Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Dr Jean LaCour of NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recove

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Dr. Jean LaCour of NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recovery Education Is Helping The Workforce To Avert The Clutches of Addiction

I am inspired by the people who find us and enroll in our training and certification programs. Currently we have online students from 28 nations in our Professional Recovery Coach program. Most have a deep desire, even a calling, to serve people and families facing addiction. They are “addiction aware” and “recovery minded”. Collectively these people are a force multiplier in treatment services and make great Workforce Recovery Champions in businesses, schools, universities, healthcare, impaired professional programs, etc.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing International thought leader, Dr. Jean LaCour, co-founded NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recovery Education in 1996 to train professional addiction counselors and in 2014 launched a program to train and certify professional recovery coaches. Passionate about building bridges, she has led a coalition of 1,000+ people in 100+ nations, trained 1,000s of people in 35 nations and inspired change in Russia, Pakistan, Bermuda and Egypt. This fall, she and her team are introducing a new program to address Addiction in the Workforce, which has been dramatically exacerbated by the current pandemic. https://www.recoverycoachtraining.com/

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

My backstory : In 1989, I had recently sold my successful Montessori school and was trying to ignore my husband’s escalating drinking and clinical depression. A dear friend gave me a copy of Codependent No More and said, this is what WE are. The book nailed me. I needed help if we were going to make it. I found that help at a local treatment center that had a support group for family members even if their loved one was not in treatment. By the end of the year my husband lost his CEO job of 14 years due to his drinking and we lost our home and everything else. It took a few years to move from crises to stable recovery.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with Substance Misuse and Addiction?

One gloomy evening in July 1992, I arrived in Moscow, to assist a group of Russian professors for three months. Seated alone in an old taxi, I made my way across the vast grey Soviet landscape of that great city. Everywhere I looked my eyes locked onto massive public drunkenness, scenes of violence, and misery. I was struck to my core knowing this level of addiction was the future of my own country and those I love, if we ignored the heartbreak of addiction.

But how could one person respond to such suffering? In that moment, I made the decision, based on my own family’s struggles, to share everything I knew about addiction with anyone who would listen. That decision has led me to 35 nations.

In 1996, my husband and I opened a nonprofit Institute in Florida to equip everyday people with Addiction Counseling and Recovery Support skills that meet professional standards. This led me into the deserts of Egypt to establish a training program for thousands of people and today 60 NEW addiction programs treat people of all faiths across that region. The Institute has trained over 40,000 people worldwide and is part of a global addiction network in 100 nations, which I led for many years.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

Covid-19 induced stress levels are at an all-time high as more people are descending into the self-destructive world of addiction to cope with the unknown. I call it a pandemic within the pandemic. Overnight the US workforce has been redefined and redeployed into three main employee categories: 1) remote or working from home 2) working onsite with a reduced team and 3) essential workers such as healthcare, emergency services, food distribution, etc.

Individuals in these three major categories have been impacted in their roles, responsibilities, work product, use of technology, plus team support and dynamics within fluctuating routines, structures, and timetables.

Each one of us has different levels of resiliency, relationships, or resources to weather the intense storms and upheavals of life. It is not uncommon for someone to begin to use or increase use of substances like alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, or engage in behaviors like overeating, online pornography, gaming, or shopping to relieve the pressures of the unknown. From experience we know these substances and actions are effective to quickly “medicate” and numb the pain.

The current ongoing anxiety is very real and growing as we worry about getting sick, wearing masks, and adapting to the ‘new normal’ of working remotely, managing home schooling for our kids, facing loss of income and loss of social contact while the media amplifies political hostilities and civil unrest.

Statistics abound about alcohol sales being 55% higher in the first weeks after Covid-19 hit, and this stat is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that liquor stores were considered essential and therefore allowed to stay open during lock-down is a staggering commentary on our addicted society. Amid such circumstances it can be a quick progression from normal social use of these substances or behaviors to increased misuse to manage stress. This is when a person is most at risk for becoming addicted.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?

This fall my organization, NET Training Institute, is launching the International Center for Addiction and Recovery Education (I-CARE). This new program will address employee performance issues based on the concept of Emotional Sobriety and personal resilience. This approach will avert the hidden costs of employee misuse and addiction. It will be available for businesses intent on proactively addressing the needs and issues of remote workers, onsite workers, and essential workers. The Institute will train and certify workforce facilitators to support positive change and mitigate risk and healthcare costs through nonclinical services. We are currently attracting Wellness and Human Resource Professionals, Executive and Corporate Coaches, Counselors, and others who appreciate the power of proactive, preventive measures to help colleagues, companies, and communities recognize and avert the clutches of addiction.

Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your Workforce initiative?

Our interest in partnering with the business community began in 2008 when I was invited to a regional business networking breakfast meeting. I was told that many network members were planning to mentor or adopt a local nonprofit or social impact organization. To my surprise, the CEO of the network asked me to be the guest speaker at their next meeting. I tried to decline the invitation, assuming they would not be interested in one of my addiction lectures. I struggled with topics and settled on what has become my keynote talk called, “The Cost of Doing Business in a ‘High’ Society.” Everyone had on their public ‘game face’ and listened politely. I thought I had bombed big time with my brain scans and workplace stats, but then, one by one, people came up to shake my hand and privately tell me about their alcoholic father or daughter or their own recovery. I was floored! And the grinning CEO hugged me and booked me to speak immediately at four upcoming venues!

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

Besides my ongoing work in training addiction workers in developing nations, there is one incident I’d like to share with your readers from 2008. Our board hosted an open house to invite people from the business networks I mentioned earlier. We went to great effort to set up displays and photos at different places in our offices so we could tell our story and cultivate new donors.

After the short tour, we gathered everyone together for coffee and to ask for support. To our amazement people were quietly telling each other and some of our staff about their personal and family addiction problems. I quickly assessed we needed to intervene so these precious people could share and debrief years of feeling alone with their private pain. I divided them up and assigned our trained staff to facilitate each group — people raised in alcoholic homes, others struggling family members, and even a men’s group. It filled my team with gratitude and joy to see these business people who appeared so successful, responding to the safety and warm acceptance we offered. Addiction touches all of us regardless of our age, race, gender, economic, social, educational status. This is why we talk about the miracle of recovery.

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

Prior to Covid-19 the major public health catastrophe facing the US was clearly the opioid crises.

  • From 1999–2018 approximately 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.
  • In 2018, 67,000 people died from a drug overdose, 70% of these people were involved with opioids. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

The CDC is the US federal agency dealing with public health; its full title is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. I am an Internationally Certified Prevention Professional (CPP) and value the principles and guidelines of the prevention profession. I began with the CDC to align our efforts to have the greatest impact.

Prevention strategies include assessing risk factors versus resilience factors in the context of an individual, a family, a neighborhood, a company, a community, etc. Our nonprofit organization has pivoted to provide targeted effective adult prevention strategies to a company or industry that complements clinical services offered through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

Major prevention funding for substance misuse is dedicated to protecting our youth and college age young people or to dealing with one issue such as opioids or alcohol or tobacco. There is very little available for adult prevention, We are energized by creating a business centric program that moves beyond factual information to a deeper personal understanding of an employee’s context and desire for behavior change in the midst of a ‘new normal’.

That said, I encourage each person reading this to step back and think in terms of your own personal risk in how you are coping with the incredible stress of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Make two columns for risk/ resilience. Consider a few risk factors such as lack of sleep, technology issues, stressful relationships, your increased responsibility load at work and at home, how much alcohol, marijuana, are you using etc. Resilience factors may be your network of friends, your faith or spiritual roots, a few easy physical activities from walking to yoga, to pushups, etc.

Journal — Personal: Answer these three questions honestly.

  • How am I doing since March 2020?
  • What am I pretending NOT to know?
  • What small change/s can I make now in my awareness or activities that will support the stability and future growth I desire in my life?

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. Legislators at all levels must wait two years before engaging in lobbying, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest in general and specifically related to contributions from industries callously fueling addiction for profit for shareholders. Manufacturers and distributers of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana recklessly contribute to addiction and to the river of suffering flooding our homes, schools, social services, prisons, and healthcare.
  2. By mandate and social pressure, media of all kinds, will cease to reinforce stigma and stereotypes about addicted people by dramatizing, publicizing, or finding humor in their failures. Instead, the new media standard will present addiction as a multi-faceted brain disorder requiring medical or professional care and support like other chronic diseases such as diabetes. Media will showcase stories that reframe and portray people in recovery as survivors who have often misused substances to cope with traumatic events. Active addiction itself can be a harrowing life and death experience, but the process of recovery often results in changed lives marked by service, courage, tenacity, altruism, and humility. Note: The media does not ridicule cancer survivors, disabled people or returning military veterans. This shift in perception and media portrayal can quickly reverse stigma and shame that keeps people fearful about seeking help.
  3. Drug courts, due to their successful outcomes, especially for juveniles, must be well funded and set up in multiple jurisdictions nationwide to provide a practical and cost saving diversion from prison, which is known for trauma and lifelong consequences instead of rehabilitation.

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

I am inspired by the people who find us and enroll in our training and certification programs. Currently we have online students from 28 nations in our Professional Recovery Coach program. Most have a deep desire, even a calling, to serve people and families facing addiction. They are “addiction aware” and “recovery minded”. Collectively these people are a force multiplier in treatment services and make great Workforce Recovery Champions in businesses, schools, universities, healthcare, impaired professional programs, etc.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

Yes. I believe people change behaviors based on self-interest, prosocial attitudes, personal values, and correct information. Think about people now using seatbelts, practicing safe sex, putting babies in car seats, ID theft practices, better food choices, recycling, reducing consumption to reduce landfills and save the planet initiatives, etc. When people get an accurate understanding about the who, what, when, and how of addition and recovery, then our society will begin to heal in this area of senseless death.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many gifted people speaking about this topic as we move away from the traditional ‘command and control’ model. Today’s leaders need the ability to build teams, listen well, encourage/ motivate, risk being vulnerable, etc. All important.

My contribution to this conversation is about three qualities or concepts that are character based and stem from a few paragraphs penned by Stephen Covey. He observed that prior to World War II most Americans understood that success was based on integrity, honesty, making good on your commitments, hard work, sense of fairness, striving for excellence, and so on. But times have changed. Madison Avenue, marketing, and mass media, etc. have shifted our culture to accepting that the illusion of these qualities is acceptable. Social media has only intensified the pressure and demand for this type of superficiality and airbrushed identity.

My understanding of leadership has been forged in the fire of international addiction recovery initiatives that are led by men serving addicted men. These programs often operate outside of traditional government sponsored social services because prison or labor camps are the go-to solution historically.

Respect: either you have it, or you don’t, or you automatically reserve it for people in your social class, profession, etc. It is deeper than nondiscrimination based on gender, race, religion, disability, etc. Either you see the person in front of you in terms of a means to an end or in terms of their inherent human dignity.

Trust me, respect is not automatic in recovery work when people you serve have lost any resemblance to their past humanity. As a woman (with long blond hair), I triggered many leaders in many different cultural contexts as a person able to provide them with something of value. I was not what they were looking for and their disrespect was triggered. But time after time, it was my respect for them and their startling efforts in saving lives with so few resources that opened the door to possibilities.

Ethics: what does this mean to you in a world that is less right/wrong and mostly gray or relative. I read a surprising article in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago about a business professor reaching out to their business school graduates who were in prison for white collar crimes, think Enron. Basically, most of his graduates were in two categories. Some grads said they were not intending to break the law, but everything was so grey and vague. Other individuals were incarcerated for pressing the ethical/legal limits by making short term gains demanded by shareholders versus long term best strategies for growth and public safety. These people assumed their companies could protect them in some way before reality set in.

Personal Activity: Journal honestly if you have ever used an ethical plum line in your work. Does your industry have an ethical code? Is there an ethical line you have dealt with in the past? What was the situation? Did you experience internal conflict or distressing emotions that alerted you to ethical issues? Is there a line you will not cross, what stand are you willing to take? Write out some situations related to your industry or career that may arise.

Power Differential: This is a concept clearly discussed in certain professions such as legal, medical, human experimentation, counseling/ psychology, education, etc. It simply means that by virtue of your position of expertise or authority your clients, patients, customers attribute certain power and ability to you and will trust you and your advice, your product, etc. People who come to you for your services are automatically in a top down position and they are vulnerable due to some need.

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. Stigma and stereotypes are deadly and prevent people from seeking help for themselves or a loved one. I come from three generations of well-educated women who, unbeknownst to each of us, married affluent men whose drinking progressed into the depths of alcoholism with all its tragic pain and losses. I call addiction a “sickness of silence” because it is shrouded in secrets and shame. Neither my dear grandmother nor mother ever shared their stories or struggles with me or the wisdom they gained.
  2. I wish I’d understood that ‘high functioning’ alcoholics are just as addicted as people who have less control over their behavior. It was a mystery how my husband could drink so much and still be standing! But a time came when he spiraled out of control and experienced ‘rock bottom.’
  3. Neuroscience has brought important knowledge to the addiction field that has removed some of the shame and fear that surrounds addiction. Just this aspect has changed the way we perceive the problems people are facing. People can Google any aspect of addiction to gain understanding and research possible options for help.
  4. In the early 1990s I could never have imagined the extent of the potential risk or danger of the pharmaceutical industry aggressively marketing pain medication through the healthcare industry and the immense suffering it’s caused to individuals, families, and communities.
  5. I wish I had permission in the 1990s when I began to train addiction counselors and recovery support staff to really focus my approach and content on the concept of Emotional Sobriety. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, used this term in a private letter to a friend concerning his hopes for the future wave of recovery efforts. I have made Emotional Sobriety my theme and core premise in training professional recovery coaches and will bring it into all of my future work.

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. 🙂

Wanted:

People who stop using plastic straws & bags to save the oceans and wildlife.

People who buy items made by indigenous people to support their rise out of poverty.

People who boycott chicken or beef products to protest cruelty to animals.

People who will spread the word that our appetites are fueling unspeakable abuse of innocent people.

Real people. I’ve met UN workgroups Iike the Colombian woman forced to transport drugs as a ‘mule’ for the cartels. Many are arrested and languish in jail and abused by authorities. Or the handsome young man from West Africa, coming in desperation to plead for UN help to rid his country of vicious drug traffickers who have taken over villages for drug labs for product that will be sold in Europe.

Fact: The US is approximately 4.4% of the world’s population yet we have consumed up to 66% of the world’s supply of these illicit substances: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, illegal marijuana, counterfeit fentanyl and prescription pills made in dirty labs.

Fact: Our personal demand to use illegal substances is not a victimless crime. https://trafficlawguys.com/what-is-victimless-crime/

Fact:

  • The US is a land of Entitled Consumers with Voracious Appetites.
  • Supply and demand drive drug traffickers in Mexico to increase supply by cruel and violent means that harm and terrorize women, children, and men and keep them in poverty and servitude to Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).
  • TCOs also run lucrative sex trafficking routes that supply children across our border.
  • A large percentage of US deaths from fentanyl poisoning or heroin overdose are caused by illegal substances that originate in Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? — Martin Luther King Jr.

“We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. came to my hometown of St. Augustine, Florida, in May 1964, the month I turned 15. King observed that St. Augustine’s (Negro community) had been made to “bear the cross,” suffering (extreme) violence and brutality that helped prompt the US Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Local police did not protect the marchers from bloody attacks by segregationists and the Ku Klux Klan. One day I found myself in the center of town about 30 yards from a black man leading a group of young people peacefully trying to enter a local store with a lunch counter. It was a terrible scene with whites releasing dogs on them, shoving, and hitting some with bats. I had never witnessed such actions. Neither had I been in the presence of real courage. I was forever changed.

In 2011, I was training in Madurai, India, where Dr. King spent time in 1959 at the Gandhi Memorial Museum, which depicted the story of India’s struggle for freedom. Dr. King said this, “… nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. Gandhi embodied certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”

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. 🙂

Janice Bryant Howroyd https://www.actonegroup.com/about.aspx

I believe Mrs. Howroyd would be an excellent mentor and wise guide for our nonprofit organization at this time as we launch our Addiction Awareness Workforce Solutions program.

She is the first African American woman to start and run a billion-dollar business. She’s founder and CEO of ActOne Group, a global enterprise that provides employment, workforce management, and procurement solutions to a wide range of industries, Fortune 500 organizations, local and mid-market companies, and government agencies.

ActOne Group operates in 19 countries across the world and has over 17,000 clients and 2,600 employees worldwide. It is the largest privately-held, woman and minority owned workforce management company in the US.

ActOne Group provides flexible, comprehensive solutions under three distinct business verticals: Staffing, Workforce Solutions, and Business Services.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanlacour/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/net-institute-center-for-addiction-and-recovery-education/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/recovery-coach-training/

https://www.facebook.com/RecoveryCoachTrainingIAPRC/

https://www.facebook.com/JeanLaCour


Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Dr Jean LaCour of NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recove was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Simon Slade of Affilorama: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

If you’re concerned about how your feedback might come off to an employee, I suggest using a video recording system like Loom to just record a quick video explaining your constructive criticism. Not only will this give you the opportunity to share facial expressions and body language that might comfort the employee, but they will also hear the intonation in your voice — something that is arguably the most important factor when trying to express a difficult message with tact.

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

Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of Affilorama, SaleHoo and co-founder of Smtp2Go. Through these companies, Simon provides education and resources for ecommerce professionals to start their own drop shipping business, build an affiliate marketing business and achieve occupational independence. Simon can be followed on LinkedIn and regularly comments for Forbes, Fortune, SMH and NZ Business.

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 was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. I graduated from Griffith University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Business Management and a degree in marketing. As an online seller on TradeMe, New Zealand’s local auction site, I received many inquiries about where I found my suppliers. I saw the opportunity to help others jumpstart their online sales gigs and developed the concept for SaleHoo, an online directory of verified wholesale suppliers. When SaleHoo amassed 10,000 members in just eight months, we used that momentum to launch Mark’s business idea, Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal. From there, we built the parent company, Doubledot Media. I’m also a co-founder of Smtp2Go, an email delivery service.

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

One surprising “learning moment” that we had a few years back was in the early days of our company Affilorama. Affilorama started as a paid-only service, but we were disappointed by its early financial results. So we took a risk and changed our pricing structure to include two options for access to Affilorama: a base option that made some features available for free, and a premium option that came with a monthly fee. Within the first month of implementing our new pricing strategy, our revenue and customer base tripled! The free plan has not negatively impacted our revenue, and our customer base continues to grow. It seemed counterintuitive that offering a free plan actually improved our profit, but it generated interest in our product and proved its value to customers, which worked out well for us in the long run.

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?

It’s funny upon reflection because it was so long ago, but it certainly wasn’t funny at the time. In the early stages of SaleHoo, my co-founder and I contracted a web design agency that charged us $35,000 and ultimately presented us with a product we couldn’t use. That money was basically wasted, much to our dismay. But we picked ourselves up and brought in a freelance designer who charged a third of the price, had a greater understanding of the project and presented us with an excellent final product. Based on this experience and other ones like it, I learned that most of the time, startups should spend a little more time researching and hiring a freelancer rather than paying exorbitant agency prices. Paying more does not always mean you’ll receive the best product, and in the early phases of your business, every penny counts.

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

I think there are two keys to avoiding employee burnout: flexibility and culture. (And I suppose these could go hand-in-hand by making flexibility a distinct part of your company culture.) A fruitful remote company culture will offer plenty of opportunities for social engagement and fun — for instance, my remote employees gather for an annual vacation where they get to relax and spend some time in-person. Social experiences like this will help employees avoid work burnout. A company that truly values flexibility will allow employees to organize their work around their life rather than organizing their life around their work. This is another key piece to ensuring your employees thrive.

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?

The majority of our staff have been remote for about 10 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?

The five main challenges for managing a remote team are: onboarding, communication, culture, assessment, and connectivity (both personal and professional). Onboarding can be a unique challenge because you have to create a detailed, functional, and completely hands-off way to train new employees. Communication is obviously a challenge because it has to be far more intentional with a remote team — there’s no chit-chatting around the water cooler. This is the same reason that culture becomes a challenge: the social element isn’t built-in for a remote team, so it has to be constructed more intentionally. Assessment is difficult on a remote level because we are so conditioned to using visual and in-person cues to identify productivity. When those cues are taken away, we have to find a new way to assess our employees. Perhaps the overarching theme for all of these challenges is the issue of connectivity. Remote employees need to feel connected — to each other, to the company, to their work and supervisors and bosses. Creating a sense of connectivity among your remote team is the ultimate challenge.

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

Some of these problems go hand-in-hand and can be solved with the same strategy or tool. For example, communication, culture and connectivity can all be solved by having a project management system where employees can share information with each other directly on projects. When an employee can apply their input or complete their task on a project directly rather than having to communicate on an additional channel, such as email or phone, things are streamlined and simplified. Everyone is on the same page, communicating well and feeling connected to one another. This alone will create a better company culture, but there also has to be a fun and playful outlet of the same nature — a chat room or virtual space where your employees can gather to communicate about non-work things and build personal relationships. This is the core of a good company culture — a communicative, well-connected team. Similarly, the challenge of onboarding a remote team member is dramatically simplified by these project management systems and detailed outlines of projects and tasks. If your social media manager has been providing details about their techniques and tasks over the last year, this essentially provides a pre-made handbook for a newly-hired manager in the same position.

I also think this ties into effective assessment. A remote team benefits enormously from a peer-to-peer review system, where managers and supervisors can get feedback from teammates about everyone’s performance, as well as self-assessment, where employees can reflect on their individual progress and productivity. Managers and owners aren’t going to be able to assess employees effectively if they don’t see them regularly or work with them on an individual basis, so remote assessment has to rely more heavily on direct co-workers and the employees’ themselves. This is not to say peer assessment should replace a manager’s evaluation of an employees’ performance, but that the two can work together as an effective remote assessment system.

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?

If you’re concerned about how your feedback might come off to an employee, I suggest using a video recording system like Loom to just record a quick video explaining your constructive criticism. Not only will this give you the opportunity to share facial expressions and body language that might comfort the employee, but they will also hear the intonation in your voice — something that is arguably the most important factor when trying to express a difficult message with tact.

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

Again, I would always recommend recording a super-fast video if the feedback is really sensitive or complex. But another thing to consider is that someone who is hyper-sensitive to feedback, or struggles with constructive criticism in the written form, might not be best-suited to a remote team. Effective remote hiring is the first step in effective remote management. You should be able to trust your team members to embrace your communication style as a manager without taking things too personally. That said, emoticons are always a great way to soften a message that might otherwise sound tough. 🙂 Furthermore, constructive criticism is always softened by a sense of empathy: phrases like “I’ve struggled with this before, too…” or “When I first started here, I didn’t realize [xyz].” This kind of commiseration can make an employee’s shortcomings seem more universal and less dramatic.

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?

Newly remote teams are going to realize very quickly that email is a clunky and ineffective way for teams to communicate on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. If a team has gone remote without the proper technology, there are going to be setbacks and delays. Hosting a zoom meeting in place of every in-person meeting is also not an effective solution. It’s important that leaders and executives provide a newly-remote team with the technology and infrastructure they need to work effectively in a remote setting. Until this is made possible, employees need to be patient with themselves and each other.

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?

I’ve always advised that managers and executives, while maintaining their decision-making power and independence, include team members in structural decisions about the company. Open lines of communication and solicit ideas from all levels of the company when trying to make large-scale decision about the company’s future. This creates a sense of camaraderie among the team and helps everyone to feel like they are part of an inclusive mission.

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 want more people to have a healthy work/life balance. I think when people have a more flexible schedule, they are more productive at work, happier and healthier. I think if we can start centralizing work/life balance as a cultural value, we’ll all be better off.

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

Steve Jobs said, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do.’ This advice gave me the courage to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. Three businesses later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Being my own boss is a significant factor in my love for my job, and I love that my businesses, Affilorama, SaleHoo and Doubledot Media Limited, help others to also become their own bosses through e-commerce pursuits. It is my hope that our companies help others achieve occupational freedom so that our customers, too, love what they do.

Thank you for these great insights!


Simon Slade of Affilorama: 5 Things You Need To Know 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.

Thomas Aronica of Biller Genie: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Agile Development — A development team is a requirement for any successful SaaS company since the development they will turn the vision into a tangible outcome. You have to find the right leader and the right developers in order to build a quality product. With agile development, we have found the most success. We work in sprints, constantly improving upon and building the software. Our development team is very collaborative. Together, they work to make sure that we have the best product on the market.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Aronica.

Thomas Aronica has more than 12 years of experience building successful organizations in the payment processing and fintech industries. Shortly after graduating from the University of Miami, where he earned a B.S. in computer science, Tom founded his first company, PCI Professionals. In less than three years, he built PCI into a viable acquisition target and in 2011, Tom spearheaded the merger of PCI Professionals with SkyBank Financial, ultimately taking over as chief executive officer. During this time, Tom also founded PrestigePay, a prepaid card issuer providing financial inclusion to subprime consumers in the United States.

Tom’s natural ability to foresee emerging trends and creatively use technology in new ways led to him founding Biller Genie, an innovative cloud-based solution that automates accounts receivable from bill presentment, follow up, collection, and reconciliation — without changing a business’ current process. In its first year alone, Biller Genie was named to the 2019 Money20/20 Start-Up Academy, was an Electronic Payment Association’s NexTen Participant, and received the 2019 CPA Practice Advisor’s Technology Innovation Award.

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’ and how you got started?

After college, I was working in the hospitality industry, attempting to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. An opportunity presented itself to work as a sales associate for a credit card processing company. This was really the first time I had been exposed to the payment processing industry, and with an academic background in computer science, the technology made sense to me.

I went on to work for other employers, and after a few bad experiences, I decided to start my own business venture in the payments world. I launched my first company in 2007, PCI Professionals, and gained invaluable insight into the industry and the technology behind it. This led me to take on other projects as I realized the potential of the technology.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

During my tenure at SkyBank Financial, I spent the better part of 5 years helping to build payment integrations for other software companies. That evolved into adding business logic to encourage best practices. Then workflow optimization. Then automated reconciliation. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building the concept for what was to be Biller Genie. Then in late 2017, I was at dinner with a colleague who was having issues collecting payments from his tenants at his apartment complex, and we started comparing his current capabilities with those we had created for other industries. I barely slept that night. The next morning, while stepping out of the shower, it hit me. Design the tools as a standalone system that can easily connect to any software and supercharge it! The next day I put an ad out to hire our first developer.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Early in my career, I was working long hours, 20 hour days were common. I kept this routine going for several years. My first home office was actually the closet of my bedroom. My routine consisted of selling for most of the day, and then in the evening, I would continue to create policies, protocols, and basically build the infrastructure of my business. During this time, the bank foreclosed my home. I was paying employee salaries, yet I couldn’t pay myself. I couldn’t afford to buy food or to even travel to see my family. My family made many sacrifices coming to this country and honoring that sacrifice has always been one of my greatest driving factors.

Regardless, despite all my efforts, it was Thanksgiving 2009 when I told my mom that I was ready to throw in the towel. She convinced me otherwise, and with her help, I returned revitalized and was able to grow the company further. Those were some of the hardest years of my life, but I was able to learn valuable lessons about myself, and business, in the process.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great, and we’re busier than ever! While the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has been unsettling to say the least, we have been fortunate to continue to experience positive growth. We are currently on the eve of two major national partnerships, both of which will rapidly expand Biller Genie’s subscriber base.

We have revamped our marketing and operations, with a unified focus on ensuring our product functions perfectly. I can proudly say I am fortunate to be surrounded by an excellent team of hardworking individuals, who share the same drive and work ethic. We have grown our team during the pandemic and employee productivity and happiness is at an all-time high.

If I had to describe a quality that allowed me to grow a successful business, it would without a doubt be: uncompromised work ethic. These days, I am driven by a stubborn belief that we can play a small role in the inevitable shift towards automation in the accounting profession. As the cliché goes, no one is an overnight success, and that is definitely true in my case. As doors closed, I just continued to push to find the open ones. Success is built on many smaller victories, so as long as you’re moving forward in the right direction, anything is possible.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Chasing too big of an account? When I was first starting out, I had the opportunity to bid on a deal that was processing over $36 million per month in payments. Considering my average deal at the time was around $36 thousand, I thought I was going to retire off just this one. After about a year of (professionally persistent) phone calls, I got my chance. Only they were so big that they had better pricing than I did! Talk about a waste of time. I learned an important lesson that day — it’s the bottom line that counts, not the top.

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

We have an excellent product that is complemented by our extreme focus on our subscribers’ happiness. Biller Genie not only shortens the invoice to cash cycle, but we optimize the accounts receivable process by using automation technology, without changing a business’s existing workflow. We have gotten real results and add real value to our subscribers. As a company, Biller Genie is rated 5 stars on all review sites. Our subscribers get paid on average 15 days faster, see a reduction of overdue invoices by 40%, and save 10–20 hours of administrative work per week. We are a young company full of hardworking individuals, with the same drive and passion for our product.

I have so many stories about how Biller Genie really stands out from the crowd. One of my favorites to tell is the story of an accountant in Miami, where we are headquartered. With every subscriber, we go through a quick setup call where we set up their custom reminder schedule, ensuring customers are notified of upcoming due dates or late invoices. During the first sync, we give our subscribers the option to send a new invoice alert for all invoices, even if they had already sent the invoice to their customer. I always recommend them sending it because what is the worst that can happen, you still don’t get paid?

As I am on the phone with the subscriber, she pulls up a customer and tells me that she has been trying to get this customer to pay her for months — sending emails, mailing payment overdue letters, and making phone calls — but never getting paid. I wish I had this on video, right as she tells me this story, the invoice goes from past due to paid, right in front of her eyes. I could hear her jaw hit the floor over the phone. Turns out, the customer didn’t even know he had an invoice that was past due. He wasn’t trying to avoid it, he just didn’t know about it nor did he have an easy way to pay for it, like the online customer portal we give our subscribers.

That is the power of Biller Genie. We really make a difference in helping small and medium sized businesses get paid for the products or services they provide.

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

I personally believe that it is absolutely essential you disconnect at times. Even if you are working 20 hours a day, like I was early on in my career, you have to take a day to yourself every so often. Sundays are great for this. Turn off your email, step away from the computer. Physically separate yourself with a change of scenery. I’m lucky enough to live in Miami, so even when I couldn’t afford to go to Italy and lay on my favorite beach, I could easily be at the next best one in minutes.

It is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to build a company on your own. I can guarantee that the business will fail if you burn out. Having great people in your life can help make a big difference. As Jim Collins says “great vision without great people is irrelevant.” If you are thinking about throwing in the towel, take that day off and enjoy it. Do something for yourself. I promise those problems will still be there the next day. They aren’t going anywhere, and you won’t solve them in one day. You will come back refreshed and ready to tackle the world. Take care of yourself — you only have one body.

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?

