking louder than any words you speak. Until they become real, they are just words!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

President Jimmy Carter. He wasn’t our greatest President, but his giving-heart is like no person I have ever seen. Just to grab lunch with him, listen to him and be in his presence…I truly believe he is one of the few ‘Mensch’ on this earth.

How can our readers follow you online?

I encourage everyone to visit Hope Faith’s website (HopeFaith.org) for more information on our services and COVID-19 response. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (HopeFaithKC).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: “Telehealth With Your Vet” With Dr Shlomo Freiman of Petriage

The Future Is Now: “Telehealth With Your Vet” With Dr. Shlomo Freiman of Petriage

I think COVID exposed some vulnerability in the veterinary industry. Vets are essential, but in many cases are asked to only treat urgent cases, and even then, they must do so while socially distancing. Those who hadn’t established telehealth already were clamoring for a solution. I am hopeful that vets are finally feeling some urgency to adapt to a more virtual environment. Their clients have come to expect it. I’m pretty confident in the future of telehealth.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shlomo Freiman.

Shlomo Freiman, DVM, is a co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Petriage, a leading pet health technology company that provides fully-integrated telehealth solutions for veterinarians and their clients. A graduate of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine and 26-year career veterinarian, Dr. Freiman created Petriage to help veterinarians and pet-parents provide the best possible care for their pets.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in a small, rural community in Israel. Although our local vet lacked the great resources and technology that we have today, he was always there for us and for our pets. That stayed with me. As a vet, I really enjoy building these strong relationships with my clients, helping them understand the often-complex medical issues facing their beloved pets, and guiding them through all the choices and options available to them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once treated a broken leg on a dwarf hamster that weighed less than one ounce. They don’t make special dwarf hamster casts, so I had to really get creative, so I fashioned a splint out of paperclip. That experience has stayed with me because it reminds me that sometimes to get the best result, you have to think creatively and apply unusual solutions.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

We don’t have anything significant underway that counts as “bleeding edge,” but we are starting to look at how to incorporate data from wearable technology into our existing AI, which could have significant implications for animal health and wellness.

How do you think this might change the world?

Incorporating historical and real time data from wearable into an AI can tremendously improve the ability to predict the urgency level of medical care for a specific pet. Moreover, it will in many cases greatly influence how we diagnose and treat animals.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Veterinarians are highly-trained, medical personnel treating pets. Technology like our teletriage symptom-checker app, does not give pet-owners license to avoid the vet or treat their pets at home. And, for vets, telemedicine is not a replacement for in-person pet treatment.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

In 2015, after 21 years in practice, I got an off-hours call from a family friend, whose dog, Bodhi, had suffered a mild seizure. My friend was on the way to the emergency animal hospital when he called. Based on preliminary information he gave me over the phone, I knew Bodhi was not in an emergency situation. I advised him to turn around and bring Bodhi to me in the morning. Bodhi turned out OK, and my friend saved probably hundreds of dollars by waiting until the next day.

That experience led to the creation of Petriage. I wanted to give all my clients the same 24/7 access to reliable health information, help them avoid unnecessary trips to the animal hospital and reassure them their pets are getting the care they need.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

I think COVID exposed some vulnerability in the veterinary industry. Vets are essential, but in many cases are asked to only treat urgent cases, and even then, they must do so while socially distancing. Those who hadn’t established telehealth already were clamoring for a solution. I am hopeful that vets are finally feeling some urgency to adapt to a more virtual environment. Their clients have come to expect it. I’m pretty confident in the future of telehealth.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We want people to really understand the benefits telehealth has on their practice. Of course I’ve integrated telehealth into my practice fully, and I try to serve as a case study and role model for other vets. Petriage is being offered to its members by the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, and our marketing partners are helping spread the word that remote pet care is compelling during this time of sheltering-in-pace. Because our product fulfills a real need, we believe it doesn’t require outrageous marketing.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My amazingly super smart, resilient, loving, and beautiful best friend, business partner, and wife for 36 years, Mindy Stern. There are so many stories so it is hard to choose just one but we will go with this one.

My first year at Cornell vet school and it is all about anatomy. ow, I have a lot of strengths but acquiring new languages is not one of them and for me not knowing latin and, at the time, only basic english, anatomy was like learning a new language, especially knowing how to pronounce all these new words.

At night after a full day at the office and after our children were asleep, Mindy would record a tape for me, slowly enunciating these strange words from my anatomy textbook. We lived about an hour drive away from Ithaca, so when there was no snow on the roads, I would play the tape in my old station wagon and hear her voice saying, “ tibia, fibula, jejunum…” Not only did I learn the words, but I got such encouragement from her to succeed in school. She’s been my biggest supporter.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1.) In life you will fail way more often because you do not try then because you tried and you failed.

  • Because I would have had more confidence in myself much earlier in life.

2.) Most people underestimate how much they can actually achieve so they never reach their full potential.

  • Because more often than not you only get one shot at things.

3.) Maximizing what you can maximize and minimize what you can minimize and not waste mental energy on the variables you cannot control.

  • Because it allows you to live life with much less anxiety and more energy to tackle the things you need to tackle.

4.) Personal growth happens at the edge of your comfort level and it is also where the exciting and scary parts of life happen.

  • Because only by continuous personal growth, we can adapt to the ever-changing life and reality around us.

5. Most people promise more than they will probably deliver so make sure to have low expectations.

  • Because it is easier and much more pleasant to be pleasantly surprised by people then constantly disappointed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Often attributed to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt but actually originated by Henry Thomas Buckle.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Veterinary medicine is a $19 billion industry in the U.S. Until Petriage launched its platform in 2015, there was no way for veterinarians to efficiently communicate with their clients and provide care remotely and after hours. Petriage’s platform, which is fully integrated with the practice management software that powers veterinarians’ clinics, addresses that need. We are scaling very rapidly, as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have highlighted the importance of telemedicine solutions.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The Petriage social media accounts share a lot of great information about caring for pets, as well as just-for-fun pet content — everyone loves pictures of cute animals. You can follow us at:

· https://twitter.com/petriage

· https://www.instagram.com/petriage/

· https://www.facebook.com/Petriage/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


The Future Is Now: “Telehealth With Your Vet” With Dr Shlomo Freiman of Petriage was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brad Jashinsky of John’s Incredible Pizza: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years”

The permanent closure of thousands of retail locations will create millions of square feet of empty retail space that malls and shopping centers will need to find ways to fill. These store closings will create opportunities for pop-up shops from large brands, small neighborhood businesses, and local artisans. More affordable and shorter commitment leases will provide opportunities to a new set of entrepreneurs that will bring more innovation to the retail world.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Jashinsky.

As Director of Marketing and Sales at John’s Incredible Pizza, Brad Jashinsky oversees all sales and marketing activities for the company’s 14 family fun centers. Before joining John’s, Brad drove successful business results through industry-leading marketing campaigns for companies in the entertainment, tourism, and technology industries, including the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park resort and Razer, the leading lifestyle consumer electronics brand for gamers.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Believe it or not, I have a knee injury to thank for my marketing career. I tore my ACL playing high school football. That injury dramatically changed my career path. The school counselor suggested that I replace my football class with a technology class. That one fateful decision helped me pursue a new career path of marketing and technology instead of athletic dreams. I sometimes still wonder where I would be if that hadn’t happened. Probably not in the NFL …

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There have been so many interesting and incredible stories throughout my career. I still pinch myself when I think of the projects and people I have had the great opportunity to work with. One interesting story that comes to mind was when I gave Nicholas Cage and his family a tour of the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park. He was an extremely grateful and friendly person that loves the famous fried chicken that the park serves. It was interesting to spend a few hours with a major movie star who is also such a big part of Internet culture. He shared some great stories about filming the National Treasure films, which were partially filmed at Knott’s Berry Farm’s replica of Independence Hall.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I developed an app for the Six Flags chain of amusement parks while still in college. This was shortly after Apple’s App Store launched and no theme parks had developed mobile apps. I flew to their headquarters in Times Square to pitch the executive team. The presentation was a disaster. This was my first time in New York. I barely made it on time, because I got lost on the way. I didn’t realize there were summer rainstorms in the forecast so I didn’t bring a jacket or umbrella. I hadn’t memorized my talking points and couldn’t get the projector to work. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even bring back-up paper copies of the presentation. So all eight people huddled around my laptop as I bumbled through the worst presentation of my life while soaking wet from the rain, adding insult to injury. Fortunately, the group was forgiving and looked past my lack of preparation.

One mistake after another happened that I can now look back on and laugh at. I was horrified at the time. I still think about that presentation. It haunts me to this day and reminds me of how important it is to prepare and have a back-up plan. Ever since then, I have always brought an umbrella, packed extra adapters, created back-up paper copies, and memorized my talking points.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I feel fortunate to be working with the great team at John’s Incredible Pizza to reinvent our business model due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has banded together to pivot our family fun center buffet concept into a technology-driven endless menu table service. We will offer an all-you-can-eat endless menu that is ordered through our app and brought to guests’ tables by our friendly staff. Every person in the company has been working hard to create a safe and fun environment for our guests. We are so excited to help families continue to create fun lifetime experiences at our locations.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

My biggest tip is to find a partner or close friend that can help you create fun traditions to keep you from burning out. My wife Meghan has been instrumental in helping me find more balance in my life. She reminds me to come up for air and take time for activities that are not related at all to work. We have a fun ritual of making dinner at home and watching The Bachelor or another funny reality show a few nights a week. I still struggle to find the right work/life balance, but she has helped me make a lot of progress in the right direction.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people throughout my career that have helped me along the way. One person that comes to mind is Kevin Wynn who led the marketing and sales team at Knott’s Berry Farm. He taught me the value of patience and how to not get caught up in the details. I was so frustrated by the lack of progress on our website redesign that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I took out my frustrations on the team. Instead of reprimanding me, he coached me to look at the bigger picture, take a step back, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My Mom volunteered throughout my childhood and brought me along to help whenever she could. During the early part of my career I spent less time volunteering as my focus turned to work. Her death was a tragic reminder not to wait until later in life to begin giving back. That helped me renew my commitment to giving back throughout my life instead of only after I retire. One of the ways I give back is through mentoring. I have met with hundreds of students and entry-level graduates to teach interview tactics, conduct résumé reviews, and provide career coaching. I love being able to connect people with career opportunities and help build professional connections.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

The Future of Retail Is Experiences

A 2017 report by Credit Suisse predicted 25% of malls will go out of business by 2022 leaving millions of square feet of retail space empty. That will likely be accelerated by COVID-19. What will happen to all of that space? I predict that experiences will be a major part of the future of retail. Trampoline parks, indoor theme parks, go-kart family fun centers, and virtual reality games have already started to replace many department stores in malls. The new American Dream Mall in New Jersey is a look at the future of the country. It was originally designed to have 55% entertainment space and 45% retail space but has already pivoted to 70% entertainment space and only 30% retail space. Our 14 chain indoor family fun center currently has four locations inside malls. We plan to open more locations inside of malls in the coming years. Each location takes up the space of a large department store with over 50,000 square feet of rides, arcade games, dining, and more.

Curbside Pickup Is The Present and Future

Many retailers were forced to quickly expand curbside pickup options due to COVID-19. Most have seen impressive results, including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. I expect this trend to continue and become a major consideration during new store designs and location refurbishments. Nordstrom rolled out its new concept Nordstrom Local into urban locations in Los Angeles and New York City. The locations serve as convenient service hubs for online order pickup and returns, express alterations, and stylist consultations. These smaller locations are less expensive to build, conveniently located to more consumers, and require less staff to operate.

Pop-Up Shops Will Continue To Grow

The permanent closure of thousands of retail locations will create millions of square feet of empty retail space that malls and shopping centers will need to find ways to fill. These store closings will create opportunities for pop-up shops from large brands, small neighborhood businesses, and local artisans. More affordable and shorter commitment leases will provide opportunities to a new set of entrepreneurs that will bring more innovation to the retail world. Some of my favorite pop-up shop examples include The Poundshop design collective’s budget-friendly boutique, Chicago’s Green Market Garden flower shop, and the Hello Kitty Cafe container pop-up.

Hybrid Retail Experience Stores Will Become The New Normal

Retailers will continue to find new ways to offer experiences such as exercise classes, cooking demonstrations, and training seminars to entice shoppers to visit. Lululemon uses its stores’ weekly complimentary yoga classes to create deeper relationships with customers. Apple has redesigned its stores to provide more room for the popular Today at Apple classes that offer sessions on photography, programming, and more all centered around using their products. Even more traditional retailers like Staples have reconfigured their stores to include Spotlight Space to host speaker sessions, hands-on workshops, and educational seminars for small businesses.

Seasonal Attractions Will Be Important Retail Center Traffic Drivers

Seasonal attractions, such as haunted houses, Instagram art museums, and interactive theater experiences, will no longer be relegated to strip malls, warehouses, and abandoned shopping center parking lots. The abundance of retail space caused by store closures will create new opportunities for these types of seasonal attractions to be located in more prominent locations. In addition to helping pop-up shops, more affordable and flexible leases will help seasonal attractions. Similar to the role movie theaters have played, these attractions will become important traffic drivers for retail centers. Except these attractions offer an experience that is not easily replicated at home.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As I briefly mentioned before, I have benefited so much from mentorship throughout my life and I have tried to give back as a mentor. I work with a great organization called the Orangewood Foundation in Orange County, California to mentor foster children. Both my father and uncle were adopted so the cause has always been close to my heart. My wish is that more people will join the movement to help mentor at-risk kids, especially foster children, during their formative years. You can truly help change lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@BradJashinsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BradJashinsky

LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bradjashinsky/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you!


Brad Jashinsky of John’s Incredible Pizza: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Andrew Leger of Serendipit Consulting: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Andrew Leger of Serendipit Consulting: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

Always sweat the details. They matter, particularly when creating and building a brand. Small mistakes like that can quickly torpedo any well-researched and built out plan.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Andrew Leger, Director of Account Service at Serendipit Consulting

Andrew is the Director of Account Service, where he manages the day-to-day operations of the account service department. He also leads the branding department. As a core team member, heʼs experienced the growth from a small, five-person agency to the full-service 25+ employee agency Serendipit is today. His expertise lies in content strategy, project management, brand creation, strategic media buying, and overall brand strategy — all leading to projects that are on time, on budget, and on strategy. Andrew brings both right & left-brain thinking to the table with a blend of high-creative as well as practical problem-solving. A natural storyteller, Andrew leads a team known for engaging consumers in unique and unexpected ways. Andrew has used his years of branding experience to develop the proprietary Serendipit Brand Workshop, a uniquely creative experience for clients. Andrew serves on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix Connect Board.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s always been marketing and branding for me! When I was ~10, I created my first brand…”The Lawn Ranger.” It was a lawn-mowing business I ran in my Missouri neighborhood, with the horrible accompanying Microsoft Word clip art on the flyer. That creativity stuck with me and has helped me along my entire career path as a brand marketer.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was just a young coordinator, I was in charge of collecting and sending t-shirt design/printing quotes to a client. In my rush, I named the subject line of the email “t#*@t quote update,” forgetting the all-important “r.” I’m pretty sure the client never even noticed, but it hurt me deeply every time I opened that email thread.

Always sweat the details. They matter, particularly when creating and building a brand. Small mistakes like that can quickly torpedo any well-researched and built out plan.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

To be completely honest, there hasn’t been a “tipping point.” It’s super cliché, but when you work hard, you work smart, and dedicate yourself to continual learning and research, you’re going to get the results. I love branding, so having a passion for every project we take on is a huge factor in success — you need to love what you do.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re working on creating a virtual iteration of our brand workshop, which is going to be PERFECTION in the new normal. We’re all used to the new ZOOM world, but our plan goes well beyond fun virtual backgrounds and virtual face-to-face interaction.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Don’t work 24/7. I don’t dedicate every minute of my life to branding/marketing. Read non-branding/marketing books. I love Shea Serrano’s work — it’s hilarious, surprisingly insightful, and always leads to insane — in the best way — ideas. Watch movies. Go hiking. All that work will stay in your subconscious and you’ll be amazed at the great ideas that spring out of nowhere.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brand marketing (branding) is building and developing your identity as a company. Branding is everything from your voice and behavior to your design style and yet, it’s so much more. It’s drilling down on precisely HOW you want to be perceived by the marketplace and matching up to your key values as an organization. Those are the things that make you unique.

Brand marketing is very much about telling your story, your way. It’s creating and weaving together an entire experience for your consumers. Ultimately, you lay the groundwork for how people FEEL about your brand. Your brand values should resonate at every touchpoint, whether in person or virtually.

Product marketing is focusing your marketing efforts around the product itself. For example, X product is THE BEST because it has these benefits, etc, etc. The brand takes the backseat to the product here. We’re throwing down stone-cold facts of why the product is the best and how it will change your life.

Important to note here — these can intertwine. Brand marketing might be the main focus of a campaign by using that storytelling aspect, but it can include product marketing. For example, we’re promoting Coca-Cola as a brand by telling our story and emotionally connecting with the consumer, but we’re featuring Diet Coke woven into the branding.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Consumers connect to brands. Are their products/services a big part of that? Sure. But, one of the biggest hurdles every business owner will come to face is how to make their brand stand out from the competition while staying consistent with messaging and standards. When you build a brand, you have to humanize your brand. It’s simple. People respond best to people. Your consumers want a personality, and they want to relate to your brand and message. They don’t want a robotic, faceless message and would prefer to connect with you over shared ideas. We value connection — it’s how you build a loyal following of brand loyalists shouting your praises. Finally, let me hit you with some stats:

  • 86% of consumers prefer an authentic and honest brand personality on social networks. (Source)
  • 65% of people have felt an emotional connection with a brand. (Source)
  • Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23% (Source)
  • Customers who have an emotional connection with a brand have a 3x higher LTV (Source)

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Does your logo still look like it was drawn up in the 60s, but you’re an innovation-driven company? Time to rebrand.

If someone asks you what your purpose is and you either don’t have an answer or it’s complete BS, it’s time to get authentic and rebrand.

If your answer to someone asking you what you do is “sell product x”, you don’t have a brand, you have a product. It’s time to rebrand.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Don’t rebrand just for the sake of rebranding. You can evolve as a brand without scrapping everything and starting from scratch. Each brand should be as unique as its respective industry. Let’s say you have a brand that’s 80 years old and only changed your logo once. If your messaging is still on point with your target demo, you’re building brand loyalists on a daily basis, I wouldn’t touch it. A big piece of your brand may be that 40-year-old logo that your consumer base LOVES.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a 5-year-old brand that’s pivoting along your path to success. You might need a full rebrand (or at least brand updates) more often as you determine your “brand path.” It’s all dependent on circumstances.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Designate a Personality and Style

Every brand should have some sense of brand personality and style that is easily recognizable by its consumers. If multiple consumers were asked to describe your brand, they should all have similar answers. In one of my branding blogs I wrote that crafting a great brand personality is a lot like wearing deodorant — it’s something that everyone should do, and it becomes apparent very quickly when it’s not there. I stand by those words.

Here are a few examples of big brands and their personalities that we all know:

  • Disney — the most magical place on earth, family-friendly, childhood memories, a positive persona that works for all ages
  • Tiffany & Co. — timeless, sophisticated, elegant, charming, blue box, true love
  • Apple — innovative, creative, tech, way of life
  • McDonald’s — quick, family-friendly, convenient, variety, consistent quality

Write and Share Your Brand Story

  • Take your consumers through your entire journey and be transparent. Share the highs and the lows. Telling the story will help make your brand more relatable, and your consumers will appreciate your product or service more by understanding the story behind it. If you take one thing away from this, share the obstacles you’ve overcome — if it’s been impactful in making your brand unique, people will connect with that.

Make Sure You Have Brand Guidelines

  • 95% of companies have formal brand guidelines. Only 25% consistently enforce them. (Source) Take every essential piece of info about your brand, its personality, its aesthetic, and create your brand guidelines. Now share it with everyone who touches the brand. Tell them; this is your creed. This is the way. You don’t build a brand personality with just a “modern, clean logo” and an “honest, strong, bold” voice. You turn a brand personality into a differentiator by making a concerted effort to create consistency across all your marketing tactics, on every medium.

Don’t Play It Safe

  • Don’t be afraid to be unique. Don’t be scared to “go there.” TFortune favors the bold, as the old saying goes. The BOLD stands out from the masses. Chances are, you have stiff competition. Be true to yourself and create a memorable brand. Playing it safe won’t get you remembered. Take that leap — we always tell our clients we want them to be the ones pulling us back.

Don’t Take It All On Yourself

  • Yes, you know your company best. But do you know your brand best? As brand marketers, there is a push and pull here. We push what we believe our brand is in our story, messaging, logo — but sometimes our consumers and ground level people can give us great insights. Focus groups, surveys, etc., all have their place in branding and brand development. Learn and understand what people are saying about your company — and that doesn’t mean just the senior leadership and internal team. Hearing what’s being said outside your walls is what really matters, otherwise, you’re dwelling and operating from inside a bubble, and it’s only a matter of time before it bursts.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

We had an absolutely amazing rebrand project with a company named “Roadmaster Group.” They brought all their stakeholders to the project with an open mind, which is one of the biggest things you can do, along with listening to feedback from their drivers and consumers. We took their logo and made it into something that fully represents their new brand story — and then created everything from their key messages to the tagline. Today, they’re on a fast track to new heights of success.

Bring a creative, open mindset to any branding exercise and you’ll reap the results.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Eh, let’s go with medium influence. See, humble is part of my personal brand traits. I’m a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs Of The Valley Connect Board. So, shout out the amazing people over there, I’d love for everyone to realize the AMAZING amount of good they do for the communities they serve. They truly change kid’s lives. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a bit of an active brain, so my favorite quotes change on a weekly basis. This week, it’s “Throw Your Heart Across The Line, Your Body Will Follow.” Everything you do should be done with passion — your employees, co-workers, clients all gravitate towards that.

How can our readers follow you online?

Check out Serendipit on all social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, LinkedIn)


Andrew Leger of Serendipit Consulting: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Virtual Live Wellness Program” With Jillian Bridgette of…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Virtual Live Wellness Program” With Jillian Bridgette of Virtual Health Partners

Now more than ever being able to provide a fully customized and personalized virtual solution is imperative. Our virtual, live wellness program creates a sense of community using an approach that incorporates small virtual group support led by nutritionists, health coaches, psychologists and social workers, to make clients feel less alone and also to keep them on track with their health goals while working with health experts in person is not an option in our new post COVID-19 world.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jillian Bridgette.

Jillian is the CEO & Co-founder of Virtual Health Partners, Inc. In May 2015, Jillian launched VHP with the goal of creating an ecosphere of wellness support available anywhere and anytime. With over 15 years of experience in the medical industry, Jillian was responsible for the multi-million-dollar growth of three start-up companies, with a strong focus in the non-invasive weight loss space. Starting her career at Johnson & Johnson, then moving to Novare, ElectroCore and Apollo, Jillian specialized in development, implementation, growth, and marketing for new medical procedures. Jillian received her Bachelor of Science from Rutgers University Business School.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I first graduated college I went into corporate finance. I was in AT&T’s Financial Leadership Program. I quickly learned that corporate finance was not my passion and by luck ended up in the field of Medical Device Sales. My first medical sales job was with Johnson & Johnson as a Territory Assistant. Within 6 months, I was promoted to manage my own territory and then shortly thereafter, I was invited to join the Management Development Program. I tremendously enjoyed being in surgeries and seeing less-invasive surgical procedures in the OR start to take off. I spent a lot of time observing gastric bypass, open heart, spine, and orthopedic surgeries, along with the treatment of diabetic and pressure wounds. Many of the patients I saw were overweight or obese, and witnessing firsthand the link between obesity and these major health issues strongly influenced my career path.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In my mind the most amazing or interesting story that has happened since beginning VHP is the moment when I was looking at an updated org chart, and in black and white saw the amazing team that has been assembled to work together at VHP. Many members of our team have been in my life for well over a decade. To see their passion for VHP is a gift that keeps on giving. It is also key to the great success VHP continues to have.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I believe the key to success is having a great team. Surround yourself with people who you can trust, who motivate you and lift you up and who you genuinely enjoy being around — both personally and professionally.

Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Virtual Health Partners (VHP) is redefining virtual healthcare offering by providing condition-specific live support for nutrition, lifestyle and fitness support. Offered exclusively through our network of partners including insurers and self-insured companies, hospital systems, and health product companies including fitness clubs, VHP’s Business-to Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C) model provides a SaaS and PaaS solution that fully customizable and scalable. Through the privacy compliant, HIPAA compliant platform, VHP provides its partners with a turnkey solution for clients in the areas of weight loss and weight loss procedures, metabolic syndrome, oncology, women’s health, digestive diseases, cardiac rehab, preventive medicine, plastic surgery and general wellness

The company is now on the forefront of virtual care and uniquely positioned to address the rising demand and challenges that Americans and people across the globe face during and post the coronavirus pandemic, as social distancing is not just going to go away quickly.

Now more than ever being able to provide a fully customized and personalized virtual solution is imperative. Our virtual, live wellness program creates a sense of community using an approach that incorporates small virtual group support led by nutritionists, health coaches, psychologists and social workers, to make clients feel less alone and also to keep them on track with their health goals while working with health experts in person is not an option in our new post COVID-19 world.

How do you think this will change the world?

While many companies are rushing to build interactive online experiences from scratch, something that is both expensive and time consuming, VHP Business Partners benefit from a turnkey, built and proven platform, that is also fully customizable. The VHP team brings a breadth of knowledge that delivers immediate connections and meaningful experiences.

Even after the COVID-19 threat has diminished, it’s unlikely that fitness centers and physician’s offices will be able to operate at full capacity for some time — if ever again.

With gym and medical office closures nation-wide, patients can find the content they need to stay on track pre or post surgery on the VHP platform. VHP provides personalized tools which guide patients to eat a healthier, more nutritious diet, while helping manage specific conditions and their symptoms. VHP also provides fitness and lifestyle content to support healthy behaviors, ideal for someone post-op.

VHP helps physicians provide after-care support to patients who are not able to make it into the office and also gives gyms a way to extend services to members who feel safer working out from home or who just can’t fit into the likely now limited class capacity. It truly is the way of the future for many healthcare and fitness providers to connect with and support patients/members in this new world.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

I spent many years in medical device sales and business development with a focus in the weight loss procedure space. One device that I helped to launch was revolutionary as you did not need surgery to be able to suture. It was used to help tighten up the stomach of patients who had regained weight after weight loss surgery. Between watching the downfall of the lap band and seeing the need for this procedure, the void in the marketplace and the need for a turnkey solution became apparent to me. Weight loss procedures require a lot of follow-up. What became apparent to me is that you can give patients a single tool, like a surgical procedure or a “tightening”, but they really need a full toolbox to succeed. This toolbox needed to go beyond what patients experienced in the office and be accessible throughout their day-to-day lives. Patients needed a combination of nutrition, lifestyle modification, and fitness support all in one place, accessible on-the-go, at hours that fit their schedule.