Aside from the obvious “my parents” answer, who I’m eternally grateful to, I was fortunate to have the mentorship and guidance of two incredible entrepreneurs early on in my career who believed in me when everything was bad. We were losing money, behind on liabilities to our vendors, an unhappy staff, an absent business partner…times were tough. But “TP” (let’s call them) saw something in me, took a bet, and 12 months later none of those problems existed anymore. I wouldn’t be where I am today without TP.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Biller Genie currently has approximately 4,000 users since we launched, and with our new partnerships, we expect this number to increase rapidly in a short period of time. Building a community requires several components.

Defined Operating System/Strong Leadership Team — It is crucial to have the right infrastructure for your business to grow. This means having the right talent in the right roles, especially during the earlier stages of your operation. It’s a team effort and the individuals around you will play a crucial role in the success of your business. Recruiting in South Florida can be difficult. It has taken me a long time to find my senior leadership team, but early on this year, it all came together. Their insight is invaluable to the company. Listen to them and be willing to accept you aren’t always right. Every week we have a 90-minute huddle where we discuss important issues. Together, as a group, we make decisions that affect not only the future of the company, but the actual development of our software. Having this weekly meeting has positively changed Biller Genie and made us a stronger company.

Partnerships — Establishing partnerships early on in my career was vital to being able to build a team to help drive the business forward. Starting a business always requires capital, and access to capital, more possibilities open up. Early on, most of my partners had more experience than I did, which proved to be extremely valuable when it came to making the correct decisions. In terms of Biller Genie, partnerships with financial institutions and payment providers has proven successful in growing our subscriber base. These partners have hundreds of thousands of customers and being able to tap into and market to that base has been very beneficial.

Focus — Focus is perhaps the key component to ensuring productive growth. Setting a roadmap is necessary to execute your strategy yet focus is what allows your team to be committed. It is necessary that this flows from the bottom down, in other words from the CEO all the way down the chain. This applies when you’re creating a customer-centric product or business. Focusing on the customer will affect the way your company evolves, allowing you to create long-lasting relationships and affecting the longevity of your business.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Our goal is to make enterprise level accounts receivable software accessible to small and medium sized businesses for a fraction of the cost. Our pricing is based on three tiers. Each tier has a monthly price range, with the two lower tiered plans including a percentage taken on each invoice that we collect upon. The pricing model is based on a monthly recurring cycle, and we have premium add ons such as the ability to send out paper mail and ACH processing.

Initially, the idea for the pricing model was to limit access based on the different features, but we decided we wanted all subscribers to have access to the same great tools, so we changed the model to be performanced based where we only get paid if we help our clients get paid. It is the combination of this and our advanced features that make our product so successful. Given that the average published cost to manage invoices manually is $22 each, Biller Genie saves its subscribers on average over 80% of the cost of processing invoices manually.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

Agile Development — A development team is a requirement for any successful SaaS company since the development they will turn the vision into a tangible outcome. You have to find the right leader and the right developers in order to build a quality product. With agile development, we have found the most success. We work in sprints, constantly improving upon and building the software. Our development team is very collaborative. Together, they work to make sure that we have the best product on the market.

A Roadmap / Vision — Having a clear and concise plan for your software will make sure you are hitting your goals and progressing efficiently. Breaking down the roadmap into sections and parts, allowed our team to tackle the right projects within the right time frame. This also allowed a space for innovation since we were able to review our product from a microlevel and adjust accordingly.

Not only does this apply to the software, but also to the actual company. Let’s be frank — Biller Genie is a startup. We are building the plane as it is flying. There are a lot of processes, procedures, training, documentation, and employee culture that can easily be thrown to the wayside, because we are moving at the speed of light. It’s important to not forget these things. You cannot have a successful company without a proper structure that sets your employees up for success.

For example, now that we are working full remote due to COVID-19, it became tough to maintain employee culture. We started having weekly kickoff calls on Monday mornings, where everyone gets on camera, we talk to each other, we learn things, we play games — just an half hour a week where we all get together and “hang out.” We even did a fun “Biller Genie in a Bottle” parody to Christina Aguilera “Genie in a Bottle” and everyone sang and danced on video. Check out our YouTube channel — it’s hilarious and was a run project that involved everyone.

An Innovative idea — Technology advances along with consumer behavior. As a SaaS business it is vital to stay on the cutting edge to know what your customers need before they even know it. I realized early on that the payments industry placed a strong focus on accounts payable yet I noticed that business owners were having difficulty with their accounts receivable. I had this innovative concept that is disrupting the A/R space.

Creative Marketing — A great product or idea means nothing if you’re not able to get your story out. Focusing an effort on marketing has been a fundamental part of growing my business. I knew I had an excellent product that carried with it a great story and having the right team to convey that story became an important asset. Properly positioning a software product requires a lot of strategy, from product launches, to new partnerships, to press releases. Being able to tell your story properly can make all the difference.

Leadership — As a leader, one of the most important things you will do is to find other leaders to help guide your vision forward. Like I said, I recently completed building out Biller Genie’s executive team and having the right assets in the right positions has allowed us to rapidly advance our product and our company in the past 8 months. A team’s commitment is only as strong as the leader’s commitment to the team; therefore, it is important to bring the best you have every day, and your team will do the same.

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. 🙂

I would make children’s apps to teach the fundamentals of software development and application design. Sounds crazy? It is widely accepted by the scientific community that children are able to learn and understand languages more easily than adults because the brains and neurons fire faster in their young brains. The skills needed to learn a natural or programming language are the same, but programming language also promotes logical thinking, resilience, determination, problem solving and creativity. If I could find a way to make it easy to teach kids how to think like a computer, I’d be excited about what the next generation creates.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomaronica

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


Thomas Aronica of Biller Genie: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rebecca Page: 5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Getting the right cultural fit — when we started Rebecca Page we operated on a good ‘gut-feel’ and this has, for the most part, worked well in a small team environment. Team members who have come from a design room notice and enjoy the absence of stereotypical ‘divas’ and office politics. We are mindful that as we scale, we will need to move away from gut-feel as the primary method for getting the right cultural fit.

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

Rebecca Page is the co-founder and CEO of Rebecca Page, a hugely popular global sewing brand with a community of over 500,000. She has spent over 30 years sewing and is the creator of the leading Sewing Pattern Subscription & The Sewing Summit, and is a published author. Rebecca has been featured in The Times, on BBC Radio 4 and in numerous industry publications. An entrepreneur by heart, Rebecca has run multiple businesses. She is a huge advocate for moving away from fast fashion to beautifully fitting hand-made clothes.

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”?

Thank you! I started sewing when I was around 8 years old. I remember so clearly my Mum trying to steer me towards simple, beginner level sews… and me setting my heart on complicated coats and ballgowns! I worked my way through her sewing encyclopedia, trying every technique on scraps of fabric and saving them all in a big folder. I had a huge desire to have my own business right from when I was little and quickly started making things to sell. Over the years I’ve always come back to sewing, and now being able to combine my love of business with my love of sewing is the dream role for me!

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

I actually started the business after being the standby contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee. I was on maternity leave with our second child and applied to go on the show. I didn’t get on, but if someone couldn’t make the live filming dates, I would have to step in. I got to do all the same prep and practice behind the scenes as the contestants. They didn’t need me for filming in the end, but I had such fun with the process, I decided I wanted to take some of my homemade sewing patterns and put them on Etsy for sale. The rest is history!

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?

Ahh, once I was making matching PJs for our two eldest kids who were quite different heights. I was so busy watching Netflix while I sewed that I didn’t notice I had sewed mismatching bottoms together… I ended up with two identical pairs of pajama bottoms, each with one long leg and one short leg.

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

Everyone in our team is based remotely and has complete flexibility as to how and when they work. The ability to manage families and non-work responsibilities, along with the time saved not having to commute, allows our team to establish a routine that works for them. This reduces stress and burnout, which means our team can thrive in their work and home lives. One of our marketing team, Bronwyn, says ‘I’m an introvert so prefer to be in my own space, and find I am way more productive working remotely; I can just put my head down and go, but also walk away if I need to run errands and then balance out the time later out on’.

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?

Rebecca Page Ltd was registered in March 2018, so it’s been over two years now.

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. Managing time and productivity — the added complexity in managing remote teams needs to be balanced by sharing the responsibility between management and the team. In return for flexibility, the team understand that there needs to be the means of having technical oversight around time and productivity. Before we implemented a technical solution, it took time to manually prepare timesheets and accuracy and tracking of time was an issue.
  2. Managing communications — finding the right technology to enable quick and effective communication across many different time zones. Email can be appropriate between two people, but we found that when there were more than two people there was that inevitable lag due to people working in different time zones.
  3. Getting the right cultural fit — when we started Rebecca Page we operated on a good ‘gut-feel’ and this has, for the most part, worked well in a small team environment. Team members who have come from a design room notice and enjoy the absence of stereotypical ‘divas’ and office politics. We are mindful that as we scale, we will need to move away from gut-feel as the primary method for getting the right cultural fit.
  4. Establishing an organizational structure that aligns to scaling a remote team — as a start-up scales, it is inevitable that more and more of the team report into the CEO. It can be tricky dismantling a flat structure and implementing something that supports natural workflow.
  5. The fun ‘human’ stuff — the team is growing rapidly, which means it is important to quickly integrate new people and make them feel welcome. We are pretty much all creative people at heart, so we identified that our team fun needed to be centred round our creativity.

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

  1. Managing time and productivity — we use Time Doctor, a web-based solution that provides time tracking, computer work session monitoring, reminders and screenshot recording for remote teams. It is very easy for our flexible team to capture the time they spend on different tasks and it’s also easy for us to monitor and report time accurately.
  2. Technology to manage communications — we use Slack, Zoom and WhatsApp for team communications. We’ve found that this combination quickly solves any miscommunications that may pop up in written form, and we don’t believe this is less effective than being in a face-to-face environment. As Bronwyn in our marketing team says ‘being able to work from anywhere is fun and opens up so many possibilities — I can work from a friend’s kitchen, from another country if I travel, or from the couch’.
  3. Employing for the right cultural fit — we have been lucky because we have found most of our team directly from our customer base and these positions are highly sought after. Everyone involved in the pattern making process enjoys sewing, and we think this authentic love of the patterns that we produce shines through. As a global company, we are overwhelmingly fortunate to serve a customer base made up of all different races, religions, ethnicity, and creeds. Diversity in all ways is integral to the makeup and culture of Rebecca Page, and we are welcoming and proud of the various backgrounds, beliefs, and incredible individuals that make up our ‘team’.
  4. Organizational structure that aligns to scaling a remote team — I liken our organizational structure to a beehive, but without a queen bee! We work cooperatively towards our larger goal, but operate on a day-to-day basis within smaller teams. Jo in our pattern team say that ‘just like a beehive there is no close of business, no 5 pm out the door and that’s it, job done until the next day…everything keeps turning with each time zone, the process never stops!’.
  5. The fun ‘human’ stuff — we have built comradery through creative sharing on our Monday afternoon team Zoom call. We also have a ‘random’ channel on Slack where we can post anything and everything we want to about what we are up to in our lives. There’s lots of pictures of everyone’s kids, dogs, dinners and road trips!

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?

Working in a genuine learning environment helps to promote a two-way process of constructive feedback that prevents a blame culture creeping into conversations. I have also found that it is important to set expectations up front about the regularity of and process for communication, along with agreeing what the team member needs from me (or someone else), action points and a realistic timeline.

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

I don’t recommend using email for constructive feedback. I prefer to speak to the person directly. Usually there’s a reason why they did or said what they did. If we can find out what that is, it’s much easier to address what happened directly, letting them know what the impact was and how we’d like it done in future. With Zoom and WhatsApp, most of our team can jump on a call quickly.

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?

A team used to working closely together can implement a routine during the pandemic that helps to keep everyone in touch. Establish Zoom ‘catch-ups’ each morning and afternoon, that are just the same as coffee-time in the office. Team members can ask any questions, discuss issues or just listen in the background to what’s going on. Having a set time to login to the team catch-up avoids the potential obstacle of isolation. An added benefit is that it’s an efficient use of time, as the team don’t need to individually contact the team leader whenever they have a question. Whether in person or on screen, this kind of interaction creates a learning environment for everyone in the team. I’d also suggest retaining any team cultural norms, such as having a drink together after work on a Friday. It’s not quite the same on Zoom, but you can mix it up by making someone different in charge each week of a team activity or challenge.

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?

We have a team call at 5pm on a Monday and everyone from all around the world logs in — often with kids and pets in the background! I have a quick round-up of what we are focusing on in the coming week and then each team member shares a creative project they have been working on and answers a fun weekly question. This has helped the team get to know each other better, which has resulted in friendships developing. Because we all come from all over the world, and use language differently, we learn to look at things from different perspectives and this helps us to avoid misunderstanding or miscommunication. Bronwyn from our marketing team sums up the team culture — ‘one of my absolute favorite things about Rebecca Page and the global nature of the team is “meeting” people from countries and cultures I may not have had a chance to otherwise’.

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 love, love, love more people to think about the sustainability of their clothing. Not just where it comes from and who sews it, but also having clothing really fit their body how they want it to. If you have quality clothes you love, that fit how you want them to, you are far more likely to wear them and look after them. This both reduces waste and has people feel better about themselves.

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

My co-founder, Janine, sent me a card very early on in the business with the quote “She thought she could so she did”. I saved it and still have it up on my wall today. It really says it all to me. Anything is possible. The key is believing you can.

Thank you for these great insights!


Rebecca Page: 5 Things You Need to Know 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.

Elizabeth Eiss of ResultsResourcing: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Be the spark that inspires your team to problem solve and perform. Go beyond what seems possible and be innovative and resourceful, even within the protocols of a corporation. Create the environment for possibility and imagination.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Eiss.

Elizabeth Eiss is a results guru who helps others get work done well. Elizabeth is a sought after expert on the future of work, the gig economy and has redefined staffing models based on virtual and freelance talent trends.

She is the founder and CEO of ResultsResourcing®, THE freelance platform that comes with your own recruiter. ResultsResourcing® helps organizations scale by leveraging virtual freelancers who are vetted and hand-curated using proprietary technology Elizabeth designed and co-developed.

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’m delighted to be doing this interview with Authority Magazine! Thank you.

My backstory, well, I’ve always had a passion for people and have effectively led many remote teams beginning back in the day when the only remote collaboration options were the phone and conference calls! Throughout my corporate career, I was also an early adopter of technology and how systems and process can enhance and scale value delivery. After a successful career as a C-suite executive, I decided to trade it all in for the world of entrepreneurship and joined my first start up — which was focused on creating cloud-based expertise networks.

That’s continued to be my focus ultimately leading me to start my own company as a “tech-preneur” focused on matching small businesses with vetted, virtual freelancers. We empower small to medium size businesses to scale, leveraging quality fractional talent we curate for them.

While there are plenty of freelance platforms out there, we were designed from the ground-up for small business. What’s unique is that I created a way to integrate technology with humans and their insights, to curate custom contract talent cost effectively. We’re THE freelance platform that comes with your own recruiter. Our platform and services are high tech/high touch at a rational price point, in terms of absolute dollars and return on time (opportunity cost) for SMB.

Talent is online today and the drawback to most job platforms is that “do it yourself” recruiting is time-intensive and, unless you’re skilled in recruiting and remote work practices, it’s an uncertain value proposition. I believe Thomas L. Friedman articulated it well: “While there is growing AI (artificial intelligence) there is a faster growing need for IA (intelligent assistance) to help people use technology for their benefit. And IA can only be provided by human beings.” SMB needs tech augmented by human help to find and utilize the best virtual workers.

That’s what I focus on today: human beings… leveraging technology… to find great talent to empower SMB to scale.

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

My whole career has been extraordinarily interesting and has been an ever-expanding platform for thinking about what’s possible. So, this is not a story per say, but an observation.

I’ve come to learn that scarcity is one of the best drivers of innovation.

Whenever I’ve been resource constrained (such as time, funding, staff, systems, professional contacts), it’s caused me to re-think the problem and develop new approaches. Scarcity of resources when confronted by big goals, forces me to question assumptions and invent new ways to achieve objectives — while remaining true to my purpose and principles.

This philosophy drove my intrapreneurial thinking in the corporate world and has blossomed in my entrepreneurship and inventions. It’s a mindset and iterative method, driven by the customer, supported by agile technology development.

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’ve told this story many times since I learned so much from it. When I was interviewing for my first job as a manager, I was quite ‘young’ for the role, and would also be switching companies. I was sure I was the top candidate and was asked how much I wanted to be paid in the final interview. I said ‘Well, at least the minimum” — having no idea what it was except that I knew it was more than I was currently making. Of course, I got the job and my wish — the minimum salary for the job.

This all happened before the days of data ubiquity, but I learned to:

  1. Always do my homework to gain context and know what I want to achieve.
  2. Constructively assert my worth in the context of project objectives.
  3. For a win/win relationship, compensation should reflect value brought to the table.

I’ve followed those lessons ever since, even as an entrepreneur.

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

Be the spark that inspires your team to problem solve and perform. Go beyond what seems possible and be innovative and resourceful, even within the protocols of a corporation. Create the environment for possibility and imagination.

Make sure you’ve set your team up for success by setting clear goals, establishing leading measures of success, fostering team alignment followed by 360 communication and performance processes. Then get out of the way — except to run interference for your team.

Be a mentor, not a master (except when events require this). Lead by example. Create the strongest, most versatile team you can, based on what needs to be accomplished. Diversity in every sense of the word will result in better, broader thinking and solutions that fit today’s and tomorrow’s world.

I’ve found these approaches enable teams to deliver the result you need to deliver — and go beyond what you may have deemed possible.

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?

Decades. I’ve been on and managed virtual teams for nearly my whole career — in corporate, as a consultant and as a business owner.

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?

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

There are many stories that resulted in this list of top 5 challenges and the solutions that consistently worked with my remote teams:

  1. Leadership to build successful team dynamics:

The fact that a group of people assemble together in a location does not make a team. Building a team takes leadership, communication, common goals, and collaboration — all things leaders do naturally when on location. So, think about the same techniques you’d use onsite and find ways to replicate that virtually. Don’t focus on remote being a barrier, just embrace it and apply common sense to choose leadership and team building approaches that fit the situation. Most people don’t even consider collaborating with another group in another office as remote teaming — but that is remote teaming that has existed for years. Working with an outsource partner is remote teaming too. We do know how to do this.

For sure, what makes a remote team harder is missing casual, social interaction, which can impact team morale. There can also be collaboration challenges if tools are limited or people need training to use technology. And, mass working from home has new challenges with kids, space, lack of equipment and the general stir-craziness we all feel. These are each human factors that need to be acknowledged and addressed in the leadership approach to remote teaming. Be human, use common sense, don’t try to lead alone — embrace your team.

2.) Set clear goals or results to be achieved:

If you haven’t defined your goals, you won’t know if you ‘get there’ and your team won’t have the proper context for decision-making. Choose to measure progress using both leading and lagging indicators — the leading measures (e.g. # of customer touch points) will keep you on the right track and increase the likelihood you meet the lagging (end) goal (e.g. customer purchases and revenue or profit).

3.) Provide clear structure & process to achieve results:

Establishing structure and processes will ensure your team is efficient and work is done consistently the way you need it to be done. This will also help surface issues where there are gaps in process or structure. Often gaps are masked when people are on site and there can be significant productivity loss. Gaps in process jump out when working remote. Embrace the team to identify and help solve these and you’ll end up with a better process that will optimize results and value delivery.

4.) Manage results, and resist the urge to micromanage:

Since you can’t ‘manage by walking around’ the temptation is micromanage the how. Resist — for your sake and for your team’s. “How” should be addressed by establishing clear process and creating — upfront — regularly scheduled checkpoints on leading indicators and for quality control. Don’t just meet when something’s off. Check points can double as motivating, rapport building one-on-one interactions or to challenge the team to problem solve.

5.) Communicate regularly:

Communicate both ups and downs, and continually frame the communication in terms of the success measures and engage the team to solve issues early. Again, create upfront schedules and methods for the team to meet and for you to meet with team members. The team should feel this is part of the business process and best practice and not something that only happens when there is a performance issue.

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?

The foundation for constructive communication is regular communication that builds rapport and enables the “manager” and the “staff” to know one another. Communication should be steady and consistently focused on the objectives to be achieved. If regular group and one-on-one communications are occurring, delivering performance news should not be significantly different when it’s in person versus remote. The assumption is people do a good job handling conflict in person, (the giver and the receiver) which I don’t think is always the case. In person or remote, building rapport and regular communications is key so performance correction doesn’t come out of left field, is taken wrong or the staff says, “I only hear from management when something is a problem.”

As mentioned earlier, I believe in setting goals and focusing on leading and lagging indicators. These indicators exist for not only key performance indicators but also how a result should be achieved by an individual performer. This means you have tools to get out ahead of performance issues and course correct with staff when issues are still small adjustments. Don’t let things slide.

I also like to frame performance issues in the context of the “what and how” of results achievement. I often pose questions to get the staff to self-recognize and get involved for lasting change. Examples might be: “Here’s what I see in this report and it’s not where we all agreed we need to be. What do you see? What can we do to accomplish a different result?” Engage the staff in problem recognition and resolution — early and regularly in the process.

When constructive criticism is warranted, hopefully you have a track record of communication to lean on as mentioned earlier. Here are practical suggestions that have worked well:

1) Find a mutually good time to meet when you both have time. Avoid sandwiching it into a 15-minute slot before your next Zoom call.

2) Put yourself in the staff person’s shoes (e.g. are there kids at home or no privacy?).

3) Get your remote environment right — good lighting, minimize distractions, prepare and then, when you’re in the session, look the individual in the eye and focus on the matter at hand. Watch for the same human signals — maybe they won’t be as clear as in person, but they will be there.

4) Have a conversation about the result that needs to change, sharing your concerns constructively, authentically, in a way that fosters engagement and offer to help.

4) Come away with an agreement on resolution that the staff puts into writing. You’ll sense then the buy-in and how the conversation landed — and whether additional conversation is needed.

5) Make performance discussions iterative and ongoing, not a special event. Performance reviews in my mind, in person or remote, are not once-and-done, it’s a nurturing process to advance lasting performance and results of the business and the person.

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

Again, when constructive criticism is warranted, hopefully you have a track record of communication — both verbal and written as the foundation for rapport and a relationship.

First, I would not use email for constructive feedback on any serious issue. There is too much chance for miscommunication and misunderstanding, and email provides no immediate feedback that seeing someone in person or over the web will reveal.

I will use email for smaller, less serious course correction or editing. In writing these kinds of emails I like to phase them in terms of “this is how this landed on me, it this what you meant?” Or, “what you wrote in your email caused me to think about the matter in new ways, how about doing it this way?” Or, “I don’t think we’re on the same page, so here are some thoughts. Would you get back to me or can we hop on a call to discuss.”

Draft the email and send it to yourself. Wait a bit and then review it as a receiver. Often, I will see what I wrote in fresh light and that helps me make it clearer or more constructive (and fix grammar/typos!). It helps surface emotion or preconceived notions or conclusions I need to address differently or omit so I don’t blame or personalize. I may do this repeatedly until I get message right. Depending on the nature of the issue, I may also have a trusted colleague review my email for feedback/edits before I send it to its intended recipient.

Again, performance improvement is not checking a box by delivering an email message and then it’s once and done. The purpose of the communication is to foster a lasting change in behavior that the staff member embraces, which improves future execution without requiring intervention. That email is one milestone along the journey of jointly achieving performance standards.

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?

I think there is a lot that is different about working remotely than working together on location — and some are obstacles to effective teamwork — from each worker’s home environment to how prepared a business was to have staff work from home (e.g. formal process, collaboration tools).

No matter the situation, leadership is needed to pave the way to working together in new ways — to create new structures, new and more regular team communication processes, figuring out what tools you have that will best foster teamwork (or investing in new ones).

To some extent this also is a mindset issue — people are social, coming together on location is probably one of the things people like best about working, based on studies I’ve seen. So, leadership’s job is also to foster a new mindset and help plan and foster a work environment that enables the social aspects of teamwork, plus clears a path to getting work done well so customer value is consistent delivered.

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 our conversation, I’ve spoken about a number of ways to create a healthy and empowering work culture for a remote team. At the core is leadership that sets the tone for new ways to work, sets structure, process, and tools and articulates goals and expectations. A consistent and regular communication framework is vital to a healthy team as it sets the foundation for rapport and working relationships. Leaders should focus on results, using leading and lagging indicators, which establishes guardrails for performance management. Trust and verify.

Embrace change — have some FUN working in a new way.

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. 🙂

A couple years ago, a study by Babson College and Goldman Sachs/10k Small Businesses stated, Small businesses have the power to transform AmericaEveryday, small business owners apply their extraordinary potential to spark competition, drive innovation, build communities, and better the quality of life for its citizens.” This inspires me.

Most businesses in the US are solopreneurs, or non-employee firms. Of the small businesses with employees, 96% have fewer than 50 employees.

Our mission is to empower these small businesses to scale by matching them with curated virtual talent who can add value and accelerate their timeline to mission success. My purpose is to empower their purpose.

I also hope I can inspire other women to believe that they ‘can do it’ — whatever their “it” is. Great ideas come at every age — be curious, commit to making the most every opportunity before you, one day at a time.

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

My current life lesson quote ties to my passion for ResultsResourcing®. It’s a quote from Peter Drucker who said (over 50 years ago): “Do what you do best, and outsource the rest.”

We help businesses focus on what they do best, by finding the best freelance talent suited for the work those businesses can outsource. In doing so, our clients achieve more, deliver more value to their clients and spend their time doing what they are passionate about.

I am a purpose-driven entrepreneur. I connect dots; I help people believe they can and then provide them the talent to help them do it.

Thank you for these great insights!


Elizabeth Eiss of ResultsResourcing: 5 Things You Need To Know 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 Rosemary Keevil: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

I believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able to rise about their trauma. Having done that, they have created confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, humility and a positive, but realistic, attitude.

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 Rosemary Keevil.

Rosemary Keevil has been a TV news reporter, a current affairs radio show host, and the managing editor of a professional women’s magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism, a sophisticated knowledge of alcoholism, addiction, and associated treatments and therapies, and two grown daughters with successful careers.

Her memoir: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction will be published in October, 2020. Keevil lives with her partner and her sheep-a-doodle in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. She has been clean and sober since 2002.

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 grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and have lived in Switzerland (for school) and Tahiti (as a travel destination representative) and Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada (as a can-can dancer). I have lived in Vancouver, BC, Canada, most of my life. I recently moved to Whistler. It was once a funky ski-town, but is now a year-round resort destination with summer sports such as golfing, hiking and biking. Whistler Blackcomb is one of the Vail Resorts.

I have a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master of Journalism. I have had a number of jobs in the media, including:

– News reporting for CFTO-CTV in Toronto
– News reporting for The Globe and Mail national newspaper, Vancouver
– Co-launched and produced “The Michael Morgan Show”; also envisioned, co-launched, and hosted “The Rosemary Keevil Show” (Original, I know!) for CFUN Radio (CHUM National Radio Network), a live, drive-time, current affairs talk show in Vancouver
– Contributed to the critical success of Scarlett magazine for the professional woman (unfortunately, now defunct) after being brought on board at nascent stage of the publication
– Adjudicator for the Leo Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Film
– Public Relations for the Vancouver International Film Festival

When my children were two and five years old my husband died of cancer and my brother died of AIDS within six months of one another. I was able to keep it together (somewhat!) for six years while working as a journalist. While still high-functioning, I became an alcoholic and drug addict. Six years later, in 2002, I went into rehab and have been clean and sober ever since. I now work as an addictions’ journalist.

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

There are many stories I can’t tell as they are X-rated, but one clear takeaway is: “Don’t ever swear or make weird faces near a microphone or a camera that you assume is not live.”

Within the first two weeks of starting to work at CFTO-TV, I was assigned to cover an internationally-reported story: an accident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario. Fuel rods cracked releasing a deluge of radioactive water under the floor of the reactor building. The situation was brought under control, nobody was injured, and no radiation leaked into the environment.

My reputation did, however, undergo some damage. I was doing ‘Take One’ (This was not live.) of my stand-up, talking to the camera in front of the power plant. My voluminous, 80s-style, shoulder-length hair was bobbing in the wind as I stumbled over some words and then said, “Blaaaaaaaaaaa…Take Two!”

Well, as it turned out, the editor of the story used ‘Take One’ instead of ‘Take Two’, so my “Blaaaaaaaaaaaaa…Take Two!” went on air!

Within the week I was called to the upstairs office of one of the top brass of the station. Ted Delaney did not have much hair and had one crossed eye. He told me to sit down, tried to look right at me, and said: “Rosemary, you’re going to be a good reporter, but you got too much hair!”

Finally, I also remember an interesting ‘circumstance’ in the newsroom. There were two available reporters to cover the Dr. Henry Morgentaler court cases. Morgentaler conducted a high-profile campaign to secure legalized abortion in Canada and was at the center of the legal cases that brought this to fruition.

The News Director called the two us into his office and said: “Which one of you would like to cover this landmark story?” Well … we were both very pregnant at the time. I just jumped at the opportunity!

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

What stands out is that my work exists at all despite personal tragedy and addiction. I was a media personality with a loving husband and two adorable, little daughters when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my brother was diagnosed with AIDS in the days when that was a death sentence. Their subsequent deaths had a profound effect my life, not the least of which was being swallowed by the grips of alcoholism and addiction.

I am living proof that one can be high-functioning — I was working fulltime as a current affairs, radio show host — and self-destructing simultaneously.

I am also living proof that there can be a very fulfilling and productive life after addiction.

I went back to work as the editor of a magazine, received my Master of Journalism and wrote my memoir. I must say that all that trauma provided much of the fodder for The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction.

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 is not one iconic mentor, but there have been gems of wisdom shared with me along the way.

– Patrick Brethour: British Columbia Editor for The Globe and Mail newspaper: Don’t ever lose that hint of insecurity. It gives you that invaluable, competitive edge.

– Fictional or nonfictional storytelling is an intrinsic human characteristic, which has taken various shapes and forms over time: visual stories such as cave drawings; the oral traditions of passing down stories by word of mouth from generation to generation; written, printed and typed stories; and today’s explosion of storytelling with everybody serving as a verbal, audio and visual documenter of our times. Advice on how to tell a good nonfiction story:

– Ted Steubing, former Vice-President of News and Public Affairs, CFTO-TV: “Tell ’em what you are going to tell ’em. Tell ’em and tell ’em what you told ‘em.”

– Derwyn Smith, former News Director, CFTO-TV: “If in doubt check it out. If still in doubt leave it out.”

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 believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able to rise about their trauma. Having done that, they have created confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, humility and a positive, but realistic, attitude.

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

This is not original, but the first person who comes to mind is my dear mother, Helen Parrett. What a survivor! She ran a household of four kids and four pets, all with an alcoholic/workaholic husband and only a few pennies to rub together. Despite all the challenges inherent in her circumstances, not the least of which was my emotionally abusive father, she was resilient. One of Mom’s forms of resilience materialized in creativity at 3:00 in the morning. Mom would get up in the middle of the night to write, a habit I have inherited.

She wrote a syndicated column for “The Tely,” as the The Toronto Telegram was popularly known at the time. The column was called “Suzanna’s Family Fare.” Readers would write in with household hints, such as how to rid your prized cherrywood coffee table of that unsightly white ring created by a wet glass or coffee mug. Answer? Toothpaste. The kicker is that Mom was not the least bit domestic, another trait I have inherited!

I would get up with her and study. I still remember the sound of the clickety clack of her Underwood typewriter, and the taste of hot tea and warm toast topped with melted butter and a layer of brown sugar. I also still remember cramming for my history exam about the coureur des bois. What I don’t remember is exactly what they were. Wikipedia clarified it for me: the coureur des bois were entrepreneurial French Canadians who travelled the interior of North America and traded, usually with the First Nations peoples, for furs such as beaver. This marked the beginning of the North American fur trade.

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?

I am my own worst enemy. I never thought I would survive the onslaught that life doled out to me in 1991.

I also never thought I could quit Ativan, Zopiclone, cocaine and fine, white buttery wines such as Bâtard-Montrachet and Rosemount Chardonnay.

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 setbacks are documented in a 309-page story, which is my memoir: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction

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

I grew up in Toronto, the youngest of four children (boy, girl, boy, girl: only five years between all four of us) in a chaotic household with an alcoholic dad, an enabler mother, two cats and two St. Bernards.

I was bullied, probably because I had buckteeth, which gave me a notable lisp. Paw, paw Wothemawee Pawwett (translation: poor, poor Rosemary Parrett) could not say her r’s or her s’s. I went to speech therapy sessions every Wednesday afternoon from kindergarten through grade three to fix the lisp. Then, in grade seven, I got braces to fix the buckteeth. (Thanks Mom!) When I think back, I was not aware of my speech impediment being related to my being bullied. In fact, I went into broadcasting as a career. Go figure.

What’s more, my Mom insisted I talk to everyone about themselves. I grew up asking people questions — my friends sometimes call it “interrogating.” My mother used to always tell me to “draw people out” whenever I had the opportunity. This would mean that if I ran into somebody I knew on the bus ride home from school, like our neighbor Mr. Lynch, who was a University of Toronto professor, I couldn’t just be shy and daydream. This nagging voice inside my head would urge me to go over and “get him talking.” When I was a bit older and feeling awkward going to teenage parties, Mom suggested I approach the most boring looking boy and start a conversation by “getting him talking about himself.” Hence, I have always been the one to ask the questions. Everybody has a story. And I became a reporter.

What I learned from this is that doing what you should do and not just what you want to do builds confidence which, in turn, helps provide a solid base for resiliency. I also understood early on that people like talking about themselves. If you want someone to like you, get ’em talkin’ about themselves.

Dad was a taskmaster — using my siblings and me as his workforce. He owned properties which he rented out and he always made us kids do the fixing up and the redecorating, such as painting and wallpapering. We did the cleaning too. Bathrooms became my specialty. I learned from this experience that a reliable roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic builds confidence in oneself and in those around you. Dad used to say, “Shoulders back and don’t mumble,” which at first blush may seem trite, but it’s true. My career as a journalist has reiterated how a strong stature and clear diction breeds self-confidence.

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) Take small steps. If a goal seems too overwhelming, consider tackling smaller challenges first:

I had a goal to run the New York Marathon, but it felt daunting. I had read a tiny blurb in The Globe and Mail about the Malta Marathon in Three Days, which entails three shorter runs to equal a 42 kilometer (26 miles) marathon over three days.

I rounded up a film crew (producer and shooter) and headed off to the tiny and very historical, Mediterranean island of Malta. Not only did I complete my first marathon, but I had a blast with the film crew and shot the first part of the pilot episode of “Body & Soul: Spiritual Awareness Through Physical Challenge.” This show explored the human spirit’s remarkable ability to overcome adversity — using the body to boost the mind.

The next year I ran the New York Marathon and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. My goal was to finish it in under four hours. My time? 3:56:11!

2) Learn from mistakes:

A year after my husband and brother died, I accepted an invitation from two colleagues to become a partner in a video production company. I contributed financially and worked hard as the executive producer for two years only to have my two partners call it quits. My money went down the drain. I felt taken advantage of and ripped off.

What I learned from this was that I should have given the initial investment more thought and been more assertive when my colleagues informed me of their decision to fold the company. I could have been more forceful and pursued running the company without them.

3) Keep your side of the street clean or accept your role in negative circumstances:

Scarlett magazine for the professional woman was a wild critical success. It was not a financial one. I was the managing editor and my colleague was in charge of sales. As near as I could tell, I was doing a stellar job and he was not, as it was not making money. I let the magazine fold and blamed my colleague.

What I realized, after the fact, with this experience was that I played a role in the financial failure of the publication. I could have taken off my editorial cap and tried on a sales’ one. I could have pursued ad revenue as well instead of thinking I was simply editorial and above all the messy dollars and cents stuff.

4) Accept and move on:

As it turned out, one of my teenage daughters was going through an extremely difficult time at this point, so it was important that I had the time to focus on her.

5) Build up your social support systems:

Research studies have shown that social support, or a significant caring other, are the best predictors of resilience. This is according to Dr. Jill Hayhurst from the University of Otago, New Zealand, who found in her research that encouraging feelings of self-efficacy “encouraged feelings of resilience.”

I have been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 2002 and believe that one of the reasons for its success is the resilience that the support group of similar suffering (and then thriving) individuals builds.

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. 🙂

In AA meetings I often hear the same reaction from newcomers when they do their first set of steps: “Everybody should do these steps, not just alcoholics.” The 12 Steps are grounding, have a profound effect on one’s outlook on life and keep your side of the street clean. They also rid one of nasty resentments, which are the root of much negativity. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if every adult would tackle these steps every few years. I have chosen to illustrate steps four to ten:

Step 4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves:

When I was working at the radio station hosting the early morning drive-time current affair show, I was also addicted to cocaine. I was a high-functioning alcoholic and drug addict. I only once snorted a line while at the station (in the bathroom). This was a huge source of shame and guilt. I wrote this down as one of my “wrongdoings.”

On a personal level I was consumed with shame and guilt for being an alcoholic and addicted mother for six years of my daughters’ upbringings.

These are just two examples of the lengthy list of wrongdoings in my fearless moral inventory.

Step 5) Admitted to God [or whatever higher power one believes in], to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs:

This is tough and terrifying, but when I released my demons in front of my sponsor I felt like John Coffey in The Green Mile when he lifts his head, opens his mouth and a torrent of tiny black insects fly out.

As a result, I felt light and liberated and truly understood, “and the truth shall set you free.” (Bible: John 8:31–32)

Steps 6 and 7) Were entirely ready to have God [or whatever higher power one believes in] remove all these defects of character [that were revealed in Steps 4 and 5], and humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others:

I set up a meeting with my former boss at CFUN Radio and apologized that “I was not in harmony with myself when I worked here.” He just looked confused and said, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. You were great.” But I felt relieved and grateful that I had addressed, and therefore released, my guilt and shame.

I apologized to my children for my stoned and drunken behavior of six years of their lives and continued (and continue to this day) making living amends by being a clean, sober and present mother.

Step 10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it:

This can be as simple as being crabby with the cashier at the checkout counter at the grocery store because there is a big lineup and you’re in a hurry. Before you leave the store, pause, think about what you’re going to say, turn to her/him and say, “I’m sorry I was rude. I know this is not your fault.”

This type of inventory taken on a regular basis clears the detritus from the brain and makes room for grace.

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. 🙂

Comedian, actor, author and former heroin addict Russell Brand of Take Him to the Greek (former husband of Katy Perry). Brand has channeled his considerable talents, brains and energy into advocating for mental health and drug rehabilitation. I absolutely love his cause, his personality, and particularly his irreverence (i.e., See Brand’s version of the 12 Steps of AA below), and I would love to ask him to read The Art of Losing It.

Day 1: Are You A Bit F*d?

Day 2: Could You Not Be F*d?

Day 3: Are you, on your own, going to ‘unf*’ yourself?

Day 4: Write down all the things that are f*ing you up or have ever f*d you up and don’t lie or leave anything out.

Day 5: Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how f*d you are.

Day 6: Well that’s revealed a lot of f*k up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?

Day 7: Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous f*d up stuff? You have to.

Day 8: Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so f*d up.

Day 9: Now apologize, unless that would make things worse.

Day 10: Watch out for f*d up thinking and behavior and be honest when it happens.

Day 11: Stay connected to your new perspective.

Day 12: Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.rosemarykeevil.com

– Facebook: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction

– LinkedIn: Rosemary Keevil

– Twitter: @RosemaryKeevil

– Instagram: rosemarykeevil

– Pinterest: rosemarykeevil


Author Rosemary Keevil: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do 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.

Wendy Barlin of About Profit: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Wendy Barlin of About Profit: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Set goals for your life and keep those goals front of mind. For me, this helps me get up when I am down. After leaving my six figure prestigious job, I knew I needed to rebuild my business in order to create a work life balance that would allow me to spend more time with my daughter.

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 Wendy Barlin, founder and CEO of About Profit.

As an author, professional speaker and business owner, Wendy Barlin is so much more than an accountant. Her expertise is advising people to better manage their money with easy to understand and implement financial strategies.

Wendy is committed to her clients’ success. Whether analyzing cash flow or projecting income taxes, she ensures that all financial decisions lead to achieving her client’s life goals.

A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Wendy fell in love with the sparkle of the City of Angels while backpacking around the world in her 20s, in search of her dreams.

Wendy is a frequent speaker at conferences and association meetings, is a member of the California Society of CPA’s and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and can also often be seen as an expert on ABC7 News, CBSN Los Angeles and in many written publications across the United States.

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 grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. I was the first in my family to finish college. After getting my Chartered Accounting license, I packed a bag and went backpacking around the world for a year. I landed in Los Angeles and fell in love with the excitement and possibilities in this city that I grew up seeing only on TV. Walking down Rodeo Drive felt surreal. As luck would have it, a friend in Sydney, Australia had given me a letter to deliver to her friend in Los Angeles. I called her and after chatting for a while, I said how lucky she was to live in this city. She asked what work I did and I said I was an accountant. Well imagine my surprise when she kindly made a few calls for me and I had 3 interviews in 3 days. I took a bus to Ross Dress for Less to buy myself appropriate interview clothes. Within a week I was offered a job. I called home and told my parents I was staying in Los Angeles. Can you imagine their reaction? All they knew about LA was what they had seen on TV, not always flattering news.

So I found a furnished room to rent and set about LA living! Today, twenty three years later, I have been married and divorced, bought and sold property and businesses and learned to navigate the American financial and tax systems. I still feel very blessed to be here!

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?

In 2010, I had been running my own tax business for three years, I was a single mom with a 3 year old toddler and I was tired and burnt out. I decided to sell my business and take a job with regular hours, a regular paycheck and benefits. I was actually pretty excited as the company I was going to work for was a prestigious business management firm in Beverly Hills. So every day I got all dressed up, dropped my daughter at pre school and headed into traffic for the better part of an hour. After two weeks, the novelty of the security of a job had worn off and I was miserable. I did not like having a boss, being told what to do and when to do it and the worst part was working with clients who I did not like or respect. Two weeks! I stuck it out for a whole year (I am not a quitter) before leaving to restart my business. I learned several things from this experience that I often share with my clients who reach a burnout point. One, take care of yourself first. Two, we are not all built to be employees just as we are not all built to be business owners. Know who you are, what you want and stick to that. Don’t get fooled into following the shiny object.

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

We are a subscription based blend of coach, consultant and tax preparers. Our focus is not just preparing a tax return once a year. Instead, we focus on meeting with clients throughout the year, working closely with them to create profitable and responsible businesses that give them joy and support their lifestyle choices. Clients come to us for tax help and then are thrilled when they realize we help with so much more. One of my favorite clients is a digital production company based in Virginia that came to us for tax advice. At the time they were at break even and loaded up with bank and credit card debt. Now, two years later, we have helped them extinguish their debt and turn profitable. This is our “why” as now their children enjoy time with parents who are not constantly stressed and emotionally unavailable.

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?

At the first accounting firm I worked at in Los Angeles, I met a couple who had moved to California from Canada. I worked with them to build their US based business and manage the cross border issues. When I left that firm and took another job, they came with me because of the trusted relationship we had built. They are still clients today but more than that, they became my family. I had no family here in Los Angeles. Harold and Erica supported me through my career choices, my divorce, raising my children and now reviewing my books before I publish them. I am ever grateful for their guidance and support.

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?

Resilience for me is getting up when you are down. Never giving up.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I believe resilient people are optimists. We can see the sunshine through the clouds. We are also tenacious and do not give up. We believe we can.

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

Nelson Mandela. I grew up in South Africa during Apartheid and then when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and became President. He showed us real resilience. He spent 25 years in prison and came out positive and optimistic and took the helm and never looked back.

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?

Yes! When I was in college in Cape Town, I used to dream about coming to live in America and my friends would laugh at me. During those times South Africa was closed off from the rest of the world, especially from the US. I never gave up. It was my dream.

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 2005, my husband and I sold everything. My business, our home, our cars and we packed up and moved to his small home town in southwestern Michigan near the Indiana border. We bought a blue collar bar and a home on the lake. I was excited for this new start. Sadly, after nine months, it all fell apart. The bar owner’s life was much harder than we imagined. I felt very alone. The final straw for me was when I found out that my husband had an affair with a bar patron. I packed my things and headed back to Los Angeles. I had to start all over again and rebuild my life. And rebuild my life I did. I rebuilt my business, I remarried and now have a wonderful husband, two healthy children and a dog.

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. Set goals for your life and keep those goals front of mind. For me, this helps me get up when I am down. After leaving my six figure prestigious job, I knew I needed to rebuild my business in order to create a work life balance that would allow me to spend more time with my daughter.
  2. Have a strong support team. Making the tough choices is much harder alone. My husband and I had to terminate a 20 week pregnancy. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done and with his support, I was able to get back up and be there for our daughter and my clients who all needed me.
  3. Have an outlet for negative feelings and experiences. My outlet used to be food, especially ice cream but as I have gotten older, I have learned to use healthier coping strategies and stress relievers. Now I use my Peloton Tread and spend thirty minutes journaling every day. When I first heard about how to journal as stress relief I thought it sounded quite silly but I decided to give it a try. It works! Writing it down all the negative and nasty thoughts in my head gets them out of my mind and my life. Then I rip the pages into tiny tiny pieces and bye bye negativity.
  4. Ask for help. This one is very difficult for me personally. I have always been very self sufficient and I used to think that asking for help is a weakness. Being a single mom was how I learned to ask for help. It was essential for me to reach out for help when I needed it. Now asking for help has become easier in both my professional and personal life. This is definitely a muscle that gets stronger the more we work at it.
  5. Take Action. I have found that just getting up and doing something changes my mood and helps me be resilient in a stressful situation. When my landlord threatened to double my office rent, I started making calls. Rather than sit at my desk in horror, I made phone calls to leasing agents, to colleagues and friends to understand the marketplace and what my choices may be. This action led me to resilience and back to optimism. Action changes up the stress dynamic for me.

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 teach and inspire young people to embrace their financial futures. To understand the role of money in their lives. Not to fear money or see money as a weapon. To create abundance and attract the money to their world that supports their life goals.

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.

Yes, Suze Orman! I have followed and read Suze’s work for many years and I have always respected her no nonsense approach to money. Telling people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. I use the same approach with my clients. Some tough love but always honest answers.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aboutprofitconsultant/

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wendybaboutprofitcom8-378683252763167/?__tn__=%2Cd-k-R&eid=ARCvZRqv371Ca_u3v-kEM8WuzLAK4x-KE5cOufK9SaYF2JnjIzDrm733_2TyccBPWrhg5jsv-w8Tx4Vx

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


Wendy Barlin of About Profit: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dan Cook of To the Point Collaborative: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Find out what your brand truly is. Sounds simple, right? But far too many companies confuse advertising with brand, sales with brand, profits with brand. Your brand is that chorus of all the voices talking about you in the marketplace. There are so many case studies of major companies that for years stumbled along not understanding how the public perceived their products. Then, they did the exhaustive research required to find that out. The winners course corrected. The losers can be found in bankruptcy court.

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

Dan Cook is a longtime journalist, with stops along his circuitous route at BusinessWeek, Knight Ridder, Newhouse Publications, American Lawyer Media, Reuters, Time, and various other journalistic weigh stations. For the past six years he has been a regular contributor to BenefitsPro.com, an online news service dedicated to the healthcare and insurance industries. He has written more than 2,000 articles for BenefitsPro and has an insanely detailed understanding of health insurance and healthcare reform. A Cleveland native and diehard Indians fan, he lives in Portland, OR.

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

My serendipitous introduction to the world of Wikipedia editing came when I was doing marcom work for a Portland tech startup, Pixetell. The founder desperately wanted to be included in Wikipedia and charged me with making it happen. I had no idea how to proceed. But I did have a friend, Pete Forsyth, who was among Wikipedia’s earliest volunteer editors. He had just started training people to edit Wikipedfia, and he took me on as a paying client. Together, we got the article up there. Even though the company is long gone, Pixetell remains on Wikipedia! Subsequently, Pete and I started working together as Wikipedia consultants.

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 made so many mistakes as I learned the ropes of Wikipedia editing! It is a very precise discipline, practiced by very precise people. My first big mistake that got outside the office was telling a couple of people I shared space with that I’d “get them on Wikipedia.” (Ha-ha! That’s not how it works, folks.) These were two pretty good friends of mine, and when I went to post the articles, they both got shot down by the volunteer community post haste.

This was years ago. But what I learned from that was I better memorize the guidelines for adding new articles to Wikipedia and get a solid understanding of Wikipedia’s definition of notability — the very thing that qualifies a subject for an article. Boiled down, the lesson was: Do you homework before you promise something you can’t deliver.

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

What makes us stand out is our knowledge of the rules of Wikipedia editing, and the culture of this open source space. We know how to work with volunteers so they will review our edit requests objectively but with an eye to helping us improve articles. The public relations person of a major metropoiitan public school system asked for help in editing the new superintendent’s article in Wikipedia. We spent time seeking out thoughtful editors who specialized in improving public school articles and found a match for our client. She was able to effectively update and improve the superintendent’s article with the help of the volunteer, who still maintains that article and keeps it up to date.

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

We recently launched a free webinar series designed to educate public relations, branding, and marketing professionals in how to offer Wikipedia article editing services to their clients. In the current uncertain economy, article editing is a great way to add a new revenue stream for these firms while positioning their clients better in the marketplace. We had so much fun planning and scripting the webinar and promoting it mainly through LinkedIn video ads! It helps us because p.r. firms are our ideal clients, and it helps the firms because they add revenue and can basically white label our services as their own.

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?

Advertising content is completely within your control. Branding elements can range all over the map, and it’s up to you the brand manager to manage them so the messages are consistent.

Wikipedia is a great example of branding vs. advertising. Wikipedia rules prohibit any hint of advertising speak in an article, and any p.r. or marketing person who tries to add blatant marketing language to an article may well be banned from editing forever.

BUT, a paid editor who understands Wikipedia’s rules of engagement can manage an article for a client. The article will never be under your control. But you can influence what is in there by working effectively with the volunteer community. And because people trust what they read on Wikipedia, a well-done article that is honest, accurate, well sourced, and up to date has more influence that most advertising vehicles.

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?

Your brand is a collaboration between you, the brand manager, and everyone else who touches the company. That includes customers, employees and ex-employees, leadership, the media, your business partners. And anyone who visits or edits your Wikipedia article — even competitors.

Your brand is the chatter these parties create about you in the marketplace. You can create the messaging you prefer, but you can only manage, not control, your brand once it leaves your advertising/marketing platforms.

Brands must be cultivated, nurtured, monitored, discussed. Advertising is easy compared to managing social media chatter, Wikipedia content, Yelp! Reviews, and what competitors and critics say about you. But advertising is seen as the company’s viewpoint only. No one is fooled that it is the whole story. That’s why non-advertising elements, like Wikipedia, are so vital to success in the marketplace. These other voices outside of the advertising world, form a chorus that adds up to credibility in the minds of your potential customers, clients, employees, potential investors, and partners.

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. Find out what your brand truly is. Sounds simple, right? But far too many companies confuse advertising with brand, sales with brand, profits with brand. Your brand is that chorus of all the voices talking about you in the marketplace. There are so many case studies of major companies that for years stumbled along not understanding how the public perceived their products. Then, they did the exhaustive research required to find that out. The winners course corrected. The losers can be found in bankruptcy court.
  2. I’ll give you an example of discovering your brand. My company was promoting Wikipedia consulting with LinkedIn video ads. But we were not yet getting our ideal clients. The ads were getting plenty of views and we were getting inquiries. Just not the right ones. So, we started a 6-month campaign of dueling video ads. We would use two ads with essentilly the same message, one targeing one specific LinkedIn audience, the second another. We tested positively phrased (you can enhance your client’s brand) and negatively phrased (have you tried and failed at Wikipedia editing?) messages against one another. We kept the same spokesperson, only varied the length a bit, and tested other variables. Finally, we found the sweet spot — public relations agencies with multiple clients who already had Wikipedia pages, rather than fairly unknown folks who wanted an article of their own. But we had to suspend our original beliefs about the type of clients our messaging would attract. Now, we are getting those ideal client inquiries.
  3. Understand the difference between managing and controlling your brand. If you are a small business, you should probably spend 80% of your time managing your brand, and the other 20% on advertising and messaging that you create. Too many small-to-mid-sized businesses agonize over the content on their website, their blog posts, their newsletters, and don’t pay enough attention to their perception in the chatter world. Craft your key messages, choose your key words, create your ads (wherever you are placing them), get them out there and leave them alone. Turn your attention to where your brand is being discussed, join the discussion, and start managing, listening, and course correcting. Once you have a consistent strategy for identifying your brand and being part of it, you can go back to your ads and revise them accordingly.
  4. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of a lost opportunity for those who have an article. (Don’t try to write a new one without an expert’s help! That’s a rabbit hole with a dead end if you aren’t an expert.) People think they can’t control what’s in an article about themselves or their company. If you know the rules of Wikipedia editing, you know that you can influence what’s there. The telecommunications giant Vonage is among the companies we have worked with to manage their Wikipedia article. Over a period of about a year, a staff person was trained by us and went on to update all the information on the page, have old stuff removed, and correct negative information about Vonage that simply was not substantiated. But she knew the rules of engagement and, by following them, improved the company’s brand messaging, and added a powerful new skill to her already impressive skill set.
  5. Never argue with the chatter world about your brand. Ignore, or listen and learn. When managing your brand, it never pays to get into a fight with a critic. You cannot control what they are saying about you. But you can amplify the negativity by arguing with them.

Critics fall into 3 categories:

  • ‘The Haters’ — Unhappy customers, ex-employees, or clients: They don’t like you and/or your products and will NEVER change their minds about you. They want to hurt you and engaging with them accomplishes that. It makes you look small and petty and, generally, wrong.
  • ‘The Trolls’ –attention seekers: These are critics who just like attention or want to stir up trouble. They don’t care about you or your product. They just want to get a reaction. If you’ve raised children, you are familiar with this tactic. How well did it work out to fight with your kids?
  • ‘The Lovable Critics’ who want to help you: These are people who truly have your best interest at heart, and are expressing it by saying, “Hey, you are getting this thing over here wrong. Please fix it!” These are the folks you listen to, learn from, and send coupons, free products, and holiday boxes of sweets to. Then, immediately put them on your priority email list.

Lesson: When someone attacks you — justifiably or not — listen, and either respond positively, or let it go. If you can’t learn from your critics, don’t fight with them.

Restaurateurs who battle with authors of poor reviews are a prime example of poor brand management. One Mexican themed restaurant in town became so fixated on negative reviews on Yelp! that they overlooked two key points: 1) Many of the critics had received either poor service or food and were noting an inconsistently in the delivery of the product; 2) their loyal customer base was so strong that they were able to open two new locations that were thriving during COVID. The owner complained to me bitterly about the negative reviews, thus amplifying them. She also complained that satisfied customers were not writing positive reviews. Who care?? Pay attention to what the critics are saying, and fix that. And don’t hassle your loyal customers to stop what they’re doing — enjoying your food — and write something on Yelp!

  1. Manage the elements that matter most to your brand. As noted above, I would focus most of my resources on managing those brand elements that cannot be directly controlled. But know where the discussion about your brand is worth managing, and where you are wasting too many resources on too few influencers. When small-to-mid-sized companies “discover” branding, they tend to launch into a frenzied assault across all platforms. OMG — what are we saying on Twitter? Are we on Instagram yet? Has that new landing page on the website been finished? When do we launch our first webinar? Generally, these companies have not tested ANY of those platforms except randomly. Platform response varies greatly depending upon the product or service you offer. For instance, if you are offering content management services, there’s only so much Instagram can do to help boost sales. You need to be where eyeballs searching for content creators lurk — and nowhere else. Unless you have unlimited marketing resources, you need to thoughtfully choose the platforms you will monitor and engage in. Would you continue to spend advertising dollars on a medium that was producing no conversions? No. Apply the same test to platforms where you manage the discussion rather than control the content. If your target audiences are not there, don’t waste resources on it.
  2. Early on in our Wikipedia consulting, we test marketed several industries, included the health care and credit union industries. We were getting nowhere, even with companies whose Wikipedia articles were in terrible shape. Finally, a credit union executive flipped on the light switch for us. “Credit unions are essentially locally based with local customers. We would rather spend our marketig dollars on billboards, radio, TV, and online ads, and local sponsorships, than Wikipedia.” The same was true of most healthcare systems: They were essentially local, often without a lot of competition, and a well-done Wikipedia article was not going to drive a lot of business their way.
  3. Make sure your advertising messaging accurately reflects your brand reputation in the marketplace. You can totally control your advertising content, so make sure you revise it based on what you learn about your brand from the chatter world. For example, if your advertising campaign is based on being the low-cost solution when people in the chatter world are praising your quality, it’s time to switch that message — and raise prices. If Millennials online are embracing you but your ads target Baby Boomers, it’s time to revise the message. Never stick with an advertising campaign that is out of synch with what people are actually saying about you. Even ongoing strong sales can be misleading. Especially if your direct competitor makes the shift first.
  4. The U.S. auto makers were woefully bad at doing that during the 1980s when the Japanese and German car builders ate their lunch. U.S. auto makers were still promoting big, sleek cars with lots of comfort features. The Japanese and Germans talked about economy, quality, durability, performance. The U.S. makers were still selling planned obsolescence. The foreign car makers knew from research that consumers wanted vehicles that lasted and spent little time in the shop.

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?

Oregon Humane Society (OHS) is my all-time favorite. Under the long-time direction of Sharon Harmon, her assembled marketing team has consistently striven to anticipate what folks wanted and expected of the organization. I served on the board of trustees for four years and got an inside look at how the entire team stays focused on its goal: 100% of all animals adopted out. It seemed like an impossible goal, but each year they get closer. Dogs are already at 100%, cats around 80%.

What impresses me is the way they don’t just come up with campaign slogans, they develop campaigns with themes that evolve one to the next. They never rest on their past triumphs, always pushing for higher goals. When they were unhappy because pit bulls had to be put down, they launched a campaign to build an animal retraining center. Now, pit bulls are adopted out regularly.

OHS combines active listening with actionable strategies to build community and consensus as they redefine what it means to be an animal shelter. Their brand is “We love animals and we want them all to have good homes.” And that guides everything they do.

Duplicating such an awesome organization requires:

  • Strong, innovative leadership
  • Experienced and driven marketing team
  • Clearly defined mission and goals
  • Deep ties to the community and a commitment to meeting community expectations.

It can be done. You just don’t see that kind of commitment to excellence very often (or maybe not often enough).

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?

Lots of folks have attempted to quantify branding. You have social media metrics, website metrics, funds raised, or volunteers recruited. The list of metrics that we are told will justify our brand spending is a long and changing one.

But a branding campaign, vs. an advertising campaign cannot be evaluated in 3,6,9 or 12-month segments. If you chart where key numbers are at the start of a new branding initiative, you should be able to see a shift taking place over time in sales, profits, new client acquisitions, online conversions, employee retention, employee satisfaction survey results, visits to the pages you want people to visit on your website, and so on. But managing a brand’s reputation so that it moves in a certain direction takes time, patience, persistence, and a willingness to change direction based on the chorus in the chatter world about you.

An ad campaign may help sell more cars or attract more clients. But when you are creating a reputation for your company, you are selling your organization. If the brand is strong, you should be able to release completely new product lines or offer new services, and the strength of your brand will ensure that they succeed. The purchaser is buying your good name, not responding to an ad.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

That depends on the line of business. Fot Wikipedia consuiting, we are all LinkedIn, all the time. That’s where our ideal clients (p.r. agencies) live. And by joining targeted LinkedIn groups, we can reach a much broader audience than the other platforms. We do not want Facebook or Twitter traffic; too random and individual. For our design/communications services, we use all available platforms. Social media’s role in our promotion is growing as we focus our services and better define our ideal clients. While LinkedIn is still a good platform, many nonprofits are active on Twitter, Facebook and, more increasingly Instagram. So, we need to be active there.

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

Two key pieces:

Identify your ideal client, then go after only that client. And do the work that feeds you, that challenges you, that brings you into daily contact with the kind of people you love. You will never be burned out if you follow those rules. (Note: Easy to say, harder to follow!)

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 movement would require our healthcare system to guarantee equal access to preventative medical care services for everyone in the country, whether they can afford it or not, or are here legally or not. Right now, Obamacare says basic services must be offered at no cost to Americans. But, due to lack of true access to healthcare, millions go without the care that would ensure a much healthier life in the future. This would not only benefit those individuals that cannot access health services, but it would create a stronger, healthier, more vibrant U.S. Such a movement would threaten many in the healthcare industry, from insurers to Big Pharma to specialists to developers of new medical products. They all benefit from an unhealthy population. But it is morally and ethically wrong for that to be the case.

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

Easy one: Soar with your strengths. From the book of the same title by Don Clifton and Paula Nelson. I learned this one at an American City Business Journal editors retreat. Changed my management style and my life. At the time, I was spending more time trying to fix struggling employees than encouraging my stars to be all-stars. Once I realized the flaw in that behavior, our newsroom production truly did soar. And I stopped spending so much time working on my personal flaws and more time building out my personal strengths.

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. 🙂

So many. But if I had to choose one, I would choose one couple. I would love to cook up a big brunch for the Obamas and just listen to their life stories.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You’ll find me mostly on LinkedIn but also Notfedupdan on Instagram and #notfedup on Twitter. Dan Cook on Facebook.

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


Dan Cook of To the Point Collaborative: Five Things You Need 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.

The Future Is Now: “The Next-Level of Inter-Device Connectivity” with Coy Christmas of Fasetto

Our core technology is called Gravity. It’s a software architecture that adds intelligence to any network. It enables hyper-connectivity capabilities to the devices it’s installed within and enhances the way they work together — Gravity devices require no router or internet to communicate. So within this self-aware, localized network, devices can share resources like cameras, displays, and even processing power!