I shared my idea with VHP’s co-founder and successful bariatric surgeon, Dr. Shawn Garber. He saw the need too and Virtual Health Partners was born. What I didn’t realize at the start, was that this tool we had built would receive so much interest from people outside of the traditional weight loss industry, that we pivoted early on to become a multi-condition focused platform, delivering the same live virtual nutrition, lifestyle and fitness services across all verticals, utilizing the backend software to provide a customized and personalized experience for the patient. A few short but busy years later, VHP now has partnerships in eight different verticals including fitness, oncology, fertility, aesthetics, cosmetic surgery, GI, orthopedics, and weight loss.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We have currently supported over 300,000 users and growing. Now more than ever during COVID-19 the ability to support all age groups in helping them deal with managing stress, healthy eating with limited food sources and ways to stay fit at home is a whole new level of accomplishment. We have been passionate about supporting the Medicare population since our inception, making sure the interface was easy to use for all ages. We have developed specific programming to help combat nutrition and loneliness issues, along with being able to bring a sense of community virtually to those alone. Being able to support this population, along with cancer patients, Crohn’s disease sufferers, metabolic syndrome disease, cardiac rehab and many more areas critical to one’s health through this worldwide pandemic, feels like our biggest accomplishment yet; however, I am sure there are many more to come.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Balance is key — I wish I learned earlier in life the importance of taking more time away from work and focusing on family. Having lost my dad in September of 2017, I am constantly reflecting on how I was always running out of his office, when I would stop by for a quick hello to get to a work meeting or how I was too busy flying out for work on a Sunday night to make it to his house to watch the Giants game. Time is precious, having fun and working hard are important, but you only get one dad — make time for EVERYTHING!
  2. Everyone is busy — no matter what their role — remember that. It is ok to not work every single weekend, people will understand and also appreciate that you are a person. The new COVID-19 longer work day and work weekend, plus my 1 year old beautiful little girl, make this even more important. I have found myself working even more hours and full days on the weekend during COVID-19. I specifically now block my calendar for quality Cooper Lexi time every morning, every evening and on the weekends. I also have found a new balance for me time, which has led to me using VHP’s fitness content to get early morning workouts in, in our BATHROOM. I know it sounds crazy but I do cardio kickboxing, Chaise band workouts, pilates, lower and upper body workouts all from the privacy of our bathroom.
  3. Email efficiency — do not spend time sending extra emails such as “got this,”
    “received,” “working on it,” or sending multiple “thank yous” back and forth. Now more than ever with COVID-19 and the lack of interpersonal interactions emails are just piling up. There is need to create more efficiencies and processes. Your team knows you appreciate their work. Send one email each day thanking them for their efforts instead of after each single item.
  4. Multi-task — there is an art to it as you do not want people to think that you are rude. Make sure you are listening and repeat what they have shared with you to ensure they know you are listening.
  5. Vacation. It is a must to take vacations. I definitely do work while on vacation, but I also enjoy myself and have fun. It also sets a good example for the rest of your team, as it is important for everyone to take time to distress and decompress.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

  1. Always jump in. You do not always like what you have to do but do not put it off for tomorrow, because it will still be there tomorrow. For example, contracts and red-lining. It takes hours of my day, but if I do not do it we do not get finalized contracts and customers.
  2. Constant improvement. The platform, managing people and the business can all always be improved. Feedback is like a gift from your grandmother. You do not always like it, take it, store it and use it as it best fits for you.
  3. Stress management. Sleep is important. If you are that worried or stressed that you are not sleeping, you need to find a way to to manage the stress. I used to read my emails even when trying to fall asleep. I now make my to do list before I head to get ready for bed and from that point forward, I do not read work email until I wake up. I also read something that is totally fun, non-political or stressful.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Insurance companies, health systems, self-insured and health product companies have all recognized the importance of nutrition, lifestyle support and fitness to create better outcomes, as costs of care continue to rise and chronic disease increases.

How do these organizations deliver these services cost effectively to hundreds of millions of people while creating better outcomes?

VHP’S SaaS platform is the solution. What sets VHP apart is the ability to use software to service millions of people across these verticals in a cost effective manner for our partners and their customers, through a subscription model.

VHP provides live virtual nutrition, lifestyle and fitness support via our platform. The platform is highly customizable with the ability to support multiple diseases and conditions, provides live touch points, along with having robust data collection on the backend. VHP’s solution reduces costs for these organizations, improves outcomes and gives them the ability to assess live data in a streamlined approach. Now more than ever a virtual approach is needed in our post COVID-19 world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/virtualhealthpartners/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VHPGO

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/virtualhealthpartners/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/11001324/


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Virtual Live Wellness Program” With Jillian Bridgette of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Jewelry Hygiene”, With Jeweler David Bellman

…Further, with the pandemic, we as a society have become hyper aware of hand hygiene and you can’t have clean hands if you wear dirty jewelry. Some people have taken to not wearing their jewelry, but we have created the solution that lets people continue to wear their cherished jewelry and keep themselves and their families safe.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing David Bellman.

David Bellman is founder and owner of Bellman’s, New Hampshire’s premier retail jeweler. Bellman’s has won over 30 awards and has consistently been voted the state’s best jeweler. David is also the inventor of GemSpa™ by kathy ireland® and CEO of Bright Innovations, Inc. It is his invention of GemSpa™ and his discovery of Jewelry Hygiene® that just might change the world.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sure. I have been engaged in the retail jewelry business for over 35 years and what struck me right from the beginning of my career was how in desperate need of cleaning my customers’ jewelry was. The once brilliant diamonds were now dull and lifeless. I quickly came to realize that most people are not in the habit of cleaning their jewelry. For example, a woman will receive an engagement ring, put it on her finger and forget about it. Then day after day, month after month, this ring collects dirt and grime from everything she touches throughout the day. Our research shows that just after 2 weeks, enough dirt, grime and bacteria builds up to levels that are considered dangerous. Pretty scary when you think about it.

I originally set out to create an at-home jewelry cleaning system, but in the process of invention, when I learned about just how unsanitary jewelry was and that unclean jewelry could potentially transmit harmful bacteria and viruses, I made the sanitization standard a requirement for our product. I worked with my team for over 2 years perfecting the design until we eventually had a system that left jewelry sparkling clean AND sanitized.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

While visiting Los Angeles, I was unexpectedly introduced to Stephen Roseberry, the CMO of kathy ireland® Worldwide. I took that opportunity to immediately pitch him on the idea of us becoming brand partners of kathy ireland® Worldwide and also having Kathy Ireland be the brand ambassador for the new jewelry cleaning and sanitizing product.

Before leaving for my trip I had just completed the test marketing for the jewelry cleaner and had realized that having the right brand partner was critical to our success. My team and I were in the beginning stages of developing a list of possibilities. The serendipity of that chance meeting made me believe more than ever that somewhere out in the cosmos we are all interconnected and when our intentions align with our goals anything is possible.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Definitely Honesty and Integrity. In the retail jewelry business, your customers must trust you to be honest about the product you sell. The differences in quality of one diamond or colored gem from another could be every so slight and yet the difference in value could be significant so at the end of the day it’s all a matter of trust.

Another core principle is appreciating the value of relationships, the personal connection. And really, to me, honesty and integrity are vital to creating these relationships of trust with everyone from customers to personal friends. In the diamond business when two diamond dealers agree on a price and close a deal they simply shake hands and say “Mazel” — which in hebrew means “With Fortune & Blessings,” a verbal contract more binding than a written contract.

Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

My big idea was the discovery of harnessing the cleaning power of your home dishwasher, to clean and sanitize your jewelry. The dishwasher has all of the same elements that professional jewelers use when cleaning jewelry — steam, hot water and soap. In essence, the GemSpa gives the user the ability to turn their $1000 dishwasher into a $1000 professional jewelry cleaner.

We designed a device that would hold jewelry safely while the cleaning elements of the dishwasher clean and sanitize fine jewelry with professional results. From the high grade polymer plastic to the patented design of the stainless steel diffusers, every design detail enhances the cleaning ability of the dishwasher. This also includes the addition of our anti-bacterial gel that boosts the sanitization level to 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses.

In addition, the GemSpa by kathy ireland, is simple and easy to use and requires only 3 minutes of your time. Unlike most jewelry cleaners that require setup time and rely on a watered down cleaning solution and a vibrating tank, GemSpa cleans your jewelry with your dishes. Simply remove your jewelry and place it in the GemSpa, add a small amount of antibacterial gel, and place the GemSpa on the top rack of your dishwasher. When the cycle is complete your jewelry is professionally cleaned, sanitized and ready to wear.

How do you think this will change the world?

Currently, 95% of the population is wearing some type of jewelry and are unknowingly carrying around with them jewelry contaminated with bacteria and viruses. Here’s an alarming statistic — in the US alone, 1 in 6 Americans contract food poisoning every year. That’s nearly 50 million people. We know jewelry carries extremely high bacteria loads and touches the food we prepare and eat. By sanitizing jewelry, I believe we could reduce this number significantly.

Further, with the pandemic, we as a society have become hyper aware of hand hygiene and you can’t have clean hands if you wear dirty jewelry. Some people have taken to not wearing their jewelry, but we have created the solution that lets people continue to wear their cherished jewelry and keep themselves and their families safe.

Finally and most importantly, in this moment and when we do start to return to normal again, whenever that is; I want everyone, when they put on their clean jewelry to remember why that piece is important to them and to feel like they are taking care of their cherished memories. I want them to think about who it reminds them of; what event does it commemorate. We as a society imbue our jewelry with emotional significance and I want to be a part of making people feel good, happy when they put that piece, newly cleaned and properly cared for, back on.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

To be perfectly honest I cannot see any downside to cleaning and sanitizing jewelry, especially when it is that easy to now do at home…Maybe the brilliance and sparkle of jewelry can become distracting during a conversation? (chuckle).

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

For years I had been frustrated by the fact that there didn’t exist a home jewelry cleaning product that worked as well as cleaning jewelry in my store. My ah-ha moment happened several years ago, one night as I was coming home from work late, I noticed that my girlfriend had left her ring and bracelet on the dishwasher. In a bit of a daze, I thought to myself, did she clean her jewelry in the dishwasher? That was it! I realized that the home dishwasher had all the same cleaning elements as my jewelry store cleaners. All I needed to do was design a way to secure the jewelry safely while the dishwasher did all the work.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I think that educating people about Jewelry Hygiene is key. Our studies showed that the average ring carries more than 3 times the bacteria found on a public restroom seat. Whenever you’re dealing with behavior change, asking people to form a new habit — like cleaning jewelry on a regular basis — there’s a hurdle to get to the commercial success tipping point. 120 years ago, people didn’t brush their teeth, now people brush their teeth 2–3 times a day. How did that change happen? A revolutionary product, mint flavored toothpaste, made brushing your teeth more appealing. Today, not brushing your teeth every day is unthinkable. We hope to make not cleaning your jewelry just as unthinkable.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Success doesn’t necessarily come overnight. When I first started my expectations were so high, the product worked so well I just assumed the moment I began selling it people would just buy them up as fast as I could produce them.
  2. When you have an innovative product some people won’t get it. It’s ok, this is normal, just keep going!.
  3. When you’re asking people to do something new, understanding the psychology of adoption is everything.
  4. When you develop an innovative product, you know your product best. You will be getting millions of opinions from people on how they think you should sell it, but you have to trust your inner voice and go with your gut.
  5. Get more sleep.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Well, in addition to getting the aforementioned sleep, I am a follower of New Thought thinkers like Neville, Joseph Murphy and Napoleon Hill. All of whom believed that to be successful in life and business, one must believe in their subconscious mind that they are in fact successful. And by manifesting these thoughts with a firm belief of success, then that which you desire will come to you. Over the years, I noticed that some of the most successful people I know have this mindset, whether it was developed or whether they were born with this ability.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The first thing I would say is, “Tech is not the only way to build a revolutionary 10x company.” And if they are still listening, I’d say, “We’ve done everything we’ve needed over the years to prepare our company to be an “overnight success”. We have all the ingredients: a category defining product; world class product design; a tested and proven manufacturing process; and a brand partner in Kathy Ireland and kathy ireland Worldwide that is second to none. We are turnkey and ready to scale. The only thing we need is to invest in inventory and building brand equity; which we are already on our way to doing.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

For more info about the product they can go to: www.mygemspa.com, and our social handle @MyGemSpa on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Jewelry Hygiene”, With Jeweler David Bellman was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nikki Mark of the MIGHTYMOM Series: “5 Steps To Take To Become More Resilient”

Laugh. Surround yourself with people and hobbies that bring positive energy into your life. Sometimes, our own energy isn’t enough to get us through difficult times, and the power of a good laugh or just hanging out with a good friend or loyal animal can’t be understated.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nikki Mark. For nearly twenty-five years, Nikki has developed and overseen strategic operations and special projects for Los Angeles-based start-ups, including sbe Hospitality Group and The Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). For more than fourteen of those years, she has also raised a family and been an active member of her Los Angeles, CA community.

As a hobby, she started writing her first children’s book when Tommy, the eldest of her two sons, repeatedly asked why she had to go to work. He was four at the time and Nikki, intimately familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a working mom and unable to find a children’s book on the topic, felt driven to pen her own story. Mommy Brings Home the Bacon was self-published in 2011, and the charming picture book not only offered a way to begin the conversation between all working mothers and their children, it launched what is now the MIGHTYMOM Series™.

Mommy’s Got a Bun in the Oven followed to help mothers address young childrens’ curiosity about pregnancy, and MightyMom, published just before the covid-19 pandemic hit, celebrates the hidden superpowers of moms everywhere at a time when those powers are at peak demand. The latest in the series, MightyMom, was co-written by Tommy before he unexpectedly passed away in April 2018 at the age of twelve. Since that tragic day, Nikki and her family have established the TM23 Foundation to honor her son and inspire children to play, pursue their dreams, be themselves and have a positive impact on their community.

100% of net proceeds from the MightyMom Series will be donated to the TM23 Foundation. The organization is currently partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to develop “Tommy’s Field,” a full-size multipurpose field with lights in a Los Angeles public park that will benefit generations of children and adults for years to come.

Nikki graduated with honors from the University of California Santa Barbara with a degree in Communications, and subsequently earned her MBA from Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management with an emphasis in global marketing and international management.

She was born and raised in Los Angeles and currently resides in her hometown with her husband, younger son Donovan and their rescue Pit bull dog, Ginger.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I’m a native Angeleno who continues to call Los Angeles home. After earning my MBA, I spent the next twenty plus years developing and overseeing operations and / or special projects for L.A.-based startups, including sbe Hospitality Group and Los Angeles Football Club. I had my first son in 2005 and second in 2008 and have learned first-hand about the challenges of being a working mother while trying to retain some sense of self and find time to actually play. In April 2018, my oldest son, Tommy, unexpectedly passed away. He was twelve years old. It is this tragedy that has changed not only my career, but also how I view and live my life.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I have worked for three incredible entrepreneurs and seen how powerful it is when someone believes in themselves and has the courage to pursue their dreams. I listened to “experts” tell them that they couldn’t do this or that, and then watched them surround themselves with the kind of people who believed in their vision and helped manifest those dreams. My biggest takeaway is that change is hard, but those who have a vision or passion to create something new find a way to make it happen. And, they do so before they look back on their life and regret having not even tried.

What do you think has made your quest stand out? Can you share a story?

Today, I am focused on building my own family start-up, the TM23 Foundation, which honors my son Tommy. TM23’s mission is to develop and support initiatives that teach children and young adults the “heart of life,” and inspire them to play, pursue their dreams, be themselves and have a positive impact on their community. Our first initiative raised $1.2 million to build a full-size multipurpose field with lights in a West Los Angeles public park, which will be called Tommy’s Field and honor my son’s passion for sports and spirit of play. Tommy’s Field will never be locked, and it will inspire children and adults to get outside and engage with their community. We are currently in discussions to build a second Tommy’s Field in another part of the city. In addition, I’m an author and just released the third children’s picture book I’ve written, called MightyMom. This is the latest addition to my MIGHTYMOM Series™, which addresses sensitive topics to children in a lighthearted way and celebrates the hidden superpowers of moms everywhere. Tommy actually wrote MightyMom with me, and on this second anniversary of his passing, I felt compelled to not only release the book, but also to donate 100% of net proceeds from the entire series to the TM23 Foundation. The Foundation strives to inspire more laughter and joy in our world, and to remind children and young adults that success is also measured by how much we enjoy our lives. During a time when fear increasingly divides us and human connections are too often being made through a screen, TM23 really stands out by promoting the simple concept of joining together in play.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am beyond grateful to all three entrepreneurs who trusted me to help manifest their visions and who gave me the space I needed to grow as a person and businesswoman under their guidance. They gave me the flexibility to be a mother, a wife and a businesswoman and trusted that I could be and do all three well. Having said that, my husband is my biggest champion. After Tommy passed away, the start-up girl in me was no longer capable of simply being who she was before. It was impossible to put the pieces of myself back together in the same configuration. I needed time to heal and the freedom to find new purpose in my life and my work. My husband has stood next to me during this period of exploration and continues to give me the freedom to evolve.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilient people have strong imaginations and are not afraid to use them. Resilient people know there is always a way out or through. To be resilient is to create solutions, be curious and open, believe in yourself and trust the universe to help along the way.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I think of Joe Biden and all the parents who have ever lost a child yet continue to persevere and grow while honoring the child they miss and love. It is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, for others to understand how such profound loss can change a life. When I hear or read about parents who have survived such unfathomable loss and manifested new purpose in their lives, they give me hope that I can too. Joe Biden’s political views and the fact that he is running for President are not what matters to me. What matters is that he has channeled his grief in a way that is true to himself, serves others and helps him live a meaningful and joyful life. To me this is resilience at the highest level.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

After my son passed away, I was told by a number of people, including “expert” grief therapists that, “the pain is forever. It will never go away.” Their projection of how I would feel for the rest of my life did not land well with me, especially since none of them had actually experienced the loss of a child first hand. I could have listened to them and just curled up and died for the rest of my life, believing that the amount of pain I endured was an expression of how much I loved my son. Instead, I made a conscious choice to get up, put one foot in front of the other and express my love in a way that publicly honors my son and serves others. And, rising up out of love instead of allowing myself to sink in it has slowly transformed my pain so that I can keep moving through it. The TM23 Foundation is teaching me not only how to survive but how to more fully live.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My greatest setback that makes all other setbacks look like blessings, was the day my son didn’t wake up one morning. I would not say I’m stronger because of it. My efforts to survive and to create a meaningful life is not about strength. It’s about love. Love for the son I lost and love for the son and husband that I still have here.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

When I was a senior in college I went to New York for my first job interview. The morning of the interview I woke up and couldn’t shut my left eye. By the time I had to leave for the interview, the entire left side of my face was paralyzed. Never before had I experienced such fear. Still, I threw my long dark brown hair over half my face and forced myself to go through with the interview. By the time I got on a plane and flew home the next day, my entire face was paralyzed. I made a deal with the universe on that plane ride home and promised that if my faced healed, I would go after my dreams and not just keep thinking about them. I was very specific about what I meant. When I returned to L. A., I went back to college with my frozen face and graduated with all of my friends. I got the job. My face healed. And, every major decision thereafter was made in the context of the commitment I made to myself on that flight. I now look back on this experience as a blessing. It taught me the meaning of resiliency at an early age and helped me prepare for even bigger obstacles that would later come my way.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Write. Grab a pad of paper and get those emotions out on a page until you can clearly identify your problem and work through them. It may take 20 minutes, a couple of hours or multiple notebooks, but just write and write without a filter until you can identify what you are trying to achieve and why it matters. You don’t even need to read or save what you have written. By the time you reach the end of it you’ll know what to do. Also, give yourself 24 hours before acting on any of it and you’ll be able to simplify the dilemma even further. I have used this technique ever since I was a child. It helps me put my problems into perspective and forces new layers of my own self to start working for me.
  2. Create. Use your imagination to create action steps and figure out different ways to proceed. Don’t limit yourself. Let your curiousity fuel you and the imagination go as far as it wants, and then the right course of action will become apparent. Make sure the vision is clear and find the courage to go for it. There is always a way. You just have to believe in yourself and trust that the universe will help you at some point along the way.
  3. Walk. Put one foot in front of the other. Step by step. Day by day. If you don’t run from the problem you will get through it faster and stronger.
  4. Read. Read about others who have faced adversity and allow their stories to teach and inspire you. They will put your problem into context. I lost one child. It’s an unimaginable tragedy. Then I read about others who lost their entire family. Just like there is always someone smarter, better looking and more successful, there is always someone with bigger problems than yours. Allow their stories to inspire and guide you. They are hoping that they will.
  5. Laugh. Surround yourself with people and hobbies that bring positive energy into your life. Sometimes, our own energy isn’t enough to get us through difficult times, and the power of a good laugh or just hanging out with a good friend or loyal animal can’t be understated. A month or so after Tommy passed away, a friend of my husband’s who I didn’t know at the time invited us to his comedy show at the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. I had been grieving all day and could not stop the flow of tears. I told my husband that going to a comedy show was the worst idea of all time. I didn’t want to laugh. I thought comedy was too dark, and my life was dark enough. He convinced me to go for an hour. We stayed for almost two. Within minutes of the show starting, I surprised myself by laughing and an inner voice told me that I would be able to laugh again in life. The laughter infused me with positive energy on a day when I needed it the most.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-). I believe the TM23 Foundation is part of a movement that will encourage younger generations to be themselves, to play and to serve their communities. The world spends a lot of time focused on fear. Fear that our children won’t be the best at something. Fear that we will fail. Fear that we will die. The TM23 Foundation strives to remind people to live. We should spend more time enjoying our lives. We should play more. We should care about our community more. We should do what is deeply meaningful to us. We should learn about what interests us. And, we should strive to become what we love. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for me to learn these lessons and now the TM23 Foundations hopes to help kids and young adults learn it sooner. By teaching children the value of doing what they love, they will spread more joy than fear and help our world reprioritize fun.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-). Again, I have to go with Joe Biden. Not, as I said earlier, for political reasons, and not to discuss politics, but because I so admire how he has risen up to serve his country. I would love the chance to have a conversation with him about how those loved ones he has lost along the way continue to inspire him every single day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: www.TM23foundation.org;

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tm23foundation/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TM23Foundation

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Nikki Mark of the MIGHTYMOM Series: “5 Steps To Take To Become More Resilient” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

While confronting challenges, it’s always important that co-workers feel respected and not ambushed. An easy way to give constructive feedback without being too critical is to always follow up the problem or situation with an action item. Pointing out how a team member can work to improve upon challenges shows that you are invested in their success and growth.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Bell is the chancellor of WGU Indiana, the state’s online, competency-based university. Bell has more than 20 years of higher education leadership experience, including four years of prior experience with WGU Indiana as their general manager of operations from 2010–2014. Bell earned a M.A. in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education from Ball State University. She received additional training through the Indiana University Advising Leadership Institute and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I am the chancellor of WGU Indiana, the state’s online, competency-based university. I have over 20 years of higher education leadership experience, including four years of prior experience with WGU Indiana as their general manager of operations from 2010–2014. Before returning to WGU, I served as Director of Degree Completion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where I led operations and supervised academic coaching and career staff.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I am a working mom. As a young professional, I believed that I had to be the one to do everything for my children. I also worried when I had to miss events at work because of family responsibilities. I thought I had to do it all myself and, as a result, felt like I was doing nothing very well. What I’ve learned over time is that taking care of your professional and personal responsibilities doesn’t always mean doing it yourself. Asking for help, leaning on your community, giving responsibilities to a trusted colleague IS taking care of things. When I let go of the idea that I had to do it all myself, I found that I became a better mother and a more effective leader.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once accepted a job that was a newly created position and part of the role was to be the local support for a whole team of new employees as they experienced onboarding and training. I was still learning, myself, and was often fielding questions for which I did not have immediate answers. I felt the stress of the responsibility I had taken on because I wanted the new employees to feel supported by and confident in me and in the organization. As a result of this experience, I learned that it is ok not to know everything when you lead a team. In embarking on the journey together, trust and connections are built, and everyone learns something. So now, when someone asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I give them the response that I developed as a result of that experience, “let’s find that out together”.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

As a leader, it’s important to first model this behavior for your employees. Often, your team members will follow the example that you set. My team feels free to pursue activities that align with their passions and set boundaries between work and personal life because I am transparent about the boundaries that I set, the activities that I choose to bring balance, and support them when they do the same.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I started managing a remote team in 2012 and have continued to manage remote team members since then.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. No open door conversations — As a leader, I leave my door open and welcome my team to stop in when my schedule allows. Some the most powerful interactions I have had with members of my team have been impromptu interactions. Whether it be a quick question or idea they pop into my office to share with me, or a conversation prompted by an interpersonal interaction, those opportunities are fewer and different when everyone is working remotely.
  2. No “water-cooler” conversations — While too much socializing in the workplace can negatively impact productivity, there is no question that some socializing while working together in the office is healthy and builds community and relationships. Those relationships are often the foundation of collaborations between team members that move the organization along in a positive direction.
  3. Measuring productivity — While time in the office doesn’t exactly equal time on task, there is some comfort and showing up to a physical office and seeing your team at work in the same place. Having everyone working remotely requires a different level of trust and an alternative way to measure productivity.
  4. Celebrations — Whether celebrating birthdays, welcoming new team members, or a team accomplishment, rituals of celebration are an important part of team building and provide motivation and energy. Teams working remotely cannot go to lunch together or meet in the break room to sing happy birthday.
  5. Team meetings — The dynamic of a team meeting in an online conference room is different in many ways from an in-person meeting. Online meetings have so much more potential for interruptions and technical difficulties, as a leader it can be more difficult to recognize when a team member is trying to speak up but getting talked over, and people can more easily disengage and multitask.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

  1. Use technology to create an open door. By now, every organization has an IM system with the option to mark yourself “available”. My team knows that if I’m marked as available, my virtual door is open for them to “drop in”. I make it a point to be responsive when I’m marked as available and set my status to “busy” if I truly cannot be disturbed. We also have a more regular cadence of one on one and group meetings to facilitate these conversations.
  2. Water-cooler conversations can happen remotely. Again, we use our IM tool. As a team we level-set expectations that we have our IM system open and that we use the tagging feature to alert colleagues of our conversations. As leaders, we intentionally created a team channel to share (by choice) pictures of fun things we’ve done on the weekends with families, funny memes, and inspirational messages, too.
  3. Set clear goals with team members and manage based on those goals. When there is a mutual understanding of tasks and goals, it’s easy to know when your team member is spending enough time on task!
  4. Celebrations can continue via the internet! We have hosted 3 team lunches a virtual baby shower in the last 2 months. We would rather be in the room together, but we can celebrate this way too, and it is fun in a different way.
  5. Effective virtual Team Meetings — Lay out ground rules and expectations, ask everyone to leave their camera’s on to minimize multi-tasking, give each team member a turn to talk so that everyone contributes, and teach everyone where the mute button is.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

It’s important to continue regular communication between team members even when working remote, don’t assume that no news, is good news. With such a broad variety of virtual platforms, there are endless mediums for communicating different situations. Although it’s not always the preferred medium of communication, setting up a phone call or a virtual Zoom call can be the best way to give constructive criticism or chat about a specific situation. Staying connected on a day to day or weekly basis can make these conversations easier and also prevent any conflicts from going unseen.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

While confronting challenges, it’s always important that co-workers feel respected and not ambushed. An easy way to give constructive feedback without being too critical is to always follow up the problem or situation with an action item. Pointing out how a team member can work to improve upon challenges shows that you are invested in their success and growth.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

One of the most important things to remember during these challenging times is that everyone handles change in different ways. It’s important to keep lines of communication open, especially when working remotely is something new or is being forced upon us. Nearly 300 of WGU Indiana’s faculty and staff work remotely, so luckily, we have existing tools and mechanisms to make sure communication is easy and accessible.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

It’s essential to keep team moral high, especially given the uncertainty with which we are all living. As a leader in the office it’s important to make sure all team members feel heard and know they are not alone in this difficult transition. A great way to do this is to set up a virtual office meeting and also keep open communication across the entire workplace. In addition to open communication, giving positive recognition to team members while working from home shows that you see the work they are putting in every day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The onset of the novel coronavirus and the necessity to shelter in place has brought the need for reliable, affordable internet access to the forefront. This is a moment when students, professionals, and families must rely on the internet more than ever for their education, jobs, and personal needs, yet in Indiana alone, 666,000 people live without access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds. Now is a time to recognize that equal access to high-speed internet is essential in both rural and urban settings across my home state and others and that urgent action is needed to support our leaders in their efforts to shrink this digital divide.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

Thank you for these great insights!


WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dr. Islam Gouda: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

Another huge benefit of social media is that it provides market insight companies can use to better their brand. When a brand is experiencing problems, social media is there to connect with consumers that can provide insights into why the brand is having those problems. Social media also humanizes brands by allowing companies to respond to consumer problems, comments and feedback. Social media marketing not only helps companies connect with their consumers in a more engaging and sincere way, it also allows companies to provide their audience with a call-to-action and reinforces deep connections.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Islam Gouda.

Dr. Islam Gouda is a young professional with a passion for marketing. Dr. Gouda has an honorary doctorate from the University of California in Strategic Marketing as a result of the many articles, research studies and publications in that field. He also has a masters degree from the University of Wollongong in Strategic Marketing, and attended Lehigh university’s organizational leadership course, and an American University of Sharjah graduate in Marketing and Management.

Dr. Gouda is a marketing focused business experience with a strong analytical ability of using available market data for strategic marketing, business development, product development purposes along with the identification of new business opportunities and measurement of ROI.

Dr. Gouda’s specialties include leadership and communications skills with the ability to adapt to a wide variety of cultures and to manage and work part of cross-functional teams.

Dr. Gouda has a strong track of success on the definition and execution of the whole marketing mix for both consumer and enterprise segments: market intelligence, product management, demand generation, press, advertising, alliances — with a proven channel expertise, campaigns setup, channel enablement programs, execution, tracking, reporting.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before joining the American University of Sharjah, all my studies were in Arabic, but my thinking and influence from my friends made me want to be a computer engineer as I thought this would be the future at that time. When I applied at the American University of Sharjah my first semester, I had to undertake several elective courses one of which was marketing. I was fond of studying the psychology of the consumers and trying to create products and services that appeal to them in a scientific and measurable manner. I changed my major to the school of business and chose Marketing and Management as my major. I was an “A” student and my professors started hiring me as their TA for the subject and predicted a bright future for me pursuing my passion and what I love and not what others told me to be. My first job was at MasterCard Middle East, it was where I really enjoyed working with numbers and statistics about people’s purchasing patterns and behaviors and devised concise marketing strategies and plans. I did BTL and ATL marketing in addition to practicing social media and how to interact with the customers online, and for that particular company I give all credit to where I am right now and being the head of marketing in my next roles.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was part of MasterCard Middle East, I was also in charge of developing new products for the customers that were insights and data driven by the customer purchases. We wanted at that time to create a product that caters to women, a credit card for one of the operating banks in the Middle East that can be sold to the women segment. So, one of my suggestions about the packaging was to make the card colorful (pink) so women can feel that they can comfortably use it, and men be discouraged to get the card. When we launched the card neither men or women bought and when we created a focus group to understand why it came to our knowledge that women do not like to have pink credit cards but black as men do to feel equal with men as they earn and spend in the same way. So, that mistake taught me that not all standard theories are obsolete, and that customers’ insights change from one situation to the other depending on the industry, the product, and what they feel when making a purchase. So, the lesson learned was to not always listen to your instincts but first to talk with the people and understand what they want before deciding. Yes, it might take time, yes it would involve an ample amount of research, but it will yield the results that you want to achieve.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My current company understands the employees and capitalizes on their strengths and tries to empower them to overcome their weaknesses. The number one factor of success in any company is listening and understanding your employees and that is what my current company does. It allows free thinking and creativity, there is autonomy and no micro-management, and this is key giving freedom to the employees to creatively achieve their goals and objectives.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am currently part of the automotive industry, and the number one challenge is to understand how people react to the changing circumstances amid the COVID19 pandemic. What are the certain behaviors and decisions people would make when viewing a car rental proposition? Our number one priority is to understand that pattern of behavior to help them commute in the most safe and secure way and create messages that would unblock their protective moods that they have been in due to the COVID19 situation.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding is a lot deeper than we might realize when we’re reading about the newest marketing fads on the internet. Branding has everything to do with identity: who are you and what kind of business are you? What’s your name, and why should I remember it? How do you and your brand make me feel? The answers to these questions should be related to your products and services — but not limited to them. Your brand is what makes your business feel like a person, and a person is more than an automatic vending machine, business transaction or product; a person has a personality, and just like a person, your business’ brand needs to show its personality. Advertising, however, is about communicating what you have to offer through sales, coupons, radio and TV ads, and posters. An advertisement is soliciting a meeting between your ideal customer and your company, and the difference between a customer who knows your brand and one who doesn’t is like the difference between asking a stranger on the street to go to coffee with you, and asking a friend.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Brand recognition and awareness play a huge part in building credibility with customers and helping the sales team close a deal. Demand generation and corporate branding go together, especially for growth-phase companies. If a prospect does not know your company, the sales rep will spend the first few precious minutes explaining who you are. Wouldn’t it be better and more effective if your prospect had already heard of you? That way, instead of describing your company, you could spend time describing your offering. People buy products they like from companies they know and trust. Think Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks or B2B companies such as Intel and GE. In today’s market, brand credibility is your competitive advantage. Whether you are a start-up or a growth-phase business, it’s imperative for marketing heads to position the brand as a market leader and leverage their founders’ profile to create positive brand perception and customer behavior. Additionally, Founders and business leaders are constantly looking for financiers to support their growth and exit strategies. Investors view a company before investing, not just its product or products. They also consider corporate reputation, the CEO and founders’ credibility and financial performance before making an investment decision. Finally, in today’s digital era, buying decisions are changing dramatically. buyers are now as empowered as consumers. CIOs are not the only ones making the ultimate buying decisions, and how businesses interact with vendors is also changing. Marketers therefore have to design strategies that educate and engage customers, not “sell” to them. Content should be interesting, and search optimized for digital discovery. Delivering a personalized experience and making content and tools readily available when and where customers need them have great potential to improve the customer experience. Building your brand is key to driving sales, boosting partnerships, and accelerating growth. You want customers to trust your name, eager to learn more and be proud they can rely on your brand to run their business. Consider brand building as a long-term commitment and investment — not an expense.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

  1. The number one strategy is to be honest with the customers, being transparent means recognizing and being open about both your strengths and weaknesses. If your product is not right for one of your leads, you should be secure enough to guide that lead in the right direction, even if that act means boosting your competitor’s bottom line. When Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, (now the Dove Self-Esteem Project) it transformed itself from merely a soap company to a company with a vision. Their new mission statement was that “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” By consistently aligning its marketing efforts with its mission statement, Dove has been able to change its public perception to a brand that authentically champions women’s empowerment and wants to change the conversation around beauty. The longevity and resources Dove has put into changing the advertising industry’s narrow view of beauty have also made Dove appear more credible with its marketing messages.
  2. The second most important strategy is to under promise and over deliver. Consumers don’t trust brands nearly as much as they used to, and one reason for this shift is that customers feel they’ve been lied to. Any time a customer feels as though he or she has been deceived or manipulated, in any way that customers will likely part ways with the brand responsible. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to all forms of customer expectations. If it takes you a week to ship a product, tell your customers it takes two weeks. If a product will last for 10 years, claim it will last for eight. That way, you will never run the risk of breaking your promises (at least, not with the majority of your customers). The Japanese car maker Toyota has been doing this for years, people know the quality of the cars and their durability, but they never promise customers that their cars will last for years. Customers experience such a brand promise by themselves without such being said in advertising or marketing campaigns, that is how their sales are always high, and people buy their products without any hesitation.
  3. The third strategy is to embody values that set you apart. Take Ben and Jerry as an example. For Ben & Jerry’s, it’s not enough just to turn a profit, or even to provide the best possible ice cream product to their customers. In addition to those two goals, they want to use their business to try to make the world a better place through charitable work (the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation was founded in 1985 and receives 7.5% of the company’s annual profits to fund “community-oriented projects”) and activism (Ben & Jerry’s works to support causes they believe in, including GMO labeling and preventing climate change).It can be hard as a business owner to decide to take a stand for a cause you believe in. It’s a big risk — everyone isn’t going to agree with the specific things that you may want to support, of course, and the fear of losing customers can overpower a desire to do good. But for a business that wants to do more, no matter what “more” means to you, Ben & Jerry’s is a great role model.
  4. The fourth strategy is to always put the customers first. When it comes down to it, your ability to earn customer trust depends on your ability to reliably give your customers what they want. And one of the best ways to do this is to build a company-wide customer-centric culture. For example, Emirates Airlines provides the best flying experience to customers with varying budgets. You can have a great experience with Emirates travelling in economy class better than any other airlines the same way goes to flying first class. They simply put the customers first and make them the center of the transaction.
  5. The final strategy is to maintain consistency. Maintaining consistency ensures that your prospects and customers know what to expect. You can set both internal and external goals to maintain the quality of service. Brands like Coca-Cola and Nike have managed to maintain consistency over decades in business. Even with subtle changes in design over the years, there is a basic look that remains consistent.
  6. Finally, Trust is a byproduct of a commitment to quality and excellence. If you can deliver the right results to the right people over the long haul, they will come to believe and trust in your product and service offerings.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I think the best example is Burt’s Bees. They make all-natural personal care products, but their mission is much larger. Inspired by their founder, they “look to Burt as a model of how to live simply, naturally, and responsibly.” As such, a large component of their brand storytelling focuses on how Burt’s philosophies and lifestyle influence the products they make. Through a series of entertaining videos, they help us get to know the man behind the brand. The thing that impresses me the most about this brand is its ability to start small and then become very large on the grounds of a product that has never been inspired by the customers at all. When Burts Bees conducted focus groups and surveys, customers never said that they wanted a lip balm made out of honey, they just mentioned that they would like to see a more natural product in such a market. They have created the niche but did not find it, which is a case study to all marketers around the world of the fantastic job they have done. In order for us to replicate that, we need to read between the lines of what the customers says. People will never tell you we want this or that, but they will outline their aspirations and for such marketers needs to psychoanalyse the customers and create an understanding beyond what they are saying.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

Before beginning any brand-building campaign, it’s important to first determine the campaign’s goals. What would success look like for this campaign? Are you trying to raise brand awareness, or do you want your campaign to result in a specific action? The simple exercise of exploring these options and parameters will help you develop a richer analysis of your efforts. Keep in mind that the more detailed you get in terms of goals and benchmarks, the better. Let us say, for example, that you want to send out your company’s freshly re-branded newsletter. Many marketers would fall into the mistake of sending the newsletter out and seeing what happens. But, much like the importance of a hypothesis in a science experiment, your priority should be to set certain benchmarks or goals for this campaign. Once the campaign is complete, you can revisit these goals to see just how the campaign measured up to expectations — providing you with a better idea of what you can do to improve for next time. You’ll also want to include competitor data in your benchmarks. While it’s important to measure the success of your campaign from an internal perspective, where are you in regard to the competition? Are you aware of the number of downloads their app has? Has their latest campaign resulted in a spike of followers on social? Knowing what you need to do to remain competitive will add yet another layer of complexity to how you measure the success of your brand building campaigns. Measuring the success of any campaign comes down to data. Fortunately, in the Digital Age where products are becoming smarter and consumer’s time online continues to increase, marketers have a plethora of data they can take advantage of. In today’s ever-online world, you can monitor brand activity across all channels in order to gauge engagement and reach. Analytics can be used to gain insight into demographics, interest, and awareness. You can then use this information to discover new areas of opportunity. Data can also be used to test campaigns and content. A/B testing content can yield impressive insight and enable your company to create smarter campaigns.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

The role of social media in building brands is an extremely important one. With social media, all consumers can share their voice and opinion. With the different types of social media platforms, companies have many ways to connect with their audience. Social media increases the amount of exposure a brand receives and increases traffic. Social media also helps to develop loyal fans and generates leads. Having a strong social media presence allows a brand to develop business partnerships, reduce marketing costs and improve sales. Another huge benefit of social media is that it provides market insight companies can use to better their brand. When a brand is experiencing problems, social media is there to connect with consumers that can provide insights into why the brand is having those problems. Social media also humanizes brands by allowing companies to respond to consumer problems, comments and feedback. Social media marketing not only helps companies connect with their consumers in a more engaging and sincere way, it also allows companies to provide their audience with a call-to-action and reinforces deep connections. There are many essential social media marketing strategies to ensure a brand is optimizing social media. The first is to choose the right social media networks that fit the brand best. If a company is finding they aren’t getting any traction on some social media sites, it’s beneficial to change to other sites they could get traction on. The next strategy is to not overlook visual branding. Consumers respond to visuals so it is important to ensure all social media profiles look similar and don’t create a disconnect. The third strategy companies should use is to develop their own unique voice. To do this, companies should incorporate their company culture and values into their posts and make them authentic. Being consistent with topics and posting regularly are also important strategies companies should focus on when building their brand. The rise of social media has led to the rise of influencers. When building their brand, companies should connect with these influencers. When connecting with influencers, companies should make sure they are authentic, active, engaging, experts in the field and good leaders. Other strategies for building brands include not wasting profile space, promoting profiles and, most importantly, being engaging.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

The best tip I can give is to build a solid workflow and stick to it. In the short-term, it’s tempting to skirt around steps or tasks in my workflows to save a few minutes here or there, but in the end it has always come back to bite me and costs me an hour or two. Workflows are built for a reason — ensuring that a quality product can be turned out in a timely and efficient manner.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Help comes in all sorts of forms — from helping an elderly lady across the street, to supporting a colleague to get a huge project done, to consoling a friend who’s going through a bad break up. Contrary to the idea that people who help in big ways are doormats and will inevitably burn out or get walked on, research now shows that those who are the most successful and impactful in the world are also the biggest, most generous givers. So, if you are a teen, or in college, or a working member of the community dedicate at least 2 hours of your day helping others in any form and you will feel better and make others feel better as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My own personal quote in life is “Your character will take you places more than your talent, and your talent will take you places more than your skills, and your motivation is what makes all of these work together.” After many years of working and studying, I came to the conclusion that character alone won’t take you places, and talent alone won’t take you places — you need to be self-motivated in order for your talent and your character to work together and make something out of you. This quote is very relevant in my life because people used to tell me that I had the talent and the character, but my motivation levels were very low. When my passion for marketing started growing, I did not read much outside of my work experiences and the books that I used to read when I was at school. But I figured out that it is was not enough — for you to thrive in life you need to read and read and read and finally write about your experiences. Motivate yourself and reward it at the end of the day with an accomplishment that crowns your efforts.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would like to meet Bill Gates and have lunch with him, I want to understand what motivated him to create this empire and suddenly step out. It would be interesting to take his insights as well on future business changes in addition to his personal experience with marketing Microsoft to turn into one of the biggest companies in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can reach out to me on LinkedIn (search Islam Gouda),

or on Twitter (IslamGouda11)

or send me an email on islamgouda@hotmail.com


Dr. Islam Gouda: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Bill Eckstrom of the EcSell Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

Bill Eckstrom of the EcSell Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

We tend to make negative assumptions — my people don’t work as hard, they are not as productive, they must be spending more time on social media, etc. Negative assumptions create distrust, which damages leadership effectiveness.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Eckstrom, CEO and founder of the EcSell Institute, a research-based organization that coaches company leaders on growth and performance.

Bill’s vast experience of turning subpar leaders into elite coaches will help you understand why measuring performance at the leadership level is critical to growth at the individual, team, and organizational level. Bill is known as the world’s foremost authority in metric-based performance coaching and growth. Utilizing both entertainment and poignant research in his talks, Bill will leave your audience ready to take action. Bill was invited to the TEDx stage in 2017, and his talk entitled “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life” was the fastest growing TEDx Talk in the history of the event. Bill’s latest book, “The Coaching Effect,” is based on the research of over 100,000 workplace coaching interactions and helps leaders at all levels understand the necessity of challenging people out of their comfort zone to create a high-growth organization. Growth is what inspires Bill’s philanthropic life, especially his involvement in therapy dog work. He and his Labrador, Aspen, work together at senior living homes, children’s hospitals and anywhere the presence of Aspen’s wagging tail and soft soul can bring a smile.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I spent the first 15 years of my career in sales, then sales leadership roles until 2008. At that time, I was searching for a leadership development program that was as robust as the training programs available for sales teams. It was also important to me that the program be based in data and research, not opinion — but I couldn’t find any that checked those boxes. That’s when I founded the EcSell Institute, a research-based coaching and leadership development organization.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I applied to do a TEDx Talk in my hometown and was rejected. Not long after, I was asked by the organizer of a TED event in different city to give a talk there. The resulting talk became their most viral talk in the history of their event. Based on TED viewing data, the goal was to have 15,000 views in the first six months — the video hit 15,000 views in just over 24 hours!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When giving a speech, never go to the restroom without turning of your wireless mic. I did this once during an intermission, thinking I had clicked it off, but obviously had not… When I returned to the audience, I received a standing ovation.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Know if the leaders within your organizations are coaching in a way that promotes thriving employees! Ultimately, the only way for CEOs or founders to understand the effectiveness of their leaders’ coaching is to quantify it through objective measurement. If you aren’t measuring it, you are leaving your employees vulnerable to underperformance and burnout.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

My first remote team was in 2000, and I’ve had remote team members in every role and company since that time. Looking presently at EcSell’s senior team, there are several remote members; our President, director of research, director of events, and various others been working remotely for over four years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

There are certainly differences in managing remotely vs in person, but they are not so significant that leaders can’t overcome them.

  1. Out of sight, out of mind — let’s face it, not being physically present makes it easy to forget about those on your team. There are fewer questions, fewer reasons to be present, and fewer distractions, which all lead to lack of communication.
  2. Relationship creation and perpetuation is easier to let slide — this ties back to the previous challenge, but is unique. Creating and perpetuating relationships is still foundational to engagement, turnover, sales revenue, and more. Not all communication creates deeper trust-based relationships, so leaders need to do the right activities with the right quality. For example, most remote leaders will still hold 1:1 meetings with those on their team, but if all they talk about is the numbers, relationships will diminish. Leaders need to get personal with their people! More intentionality must be brought to relationship development to maintain growth.
  3. We tend to make negative assumptions — my people don’t work as hard, they are not as productive, they must be spending more time on social media, etc. Negative assumptions create distrust, which damages leadership effectiveness.
  4. Access to high-functioning work places at home is not a given — kids, aging parents, lack of space, lack of proper office ergonomics, and more are all factors that impact work effectiveness.
  5. Team members aren’t necessarily feeling confident in their ability to do their jobs well — Our COVID-19 Insight Survey™ tells us that only 35% of employees strongly agree that they know what to do to be successful in the near future.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

  1. Leaders need to do be doing more “check-in” calls with team members. Again, the top performing leaders of teams are doing this a minimum of 2–3 times/week/member of the team.
  2. Because of what we are seeing in our COVID-19 research, leaders need to hold 1:1 meetings with those on their teams at least weekly (if not already happening). They can move to every other week once the chaos is behind us.
  3. Always assume those on your team are still providing the best effort they can, but once a week, ask the question, “Is there anything you need or that would help your productivity in your new virtual environment?” I did this for a team member who responded by asking if I would adopt his kids (he was joking, of course).
  4. During a team meeting, ask “Would you share one best practice you are doing to be more effective while working from home?” Then, put together a list of the best practices and share with everyone in your company.
  5. Ask (don’t tell) each member of your team what their key priorities are for the next four weeks. See if their answers are in line with your expectations, and if not, share your expectations in a clear and succinct manner. Then ask them to paraphrase (in a way that is not condescending) the key priorities so that what you said and what they heard are in sync.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you, much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Feedback is too often thought of as an activity that occurs only when somebody has not met an expectation, which is usually why it is associated with “constructive criticism.” However, consistent feedback should be woven into the fabric of the organization. When feedback becomes cultural, whether positive or negative, the response is easier to receive. So, the challenge at hand is not the communication medium (virtual -v- in person), but rather the culture of feedback within an organization.

EcSell Institute research is showing that many people prefer to video chat over simply a phone call, which can assist in the feedback process. Regardless of the communication medium, effective leaders should always be very deliberate about asking questions, which may seem at odds with the term “feedback.” Questioning is the most powerful form of feedback. So, if either negative or positive feedback is being provided, always be sure to ask, “How is this making you feel?” Another effective form of feedback is to ask the employee to paraphrase all or some of the conversation that was just had, which ensures both parties are on the same page.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Email should never be a medium for providing feedback, but it can be used as a tool for written follow-up to a spoken feedback conversation. There is too much emotional risk to use only the written word for feedback; employees need to hear a voice and see a face for proper feedback to occur.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

EcSell Institute research shows that communication is key. 86% of top-performing companies have leaders who are reaching out to those on their team a minimum of 2–3 times/week — some (50%) are doing it as often as daily with great results. These “check-ins” don’t have to be all business-related — sometimes people just want you to ask how they are holding up.

Obstacle to avoid: don’t assume everyone wants to be treated the same way during this new working dynamic. While some may want or need to hear from you 3–4 times/week, others may only want to visit once weekly. It is a leader’s job to determine what is unique for each individual on their teams.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Our business-related team meetings used to be every other week, but we now hold a 15-minute off-week meeting too. All meetings begin with a thumbs up, down, or sideways as a quick “how are you doing” indicator. If a team member is sideways or down, we then ask if it is something they would like to share or discuss later.

We also recommend a weekly virtual team gathering that is primarily social. EcSell has dubbed ours FAC — “Forget About Covid.” It’s 3–4pm on Fridays, and we begin by having a team member ask a unique question that each person needs to answer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Practice the 3 M’s: Mindfulness. Meditation. Manifestation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The constant façade of order hides the wilderness that is craving to seep out and teach us that life wasn’t created to be what we think it is. Beyond words, we must experience the wilderness to be taught what cannot be otherwise known.”

Dr. Serene Jones

I used this quote in the closing of my TEDx Talk. By living these words, which captured the spirit of my talk, my life has forever evolved for the positive. It allowed me to write a book on the topic, and it has given EcSell Institute’s work worldwide recognition.

Thank you for these great insights!


Bill Eckstrom of the EcSell Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sunil Prashara of the Project Management Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully…

Sunil Prashara of the Project Management Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

In today’s business environment people are moving so quickly — it’s easy to shoot off an email without taking the time to think about how it will be interpreted on the other end. I would actually say that effective leaders should always offer to connect via phone or video chat to talk through feedback. In my experience, constructive feedback should really always be a conversation rather than handled over email if it involves potentially sensitive issues. Email may be the beginning of the conversation, but be sure to follow through with a real conversation.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sunil Prashara, President & CEO, Project Management Institute.

As President & Chief Executive Officer of the Project Management Institute (PMI), Sunil Prashara is the lead advocate for PMI’s global organization, serving more than three million professionals working in nearly every country of the world. His primary responsibility is to implement PMI’s global strategic plan with a priority on strategic focus, customer centricity and organizational agility. This includes expanding the PMI footprint globally, as well as digitizing PMI’s offerings and platforms to benefit its members and a variety of other stakeholders. The plan will also continue to enhance and advocate for the profession of project management.

Sunil was named CEO of PMI in March of 2019. He brings more than three decades of valuable global leadership to PMI, with a solid track record of setting and delivering strategy, managing large scale transformation agendas, and meeting growth targets for international organizations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

My backstory isn’t exactly traditional. While I have always worked in the corporate world for large, global organizations, I didn’t have just one clear path or role. Within my 30 years of experience, I’ve worn a variety of different hats from finance to sales to operations.

I started off earning a degree in medical biochemistry. I then began as a rookie salesperson and ended up as the Global Head of Sales for Nokia. I started in finance and worked my way up to CFO for an IT services company. And within operations, I ran multi-billion-dollar transformation programs for Vodafone.

And since my global roles have taken me all over the world, I have a strong appreciation of different cultures and the way business is conducted in different parts of the world.

I believe it’s this variety of experience that has prepared me to work as a CEO. I understand the different challenges, needs, thought processes and working styles across functions and borders.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

What has been most interesting to me overall has been that opportunity, right from an early start in my career, to pivot from one functional area to another — multiple times. What has ultimately been most interesting has been the opportunity to build on each of these experiences. As I look at my role now as a CEO, all of these experiences as fundamentally a “sales guy” helped bear a lot of fruit to help me do the job today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Some consistent mistakes that I’ve seen time and again have been the consequences of miscommunication resulting in a lack of alignment. Problems can easily emerge that shouldn’t have ever arisen — and they all stem from poor communications.

That can happen all the time at both tactical and strategic levels, especially when you’re communicating across countries and languages. I can remember times seeing someone present information to senior leaders after working diligently on a deliverable, only to discover that they had totally misunderstood the request. It can be funny — but it can also be embarrassing and cost lots of money!

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

The first thing is to be conscious that the productivity levels of staff have gone through the roof. Employees are working from home, which often results in them being much more focused on work with few distractions. In this environment, work-life balance is more important than ever, but more difficult to gauge working from home.

This burst of productivity can be good in the short term, but it can also hurt over time. Leaders need to be cognizant of this reality and give their teams sufficient time for their work. You may need to revisit some deadlines; some deadlines are obviously critical for the business, but not deadlines for the sake of deadlines. Cut people some slack and build that into the project plan.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve been managing remote teams for 25 years. At Vodafone, I ran sales globally and had 11 regions all virtually reporting to me. All of our meetings were virtual.