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Coy Christmas.

Coy is co-founder and CEO of Fasetto. Getting his start as a serial entrepreneur in the gaming industry, Coy grew successful companies that created sought-after products that sold at Walmart, Best Buy, and GameStop. Coy’s passionate commitment to creating seamless connectivity between people, their content, and their devices — led to the creation of Fasetto in 2013. Currently, Fasetto’s core technology is Gravity, a software architecture that adds intelligence to networks, which will usher in an unprecedented standard in how devices will work together. When Coy’s not busy orchestrating a seismic change — he can be found in Scottsdale, AZ spending time with friends and family or racing cars at professional tracks around the country.

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’ve been entrepreneurial for about as long as I can remember. I was in the gaming industry for most of my younger life and had built and sold a few successful companies. I love the rush of discovering something new, and to watch how ideas evolve and grow.

I didn’t start out with any intention of having a company like Fasetto, but we started with a really viable platform idea for the education industry, which then led us to focus our business efforts within the cloud storage space. As much larger companies dominated the market like Dropbox, Box, Apple, etc, we made the conscious decision to start looking at storage and communication solutions between devices from a local level. And that’s where we are today. All of us at Fasetto — and especially me — get a great joy out of the challenge of achieving something no one else has made.

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

One time I had a meeting with a series of potential investors in the Netherlands. I met with one investor who was really, really wealthy. And his office was located above a public zoo. His specific office was exactly above the gorilla exhibit that had a few insanely huge silverback gorillas. There was a huge treasure chest in the middle of his office and when you opened it up and looked down, you could see them down there and you could throw some food down to them via a tube. It was like something right out of a 007 movie. And it smelled… like the zoo. The places you find looking for funding can lead you to some really interesting situations. So, my advice is to just keep your eyes and ears open.

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

Our core technology is called Gravity. It’s a software architecture that adds intelligence to any network. It enables hyper-connectivity capabilities to the devices it’s installed within and enhances the way they work together — Gravity devices require no router or internet to communicate. So within this self-aware, localized network, devices can share resources like cameras, displays, and even processing power! With our APIs one can then create amazing ways for devices to work within the same connected experience. Gravity is going to lead the way for the next-level of inter-device connectivity.

How do you think this might change the world?

I believe we are bringing the clearest idea of IoT to the world — but removing the lag, security risk, and dependency of the internet to operate. By creating an ad-hoc, localized network of devices that can share resources, you can leverage all the resources of the device network in new ways you never could before. You can give smart processing power to simple, connectivity devices that don’t currently have it. You can take a video call on your TV and your phone can act as the microphone. And Gravity doesn’t stop by connecting only two devices, it can enable 3–4 or more devices to work together simultaneously. Developers will create things they could have never dreamed of because they’ve never had genius-like devices that could do this.

Smarter travel, cars, homes, manufacturing — Gravity enables all that in ways we have yet to imagine, but we can do it in a more secure way without the internet and with so much more flexibility than what’s emerging today.

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

With every new influential technology that gains mass adoption, there will always be someone that will find ways to use it in an unethical way. Gravity can move content around between devices so freely, that we’ll have to work very closely with manufacturers and developers to find those privacy safeguards and mechanisms to keep data private for those who want to.

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

It was a really simple use case that made me arrive at the Gravity solution, and I think it’s a use case that frustrates anyone that has multiple devices. I was riding in a cab with one of my partners at the time, and we had no internet, no LTE or 4G. We were speeding to a meeting and I needed to get a file from my phone to his laptop. We were only sitting one-foot away from each other. And I didn’t have a thumb drive, either. And it struck me — between the two of us, we have two devices that both have antennas and receivers, they both have connection capabilities, but here we were unable to share a file. We simply wanted to move my content from one machine to another. Shouldn’t be that hard should it?

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

We want to get Gravity into as many devices as we can. The best device form factor to do this is the smartphone. The smartphone is the device everyone owns and is the lead device that has birthed so many other solutions like apps and ancillary devices like Bluetooth speakers, smart thermostats, etc.

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

We’re finding that creating our own use-cases for Gravity works best to help illustrate the capabilities. We’ve created three unique software engines that are intended to work at the native-level of a device OS — a data-sharing engine code-named Zodiac; Aquarius — a unique video engine that allows one to access another device’s camera and add it to their own video to create multi-angled videos; and Gemini — a video-sharing engine that allows you to share videos with others without the internet. We have more coming out that I’m really excited about, too.

We also maintain a big annual presence at CES every year and also leak things out gorilla style on Reddit and other social channels.

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 about that?

It’s not just one person, but many people. You can’t achieve success unless you have help. You can put in the long hours and the dedication, but you need someone to confide in. This road can be stressful and expensive. I’d have to say if it wasn’t for every single one of my investors, we wouldn’t be here. They’ve given me the freedom to let me run the company, execute the vision, support us and not put incredibly restrictive terms on what we’re doing. It’s a great relationship to have. If the investment terms are too restrictive that you might get from VC, even-though the funding is awesome, you can lose the initial vision of the company. We’re really fortunate to have the investors we have.

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

Yes, of course. As a CEO, I believe I have responsibility to my employees and their families. I want to bring a culture of caring to our business and want my employees to feel if they need something, they can ask the company for help. I also care a lot about education, so we offer our Forum product to schools for free, which works great in older-aged classrooms.

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

Here are my five:

  1. It will take longer. Nothing works the way you put it down on paper. It always takes longer than you want it to. Always.
  2. It will cost you double. Whatever you think your budget is, it will cost you double or more. There are so many unknown costs along the way. Or something doesn’t come out right and you have to do it again, etc.
  3. Try to balance and prioritize. This is not always a sprint, you have to have ebbs and flows in your business so you can take time to reflect and know how to move ahead.
  4. Read the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Amazing book.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t cut your nose to spite your face. If you think you’ll always have to say yes, you might get something in the short term, but it could be sacrificing the long-term vision.

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 movement to bring coding as part of the core curriculum to schools. It’s a new language and is fundamental to the future. It should be taught like Spanish or a second language. And every child should have the opportunity to learn it. With the hardware and software capabilities we have today, I really believe our only limit is our imagination.

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

I have two sayings that guide me in life. The first one is, always treat others the way you want to be treated. I even have it tattooed on my arm as a reminder. It’s not because you’re expecting something in return, it’s just the moral thing to do. Always take the high road. It’s difficult in business, because morality doesn’t always work in business, but I’ve found it’s worked for me over and over. The other is don’t ever quit. It always gets tough, but those tough times build character and so you keep pushing. It’s not always the most talented that win, but those with the most tenacity.

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 electronics industry is stale. No one is lining up to buy new devices like years ago. Phones are just making incremental improvements in camera, battery, and resolution. There are no seismic changes. But Gravity is that change. Gravity adds intelligence to Wi-Fi between devices so they can do more together than ever before. TVs will interact with phones like never before. Devices will interact with your car like never before. Gravity adds intelligence before and after the transmission. Gravity is the future and I’m excited to get there.


The Future Is Now: “The Next-Level of Inter-Device Connectivity” with Coy Christmas of Fasetto 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: “Wearable tech that reminds you to maintain Social Distancing” with Rob Hruskoci

The Future Is Now: “Wearable tech that reminds you to maintain Social Distancing” with Rob Hruskoci of Advanced Industrial Marketing

In the short-term future, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, so it is emphasized with urgency every day that the best course of action is social distancing. Our product is a reminder, allowing you to maintain social distancing status at all times. The EGOpro Active Tag uses UWB technology to maintain CDC recommended guidelines to send a vibration to alert both tags, and the people wearing them, of a breach in social distancing. Ideal for factories, warehouses and construction sites where it is difficult to measure the minimum distance between employees, it has everyday applications for retail and is even being used in a museum setting.

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

Rob Hruskoci is the owner and CEO of Advanced Industrial Marketing (AIM). With more than 22 years of experience in the industry and an educational background in engineering from Purdue University, he understands the needs of his clients’ business and brings unique technology solutions to market.

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 founded Advanced Industrial Marketing because I identified a need to bring professional sales and expertise into the industrial environment. We specialize in higher tech products, and by utilizing my engineering degree from my undergraduate education, I was able to help bring these high tech products into the industrial space. Over time we have transformed into material handling specialists. We have a suite of products that we offer to improve the safety and efficiency of material handling operations and proximity detection. Up until March, no one considered the need for human-to-human protective technology. We’ve since evolved our traditional product and morphed into a people-to-people detection system in this new world of social distancing.

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

One of the most interesting things that has happened to me in my career was discovering the need for my expertise across the pond. I never really set out to do sales and marketing of unique technology from Europe like AME; however, when we started getting into the international market, I discovered a huge need. It can be difficult to bring European products to the US market, but I am always up for a challenge. The expertise and knowledge that I have has directly translated into solutions of the problems my clients face. Expanding AIM’s horizons led to working with innovative partners with unique technologies. With my business located in Indiana, I never expected to be working with people across the world.

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

In the short-term future, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, so it is emphasized with urgency every day that the best course of action is social distancing. Our product is a reminder, allowing you to maintain social distancing status at all times. The EGOpro Active Tag uses UWB technology to maintain CDC recommended guidelines to send a vibration to alert both tags, and the people wearing them, of a breach in social distancing. Ideal for factories, warehouses and construction sites where it is difficult to measure the minimum distance between employees, it has everyday applications for retail and is even being used in a museum setting. We can contribute to keeping the numbers down. If everyone were to have a product like this, it would ensure that people adhere to social distancing guidelines and therefore keep people safe.

How do you think this might change the world?

In the new era of social distancing, this could be a long-term solution in order to reopen the country and ensure safety.

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

This is best of class technology. It uses a UWB frequency band that allows for very fast and very precise positioning as well as secure communication. Even with a full suite of contact-tracing products, the data that is being transmitted is private and extremely secure. The frequency that we are transmitting it on is hard to crack and is not like WiFi or Bluetooth. Our people-counting device, LASE PeCo, counts the number of people simply by calculating the height of people, but there are no other identifying factors. The device can distinguish between an adult, child and a shopping cart by inputting the suggested height of an adult and a suggested height of a child. It is not a security camera or system, but a people counter.

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

We were already in the business of proximity detection, protecting people from machinery in the workplace. Heavy machinery is often one of the leading causes of injury/death in a work setting. Now, there is a new danger. The virus has changed the way we operate in our daily lives. We were already experts in proximity detection and with social distancing in full swing, a safe distance between individuals is key to preventing the spread of the virus. This unexpected circumstance led us to reconfigure the system to do people-to-people detection as well. We are using the same core technology, and by innovating with the current times, have been able to come up with a solution to this new problem.

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

What we need is the acceptance of the market to invest in this technology. The virus is not going away, and social distancing is part of our future. Relying on people to always maintain social distancing is not going to suffice. The acceptable, reliable measures are low-cost solutions. Our technology can protect people from transmitting the virus and therefore keep numbers down. We need acceptance and willingness to adhere to social distancing.

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?

When I started this business, I had a partner along the way who really had bigger ambitions. At the time, he was talking about using our expertise to find partners in Europe and across the world and bring their technology to the USA even though I didn’t think we were ready for it. He was always confident this was the direction we should take the company. He was the motivator behind the turning point for the company. He is no longer with the organization anymore but we are still good friends and I talk frequently about the journey and how his guidance has transformed the company and helped me to see the bigger picture.

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

Our technology is being deployed in mostly industrial situations. The material handling in these areas are very dangerous. As we know, it is one of the leading causes of fatalities in most industries. It is always in the top 10 of OSHA violations. Material handling in the industry is a dangerous thing. We are helping companies realize that with the adoption of this technology we can improve the safety and therefore keep employees safe. We have taken our expertise and knowledge from proximity detection and transformed it into social distancing. Following guidelines from the CDC and World Health Organization, we are trying to keep people at a safe distance. We are alerting them that social distancing has been violated. We are taking the key safety message and adapting it into this new COVID world.

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 is ok to say no. Instead of forcing our solutions into applications that aren’t a fit, we have tried to “make” things work just to satisfy a customer. These never turn out well and often lead to unhappy customers. As hard as it is, it’s much easier to tell a customer no, we can’t offer a solution to you at this time.

2. Leadership styles matter. Different people in your organization need different things. How you lead them is key to your company’s success. One needs to recognize the individual’s needs and adjust accordingly.

3. Hire experts to help build your company. I am not an expert at everything. It’s perfectly fine to hire people to do work for you. In the long run, it ends up saving time, money and your company can grow from the input that these experts can provide.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most things that I worry about never happen. Don’t waste time and energy on them!

5. Learn to delegate. I have hired people in my organization who are talented. I need to rely on their talents more and give them key positions in projects across the company.

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

“Lewis and Clark were lost most of the time; If your idea of exploration is to always know where you are going, and staying inside your zone of competence, you don’t do wild new shit. You have to be confused, upset, think you’re stupid. If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t go outside of the box” Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft.

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 🙂

Our social distancing technology was developed by engineers who have been doing proximity detection for the last 20 years. Keeping people safely away from objects is nothing new to us. Using that expertise we have developed a technology that is incredibly reliable, extremely fast and precise. Most importantly, it is secure from a data perspective. This technology is unmatched across the world as far as what we can offer in our light and our contact tracing which can lead to people counting, managing people in areas and alerting authorities to violations. I think the key thing to remember is that our technology can apply to several aspects. We can use that same technology to do people-to-machine, man-to-machine and now people-to-people. We are one of the only companies in the world that has the technology to adapt for an advanced feature down the road.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.advindmktg.com/


The Future Is Now: “Wearable tech that reminds you to maintain Social Distancing” with Rob Hruskoci was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Candace Nicolls of Snagajob: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Collaboration challenges. How often have you stood with your team around a white board, or had a stand up by your desks? These things can be replicated with online tools, but getting the hang of moving to online collaboration, especially when one person might have internet issues, another is wrangling a toddler, and another is trying to keep their dog from barking, can be tricky.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candace Nicolls, Senior Vice President of People and Workplace at Snagajob, where she leads talent acquisition, human resources, HR compliance, training and development, employee engagement, community support and facilities management. With more than 20 years of experience in talent management and acquisition, Candace is passionate about providing an awesome candidate experience. Candace is active with many of Snagajob’s community partners, including Rebuilding Together Richmond, Junior Achievement, Special Olympics Virginia, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond, where she sits on the Board of Directors. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Candace holds SPHR, SRHM and SCP certifications.

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

I sort of fell into this field, not unlike a lot of people I know in recruiting or HR. Shortly after graduating college, I moved to a new city where positions in my somewhat obscure degree field were non-existent. I registered with a temporary service, and my second assignment was in their office… and I didn’t leave for 6 ½ years. I was able to move from a receptionist to a recruiter, and as my career progressed with other companies, I was able to concentrate on technical recruiting and management, which eventually brought me to Snagajob. An entire company dedicated to helping people find their right fit position sounded like the perfect place for me! A couple of years after I started here, I had the opportunity to move into a hybrid HR/recruiting management role, and as we grew, so did my responsibilities and our team. I joined Snagajob’s executive team in November of 2018, and here we are!

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

Many, many years ago, a leader at the company I was with introduced me to the concept of “raving fans”- creating incredible experiences so you don’t just build customers, you build advocates. That was a real light bulb moment for me, and I’ve tried to approach a career that’s based on interactions with others this same way- you really have to differentiate yourself in today’s competitive talent world and relationship-building is a fantastic way to do so. This concept is really what makes great employer brands stand apart, too. I’m constantly amazed at how small the world is- you meet so many people in this industry, and I’ll still bump into people I met 15 years ago who remember me. It really emphasizes the importance of making sure you treat people not just with kindness, but that they really feel like you’ve done your best for them.

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?

It’s been a long time since I was first starting! Most of the mistakes I can think of were more cringe-worthy than funny, and typically involved sending someone with the wrong skill set or attire to a customer site when I was in staffing.

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

As the leader in your organization, remember that your actions set the tone for everyone below you. You need to project the right balance of realism, optimism, empathy, and inspiration, especially in times of crisis. You need to clearly communicate what you’re seeing that impacts the organization and how you’re making decisions. You need to embrace flexibility, push leaders to embrace flexibility, and recognize the work that people are doing while they’ve got unprecedented macro impacts weighing on them. This is also the time when focus and prioritization are more important than ever. You’ll probably need to pivot what your organization is doing, so making sure people understand what you have to accomplish, and by when, matters immensely so they aren’t doing throwaway work. You need to encourage people to step away, or even better, understand the pressure people may be under and look at new opportunities to implement innovative solutions, like giving the entire company the day off. Take the time to really understand where people are and where they’re coming from, and adapt your message if needed.

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 had at least one person on my team in a geographically different location than me off and on for about sixteen 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 definitely some traps that managers can fall into if they’re not careful when they first start managing a remote team:

  1. If I can’t see you, how do I know you’re working? This is probably the most important one to squash. If companies aren’t used to working remotely, and especially if there’s not a relationship of trust that’s been built between manager and employee, a dynamic of micro-management can quickly evolve.
  2. Access to information. When we’re in offices, we pass each other in the halls and share information. We linger after meetings and have carry over conversations. We swing by someone’s desk to see if they can help with something. When everyone’s remote, these things aren’t possible, so information must be intentionally shared.
  3. Assignments may not be clear. Everyone needs to understand what they’re supposed to be doing, and that’s even more critical when working from home. If someone is used to standing up and asking a colleague a clarifying question, the lack of ability to do that might leave someone in limbo if they’re not sure how to do something.
  4. Lack of connectedness. Generally, people have friends at work, and getting to work with them is a big part of why people enjoy their jobs. Personal conversations and connection are a big part of what makes people productive, and missing out on that together time can lead to feelings of isolation or loss (on top of everything else remote workers are dealing with right now).
  5. Collaboration challenges. How often have you stood with your team around a white board, or had a stand up by your desks? These things can be replicated with online tools, but getting the hang of moving to online collaboration, especially when one person might have internet issues, another is wrangling a toddler, and another is trying to keep their dog from barking, can be tricky.

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

Fortunately, there are LOTS of things you can do to make sure you’re leading your remote teams successfully:

Overcommunicate: When in doubt, assume more is more. Context is really important, so make sure you’re talking about what you’re seeing, why you’re making decisions, and share REAL data. Use the right tool for the right job, especially if you’ve got lots of communication channels where people can find info- make it easy for people to find the answers they’re looking for.

Establish clear objectives: Priorities matter more than ever before, so make sure your remote teams know that they need to accomplish. Tie the work they’re doing into the overarching objectives of the organization, and make sure everyone knows what success looks like. Now is not the time to be vague- make sure deadlines are clear, and that everyone knows where and who to go to if they need help.

Celebrate wins and give recognition: We get it- there’s a lot going on, and there’s a lot that has people on edge. That’s why now is the perfect time to make sure you’re celebrating success. If someone is working hard, and is knocking it out of the park, let everyone know that! Make it real, make it specific, and tailor it to the individual. No win is too small!

Check in: Take the time to check in on your people as, well, people. Schedule virtual coffee with them, or make sure you’re taking time during each of their 1:1s to talk about how they actually are. Make sure you’re still talking about individual development, and how you can help someone achieve that next level of success (maybe even while letting them know it’s fine when their toddler joins your team meetings).

Help your team connect: Find ways to make sure your team- whether that’s your specific team or your whole company- are staying in touch. It doesn’t need to be a virtual happy hour- maybe it’s a QBR where everyone gets to show off what they did the previous quarter. Maybe it’s an open virtual meeting where anyone can pop in and say hello or ask for help on something. Maybe it’s a personalized Slack channel where only talking in gifs is allowed. Get creative, and ask your team! There’s probably a way for people to stay connected and successful that you’ve not even thought of.

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?

There are so many great options for video conferencing that it’s easier than ever to give someone meaningful feedback, regardless as to whether or not they’re in the same room as you. I’m a big proponent of avoiding the “feedback sandwich”, where you hide constructive feedback within two pieces of praise. Instead, there are a couple of key things to keep in mind- first, make it timely. When you see an opportunity to give feedback, do it. Waiting a couple of weeks until your next check in makes it really difficult to be impactful. Second, make sure you’re focusing on what happened and the impact it had, NOT why you think someone did it. We’re big fans of Kim Scott’s approach outlined in Radical Candor. This way, the person understands how the action was interpreted and the resulting outcomes- it doesn’t get perceived as a judgement call against the person that you’re trying to give this feedback to. Ultimately, feedback is a gift, and you want to make sure you’re delivering it in a way that ensures the person on the receiving end understands this is to help them improve.

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

If possible, don’t! Feedback is almost always better delivered by an actual conversation. If this is the first time you’re giving someone feedback on a particular area, you really have to give that “in person”, so ideally on video chat, but at least by phone call. Sharing it over email doesn’t guarantee that the right sentiment or context will come through, so it could come across as discipline instead of feedback. If you need to give feedback on something that you’ve already discussed, and an in person conversation isn’t possible to have quickly, sharing the situation by email, referencing the conversations you’ve already had about that topic, can be a bridge until your next 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 really important to remember that we’ve not all just shifted to working remotely- we’ve all shifted to working from our homes because there’s a global pandemic that’s forced us to. Normal expectations around finding a quiet space away from your kids or pets are no longer realistic, so we all have to reset our expectations of what work looks like right now. If you’re not willing to be flexible on hours, or dress codes, or having kids sometimes crash your meetings, you’re not enabling your employees to be productive. That being said, establishing SOME norms is important. You want to make sure people know where to go for certain types of resources or communications. Do you prefer everyone have their camera on during video calls? Say so! Setting those guidelines as early as possible will help ensure you’re putting the right level of structure into your work.

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?

If you don’t already have a culture that’s healthy and empowering, it’s not going to suddenly manifest when everyone is remote. If you’ve got a culture that’s thriving, it’s more important than ever to really lean into your mission and core values. Think about the norms that are important to your company, and how you can modify them to everyone being remote. Rituals matter- don’t let them get forgotten just because you’re not all together. If you have a company meeting every Thursday, for example, don’t stop doing those! It’s also a great time to think about how to transfer some of the in person things you’d normally do to a virtual format. Grabbing “coffee” with a colleague, having a team meeting- all can be done online to keep that cadence of communication and connectedness up!

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 have so many thoughts on this, and my family and I talk often about ideas we have around this very thing. If I had to pick one thing, it would be figuring out a way to instill more empathy into everyone. It’s a core component of emotional intelligence, of course, which in my opinion is the most important skill a leader can have. Beyond that, though, I’d hope it could help everyone gain a little more perspective on where other people are coming from, particularly right now when things often feel more divided than together.

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

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” It was attributed to John Wesley when I learned it, and while I don’t think he actually said it, this is the approach I’ve tried to take to everything in my life. I think this is more important than ever, as people are facing challenges we never could have dreamed of, all within an incredibly polarized political climate. It’s a good reminder to take a step back and make sure you’re contributing to the inclusion, not the divide.

Thank you for these great insights!


Candace Nicolls of Snagajob: 5 Things You Need To Know 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.

Erica Volini of Deloitte: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Trust: Managing remote teams requires leaders to trust employees to get good work done. To support this relationship of trust, employees need to demonstrate accountability and self-management of workflows.

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

Erica, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, is Deloitte’s Global Human Capital leader. In this role, she is focused on helping leaders solve their most complex and pressing human capital issues. In today’s world of constant disruption, those issues include everything from navigating the future of work to enabling the digital organization — all centered around how to optimize the intersection of the workforce and business performance. Throughout her 20+ year career, Erica has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations and is a frequent speaker on how market trends are impacting the HR organization and profession as a whole. Within Deloitte, she has served as a member of Deloitte Consulting’s Management Committee and Board of Directors. She has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell University.

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 background from school is in Industrial & Labor Relations — that’s really where I started to gain an appreciation of the organization-worker relationship. From there, I had an internship where I was able to work with the Administration of Children’s Services to help them develop a training program for their employees and I really saw the power of what could be done when we appropriately invest in ‘human capital’. I joined Deloitte shortly thereafter and, as they say, the rest is history. It’s now been 22 years at Deloitte and throughout every role I’ve played, a focus on human capital has always been at the center. Today, I’m the global leader for our practice and still love getting to work directly with clients helping them optimize the potential of their workforce. In today’s constant world of disruption, I don’t think there is anything more important for an organization to do.

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

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think the most interesting moment of my career has been my transition back from maternity leave. I was a lifetime consultant who had never taken more than three weeks off and all of a sudden, I’m returning having been away for 6+ months. What was interesting about it was how much personal and professional growth I had through that experience — not just about becoming a mother, but becoming a different type of leader, teammate and advisor. Everything needed to change, but as I look back two years later, all of those changes helped me to become a better professional overall.

What advice would you give to leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

At the moment, the only way out is through. We’ve made a mass transformation to a new way of working in the context of an economic, public health and sociopolitical crisis. On top of that, many families are dealing with unreliable childcare options, taking care of elderly family members, and uncertainty about school openings. First, we need to acknowledge that it’s normal to be struggling, and to help our team members recognize struggle in themselves and in their teams. How do we thrive in a crisis? Resiliency and great leadership. We need our managers and leaders to lead authentically and transparently. Leaders don’t need to have all of the answers, but they do need to bring their teams along in the process. We also need our leaders to model healthy work habits that address some of the core challenges teams are facing in a virtual environment. Healthy boundaries, connectedness with our teams, communities and families, taking vacation, giving our teams clear directions on desired outcomes and creating the space for them to get good work done.

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 have been managing remote teams for a decade at least. As we have made our delivery centers, both on-shore and off-shore, a bigger and bigger part of our strategy, managing remote teams has simply been the way we get our work done. It takes more discipline and focus to maintain connections, but the outcomes can be just as good, if not better, when you look past the remote nature and just find different ways to connect, inspire and lead.

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. Keeping teams informed: Information can no longer make its way through the halls; we need to actively make information accessible on digital platforms so that our teams know what they’re looking for, fast.
  2. Keeping teams on track: It used to be that a manger could walk into a room and see whether their employees are working or not; that’s no longer the case. Instead, managers need to shift directions to provide clarity on the outcomes that matter and be in a position to observe team progress in a digital format, such as dropping into a collaboratively-edited work-in-progress presentation to see how things are coming along, or viewing task progress in a digital task management platform.
  3. Keeping teams connected: In a remote environment, teams are spending more time working on direct workflows and less time interacting with casual work colleagues; individual networks are contracting. Teams need to build new strategies to stay engaged with one another.
  4. Managing performance: Performance management protocols were designed to measure performance in an in office environment — at a time when facetime is no longer the norm, we need to consider how old ways of thinking are influencing performance management in a remote environment.
  5. Trust: Managing remote teams requires leaders to trust employees to get good work done. To support this relationship of trust, employees need to demonstrate accountability and self-management of workflows.

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 match our message to the medium. If it’s a sensitive feedback conversation, it’s important to get on a video call and give our teammates the benefit of our eye contact, facial expressions and undivided attention. That said, our transformation to a remote environment has helped accelerate an existing trend of continuous feedback: a commitment to provide feedback in the moment when challenges and learning opportunities arise. Nudging new behaviors in the right direction with a chat or text help ensure that small issues are addressed promptly as we collectively create new boundaries and norms.

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 absolutely possible to build meaningful relationships online. We can adapt to this new mode of relationship as long as we’re intentional: considering our tone and how it appears in an online format, using video with cameras on to establish new relationships but not requiring video all the time, making sure we continue the casual banter outside of our immediate workflows and tasks, and really taking time to check in on one another. It’s important to remember that there are five generations in the workforce and for some members of the population, building relationships in an online format is a seamless experience. Others can’t fathom it. This is a time to embrace reverse mentorship, and also to have empathy for and directly support those who are struggling to adapt.


Erica Volini of Deloitte: 5 Things You Need To Know 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.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is born” With Author Dr. Sally Goldberg

…Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is born and even before. There are eight stages from birth to age three, and there is information available about how to promote development during each of them by natural, fun and worthwhile parent-child interactions.

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 Sally Goldberg.

Sally Goldberg, Ph.D., professor of education, author, magazine writer, and the first parenting expert on FOX TV’s “Parent to Parent,” has changed her focus! Meet Dr. Sally now on “Parenting with Dr. Sally” www.earlychildhoodnews.net for up-to-date parenting information and answers to many questions.

With seven out of eight parenting books behind her, Dr. Sally is now writing for children. Eight manuscripts are almost ready for publication. These range from board and toddler ones to those in the the four to eight-year-old age range.

Sally worked for many years as an instructor of early childhood education on the adjunct faculties of Nova Southeastern University, Barry University, and the University of Phoenix. Well-known for her tools and strategies for self-esteem development, she was a national conference presenter and a frequent guest on TV and radio. Sally, who grew up in While Plains, NY, has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Miami.

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

Cynthia!!! Oh what a surprise. After nine months of waiting and watching and wondering and preparing for the birth of the most perfect, gorgeous, bright and high-achieving baby in the whole world, along came Cynthia — perfect, gorgeous, bright and born with a developmental delay. What?!!! That was not in the plans. Not only would she not be the most high-achieving baby in the world, she was actually going to function on the lower end. “Oh no. Oh dear. Oh no. Oh … and many more! In reality there were all kinds of outbursts along the way including tears. It took many months to adjust to the new situation, but I finally did, and eventually the new focus became much more positive.

My love of teaching was a big factor, and my desire to create educational materials helped also. Combining the two, I developed a mission to find anything and everything possible that would help Cynthia. The first step was to read all there was to read about the subject. Next came buying all there was to buy. Eventually came making all there was to make. The goal became to get her from behind the starting line in every area to catching up and eventually moving ahead.

“Impossible, stop, you are wasting your time” is all I heard from everyone around. However, I just kept going. Then one day I met Dr. Morton Schwartzman, the dedicated optimistic, forward thinking and very popular pediatrician in the area. Right up front I asked him, “What won’t Cynthia be able to do?” Then straight from the heart he said, “I don’t know.” That was it, all I needed to hear. “If he doesn’t know, then I don’t know; and I will shoot for the moon,” and then I did.

Slowly but surely the original heartbreak began to disappear, and love, passion and excitement started to take hold. The more I taught Cynthia the more she learned, and then the more she learned, the more I taught her. We continued on that same path for a very long time and are still on it today. However, now it has a new addition — the more Cynthia teaches me the more I learn, and then the more I learn, the more she teaches me. Who would have ever dreamed of that!

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

There was a very poorly behaved boy with his parents in a photography studio waiting to have his picture taken. I was in the waiting room outside and could hear a little bit of his disruptions. It seemed his mother kept trying to get him under control but that he kept carrying on. Then eventually all the chaos and ruckus stopped. “What happened?” I wondered. Just then the studio owner, who I had been working with on a project, walked out and said to me, “You would not believe this, but that little boy, about ten-years-old, picked up a copy of your book Constructive Parenting and started reading the section on discipline. He told his parents, “Look … positive attention. You need to pay that to me.” They must have taken his advice right away because they all walked out happily together.

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

The credit on this one goes to singer Barbara Streisand for her song Never give up.” The successes were plentiful but few happened as the crow flies. In addition, people everywhere were still giving me advice like, “Stop knocking yourself out? Don’t you know what she has? She will never learn. You are living in denial” and more. However, those words from her song kept ringing in my ears and spurring me on. Just when an effort looked hopeless, a reward of progress would come, and that gave me the motivation to keep on going!

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

Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is born and even before. There are eight stages from birth to age three, and there is information available about how to promote development during each of them by natural, fun and worthwhile parent-child interactions.

In addition, there are five areas that need optimal attention during this time — cognitive, motor, social, language and self-esteem, and there are wonderful activities known for each age and stage in all five areas. Providing a balanced program for little ones from birth to age three lays a positive foundation for all future development. Not having appropriate activities in all areas throughout the ages and stages could leave a baby, toddler and two-year-old impaired or delayed in one or more areas. Health routines are all part of this kind of programming too. Nutrition, moving, sleep and even breathing all need proper attention.

Here is the best part. Many studies are available to show that brain development is directly related to experiences during these early years. 90% of brain growth takes place between birth and age five. High quality and quantity language in particular play the biggest role in both brain development and all future functioning. Much other important input is involved too.

Other studies show that a lack of a solid positive parent-child relationship in these formative years causes major problems later in life. Crime and violence and even our rash of mass murders have been tied to very bad conditions during early childhood. With strong evidence about what to do and also what happens when certain kinds of interactions are missing, this kind of age/stage and areas of development parent education is an absolute must.

How do you think this will change the world?

Oh my! Child abuse will be on its way out, discipline problems in our schools decreased, and crime and violence reduced substantially. I can’t think of anything that will change the world more in a positive way. It will take three years for this kind of programming to show significant results; but if done right, they will be guaranteed. The societal changes will start to show right after that. The Carnegie Commission did a multi-million dollar study in 1994 to find out why we had so much crime and violence in our country at the time, and much to their surprise they found out that it was because of what happens to children in the first three years. According to the study, vital to adult success is “nurturing love, guidance, support, protection and educational stimulation.”

Keeping a 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?

The only problem is that people are used to thinking about these three years in just the opposite way — as unimportant and just a block of time with no particular purpose. They consider this time just a precursor to age three when very simple rudiments of education are meant to begin. While three-year-olds can walk, talk, eat, sleep, run and learn in much the same way as adults, how they do all those things is totally dependent on their beginning years from birth to age three. Perseverance and persistence will be needed to keep this three-year preparation time moving in the most optimal way. That is the fixed time-span needed to produce measurable results. The real fruits of the labors will not show up and be able to be measured until after age three when a true foundation has been formed.

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

By the time Cynthia was two she started to attract her own attention, and by three she did even more. By the end of the first two years she showed that she knew all the colors, letters, numbers and shapes and that she was reading over 100 words. Neighbors began to ask, “How come your daughter understands all those things and our children, who are older and don’t have any difficulties or delays, don’t know half of what she does?” How did you teach her? I had to think about that and pull my thoughts together.

Then one day a mother asked me, “If I get a group of us together, can you give some workshops about what you did?” Honored by the request, I very quickly said, “Yes.” She got the mothers together, and I prepared materials for six lessons. The parents loved having the information, and I enjoyed teaching it.

After that I thought, “If these people like the ideas so much, maybe others would too, and maybe I could write a book; and then I did.” I took all my notes and turned them into Teaching with Toys: Making Your Own Educational Toys. After that pre-schools, churches and Temples began asking me to teach parent-child classes there, and the local community college contacted me to found a program for them. Next came a doctoral degree in early childhood education, more books and more programs.

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

Recognition by the public that this is an absolute necessity. Funding, of course, is the other part of the picture.

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

  1. That this passion would increase difficulties at home. Having so much energy flowing in a direction away from my main relationship created an untenable situation. I was pulled apart by caring for a husband, a house, two children, one child with a disability, and an aging parent with many difficulties of her own. Something had to give, and it ended up being my marriage. That was very sad.
  2. That creating a business was a major undertaking. While I was professionally trained, I had no idea about the business world and how all that worked. One stumbling block led to another. The amount of time, money and energy needed took me by surprise.
  3. That it is always okay to follow your heart. I faced constant conflict all the time because I kept in my mind focused how I thought my life was supposed to be instead of on how it really was. The further it kept veering from that the worse the strain became.
  4. That I had a powerful inner self that could be discovered through meditation. I went without it for a very long time. Eventually it gave me the power to look inside myself for answers and guided me not to be dependent on others.
  5. That even after finding out what I wish I had known that I would be so glad I did what I did every step of the way. I discovered that I became “me” from all the trials and tribulations and that they were all worth it to become my newly empowered self.

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

Yes, turning to your own inner strength for answers. That is foolproof. You have the best insights about you. You will never let yourself down. You will always figure out the right thing to do.

Included in in this idea is how important it is to take care of yourself. Your body is your best friend, and you need first and foremost to keep your attention on it with optimal nutrition, moving during the day as much as possible and having an impeccable sleep routine. Breathing strongly, breathing as part of meditation, and deep breathing to reduce stress are all part of healthy living too. You can do your best work only if your body is happily at peace.

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 🙂

Begin at the beginning. It is always better to spend time instilling optimal habits than to have to do remedial or reparative work. Following that thinking, what better way could there be than to start early. “Every child is entitled to having the finest experiences, and every parent should know how to provide them right from the start” That is the theme on my website “Parenting with Dr. Sally” www.earlychildhoodnews.net. Since every person is a product of their experiences, it is best to make them as good as possible. There is not a moment to waste!

I was recently on a trip and stayed in a Marriott Renaissance Hotel. It was lovely, and this was a sign they had: “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the steps.” All of ours begin at birth, even before, and each one lays the groundwork for the next ones to come

How can our readers follow you on social media? https://www.linkedin.com

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kuba Jewgieniew of Realty ONE Group: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

Kuba Jewgieniew of Realty ONE Group: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Don’t lose touch. You should have effective communication platforms and strategies in place to stay connected. We use a variety of communication channels including email, Slack, and of course, lots of video. We find that our teams need a certain level of face-to-face communication, and video calls seem to work.

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

Kuba Jewgieniew is the CEO And Founder of Realty ONE Group, one of the more rapidly growing real estate franchisors. The company was created with a 100% commission model, an emphasis on culture and unique branding, and a system of partnered and proprietary tools and technologies for franchise owners and real estate professionals.

Jewgieniew is from Polish-born parents who immigrated to the United States. He became the first in his family to graduate from college and earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics degree from the University of California San Diego (UCSD). After college, Jewgieniew had a lucrative career as a financial adviser and portfolio manager, while building computer hardware and software programs in his spare time. He then changed his focus to real estate. In his first year as an agent, he closed 111 transactions and more than $30 million in sales before deciding to start his own brokerage.

He launched Realty ONE Group in 2005. The brokerage was based in Las Vegas, NV, and had 250 agents and $102 million in sales by the end of its first year.

Jewgieniew continues to lead the company as CEO and Founder, and is involved in everyday operations, as well as every aspect of growth and development including branding, marketing, franchising, training and operations.

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

When I put my mind to something, I’m all in, which is why I became a top producer in my first year in real estate. The problem was, I gave away a large portion of my commission and I remember literally thinking, “don’t mess with my check!”

This was the idea that drove me to start Realty ONE Group, and you’ll still see that messaging throughout our marketing. It wasn’t necessarily about the money, it was about giving real estate professionals every opportunity to advance their careers.

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?

One of the first managers I hired in Las Vegas always showed up polished in a suit and tie. Once I was looking for a pen and couldn’t find one, so I quickly opened his desk drawer and a bunch of candy bars came flying out, scaring the heck out of me! That reminds me to this day to not to take yourself too seriously.

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

Every morning, we choose the right mindset that sets the tone for the rest of our day. I recommend avoiding the news, especially right now, and even checking emails first thing in the morning. Every new day starts with a mindset to win! I begin each morning practicing gratitude with my family, and that sets the tone for everything we do that day.

And, I know a lot of people often say it, but I really do encourage spending lots of time with family and friends, doing the things you love. It gives you a fresh perspective on the job, and reminds you why you do what you do, and what matters most.

Work hard. Stay humble. Treat each other well, and the rest will come.

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?

Realty ONE Group real estate offices are set up to support busy real estate professionals who are always on the move. We provide a lot of systems and services that help them do a lot of their business virtually and on mobile devices. So, it makes sense that our headquarters staff and teams have the same capability.

For me, it’s always been about finding the right people and building the right teams to keep this company growing and thriving. In the last few years, we’ve built an incredible Executive team with several key professionals who live remotely. Now, the leadership team is basically all remote, living in different cities across the country.

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: Don’t lose touch. You should have effective communication platforms and strategies in place to stay connected. We use a variety of communication channels including email, Slack, and of course, lots of video. We find that our teams need a certain level of face-to-face communication, and video calls seem to work.

№2: Don’t work too hard. We constantly emphasize a nice, healthy work-life balance with our employees. We know that some of our employees tend to work harder at home since it can be more difficult to “unplug,” and there’s less in-office, casual communication. So, it’s even more important for them to take breaks, get outside and even make plans to socialize with family and friends (when appropriate, given the current pandemic).

№3: Prioritize and manage your time wisely. We also make sure that we help our teammates, however we can, with prioritizing work and managing their time, keeping tabs on them through project management platforms, and with regularly scheduled meetings. But working from home allows a certain amount of flexibility that we want our employees to enjoy. Some of our teammates work better in the late evenings, while others are early risers.

№4: Challenge of email/text/Slack communication. Working remotely means we depend even more on emails, text and messaging which can be widely misinterpreted. We encourage our team members to call if they should need to clarify messages. A quick phone call can do the job.

№5: Maintain good habits like regular exercise, drinking plenty of water and eating well to keep you motivated and energized.

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?

I think it’s important to set a precedent with your employees that honest, constructive feedback is valued. With that, leaders must be ready to listen and understand the varying personalities of people on their teams. But it’s true that constructive feedback can be even more difficult when you can’t meet in person. Again, we try and use video as often as possible, and at minimum, conduct phone calls for this. We follow up any conversation with written emails that allow us to give greater details and be objective. We’re finding this to be very effective.

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

We recommend starting with positive feedback — the things that the team member has been doing well and any recent wins, and then follow with constructive feedback. Again, this must be constructive, giving them direction on the ways they can improve and meet expectations. Before wrapping up, we recommend asking for their feedback in turn, clarifying any questions and then ending on a positive note.

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?

Working remotely as a team, at times, means you need to overcommunicate. Our teams check in at least once, if not more, every week on an all-team video call. We rely more heavily on our project management systems to make sure we’re hitting deadlines and meeting milestones. And, we encourage team members to ask questions immediately to help them move forward. If it feels like a more complicated subject, question, or even response, it’s best to just pick up the phone and have the conversation.

Again, because our Realty ONE Group offices were set up to support busy real estate professionals on the go, we’ve had a very smooth transition to being fully remote during the pandemic.

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?

We created our company to have a very dynamic Coolture (Cool + culture) so that it could withstand any fluctuations in the market or economy, and we’ve only seen it strengthen during this time. Not only are we all still working, but we’ve focused in on ‘seeing’ each other and our entire network of real estate professionals through daily and then weekly Town Halls and special events. Our intimate teams host happy hours as a way to still get ‘together,’ share, and enjoy each other personally.

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. 🙂

To stay closer connected in the communities where we live, work and serve. To be better brothers and sisters to our neighbors, and make a positive impact in people’s lives. We’re able to achieve that across 44 states with Realty ONE Group

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

Avoid the drift. No lazy river!

Thank you for these great insights!


Kuba Jewgieniew of Realty ONE Group: Five 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.

Matt Zilli of Clarizen: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Make sure you understand your customer’s business. Painfully obvious, I know. But I’ve seen too many SaaS solutions that effectively solve some pain point, but don’t really connect to a customer’s overall strategy. If you’ve identified a pain and you think you have a solution, I recommend starting from the top down. See if you can find out that customer’s business strategy and priorities, and then see if you can pitch your solution as not just solving a pain point, but as accelerating their strategy. If the answer is yes, you’re on to something.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Zilli.

Matt Zilli is the Chief Executive Officer for Clarizen, the global leader in enterprise collaborative work management. He drives the company’s strategic vision to help enterprise customers become more agile. Previously, Mr. Zilli held executive positions at Adobe and Marketo (acquired by Adobe in 2018). He previously served as Chief Customer Officer at Marketo, overseeing Customer Success, Consulting and Global Enablement. He supported Marketo’s growth from ~$60M in revenue for seven years through the $4.75B acquisition by Adobe.

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’ and how you got started?

My career started with Texas Instruments, working with customers on their semiconductor needs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I was going to convince someone to invest years of their time building a product with TI chips, we better be a great partner with them to make sure they were successful. That thinking carried over when I moved into enterprise software, where I’ve spent my career in sales, marketing and customer success. Nobody wants to work with a “vendor” so I always emphasize the importance of truly being a good partner to my teams.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The biggest challenges I ever faced involved going through acquisitions. It is one of those unique events where you’ve been so focused on building a great company, working with customers, partners and team members on a strategy, and it all changes overnight. All of the sudden, those same customers, partners and team members are looking to you for answers you likely don’t have. But I’ve always been an optimist, and I’m always driven by the value we’re delivering to customers. Nothing gets me as motivated as hearing from a customer about how we’ve changed their reality for the better. So, in times of great change, I usually focus there — because if your customers will stand behind you, everything else is easy.

I started as CEO with Clarizen on March 31, 2020. As you’ll recall, by then state shutdown and stay-at-home orders were widespread. The vast majority of Clarizen employees were already working remotely so I didn’t get to experience the typical “first day” at a new company where you shake hands with colleagues and associate names with smiling faces. I was in the office for only a few minutes to pick up my laptop and then it was back to my living room which has served as my personal headquarters for the last five months. Throughout that time, I’ve had to adapt to running a company and building customer relationships virtually and as hard as it was for me, I knew it was something that many of our customers were experiencing for the first time so I wanted to do everything I could for them.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Embracing uncertainty is something we’ve found ourselves talking about a lot lately. When I took the reins at Clarizen, it was fight or flight. Between the time of accepting the position in February and officially starting as CEO, the world changed. If I didn’t embrace the uncertainty with a steady hand, we would be in a very different spot as a company than we are right now.

I had many similar conversations with our customers and found that they focused on three main areas to navigate that uncertainty and be able to come out on the other side. First is visibility. Companies that have perfect visibility to how work gets done in their organizations have a lot more confidence in navigating this pandemic. Second is productivity. I don’t mean just the productivity of their team members, but how they maintain and increase productivity across the entire ecosystem of their employees, customers, partners and vendors, especially when everyone is working virtually. Lastly, and most importantly, is adaptability. The leaders I speak to demonstrate their grit every day when they talk about being adaptable, committing to changing as the circumstances around them change.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I remember one project early in my career that was massive — I was tasked with analyzing the global available market for one of our products. I spent weeks collecting data and building what I thought was the perfect analysis. I got to the end and presented it to a group of people. They fired question after question at me about my approach and methodology, about my calculations, about my conclusions. It was clear they weren’t buying into what I was selling. My boss at the time was in the room and after the meeting he asked me two questions: “Do you think your conclusions were correct?” I, of course, said yes. Then he asked, “does it really matter if they’re correct if no one believes you?” That was an eye-opener for me. The lesson here was really about the way I delivered this project — working incredibly hard, but in a vacuum, and completely certain that having the perfect answer would be enough to convince people. As I learned that day and many times since, the power is never in delivering the “right” answer to someone, but instead, it’s in how you bring people along to your point of view, even if it takes hours upon hours of work along the way to do so.

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

I’m always positively surprised when I hear customers characterize Clarizen as a system of record for their work and how work gets done. It has emerged as a common theme in many of my early conversations and I think that is what sets us apart. Many software and work management companies offer products that help people manage a project. But being able to provide a solution that works for them — from major Fortune 500 companies to small businesses or individual departments — is something that we take a lot of pride in at Clarizen. And that pride goes one step further when we hear from those customers of instances when being able to access that “system of record” has made a positive impact on the people within the organization.

I recently spoke with a customer in the spring who was on the verge of reducing its workforce due to the pandemic’s economic blow. It was a common story — they faced an uncertain future and asked every department to make headcount cuts. But our customer was able to perfectly quantify the work their team was doing and its financial impact on the business. That info was shared with the company’s executives and the team did not have to eliminate a single position. The value of having a system of record for the work being done at a company, by departments, and by individual teams is incredibly valuable. It unlocks new processes and depths of understanding that they never had before. Companies need that now, more than ever.

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

2020 has turned all of our lives upside down from both the professional and personal perspectives but I think there is one thing in particular that sets this year apart. It has proven that work can happen anywhere and at any time. That has certainly been true for me. It can happen during the 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. window; it can start at 7:00 a.m. when I get back from walking my dog; it can happen after I put my kids to bed. And because work can happen anywhere and anytime, making sure we help each other and are understanding of everyone’s home situation is even more critical. To that end, I have three tips to share.

First, be collaborative in scheduling meetings as well as setting and agreeing to deadlines. Work shouldn’t stop, but be open to the fact that your weekly status meeting may need to change when personal obligations pop up for a team member.

Second, set boundaries and stick to them. Working remotely takes some getting used to. There is no question about it. In a sense, it can be harder to change gears from “work life” to “home life” when you’re working remotely because the physical barrier is far less than if you were going to an actual office building. But it is still important to distinguish between the two and arguably it is more important to do that in today’s climate because we all need to take care of our mental and emotional well-being.

Third, roll with the punches. I had an instance last week when my video conference call was dropped because my preschooler logged into his video conference class. Pre-pandemic, a situation like that would’ve put many of us, myself included, into a negative, stressed mindset. In 2020, it is just life. I logged back in and made a joke while the rest of the participants empathized, and then we got back to work as if nothing happened.

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?

The unequivocal answer here is my wife, Corey (and not just because she’s looking at me right now as we’re sharing our home office). She’s been my amazing partner for the better part of a decade and I wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything professionally without her help. But professionally, there’s one more person I must mention: Chandar Pattabhiram (CMO, Coupa). I often tell people that the two hardest transitions people make professionally are moving into their first role managing people and then moving into their first role managing managers. Learning how to lead people directly requires a thick skin and an open mind. Learning how to lead people who you don’t manage directly takes that to the extreme. Chandar believed in me when I was making that second transition. He personally helped me grow through his coaching and that of the people he introduced me to. He gave me plenty of opportunities to succeed (even after a couple of failures). Without him, I may never have learned how to really lead a team through the good times and the bad. I owe him a lot!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Clarizen has 1,000 customers currently utilizing its products as their work management solution of choice. Clarizen One is an adaptive and effective work management solution that provides a comprehensive look at all work streams within an organization. Clarizen Go, which launched last year, is a robust task management solution that is the easiest way to drive agile adoption within an organization. Here are the three main steps we’ve taken to achieve this success and grow our customer base.

Step 1: We listen to our customers. Our customer relationships are incredibly important to us because we understand the trust they put in us to manage all of the work being done by their entire organization. We proactively solicit their feedback to find out what’s working, what’s not working, and how we can make Clarizen solutions better in helping them achieve their business goals.

Step 2: We pivot without ego. The feedback we gain from customers isn’t put in a virtual filing cabinet and forgotten. Over the years, Clarizen has updated the features within our portfolio of products as a result of direct customer input on what would be better for them. I speak with customers every day, and the insights they provide have a direct impact on our product roadmap.

Step 3: We regularly step outside of our comfort zone. We talk a lot about agile methodology at Clarizen because that is where our roots are. Clarizen One was created to help software developers adopt the Agile methodology of project management. Over the years, we’ve found that being agile isn’t just akin to the software industry. It is a concept that has weight in other industries. We’ve adapted our solutions to help companies in other verticals transform to realize the benefits of becoming more agile.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We understand that adopting a work management solution isn’t an overnight process, nor is it a one-size-fits-all approach. Our goal is always to align our goals with our customer’s goals, and that goes for our monetization strategy, as we want to make sure customers pay for the areas where they receive the most value. Our customers pay a subscription fee that varies based on the components they use most and on the number of users leveraging those components. We’ve toyed with other models over the years, but always with the goal of aligning our monetization to real customer value.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS-based solution? Please share a brief explanation or story for each.

I’ve spent my career in business-to-business solutions, for the past decade in SaaS, so I’ll give you my take from that perspective. The five most important things people should know are obvious, but let me explain where I’ve seen them go wrong:

1. Make sure you understand your customer’s business. Painfully obvious, I know. But I’ve seen too many SaaS solutions that effectively solve some pain point, but don’t really connect to a customer’s overall strategy. If you’ve identified a pain and you think you have a solution, I recommend starting from the top down. See if you can find out that customer’s business strategy and priorities, and then see if you can pitch your solution as not just solving a pain point, but as accelerating their strategy. If the answer is yes, you’re on to something.

2. Small improvements aren’t good enough. A lot of SaaS providers underestimate the cost of change. Improving something by 5, 10, or 15% usually isn’t good enough because the time and cost of change management isn’t worth the upside. I still get SPAM emails to this day offering SaaS solutions to improve my customer satisfaction by 10% or reduce my OPEX by 5%. Truth be told, I can do 100 things to improve by 10%, and most of them will be easier than adopting a new SaaS solution. If you can help me improve something I care about by 30% or more, then we’ll talk.

3. It takes more than just a great product. We have to provide solutions that people are willing to pay for, which means we have to translate a customer’s pain into dollars — increased revenue or saving costs. The road is littered with apps that were a great or a novel idea, but don’t really solve a significant pain or wouldn’t ever have a big enough impact to get the blessing of a CFO. For B2B SaaS, a good test is to speak with CFOs early and often. If you can’t convince a CFO of the value of your SaaS solution, then don’t bother building the product.

4. Don’t dismiss sales and marketing. Yes, it still happens. There are founders who believe their SaaS product will sell itself. In the B2B world, it turns out most employees don’t know how to buy software. So, you might win over a user with a free trial, but is that worth anything to your business? It’s critical to view your revenue engine as a system: Product to Marketing to Sales. Once you have a great product, there’s real magic in marketing it to the right audience and more magic still in a sales team that can translate a product into a business solution companies are willing to pay for. The Product/Sales/Marketing engine powers high growth SaaS companies.

5. Constantly revisit #1. As businesses grow and bring on more customers, it’s easy to let those customers dictate your roadmap. Many SaaS companies fall into the trap of prioritizing the wrong items because “customers asked for them.” I’m all for listening to customers, but we have to make sure we never lose sight of their overall business priorities. Fixing a feature here or there may improve customer satisfaction in the short term, but far too often, those features didn’t really improve the business value you were providing. The most successful SaaS companies solve this by constantly innovating, clearly communicating a vision of where you’re taking your solution so that your customers can buy in for the long haul.

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. 🙂

I’m a big news consumer — can’t get enough. I would love to start the movement to bring back investigative journalism, harkening back to the days of Woodward and Bernstein. The constant firehose of information most people have access to across news media, editorial media and social media means we all have access to individual tidbits, but it’s too hard for most people to really capture the complete, fact-based picture on any issue. I dream of the good that would come from healthy debate of key issues in the world, which starts and ends with journalists who are empowered to investigate and publish truth.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can always follow me personally on LinkedIn or check me out on Twitter at @mattzilli. For Clarizen, check out our website (www.Clarizen.com) or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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


Matt Zilli of Clarizen: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Juliet D’Ambrosio of Adrenaline: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Juliet D’Ambrosio of Adrenaline: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

You don’t have to get it right the first time. — I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that every successful person makes mistakes. Making mistakes, acknowledging them, and embracing them as a tool to learn from will help build a foundation for what will ultimately lead to success and resilience. Don’t let mistakes define you or let the fear of making them prevent you from taking risks. Like the old music adage says, “It takes years to become an overnight success.” The trick is to have a mentor you trust — or a team of them — who can help point you in the right direction and turn your mistakes in learning. Fresh eyes always help you see what you can’t quite see yourself.

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 Juliet D’Ambrosio, Senior Director of Strategy for Adrenaline, leads strategy for a multi-disciplinary agency that helps move financial and healthcare brands and businesses ahead. A journalist turned strategist, for nearly 20 years Juliet has worked with both B2B and consumer brands in revealing their core truths, unearthing their audiences’ needs and translating those insights into a powerful creative strategy that drives results.

Juliet has experience in food and beverage, healthcare, education, retail, design, apparel, place branding, technology, and the financial and professional services industries. She has led teams in developing strategies and campaigns for brands around the world, including Coca-Cola, VISA, Samsung, The International Olympic Committee, Volkswagen, FIFA, Paramount Pictures, and the International Hotel Group.

Juliet’s work has been recognized by awards and publications including Communication Arts, AIGA Design 50, ID, D&AD, and Graphis. She’s a regular speaker on design and strategy and holds a faculty position at Miami Ad School at Portfolio Center. Juliet lives in Atlanta with her husband and six children.

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?

My childhood was really interesting. I was first raised on a commune in the woods of New Hampshire until my parents got divorced. Then I moved to Atlanta, where I had a more suburban and Southern style childhood. The idea of having to bloom where planted really resonates with me as such an important lesson. I think, for all of us, we can’t really control the conditions that surround us all the time, but we can control the way that we respond to them, make the best of what we’re presented with, take what we can, and grow from there. Moving between two vastly different environments gave me a really unique perspective on resilience.

The first part of my childhood was very bohemian, no rules, no money, very little supervision, just a wild-child existence. Figuring out the way to get the nurturing and lessons I needed empowered me to develop very strong relationships and become incredibly self-sufficient, so that was one form of resilience. When we moved to Georgia — sort of the New South — there was a lot of emphasis on image, accomplishment, manners, and achievement. My lessons there were about how to thrive and still be true to myself, to be a go-getter and demand the best of myself, but not lose my values in the pursuit of perfection. In both places, I had to really find a way to prosper.

What’s interesting, though, about these seemingly diametrically opposed places is that at their heart, people aren’t really all that different after all. All the same dynamics of how you make a good friend works in one place as well as another. By being who I was in each setting, I was able to forge deep and lasting relationships — friendships I still treasure today.

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?

There have been so many! Two stand out. One is that I actually changed careers from music journalism to brand storytelling and ultimately to brand strategy. The switch wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely right. After several years, I just didn’t find my work writing for and editing a jazz magazine as fulfilling as I wanted, so I sought a new challenge. Making a career change from journalism into the world of brands wasn’t a setback so much as an idea that what I had been training for and building a career around wasn’t ultimately right for me. What I learned from this shift was to be humble enough to acknowledge that I needed a change and take a few steps back to get me on the right path.

The second is when, years later, my team and I were hired by the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to develop a brand for the country. Not for tourism, not for a political party or an institution, but for the whole country — a monumental task whose goal was to raise its profile on the world stage and ultimately attract foreign direct investment. Every single part of that engagement was interesting, not least of which was creating a strategic process to literally learn a whole country! Over two years, we dove deep and ultimately delivered a brand reflecting the pride and potential of the people.

The big takeaway for me here was in consensus-building. The brand needed buy-in from everyone from the Prime Minister to business leaders, to different government ministries, all the way to the citizens themselves. I learned by watching how these leaders built a coalition of supporters for the brand, only approving its direction through parliamentary procedure when everyone felt good about it. That lesson applies to any enterprise — bringing different stakeholders together to create a shared sense of ownership is half the purpose of a brand strategy. It can be truly transformative.

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

Adrenaline has a large footprint in financial services. Having the perspective of helping companies meet the challenge following the 2008 Great Recession in which banking’s name was dragged through the mud — whether deservedly or not — we wanted to see this sector rise up in this COVID moment. As soon as the pandemic hit, we immediately heard from our clients that financial services was playing an entirely different role for people in this crisis. As the pandemic rippled across communities, banking was showing up in real ways that matter — bankers calling customers, making sure PPP loans were moving through the process, and offering forbearance and relief. It dawned on me that this is a change in how consumers see banking, and that it can be a turning point for the entire industry.

I also had a moment of personal reflection — especially in the early days of COVID — that we were all having a real sense of being unmoored, ungrounded and needing, both from a professional and a personal sense, something to believe in. Thus, the concept Believe in Banking was born. The name captures it all: We wanted real emotional resonance that speaks to consumers, but it also can be a rallying cry for the industry. It’s a way to shine a light on the stories of all the ways that banking is showing up and is a force for good. So, the idea was for us to create a movement that begins simply through telling the stories back to the industry and empowering them with information and data, so they become more resilient.

Presenting this idea to the Adrenaline leadership team was a very natural process, because we have long provided perspectives on the industry from our role as an industry partner and leader. It’s a powerful way that we can take our privileged position working with so many different players across financial services who have a long, deep, and broad view of the industry. We then provide our expertise layered on top to create a valuable channel at a critical moment. Believe in Banking was really a natural progression from what we were already doing. It’s a resilient response to make thought leadership actionable and deliver up content to our clients, to the industry, to our peers in a way that matters most to them.

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?

Whenever I feel like I can’t do something, I picture this person’s face in my mind and give myself a pep talk. A professor of mine at the University of Florida named James Haskins was one of the preeminent authors of young adult and children’s literature, especially focusing on the black experience. He had grown up with very little, but his parents instilled in him the idea that the value of education is the way you rise above. He had consistently believed in educating himself and gotten a PhD. He had a successful career on Wall Street, but also believed in himself enough to know that after the first, fifth, or fifteenth rejection from major publishers, that there was still a market for what he had to say to young readers.

He was one of the most hard-nosed professors I ever had, but I’m fortunate that he identified me in class, for whatever reason, as someone that he was going to push, believe in and open up some opportunities for, and he did that throughout my entire college career. He became my unofficial advisor and mentor and he made damn sure I never took the easy way out. Even today, when I’m stuck or drowning in not knowing how to do something, I think of him. First, he showed me the importance of mentorship and the value of asking for help and second, what an inspiration! Nobody taught him how to do what he did, yet he believed in himself enough and got the help he needed and leaned on people, but also pushed through. Always pushed through.

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.

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

Nelson Mandela was probably the most resilient person on the planet. The idea of spending 27 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner and then not only forgiving your captors but having the ability to be a unifying force is an incredible story of resilience. He opened the arms of his country to create a more democratic, open, inclusive society that is still reverberating across the globe today and has become a model for change, the world over. I’m sure I’m not the only person who said Mandela, but there is a reason he’s held up as such an inspiration for so many.