Today all of PMI’s staff have gone virtual for the moment. I’ve learned that the way people communicate in these teams can be very different. You have to keep in mind geographic differences, for instance, people in Japan will communicate very differently from the Netherlands or the US. It’s important to maintain an awareness of those team dynamics.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

When transitioning to remote teams, there will be an adjustment period. Many remote teams will face the following challenges:

  • Adapting to virtual meetings: When it comes to virtual meetings, remote teams must get into a rhythm. When you aren’t in person in an office or conference room, it’s easier to get distracted, people might talk over one another unintentionally while others may not be as engaged. The biggest mistake managers make is operating like it’s business as usual. Different skills, behaviors and connection points are needed to make virtual meetings successful and productive. On the positive side here, you don’t have half of the team in person and half on the phone. Everyone joins calls virtually today, which puts them on an equal footing. That’s a practice most will want to continue going forward. When one person is virtual, they all should be.
  • Misunderstandings and miscommunication: When you lose the face-to-face connection, things can get lost in translation more easily and result in misunderstandings or miscommunication. If unaddressed, in time can fester into resentment or anger. Tone is very important here. Managers need to periodically bring together disparate team members to discuss ongoing challenges and align on next steps.
  • Adjusting leadership style: In our new environment of home offices and webinars, leaders must use the tools at their disposal to connect meaningfully with team members. This style of collaborative leadership calls on leaders to not simply issue directives; they need to motivate and convey a shared purpose. In a time when talent can go anywhere in the world, the “command and control” style of leadership is a relic of the past — we can have no patience today for “check the box” style management.
  • Embracing new “power skills”: Working in a virtual environment requires a different set of “power skills” — like greater communication, more emotional intelligence and empathy. COVID-19 has shown us the value of emotional intelligence when managing teams and handling conflict from afar. Technology can only do so much; the ability to be human and show empathy and cultural awareness when you lose face-to-face contact will help draw teams together virtually.
  • Combining teams with different skills, experiences, thinking and cultures: When managing a globally dispersed team, it can be challenging to navigate different time zones, local holidays, any language barriers and more. But once you bring everyone together, the benefits outweigh the challenges. Bringing together talent regardless of where they are based allows businesses to bring together the right talent for the right project. Companies can harness a greater diversity of thought and reduce cultural bias. The trick here is to create enough team cohesion that each person sees the value in others.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

To address challenges around productivity, it’s important to build comradery around a shared vision or goal despite physical distance. Make sure everyone on the team is clear on their specific role and knows that they have a voice and place on the team. This also applies to virtual team meetings — ensuring that everyone knows their role will lead to greater transparency and participation across the team. People need to see their work within the context of the bigger team goals. It gives them a sense of place and worth — focusing their actions, as they understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

But transparency extends beyond defining goals, roles and responsibilities. It’s also important to create a shared virtual work environment — much like you would have in the office — to make work more visible. This helps ensure that your teams aren’t questioning each other’s productivity and prevents micro-management.

There are several tools that can help accomplish this be it Microsoft Teams, Trello, etc. And these tools often allow you to capture all interactions in one space. By standardizing tools, your teams will have greater insight into where certain items are in the work stream and know where to engage their coworkers beyond official calls and meetings. Establishing a virtual workspace helps create greater autonomy while simultaneously enhancing transparency.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but geographically dispersed teams require a heightened approach to communications, and now more than ever, leaders must keep teams driving toward results. If you just sit back and don’t bring your virtual teams together regularly, work streams will fall apart. It’s important to communicate with team members frequently and get a pulse check on how projects are progressing, identify where there are challenges and work together to find solutions. Communicating often via phone and video chat should help mitigate misunderstandings and miscommunications that come with losing face-to-face contact.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Emotional intelligence is especially important when delivering tough news or feedback virtually, which will become increasingly common as companies embrace more virtual work in the aftermath of COVID-19.

When giving feedback virtually, you can usually tell you’ve done a good job of offering constructive criticism by the level and quality of the interaction that follows.

  • Try to do it over video so that you can judge reactions.
  • Make sure it’s one on one. No public/group criticism.
  • Keep the opening short and make it a discussion.
  • Begin with the end in mind and work together toward a clearly stated outcome.
  • Be “in it” with the person you are helping do better.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

In today’s business environment people are moving so quickly — it’s easy to shoot off an email without taking the time to think about how it will be interpreted on the other end. I would actually say that effective leaders should always offer to connect via phone or video chat to talk through feedback. In my experience, constructive feedback should really always be a conversation rather than handled over email if it involves potentially sensitive issues. Email may be the beginning of the conversation, but be sure to follow through with a real conversation.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

It’s important that there’s a level of patience and empathy as teams adapt to working remotely. In the pandemic environment specifically, many are juggling work with childcare, so it’s inevitable that there will be some adjustment period. I can’t stress enough the importance of leading with emotional intelligence during this transition, as well as frequent communication with team members. You also need to understand that many on your team will need to learn or improve a new set of skills in a virtual work environment. Offering your team the tools, resources and support to help build these new muscles will be key to overall success.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

In the COVID-19 environment, we’ve seen many companies use different tactics to create a positive remote culture that goes beyond just work. From virtual happy hours to virtual yoga, trivia and more — organizations are embracing new ways of keeping up the human connection so it doesn’t get lost as teams adapt to working remotely.

One way that we do this at PMI is each morning, I host a 15–20 minute virtual meeting with the whole organization discussing topics not related to ongoing projects. We keep these meetings very positive, sharing everything from best practices for working virtually to showing off new colleagues — a.k.a, employees’ kids, pets and plants. It’s been an effective and lighthearted way to keep employees connected, and we’ve been seeing conversations that started during the morning meeting continue to evolve on our internal collaboration tool, Yammer, throughout the day. In some ways, I’ve never been as involved in “water cooler talk” as I am today. It’s a different, in some ways richer, way to foster connection and teamwork.

Frequent communication from leadership is a must to empower work culture. Be it spotlighting great work across the business, acknowledging the challenges of our new working world, or sharing general updates, having open and authentic lines of communication is key to fostering a positive work culture across geographically dispersed teams

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We’re in a situation now in which people are very concerned about giving back. As organizations build their way back from this crisis, they’re going to be striving to build a better future with a better understanding of their environment.

Corporate social responsibility will increasingly be critical to attract talent and create a good brand name. People are taking a long look at how they value their companies not just from a monetary perspective, but from a social perspective. This will accelerate as company valuations evolve to not just focus on the commercial bottom-line.

One reason why I joined PMI is because of the social impact that our community has through initiatives like last year’s Global Celebration of Service, in which PMI chapters pledged to contribute more than 150,000 hours to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. One of the reasons that I joined PMI to begin with was that we weren’t for profit, but “for purpose.” I like that we are a beacon of hope and lead through our values.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I suppose my favorite quote would be from my dad, who told me, “You better make sure you’re doing what you love doing, but stick to your principles.”

When you do what you love doing, you bounce out of bed. You don’t get tired. It took me a long time to find it, but I needed all of my sales and operational roles to gain the confidence to become an effective CEO.

So, my life lesson is to make sure you know a little about everything; organizations increasingly tell people today that they need to be lifelong learners and I’ve strived to be that since I left university. Across different industries and technology areas, from consulting to even starting my own company, I’ve amassed a lot of different experiences. I’ve worked in the for-profit and non-profit worlds, across finance, HR, and sales. I’ve lived and worked in Singapore, India, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, France…and what all of these experiences teach you is that you don’t know everything!

There is always so much to learn. What’s the latest thinking in data science and AI? What’s it like to work in Russia, or Mongolia, or China? The keys to unlocking new opportunities are curiosity and lifelong learnings.

Thank you for these great insights!


Sunil Prashara of the Project Management Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Marcus Startzel of Whitebox: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years”

Priorities have three parts: setting them, and sticking with them, and not spending time or effort on things that aren’t priorities. Teams build a team around you that you trust, and empower them to make your organization better. Without good teams focused on the top priorities, you create the perfect environment for burnout out… a ton of effort placed, and nothing to show for it. People don’t burn out in startups when there is fast growing success…and that requires clear priorities and great teams.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Startzel.

Marcus is a proven executive leader with a track record of driving industry-leading growth. Before joining Whitebox, he served various senior leadership roles within AppNexus, leading up to their 2018 $1.6B acquisition by AT&T. Marcus joined AppNexus through the acquisition of MediaGlu, a cross-device technology company where he served as Chairman & CEO. Previously, Marcus was the GM of North America and Global CRO at Millennial Media where he led dramatic enterprise growth that resulted in a successful IPO on the NYSE.

In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors at the Maryland FoodBank. Marcus earned a Mathematics degree with Merit from the United States Naval Academy and is a former U.S. Naval Submarine Officer and qualified nuclear engineer.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career as a submarine officer, where I worked with nuclear power in a ballistic missiles submarine. So, my first five years were underwater working for the Navy, and I can’t think of anything else that is farther away career-wise than what I currently do.

After those five years as a submarine officer, I went to work for an IT technology firm down in Texas, but I wanted to move closer to home in the North East. So, after a few years there, I moved up to the Baltimore area and started working at a company called Advertising.com.

Advertising.com was my first venture-backed, startup experience in the tech space and it was really what sent me down the path I’m still currently on — from Advertising.com to Millennial Media, then MediaGlu which was acquired by AppNexus, and now I’m here at Whitebox.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Well, in a startup career of almost 20 years with 5 exits, there have been a lot of interesting people and stories. I think the days and weeks leading up to the Millennial Media IPO were indeed interesting and being on the senior leadership team during that event cemented many of my beliefs about leadership. As the executive responsible for the company’s revenue, hitting numbers and growing was never more in the spotlight. Anxiety tends to flare up in situations like that, and leading teams through those periods are critical. Decision-making is highlighted, and it really tests and organizations the ability to clearly communicate and execute.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

When I first started at Advertising.com in sales, I was working on closing a big deal. The prospect was VERY data-driven, and I needed to pull together a report on our sales and progress as a company. We had an internal, daily report which housed so much SUPER confidential information. I built a chart in excel for the client and pasted it into a powerpoint. But I pasted the entire excel file in the background and sent the prospect all of the company’s performance data. It wasn’t funny at the time — I was terrified. It’s now funny looking back at the stress I put on myself about it. The lesson was simple — always paste excel charts as pictures.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m on the board at the Maryland FoodBank. We just celebrated our 40th Anniversary of helping the food insecure in Maryland, and COVID-19 has put so many Marylanders at risk. In normal economic conditions, 1 in 9 Marylanders needs food assistance to make it through the day. Now, with record unemployment, and schools closed, so many more folks are struggling to get a solid meal during the day. The team there is doing amazing work, and while not an “exciting new project”, I volunteer at the FoodBank, because it is such a vital link in the lives of many Marylanders.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Priorities and teams. Priorities have three parts: setting them, and sticking with them, and not spending time or effort on things that aren’t priorities. Teams build a team around you that you trust, and empower them to make your organization better. Without good teams focused on the top priorities, you create the perfect environment for burnout out… a ton of effort placed, and nothing to show for it. People don’t burn out in startups when there is fast growing success…and that requires clear priorities and great teams.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people who have helped me in my life and my career. My wife, my children, and my entire network of friends and family have been so supportive. My wife in particular has always been that strong balance and sounding board for every major decision I’ve made in my life and career. I am so grateful to her, and without her would be nowhere. I’m grateful to the executives who’ve served with me. So many are now friends, and advisors. A couple of which took risks on me early in my career based on potential they saw, without which, I would not had the success I’ve had. I’m grateful for the folks who have worked for me. A couple in particular have taught me more about leadership than anyone I’ve worked for.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Oh man, that is a big question. I know I’ve had an impact on the lives of a lot of people in the companies I’ve worked for and led. We’ve created jobs, new technologies, and even markets. I’ve helped people grow their capabilities and careers and go on to do amazing things. But to claim to bring goodness to the world, that is a very big bar to leap over from my point of view. I operate with integrity and expect and demand it from those around me. Maybe that can be a seed to sprout some good one day.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

With the growth of eCommerce, consumer choice has exploded, and consumer expectations have changed — 2-day shipping, a reliance on reviews, price comparisons, increased product selection, etc. Consumers expect to be able to purchase the products they want, anywhere they shop. The divides between traditional commerce and e-commerce are closing. Amazon and other growing marketplaces prioritize the consumer, not the brands. For many brands, there has been a divide in focus and processes between being sold on store shelves and an eCommerce strategy. Brands are forced to manage the complexity and costs of direct-to-consumer sales efforts and fulfillment and meeting these new customer expectations. We see many brands that are looking for a path to success in modern commerce. Some areas we are focused on:

VERTICAL INTEGRATION

While fulfillment partners can help a brand with their eCommerce or wholesale fulfillment needs, and marketing agencies that can execute marketplace sales strategies, working with a partner that works on both sides of your business will give you access to insights and tools that will help you identify and react to new opportunities.

  • Customers expect to purchase their product of choice from their retailer of choice. Vertical integration is a winning model to provide this experience — to succeed in modern commerce you must “move stuff” and “sell stuff”, and harvest and leverage the data that comes from that process.
  • A vertically integrated model allows brands to capture the entire value chain and deliver lower costs to customers and increase sales.
  • This means all sales, logistics, and fulfillment all in one software platform

COMPREHENSIVE MARKETPLACE STRATEGY

Brands will look to broaden their product offering across marketplaces to sell where consumers are. While Amazon accounts for 62% (need to find source) of all eCommerce purchases and has surpassed Google in product searches. (need to find source), it is not the only marketplace brands should focus on. Determining the marketplaces that make sense for your brand — Amazon, Walmart Marketplace, Target, eBay, Google Shopping, etc. will be a key component of your strategy. From there, researching the right product selection for each marketplace, understanding the difference in consumer demographics, shopping habits, price sensitivities, sales velocity, margins, etc. and using data to create a long-term marketplace strategy will increase your opportunity for success.

OMNICHANNEL FULFILLMENT

Omnichannel order fulfillment ensures all your inventory is available across any channel, from one network. Whether you are looking for fulfillment and logistics specific for B2B, retail replenishment, drop-ship, direct-to-consumer eCommerce, or marketplace prep, pooling all of your inventory in one network simplifies ordering and forecasting and provides visibility into your sales and logistics across all channels.

PROTECT YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

Many of the conversations our team is having with clients are focused on how to build a stable, yet flexible strategy moving forward. Protecting your supply chain and taking proactive steps to ensure business continuity is a priority for all of our clients.

Stay in Stock: Being out-of-stock can create issues with your direct consumers, marketplaces, and retail relationships. Pooling all of your inventory in one fulfillment network increases your chances of staying in stock and being able to move inventory as needed based on demand. Regardless of the type of order — wholesale, DTC, drop-ship, marketplace, etc.

Create Redundancies: Store and fulfill products from multiple fulfillment centers. If there is a substantial increase in demand, your products can be packed and shipped from all fulfillment centers. If a product is out of stock at one fulfillment center, the others can fulfill the orders, and if a fulfillment center is negatively impacted, those tasks can be performed by any other fulfillment center. This gives you the stability and flexibility to handle an influx of orders.

Exceed Customer Delivery Expectations: Having all of your inventory in one network means you have the flexibility to split it among markets to get as close to your customer as possible — getting deliveries to customers faster and cheaper

USE DATA TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS

  • Tech-enabled logistics and fulfillment: The 3PL industry is operating 100-year-old business models on 50-year-old technology and is ripe for disruption. Find a next-generation fulfillment partner who will rely on innovations in technology and processes to deliver results.
  • Use data & Insights to drive decisions: Use search and purchase data to guide new product launches and understand better how to advertise across marketplaces.
  • Test Variety & Multipacks to Enhance Product Offerings: Selling your $6 shampoo at your consumer’s favorite brick and mortar store makes sense. Selling that same $6 shampoo online, after you consider packaging and shipping, may not make sense for your business. Many products that are sold as single units in retailers, do better as multiple and variety packs online, while delivering higher profit margins. Whiotebox’s technology creates and tests product configurations in real-time with our tech-enabled virtual storage solution.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ending hunger. This isn’t a new idea, and it shouldn’t need a movement. But in a world where consumers can choose a food delivery company to bring them a single meal, because they can afford the huge fees to deliver one meal, not enough people understand that so many people are silently hungry. Every day. My movement would be for folk who can afford to donate, donate to food banks. The nationwide network of food banks can create 10 meals out of a $1 donation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Marcus Startzel of Whitebox: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” With Bill Powers of Cambridge…

The Future Is Now: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” With Bill Powers of Cambridge Mobile Telematics

We’re taking one of the largest safety concerns on the roads today — the smartphone — and using it to solve the very problem it creates — distracted driving. Our platform — built with behavioral science, artificial intelligence, and mobile sensing — gives drivers the feedback they need to improve their driving and make the roads safer for everyone.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Powers.

Bill Powers is Founder & CEO of Cambridge Mobile Telematics. Bill has played a vital role in building and managing a number of successful organizations at companies like Swoop and Traffic.com. He is recognized as a leader in emerging media and technology. Bill established the Luke Vincent Powers Foundation in memory of his son, Luke. He serves as the Foundation’s President, which supports disadvantaged children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I learned early on in my life that a person can control basically only two things: how hard you work, and how you treat other people. So when I started my first business at 21 — a basketball camp — I made sure that I worked hard to make it thrive, and made and maintained good relationships with good people.

A few decades of following those principles gave me the opportunity to work with my co-founders, Hari Balakrishnan and Sam Madden, to build a technology company that could help save lives on the roads. By maintaining those principles, we’ve grown it to be one of the most successful technology startups in Massachusetts history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When CMT started, we turned down a number of venture capital funding offers and decided to take a different path. We applied for and received an NSF small business grant, and I put the rest of the financing on my credit card and off we went. That was 10 years ago.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

We’re taking one of the largest safety concerns on the roads today — the smartphone — and using it to solve the very problem it creates — distracted driving. Our platform — built with behavioral science, artificial intelligence, and mobile sensing — gives drivers the feedback they need to improve their driving and make the roads safer for everyone.

How do you think this might change the world?

More than ever, the world is realizing that how we move around is at the very core of our successful economy and our equitable society. The mobility technologies we’re building will help innovate areas that have come under intense focus like supply chain, commuting to and from work and even public health. They will make transportation more efficient, safer, and environmentally friendly.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Treating people right includes being faithful custodians of their privacy, a core tenet that CMTholds itself to every day.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

As smartphones became more ubiquitous, and as people started using their phones more for many different things, distracted driving increased and became a significant danger on the roads. We saw an opportunity to make the roads safer.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

It’s happening now. People want to pay less on their auto insurance and be assessed on how they drive, not who they are. They’re using telematics to save money in these uncertain financial times.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We’re a B2B platform, so we collaborate closely with our partners — insurance companies, wireless providers and OEMs — to get this out to their policyholders and new customers. When our partners are successful in building their best-in-market programs, we’re successful, so we use everything in our power to help them do just that.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father died when I was young, and after that, I gravitated towards a certain kind of person as a mentor. These were men who got up every day, put in a hard day’s work, and who carried themselves in a dignified manner. These gentlemen endeavored to do the right thing and treat people the right way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

This technology saves lives by helping drivers reduce risky behavior behind the wheel.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Listen more than you talk.

2) Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it will work.

3) Don’t expect everyone to work as hard as you do.

4) Do not allow things to fester; communicate fearlessly but respectfully, always.

5) If it was easy, everybody would do it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Treat people with honesty and respect. Be kind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Nobody can predict success — just work harder, surround yourself with good people, and make it happen.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

When evaluating whether or not to invest in a particular company, place as much consideration on the founders’ ability to succeed and as you would the technology and business model. This is a particularly salient point in these unprecedented times. A company’s ability to grow and thrive in the midst of a storm is what will ultimately succeed.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Cambridge Mobile Telematics — I trust the good people running those accounts to give you everything you need.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


The Future Is Now: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” With Bill Powers of Cambridge… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future is Now: “Hi-tech tools for situational awareness in space and earth”, With Ben Lamm of…

The Future is Now: “Hi-tech tools for situational awareness in space and earth”, With Ben Lamm of Hypergiant

I don’t think success is ours alone. I think if we get to the top and haven’t spread goodness along the way, we are doing it wrong. Right now I’m really focused on two things: climate change and employee health. We launched the Eos Bioreactor as a tool to help sequester carbon and I’ve been really bullish about our efforts to bring it to market along with some additional products we haven’t announced. I hope it will be an important part of helping us address climate change. Additionally, right now our employees matter more than anything. I’m really focused on helping them to feel safe, secure and comfortable in this moment of global crisis.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Lamm, a serial technology entrepreneur that builds intelligent and transformative businesses. He is currently the founder and CEO of Hypergiant, a next-gen AI and defense company. Previous to founding Hypergiant, Lamm was the CEO and founder of Conversable, the leading conversational intelligence platform that helps brands reach their customers through automated experiences on all major messaging and voice platforms. Conversable was acquired by LivePerson (NASDAQ: LPSN) in 2018.

Lamm was also the founder and CEO of Chaotic Moon, a global mobile creative technology powerhouse acquired by Accenture (NYSE: ACN). During his time at Chaotic Moon and as a Managing Director at Accenture, Lamm spearheaded the creation of some of the Fortune 500’s most groundbreaking digital products and experiences in the emerging tech world of IoT, VR, Connected Car, Mobile, Tablet, and Wearables.

After leaving Accenture, Lamm focused his attention on other ventures, including the consumer gaming company he co-founded, Team Chaos. Team Chaos was focused on making fun, original games that people can easily play across a variety of platforms. In 2016, Team Chaos was acquired by Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA).

In addition to leading and growing his own companies, Lamm is very active in angel investing, incubators and startup communities, with investments in the software and emerging tech space. He actively mentors fellow entrepreneurs on how to build disruptive businesses through accelerators and corporate programs. In addition to supporting startups, Lamm also serves on Adweek’s advisory board, the Planetary Society’s advisory council and the advisory board of the Arch Mission.

Lamm is often quoted in the press on innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, and has appeared as a thought leader in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Adweek, Entrepreneur, Inc, Wired, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Newsweek. He frequently writes for AdWeek, Forbes, Ozy, Quartz and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Ben! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I remember reading all of these dystopian futurists and hearing about Elon Musk wanting to leave the Earth for Mars and I just thought… is this it? Have we all given up on humanity and the planet? And, I thought that I didn’t want that to be the case. I wanted to do something about it. So I built Hypergiant to work on space, defense and critical infrastructure which I believe are the fundamental elements of civilization that act as the core building blocks of humanity. Our goal at the company is to deliver on the future we were promised — which is the one from my childhood where we had flying cars and world peace and even vacations in space. I looked around and couldn’t find anyone who was really focused on the intersection of space, defense and critical infrastructure through the lens of emerging tech and AI. I believe it is an opportunity to build a necessary company for this critical juncture of our planet and species.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Absolutely not: I was sworn to secrecy. I will say though I have had a really interesting and weird career ranging from getting yelled at by Ari Emanuel in board meetings to calls with Steve Jobs on subscription news products, debating branding with Gene Simmons, whiteboarding product design ideas with Rupert Murdoch, debating the future of space with Bill Nye on stage, and more. I believe all these weird experiences helped inform my perspective on the world of business.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Right now we are working on tools and platforms for situational awareness both in space and here on earth. This is the cutting edge of technology that fuses space and defense. It’s about tracking, understanding, and monitoring the proposed tens of thousands of satellites that are going to be in space in the future and how to think about things like the militarization of space. Then take this data and merging it with data from the ground while running machine learning in near-real-time to then provide the outputs of that data to tablets and even next-gen heads up displays for soldiers or first responders on the ground.

We are also working on some research projects around satellite support, back up, and distributed computing. Most people aren’t thinking about the vulnerability of our satellites and how to protect them but it’s a massive security concern.

How do you think this might change the world?

The better and faster we can collect, understand and distribute data, the more informed we are to make decisions — whether that be for shipping and logistics, disaster relief, or police and military. We also need to ensure there are the right levels of intelligent redundancies so that one bad move in space doesn’t set us back decades on Earth.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Humans make and control technology. Technology is not fully autonomous and sentient. It is responsive to human needs and interests. So, the best way to overcome fear is to become educated, to develop a point of view and then push for that point of view to be made into law. Tech isn’t scary; unregulated people who are looking at the future without putting human needs first are scary. It is all about having the right ethical frameworks in place and then standing behind your values in those frameworks.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

We’ve been doing a ton of work around machine learning and the impact intelligent technologies will have on space and space-based data. Many people have been concerned around the vulnerabilities to various points in the infrastructure stack including space. Then in January, we saw a Russian satellite destroy a second satellite and people really started to ask a lot more questions. So, we got to work on figuring out what could be done to help improve this area of our critical space infrastructure and working on various solutions and products. The entire end-to-end system that I mentioned before has to be connected and protected.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

At this point, we need to continue to work on its advancement and to develop solutions in partnership with other satellite focused businesses and organizations.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

This is not currently an idea we are in the process of marketing widely. We are working with a couple of great strategic partners in the sector as well as the US government.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am so grateful to so many along the way. Two of the most influential people to me have been one of my long-term partners, Andrew Busey who has taught me so much about product development, patent and IP strategy, and fundraising. I also wouldn’t be where I am today without my long-term mentor and friend, John McKinley. John was the CTO of Newscorp, CTO AOL, CIO GE Capital among many others. He has taught me so much about strategic thinking and how to deal with really large teams and problems ranging from how to handle hostile negotiations to expectations management to employee retention.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I don’t think success is ours alone. I think if we get to the top and haven’t spread goodness along the way, we are doing it wrong. Right now I’m really focused on two things: climate change and employee health. We launched the Eos Bioreactor as a tool to help sequester carbon and I’ve been really bullish about our efforts to bring it to market along with some additional products we haven’t announced. I hope it will be an important part of helping us address climate change. Additionally, right now our employees matter more than anything. I’m really focused on helping them to feel safe, secure and comfortable in this moment of global crisis.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be careful who you go into business with: matching with a business partner is like getting married. You don’t want to do it with just anyone.
  2. Trust your intuition: your intuition is literally the most important aspect of your brain. It is sending you a signal for a reason, trust it.
  3. Nothing is impossible: literally nothing is impossible. Most things are limited by time or money and eventually with enough effort you can solve for both.
  4. Do what you’re good at: I’m not an engineer but I’m a great creative. So, I brainstorm a lot of tech solutions and then step away when people go to work on it. It’s how I make things happen rapidly; I don’t need to build everything I think that’s why we have teams.
  5. Chase new things: Stay curious about the world; that is what will help you stay ahead of everyone else.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I wish I could have people focused on climate change and the impact it has to all of our lives including conservation of our species and other species on this planet. We need to protect endangered species as the world gets hotter and hotter and we see more seasonality variances due to climate change. We have a ton of species dying and no way to recover them. That’s terrifying.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I recently heard the best advice is to not listen to advice. I kind of believe it. Believe the universe is here to help you and you might be surprised by what you see happen.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


The Future is Now: “Hi-tech tools for situational awareness in space and earth”, With Ben Lamm of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brian K Marks: “Grit; The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success”

Brian K. Marks: “Grit; The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success”

Balance — While long days, hard work, and grit is certainly something that led to my success, balance is something that kept me going and kept me fresh each time I showed up at work. Family, fishing and my study of Kabbalah are all elements that rejuvenated me. This allowed me to come back to work each week with a fresh set of eyes and with a sense of renewal.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian K. Marks.

Brian has spent his 30+ year career dedicated to the entrepreneurial spirit, bringing excellence to women’s hair care products and helping the human condition through philanthropic work. His innovative approach to creating, developing, and marketing healthy, personal care and beauty retail brands and tapping niche consumer audiences in today’s culturally diverse society is a singular success story.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?

The first company and brand that I started was a hair care line called All-ways Natural in 1981, and it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product. This was a very different concept for the industry at that time. So, introducing the concept of natural ingredients to buyers and consumers was quite challenging. However, I put in the work and remained persistent. After nine years with All-ways Natural, one of my trusted advisors, my accountant Phil, asked me, “What do you think about coming up with a new brand?” That is when I developed African Pride, a line of hair care products targeted specifically for African American women. African Pride took off and became an iconic product which is still selling today. The momentum continued when I launched the Dr. Miracles hair care collection, another renowned product line available to consumers still today. After the sale of Dr. Miracles, I again was motivated with the help of Marissa Schwartz to develop my latest brand, My Israel’s Miracle hair care line. While traveling through Israel, I became inspired to learn more about the health and beauty elements known to be essential in the region. It was then that I discovered the benefits of these powerful ingredients and wanted to share them with customers around the world and My Israel’s Miracle was born. We are currently on Amazon and there is nothing like it on the market. Interestingly, we are the first company using the word Israel in the brand name.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

At the time of the launch of my first brand, All-ways Natural, buyers and consumers had not grasped the concept of natural products. Since it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product, it required a lot of convincing for distributors to buy in to the brand. The first nine years were filled with rejection and buyers discontinuing our product. However, giving up was not an option, it’s just not in my blood. I woke up every morning and got back to it. This was certainly a hard time. However, with a focus on sales, we pushed through those first nine years and we were able to reap the benefits of success during those following years.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I often say fear can be a great motivator and can drive you forward. I had bills to pay and a family to support. I didn’t have any other choice than to power through. I had put years into the brand and was committed and determined to make it a success.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Getting through those early years was a very long process. I had bought out my partner and was pounding the pavement on my own. During this time my grit and resistance really grew. A big part of grit leading to success had to do with being surrounded by good motivators. After nine years was when my trusted advisor put the thought of starting a new brand in my head, and African Pride was born. The launch of African Pride was a totally different experience. The first few months were tough, but I expected that to be the case. I had gone through the storm with my first brand and I came out with experience, tougher skin, and the grit I knew would help me drive my business. African Pride was quite successful as was Dr. Miracles, both brands are still selling today. Now we are looking to continue that success with My Israel’s Miracle. With this new launch comes new challenges. I came from a world of pounding on the actual physical doors of Walmart and Walgreens to navigating the digital consultants at Amazon. To say times have changed is an understatement. However, this doesn’t discourage me. Instead, I am learning to evolve with the new marketing and sales models. I feel confident that My Israel’s Miracle will follow in my other brand’s footsteps and achieve great success.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

1) Hard Work: You have to put in the work and be persistent. My paper route, when I was 12 years old, is where my grit truly began. Me and my buddies I would get on our bikes and sell the paper once a week. Not a complicated process; ring the bell and collect the money. Of course, with any business, there were challenges like who didn’t answer the door or who didn’t give a tip. As a kid, I could have given up. Instead, I kept working hard and when people didn’t pay, I just kept knocking on the door.

2) Think Outside the Box: As a kid, around 10 years old, I sold cold sodas in the park when people were playing ball. I knew I had to make money in order to help my family, so I thought of ways to do it. Be observant. Look around to see what consumers need, how things are made, how brands operate. Educate yourself and then think of how you can improve what you are observing. Whether it’s an innovative consumer product or a tool to streamline a process. We all knew people were going to get thirsty after playing in the heat. However, I took that and figured out what was missing in order to create an opportunity to help my family.

3) Persevere with Confidence: As I mentioned, the first brand I started was All-Ways Natural, and I had a rough nine-year start but I never gave up. Instead of the challenges getting me down, I assessed and learned from them. It made me smarter and more confident to persevere and grow my business.

4) Stick To The Basics: The basic building blocks of any company are sales, profitability, and building and developing the right team. With all my brands I never let myself get too distracted away from the basics because I knew they were the foundation to a successful business. Even when brainstorming next level strategies, I would always go back to the basics to ensure the foundation was stable and moving in the right direction.

5) Balance: While long days, hard work, and grit is certainly something that led to my success, balance is something that kept me going and kept me fresh each time I showed up at work. Family, fishing and my study of Kabbalah are all elements that rejuvenated me. This allowed me to come back to work each week with a fresh set of eyes and with a sense of renewal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

My CPA, a man named Phil Garfield, was referred to me by my bank manager. Phil was a tax attorney and CPA and had a blessed gift where he could look at a financial statement and see things no one else could see. He had an ability to understand any business and advise. I always sought out people who I thought could teach me things. Phil became my mentor and was able to guide me in so many ways. The greatest thing he would do was to snap us out of it when things were down and motivate us to keep moving forward. I am a huge proponent of people seeking mentors and/or becoming one.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have six kids whom all bring greatness to the world. Also, I am a big supporter of the Birthing Project, which supports pregnant women who are in need. We have supported them for the past 15 years, not only monetarily but also working with their founder to assist in larger strategic projects. We are currently sponsoring a project in Africa, which has saved the lives of many women and babies.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve always have been fascinated with trademarks and intellectual property. I had the trademark for my new collection, My Israel’s Miracle, for over a decade. I was traveling through Israel while in my mid-40s, and I felt a strong energy, as Israel is well regarded as an energy center of the world. I truly felt there was something special about it. When you ask anyone who has ever traveled to Israel, and you see their reaction, it’s really remarkable. The reaction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The long and the short of it — we wanted to bring a little bit of that special part of Israel to people here in the U.S. by using ancient Israeli ingredients in the My Israel’s Miracle products.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I’ve always believed in openness; so, it’s important my employees understand why they’re doing something, and that they don’t simply have tasks or minute-to-minute interference from me. I also feel it’s important to do things as a community, which has nothing to do with business. For example, one weekend we told the staff not to come in on Friday or Monday. Instead, we took all 87 employees on a cruise, where everyone participated in inclusive events such as karaoke and group get-togethers. Going beyond business is a significant part of our company psychology.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would create a system where young people can work legally and are rewarded for working. This is something we’re so far away from. Most minimum-wage jobs are held by adults. We are seeing more and more students graduate from college, who haven’t worked. Experience is so important, and I know it would help students if they began to develop hands-on skills while they’re still in school. I would love to change this.

Another movement I am passionate about is encouraging people to become mentors or to find mentors. The concept of mentors is seen today as something old, but when you read about the really smart people — all of them talk about their mentors. So, I think accessibility to becoming a mentor, or to find one, is still important.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Stop looking at your shoes and look out into the horizon.” This is a way of saying that whatever obstacle or problem you’re seeing today, it will clear up tomorrow just like the weather. This outlook has always kept me moving forward with confidence in all of my businesses.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook @My Israel’s Miracle

Instagram @myisraelsmiracle

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Brian K Marks: “Grit; The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kimberly Afonso: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and

Kimberly Afonso: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

I have been passionate about balance, especially work-life balance while getting clients great results, and that is something that is central to my work. I am originally from the US and to date have lived in 5 countries and my team currently operates across 6 time zones: I love giving my clients that global perspective as well.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kimberly Afonso.

Kimberly Afonso is a branding, marketing, and consulting expert originally from the US that now runs her remote digital agency from Europe. She works with mid to large-sized corporate clients who are looking to create a consistent and 360-degree strategy for success both online and offline. She is passionate about all things related to remote work, digital marketing, well-being, yoga, and travel.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been passionate about a few things: remote working, well-being, traveling, yoga, and helping leaders.

In my business, I am able to do all of those things and also apply them to work through working with CEOs and Founders every day.

I create online programs that blend all of those interests and educate those who are interested in participating as well.

I have been passionate about balance, especially work-life balance while getting clients great results, and that is something that is central to my work. I am originally from the US and to date have lived in 5 countries and my team currently operates across 6 time zones: I love giving my clients that global perspective as well.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding is really personal. It is the “why” behind why your company does what it does and what it stands for.

Advertising is simply the tool to expand the reach of your core message.

Therefore, everything must start with a good branding strategy, not the other way around! This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see new or small brands make. You have to be really clear on your branding before you start marketing anything, and some want to jump right into the advertising part without developing this and then do not see clear results from their efforts.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

If you do not have a strong brand, it will not be clear what you can or should advertise or how you should market your product or service.

Your branding is really central to who you are as a company or individual.

And it is a way for potential customers to get to know you. It is really personal, and without investing time to figure out what you want to say about yourself and why, it will be difficult to market anything you are creating.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Rebranding is really common and something I encourage for brands of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps you went through a merger. Perhaps you grew exponentially since you started. Perhaps the market did not take your first product and you want to keep some of your core values, but create something more aligned with your new revenue goals.

There are countless reasons, and sometimes it may be that a company has been in business for 15 years and their logo is looking a bit dated! I like to think about it like changing the interior of your house. You may have many reasons to do so (you have more money to invest at this point in time, your furniture is old, or the old look and feel does not resonate with you anymore) and all are valid reasons to change!

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

The only downside could be that if you change your brand too much, your existing customers may not recognize you. In this case, if you are thinking about changing your logo, for example, I would suggest a gradual change. Perhaps keep the same logo but take off your brand name. Then it will not be as drastic. You could also do this the other way around — create a new logo but add your brand name for a period of time so that consumers understand who you are.

Another strategy could be to use the same colors if you are changing other aspects of your brand.

I do not see many reasons NOT to rebrand, but the process definitely needs to be considered carefully before doing so based on new goals and the current consumer base.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Revisit your Color Scheme — perhaps your old colors do not link to what you are trying to promote. Do some research behind what each color symbolizes and choose your colors wisely. It is an important aspect of any brand’s identity.
  2. Re-Do your Core Brand Values — if you have not visited your core brand values for a few years, that could be a good place to start.
  3. Evaluate what your Logo Means — if you have changed your core positioning, your logo may no longer be relevant. Evaluate what it means and update accordingly.
  4. Invest in Personal Branding — along with your branding, get clear on your personal branding as well. It is often one of the most useful tools when it comes to understanding what you want to represent and promote and helps amplify your brand’s message
  5. Get your entire Team on Board — your team should be a central part of your branding conversations. What do they think are the most important core values of your company? Talk it through with them.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I think that the Airbnb rebrand had a lot of backlash at the time, but their new logo is much more aligned with what most brands are doing today. It is a recognizable icon that was designed with the meaning of the company behind it. You do not need “Airbnb” to be written to know what that icon stands for. Any brand can replicate that if they are using their name for the branding by creating a logo and starting with the brand name under the logo, then starting to remove their name all together after time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a few:

“Everything is figureoutable (by Marie Forleo)”: I truly believe this and it is something that I have embraced throughout my business growth. We can figure out anything if we have the will.

“It does not make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do (Steve Jobs)”: I have always been passionate about hiring people smarter than me as you are only as good as your team and getting them to guide our next steps has been very key. It is something I believe in strongly. When you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

“Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems”: This is relevant for many reasons — in the client-facing marketing business, if something goes wrong, it never is as bad as it seems and usually can be fixed in one way or another. As we are talking about branding, which relates to social media, nothing is ever as good as it may seem in a post.

And lastly, a yogic quote — “we have everything we need inside of us right now”: I practice yoga daily and truly believe this. We have everything we need right inside of us, the outside is just extra. I always repeat this to myself when I am looking for answers — they are always inside of me. And also to remind myself to separate from the ego.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram, Linkedin, or my email list on my website!

https://www.instagram.com/kimberlyafonso/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimberlyafonso/

https://www.kimberlyafonso.com/subscribe

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Kimberly Afonso: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Steve Grear of Reshoevn8r: 5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Consumers connect with the brand, not the products, and are looking to be part of a tribe whether they know it or not. As human beings, we desire connection and if your brand can connect with people in a more meaningful way than just selling them a product, they will have your back and be great ambassadors for your brand.

I had a pleasure interviewing Reshoevn8r founder Steve Grear. He was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. His childhood and adolescent experiences taught him valuable lessons that inspired him to start his company in 2011. And now, nearly a decade later, his ultimate sneaker cleaner is patented — and Reshoevn8r is one of the top premium shoe care brands in the world.

Grear was raised by his single mother and grew up in a neighborhood comprised mostly of trailer homes. His mother worked full-time and he subsequently became self-sufficient at an early age. Money was sparse for Grear and his family, and he learned to value his shoes. His mother believed that clean shoes are crucial to a presentable appearance, and he followed suit by keeping his sneakers in top condition — foreshadowing Reshoevn8r.

Grear as a teenager transitioned from living with an overprotective mother to a disinterested father that didn’t care what he did in his spare time. He disregarded school as his father toiled away with drugs, and eventually dropped out before graduating high school. Grear was arrested in 2009 on a class-two felony for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, marking a personal low and eventual epiphany. He realized he needed to do something productive with his life, and Reshoevn8r was born.

Grear in the last decade has controlled Reshoevn8r’s daily operations, gaining experience with e-commerce, marketing and building a massive social media platform. He prides himself on his ability to visualize concepts so that they become a reality and is always thinking about how to evolve. Grear has always had an interest in sneakers, and his excitement about the company often keeps him up at night. He’s a progressive thinker that thrives when the company flourishes and consistently has ideas running through his mind.

Grear is also a loving fiancé and father to his newborn baby girl. He enjoys exercising, listening to music, reading, spending time with his daughter, and giving back to the community. He has been involved with a handful of local and international charities and hopes long term to become a better man while keeping an open mind. His upbringing was challenging and humbling but ultimately helped him become the man and entrepreneur he is today.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Being raised in the 80’s, I was exposed to a lot of cool things — sneakers being one of them. I have a lot of love for sneakers and from an early age enjoyed the feeling of putting on a nice, new pair of shoes. Growing up I didn’t have much, so I learned to take care of my shoes and I would clean them regularly to keep them fresh. My love for shoes continued as an early adult and one night as I was cleaning some shoes to sell on eBay I had an epiphany. I realized the shoe cleaning process I had been using for the last 15 years was much more effective than any other product on the market and Reshoevn8r was born.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

If I had to pick one, it would be when I first started the business. I naively thought after building a website, I would automatically get sales coming in and I quickly realized that’s not how it works. I then attempted to figure out how to drive traffic to my site, so I hired an SEO strategist which led to me spending all of the money that I had left…only to find out that it wouldn’t lead to anything. The lesson I learned is to do as much as you can on your own in the beginning, especially when you have limited money.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We pride ourselves on the authenticity and transparency that we provide to our customers, fans, and team. We know how critical it is to build trust and stay innovative in an industry that is evolving and growing rapidly. One of our core values is “be comfortable being uncomfortable” and I do my best to make sure we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone regularly. This isn’t a specific story, but we are always very transparent and honest when we shoot our shoe cleaning tutorials for our YouTube channel, which has over 1,000,000 subscribers. If we clean a shoe and don’t get the results we were expecting, we make sure to show the areas that didn’t clean up so people know not to expect perfection.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of the big projects we recently finished was our rebranding of Reshoevn8r, which we are super excited to introduce. We also partnered with Bata Sole, a nonprofit that provides new and gently used shoes to impoverished communities. We were fortunate enough to help them on a mission to Manila Philippines to provide shoes to kids.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding is the visual appearance of the brand — the look and the feeling consumers get when exposed to your logo, name, messaging, etc. I believe how you interact and communicate with customers or fans is a pivotal part of branding. Product marketing is the strategy to sell your goods and drive demand for the items you sell, which requires creativity and a deep level of analysis to do it well. There is also a high level of storytelling and messaging needed in advertising to show people that the product solves a problem for the consumer.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Consumers connect with the brand, not the products, and are looking to be part of a tribe whether they know it or not. As human beings, we desire connection and if your brand can connect with people in a more meaningful way than just selling them a product, they will have your back and be great ambassadors for your brand.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

Deliver what you promise: Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Consumers expect for you to deliver when you say you are going to do something. You need to be reliable and hold yourself to a higher standard because you are being observed at all times.

Be Authentic: Authenticity is super important to gain trust from consumers. They don’t expect you to be perfect but they appreciate when you are transparent with them. It helps to be relatable and with so much noise out there, consumers want realness.

Be customer focused: This is a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many businesses don’t get it. It is impossible to please everyone, but you can get pretty close if you treat the customer how you would like to be treated. Think ahead and avoid issues by being proactive instead of reactive.

Be Consistent: Consistency is key and helps build trust; great achievements are built out of consistent work. We have 1 million subscribers on our YouTube channel from being consistent and releasing two videos every week for the last four years. Because of this, our subscribers trust us as the proven leader in the industry.

Educate: Creating content that consumers can find value in is important to building trust and the more you can add value, the more people will appreciate what you are doing. We try to educate people on how to use our products but also take care of their favorite shoes. Some sneakers sell for thousands of dollars and people want to know how to take care of them. We go out of our way to answer questions on all of our social platforms and we are very responsive when people ask us questions.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

One brand that I believe has done this better than anyone else is Supreme. They have done an outstanding job building their brand and, for the most part, everything they release sells out. They do a great job with collaborations and leveraging other strong brands to help expand their brand awareness and reach.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

I consider branding to be the heartbeat of the business and since it’s continuous, it can be measured by industry buzz, social media growth, and relevance in your industry.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

It is everything for us. Consumers will go to social media to learn about your brand and to find out if you are a brand that they will connect with and are attracted to. Consumers can tell from the moment they look at your feed if you are a brand they like. We have built our entire brand and business on social media.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

I think having the ability to be creative and think outside the box will help create excitement, which is what has helped me. I’m also a firm believer in taking the time to do things you enjoy whether that’s exercise, meditation, cooking, whatever can relax your mind form the daily grind.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire people to believe in themselves and that regardless of how bad things might seem at the moment, they have the ability to make them better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Strength and growth come only from continuous effort and struggle.” Napoleon Hill

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I would have to say Elon Musk.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@mr.reshoevn8r + @reshoevn8r


Steve Grear of Reshoevn8r: 5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn of The Solid Brand Sessions: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn of The Solid Brand Sessions: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be courageous. How do you find the courage/confidence to put yourself out there? You have to just do it. During the COVID crisis, one of our clients had to pivot and take her workout brand digital. Online classes and virtual workouts. She wasn’t ready, but her brand was set up properly and it was easy for her to transfer her brand to be completely virtual because of the strong brand work we had done in the past.

I had a pleasure interviewing Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn.

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn are on a mission to bring more than just “pretty pictures” to the world of branding for women leaders and business owners.

In their collaborative project, The Solid Brand Sessions, Cristin and Julie set out to solve a big problem that they both encountered over the years: People want pretty ‘branding’ photos, but then, they don’t know what to do with them. They get caught in a trap that focuses on the “look” only.

The Solid Brand Sessions focuses on helping women business owners overcome this trap. They build and re-energize brands by creating visuals that hold true to a strategy led by the brand’s core values.

Julie’s strategies and brand implementation plans pull directly from her experience in the advertising agency world and the knowledge she gained working as Bethenny Frankel’s right hand as she built her Skinnygirl Empire. Cristin’s storytelling expertise comes from commercial visual and video work for Ustianochka Vodka, Habitat for Humanity, and Simple Sugars.

Cristin and Julie are serious about creating confidence in the brand building journey. Their packages include hair, makeup, personal styling, and production. To date they have helped over 30 small businesses build a solid brand.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Cristin: My production experience dates back to junior year in high school when I helped create my first real video: a remake of the infamous song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I loved everything about the production process: the storyboarding, the over the top style (trying to look like real Barbies), the multiple takes to get it just right, the long days in the edit suite, and most importantly, the look on our classmates’ faces when we premiered it. From there I knew I would always work in a creative industry. Sixteen years later I work hard everyday to make sure I feel just as passionate about my work as 16-year-old Cristin and I try even harder to help the audience feel SOMETHING when watching videos or looking at photos.

Julie: In the summer of 2006 I was working for Hamptons Magazine. I was told that I would be “helping” cook brunch with a celebrity natural foods chef, and I should prepare to help her with whatever she needed. I showed up at my CEO’s Southampton house and met Bethenny Frankel. I did everything in my power that day to impress her, despite my lack of cooking experience. We both recognized each other’s work ethic and I told her to call me when she was famous. She did…a few years later and hired me as her assistant. I went on to help her build her Skinnygirl brand from the ground up. That is where my true passion in helping others build strong brands started, and where I got the desire to be an entrepreneur.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Cristin: When I first started my company, I rented an Airbnb for a video shoot that looked so chic and updated on the listing. Come to find out it was rundown, and the furniture was falling apart. It took us some time, but we styled it and shot in a way that disguised the disarray. The lesson: do your research and due diligence when it comes to location scouting, but it was also good to know that if I was put in a less than ideal situation, I could really flex my creative muscles and that I was CAPABLE.

Julie: When Twitter first started, I was working for Bethenny Frankel. Her following grew FAST and someone told us that we needed to follow back everyone that followed her. After realizing that wasn’t the correct strategy for that platform, we spent five days, 24/7 unfollowing over 40,000 people one-by-one. The lesson: this taught me that you need to HAVE A STRATEGY before doing anything, especially when it is something new and uncharted!

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

Cristin: It sounds cliché, but when I went through the branding process myself in 2017, I started to feel more confident as a business owner, but also as a woman. There was finally a professional look to my brand and I felt more confident pitching my services at a new higher rate. Branding is essential: at a time that feels good to you (and only you will know when that time is).

Julie: It was when I realized that taking on every task and assignment in your job without complaining or thinking it is beneath you is one of the steps to success. You make EVERYTHING your job and your business. Making copies, getting coffee, creating spreadsheets — you do all those tasks as if they are the most important things. People will notice that and you do all to the best of your ability — you will grow as an employee, person and set yourself up for success if you ever want to run your own business one day. And if you make a mistake, own up to it and move on.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Both: Our exciting project is taking our own advice and building our own brand together, called The Solid Brand Sessions. We are going through the how and why that we help clients go through. Bringing our two brands together isn’t always easy, but the goal is to create a one-stop-shop and brand in a box concept that will help small business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs find success. As part of this we also have our Unleash Your Potential online and in-person events! Take a look at www.thesolidbrandsessions.com.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Both: When you want to pivot or re-invent yourself — look inside yourself and your brand. Don’t try to be like everybody else. It is so easy in the world of social media to compare yourself to others and try to go after what you “think” is the quickest way to success. Don’t do that. It’s a trap. Success is a feeling that you have when you are true to yourself, not necessarily something tangible. Being the same as everyone else stifles your true creativity.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Julie: The real difference here is the behind the scenes work. Brand marketing MUST be developed before product marketing/advertising can be successfully implemented. The components that make up brand marketing behind the scenes lead a successful product marketing campaign. For instance, brand positioning creates belonging and matches the brand’s strengths to the target’s world view. Another example is to figure out how the brand will sustain. How will the brand show confidence and build trustworthy relationships that endure.

Learning these types of things firsthand at an advertising agency and the mentors I have met along the way, I always go into branding and advertising projects wearing my “strategy and communications” hat.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Both: TO DEVELOP TRUST IN YOU AND YOUR BRAND. The amount of people and brands out there trying to “make” something of themselves is overwhelming. Just look at any of your social media feeds. When someone wants to do something new, buy something new or invest in someone new — — they do their research. They want to feel a connection to the person/thing/reason behind the product or brand. That is why brand building is important.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Both: We work with a lot of small business owners, many of them who had an idea, set up a social media account, and had their cousin’s friend make a logo for them. They move fast and furious, are driven and start to succeed in their specific industry. But then — — the lack of strategy catches up with them. Things might look ok to consumers/customers from the outside, but as the owner and the brand steward, they are struggling. It is at this point that our clients come to us to consider a brand refresh or rebrand. We take a look at all they have done up until this point, define their brand strategy (internal compass) and work on how to visually bring that strategy to life!

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Both: Yes. The decision to re-brand has to make sense from a business perspective and all parts of the company must “buy-in” — — The most common reasons for a corporation to do a brand makeover would be a merger or acquisition, bad image or outgrowing an initial mission. In the small business world we tend to see brand makeovers, because there was not a brand strategy to begin with. THE BIGGEST no-no that we advise people on is changing your brand because you are comparing yourself to others, or simply see others doing pretty pictures and want to jump on the bandwagon. These are NOT strategic reasons.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Both: You are in luck! We have an acronym for this! This is why we called ourselves The S.O.L.I.D. Brand Sessions! Here’s an overview of how we break this down for our clients.

(S) Set Yourself Up for Success: Strategy ONE

Before you upgrade your brand for its outward appearance, you are presented with the perfect opportunity to take a look at what we like to call the “business of the business.” Now this internal organization and reflection isn’t always fun, but we have learned that in order to have a successful brand on the outside, the brand chaos on the inside must be in order! Some brainstorming questions for this strategy are below.

  1. How have you set yourself up to be successful monetarily or from a profit perspective.
  2. Are you aligned internally with taxes, insurance?
  3. Are you paying yourself as a business owner?
  4. Do you have the funds and desire internally for this rebrand to work externally?

(O) The Importance of Objectives: Strategy TWO

Big business, small business or personal brand, nailing down your internal brand compass is critical. But what is an internal brand compass and how do you do that? We are all about making this process painless but not brainless. Your internal brand compass is the DNA of your brand. It is the why, the how and the true north behind you do what you do.

Grab a piece of paper and try this exercise to start!

  1. Top of page: Name of your Brand (if it’s you — put YOUR name!)
  2. What is your mission? Why do you do what you do? Some people might need an extra step here. When we work with individuals we often have them “write” letters to their customers or fans.
  3. Brand Values: Are you a fun, lighthearted brand or are you serious and tough? Use adjectives, pull out a dictionary. Be very clear.
  4. Brand Objectives: Objectives always need to be measurable. Some favorites that I always include here are Identity/Image, Awareness and Engagement.

The above is your brand compass….now it is up to you to figure out how to activate this brand in the real world!

(L) Living Your Brand: Strategy THREE

This is all about telling your personal brand story; really living your brand definition. It is your messaging and mission repeated over and over in all of your digital and non-digital touchpoints (social, website, copy, visuals, communication materials, logo).

We tend to think we’re “annoying” people with content, but the truth is not everyone sees our content all of the time. We also tend to think that “pretty” pictures and videos define branding. Truth is though, many times photos get skimmed over and people watch videos without sound. We encourage our clients to use their written story (executed through social media captions, graphics, blogs, website, bio/about me pages) along with their visuals.

So in a nutshell — — live your brand — — in all aspects of target communication and strategy.