How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience looks like a lot of different things — I don’t believe there’s a single definition or set of qualities for it. It really doesn’t have only one meaning. It can be the person who rises above their circumstances to achieve something that seemed impossible, like my Dr. Haskins, or it can be the person who never loses hope or faith like Nelson Mandela who even has the compassion to forgive and to unify. It can look like grit and determination or it can look like love and empathy. It’s the ability to accept failure, to own it, to no matter how painful, and to not walk away, but to keep struggling until you break through. It’s meeting the moment with just what’s required. Sometimes it’s an intuition and instinct; other times it’s a learned and hard-won intellect. It may have all these different definitions, but one thing is for sure: it’s obvious when it’s on display.

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?

I have been given a couple of challenges in my professional career that might be considered “impossible tasks.” The first was to create a brand architecture and strategy around the International Olympic Committee and all of its partners and holdings, numbering in the hundreds. Each one of those partners, just pick one of them — the US Olympic Committee or Volkswagen, for example — each one of them had their own identities and brand equities, often complex relationships with the IOC and agendas of their own. Pushing through and building a brand architecture that delivered clarity, that served all of those constituents and stakeholders, and that would help the IOC continue to be a meaningful force in the world, felt like an impossible task. We were even told that it wasn’t possible, but we delivered, and I’m very proud of that.

The second was in creating the brand for the Atlanta BeltLine, which has had a transformative effect on the city, the people and the policies of Atlanta. We created the brand strategy and identity for this major piece of civic infrastructure, which literally connects 22 different municipalities, neighborhoods and communities that go from among the wealthiest to the least privileged in Atlanta. To accomplish that unified vision, we did the hard work of listening and learning, attending committee meetings at night from every single neighborhood association, evert civic group, every non-profit, everyone who had an interest. We also had to bridge the public and private divide — engaging developers, bankers and financiers and organizers and planners — pulling them altogether into a brand that could be a connective force for all. The brand strategy and identity was ultimately approved by a broad coalition, led by the Mayor of Atlanta. Today, the BeltLine is a cornerstone of the city’s life, but it was truly considered an impossible dream — until it was accomplished.

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

I was born with a clubfoot. It’s a common deformity, but in my case, it was severe, affecting my right leg from my knee down to my foot. I didn’t have normal mobility growing up, so I had to use a walker. I had a lot of treatments, wore orthopedic shoes with bars attached to them, and I wasn’t able to go upstairs. So, the beginning of my life I experienced as a person who was differently-abled. Then I had surgeries which corrected the foot so I’m able to walk and do whatever I need to — I never really even give it a second thought. I think that built some of those earlier bricks of belief in myself that probably everyone who has any kind of physical difference has to build. It has certainly made me embrace the idea of difference and to celebrate the beauty and potential of those who appear different in whatever 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?

1.) You don’t have to get it right the first time.

I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that every successful person makes mistakes. Making mistakes, acknowledging them, and embracing them as a tool to learn from will help build a foundation for what will ultimately lead to success and resilience. Don’t let mistakes define you or let the fear of making them prevent you from taking risks. Like the old music adage says, “It takes years to become an overnight success.” The trick is to have a mentor you trust — or a team of them — who can help point you in the right direction and turn your mistakes in learning. Fresh eyes always help you see what you can’t quite see yourself.

2.) Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know something. That saying, “Fake it ’til you make it,” gets it a bit wrong, to me. The confidence to show a belief in yourself will help to propel you to the next thing. But the faking it part isn’t quite right. Faking like you know things that you don’t actually know backfires and robs you of the opportunity to learn. Saying you don’t know something isn’t something to be ashamed of or to be avoided. When you ask questions, you learn. If you don’t know something, say, “I don’t know, please tell me” or “I don’t know the answer to this, but I will ask people who do.”

3.) Build resilience through others.

The notion of building resilience, both personally, companywide, enterprise-wide, brand-wise, etc., is to recognize that you bring personal resilience, but you also get resilience from those around you; it doesn’t all have to come from you. You’re building a team that has some of those same values that we’ve talked about before — the ability to admit mistakes, the ability to say they don’t know, the ability to have inner confidence — I think what’s really important is that we also look to others to help us build our own resilience. As a web of individually resilient people supporting each other, we form a much kind of stronger foundation where resilience flourishes.

4.) Find gifts in adversity.

When people are presented with difficult situations, how they respond often says a lot about what they’re made of. Finding unexpected gifts out of adversity allows people to build resilient lives and often come up with brilliant solutions that are deeper and richer than if they hadn’t faced hardship in the first place. That’s what we wanted to do with Believe in Banking. We were focused on bringing something of value to help in a really dire moment in our country, when people were hurting and banking was on the brink. It’s like the phoenix rising from the flames.

5.) Take inspiration from history.

As I think about this moment we’re living through, seeing the arc of civilization or progress, it helps me to look at what has come before, so I don’t feel so overwhelmed. Knowing that people rose up and were resilient at previous times in our history, like during the Great Depression or the Spanish flu, and we did ultimately come together as a global village to overcome those challenges really helps put things in perspective. There have always been tough times, and we’ve always gotten through. How we have gotten through are sometimes intuitive and sometimes non-intuitive, but we can learn from history and start from a stronger place.

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 🙂

Scott Galloway is someone who I have an incredible respect for. He’s a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business, a media personality, a public speaker, a deep thinker, and a total badass. His podcast Pivot with Kara Swisher is brilliant. He is someone who was a serial entrepreneur of incredibly successful businesses, and he was a serial entrepreneur of businesses that flamed out, but he kept going and kept building and learning from his mistakes and pushing. He is the perfect person to tag in this series on resilience. He really embodies it.

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


Juliet D’Ambrosio of Adrenaline: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tanisha Peten of Garrett Wade: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Consistency — It’s very important you maintain product quality and consistency so that customers instinctively know what they will get when purchasing from Garrett Wade. A quality tool, built to last, backed by amazing customer service.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Tanisha Peten, the Chief Marketing Officer at Garrett Wade.

Tanisha Peten is the Chief Marketing Officer at Garrett Wade, the premiere destination for quality tools for the home and garden.

In 2018, Peten joined the Garrett Wade team following a consulting stint at Ascena brands where her time was focused on e-commerce development. With more than 20 years of digital commerce experience, Peten is credited as part of the teams who launched Express and Ann Taylor’s digital platforms.

Peten graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Retailing / Marketing Management. She resides in Orange, New Jersey with her daughter, fiancé and Yorkie.

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

My earliest memories I have is playing store in my childhood room that my sister and I shared growing up. I would make elaborate visual displays at the annoyance of my parents and even create price tags for some of the “merchandise” I managed to pull out of my closets and toy chest. I had all the supplies necessary to run a successful shop: toy shopping cart and a cash register and would play this activity for hours simulating my mom’s shopping excursions she would take me on. I guess I always knew I would be a part of this industry in some capacity. However, I never dreamed it would take me here. Most days I still feel like I’m back in that bedroom just making bigger decisions but having just as much fun as I did then.

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?

There have been times when I’ve gotten a little too excited about an item and bought a little more than what my controller was comfortable to accept. Hello black plated Yankee Drill. We added a color variation of one of our best sellers — it turns out the market didn’t care.

However, when that item or idea doesn’t pan out as expected it is always key to be creative in making lemonade out of your lemons if and when that strategy turns sour. For example, while the new color was a dud, the original color versions sales took off!

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

We are all empowered by the owners to do what is right for our customers and in turn the business, which is what everyone works toward. How we exceed our customers’ expectations today is always in the back of our minds no matter the task we are working on. For example we continue to publish our 50 plus page catalog because our customers simply love it. Despite the business being driven today by our digital channels, our customers really appreciate the imagery and the stories of the tools we sell in printed form. One customer once told me they actually had a 15 to 20 year collection of our catalogues saved!

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

We recently finished a commemorative collection of tools that we have had in existence since the founding of the company. Looking back through our archives and coming up with ways to give new life to these heirloom tools, while celebrating our past was such a fun project. What is so unique about the Garrett Wade brand is that over the last 45 years we’ve had incredible longevity with our customers — some from when we first launched, so we’re excited to introduce this to them as a bit of a retrospective.

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 what a brand represents — its mission and purpose, whereas advertising is marketing that presentation, product and or service.

To put it in perspective — our branding is focused on our philosophy of finding and bringing the consumer unique tools of exceptional quality and superb design that will improve your work. This is brought to life through our marketing programs such as our catalogue, product videos and social platforms.

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?

Garrett Wade has a distinct voice within the market and because of that, we work incredibly hard to make sure that the products we offer are exclusive to us and tell a story that consumers can connect with.

Today, the global economy is a lot smaller and very accessible to digital savvy customers, which is why our product development team spends so much time sourcing and developing one-of-a-kind high-quality tools for our customers, and why we prioritize telling the story behind the tools and makers.

We know everybody has choices in where they buy their tools, however, when you buy from Garrett Wade you aren’t just buying an excellent tool — you’re supporting small makers from around the world that understand quality over disposable.

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.

Unique & Quality Merchandise — Our goal is to offer an assortment of tools that are exclusive to us. We travel across the globe to find the best makers in the world from multi-generational businesses and small companies to provide unique and quality tools that are often only available to professionals. We also prioritize our relationship with our factories which has led to us uncovering some hidden treasures — such as our Vintage French Cooking Knives, which were tucked away and were made generations ago!

Excellent Customer Service — We pride ourselves on going above and beyond for our customers as we want to be there every step of the project, if necessary. We have an amazing technical team that helps customers troubleshoot or simply ask questions they might have on the tools in our assortment. A happy customer is a repeat customer.

Speak Authentically — At Garrett Wade we prioritize honesty in our communication with our customers. We want a customer to understand the history and the use of our tools — even if that means not buying something. Often it takes the form of long product descriptions — something that has long since disappeared in the age of Instagram & Twitter copy. Just reading through our catalogs and website you will not only learn about the tool but the stories behind how they came to be in our assortment.

Personalization — We try very hard to make sure our brand is accessible, and our tool range is broad to meet the vast individual needs. The result is an extensive offering for a relatively small company — which is no easy task. But personalizing Garrett Wade to a gardener versus a woodworker is very important to us and we are constantly looking for ways to do this effectively, all while being authentic.

Consistency — It’s very important you maintain product quality and consistency so that customers instinctively know what they will get when purchasing from Garrett Wade. A quality tool, built to last, backed by amazing customer service.

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?

NIKE. The brand has been able to build this empowering connection with their audience — they make amateurs feel like they are professionals by just owning a piece of the gear.

Because of this, their audience really feels like they are part of the brand story and ultimately their successes and achievements. Buy from us and we will be there to help you succeed.

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?

Customer Acquisition & Retention — We measure the success of a brand building campaign by the percent of customers who come back to purchase from us again, as well as how many new customers we are adding to our audience. Looking at the acquisition and retention in our campaigns lets us know how well we are resonating with our customers and how they feel about how we are delivering on our promise to them.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

While our demographic is a bit older, social media still plays a significant role in our branding efforts. We are constantly encouraging dialogue with our audience to share what they have been working on and the level of performance of our tools. Our social platforms are used to inspire others and help build a community of makers to keep honing their skills to make great things.

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

I try to find inspiration and allow myself time to think about the business outside of the office. Stepping away from my desk and just allowing myself to breath and ponder what’s our next move we should be making to keep business growing and evolving?

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 really want to amplify small makers who are making quality tools.

Right now, there are so many small businesses that are hurting and ones that don’t get the proper recognition in the marketplace. These makers — whether they are small businesses, or companies led by BPOC, deserve an opportunity and at Garrett Wade we’re dedicated to providing a platform for the makers who take pride in their work and create the best in class tools.

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

“Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone” — Ella Wheeler

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’d like to do brunch with the following: Bozoma Saint John, Marvin Ellison and Jide Zeitlin.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow us on Instagram at @garrettwade_tools

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/garrettwadeco

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/GarrettWadeCo

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


Tanisha Peten of Garrett Wade: Five Things You Need 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.

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Santi Proano of Ocean Spray Lighthouse…

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Santi Proano of Ocean Spray Lighthouse Incubator

In-store shopping is not going away anytime soon, but the surge in online shopping that we’ve seen in 2020 will stick. Especially for Gen Z and Millennial parents who find the convenience of delivery or in-store pickup far superior to loading up the kids to go grocery shopping.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Santi Proano.

Santi Proano has over a decade of experience creating disruptive innovation and building brands across CPG, Hospitality and Micro-Enterprises.

An American native of Ecuador, Santi is a student of culture, passionate about helping others reach their potential. After graduating with a B.S. in Accounting he began his career at Starwood Hotels, supporting sound financial decision making. Santi then served as a Peace Corps Micro-Enterprise volunteer, helping low-income coffee growers in Ecuador develop their own brand of coffee. Since receiving his MBA from the University of Michigan, Santi has served consumers through delicious food innovations beginning with the renovation of legacy brands at Kraft Heinz. He then lent his passion for making positive impact as a founding member of the Innovation Lab at Tyson Foods, including the creation of alternate protein brand RAISED & ROOTED and YAPPAH! — a concept inspired by a tradition in his homeland.

Santi currently lends his passion for making positive impact leading the Lighthouse Incubator at Ocean Spray, focusing on health & wellness benefits with new brands Dabbly, CarryOn, Atoka and Tally-Ho. A blessed father of 4 children alongside his wife Kayla, they enjoy spending their free time on biking and hiking adventures, including climbing the highest active volcano in the world (Cotopaxi).

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

After 6 years in the corporate world, I decided to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. My focus was serving a coffee farmer cooperative in my host village. Although many said it could not be done, I thoroughly enjoyed helping the farmers create a coffee brand, connect with customers, and watch their income grow. Even more exciting was helping the farmers believe in themselves and take a risk on something new. From that point on, I knew I wanted to help improve the lives of others by creating new brands and products from scratch and I wanted to do it in the context of a larger organization for maximum impact. That’s what led me to a career focused on innovation.

As the head of Ocean Spray’s Lighthouse Incubator, I have the privilege of leading our team to create new, delightful health & wellness brands and products. Our focus is on starting small, testing, learning and ultimately creating future income sources for our farmers.

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

The most interesting moments in innovation inevitably happen when you come into contact with real life consumers out “in the wild.” While doing consumer research for a new brand we developed at a former company, my team set up a table in a touristy Chicago plaza to ask consumers for feedback on our product while recording their reactions on camera. I will never forget their reactions and insights. The feedback was priceless. When you start small and test your products with consumers, you strive to save money, which can lead to some interesting outcomes.

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?

Leading the Lighthouse Incubator, I talk a lot about failing fast, cheap and forward. Most innovations fail. That’s why making space to fail can be very freeing for teams focused on innovation.

Way before my career in innovation, I was a bank teller that made the mistake of accepting obsolete Mexican currency from a very chatty customer that caused the bank a loss of around $1,000. I had dealt with pesos before so during the transaction I felt something was off. Instead of going with my gut, I checked with a colleague, talked to the customer again, overthought the situation and got it wrong. It was a painful lesson but a timeless one. Do not ignore your gut. Often your best ideas and decisions start there. It’s ok to make a mistake and fail, but learn and grow from the experience.

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

I am thrilled that my Lighthouse team has launched 4 new brands in the last year to serve different elements of consumers’ health & wellness journey. Our incubator model is a 5-month concept to test-market cadence, which we did for each of these brands.

The brands include CarryOn™, delicious CBD sparkling waters with functional ingredients designed to boost mental wellness; Dabbly™, cranberry extract based supplements that support skin health among other functions; Atoka™, herbal tea tonics with ingredients curated by a master herbalist for holistic wellness; and Tally-Ho™. The most recent is actually for the health & wellness of our dogs! We just launched Tally-Ho™ water enhancers for dogs on Indiegogo and in PolkaDog stores in the Boston area. These water enhancers are delicious and come in 3 varieties to support our beloved dogs’ immune, oral and emotional health.

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

Balance your life. Spend focused intentional time with your partner and kids. Take a day off to focus on your faith, your values, and to do something you love. Leave the phone behind. It is hard to keep going 100% all the time and the reality is taking a step back and getting centered helps you be at your best in the long run.

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 have been a few key people that saw something in me and decided to invest time and advocate for me. One of these was a professor in college who patiently gave me his time and attention every occasion I asked for help. I thought I was being a bother but when he was asked by a recruiter for the name of a student to consider for an internship it was my name he gave. That internship became my first job out of college.

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

There are several great organizations making a positive impact serving prisoners, modern-day slaves, the fatherless, and refugees. I enjoy finding and supporting those organizations.

I am proud to work for Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned cooperative that has this same giving mindset. Ocean Spray is working to make the world a healthier and happier place, with a mission to connect our farms to families for a better life. Our cooperative gives to St. Jude, Feeding America food banks, Bright Pink, and several other organizations local to our farmer-owners through our Community Fund.

Any success I have had is linked to others pouring into me. Paying it forward by pouring into others is the best way I can bring goodness to the world.

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?

Retail has been on a trajectory of adjustment and investment that has only accelerated due to the events of 2020. Some of the ways we may see retail changing in the future include:

1.) Increasing assortment of proactive health products

Consumers will be looking for increased assortment of proactive health products that help them get out in front of health issues. This includes familiar categories like supplements and will expand into food and beverages. Retailers will diversify their offerings across many categories to ensure proactive health benefits are in their assortment. Brands that can deliver these benefits with whole foods and credible claims will be best positioned for this in the future.

2.) Bringing the digital experience in-store

Consumers will increasingly expect the pleasant, well-designed user experiences that they enjoy digitally to extend to the retail environment. Retailers will likely adjust by integrating digital aspects and technology into the in-store experience. This could include virtual shelves, augmented reality for trying on product, as well as interfaces with online inventory.

3.) Adding healthcare service offerings

Large retailers not traditionally known for healthcare will likely add healthcare service offerings to their physical stores. Access to affordable healthcare is a major problem that large retailers with scale can help solve. Focus will be on preventive, proactive health at the primary care level.

4.) Increasingly brands will have their own direct-to-consumer channel

Direct-to-consumer channels will not threaten retail so much as complement it. Brands will look to use this channel to help consumers sample and trial new products, gather consumer insights and feedback, and provide their users with offerings that may not be widely carried at retail.

5.) The acceleration to online shopping will stick

In-store shopping is not going away anytime soon, but the surge in online shopping that we’ve seen in 2020 will stick. Especially for Gen Z and Millennial parents who find the convenience of delivery or in-store pickup far superior to loading up the kids to go grocery shopping.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can go to www.OceanSpray.com and follow Ocean Spray on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, please follow Atoka™, Dabbly™, CarryOn™ and Tally-Ho™ on Instagram.


The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Santi Proano of Ocean Spray Lighthouse… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Joe Dupriest of NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully…

Joe Dupriest of NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

A final piece that gets lost in managing remote teams is not having direct oversight into what the employees are doing and how projects are progressing. Even small things, like stopping by someone’s desk to check in gets lost, as a phone call just isn’t the same and can be more of a nuisance. This is particularly challenging when getting a new employee up to speed on projects and helping them balance their workload. There has to be a lot of trust between manager and employee to successfully overcome this hurdle.

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

Joe is a high-energy, decisive senior executive with more than fifteen years of progressive leadership experience, driving market penetration and business growth within sports. With an engineering degree from Georgia Tech coupled with an MBA from Duke University, he served as CMO for Monumental Sports & Entertainment during a period of explosive growth and change. Joe launched Monumental Sports Network, the first OTT platform for regional sports, and has won five NCCB Emmy Awards. Most recently, he co-founded and launched NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners, a multi-solution consortium designed to empower leading, emerging, and startup sports companies to maximize their businesses amidst today’s dynamic landscape.

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”?

Growing up just outside of Atlanta and always having an affinity for math and science, it was a foregone conclusion that I would go to Georgia Tech and spend my life as an engineer. While I was at Tech, I got bitten by the sports bug while working gamedays with the Atlanta Braves and set about finding a way to combine sports and engineering. After graduation, I spent the first few years of my career as an industrial engineer with FedEx Express, which eventually led me to Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. I spent my two years there networking with anyone and everyone willing to give me 15 minutes on the phone to learn about various career paths within sports. I did my summer internship with the Durham Bulls, which is where I met my now-wife. That experience was where I first combined my analytic/engineering background with the evolving needs of sports teams. At the time, not a lot of teams were doing much with analytics and data, so that provided the opportunity to carve out a niche for myself. Following graduation, I landed in Philadelphia working for the Eagles. Relationships are everything within the sports world, and the relationship and trust I built with my boss, Tim McDermott (now president of the Philadelphia Union of MLS), led me to D.C., where I also worked for him at the Washington Capitals. I moved my way through the ranks to CMO of the Caps and eventually CMO of all of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, including the Washington Wizards and Mystics. I then spent two years in the corporate world but always had an interest in returning to sports and entertainment, which is what led me to co-found and launch NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners this summer. To bring the story full circle, the relationships I built going all the way back to my part-time work with the Braves in the late 90’s are what made my career a reality. We have united an unbelievable team of executives from across sports, all of whom have strong working relationships with someone else on the team. Even working remotely, everyone immediately jelled and we were able to hit the ground running. Because of our diverse team with experience across all facets of sports, we are able to quickly begin work with sports companies at all stages, from early startups to established brands and teams.

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

When you spend so much of your career in sports, there’s definitely no lack of interesting stories. My first lasting memory occurred in 1996, my first year working part-time for the Atlanta Braves and also the final year they played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. This stadium had extra meaning to me — it’s where I grew up going to games and watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, way before the team’s run of success in the 1990s. The Braves were in the National League Championship Series and were down three games to one. They came back to tie the series, bringing the decisive seventh game back to Atlanta, where I worked the game. The Braves won that game handily and I somehow ended up on the crew that carried the stage out onto the field for the postgame trophy ceremony. From there, we got to sit in the dugout and watch everything as a young Chipper Jones sprayed all of us with champagne. Unfortunately, the World Series did not end with a similar celebration…

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?

This story isn’t necessarily early in my career but it is early in my time with the Washington Capitals. My director of game entertainment was out for the birth of his first child, so one of our other producers and I stepped in to help run the show (which consists of calling what videos play on the videoboard, what music is played, getting the crowd hyped, etc.). I had zero experience doing this live, but fortunately we had a veteran team that handled most of the work — except for one instance where I approved running the replay of a questionable call by the refs against one of our players who had just made a not-so-smart play. Within five seconds, our phone rang and it was the General Manager calling to not-so-calmly explain why that was a bad idea (to be honest I didn’t even notice there was a phone on the desk until it started ringing). What I didn’t fully grasp prior to that was the dynamic between the business side of hockey and the team side and the importance of building a strong relationship from day one so that expectations and trust are there. Over time, I developed a great relationship with our General Manager and learned a lot from working with him. I wish I had started doing that much earlier!

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

I was reading your interview with Sharon Napier of Partners + Napier and what she said really stuck with me. It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life integration. But it’s not enough to encourage your employees to practice it; for it to really be effective the CEO has to live it as well. Showing your employees that you see the importance of proper integration in your own life and ensuring you don’t lose focus on what your true priorities are is essential to avoiding burnout and thriving consistently. Personal priorities need to remain priorities all the time, not just when work allows it.

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 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Within sports, the idea of remote teams, historically, has been a foreign concept. Until the last few years, I only had experience working with teams face-to-face. However, I spent more than two years working for Shop Your Way as their head of marketing, and much of that was done remotely. I traveled to the corporate office in Chicago a handful of days per month, but otherwise I worked remotely from my home as did a number of the members of the leadership team.

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. One of the toughest challenges is the ability to have productive brainstorming and whiteboard sessions. Many of the best ideas and solutions come from a collaborative group, a marker and a wall-sized whiteboard. Thinking back to my early days with the Capitals, we were closing in on the playoffs and needed a campaign to capitalize on the energy of the fan base, which is when we created Rock the Red. What started as a brainstorming session went on to serve as the team’s rallying cry and tagline for almost a decade. That was developed by getting the key people in the room and listing ideas, crossing ideas out, evolving, combining, and overall brainstorming until we had something great. That same type of session is much more difficult to conduct remotely.
  2. A second challenge is being able to “read the room.” Observing feedback through tone, body language, mannerisms, and expressions is challenging when you aren’t in-person, even if meetings are done via video. It is very easy to misread a reaction and have things snowball. A confusing video call with no ability to grab a face-to-face could lead to an email where tone can get completely misconstrued. For example, if you aren’t in-person when presenting new ideas or discussing solutions to present to a client, it is easy to miss unspoken feedback especially if the employee is hesitant to tell their boss that something is a bad idea.
  3. Distractions! This is a challenge for everyone, not just the manager. It is easy to get sidetracked, like when the kids pop into the office to ask a question or tell a story. Fortunately, my kids are pretty good with boundaries, but it has happened more than once where my 4-year-old interrupts to get on the video call with me. Separating your home life and demands from work is much harder when they both occur in the same location.
  4. What may be the biggest challenge is team building. When I was at the Capitals, we had a team meeting once per week where you can discuss more than work. If it was someone’s birthday, our VP of marketing would make an ice cream cake for the group. This type of stuff is extremely important when building camaraderie amongst the team. Now, in a remote environment, it is much more difficult to develop authentic relationships. Building trust takes longer, as the interactions that do occur now are almost 100% focused on work.
  5. A final piece that gets lost in managing remote teams is not having direct oversight into what the employees are doing and how projects are progressing. Even small things, like stopping by someone’s desk to check in gets lost, as a phone call just isn’t the same and can be more of a nuisance. This is particularly challenging when getting a new employee up to speed on projects and helping them balance their workload. There has to be a lot of trust between manager and employee to successfully overcome this hurdle.

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

  1. For online brainstorming sessions, I would encourage having those be only on video versus phone and utilize screen sharing whenever possible. That keeps people more engaged and the team can use that screen as a pseudo whiteboard to add notes as the team discusses. I would also limit the length of these, as it can really drag on and people will begin to mentally check out. I think the maximum length should be one hour for any single session.
  2. Similar to brainstorming, I think any meeting where back and forth feedback will be given should be done on video as well. From a culture standpoint, it is extremely important to create an environment where feedback is welcomed and everyone will be heard. If the team feels they can be open, then ideas and feedback will be more readily verbalized. However, picking up on nonverbal cues will take time especially when dealing with new employees.
  3. I have found that the best way to avoid distractions in my house is to deem my work area off-limits, except in the case of emergencies. It is important for the kids to understand that when I am there working, it is no different than if I were in an office downtown. Once a meeting gets disturbed, it can be hard to get back on track and it is easy to lose engagement with the team if they don’t think I’m 100% focused.
  4. I believe team-building can still be done virtually, it just has to be done in a different way. Recognizing birthdays is a prime example: while it would be great for everyone to share a cake, it will still go a long way in recognizing key personal moments. It is also very important to take the time in meetings to call out great work and recognize employees. The banter before and after in-person meetings is often where people get to know each other, so at times I have intentionally started a video call late so the attendees have a few minutes to chat amongst themselves. It is important to keep the human aspects of meetings (and not only focused on work), as relationship-building is key to a successful team.
  5. To overcome the lack of day-to-day direct oversight, I recommend setting up multiple one-on-one check-ins throughout the week with each employee or small groups. These shouldn’t be long meetings that people dread, but instead are quick 10-to-15-minute chats that ensure the employee is on track. Remember to also give them an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. It is important for the manager to get to know their employees and what works best for them and set up the length and scheduling so that the employee values the time and doesn’t see it as a distraction or obligation. I also believe it is vital that the manager develop a culture that encourages employees to reach out with issues and be responsive at all times. I see a big part of my role as ensuring that I don’t hinder progress for my team and strive to make sure they are never waiting on me to keep things moving.

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?

That’s a great point and ties into my challenge of “reading the room” without being in the room. The first thing that is crucial here is to have as many of these conversations as possible over video, so you at least have the opportunity to read facial expressions. However, it is important that video not be used only for giving critical feedback or the employee will begin to expect uncomfortable conversations for all video invites and go into them apprehensively. Video is not only important for the manager to read the employee but is just as important to enable the employee to read the manager. Without being face-to-face, you must remember that the employee also can’t tell if you are upset or using it as a coaching moment. The manager should ensure that they choose the right facial expressions and tone to deliver the message.

Another key suggestion is to be open and honest with employees across everything and encourage them to be honest with you as well. Point out the good as well as the bad, and give them the opportunity to tell you what you could be doing better. It is critical that the manager listen as well as deliver feedback. A strong relationship with the employee can help overcome the inability to interact face-to-face.

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

One of the most difficult things to do is convey the right tone in an email, and it is very easy for unintended tone to be what the employee takes away from the message. The manager needs to be consistent in the tone that they use over email and in person. That goes for the flow of conversation as well as word choice. If the wording of the email is more direct and focuses on the problem, whereas an in-person conversation would be more conversational with balanced feedback, then the email will come across as much more critical. If you must deliver critical feedback via email, point out both problems as well as solutions. Don’t just tell an employee where they took the least desirable path or made a mistake; instead offer solutions that will help them avoid problems in the future. Whenever possible, point to prior examples of when the employee did a good job as a lesson for how to handle this situation differently next time. In general, however, I would avoid giving constructive feedback in email whenever possible unless you have a strong relationship and work history with the employee so they know how you operate. If it is a new employee and you are delivering this type of feedback for the first time, I would avoid the email until both sides learn to read each other.

Can you share any suggestions for teams that 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?

I would suggest keeping things as consistent as possible, including both the cadence of meetings and flow. Teams that understand expectations and know each other pretty well will make a much easier transition to remote work. In-person, they know which team members don’t mind people stopping by their desk for a few minutes to catch up on a project and which team members prefer more structure. If someone knows a teammate doesn’t like being interrupted at their desk, then they probably also won’t appreciate multiple random phone calls when working remotely. It is also important that the manager stay in constant communication with the team during the transition, to understand what challenges they are facing and any concerns they have. Addressing these problems quickly will reduce tension and ensure that everyone feels productive and efficient.

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?

The manager needs to set clear expectations on hours, availability, response times, and meeting protocol. Even when remote, there must be a structure to follow, and this consistency will be important for the team to operate. Without a clear communications structure, your team will become frustrated with each other and you. Additionally, it is important for the team to meet together without the manager, as often or even more than they would in-person (to make up for lost chance conversations in the hall or break room). A good manager will balance not micromanaging the team, setting clear expectations, and keeping track of workload. This helps employees avoid bad habits while working remotely.

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 don’t think I need to inspire this movement, as it has been an issue for years and a hot topic recently: we need a renewed focus on our education system. Education is the key to unlocking potential in each new generation, but everyone can agree that it has problems. For every year that we don’t fix those problems, that’s another year we miss improving our future, letting millions of kids and families down. I’m not going to get political and propose what I think the solutions are, but it needs to be analyzed top-to-bottom for:

  1. Inconsistency in educational opportunities, both across the country and within states;
  2. The amount and source of funding for public education;
  3. The role that each level of government should play;
  4. The overall support given to teachers.

It’s time to find solutions. We can’t just keep kicking the can down the road.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to your life?

I feel like I’ve made it through this interview by barely mentioning Duke so far, which my friends and family probably think is quite odd, so I will finish with a quote from Coach K: “Everyone’s ideas should be heard. It doesn’t matter who gets credit, as long as you’re working towards the same mission and shared purpose.”