(I) Implementing Your Plan of Action: Strategy FOUR

This strategy is all about the creation of an action plan for your brand — with clear and measurable objectives. How will you execute on the strategy and visual/written story you have created? Take the objectives you came up with in Strategy TWO and place at the top of your document. Now build back to there by writing 3 tactics (actions) you will take to implement. Some example actions/tactics:

  1. Consistency/cohesiveness of branded visuals (brand stylebook)
  2. Social media calendar
  3. Investing in a copywriter
  4. Creating an SEO plan
  5. New marketing materials

(D) Do It: Strategy FIVE

When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be courageous. How do you find the courage/confidence to put yourself out there? You have to just do it. During the COVID crisis, one of our clients had to pivot and take her workout brand digital. Online classes and virtual workouts. She wasn’t ready, but her brand was set up properly and it was easy for her to transfer her brand to be completely virtual because of the strong brand work we had done in the past.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Julie: A few years ago, Bravo (the TV network) did a complete brand makeover. It was brilliant. They knew their audience was getting bigger and needed to update the brand voice and visual identity. But they didn’t abandon everything. The logo was updated and the promotions for the shows were refined. They became more mature and serious…if you can say that about reality tv 🙂 The key to this type of replication — knowing and being AWARE of your audience. Bravo (aka Andy Cohen and team) is FULLY aware of the types of people that interact and consume their content. I was so impressed that I dipped into my old rolodex and emailed Andy Cohen to tell him how impressed I was!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Cristin: In 2018 a photography client of mine created an event for women to “Shred Your Fears,” a beginner skateboarding workshop and yoga retreat. Most of the attendees were sitting way outside of their comfort zone getting on a skateboard for the first time in many years or even ever. At the close of the day it signified that they could do hard things and feel really phenomenal about themselves. I participated in the first event and ended up badly spraining my ankle, but I have no regrets because the way I felt gliding across that rink floor was so gratifying and encouraging.

If we could create something similar for female entrepreneurs that maybe was a bit more business minded (or not) to help them get over the fear of leveling up, becoming successful, or even failing then it would serve so many more of our current and potential clients. Life is too short to not take risks!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Both: “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.” by Bethany Hamilton, professional surfer. This encapsulates everything we have tried to do for our business and clients since it began. Most of us are timid, unsure, and scared shitless about what the future holds or how we may be perceived. It’s about being courageous and understanding that you have a greater mission and purpose to serve others. And because of that, you need to push yourself and practice courage. The results of which are invaluable.

How can our readers follow you online?

We share our brand journey and upcoming events on Instagram: @thesolidbrandsessions.

We invite everyone to take a look at our client work, join our community and download our free worksheet, “How to Feel the Most Confident On-Camera” on our website, www.thesolidbrandsessions.com.

You can also follow our personal business journeys on Instagram: @julieplakemcminn and @gossboss_photovideo.


Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn of The Solid Brand Sessions: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Megan E Rein of SIIA Cosmetics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

Megan E. Rein of SIIA Cosmetics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

During the crisis, we are donating our products to medical workers, and sharing their stories on our channels. We want to thank them and bring more positivity into the world. We have also been working with our employees to ensure they and their families are safe and secure. Many of our own employees further our mission by helping others, like volunteering in our community to support others, working with organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

I had a pleasure interviewing Megan E. Rein, President, Strategy and Business Development at SIIA Cosmetics.

Megan is the President of Strategy and Business Development at SIIA Cosmetics. To her new role, Megan brings 10 years of experience leading international teams and programs, as well as strong communication and relationship building expertise. Rein joins SIIA from the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the largest aerospace and defense company in the world. Rein is responsible for creating and executing the company’s strategic vision focusing on the powerful people changing the world to whom the brand is dedicated. Additionally, she serves as the brand spokeswoman telling SIIA’s company and client stories to the media and wider community. While serving its domestic market, Rein will position SIIA to launch internationally and raise capital, ensuring its continued fast growth and success. SIIA Cosmetics, based in Dallas, TX, is dedicated to honoring the powerful, strong people who change the world, and to investing in those who will #SIIAChange in the future. SIIA brings the absolute best quality, luxury products with thoughtful design and prices to fit all lifestyles. Rein holds a Master of Science in International Development from the world-famous London School of Economics and an undergraduate degree in International Studies from the University of South Florida.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! I’m so excited to share what we are doing at SIIA Cosmetics and speak with you!

I have had an unconventional path to where I am now — President of Strategy and Business Development for SIIA Cosmetics. Originally, I wanted to work in the international humanitarian field. I saw an amazing documentary in high school leading to dreams of working in Ebola clinics for Doctors without Borders. However, after two years of pre-med in college I realized it was not for me, especially after barely scraping by in organic chemistry.

I still wanted to work internationally and make the world a better place, so I switched my focus to international development, as I always loved economics and decided this was a better fit for my humanitarian drive. After graduating with a Masters in International Development from the London School of Economics, I joined Lockheed Martin, an international aerospace and defense company, where I worked my first few years in international program management, learning the foundations of management and leadership. My final role was in industrial development, where I managed programs worth hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to developing manufacturing and sustainment industries in the Middle East and India. I absolutely loved creating new capabilities and jobs in these countries, as I truly believe we’re all better off when we raise up others and cooperate together.

During this time, I was moonlighting helping the co-founders, Simon Jeon and Hicham Khodri, launch our companies. The first was Rose de Nuit, a hair extension business, which serves the independent beauty supply store market. Out of this business we launched SIIA Cosmetics with Mr. Yoo, a Korean beauty expert. SIIA is a cosmetics company dedicated to honoring strong, powerful people who are working to make the world a better place. We do this by bringing luxury cosmetics based on the best-selling premium products to our customers, who we call our Change Agents, at a reasonable price, designed to fit both their lifestyles and budgets. Our products are designed to fit in with even the busiest persons’ life, with products easy to use and travel with, including a dual-ended product line with makeup on one side and the applicator on the other. We also honor our community by partnering with She’s the First, a non-profit focused on increasing female education throughout the world.

Once SIIA launched fully, it became clear I had to focus on building our company further, so I left my previous role and became the full-time President of Strategy for SIIA Cosmetics. I’m focused on our overall growth in the online direct-to-consumer space, as well as international distribution. I also focus on how best to use our brand to create a positive impact in the world, through both our customers’ lives as well as our own philanthropic endeavors. I’ve been able to utilize my leadership and international experience ensuring SIIA grows and has the impact we want.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made so many mistakes, but it’s always good to laugh while you are learning! One great story we have concerns our beauty bus. The team decided to launch SIIA by taking our product on the road! We planned to create a mobile experience using a remodeled school but that would tour the US, bringing SIIA to our beauty store clients, influencers, and the media in all of our major markets.

We bought a school bus, and in an effort to save money, hired a contractor friend to do the remodel. The first pictures coming out weren’t that impressive, but we held our breath and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the final product was not any better — the school bus interior was painted white, with wall decals and posters hung up. It reminded me of my room when I was 13! It was pretty horrible. We debated for a few days if we could make it work, but decided we couldn’t live with it.

We had to start over and find the right person for the job. We found one of the top interior designers in LA from her wonderful portfolio and hired her to turn our teenage-bedroom into the luxurious experience we were looking for. The final product was fantastic with tiled floors, mini-chandeliers, and well-thought-out spaces for people to experience the brand and products. The bus featured a beautiful product display, a functional beauty counter where guests could test products, and even a mini champagne and snack bar.

While we are so proud of our beauty bus, we definitely learned a huge lesson. This, among other mistakes, really taught us the value of hiring the right people with proven experience from the beginning. Even if it’s more expensive initially, hiring experts save more in the long term, as you’re less likely to pay for rework and you’ll have a superior experience for your customers. We have always regretted trying to saving money by not going with the best for items critical to our brand and customer experience. Let’s just say it’s a lesson we are happy to not repeat!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

First of all, our products are absolutely fantastic — we’ve proudly partnered with Korean beauty experts and the best factories in the world. We took the best performing products from luxury cosmetic lines, and based our formulas on these products. We added our own blend of botanicals and skin-improving agents to these products, and we offer these products at half the price of the luxury lines. Korean beauty technology is the best in the world, and our products incorporate the latest to provide clean, high-performing cosmetics at a reasonable price.

But more importantly, our company stands out by truly honoring and standing with our Change Agents and community in everything we do. We know our customers are doing everything they can to help their families and communities during this time, and we are doing the same standing with them. The coronavirus situation is incredibly challenging and scary for everyone. However, I am so proud everyone in our company has the same focus. We constantly ask ourselves — what can we do to help others?

During the crisis, we are donating our products to medical workers, and sharing their stories on our channels. We want to thank them and bring more positivity into the world. We have also been working with our employees to ensure they and their families are safe and secure. Many of our own employees further our mission by helping others, like volunteering in our community to support others, working with organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

We know all of this adds up and authentically resonates with our community, and we’ve received great feedback from our Change Agents. We want them to know we stand with them, by not only providing amazing products but by doing everything we can during this time, just like they are.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Absolutely! We’ve been doing a series of giveaways and recognitions of healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight, in order to thank them and inspire positivity during these trying times. We know this is helping our Change Agents by giving a sense they are appreciated, which is so important when they’re doing everything from working long shifts, working at home while taking care of their families, and dealing with all of the other difficult situations they’re encountering. It also brings positivity to our wider community — we are all dealing with mixed emotions and difficulties at every level, and we believe telling these positive stories and highlighting the good happening helps all of us.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding is the act of defining who you are as a company and brand — what you stand for, what your brand’s story and the world are, and defining how you’re different within your industry. It’s the fundamental story you tell yourself, employees, and community. This drives every decision you make. Our company during the past four years was a business-to-business focused company. As we launched our brand direct-to-consumer online we’ve had to soul search and create our story. It feels like every industry now is very crowded and noisy, the beauty industry more than most. By having a solid foundation and creating a world allowing you to stand out authentically while building a relationship with your customers, makes our brand strong and meaningful. Branding isn’t something you do once, but like a marriage, is something you must continue defining through every up and down, in order to develop your world as we continue building relationships.

Advertising is the tactical level introducing your potential customers to your products, as well as the brand world. Product marketing can be as simple as a one picture ad on Facebook, but when done well it should serve as the branding foundation telling potential customers exactly what you and your brand are all about attracting them to the world you’ve built. For SIIA, our brand world is based around strong, powerful people changing the world. Our product marketing shows our community and potential customers our amazing products and how they fit into their life.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Investing time and energy into building a brand is very important! Without this, it’s very easy to get off track, both internally and externally, and can lead you to be unhappy with your marketing and advertising efforts.

Companies and brands are built by teams, and the most important thing you can do as a leader is to ensure everyone knows what are your brand’s world, meaning, and goals. If this isn’t clear, from the CEO to the intern, not only will you get off track, but your team won’t have the same mission understanding. They’ll never get the level of fulfilment and passion teams with a consistent mission experience. Brand building is key to ensuring the brand story reaches your customers in the way you want it to, and builds a strong team to tell that story.

In SIIA’s earliest days, the work into building our world and meaning wasn’t done to the level needed. The ideas and their implementation weren’t communicated clearly to everyone. We ended up with a marketing output the leadership wasn’t happy with, but at the end of the day, we only had ourselves to blame. We hadn’t put work into building our world and ensuring the whole team understood it. Since then, we’ve done much as a company building this foundation, and are now working with our fantastic branding agency, Partners & Spade, to further world-build and translate it online in the best possible way. If we had invested earlier, we wouldn’t need to redo the original marketing work — but as all builders know, sometimes you have to learn through mistakes, and we’re grateful we to have put these lessons into action.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

Choose a brand story and world authentic to who you are and what your origin is. We chose our brand story because it is who we are — we are a team of strong people from a different backgrounds who are working to make the world a better place, so it only made sense to make that our brand foundation. If the story is authentic to you, it will be easy to communicate and feel authentic to others, which makes building trust much easier.

Flesh out the brand story and mission and make sure your whole team buys into it. As I mentioned before, we initially did not do this foundational work, and did not communicate it effectively. Our first marketing campaign came out very differently from what we had in mind. Because we did not flesh out the branding and make sure the whole team understood it from every angle, it was impossible for our team to then implement it.

Hire the right team and outside agencies, who believe in the brand vision and can translate it to your audience. It is so important that the people you trust to translate the brand to different mediums, whether your website or advertising, truly believe in and are excited about the brand. Likewise, hiring people with the right skills and experience is equally important so they can translate the brand vision in the best way possible.

Believe in the brand vision and keep focusing in on it. You can always adjust the tactics of how to approach it, how to tell it and advertise it, but don’t change the foundation. When a brand is new everyone has different ideas and suggestions, and it can be very easy to lose focus and get scared that your ideas aren’t good enough. At the end of the day, the brand story needs to be authentic and true to you, or it will never feel authentic to your customers. You must keep focusing on your brand story — while you can certainly take in ideas of how best to translate it, advertise it, and interact with your community and stay true to your vision.

Intentionally, tell the brand story in new ways, and ensure everything you do inside and outside of the company is true to the brand. The coronavirus pandemic is challenging for everyone, and a newer cosmetic brand is no exception. We’ve been intentionally thinking about how to use this time as an opportunity to prove who we are and show we truly represent what we say we do. Thinking through every challenge as an opportunity to further build the brand and mission, both with your internal team and to your community, will make your company stronger and more resilient in all circumstances.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

In absolutely love Kendra Scott, who created an incredible brand which is also focused on charity and giving. Her visual style is so distinct and really creates the vision of the KS world — it is so beautiful, free, and optimistic. I’m so impressed by both its execution and her ability to maintain the consistent style while constantly reinventing it over different campaigns and seasons.

To replicate, I think it’s important not to try to copy your role model exactly, but copy their strategy. For SIIA, we have taken Kendra Scott’s focus on visual style and we are approaching our next campaign in that light. We’re constantly honing in on what the SIIA image is, and ensuring each image tells the SIIA story.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

The success of the brand building is measured by its customer’s acceptance of it. It is different in that brand building needs to be measured holistically. Advertising can be measured campaign-by-campaign, so each ad, including the specific text and photos, can be measured for how effective they are. However, since your brand is the foundation that everything, from your internal team cohesion to your relationship with your customers, is based on, it must be measured in many ways.

The first layer of measuring your brand building campaign is from a PR perspective — brand sentiment. On social media, in the press, and among influencers, how is your brand spoken of? Is it mostly positive, negative, or non-existent?

The next layer would be the consistency of your brand story and messaging across all of your platforms and communications. Do your social channels tell the same story as your website? Does the material you send out to influencers hit your messaging in a way they can retell easily?

And the final and most important layer is the brand building within your team. Does every member of the team understand the brand world and mission? Do they believe in it? Do they feel like what they are doing is part of that mission?

Brand building is something you have to continually do, and evolve, so instead of thinking of specific metrics you can reach, I measure our brand-building campaign by thinking through the items I’ve mentioned, and ensuring that the brand story is clear, is consistent across all of our platforms, and creates a world that is compelling and builds the relationship we want with our community.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is central to our branding efforts. Beauty and cosmetics live and breathe on social media, between makeup artists, influencers, and tutorials, so it’s extremely important we engage. We build relationships with influencers and makeup artists on social media, which is so important in building trust among future customers. Buying cosmetics online can be scary, since you can’t see and try it before taking that leap of faith. Social media, and our community on it, allows us to show who we are, how great our products are, and reach out to potential customers before they make that leap.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

I have experienced burnout many times, and I always have found it’s at times I felt either stuck or not challenged by my work. When I feel I’m in a loop and the work I’m doing isn’t inspiring to me, I get burnt out and feel either frustrated or listless. The only way I know out is giving myself some space and really think about my future goals. Then I create a plan for how to achieve them. I write down my 1-, 3-, and 5- year plans with specific milestones, then break down what to do on a weekly and monthly basis to achieve them. For example, when we were first launching SIIA, I planned to carve out time on evenings and weekends to work through branding ideas, strategy, and networking. Putting it down in an agenda helped me feel I had control over where I was going. It also lets me prioritize my work seeing what work was not important to my future goals. This way I could maximize my time on tasks critical to my success. Knowing I was taking steps every week to get closer to my goals made the work I was doing every day feel more meaningful allowing me to move past burnout.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That is so kind of you to say, and not something I take lightly! ?

I would absolutely love to inspire a renewed sense of service — service to each other, our communities, and the wider world. The classic Kennedy quote — “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” — is a spirit I want to see renewed. What can you do for your community? For the wider world? How can you help others, make the world better, even in your own backyard? Especially in these divisive times, I would love to inspire others to be of service and think of the whole world as our community. We created SIIA to honor people who have this spirit, those already working to make the world better, and I would be incredibly proud to contribute to this movement.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As many times as this probably is said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” always impacts me the most. It drives me to think about the power I have, right now, to change the world, and reminds me I’m able to make changes, even if just modeling behavior I want to see. It goes with my previous comments on being of service, but I truly believe what we all need right now is to think more about how to make our families, communities, and wider world better for the future. If we all act and behave the way we want the world to be, we could see this change.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many inspiring leaders out there, and I would be honored if any of them saw this interview! Probably my top leaders are Bill and Melinda Gates — they’ve been incredibly successful in the business world, but then turned their success into probably the biggest humanitarian effort ever accomplished by private citizens. I would love to grab a coffee (my biggest addiction) with them, and would gladly meet them in Seattle, my treat

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/megan.rein), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/meganerein/) , and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-rein-09a7a76a/) — and would love to speak more with the brilliant Change Agents out there!


Megan E Rein of SIIA Cosmetics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Daisy Jing of Banish: “5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic”

Fuel up — Before you connect with other people, make sure your heart and soul aren’t empty. Allow yourself to be filled with love, joy and peace as well so you can wholeheartedly share them with others. You can not share what you don’t have. Don’t just give without receiving affection from others, you’ll be dry and empty in no time. Bless and let others bless you too so you’ll be more inspired

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Daisy Jing. Daisy founded and bootstrapped a now multi-million beauty product line called Banish. She started her business from just her laptop! She had bad acne and tried everything to help clear it up. She tried hundreds of different beauty products and decided to review beauty products to help others suffering with the same problem. In turn, she developed a following of over 70M views on YouTube and became a trusted source of information in the realm of skin problems. Afterwards, she launched her natural skin care line focused on combating skin blemishes. Her business is now ranked #152nd fastest growing company in INC 500 and she was also included in Forbes 30 under 30. Now they are a team of men and women, inspiring confidence in others.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Daisy! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

I realized that many current skincare ingredients, such as fragrances or fillers, break out my skin, so I created my own skincare products in my kitchen. I documented my struggle on my YouTube channel, which now garners over 70M views. Eventually, my followers saw great results on my skin and encouraged me to launch my own business. Now we are a diverse team focused on inspiring confidence in others. Together with the Banish Warriors and Soldiers, we are here to join you in your skin journey.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Up to now, I still can’t believe that people recognize the product and our brand. I am so happy that more people all over the world are now using our products and also inspired by our brand.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

There was a fraudulent charge from my bank and the phone operator happened to know me and asked, “Are you Daisy who does the beauty videos and owns Banish?” This person sees my charges and stuff and that embarrassed me at some point. That’s why everyday, we have to be careful about everything we do because we have no idea how big our impact is on people

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently launched the Banish Acne Diaries, they are actual customers who share their stories based on their skin status and how confident they are now. I am so happy and proud to use my brand and voice to represent our customers — they are people next door who are going through their own struggles and empower other people by sharing their inspiring story. We at Banish do our best to be the voice of those who are unheard and together we build each other’s confidence,

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I had an opportunity to have a TedxTalk about “A TRAGEDY CALLED PERFECTION.” I suffered with my skin and I don’t like my appearance. I always thought I’m ugly and look less than the others. I was very depressed and lonely and since I never grew up with tons of friends or family around me, I came up with my YouTube channel and “accidentally” built a community of people who have skin issues and self-doubt. These people reached out to me because just like me, they are also lonely and need someone to make them feel that they’re not alone.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

  • When you’re always alone, you tend to feel helpless and hopeless; but once you connect to other people, their help and glimpse of hope make you realize that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hope gives you reasons to be healthy and live happier another day
  • Self-isolation gives you a feeling of despair since you share your own negative vibe by yourself. To connect with others give you an opportunity to catch their happy vibe and aura, making you happier each day, changing your perspective and outlook in life
  • Loneliness is the hardest and longest way to die. It takes so much time for you to die but it will definitely (slowly) take a toll on your health. Loneliness will bring you stress — stress may cause obesity, hyperacidity, cancer, diabetes, heart problems that will eventually lead to death. Stress can also lead to unhealthy habits that have a negative impact on our health. We tend to eat too much, smoke, cry often and even hurt ourselves because of too much loneliness. These unhealthy habits damage the body and create bigger problems in the long run. Bottom line, loneliness gives us less self-fulfillment and more reasons to give up on life.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

In other parts of Europe and Japan, there are older people in their population, dying without their community noticing and knowing because the elders are alone. Because of self-isolation, the elders usually die alone, people have looser family ties, people don’t want to have kids or create a family anymore which further makes the loneliness epidemic worse. In Japan, a lot of people normalize self-isolation and they call it hikikomori. These people spend most of their time watching TV, reading, playing video games, or surfing the internet. Many of them choose to stay up all night and sleep during the day and never interact with the outside world. All these trends are changing society and harming people’s mental and physical health. People use these reasons to be more alone and lonely without thinking that connecting with others is the first step to be free from that mentality.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

  • We lack a deep connection with others due to lack of the ability to be vulnerable. We tend to spend more time having superficial talks, avoiding conversations that matter because we all think that we are all too busy to mind other people’s business or be someone’s mental baggage of the day. Our busyness caused us to be mentally unavailable to share or listen to a real conversation. We are lonely because our busyness caused us to stop having meaningful conversations to spend more time thinking how we can survive on our own
  • We act (and pretend) that we are strong and that is why we never share our weaknesses and problems anymore. Instead, we carry them on our own and think that we’re all alone — leaving us more sad and depressed. Despite the long talks we have over coffee or social media, we rarely share our true side. We all act so happy and perfect because we don’t want to be a burden to others who are most likely sad as well. We don’t want to make others feel bad or awkward because everyone seems to be okay. We all think that life is just about sharing happy moments and we missed out on helping one another during their worst days. Stop highlighting what’s reel; share the most vulnerable side of your life instead
  • Distractions are amongst us. The world offers us too many nice things that we can have though we are all alone (Netflix, shopping in all forms, adventure, nice career, travel, sex in many ways, games, food, technology, entertainment, etc). How easy is it to connect with someone FULLY? If those things are all in front of you, you are definitely happy; but once those are gone, immediate loneliness can be felt and then you feel empty again. It is so easy to stuff ourselves with temporary things then in a snap, we feel lonely ASAP. We can not buy or achieve happiness without love, peace, joy, and contentment — these things are usually shared with other people, not on your own.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic? Please give a story or an example for each.

  • Be sensitive and spend time listening. For 10 minutes, you can already have a big impact on someone by being sensitive enough to listen intently to what the person is trying to say. Have the discernment to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Not everyone is busy and not willing to share their story, there are some who are actually willing to communicate well but the real question is, “Are you ready to listen and do your part?” Don’t fail that test.
  • If you are in social media, share vulnerable and relatable things, not perfect and unattainable stuff. People will easily connect with you and you will easily connect with others because they find strength and hope from your posts, making it more valuable.
  • Call or visit a friend/family and have a good long conversation. Instead of texting or chatting, surprise someone by calling or visiting them. Spend a long time asking how they really are. Ask engaging questions, share your own story as well and make this person feel that this time is really dedicated for him.
  • Block your time solely for your friends, family and loved ones. Block and schedule a specific date, time and place where you can be with them without any distractions and to be fully present with them. Divide them into a category to make sure that everyone’s getting the attention they need. For example, don’t meet with both your parents and in-laws if they’re not yet close. Spend time with them separately.
  • Fuel up. Before you connect with other people, make sure your heart and soul aren’t empty. Allow yourself to be filled with love, joy and peace as well so you can wholeheartedly share them with others. You can not share what you don’t have. Don’t just give without receiving affection from others, you’ll be dry and empty in no time. Bless and let others bless you too so you’ll be more inspired

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The Underdogs Movement — I support the underdogs because I consider myself as one as well. I root for other people and inspire others to be the best version of themselves. People don’t have to fit into what society tells them to do. Banish is doing that already and we empower others by sharing their real stories. Acne is something people don’t want to have because they see it as an imperfection. Through our own movement, we normalize acne and change people’s mindset about it — people don’t have to hide just because they’re not “flawless” as defined by the world. It’s not the way you look, it’s the way you feel about yourself that matters.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Oprah — she is real and empowering. She cuts to the chase and answers deadly questions bravely without batting an eyelash. The questions that people are usually avoiding are just easy for her to answer and that makes her relatable and leaves everyone more inspired through her story

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website : https://www.banish.com

Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/user/daiserz89

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/banishbeauty

Instagram : https://instagram.com/daiserz89

Linkedin : https://il.linkedin.com/in/daisyjing

Twitter : https://twitter.com/banishacnescars

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Daisy Jing of Banish: “5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nutritionist Shelley Gawith: “Here are 5 steps that anyone can take to become more resilient”

Positivity — When we can see the best in everything and everyone. When we can look at someone hurting us and think they only have the best intentions, or they are coming from a place of pain, so we don’t take it personally. My positivity is contagious. I’m sure at times it’s what carries my clients through their hard times. I see some very unwell clients that have had to deal with some awful conditions and I always say the problem with natural health is there is no magic pill to get through all the symptoms, you have to go through the bad times. Clients often remark that my positivity got them through the tough times. It was the light at the end.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shelley Gawith.

Shelley is a New Zealand based International Speaker and Functional Nutritionist who specializes in helping people be the CEO of their own health with her message and keynote: The Future of Health is YOU.

At a time where people are suffering from burnout, anxiety, obesity and chronic illness Shelley helps people turn that around so they have “exponential energy.

Gawith is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), a Certified Gluten Practitioner, and a Certified Restorative Wellness Practitioner which collectively enables her to specialize in functional laboratory testing to provide further insight and information to her clients.

She draws on her life journey and shares her personal near-death health story going from an overachieving work-a-holic to having a physiological body breakdown that left her almost bedridden for two years. She was told by countless medical practitioners that she was going to die. This led her to dive deep into Functional Nutrition and rebuild her body. Now she travels the world as a keynote speaker at conferences delivers corporate training and presentations to help others to do the same.

Shelley divides her time between seeing clients 1–1 at her own private clinic, running her online programs, speaking and facilitating workshops to Corporates in NZ and overseas. She also helps other wellness practitioners to have booked out clinics like hers so that she can amplify her impact on wellness even further.

Known for her energy and positivity to her clients & colleagues Shelley’s presentation style is entertaining, and animated in a way that leaves people feeling uplifted and empowered with some clear takeaway tips and actions to move towards the health and life they want. She also has a very strong side and both expect and demand results. Rather than telling people what to do, Shelley opens their eyes and educates.

Thank you so much for joining us Shelley! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I grew up in New Zealand where I studied my first degree in accounting and commercial law. I went on to complete my chartered accountancy (CA). After leaving my CA firm I moved to the land of sunshine and grand opportunities Australia to work for an investment bank (Macquarie Bank). I became the Finance Manager for a division there at 26. What it really meant was I was a slave to the corporation. After catching full-blown influenza, my life dramatically changed for the worst. My recovery never happened and I was told by the medical world I need to be hospitalized or I would die. I don’t even know if I was fearful at this thought, or just so unbelievably sick, I was holding on for my life and had no emotional capacity to feel anything. I moved home to live with my parents in New Zealand where my Mum looked after me. This was extremely heartbreaking for both my parents to see their “little girl” so unwell. After seeing every specialist and doctor and being told there was nothing I could do, my life was limited to my bed and I would just sleep all day. I would scream during the night, from the intense pain I felt in my body, nobody should lie in bed each day without moving. My muscles basically began to eat themselves. After 18 months of this and the despair at not knowing if I would ever get better. I decided with the 20 minutes a day I could stay awake, I needed to start looking into nutrition so I could get myself better. I had to do something. My mum implemented all the food changes.

As I could stay awake longer, this led to me being able to study nutrition with the Nutritional Therapy Association. From my study I began doing everything I was learning on myself and slowly began to heal each system in my body. I can’t tell you the joy my family and I felt at seeing progress at last. Once I was 80% well I studied more advanced functional laboratory testing. My cry when I was in bed, sleeping most of the day, was if I can just help one person this was all worth it. The day I walked to the grocery store again, I cried, it was a dream come true, literally. Funny when you have nothing that you wish for. So once I had completed my study, I found another very sick person to help and then another one. From there my business as a Functional Nutritionist began. Now in 2020 I have a booked out clinic and a special detoxification center so I can help as many people as possible.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The biggest take away I’ve learned from my corporate career, you can’t ignore poor health. When I was working long days at the investment bank, I was literally living off more and more coffee and gluten-free treats to sustain my energy. Thereafter, my health started to decline but I chose to continue to ignore it. I pushed myself harder and harder with the long hours and the endless promotions I wanted until my body couldn’t be pushed anymore and it literally crashed. I then realized if you don’t have your health you actually don’t have a career. All the money I had been working hard to get and save for my first house, I had to use to pay to get my health back again.

What do you think makes your company/brand stand out? Can you share a story?

The success of my business is truly because of my positivity. It’s infectious. Every client leaves our offices feeling more positive than when they came in. In our clinic we have some very sick people, you can’t fix all their symptoms in one session, but we can give them hope. Warmness, compassion and a big smile. Clients always message me with something that might have happened in between their appointments and they will end the email saying but we know you will somehow find the positive and it’s the truth.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am so grateful to my Dad he is the reason I have been as successful as I am in my business. I had to do an assignment at university for my Commerce Degree on someone who had a successful business and I picked him. What I learnt in that interview, I have applied to every area of my life. He told me the key to having a successful business were the relationships you made. If you have strong relationships with clients they will forgive you for the small mistakes you will make along the way. And believe me he needed a lot of forgiving, his clients didn’t even mind when he ran late for his appointments.

Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience?

I would define resilience as having a strength in yourself to overcome difficult situations in life or if you can’t overcome them, having the grace to accept them. Resilience to me means how well we respond to negative events in our lives. Resilience is what we draw on from deep within ourselves to help us with the setbacks or things in life that we didn’t expect.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

The characteristics of resilient people are: Courage, strength, confidence, humbleness

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think of resilience I think of so many clients, how they have had to overcome so much with their health. But one of my clients who I will name B came to see me when she was 27 years old, she was 77 pounds overweight, extremely tired, she was an ex gym trainer, but couldn’t even work out her body was so fatigued. She was forced to move in with her parents as she couldn’t look after herself. She was struggling with life. She had been to so many health practitioners and just told her it would be better if she lost weight, however, she just couldn’t. She didn’t eat unhealthy food. B came to me for months, before seeing any progress. As her practitioner, I would see small changes at each new appointment. But for a good 18 months, it looked like nothing on the outside was getting better. We were doing lots of good things on the inside but B had been sick for at least a decade before coming to see me. B would be judged for her weight and was told she ate too much when she didn’t. Every day felt like hard work for B and many days she did just want to give up. Her health and weight made it really hard. Finally, despite B wanting to give up many times over, she kept working with me. “Overnight” she lost the 77 pounds. B knows it did not happen overnight and it was the previous 18 months of those small changes of her body healing, but in 2 months as her body was healing she did lose the 77 pounds. She still doesn’t have the energy she wants so we continue to work together to cross the final hurdle. B is someone who makes me smile daily, as she really had to overcome so much negativity, judgment, and heartache but she stuck with it.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

When I was working at Macquarie bank I was always being told new innovative ways were impossible, I always had to prove it. At the time all our new software contracts and new buyer contracts were stil paper documents. Banks weren’t really paperless at that time, so it took up a lot of time and money scanning in these documents, saving them, sorting them and storing them. I convinced the General Manager of my division to let me work with a third party and make the whole process paperless. We were the first department to do it and other departments in the bank copied soon after.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My biggest setback was “losing” my health and being told I was going to die. When I was lying in bed all day every day with no clear idea of how I was going to get better and everyone telling me they couldn’t help. When every time I tried a new treatment I would somehow get worse. I would tell everyone, all my medical practitioners, I was going to get better. I would make a FULL recovery. I was even sent for multiple mental health checks as Doctors couldn’t believe I wasn’t depressed and in denial. I came back stronger because now I don’t take life for granted. All the small things in life that I took for granted I now value and they bring me so much joy every day.

Another set back came two years into having my own business, I had finally got my health back on track and had purchased the first apartment that I had worked so hard to buy. A few months after moving in, I felt my health starting to decline, I was a little more tired in the mornings and I had gained a little bit of weight. After going through everything with my health, I realized there were hidden sources of mold in my house. I had to totally destroy my apartment and re-build it again so it was mold proof.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

My top 5 steps for being more resilient are:

  1. Mindset — We get to set our intention for each day. We get to choose the direction. Many doctors told me they knew who would get better based on the patient’s mindset. Once I was better, I remember talking to my main medical doctor in Wellington and I asked him if he thought even when he couldn’t help that I would get better and he replied yes! I asked him how he knew and he said because of my mindset, I was determined I was going to get better. I told everyone that it wasn’t going to be me. I was going to get better. I was going to make a full recovery. I never cared what the statistics said. I wasn’t going to be one of them. I was going to get better.
  2. Positivity — When we can see the best in everything and everyone. When we can look at someone hurting us and think they only have the best intentions, or they are coming from a place of pain, so we don’t take it personally. My positivity is contagious. I’m sure at times it’s what carries my clients through their hard times. I see some very unwell clients that have had to deal with some awful conditions and I always say the problem with natural health is there is no magic pill to get through all the symptoms, you have to go through the bad times. Clients often remark that my positivity got them through the tough times. It was the light at the end.
  3. Self care — it’s cheesy but if our cup isn’t overflowing first we don’t have anything to draw on. If we are empty when stuff comes up in life we have nothing to dig from. I truly used to believe that I was only on the planet to look after everyone else and put their needs before my own. In fact I don’t think I believed I had needs and if I did I was there to serve everyone else in my world. I remember dreading each week before it began, as I was exhausted on a Sunday night every week. I would get up, go to the gym, work all day and then attend events in the evenings. Some days I would be so tired and just want to go home to bed, but I would push myself to the next thing, as I truly believed I was on earth just to make others happy and not to worry about myself. I now know that when I get tired or when I’m not looking after myself, filling myself up, I actually can’t look after anyone else or be good at my job, because I have nothing left to give others and I just feel like anything could tip me over
  4. Balance your hormones — We view our lives through the lenses of our hormones. When our hormones are out of balance everything in life can take on a darker tinge. Life feels harder. I remember having a coffee before work in Sydney, I was studying to complete my chartered accountancy exams and I was busy looking for a new house to rent. My Dad called me to give advice on my house situation and instead of graciously accepting it and thanking him, I started crying and I remember clearly saying to him, why are you trying to stress me out more, why are you adding to my load, I can’t do this. I have thought back on this occasion many times over the years as it wasn’t long after that my health really collapsed, I look back and realized the way I reacted was from someone, that was running on empty, my hormones were out of balance, my tank was low and anything was going to tip me over the edge all the time.
  5. Nourish your body. We always feel as good as the food we eat or as bad as the food we eat. If we are eating foods causing us inflammation, it puts a stress burden on our bodies. All stress is the opposite of resilience. We are going to wear away at ourselves if we are eating foods for our bodies that are causing us symptoms. Unless we are eating for our own individual bodies so that we are filled with energy and not being weighed down by tiredness due to the inflammation, we won’t be resilient. For years I ate bread for breakfast, for lunch, and probably pasta for dinner. I never felt energized after eating it, but I would often have it with coffee and sugar snacks so I didn’t notice. Gluten for me causes me inflammation so, after years of doing it and inflaming my body, it became such a stressor on my body. It also meant that every time I was feeling tired, life became a struggle. It’s hard to be resilient when you are struggling.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement I would like EVERY busy woman to realize that with every mouthful we eat we have the ability to change our own personal health, the health of our families and our countries. That we really do have the ability to change our healthcare system and the state of the world. We can reduce the amount of disease in the world.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast with Brene brown. I’m sure so many people would say her. For me reading her first book The Gifts of imperfection and then hearing her Tedx talk when I was sick in bed allowed me to look at myself differently. For the first time I gave myself permission not to have to strive to be “perfect” all the time, but it also helped me question what was behind the mask that I was wearing. I realized for the first time that while I didn’t numb myself with what I consider to be normal things that you would numb yourself with like drinking, smoking, drugs, shopping. I did actually numb myself. I numbed myself by constantly being busy.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: ShelleygawithFN

Facebook: Shelley Gawith Functional Nutrition

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Nutritionist Shelley Gawith: “Here are 5 steps that anyone can take to become more resilient” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize

Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers.

As a part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kaitlin Zhang, the CEO of Oval Branding and an award-winning speaker. Kaitlin is a Chinese Canadian entrepreneur and creative based in London, UK. She has lived and worked in Shenzhen, Vancouver, Shanghai, and San Francisco prior to settling in London. Her multi-cultural background helps inform her cross-border branding practice especially between China and the West.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m Kaitlin Zhang, CEO of Oval Branding. My work in cross-border branding between China and West is deeply rooted in my very international upbringing. I have lived and worked in Shenzhen, Vancouver, Melbourne, Shanghai and San Francisco. In 2013, at age 23, I arrived in London, UK with two suitcases that were too large to carry on the underground and the sheer determination to build my own creative agency one day. In 2016, that dream became a reality — the beginning of Oval Branding Ltd.

Branding for me is about storytelling and bringing awareness to exceptional people and ideas. I’m thankful that I can bring my multi-culture background and experiences to help clients bridge the cultural gap every day.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first arrived in London, I worked for a brilliant cleantech startup, Loowatt, that made waterless toilets that can turn human waste into energy and biogas. It was a challenge to manage the company’s brand image to navigate the tricky areas of toilet humour. Certainly, there were a few jokes that didn’t land as well as hoped and had to be flushed. What I learned is that marketing is about continuous testing and it’s okay to make small mistakes as long as we are sincere in our efforts and are willing to learn from it.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

The “tipping point” for me when I started concentrating on working on my personal brand. I realized that it is important for me to build my own reputation at the same time as working on building the reputation of my clients. I started working on my own website more and social media presence. I wrote blocks and hosted live events regularly. After about half a year and 10 to 20 events later I started gaining a reputation as somebody who knows branding well. I started getting freelance branding work. The takeaway lesson is that it is never too early or late to start building one’s personal brand.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, we are working on a rebranding of a New York based venture capital firm, Tuhaye Venture Partners, who focuses on the pre-seed round in the enterprise software space in the US. It has been a pleasure to work with the partners at the firm and to understand their unique investment thesis and fund potential.

What I love about new funds like Tuhaye is that they are increasingly committed to funding diverse founders that have traditionally been underserved by established VC firms. This means that great enterprise software businesses led by women or people of colour could receive funding and quality support from Tuhaye. So definitely get in touch with them to find out more.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

May 18–24 2020 is Mental Health Awareness Week. My recommendation would be to learn more about mental health and be open to discuss this topic with the safe people in your life. It has been tremendously useful for me to be able to talk to my best friends about this and know that I’m not alone in experiencing stress or anxiety.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brands represent consumers perceptions and feelings about the product and its performance. The goal of brand marketing it is to build up its long-term brand equity, which is the measure of the value a brand has on a consumer decision-making process. Product marketing or advertising is a specific communication task to be accomplished with a specific target audience during a specific period of time. The main difference is that branding is often a long-term endeavor, whereas advertising often has a short time goal.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Branding is a part of marketing. And advertising can be used as a great tool to build a brand. All these elements work together, but branding needs to be in the marketers mind always. Consumers are becoming more discerning, and one of the key differentiators is brand. A company that understands branding ultimately as a company that really understands its target audience. It knows where it fits in the market and how it contributes to the lifestyle of its customers. Without first understanding the brand, other marketing and advertising efforts will fall short.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

In the case of a rebranding exercise that is used to repair reputation damage, the company needs to make sure it works with professional public relations experts to ensure a smooth transition. Simply by building a new brand is not enough to cover up past mistakes. The other important thing to consider when rebranding is to ensure that the new brand is well researched and well tested before launch.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

When a company is trying to upgrade its brand, here are the five key steps:

  • Pitch

This first step is arguably the most important. A memorable, impactful pitch comes with a clear understanding of brand positioning. Your brand position should include elements such as your brand’s mission statement, vision statement, and values.

Start by conducting market research into your target audience, marketing environment, and competitors. Then consider what makes your brand unique, capable, authentic, and relatable. A brand that does this well is Vimeo. Its main competitor is YouTube, but Vimeo has positioned itself as a more exclusive alternative for creators.

  • Profile

Profile is about the visual elements of your brand, consisting of your logo, visual identity, graphics and other imagery. It even includes the profile photos of your CEO and team. It takes a tenth of a second to form an opinion when looking at a visual. A first impression is the difference between someone clicking to find out more about you or turning their attention elsewhere. This is certainly an area that is worth getting professional help. For example, when you’re looking for a new restaurant, the Google review that has professionally taken photographs is much more likely to grab attention.

  • Platform

A professional, well-designed website, with your company name as the domain name, is an excellent platform for people to find all the information they are looking for you about you. Your website should at least have an About section, all your social media links and an easy option to contact you. Mobile-friendly personal websites rank really well on Google and is likely the first thing people will see after they search your name. The current design trends focuses on minimal user-friendly designs. Just think about the aesthetics of easy-to-use websites like Airbnb or Apple.

  • Produce

After completing the first 3 steps, you are ready to dive into the world of social media and content marketing. This step is all about producing valuable content to your target audience. You want to be as helpful as possible on all your channels, using tools such as social media, blogging, vlogging, books, events etc.

A brand that does this very well is Away, which is a high-end luggage brand popular with celebrities. Before the founders even built a prototype, they developed a coffee table photography book of luxury travel that encompasses all of their brand ideas. They sent this book to influencers and celebrities to sell them on the idea of their brand. After that gained momentum, only been did they start to build the product which is the luggage. This coffee table book became the foundation for all of the content of their future social media.

  • Partnership

There are two main types of partnerships: brand partners and media partners. Brand partners are mutually beneficial relationships that can help you expand your reach. Media partners help you increase publicity and help more people find out about you, With the right partnerships, you can skyrocket the reach of your brand and establish yourself as a leader in your industry.

For the clients that my company Oval Branding works with, in the venture capital — private equity space, it is absolutely essential for us to work with event brand partners as well as the media to build the reputation. We have helped founders get speaking roles, sponsorship opportunities as well as press interviews in tier one major publications. All brands need to continue to build up their reputation by developing effective partnerships and invest into branding long-term.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

One brand that did this very well is Lego. A simple children’s toy based on one concept has taken over the imagination of generations and created a multi-million-dollar brand. But how does a brand that’s so simple continue to be relevant in an age full of screens for children?

One way Lego continues to invest in its branding by adding new partners. Two of the most successful collaborations it has done are with the Harry Potter franchise and the DC universe, such as with Batman. There will always be new influencers and collaborators to work with.

The brand is also not afraid of embracing digitalization. It has created mobile games, PC games as well as invested in the Lego movie. At the same time it also expands in off-line experiences, such as in its flagship stores and theme parks. There is always something new on offer in the horizon, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Actually there is no need for me to inspire a movement. I think it takes more courage and leadership to be a follower and to let go of one’s ego. They are so many inspiring people out there leading amazing movements, why not consider supporting them instead? Some leaders that come to mind include Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Arianna Huffington and Emma Watson.

Furthermore, I believe our roles as marketers and brand managers are to help our client tell their unique stories and support their visions for a better world. So I’m perfectly happy doing that to make the world a better place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite artist Claude Monet said, “Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand as if it were necessary to understand when it is simply necessary to love.”

In the end, the work that I do is an art and it’s okay if not everyone understands it, but the most important thing is that I loved in all the ways I can through my work.

How can our readers follow you online?

Company Website: www.ovalbranding.com

Personal Website: www.kaitlinzhang.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaitlinzhang/

Twitter: @kaitlinzhang @OvalBrandingUK

Instagram: @kzhangbranding

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dean Neiger of Sky Organics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

When you’re doing too many things at once — it can be easy to feel burnt out. That’s why organization and prioritizing are important techniques to incorporate in your work life. If a task is too big don’t be afraid to delegate and split it up among people. Keep educating yourself on your industry and try new things! Sometimes a different approach is better than trying to optimize an old method!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dean Neiger, Co-Founder and Vice President of Business Development for Sky Organics.

Dean Neiger has always had a passion for environmental sustainability. Prior to founding Sky Organics in 2015 with brother Steven Neiger, the pair established Florida’s first “green” dry cleaning service Dryeco — highlighting non-toxic, eco-friendly solvents as alternatives to hazardous petroleum-based cleaning products. Dean managed business development for the company for four years before moving on to become a founding partner of DG Trading House — a rough diamond trading company based in Dubai where he oversaw their Angolan subsidiary and all trade-related activities. Dean’s strengths have always been in marketing and sales — both of which he leads for Sky Organics. Under his management the company has expanded to over 10,000 stores nationwide in just under 3 years — and he has even bigger plans for expansion in the future.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The natural journey came to us — we didn’t seek it out. After her first child, my sister-in-law wanted to make her home a greener, more natural space but found it difficult as so many products are formulated with harmful ingredients and toxic chemicals. The natural products she did find were expensive and hard to come by — so she started doing DIYs, making household and beauty essentials that were safe enough for the entire family to use. From then forward, we kept growing, making clean products using natural botanicals that our friends, family, and now, everyone can enjoy.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we founded this company back in 2015, I was wearing many hats — doing sales, marketing, managing social media, among many other things. Back then, we couldn’t afford a photoshoot and I don’t have any skills in photography, so I would purchase stock photos to use on Instagram. Well, for one post I wanted to advertise the way our Organic Castor Oil Eyelash Serum could be used to support healthy, fuller-looking lashes and brows — so I posted a close up of a woman’s eyes with beautiful, long lashes only to be pointed out by our followers that she was (very obviously, apparently) wearing lash extensions. Lesson learned — always do your research because people have no problem letting you know when you’ve got things wrong.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For one, we are a family-founded and family-orientated brand, making sure our essentials are safe for everyone — even our little ones. Unlike some natural companies, we strive to be accessible — with all of our products priced below $25 because everyone should have the opportunity to live a green lifestyle. We value sourcing our ingredients from artisanal farms all over the world and then assembling a majority of our products right here in the United States. We also know there is a lot of confusion surrounding the natural movement. When my sister-in-law was looking for products for my niece, she found many companies labeling their products as natural and organic while using some frightening chemicals in their collections. That’s why Sky Organics makes sure to use safe, easy-to-read botanicals and keep our ingredients list short and sweet, often opting to use only a single pressed fruit or nut in our essentials. We focus on USDA certification, so there are no lingering questions about whether our products are safe or authentic. By far, our strongest and most differentiating quality is the open, two-way relationship we maintain with our beauty community. People message us asking for recommendations based on their skin type or send us photos using our products, and they know our team is always there to provide support and answer their questions without judgment.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have so many new projects! One major development that we have been tirelessly working on and only recently got to celebrate a launch for is the opening of our sister company Sky Organics CBD, which features two collections both a Wellness and Beauty line — formulated using safe, natural botanicals enriched with hemp-derived, broad-spectrum cannabidiol. Aside from that major project which we were so excited to have gotten off the ground, we are working on a rebrand to update our old packaging, as well as bringing to fruition two new, innovative collections — though for now, that has to remain a secret. We are also working on ways to be more involved in our local community, figuring out how to host pop-up events, clothing swaps, and beach clean-ups in the future — so stay tuned, 2020 is going to be a major year!

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

The main difference between the two — is that brand marketing, as the name would suggest, emphasizes the qualities of the brand, whereas product marketing follows the quality of the product. You can’t achieve true, long-term success without utilizing both. When we first started this company, we invested heavily in product marketing as it gave us a reliable way to understand more about our audience. As we continue to grow and solidify our values — we are investing more in our brand, which means we are investing in the way we want to be perceived by our audience. In the beginning, our values were “safe products made with ingredients you can feel good about using,” and while we still hold tightly to that message, we are more than just a place to find affordable, clean essentials. We are the big sister of the family, taking under our wings those who are trying to dip their toes into the natural world but are uncertain about where or how to start.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

General marketing and advertising will only get a company so far. Sure, a good ad can sell a product, but it’ll only sell that product to a customer once, maybe twice before they find another company that is selling the same product at a lower cost. When you invest in building a brand, you invest in a loyal base that will support your company beyond a one-time purchase. Our beauty community posts photos of our products, write reviews, advise one another about DIYs, effectively doing unpaid advertisement for us because they value our brand, our core message and want to share that message with others. Having a strong brand gives us a level of built-in authenticity and trust, as consumers learn to associate our products with messages like self-love, inner fulfillment, and family first. People support us not just for effective products, but because they support who we are as a company.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

The first one is to invest time into customer reviews. We are constantly encouraging customers to leave feedback of our products, whether it be on social media, Walmart.com, Amazon, or whichever platform. Doing so allows other people who are unfamiliar with our brand to see we have an established, trusted base, and aren’t a “scam” which can be a real issue when it comes to online shopping. Consumers are smart and don’t trust easily. They know brands are trying to sell products to them at the end of the day. People will more readily trust a review from another consumer who is gaining nothing by saying our product is great as opposed to us telling our consumers our products have value. Reviews give “realness” to a company.

Our second strategy is USDA certification and placing the seal on our products. USDA is a highly revered and trusted source for what’s what in the organic community. Having their seal on our products automatically elevates their value, and informs consumers before they even have to read the label, that the product they are holding in their hand is clean and safe to use.

Thirdly, walk the talk. By this I mean, if you value your company as being conscientious as our brand does — then prove it. Most recently, we partnered with two non-profit organizations that support COVID-19 relief efforts. The first is with Feeding America which is committed to serving meals to families and individuals facing hunger as facilities temporarily close their doors. The second is with Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation which establishes a relief fund for individual restaurant workers facing economic hardships or health crises as a direct result of COVID-19. We have donated $10,000 to both of these organizations.

The fourth tip is to be authentic and honest. Customers can see whether you are passionate or not about the work you do. There’s no need to strive to be perfect as that will always be a failed goal. On the contrary, customers understand mistakes when they’re small. Sometimes we record a video for our followers and might trip over a word — that’s okay. It just adds to the realness of the company and serves as a reminder that real people are working behind the screen creating all the images, words, and designs they see.

The final strategy is having solid PR. Advertisement is saying your company is the best, whereas PR is others saying you’re great. Our PR team has solidified for us features in Byrdie, Bustle, Refinery 29, Marie Claire, and Rolling Stone, to name a few. Good PR doesn’t just give your company traction with new consumers — it adds credibility as there is evidence to support what you’re selling has value.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

We admire The Honest Company, founded by Jessica Alba. Like The Honest Company, we share so many similar values — wanting clean, safe essentials that everyone in the family can use and being accessible to all. She’s a great example of resilience and the way that success isn’t always a straight shot. She tried multiple times to get her idea off the ground but couldn’t find investors willing to take the risk — so she buckled down and went to the drawing board, researching the market and the nuances of the natural industry. She even ended up in DC lobbying for reform to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. It paid off and her company gained incredible success when it launched. Unfortunately, things grew too quickly. They started selling products that alienated their original, and strongest consumer base — and even ran into formula and labeling issues that caused a backlash. What is admirable from all this is Alba took full responsibility for the mistakes. She decided to scale down and focus predominately on the original, core products for mothers and babies that created their initial success, and she created an in-house lab to ensure quality control.

What we can learn from her and replicate in our own brand — is remember where you started from and own up to your mistakes. Not only in a humility way but recognizing the small things that drew consumers to our company (simply formulated, natural products) and keeping true to those ideals as we expand and create new lines and have bigger ideas.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

Success for a brand is a little different than calculating pure sales. We use social listening and engagement to measure how well our brand is being received. When we post something on Instagram and get a ton of comments from our community about loving our products, or have people tag us in their face mask selfies and message us skincare questions — that tells us a lot about how we’re doing as a brand. We also utilize tools like surveys and online reviews — making sure to check in on our followers and let them directly tell us how we’re doing and how we can improve.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media has been an incredibly strong tool in helping us build our brand. Ads can only do so much — to be successful as a company you can’t run non-stop paid advertisements. Social media has enabled us to always remain present in the market. We can have a more fun and personable approach with things like get-ready-with-us routines, behind-the-scenes, or clips of the team during our holiday party. Social media has allowed us to expand our consumer base by partnering with influencers that align with our ideals. It’s always better to have someone else talk about how great you are then talking about your greatness yourself. When a green influencer with thousands of followers talks about loving our products — that adds credibility and value to our brand.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

When you’re doing too many things at once — it can be easy to feel burnt out. That’s why organization and prioritizing are important techniques to incorporate in your work life. If a task is too big don’t be afraid to delegate and split it up among people. Keep educating yourself on your industry and try new things! Sometimes a different approach is better than trying to optimize an old method!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Bringing authenticity to the forefront of all things — work, our personal lives, and so forth, would inspire a lot of good. It seems like so many problems are created due to a lack of trust. As a business owner, I can see the ramifications of this firsthand, having to work twice as hard for people to believe a company wants to create accessible, good-for-you essentials with nothing up our sleeves. Not only will an increase of authenticity allow people to trust in brands again, but it’ll help cultivate more meaningful relationships all across the board.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Author Neale Donald Walsch said, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I truly believe that. The number one reason for failure is not trying — discounting yourself from the race before it even started. Sky Organics is my third business venture, and each of them in dramatically different industries. Don’t be afraid to try, fail, and start over. Each time you start again you carry the experiences of your past and it only makes you smarter.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Without a doubt Richard Branson. He is a man of many hats and has worked in music, in air, land, and sea transportation, and is involved in a lot of humanitarian initiatives that I admire — he even worked with Nelson Mandela at one point!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us on Instagram at skyorganics.us or type in Sky Organics into Facebook and our page will show up! We also have a YouTube channel under Sky Organics.


Dean Neiger of Sky Organics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Portable chemical oxygen for emergency use” With Dr.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Portable chemical oxygen for emergency use” With Dr. Richard P. Imbruce

All EMS survival data is timed from EMS arrival. The R15, for the first time, will not only improve survival but also provide survival data before EMS arrives, brain cells dysfunction, and die. Emergency Physicians over the world provide oxygen as the first line of defense against untoward events. A safe, simple to use, internationally understandable emergency oxygen device will make a difference.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard P. Imbruce, PhD, CEO.