I think this is critical for any leader, whether it is in business, sports or the community. I have always tried to be the type of leader that listens first. The best ideas rarely come from the person at the top, but the person at the top should be able to listen to everyone, identify the best ideas, refine them, and help the team implement them successfully. I will finish with another non-sports-related quote from George Clooney that I think captures this concept: “You never really learn much from hearing yourself speak.”

Thank you for these great insights!


Joe Dupriest of NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners: 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.

Maggie Craddock of Workplace Relationships: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To…

Maggie Craddock of Workplace Relationships: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Never forget that, while the conversations you have with others matter, the most important conversations you have in life are always the conversations you have with yourself.

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 Maggie Craddock. Maggie Craddock is the founder of the executive coaching firm Workplace Relationships. She has worked with people from all levels of the professional spectrum — from people entering the workforce to Fortune 500 CEOs. Her work has been featured on CNBC, National Public Radio and referenced in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Business Review and Oprah Magazine.

Executive coaching is Maggie’s second career. She worked for over a decade on both the buy side and the sell side of the financial services industry before building her coaching business. As a lead portfolio manager for Scudder, Stevens and Clark, she won to Lipper Awards for top national fund performance. As a national director of consultant relations for Sanford C. Bernstein, she worked with top pension fund clients, boards of directors and industry consultants to keep them apprised of the firm’s strategy across asset classes.

A lifelong learner, when Maggie decided to make her own career transition, she did her homework. A graduate of Smith College and the London School of Economics, Maggie went back to school when she decided to transition from helping people manage their money to helping them manage their careers.

Realizing the magnitude of the emotional component involved in helping people clarify their genuine priorities and achieve authentic success, Maggie attended New York University where she received an MSW and then became an Ackerman certified family therapist.

Maggie is also passionate about her writing. Her latest book, Lifeboat: Navigating Unexpected Career Change and Disruption (New World Library, 2020) draws lessons from the stories of Titanic survivors and applies them to the challenges we are facing today. Her work addresses the human dimension of timeless questions such as: How long will this crisis last? How bad will it get? Who can I trust to help me survive, and how will living through this situation change me?

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?

Managing traders and research analysts in the 1990s taught me that the skills people draw from when it’s “business as usual” aren’t the same skills they needed to develop to operate effectively under extreme emotional pressure. On a fairly normal day, my team and I were cool, objective and hopefully strategic. However, under pressure, we all had to fight the tendency to succumb to snap judgement, polarized thinking and impulsive choices.

Years of navigating volatile markets taught me that trusting my decision making process was far more important than any single decision I made. After all, when conditions changed and things didn’t turn out as planned, sometimes the way our team course corrected ultimately prove more profitable than our original plan would have been.

Gradually, I began to realize that this simple truth about the importance of trusting my decision making process didn’t just apply to running money. It also applied to the way I navigated 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?

In 1993, I found myself standing on the balcony at a spectacular resort in Laguna Beach during an investment conference. Our team had just won a Lipper Award for the best-performing short-term global bond fund in the nation. I’d been profiled on CNBC, was being quoted regularly in the national media and I’d even received an invitation from Michael Lipper who wanted to congratulate me on our fund’s success.

I should have been on top of the world!

However, as I watched the waves lap against the retaining wall underneath my balcony, I realized that something was missing.

I was experiencing a wake-up call from my authentic self.

While I was both humbled by and grateful for the success my team and I were enjoying, I also realized that one of the key skills I’d drawn on was mastering the art of being who other people wanted me to be. You could send me to a board meeting, and I could morph into who they wanted me to be. You could put me on the phone with an anxious client, and I’d become who they need me to be.

Where was I in all of this? Was this really the highest and best use of my talent and energy?

The conversation I had with myself in that rare moment of sacred silence in Laguna was when my ambitions shifted from helping people create profitable portfolios to helping them create profitable lives.

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

At Workplace relationships, we aren’t just focused on helping people think more strategically. We are focused on helping people cultivate the emotional agility they need to respond to unexpected changes and triggering situations that evoke such powerful feelings that they can barely think at all.

A person’s professional power style often mimics the power dynamics they experienced in the first system they navigated in life — the family system. By exploring the emotional and behavioral triggers developed in the family system, our process helps determine whether someone will react like a dictator or a doormat when he or she is under stress on the job.

Early in my career, I met a prominent investor who had developed such a terrifying reputation as a bully that his power style was becoming a liability for his firm’s culture.

I should have known things might get challenging when the HR representative assigned to introduce me to this investor gave me an anxious smile and bolted before saying a word.

When this prospective client finished his phone call, he hunched his shoulders and continued to purposefully ignore my presence.

Finally, I ventured into the threshold of his office and asked politely, “Excuse me, but I think we have a meeting. Is this a good time?”

My memory of what happened next is a little patchy. That’s what happens under stress.

I remember his face turning towards me with an expression of frustration mixed with fury. I remember hearing him launch into a tirade so loud that, out of the corner of my eye, I could see frightened subordinates sinking into their chairs. I even remember fragments of the phrases he was throwing out such as, “useless charm school…waste of my time…” and some choice expletives that honestly weren’t needed for emphasis, but I guess he threw them in for good measure.

Finally, he wound down. We all need to take a breath at some point.

I was still standing in the same spot which, in retrospect, may have surprised us both.

“WELL!??” he demanded.

Before he could get himself wound up for a second blast, I ventured a respectful response that I hoped would shift the tone.

“I hope you’ll forgive me,” I began as politely as I could manage, “but I’m afraid I didn’t catch everything you just said. It’s clear that based on your passion, and the fact that you repeated a few phrases, that’s there’s something urgent you are trying to get across. Unfortunately, I was so taken aback by your tone that I must confess that I can’t fully recall all of the words you used. While I hate subject you to further frustration, if you could take it from the top, I’m going to take notes this time.”

Then, he saw me.

This man was operating from the blind spots of what I refer to as the Commander power style. An emotional trigger for Commanders is impatience. Thus, under pressure, Commanders are prone to erupt when anything distracts them from what they see as their priorities in the moment.

However, the other side of this trigger is that Commanders often respond quite positively to people stand their ground with dignity.

“You can’t remember the words I used?” he asked with a trace of sarcasm laced with a growing hint respect.

“Sometimes,” I told him as calmly as possible, “people dissociate when they feel intimidated. I’m pretty sure that just happened to me. Do you think that ever happens with other people you work with?”

This client hired me on the spot, and we developed a rewarding relationship. Underneath his frustration, often born of a passion for excellence, this Commander turned out to be a caring and committed leader.

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?

The late, great Judy Tobias Davis was on the Dean’s Advisory Council for New York University’s School of Social Work with me. Judy was a tireless supporter of projects she believed in — both in her public and her private life.

We became fast friends from the moment we met. Fellow book lovers, Judy and I would spend glorious afternoons together in her apartment on Central Park South discussing writers who had inspired us.

What’s more, Judy eagerly poured over the manuscript for my first book, The Authentic Career. As any first-time writers knows, getting encouragement and emotionally honest feedback from a trusted source can be critical to writing your truth during moments of self-doubt.

Judy helped me tap into the resilience that comes from knowing you have the support of a true friend.

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?

To me, resilience is about embracing the relational lesson at the heart of any challenge we face. By embracing this lesson, we find ourselves tapping into a combination of purpose and passion that makes it possible to overcome obstacles that might otherwise hinder our progress.

Sometimes, the lesson we face invites us to strengthen our relationship with ourselves. This fortifies the resilience we need to chart our own course professionally and not have this dictated for us by outside forces.

Sometimes the relational lesson invites us to become more emotionally agile when we interact with others. This fortifies the resilience we need to negotiate conflict in a way that fortifies our personal integrity rather than diminishing it.

Often, the most powerful lessons we embrace play out in our relationships with the groups we join and the organizations we choose to support. When it comes to our careers, this strengthens the resilience we need to align ourselves with organizations that reinforce our core values and, when necessary, make a healthy break with those that don’t.

Resilient people don’t make snap judgments and they don’t harbor grudges. Resilient people bear in mind that, in a rapidly changing world, you can’t judge someone’s full potential until you have assessed their capacity to evolve.

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

I’ve been thrilled by the press coverage of John Lewis lately, because these programs have showcased the resilience of an American hero who experienced others at their best — and at their worst.

From the physical blows he survived marching for civil rights to the tireless years of service he gave to our government, John Lewis exemplified that inspirational combination of courage and humility that is the hallmark of a resilient leader in the service of a cause that’s greater than any one individual — or any one generation.

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?

I struggled with a lot of emotional backlash as the dream of developing my coaching methodology formed inside of me. In fact, there were moments when my inner doubts threatened to paralyze me.

One reason was that, in the 1990s, the industries of consulting, counseling and personal growth were well-established but often poorly integrated disciplines. How dare I, as a beginner, attempt to cross boundaries in multiple disciplines simultaneously?

Once I started to take action, the years that I spent developing the inner resilience to trust my decision making process and live my own truth were integral to my success. My work involved digging deep into myself and finding the courage to put my beliefs into practice. I was acting on the faith that helping people listen to their inner voice would not only make it possible for them to identify what they wanted to do, it would also help them find a way to get paid to do it.

While many people have been enthusiastic supporters of my approach to integrating previously disparate disciplines over the years, there have also been “experts” who sought to discourage my efforts when they threatened the boundaries of previously established methodologies. The inner resolve that I had cultivated by staying aware of the conversations I was having with myself, and the ways that emotional triggers could impact my thought process under pressure gave me the courage I needed to negotiate with and learn from others when my convictions were on the line.

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?

As an only child, my priorities abruptly shifted from my career to my family during my parents’ final years. Fortunately, the resilience required to meet the challenges of this chapter of life were reinforced by the blessing of being married to my best friend.

My husband Charles and I settled into a routine of ending the work week by heading to the Philadelphia airport, boarding an 8pm flight for Fort Worth Texas and arriving at our hotel around 1am. We spent the balance of our weekends during those stressful years visiting with my parents, taking care of chores and paperwork for them and crashing in our hotel room to replenish our energy.

What took my breath away was the kindness of the people we encountered everywhere we turned during this challenging time.

By the time my father passed, the hotel staff not only helped me print out the eulogy I wrote for his funeral — they laminated it. As I raced to the nursing home during my mother’s final days, I found that head of the nursing unit had literally moved her desk in to my mother’s room to make sure mom wasn’t left alone before I could reach her side. Years later, people we worked with to help settle their legal affairs, keep their home repaired and even store their possessions still reach out to stay connected with us.

This challenge taught me that, when it comes to resilience, people matter in a very human way during a crisis. There are some things you simply can’t do alone. Without the emotional support of my husband and our friends, I’m not sure how I would have balanced my duty to my parents with my professional responsibilities.

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

From my earliest memories, my parents were tireless supporters of getting me the best education possible. As a result, I took some aptitude tests and ended up receiving a scholarship that made it possible for me to attend an exclusive private high school in Fort Worth.

What my parents didn’t anticipate was the social challenges I faced integrating into a student body where many of the other kids came from extremely wealthy families. While I grew up in a comfortable middle class suburb, compared to the wealthy lifestyles of many of my peers, it often felt like I was from the wrong side of the tracks.

I’ll never forget the day that I was late to class because a group of girls were clustered around my locker chatting gaily. Because of the way they were standing, I couldn’t get to my books. I politely asked them to move. One of them looked down at my shoes, rolled her eyes, the group continued their conversation as if I were invisible.

It felt awful.

As the years progressed, I learned that the way these young women had reacted had very little to do with how they felt about me. It had much more to do with how they felt about themselves. In spite of their expensive cars and fancy shoes, many of them came from homes where they received little genuine validation or emotional support.

Some of the girls who blocked me from my locker that day ended up becoming friends of mine by the time we all graduated. I think this is because, in spite of the stressful social moments we all weathered, they watched me stay focused on my studies, my painting (I love art work!) and my long term plan of getting the education I needed to make my mark in the world.

Decades later, one of them invited me to vacation with her at her family’s vacation home. Over dinner as we watched the sun go down, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and confessed, “I’ve always admired your career. I wish I could figure out some way to have a meaningful job too.”

I remember telling her that one of the gifts I started my life with was the realization that I had to make my career work. Then, I shared one of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes with her: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

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.) Never forget that, while the conversations you have with others matter, the most important conversations you have in life are always the conversations you have with yourself.

Because my methodology encourages clients reflect on the values, approaches to conflict and even the definition of success they internalized in their early family system, I’ve had the privilege of hearing a wide range of formative stories. These early stories often form the narrative that shapes people’s beliefs about their own potential and the range of possibilities open to them during changing times.

It’s important to clarify how the experiences in your early family system have shaped your thinking. This is because, through becoming aware of how other people have trained you to define yourself, you tap into the resilience you need to rewrite this definition in a way that feels authentic and genuinely fulfilling.

2.) Accept your feelings with as little judgement as possible — don’t waste valuable energy suppressing them.

When we judge ourselves for experiencing flashes of envy, resentment or even anger under pressure — we undermine our resilience.

Give yourself a break. Learn to acknowledge and accept your feelings with humor and gentleness. You need to be aware of what you are feeling during rapidly changing times, as your feelings may be vital clues about what you need to change in your work and life to stay true to yourself.

3.) Don’t get so wrapped up in how you are coming across that you lose sight of how other’s feel about themselves in your presence.

What motivates others to open up and support you, and what causes them to shut down and avoid you, doesn’t always stem from how they feel about you. It often stems from how being around you causes them to feel about themselves.

After someone has had a conversation with you, how do they feel about themselves? Do they feel validated and supported? Do they feel anxious or emotionally erased?

Learning the art of establishing sustainable rapport with others is vital to creating relationships that fortify our resilience under pressure.

4.) Aligning your thoughts, feelings and actions in the present moment trumps trying to think yourself through a thorny situation every time.

Resilient people get centered under pressure. They look at what’s right in front of them, check in with what they are feeling and carefully observe what’s going on with others in the moment. Establishing this inner alignment often reveals hidden resources, taps into latent strengths and creates potential solutions that might otherwise elude you if you were trapped in a thought loop.

5. ) Look for opportunities to do for others without stopping to calculate what’s in it for you.

When my team and I worked on a trading floor, we learned the art of taking action before the market moved away from us.

In life, it’s powerful to train yourself to act on opportunities to be helpful and supportive of others before you stop to calculate what’s in it for you. This is because, if you take time to do an internal cost-benefit analysis, the moment may pass.

Stop and give directions — even if you are in a hurry. Buy that box of cookies or whatever the hopeful young student is selling. Give the coupons you aren’t using to someone who has that item in their cart.

How will this help you?

Well, for starters, you never know whose watching. I had a client who gave a young woman in a hurry the cup of coffee that he’d just paid for so she could make it to the office on time. Fifteen minutes later he discovered that this same woman turned out to be the receptionist at the firm he was visiting to apply for a job.

Yep — he got the position.

But more to the point, when it comes to resilience, the one person who is always watching you is you.

Cultivating habits that systematically enhance your respect for yourself is foundational to your resilience in work and in life.

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. 🙂

Making a shift from the Self-help mindset to what I call the Us-help mindset.

What I mean by the Self-help mindset is a perspective on life where you are primarily focused on your personal security and advancement. While this approach is understandable, particularly under stress, when a large group of people are operating from this mindset they all end up feeling alone together.

In contrast, the Us-help mindset is where you balance your individual goals and needs with an appreciation for the overall well-being of the group. This approach to work and life breaks the chains of isolation and encourages you to prioritize the value you bring to others as well as the individual accolades you may enjoy along the way.

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 🙂

Rachel Maddow — and, by the way, I’d be thrilled with a brief phone call.

Rachel’s penchant for helping her viewers put current political developments into context by giving us brief history lessons is, in my opinion, extremely valuable to our cultural conversation. I’d love to learn more about the thought process she goes through to inspire her audience to think more broadly about what they are witnessing while she updates them on current event.

Also, I’d welcome the chance to thank her for the tone of humor she occasionally injects into her work. There have been nights during this challenging time where her approach to delivering dire news has reset my sanity by helping me laugh.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website is workplacerelationships.com

You can also find me on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook under Maggie Craddock and on Twitter at @MaggieCraddock

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


Maggie Craddock of Workplace Relationships: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Michael Jaszczyk of GK Software USA

…Eliminating the distinction between purely eCommerce and purely brick and mortar retail. Successful retailers of the future will combine the benefits of both.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Jaszczyk.

Michael Jaszczyk is the CEO of GK Software USA, where he works to maintain and enhance the company’s global reputation as the supplier of one of the most innovative and complete retail software platforms and suite of services. He draws on an extensive wealth of experience, both in software development for the retail sector and as a manager at international IT companies, including MCRL AG, Pironet AG and SA2 Retail AG. GK Software provides a future-proof foundation to support retailers’ customer engagement strategies.

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

My first job, after having worked with computers already for 12 years, was with a large furniture retailer. Although I was hired as a programmer, I had to work in every department for three months: sales, accounting, marketing, the distribution center, etc. Having to do many processes triggered my passion to optimize retail with technology.

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

In 2003, I was part of the Metro Group future store initiative. This was essentially the first future store in retail. Within three years, we saw more than 200,000 visitors from around the world. My company provided the software to integrate the store’s features, such as computers mounted on the shopping carts (which is now essentially what Amazon is doing), kiosks with projectors that would show an item’s specific location on the aisle, and RFID. Essentially, my career here showed me what the future of retail can really be, and how it’s all centered around a customer’s experience.

Funnily, Claudia Schiffer, a German model, attended the grand opening of the store, which aired on TV. However, something had gone wrong overnight and all the prices were displayed as $0. So, while they were in the store, I was in the data center fixing the touchpoints!

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?

My mistake is not necessarily funny, but it taught me to be very careful with anything I do. When I began working in IT, I worked for a furniture chain, and they had about 50 large stores connected to the data center. I was working as an intern one Saturday, and no one else on my team was around — but Saturdays were often busy for us.

While I was printing out revenue reports, we received an error message on the mainframe computer. One store called and said the cash registers weren’t working. No one had told me what to do in this type of situation, so I grabbed a manual for the mainframe and found a command. Turns out the mainframe shut down communications with all stores, and it took two hours to come back online, resulting in a massive loss of sales.

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

As a result of COVID-19, we launched an app called GetMyGoods that enables simple grocery ordering and pickup while ensuring the protection of everyone involved. While many retailers without buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) services would have to work for months to integrate these services with their existing technology, our app is designed to provide retailers a way to instantly deploy. That way, retailers are able to focus on ensuring their customers can safely get the products they need.

GetMyGooods is built on the idea that consumer behavior is changing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the adoption of contactless retail will accelerate as retailers and shoppers limit exposure to potential carriers.

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

This is true for any job, not just the industry: if you get up in the morning and want to go to work, that means you’re passionate about it. Even though you might be stressed, it’s positive stress. When you wake up and don’t want to go to work because you’re not enthusiastic or it feels like a burden, then you should reconsider your job and seek change.

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?

Rainer Gläß, our global CEO, is always asking for things that are impossible. As a leader, he doesn’t accept no for an answer, and when “no” doesn’t exist in someone’s vocabulary, that is when impossible things do happen.

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

This goes back to the GetMyGooods app. When it comes to the health and safety of employees and shoppers, we don’t want retailers to spend time, energy and money working to enact the safest practices — they should be able to have them instantaneously.

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?

Successful retailers are understanding the importance of being able to do retail anywhere, at any point in time. A few examples of this look like:

  • Eliminating the distinction between purely ecommerce and purely brick and mortar retail. Successful retailers of the future will combine the benefits of both.
  • Adopting more mobile retail capabilities, as it provides the ability to interact with consumers from anywhere in any situation. For example, shoppers can preorder items from their kitchen or their car. Last year’s Black Friday online sales reached $7.4 billion, the second largest online shopping day ever behind 2018’s Cyber Monday, which demonstrates consumer’s demand on this channel.
  • Retailers will become much more mature regarding understanding the technology that’s required for their vertical, and for each type of sale. For example, it doesn’t make sense for grocers to have clienteling solutions that tell shoppers what’s so great about butter or milk. Grocers need solutions that focus on replenishment, convenience, speed and ease of delivery. For apparel retailers, they require technology that supports the social and experiential event that is shopping.
  • More retailers will utilize dark stores — or stores that are used solely as distribution centers. Brick and mortar retailers already have an advantage over Amazon as they have an existing distribution network — with “warehouses” close to consumers — their stores. Dark stores will allow retailers to oversee BOPIS, delivery and last mile processes with more efficiency. Whether completely dark, or utilizing stores as a showroom, physical retailers can meet instant gratification demand of consumers.

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. 🙂

Grocery stores are the source of 10 percent of U.S. food waste, throwing away 43 billion pounds of food every year. What’s worse is that according to The Food Trust, 50 percent of produce is thrown out while still edible, a shocking statistic considering that 23.5 million Americans lack access to fresh produce.

My dream movement would be a program or company that provides a way for retailers to donate produce that’s nearing its expiration date — instead of throwing it away in the dumpster. There’s obviously a huge disconnect here, and food that is still edible — but don’t necessarily meet a company’s standard — should be available for those who need it most.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn under Michael Jaszczyk.

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


The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Michael Jaszczyk of GK Software USA was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

David Wallace of Greenphire: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Communicating, communicating, communicating: Just when you think you’re not communicating enough, communicate more. You might think what you’re doing is great, but is it effective? I don’t always know if people read my weekly blogs to my team, but when I announced the promotion of one of my managers, she got more than 120 reactions on Slack. Even if you’re not getting responses directly, people are reading and want to hear from you.

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

As Chief Technology Officer, David leads the development of Greenphire’s innovative technology solutions that automate the payment life cycle the clinical trial industry, ensuring the infrastructure is secure, scalable and reliable. Leveraging a proven agile methodology, David and his team constantly refine and develop Greenphire’s solutions to support client needs. Additionally, he works closely with the product team to plan and execute the product roadmap strategy, anticipating “what’s next” and how to develop the right solutions to maintain the company’s strategic advantage.

With over twenty years of experience, David has an extremely valuable combination of technology strategy, architecture design, integration, and product development in the SaaS industry.

Previously, David was Senior Director of Information Technology at iPipeline, a leading SaaS provider used by the nation’s top life insurance companies, where he was responsible for global infrastructure, system and application security. Prior to that, David was Director of Information Systems at Procurian, where he managed networking and data center operations and lead the development of the company’s procurement infrastructure to support a Fortune 500 client base.

Born in Ireland, David holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Delaware Valley College. In his spare time, David enjoys adventure racing (that was pre-kids), and overall being active and engaged with his children

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’ve been at Greenphire for eight years, from its infancy to where we are today with over 200 people. I have over 20 years in the technology industry, spanning strategy, application development, operations and more. I’ve worked in industries such as insurance, payment systems and healthcare — and at Greenphire, we are right where the intersection of where fintech and healthcare meet.

Personally, I spend a lot of time with my family and have two small children. I grew up in Ireland until I was in my early teens and still have a lot of family there, and I love to travel and do new experiences. I want to share those experiences with my children, just like my parents did for me. Expose them to as much as possible, and let those sponges of brains and personality absorb it all.

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

Well, this may both the most interesting and embarrassing! Several years ago, I was travelling for work and en route to Greenphire’s biggest client meeting ever, and forgot to check my bag. I had to wear my comfortable train clothes to this important meeting — just casual jeans instead of a suit. Thankfully we got the deal and my outfit didn’t matter anyway! (Sometimes its good to be an IT guy)

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?

One of my first jobs was as a developer and my initial project was working implementing direct deposit in the in-house payroll system — new and innovative at the time. I was responsible for calculating the 401K contributions for the company’s executives, and made a huge mistake in their calculation. Thankfully, my manager helped smooth out the situation, but it was uncomfortable at the time. I learned to take responsibility for my actions and to own up to my mistakes, but also to put checks in place to lessen the chances for manual error.

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

I’ve found that when you don’t have the right personal outlets, life can get out of balance. I personally love being active and any sports (basketball, tennis, occasional run), but admittedly I don’t get to do those things as much as I’d like with work and having small children. However, hobbies don’t necessarily need to be all exercise — it’s whatever makes you smile and decompress. One thing that I love is taking my seven-year-old daughter to gymnastics class (well, pre-COVID19). Spending time with her in the car, watching her tumble and listening to her excitedly talk about the class on her way home is special to me.

In recent months, I’ve joined the legions of DIY-ers and have spent time working with my hands — finishing the basement, building a garden. I enjoy working with my hands and don’t usually have time do so under normal circumstances. I learned that from my father and from a job I had through college, where I drove a truck and helped a furniture store re-finish furniture — a general building of knowledge of how to work with my hands.

I suggest to my teams and other executives to find time to what makes you happy. After all, only you can look after you — no one else can do it. It’s something important you need to figure out and work towards balancing. If you reach a tipping point, you’re likely to get frustrated, blame your company (or others around you). Remember — it’s not the company. Balance starts with you. Find what works to help bring both personal and professional satisfaction to your life.

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?

Just one! Typically I’ve worked face-to-face with my teams and colleagues. Even though I’ve spent my career in IT, I haven’t done much offshoring or remote work, and enjoy the comradery of being in an office. It’s been an adjustment, but I’ve been pleased with how well our IT and engineering team has remained connected and productive.

Some of the things I’ve done differently include:

Weekly blogs — these are internal updates to the IT and Engineering team that highlight our team’s wins, company news and some personal stories. I’ve shared conversations as personal as my love and care for my mom.

Lunches — I’m dedicated to having lunch with different teams, to hear what they’re up to and just socialize. It’s been a lot of fun.

Office hours — I’ve also dedicated hours for when individuals can come to me with questions, suggestions, problems and more. It lets employees know that I’m available to them and prevents my calendar from getting overrun with meetings.

Breakfasts with the offshore team — We have a small team in Vietnam. Given that they’re on the other side of the world, I want to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to make sure we’re in constant communication and in the loop with our team in the US.

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?

Managing a team remotely certainly requires a shift. Rather than just highlighting the challenges, I’ve listed out some challenges and solutions to managing in this environment:

  1. Lack of transparency: Since you don’t see people face to face, it’s more difficult to know when people are working or how busy they are.
  2. Having confidence in your team: One way to confront the lack of transparency is through trust. When you have confidence in your team and managers, it gives them the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and professionalism to deliver on key projects. We look at metrics all the time, and We validate that we haven’t lost SDLC effectiveness by looking at metrics, building ownership and pride amongst our IT department.
  3. Understanding where their challenges are: Right now, employees working from home have challenges, many of them. Whether just feeling stir crazy, having a bad at-home work set up or having little children interrupting their work day, there are many distractions that can frustrate employees. I feel it myself. Recently I spent lots of time cleaning my garage top to bottom. All it took was my two kids playing with Styrofoam for a few minutes to turn it upside down again. I had to remind myself that they were just playing. Their world is upside down right now too.
  4. Creating that facetime with employees: Since we’re apart, it’s essential that you get comfortable with your webcam. You want to see each other, read your colleague’s body language, even during remote meetings.
  5. Communicating, communicating, communicating: Just when you think you’re not communicating enough, communicate more. You might think what you’re doing is great, but is it effective? I don’t always know if people read my weekly blogs to my team, but when I announced the promotion of one of my managers, she got more than 120 reactions on Slack. Even if you’re not getting responses directly, people are reading and want to hear from you.

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

To address the lack of togetherness that we all face right now, I can’t stress the importance of communication and encouraging facetime with your colleagues and teammates.

Some additional things we can do to overcome challenges are:

  • Flexibility: People working from home may have personal responsibilities to tend to. For example, we have several folks on our team who have shifted their schedules so they can alternate taking care of children with their spouse.
  • Empowering Managers: I lean a lot on my team’s managers right now, so it’s not just my leadership that’s important — but theirs as well. I make sure that they’re talking to employees regularly about projects and about their personal health also. First time managers are taking on a lot right now, learning to be managers, in a 100% remote workplace. They need our support and guidance
  • Taking time off: It may seem silly to take a day off (especially if you’re not going away on vacation), but taking time to decompress is essential right now to avoid physical and mental fatigue.

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?

I’ve had several instances of giving constructive feedback while working remotely. There are a few no brainers — ensuring that you’re face to face as we’ve already covered, and when live, being careful of your body language. It’s essential to make sure that your facial expressions and posture don’t give the wrong impression — especially in a group meeting.

However, remote or not remote, lead with the heart first. You don’t know what individuals may have going on personally, so I start by asking if there’s anything the individual wants to tell you about. He or she may have a scenario at home that may be weighing on them, and impacting their performance. Without asking about their personal well-being, you may lose credibility and damage the relationship.

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

In my opinion, email is just factual and really shouldn’t be used for giving constructive feedback. People may misconstrue being direct for being critical, but in my case, an effective email should tee up either an action or a conversation. Always start cordially, and include what you need as well the “why” you need it (will it help with a client interaction? Will it improve internal efficiency?). Provide a due date and ask if there are any reasons why it might not be able to be completed on time.

By providing all the details and facts, you help the individual know exactly what’s needed to be successful.

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?

As I mentioned earlier, our team was used to working on location together prior to being forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. In addition to communicating more frequently and face to face, here’s another tip for leading employees through a new way of working.

Be sure to watch team dynamics, especially in group meetings. You want to make sure that those who are introverted don’t just fall to the background and get overlooked by extroverts in conversations. Make sure you engage everyone and ask others for their contributions who may not be as vocal.

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?

When our IT department is in the office, we have a lot of fun. We’re 70 people strong and do a lot of group activities such as a chili cook off, volunteer projects and more.

Now that we’re remote, it’s even more important to make sure that people are healthy and that we’re providing an empowering work culture.

We talk about personal happenings a lot — even I do as the head of the department. We all have the same problems — family, house, finding time to decompress.

Greenphire has been planning a lot of fun virtual activities that we as a team participate in, including Quizzo happy hours, talent shows and online workouts.

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 obvious answer right now would be to wear a mask! If I could trigger everyone to wear a mask, I would.

But, I’d also encourage everyone to remember that everyone has a story and we’re all going through a stressful time. On my team, I have two colleagues whose significant others are seven months pregnant. It is stressful to consider having a baby right now with so much going on in the world.

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

My father (and really my entire family) has had a tremendous influence on my life. Growing up in Ireland, he learned the value of hard work and my parents passed that along to us. In fact, the lesson I learned most from him is that no one will outwork me. Other people in a room may be smarter, but if you stand by your principles and remain inquisitive, you will succeed. Whether it was when I was just getting started or today, I advise others to “manage up;” share what you can do for them and the organization instead of why you deserve something of something. If you put forth the effort, hard work and dedication, you’ll go far in life. Opportunities may come along, but success is based on you!

Thank you for these great insights!


David Wallace of Greenphire: 5 Things You Need To Know 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 Dr. Gail Saltz: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

— Just ask. People who feel lonely, also often feel insecure and afraid to ask you to get together, to talk, to listen, to connect…even by phone. Ask them first. They need that boost that you would want to, it can help them feel secure enough to keep connecting.