Richard P. Imbruce has 30 years of experience in the medical device industry & co-inventor of R15. Founded Pneumedics, Inc., a developer & manufacturer of heart and lung diagnostic instrumentation and advisor to GE/Versamed Healthcare. Dr. Imbruce is an international expert on breathing mechanics, established Rapid Oxygen Company in 2013 to develop, manufacture and market the R15, portable chemical oxygen generator for emergency use.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 2006 I was developing an ICU level of care, battery powered, transport ventilator and met Dr. Kevin Ward, Director of Emergency Medicine Research Institute at Virginia Commenwealth University in Richmond, VA. Dr. Ward was recipient of a $10M DOD grant to develop a hemorrhagic shock treatment for the Army in Afghanistan. The treatment consisted of injecting small amounts of hydrogen peroxide-saline solution to produce oxygen. This added many hours of survival for transport to MASH units for better outcomes. It became obvious to use this technology to augment breathing in far-forward areas where oxygen cylinders couldn’t be deployed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once treated a family of five children and two adults, blinded by carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from a poorly ventilated furnace. They were placed in two monoplace hyperbaric oxygen chambers for a series of daily treatments over the course of a few weeks. Soon their sight improved with no untoward effects. Just an example of oxygen benefits with proper use.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Horace Mann –“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Since oxygen cylinders are explosive and not permitted for public safety, oxygen is not available in public spaces. EMS statistics result in 8%-14% survival from an untoward event. There is a 10% improvement in survival for every minute improvement in response time. Recent COVID-19 response times increased in NYC from an average of six and a half minutes to more than twelve minutes. The national average EMS response time is over eight minutes and more in rural areas.

Brain function decreases without oxygen after two minutes and dies within ten.

How do you think this will change the world?

Airports locate AEDs every one thousand feet for access within one minute. I believe making emergency oxygen available at the same time, within one minute, before EMS arrive, will greatly improve survival, not only for cardiac events but also for airway emergencies, more than 20x more frequent.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

There are no “Black Mirror” events or “Law of Unintended Consequences” by providing 6 liters per minute, the flow of oxygen, warmed and humidified to body temperature, and pressure for fifteen minutes under any circumstances. The often-quoted Hippocratic Oath “above all else, do no harm” is particularly useful here. There is FDA clearance for the R15 because it meets their guidelines for emergency use without a prescription. Oxygen cylinders require a prescription and certificate training is mandated for proper use. The R15 empowers anyone, any age, anytime to be a “Good Samaritan.”

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

All EMS survival data is timed from EMS arrival. The R15, for the first time, will not only improve survival but also provide survival data before EMS arrives, brain cells dysfunction, and die. Emergency Physicians over the world provide oxygen as the first line of defense against untoward events. A safe, simple to use, internationally understandable emergency oxygen device will make a difference.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Early adopters recognize the need and will influence acceptance. The media will communicate this message.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Acceptance: I thought oxygen is understood by everyone. It is taken for granted.
  2. Mechanical Design: Simplicity is the ratio of elegance of design and hidden complexity.
  3. Proof of Concept: Chemistry in a box is a real challenge, a chem lab experiment.
  4. Startup Cost: A moving target for which one must take ownership.
  5. Investor Appetite: Glass eyed and impatient.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Perseverance at all costs.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Opportunity: Improve survival of cardiac and respiratory emergencies in public places.

Due to the safety & explosion hazards of high-pressure gas cylinders, emergency oxygen is not available in public places. RO2 has patented a portable chemical oxygen generator to produce safe, easy to use, medically pure oxygen for 15–20 minutes without the need for electrical or battery power. It is a completely safe, low-pressure emergency oxygen system, that does not require an explosive charge for activation. The R15 will complement the more than 10 million automatic emergency defibrillators (AEDs), which saved many subjects with cardiac emergencies over the last twenty years. The R15, cleared by the FDA as an OTC medical device to provide emergency oxygen without a prescription, allows anyone, anywhere to become a Good Samaritan at the same time restoring the ‘P’ to CPR.

Since cardiac and airway emergencies are sides of the same coin, the R-15 can be bundled with AEDs, designated as ‘emergency use’ kiosks, located in airports, shopping malls, and other public places, often where fire extinguishers are located.

The R-15 is activated by turning a lever and attaching its integral mask to the subject. Oxygen flows almost immediately and continues to flow for 15–20 minutes, more than enough time for the arrival of EMT personnel. If not used, it is replaced every two years, similar to printer cartridge recycling.

Rapid Oxygen Company is seeking to raise $5M Series ‘B’ offering of company common stock. Proceeds will be used to scale manufacturing and support a sales effort with web-based telemarketing, direct sales, and distribution networks for the $1.5B projected emergency oxygen market opportunity.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Portable chemical oxygen for emergency use” With Dr. was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years, With Michael Blanton of Songwriting…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years, With Michael Blanton of Songwriting University

This digital connection allows for anyone who has a dream of writing or possibly being an artist, they can now meet with some of the best writers who have ever been in this game, and without moving to Nashville. This way they can finish their schoolwork wherever they are and still be rubbing shoulders with the best of Nashville, or they can keep their corporate job, and still work on their love for music by chasing their desire to write some great music. So as we come out of this pandemic, this on-line writing opportunity is going to be the scratch for people all over the world who have the itch to make music.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Blanton from Songwriting University.

Michael Blanton, of Brentwood, Tennessee, has had a celebrated career in the national and Nashville music industry. Today, he finds him in all kinds of artistic and entertainment development, not limited to just artist management.

A native of Amarillo, Texas, Blanton got his start in music as an A&R representative at Word Records in Waco, Texas, moving to Nashville in 1978 to open the company’s office on Music Row. He and business partner Dan Harrell launched Blanton/Harrell Production and Management in 1980 with Amy Grant as their first client. In 1981 with friend Brown Bannister (’75), they created Reunion Records and Reunion Publishing and soon launched the careers of artists including Michael W. Smith and Rich Mullins and Wayne Kirkpatrick.

Currently, Blanton has partnered in the development with Songwriting University, to help support the songwriters of Nashville, and help develop new artistic talent. Also, Blanton is a partner with Vertigo Media, and a new management launch called Halogen-BNA. Vertigo and Halogen work together to build and develop new artists and songwriters through technology and community.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Having been in the music industry for over 40 years, I’ve seen the industry go through many different phases, and as a result, have seen the whole development and presentation of artists change drastically.

My personal story starts with being hired as a young A&R representative, and starting as a purveyor of new talent and songs, I was fortunate to help develop and lead the music history of Amy Grant plus others, and that has led me into these many years of music and artist development. While the industry has certainly changed, the one constant has always been the “song”. No matter how things change, the song still makes the difference for any artist wanting to make their mark.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are just too many stories, however, one story is regarding Amy Grant and her recording of the song, “House of Love”. I had found this song and wanted Amy to record, but due to the R&B feel of this song she was not feeling very confident that she could sing this style song, in fact she at one point told me to please not play her this song again, because she just didn’t feel that she could sing this song very well. I waited a couple of weeks and presented the song to her again as a great option for her to record, ha. Keith Thomas was the producer, and he loved the song and also wanted to produce her singing this style, so he went ahead and developed a track to begin to listen to while considering. I also decided to add some more initiative to her singing this song by reaching out to STING, who was a label mate of hers on A&M Records. So while all this is happening, Amy is out doing some Christmas concerts, and after a few of these shows, she calls me to tell me that she now loves this song and found someone to sing with her on the R&B groove song idea. I told her that I was still chasing STING, but hadn’t heard back from his management team just yet, but who did she find that she now was so excited about this song. She told me that at her last show, she sang some music with Vince Gill. What?! I told her that he was a country artist, and we should try to stay in our Pop lane with STING, but she would not have any other options to consider other than Vince. So he sang the duet with her and it was indeed magic. I still feel today that duet should have been a huge #1 song for the ages #37 on Billboard), but a few months later they became the house of love and were married and the rest is history.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

One of my philosophies has always been, if you build good relationships those will lead you to good business. I have always put more value on the people we spend our lives with than chasing the almighty dollar. Not that revenue is not important, but if you invest in good people and relationships, those will lead to good business eventually. Such is true with Songwriting University.

Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Staying with my theme of everything starts with a song, then fast forward to today where Nashville is Music City, and our iconic signature is our great songwriters who write those songs. Just a few years ago, most aspiring songwriters would move to Nashville and then begin to meet and pursue the many publishing companies and artists here to expose their songs, and hopefully learn from the great writers who were here and had already impacted the world with great music. The goal was certainly to be discovered and be signed by a publishing company or recorded by a successful artists, which would put you on the road to your own music history making story. However today due to CD sales disappearing and everyone streaming, the revenue model has so changed, and while publishers still sign some writers, that number is down drastically. And now of course with any and everyone being able to write a song and put it out on-line whenever they want, it’s like the wild west again. Anything is possible, but that great collaboration of rubbing shoulders with other great songwriters or being signed by expert music publishers is gone. Songwriting University does two things, first it allows for that person anywhere in the world to be able to make access with some of those great songwriters and learn and develop their craft without having to move to Nashville. It also rewards the great writers who are here with a chance to collaborate with new talent and help discover some new songs, and get paid immediately for their good work. Nashville has always believed that collaboration usually makes things better for an artist or a songwriter, although that’s not always true, over the many years of music city that has been the case.

How do you think this will change the world?

This digital connection allows for anyone who has a dream of writing or possibly being an artist, they can now meet with some of the best writers who have ever been in this game, and without moving to Nashville. This way they can finish their schoolwork wherever they are and still be rubbing shoulders with the best of Nashville, or they can keep their corporate job, and still work on their love for music by chasing their desire to write some great music. So as we come out of this pandemic, this on-line writing opportunity is going to be the scratch for people all over the world who have the itch to make music.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Well obviously, one man’s art is another man’s trash. Meaning that just because you have the desire doesn’t mean you have the gift, but isn’t that Art. You feel something in your passions and your heart and you live in Topeka and you love playing and writing some music. You can’t afford to go to Nashville to spend two years chasing the music makers and find out if your good or not, so Songwriting University gives you that opportunity, if you’re not good, all you’ve lost is the time on the Skype call with another great writer working with you, but even with this there is no guarantee that your music will ever be successful. But we all keep chasing that possibility.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

This idea has been vetted out over the last three years by two writers who started hearing from folks from other cities about working on songs long-distant, which lead to work on-line. When they approached me with what they were doing, the lights came on that this could be a new normal for so many folks who wanted to explore their music, but couldn’t afford the time to come to Nashville.

I think this season in the Pandemic only confirms again that we are all doing everything on-line, and I expect this to continue to explode.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Well obviously spread the word in social media and some marketing, and be patient. I think keeping our faculty of good writers attached and available and then waiting for the songs and the stories to grow will only build momentum for this creative development idea.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. It’s more important how you finish than how you start. We tend to get so focused on instant gratification, we are almost willing to lose anything to win, but we need to look down the road to have a vision of what do we want to look like when we are finishing this story.
  2. Find what’s good about something, not what’s wrong with everything. Creativity needs to be encouraged and we need to look between the lines of all art, and not be overly judgmental and critical.
  3. Nothing is as good as you think, but neither is anything as bad as you think. Basically don’t believe your own press, which we all want to do when good things happen.
  4. Be Patient, most new business’ take three years to turn a corner. Just something when you’re starting with the hottest idea, even if it’s super good, it’s going to take time. Pixar spent the first 10 years in the ditch, but look where they are now.
  5. It’s about others, not about you. We all have ego’s and I’m not talking about not be confident in yourself or in your creative idea, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t lift peoples hearts and lives to be better and make a difference, then for me I have to question was it worth doing at all.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Well now I would just flip the last question of “5 things” and use those for my best answers for success habits.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would say to invest in people, and when they look at this new innovative songwriting idea, and connection to past success writers, then there is a formula here that can work being led by very good business people with strong creative hearts.

It will only take some time and some success, and I believe this can lead to all kinds of new content stories. Music will never go away, and thus the need for songwriters.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SongwritingU/

Instagram: https://instagram.com/songwritingu

Check out Songwriting U’s most recent project for the song “Kinder”, inspiring a world of hope and positivity:

https://www.facebook.com/SongwritingU/videos/1104255559941438/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years, With Michael Blanton of Songwriting… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Andi Eaton: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and…

Andi Eaton: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

One of my callings is to inspire worth women, to encourage them to follow their artistic dreams and creative endeavors. There’s such a false narrative out there that creative endeavors are second rate, that following an artistic dream will lead to a lifestyle of being a “starving artist.” I, on the other hand, believe creativity is core to being an incredible entrepreneur.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Andi Eaton.

Andi is a Creative Director and Consultant offering strategy and support to holistic and consciously-minded businesses through her company Andi Eaton Creatives. She spent over a decade as a senior executive for an Ayurvedic beauty brand, launched a fashion incubator in a post-Katrina New Orleans, and then created her own boutique branding and consulting company in 2016. Since then she’s published two books (most recently Wanderful: The Modern Bohemian’s Guide to Traveling in Style) while running an award-winning blog and working with creative entrepreneurs, gypset inspired fashion designers, tourism boards, retreat companies and wellness brands around the globe. Her personal blog, ‘Oui, We’ is a reflection of her wanderlust inspired life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career in the music industry. I worked as a junior publicist, writing press releases and brainstorming ideas to sell concert tickets by day — this was the era before social media when radio stations were pulling over the top publicity stunts and landing on the pages of a magazine was the way to get a band noticed. By night, my job was to hustle photographers in and out of the photo pit and schedule interviews for bands like the Black Eyed Peas, No Doubt, Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne. It was a wild ride. I loved every second of it.

A few years into it I was recruited by the beauty brand AVEDA to work in sales and marketing for the distribution arm of the business. I spent over a decade of my career there. I was always interested equally in creativity and wellness, and that job was a dream.

During that time I moved to New Orleans to work out of the distribution office corporate headquarters. It was right after Hurricane Katrina and I found myself pulled in a new direction. I became super passionate about helping artists, and specifically, fashion designers in New Orleans, get their feet back under them after the hurricane. With the smallest budget ever I decided to launch a fashion incubator as a side project.

Between 2011 and 20116 my team and I produced upwards of 50 fashion, art, and design events each year, as well as educational workshops with experts from brands like J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Clinique, Anthropologie, Vera Wang, L’oreal Professional, AVEDA, and Goorin Brothers. It was my first experience using digital to target influencers, media, buyers, and tastemakers. My focus was on experiential events and pop up shops offering designers and artists an opportunity to connect directly to new consumers, and I found my stride as a branding expert and creative marketer during that time.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As I was growing the fashion incubator and continuing to work on marketing strategies for AVEDA, I launched my first blog. Perhaps the biggest marketing mistake during that time was creating blog content based on what I felt like doing in the moment versus really mapping out a strategic plan. I’ve always recommended testing concepts and ideas and getting feedback from the audience — and that’s what I was doing so well for others, but when it came to my own launch I didn’t truly give it what it deserved. I wasn’t employing the strategies that were working for me in other areas of my business life on my own personal project. Once I left my corporate job and realized I’d be relying on my site to drive parts of my new venture forward I treated it like it deserved. I studied SEO, color theory, graphic design and photography and got serious about getting engaged traffic to my site. The lesson was to treat my personal creative endeavors in the same way I treat business — by being all in. Years later when I got my first book deal, it was that blog that encouraged the publisher to take a chance on me.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

I was always a highly visual person with a love of writing. However, it took time to trust my eye and voice. The tipping point for me came when I launched the incubator and kicked off a season of runway shows to support the designers in the program. I realized then that using incredibly innovative approaches to spreading the word about our events was working. In 2011 my company’s guerrilla marketing strategies landed us in the pages of Women’s Wear Daily. I knew I was onto something. At that time the shape of digital media was changing by leaps and bounds, and I found myself positioned on the front end of that trend. I realized how effective digital, and specifically social media, is for a company with an incredibly limited budget. I share this story with start ups and new businesses now: you can create energy and excitement around your brand with little money with a strong focus on digital and experience.

I personally believe the future of marketing lies in that mash-up: the digital world partnered with experience, and after those 5 years of running the fashion incubator I shifted my focus again. Today I run Andi Eaton Creatives as a Creative Director and Consultant. I’m committed to working exclusively with conscious entrepreneurs and brands dedicated to bettering the planet, and improving the emotional and spiritual well-being of both employees and consumers.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I launched a program called the Conscious Creatives Business School in January and it’s been so powerful seeing the graduates of that program come out on the other side with a true understanding of their brand. They’re ready to pivot, explore their passions further and grow their business in an authentic way with fresh eyes. The program features immersive digital workshops, a mastermind and live events for those aspiring to live a more creatively fulfilled life. The students learn how to create conscious business strategies, design a soulful social media presence, design a brand they love, and attract an authentically engaged community.

I’m also leading intimate retreats and mastermind programs with these same focuses — these programs are a beautiful blend of creativity, entrepreneurship, wellness and mystical thinking.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Well, I’m an advocate for taking good care of the trifecta: mind, body and soul. I’m also a recovering perfectionist — workaholic — control freak, so I learned the hard way. When I was working in the beauty industry working 80-hour work weeks and traveling non-stop I knew I was missing a connection to myself and a higher purpose. I was constantly hitting that burn out wall. It’s why my Business School program includes a blend of business and well-being.

When I closed my fashion incubator program and decided to put full focus on my current company I took 6 months to reset completely. I moved to Spain, traveled every weekend, ate beautiful food, swam in the ocean and vowed to change the way my work days looked going forward.

To truly stay centered and grounded I recommend taking time away from the day to day “do” and be still. Sure, not everyone can go away for 6 months, but it’s what I had to do to get on the other side of it. My advice and what I do now: allow for moments of quiet to re-ignite the spark of inspiration. None of us can come up with brilliant marketing strategies all day long when we’re not giving ourselves the proper rest time. So sleep, eat well, exercise, dream — take care of yourself so you can give to others.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

I operate from the mindset that brand marketing should come first. Your brand is your story. It’s your voice, tone, personality, cause, calling, intention and your core values. Brand marketing at it’s highest expression communicates your beliefs and your promise at every touch point.

Consider: how does my brand sound? What feeling will someone have when they visit my website, see my art, use my service, or purchase my product? These are the questions to ask yourself as you write your marketing plan. I love the example of the beauty brand Glossier. Before Glossier, founder Emily Weiss had a cult following of her blog Into the Gloss. She was a young New Yorker, living at a million-miles-a-minute pace to get through the day. Her people believed in her and identified fully with her ‘5 minutes to get ready, look amazing with minimal effort’ approach.

Glossier’s brand marketing is raw, real, and approachable. When it comes time to the market product via advertising Glossier stays the course of that “girlfriend in the next high rise over” feeling. Glossier considers marketing efforts like gifting product to superfans or naming new products based on crowdsourced Instagram feedback, to be as important as putting up a billboard in Time Square.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Humans want to connect, we’re social creatures. For advertising efforts to get the most bang, a heart-centered connection needs to be present. That’s where the brand building comes in. Whether you’re managing the brand image for a company or for your personal brand, the emotional intelligence and authentic connection to your perfect people, AKA your customer, is conveyed through your brand story.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

A rebrand is like a megaphone in which you’re shouting through: we’re ready to grow! Change is never easy, but often, it’s the way forward. It’s important to understand that branding is way more than just a logo or the landing page of your website. Your brand image is the full wrap up of the experiences your people, and future people, have with your company. A killer brand establishes trust, credibility and evolves over time.

Why would it be time to rebrand? Here’s a few reasons (and spoiler alert, it’s way more than just because sales have slowed down!): are you changing markets? offering a new featured product or service? changing your niche? interested in attracting a new customer base? Have you outgrown your original mission? received less than reviews? Do you need to shake off an old story?

There’s, of course, so many other reasons to consider a rebrand, but it’s a good reminder, that an incredibly strategic rebrand will remake your business.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

I’ve had business owners come to me interested in rebranding when truly there isn’t a clear understanding of their existing brand to begin with. Again, branding is more than just a name, logo and website. So if you’re not sure that you’ve fully executed on your existing brand vision it’s not necessarily the right move to rebrand. It’s also worth considering: are you ready to fully invest financially and emotionally into a rebrand? Do your existing customers identify with the visuals or voice of your existing brand? In that case maybe you just need a refresh. Are you simply bored of your existing brand? Brands need time to stick, so don’t make big moves when perhaps things just feel a little stale.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Consider Art and Analytics. Market test everything you’re considering putting out on a large scale. One of my core strategies for considering new brand messaging is to test new creative and copy via dark posts on facebook and instagram. Dark posts are targeted ads. These aren’t boosted or organic posts, rather they’re sponsored posts with super specifics targets that show up in the feeds of users you’re interested in attracting. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money — you can test dark posts, targeted to a specific audience, using a variety of imagery and copy for $5 per post. You’ll get all sorts of good information this way and it will support you in deciding which creative and copy is best for your brand. Gap spent $100 million on a rebranded logo in 2010, 6 days later, after loads of negative feedback they reverted to their original logo. Of course social media testing wasn’t an option in 2010, but imagine what Gap would have learned, and how much money would have been saved, working through this process.
  2. Re-discover Your Why. Often times, you’ve forgotten your why and that’s the disconnect. Perhaps you opened your business because you saw a missing in the marketplace, but over the years you haven’t revisited your original big why. Ask yourself questions like: Who do you serve? What inspires them to buy? How do you fulfill that need? Why do they choose you over other options? As an example: I work with a swimwear company with a chain of boutique locations on the Florida coast. Sure, it’s easy to look at the concept and say: swim shop at the beach, the why is obvious. However, this particular brand does exceptionally well because their why is ‘to help all women feel beautiful’. Consider the insecurity many of us have in the dressing room, and how that feeling is amplified in a swim shop dressing room. This brand’s why — supporting all women in feeling beautiful shows up in every touch point of their business from the dressing room lighting, to the language the shop attendees use, to the neon wall art over the mirrors with slogans of reassurance and care.
  3. Create Goal Clarity. Sit down with your team, or yourself if you’re a solopreneur, and write out a list of your company goals. Interview your best customers and ask them to share what they believe your goals to be. If you’re a boutique for example and your goal list says something like “offer eco and sustainable products, represent female artisans, support the down-to-earth woman interested in worldly issues” and your customers don’t have similar ideas on their list, consider how to bridge the gap.
  4. Answer the Unknown. Consider the needs your customers might have in their day to day life that they’re not even aware of yet — their unrecognized needs. Ask yourself: what ways can I provide valuable answers to questions my customers don’t even know they have? These answers may come in the way of offering a new product or service, but perhaps it’s new positioning as well. During this new normal we’re experiencing, this idea is more important than ever. Here’s an example: a client of mine offers personal gifting. As businesses began to close doors during the start of the pandemic this business, who has a core value of creating memorable experiences through gifts, considered how they could stay relevant while people were clamoring for face masks and hand sanitizers. They launched a program focused on sponsoring memory-making gifts for local first responders. The business asked the community to join in by purchasing pre-designed gift baskets that would be hand-delivered by the company’s CEO to the firehouse and police station in her local community. Her ability to create a memorable experience for others during a time of uncertainty answered a question her customers didn’t know they had: how can I help, and feel good about myself while doing for others, while I’m stuck at home? She was able to do something good for others while keeping her business moving at the same time.
  5. Be a TrendSpotter. I don’t necessarily think it’s important to be a leader when it comes to new trends, although if it feels right for your brand go for it! However, I do believe it’s important to see what’s happening in the world, what patterns of behavior are emerging and consider where it’s necessary to evolve. When a new trend is born, it’s not about being the first to make moves, it’s more important to take that knowledge and innovate in a way that works for your business. One of my favorite trend examples that truly changed an industry is the Vidal Sassoon mod haircut of the 60’s. Vidal Sassoon modernized the styles of the world’s fashion icons of the day in one haircut. It began with Mary Quant, Carol Channing and Grace Coddington. Then, after cutting Mia Farrow’s hair into an avant-garde pixie style for the film Rosemary’s Baby women collectively said goodbye to the weekly visit to the hairdresser for a set under a hooded dryer, in exchange for a low-maintenance, wash and wear style. Salon owners with an eye on trends adapted to offer the retail products and styling services that we see in salons across the globe today. Rather than losing revenue from their customers scheduling less frequent salon visits, they grew as they offered new products and services aligned to the new trend in beauty.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

As someone who works with fashion brands I love this example: flash back to early 2000’s Burberry — the famous English luxury brand. There was a moment in which the iconic ‘nova check’ design was seen on everything from scarves to baby strollers to dog beds. Then, after a series of mishaps, over-licensing and market saturation the brand was longer championed — it was condemned. The hit upon hit on the brand reputation, which included touches of classism and a co-opted aesthetic — it’s an interesting case study to research — culminated as the brand was banned from pubs across the UK. What did Burberry do? The nova check was sidelined, a new CEO and head designer was appointed. That was just for starters. Intellectual property for the infamous check was bought back, new collaborations were formed, new technology was embraced, new creative was launched, and so on and so on. Ask most CEOs if they’d like to see their product everywhere, like the nova check was, and the answer would be yes. But in reality that saturation didn’t serve Burberry in the long run. The “new” Burberry was chicer, smarter, more technologically savvy, and realigned with core brand values. New Burberry didn’t need to be seen everywhere, and that decision truly saved the brand.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of my callings is to inspire worth women, to encourage them to follow their artistic dreams and creative endeavors. There’s such a false narrative out there that creative endeavors are second rate, that following an artistic dream will lead to a lifestyle of being a “starving artist.” I, on the other hand, believe creativity is core to being an incredible entrepreneur.

It’s dawned on me over the last several years as I’ve traveled to places like Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Bali how many synchronicities there are between women holding space for their big entrepreneurial dreams in communities like these, and the women in business I have the pleasure of working. For example: last year I travel to Oaxaca to learn about ancient artisan crafts from indigenous women. A month later I joined a women’s art experience in Cuba, where the time was focused on creating alongside Cuban artists.

The women in Oaxaca were some of the first to earn an income as artists — it’s beyond motivating to hear their stories. The female artists in Cuba were doing the same. The women I work with are often digging deep into their soul to design a magical life of their own. In both cases, there’s some serious divine flow happening. A commonality? Each of these women have a drive to expand their calling in life. Each are marching towards their potential despite uncertainty.

I’d love to spearhead a moment in which women interested in artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors were given an opportunity to travel to work with women doing their own artistic thing and living their dream in other cultures. I believe a movement like this would be brilliant for fostering new perspective and creative confidence in women.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Ah, that’s tough! There’s so many beautiful writers and words to consider. Here’s a quote I included the opening chapter of my latest book “Wanderful”, I’ve loved this one a long time: “When you’re traveling you are what you are right there and then. No yesterdays on the road.” — William Least-Heat Moon. For me, the trajectory of my life changed when I started to live in this way, that 6 months in Spain and every trip I’ve taken since — and while yes, the quote speaks to travel, it’s as much about being present in every single moment, no looking back, only this moment and onward.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is ouiwegirl.com, it includes all sorts of resources, freebies, and posts dedicated to building a creatively conscious life, and on instagram I’m @ouiwegirl.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Andi Eaton: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.