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 Dr. Gail Saltz. Dr. Saltz is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry with The New York Presbyterian Hospital and psychoanalyst at The New York Psychoanalytic Institute, best known for her work as a relationship, family, emotional wellbeing, and mental health/wellness contributor in the media where she frequently shares her expertise and commentary on the mental health aspects of current issues and news. She is a bestselling author of numerous books including her most recent, The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, a powerful and inspiring examination of the connection between the potential for great talent and conditions commonly thought to be “disabilities.” Dr. Saltz is the host of the 92Y regular, live Psychobiography series, and serves as a Medical Expert for the Physicians for Human Rights. She is also a columnist for US News & World Report and the host of the “Personology” podcast from iHeart Media.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

While doing a residency in internal medicine, I realized that patients’ mental health status had a critical impact on their physical health and wellbeing — more than anything else. I became fascinated with the mind and decided to switch into psychiatry. This decision was met with mixed reactions from colleagues in internal medicine as they thought it was so stigmatized. Throughout my training, I noticed this stigma surrounding mental health was ultimately what kept people from getting the help they desperately needed. This further ignited my passion to help diminish this stigma and educate others through writing and interviews with media.

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

In June of 2001, I got a call at 6:30 a.m. letting me know that a woman in Texas had drowned all of her children and was asked if I could quickly come on The Today Show — where I had never appeared — to explain issues related to a new mother and infanticide. I explained how common postpartum depression actually is, how one can develop postpartum psychosis, and that up to one year after giving birth, these illnesses can occur. These issues were rarely, if ever, being discussed in a public forum at that time, and as a result women rarely knew this could happen and how to get help. I got a deluge of response from women struggling with post-partum depression, or who had in the past. It altered my view of the importance of public education in mental health and the need to diminish stigma. Ultimately, it changed my career direction towards public education. As an addendum, Andrea Yates was wrongly tried and convicted to prison. It took several years for the conviction to be changed due to the late understanding of post-partum psychosis and her being placed in a psychiatric hospital setting.

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

In the earliest days of doing television, I felt somewhat insecure in the fact that my hair was very curly, and no one on TV in those years was ever seen with curly hair. I was constantly being told that I must wear my hair straight. You might think as a doctor, and a psychiatrist no less, I wouldn’t let other people tell me how I had to look. But sadly, insecurity can undermine even mental health professionals. I let stylists straight iron my hair at studios to appease. The humorous part is that my hair is so coarse that sometimes I literally looked like I had a lion’s mane…and people even emailed that to me! One day, I had stepped out of the shower with wet hair and got a call that I needed to be on air in 40 minutes….with 20 minutes of travel. I knew there was absolutely no way to dry and straighten my hair. I told them, “You’ll have to take me curly, or not at all!” I went on-air with my curly hair and felt such relief at looking like myself! I never straightened my hair again. I learned that authenticity matters more than compliance to some artificial standard, knowledge does matter more than outward appearances, confidence comes from being true to yourself, and hours spent changing your appearance for somebody else are hours wasted.

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

Yes! I am working on season 2 of my iHeart Media Podcast PERSONOLOGY. These are psychobiographies of important people in history and what made them tick. Being able to see that even the most successful people in history had psychological issues is very enlightening to people. I am also working on a brand new podcast that I will be hosting for iHeart Media with Seneca Women, a women’s leadership organization, that will answer women’s questions regarding all types of psychological and relationship issues to better their lives. This podcast will provide mental health information and help to people who don’t really have access to a mental health professional themselves.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

Loneliness is a psychological state, not necessarily based on exactly how many people you interact with. Loneliness also correlates with depression and with anxiety. Taken together, mental health professionals are often who “treats loneliness”. As a psychiatrist, it is my job to understand the roots of, causes of, individual nature of and how to help people with loneliness.

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?

  1. Loneliness often leads to depression. Major Depression has many health consequences including cardiovascular, brain and impact on quality of life. It also has a 15% mortality rate due to suicide.
  2. Loneliness often leads to high anxiety. Anxiety disorders also have health implications and impede one’s ability to function day-to-day.
  3. Social isolation can cause cognitive decline, due to lack of mental stimulation of taking in social information and responding spontaneously to the interactions.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Loneliness is growing in all age groups, and especially young adults. Given its mental health and physical health implications, it will add significantly to overall poor health and need for more healthcare. It may also contribute to rising suicide rates through deaths of despair, deaths from substance overdose, and suicide.

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.

Loneliness is not based on the number of people one is connected to, it’s based on the depth of connection to a few. It is the feeling of being devoid of people you can really trust, really feel deeply intimate with and connected to. That is why the surprising age group with growing loneliness is late teens and young adults. This group is especially connected via social media. However, social media does not provide depth of relationship. It does not provide the feeling that another is intimately connected to you or that you can share anything with them, be accepted, be cared for. Nothing feels lonelier than feeling alone while you’re with other people. Having tons of the equivalent of Facebook friends, means a lot of time spent keeping that up, but not time spent building close quality relationships. The result is many in this age group feeling lonely.

Families are spreading out. People easily move for jobs, etc. and the idea that you would stay close to home when you move out is disappearing. This means that the close intimate family bonds you have may get stretched and diminish, which can also lead to loneliness.

Marriage is decreasing. For a host of social, financial, cultural reasons, the rate of marriage is going down. Partnership often provides the intimate close relationship that staves off loneliness.

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.

— Hone your empathy. Most people are fairly consumed with their own point of view and their own struggles. Standing in other people’s shoes emotionally would help everyone in the sense that there would be motivation to connect with them and understand their point of view. This is what grows relationships of meaning.

— Just ask. People who feel lonely, also often feel insecure and afraid to ask you to get together, to talk, to listen, to connect…even by phone. Ask them first. They need that boost that you would want to, it can help them feel secure enough to keep connecting.

— Spend less time on social media and more time in person. Right now it might need to be in masks and socially distanced, but in-person interactions build and maintain relationships. Social media does not.

— Be willing to listen. Part of feeling connected to others is listening. Listening makes the other person feel truly understood. Offer yourself up as a good listener to others that you notice might be feeling lonely. This would go a long way. Some places are creating “listening benches” where someone waits for anyone who might want to drop in to have a conversation and be heard. This is a great idea and actually has been found to be effective in helping people with depression.

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’ve been “working on a movement” for quite a number of years now, to obliterate all stigma related to mental health issues. Close to half of all Americans in their lifetime will struggle with a mental health issue, and yet the number one reason they won’t get treatment is still stigma. It’s why I wrote my latest book “The Power of Different”. It’s a topic I speak frequently on. Stigma still exists in many parts of the country, in certain professional groups like even health care workers (!), in certain minority communities, etc.

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 🙂

Michele Obama! She exemplifies a smart, creative, strong female leader. She understands and speaks about how important relationships are in life. In fact, she’s starting a podcast about just that topic! That’s something we have in common and I would love the chance to speak with her about the state of mental health care in this country and the value of close relationships.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: @GailSaltz

Twitter: @DrGailSaltz


Author Dr. Gail Saltz: 5 Things We Can Each Do 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.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations every day with a fleet of 10 vehicles” With Marc Kuo of Routific

The fact that most businesses are still manually planning routes is a big problem for the environment. Third- party environmental consultants estimated carbon emission reductions equivalent to planting 86 trees/year for every driver that switches over from manually planned routes to ones optimized by Routific.

This isn’t just a big idea that might change the world. It is already changing the world. In 2019 alone, Routific helped delivery businesses around the world save 11,322 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of planting more than 500,000 trees.

But there’s still a lot more work to be done.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Kuo the Founder and CEO of Routific. An expert on advanced route optimization algorithms, he brings more than a decade of experience in the field of logistics. Previously, Marc was a founding team member at Axiom Zen, an algorithmic trader for UBS Bank in Hong Kong, and a consultant at Cap Gemini in the Netherlands. He graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in operations research from Erasmus University, where he majored in computer science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

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

I remember sitting at my desk on the 51st floor of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, eyes darting back and forth between the seven computer monitors before me. I was using algorithms to move millions of dollars on the stock exchange. I had landed a banking job fresh out of grad school, and in many ways, it seemed like a dream job — for about two whole months.

Everything seemed so glamorous at first. I wore a suit to work, the office tower was beautiful, and the money was good, — but pretty quickly, I began to feel empty and unfulfilled. I looked out the window, down at the great city below, where hundreds of cars were zooming through intersections, over bridges, and into tunnels, and thought: “What if I could use algorithms to move vehicles in a more efficient way? What if those algorithms could lead to less road congestion, less fuel wasted, and more blue skies for Hong Kong and other great cities around the world?”

I quit my job at the investment bank pretty soon after that, and took out my old graduate thesis on advanced route optimization algorithms. While I was proud of my academic work, what use was it sitting in the university library?

For the next two years, I worked on rewriting the algorithm and turning it into an easy-to-use route optimization platform for delivery businesses. I wanted to bring the algorithm to life, to see it applied to the real world, and have it make a positive impact.

Fast forward to the year 2020, and we’ve really come a long way. Our company has grown to include a team of incredibly smart and passionate people — software engineers, data scientists, designers, marketers, customer success experts, business leaders — who are committed to helping the 1,000+ delivery companies on our platform work as efficiently as possible.

Though we’ve grown and changed through the years, we are still on the same mission: to make route optimization technology accessible to every local delivery business, and to help such businesses reduce their fuel consumption and lower their carbon footprint.

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

Startup life throws you a lot of curveballs, and I could probably share some exciting investor-related stories or talk about going through Techstars in Chicago — an experience of a lifetime, for sure! But I think I’ll make this one a little personal:

I made the mistake of actually quitting my job two weeks before my wedding. It put my wife, Suzanne, under a lot of stress at the time. She was a news journalist and had recently quit her job to work on a book. So, for a period of time, both of us were without income. Not an ideal situation when you’re newlyweds trying to start a life together in an expensive city.

A few years later, Suzanne ended up joining me as co-founder, so it actually all worked out in the end. In fact, I went through several co-founders before Suzanne, and having her join me was one of the best decisions I ever made. The best partnerships are built on a foundation of trust and shared principles. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life and in business.

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

1.) Stay intellectually honest and transparent.

If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t let pride get in the way. Stay humble and honest with yourself and the people around you. This is key to building trust, and keeping lines of communication open to those around you. Radical transparency is one of our core values at Routific. We believe oversharing information and exposing our thinking processes empowers people to make better decisions. We strive to create a psychologically safe environment where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings, and also admit and expose their mistakes. This gives us all great opportunities to grow and learn.

2.) Be generous and ‘Give First’

Generosity has always been a pillar in my life, but it wasn’t until we went through Techstars in 2015 when the ‘Give First’ mentality became a permanent part of the way we do business and interact with one another. The Techstars program put us in touch with a network of mentors who were all willing to volunteer their time to coach us through problems and help us build and scale our business. Having that kind of genuine support fueling us through those early days really inspired us to do the same for early stage startups, businesses, and entrepreneurs who later came to us seeking advice or counsel. We want to be able to give back to the community just as those mentors did for us. One of the things we’ve been able to do during this pandemic has been to offer Routific for free to any nonprofit organization involved with delivering essential supplies to vulnerable populations. To date, we’ve helped 400+ nonprofits around the world. With all the blessings we’ve had come our way, it’s really the least we could do.

3.) What would your 70-year-old self think?

This last one isn’t so much a principle or philosophy, but a question I often ask myself when making hard decisions. It makes me revisit my principles, and I tend to think about my legacy, and how I want to be remembered. It’s a very useful thought exercise that helps give me perspective on a problem, and eventually leads me to making the right decision.

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

Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations every day with a fleet of 10 vehicles. The puzzle of deciding which vehicle goes where and in what order, while making sure the fleet operates as efficiently as possible, is extremely hard. And humans are not very good at it.

Many businesses report spending upwards of three hours trying to manually figure out their delivery routes. In fact, Routific surveyed 11,246 businesses and found that 72% still plan routes manually. That means they plan routes using tools like spreadsheets, pen and paper, and Google Maps. Businesses dependent on manual route planning struggle with the consequences of inefficient routes — hours of manual route planning time and inflated delivery costs.

This is where route optimization software can help. Aside from saving the manual route planner a lot of time, we also cut mileage and drive time by 20%-40% by generating more efficient routes than humans can ever find.

How do you think this will change the world?

The fact that most businesses are still manually planning routes is a big problem for the environment. Third- party environmental consultants estimated carbon emission reductions equivalent to planting 86 trees/year for every driver that switches over from manually planned routes to ones optimized by Routific.

This isn’t just a big idea that might change the world. It is already changing the world. In 2019 alone, Routific helped delivery businesses around the world save 11,322 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of planting more than 500,000 trees.

But there’s still a lot more work to be done.

The biggest challenge is changing bad habits. People are stuck in their old ways and it’s our job not only to build this technology and make it available to them, but to educate businesses that such technology exists in the first place.

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?

People always fear that technology and automation can eliminate jobs. In our case, route optimization technology actually enables a logistics manager or a route planner to do his or her job better. What our technology eliminates is the inefficient, manual processes of route planning.

True story: My co-founder, Suzanne, once told a route planner: “You are Tony Stark, and Routific is your Iron Man suit.”

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

Sure, I’d be happy to dive deeper into what was so soul-sucking about my time at the investment bank and why I believe that life is too short to be stuck doing something you’re not absolutely in love with.

Being an equity trader at an investment bank may look and sound prestigious and glamorous, but sometimes appearances are very different from reality. In my experience, banks can have a very stifling culture where creativity and new ideas to improve existing processes are blocked by layers of bureaucracy and internal politics. If you’re skipping your lunch break or staying in the office until late in the evening just to impress your superiors, something is seriously wrong with your idea of workplace productivity and culture.

When I started Routific, I vowed to do everything within my power to avoid having that kind of culture. We’re building a company where people are constantly encouraged to be creative and to come up with new ideas; a place where they can always be honest, happy, and productive. A place where people grow into the best versions of themselves.

These kinds of workplaces exist and I challenge you to go out there and find them. Better yet — you can create such a workplace yourself as an entrepreneur.

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

A pandemic. When COVID-19 hit, we saw an unprecedented surge in demand for home delivery services. Adoption of eCommerce and home delivery was already on the rise; the pandemic simply accelerated it by a number of years. COVID-19 forced many businesses to pivot quickly to offer home delivery or risk going out of business.

Since March 2020, our team has been working with hundreds of small businesses worldwide, helping them start up and scale up their home delivery operations. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see these entrepreneurs succeed during the toughest of times by being creative, flexible, and fast on their feet.

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

This is not so much of ‘5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started’ but more like ‘5 Things I Learned Early On In My Career’:

1.) Sleep well.

Once in a while, you might need to pull a late-nighter. But if you do it too often, it will lead to an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. If you are well rested, you can think more clearly and be more productive. Focus on long-term productivity.

2.) Listen to your customers.

It’s easy to get lost in the code and in your copy when you’re building your business. Make sure you’re having as many conversations as you can with your users and potential customers. That’s the only way your product is going to get better, and the only way your business is going to grow.

3.) Ship quickly and often.

Don’t get complacent. Ever. You need to keep iterating and improving your product. If you don’t do it, someone else will. Competition is fierce, and you have to do everything to maintain your lead. Speed is your friend, and time is your enemy.

4.) Don’t celebrate until the money is in the bank.

In the early days, I was a little gullible. Companies approached us with partnership and reseller opportunities, and I believed they would honor the agreement — until the unpaid invoices started piling up. You always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve learned not to celebrate a deal until I see the money in the bank. Same when you’re fundraising.

5.) Invest in culture

Even before a skills test or any other kind of assessment, we always meet a candidate for a casual coffee to align on core values. We call it a sort of informal ‘culture screen.’ Skills can be developed, and people can be trained. But core values are non-negotiable. From the early days, we’ve always prioritized building a strong team culture based on the core values of transparency, team work, and professional growth. I’m really glad we took the time to build that culture from the ground up with the earliest Routific team members.

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

Stay positive. Founders are naturally optimistic people, and it’s important to stay this way because otherwise you’ll give up before you’ve even begun. Starting a business is full of new and exciting challenges. Some of them will hit you square in the jaw, knife you in the back, or slap you clear across your face. And every day, you’ll have to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. Understandably, we’re all human beings with real emotions, and we’re not impervious to setbacks and rainy days. But the one thing that has kept me going is to take everything as a learning experience, as a way for me to “level up” both professionally and personally.

I would also highly recommend this book — The Art of Worldy Wisdom — which has really guided me through life’s ups and downs.

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’ve made it my personal purpose to use technology to make a positive impact on the environment. Routific’s mission is to make route optimization accessible to every last-mile fleet. Our algorithms reduce fuel consumption by 40% compared to manual route planners. We know that 72% of SMB delivery companies still plan routes manually, which demonstrates how vast this market truly is. I envision a future where all fleets are using route optimization software. This is a greener, more sustainable future for us all.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Marc Kuo is a routing expert with nearly a decade of experience in last-mile logistics. He wrote his thesis on advanced vehicle routing algorithms and he is the Founder & CEO of Routific.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations… 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: “Make money if you are outbid” With Cryptograph Co-Founder Hugo McDonaugh

I think that the Cryptograph platform and the auction and trading system we have developed could become the future system on which all licenses, rights and other unpriceable/unique assets that exist today are sold and traded through. It could for example have huge implications for creators today who could use the system to self publish their work and earn more from it over the long term by by-passing many of the rent seeking distribution oligopolies that exist today.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Hugo McDonaugh. After graduating from Warwick University back in 2013, he went on to work in wealth management at the C. Hoare & Co. private bank in London. After a year of working there he decided to pursue a masters at ICBS, which is where he met fellow Cryptograph co-founders, Edouard and Guillaume. Hugo is a big believer in the idea of sustainable philanthropy and he is the Director for an Education technology and consultancy business that works between the UK and China.

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 studied Ancient History and classical Archaeology at Warwick University before then going into private banking and wealth management immediately after graduating. After a year in banking which I felt fairly disillusioned by, in 2015 I then went on to do a masters at Imperial College Business School in Innovation Entrepreneurship and Management which is where I met Co-founder Edouard Bessire. The two of us then decided to start a tech business in the real estate sector together but we needed a third co-founder who could provide all the tech expertise so we got one of Edouard’s old computer engineer friends from the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse called Guillaume Gonnaud to become our third co-founder and the three of us went on to found a couple of businesses in the real estate technology sector and have been working together ever since. After 3 years of trying to start various ventures in real estate technology here in the UK we started seeing very interesting developments beginning to occur in the Blockchain space particularly within the NFT/Digital collectibles market. I myself having been very familiar with blockchain predominantly Ethereum from its very early days l was very interested in what we could do in this space. So the three of us met up together with my older brother George McDonaugh (CEO of KR1 — a publicly listed blockchain technology investment company) to discuss potential ideas of what to do and create in the space. During this meeting between the four of us, at the Quo Vadis bar in Soho London, is where Cryptograph started, and the rest is history. I also have a background in the impact investment space as well having been a part of a couple of impact investment startups and impact investment deals in the past, which is why the concept of perpetual altruism and creating Cryptograph as a new way for people to engage in and do philanthropy was very appealing to me and my other co-founders.

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

Since founding Cryptograph tons of really interesting things have happened but for sure one of the most interesting things for me was meeting Vitalik Buterin at Devcon 5 in Japan and having him not only create a Cryptograph live in front of me. Also getting the chance to tell him about what we are doing and have a chat with him about it all. He is the creator of Ethereum after all.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people? -Our new auction system called the GBM auction system.

Built on top of the Ethereum using smart contracts and the Ether crypto currency. It’s a revolutionary new price discovery system that incentivizes people to bid i.e. you make money if you are outbid. This has applications for any market that needs price discovery for its assets and it will unlock more value & liquidity and discover the truer value of an asset.

-Our Renatus function a new built in safeguard that prevents our token from being burnt, i.e. you can’t ‘destroy’ a Cryptograph or stop it from carrying out its purpose of perpetually raising funds for its creator and charity.

-Our ERC-2665 Extension to the existing ERC-721 token standard. Which ensures that revenue is always created for our charity and creator partners even if you want to take your Cryptograph outside of our ecosystem and sell it on a different marketplace. This can be used by anyone else looking to create their own collectibles that they want to ensure will always perpetually generate revenue for its related parties.

How do you think this might change the world?

I think that the Cryptograph platform and the auction and trading system we have developed could become the future system on which all licenses, rights and other unpriceable/unique assets that exist today are sold and traded through. It could for example have huge implications for creators today who could use the system to self publish their work and earn more from it over the long term by by-passing many of the rent seeking distribution oligopolies that exist today.

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

I mean there is always a flip side to any new technological development. But in the case of blockchain technology; on the one hand it can be used to empower the individual, create greater self sovereignty, give you back more control of your data, decentralized governance and power, create greater transparency etc, which I think is all really great. However,, if used as a way to assert more control and garner more power, then having an immutable record on say all of your citizens or for example having a blockchain based crypto currency that is fully centralized does the exact opposite to what is described above. So yeah, it really depends on how you implement the technology.

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

I guess we had two tipping points. The first was during our meeting together at Quo Vadis (as described above) where the initial idea of taking peoples autographs and putting them on the Ethereum Blockchain is what sparked the whole Cryptograph journey and gave us the seed of the idea to enact the bigger vision that we have implemented today. The second was when Edouard, Guillaume and I were sitting in the basement of my house thinking about the cool new ways we could sell our Cryptographs using smart contracts and programmable money and it was then that we came up with the idea for our groundbreaking GBM auction and trading system.

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

We need better and more seamless ways to onboard people into crypto. The complexity for someone to first understand crypto and digital scarcity is already a pretty big barrier, but even if they educate themselves or choose not to and just jump in, then actually getting hold of some crypto currency such as Ether using your Fiat currency is a really cumbersome process with a lot of friction in it, let alone transferring your crypto back into Fiat. Today we are used to just having to type in our card details, or use Paypal and until crypto becomes that intuitive for users we won’t get real widespread adoption. Wallet addresses, KYC, exchanges, Private keys etc these are not user friendly enough yet in my opinion. We also need blockchains to become more scalable and to be able to process transactions on the scale Visa does for less cost whilst also maintaining their decentralized and fully secure nature. This is a difficult process but many blockchains are already taking a crack at it, but until it’s all faster, cheaper and better (more decentralized and more secure) than what we have today I don’t think we will get widespread adoption.

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

We have great partners out on the West Coast helping with all of our PR and marketing needs at the moment. But perhaps the best thing so far has been that most our creators who already have their very own established audiences and networks have been utilizing their networks to help promote their Cryptographs, which in turn helps us to spread the word and reach a more mainstream audience, which is a big part of what we want to do here at Cryptograph. We want to bridge this new world of blockchain based digital collectibility with the mainstream world of fans and collectors.

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 don’t really have a specific story per SE but 100% I’m extremely thankful for my co-founders Edouard, Guillaume and my older brother George, as without each one of them, Cryptograph would not be a reality. I’m also very grateful for our more recent two partners who have joined us from the West Coast in LA, Tommy Alastra and John Bryan who have also been instrumental in helping us make Cryptograph a reality.

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

Well that is pretty much the entire idea behind our company Perpetual Altruism and our Cryptograph platform. The whole point is to use this cutting edge technology and new market opportunity to of course create a commercially viable business and deliver value to all of our stakeholders, but more importantly do that in tandem with delivering massive philanthropic impact and providing an entirely new way for people to engage in philanthropy and to give charities and nonprofits an entirely new way to more sustainably and passively raise funds over the long term so they can carry out their philanthropic missions more effectively.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.) -Don’t be afraid of failure

Starting something is all about taking risks and if you are too afraid of potential failure you will never create anything or you will spend so much time and resource trying to create something perfect that you will never actually be able to launch something. Knowing this and having a support structure in place of backers who believe in you and your vision and who understand the risks of potential failure is key to creating something new and of value.

-Learn to walk before you can run Jumping in straight at the deep end increases risk dramatically and there is a lot one can learn by swimming in the shallows for a while before going into the deep.

-Be prepared to handle long periods of uncertainty and shoulder lots of responsibility Nothing in the world of startups is certain it’s all a world of unknowns. So knowing in advance that you need to be comfortable with large amounts of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time and that you need to be highly adaptable and that you will have to shoulder lots of responsibility, is crucial in my opinion when it comes to founding a business.

-Learn to learn fast So many times since starting Cryptograph I have had to learn a new skill or get good at something new or understand new information and industries etc in a short period of time. As a startup founder in the early days of your business in just a single day you may have to be a manager, a marketeer, a salesperson, a customer service rep, a lawyer, a designer etc all at the same time. So learning how to learn fast and training yourself to become a sort of jack of all trades is key.

-Don’t be afraid to knock on doors Starting something is difficult but getting to people and then getting those people to listen or engage with what you are doing is even more difficult. Do not be afraid to reach out to people and knock on doors and be a bit pushy when starting out, as it’s the only way to really get the ball rolling!

Knowing all of the above and really understanding the above and believing in these pointers would have helped me dramatically before I started my entrepreneurial journey.

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 not say that I am a person of great influence, but I think the idea of combining the motive for profit with delivering social good is extremely powerful and they need not be mutually exclusive. You can make money and do good at the same time (Cryptograph is proof of this) and the more that we all try to do this and think like this the better it will be for us all. We should not just pursue profit for the sake of making a profit but rather we should pursue a profit with a purpose, which is to do some good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? ‘Without Risk There Is No Reward’

I’m not sure who it was who coined this phrase but it’s definitely been one of the most important lessons in my life. Without taking the risks I have done I would not have achieved anything…

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 🙂

All of the world’s unique assets will eventually be sold and traded either via our Cryptograph platform or through our associated auction and trading system. While doing this we will also be delivering huge social impact, giving people new ways to engage in philanthropy and also give creators a new way to monetize their talents and realize more value from the work over the long term. Would you like to be a part of this?…..

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My Twitter is: @hnmcdonaugh

Cryptograph’s Twitter is: @cryptograph Cryptograph’s Instagram is: cryptographco Cryptograph’s Medium is: https://medium.com/cryptograph Cryptograph’s Discord is: discord.gg/ZwNX5yY Website: www.cryptograph.co


The Future Is Now: “Make money if you are outbid” With Cryptograph Co-Founder Hugo McDonaugh 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: “AI-powered computer vision” With Kunal Kislay of Integration Wizards Solutions

The range of possibilities ‘computer vision’ offers to enterprises is limitless. From retail, manufacturing, warehousing, safety and security it has incredibly diverse use cases for various verticals.

Beyond what is already known and identified, I believe we have potentially unlocked the capability of making sense of visual data that can be adopted by developers and enterprises alike.

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

Kunal is a B.Tech IIT Mumbai alumnus with over a decade and half of experience in enterprise AI, Neural networks and Machine learning. Creating solutions for a vast array of verticals made him understand the pulse of technology and its changing paradigms. Integration Wizards Solutions owes its easy adoption of the most advanced technologies to him. Mentoring a team to tackle impossible challenges is integral to his nature, a trait he actually prides himself on. He led the creation of the flagship product — IRIS, an AI computer vision platform for enterprises. A smooth combination of fearless and fun, working with Kunal is an adrenaline rush for those passionate about technology.

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 was the chief architect at Antenna Software and had successfully created an enterprise mobility platform that was used by some of the largest organizations in the world. Later, when Antenna Software got acquired by PegaSystems, I along with two of my colleagues decided to bootstrap our own company.

I was fascinated by the sheer volume of visual information being generated in the world. 90% of the data humans consume is visual. Considering just the absolute processing capability of the human brain, it would be apt to say that sense of sight is probably the most advanced of human senses.

As computer vision was not a craze as it is today, I was hoping to use my former experience into building an enterprise computer vision platform to help enterprises harness the true potential of the visual data they generate today (mostly through CCTV Cameras).

The technology proposition we had was very simple. CCTV Cameras today are the most underutilized infrastructure investment and used mostly for retrospective analytics. We were going to convert these passive devices into active analytical tools and provide a platform to do it in a scalable, seamless and secure manner.

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

Of the many exciting things in my career span so far, it has to be the fact that we signed up a global Fortune 500 on our technology with only a promise of a platform and a company. The organization was looking for something that we were intending to build. We got the opportunity to present our plans and ideas to them, through a common connection. Initially, I was not expecting much from the conversation but had participated just to get some early feedback.

Interestingly, the organization decided to work with us and ended up being our first customer.

We are bootstrapped to this day and the credit goes to that one fortuitous meeting before we even registered Integration Wizards Solutions.

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

Our flagship product, IRIS, is an AI-powered computer vision solution. It plugs into the existing CCTV network of the client and analyses the live feed from multiple cameras to provide actionable insights.

It has had many successful deployments — from monitoring manufacturing premises for PPE and safety compliance, to process optimization in warehouses. It is also installed in several malls and retail chains for visual analytics and is used as an outdoor security solution for the largest solar farms in India. So far, we have successfully deployed for several large-scale customers, several of whom are global Fortune 500.

Beyond enhancing productivity and sales in organizations, IRIS is designed to save lives. Our deployments in some of the most hazard-prone industries like steel manufacturing and heavy engineering ensure alarms are raised for potential hazards thereby saving a likely disaster.

We are also very proud of our solutions for COVID-19 helping manufacturing premises, malls and hospitals to operate with minimal risk. Our solution raises real-time alarms when it identifies a potential hazard or a threshold is breached.

How do you think this might change the world?

The range of possibilities ‘computer vision’ offers to enterprises is limitless. From retail, manufacturing, warehousing, safety and security it has incredibly diverse use cases for various verticals.

Beyond what is already known and identified, I believe we have potentially unlocked the capability of making sense of visual data that can be adopted by developers and enterprises alike.

Visual data accounts for a large chunk of data generated by humans today. In fact, 90% of all the data created in the world’s history was created in the last 2 years. The organization that can understand the magnitude and decipher data as much as possible, in the fastest possible way, is expected to win the AI race.

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

I believe the most debated aspect of the technology is ‘privacy’. With the high surge in the adoption of technology, privacy concerns are inevitable.

Are people ready for an algorithm to ascertain their demographics, age, gait, and/or the time they spend in a particular place? As we have seen with social media, internet, and most recently mobile phones, if the perceived advantages are substantial, a lot of these concerns are ignored. But can they be forgotten?

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

My smartphone would inadvertently get filled with data. A simple examination revealed that over 95% of it was essentially visual data, i.e. videos and photos.

Scientists say about 90% of the information our brains process is visual. Researches prove that the human brain can process visuals almost 60,000 times faster than text. Hence, the information we could potentially get out of a video is a lot more than text or other forms of data. What if we could leverage technology to process visuals in a second or less?

The more I delved into this concept, combined with my passion for technology, computer vision seemed a more viable solution for challenges in enterprises.

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

I believe the two main barriers are — the perceived mindset about AI and the lack of interest in investing in a CCTV infrastructure.

Traditionally, CCTV has been under the purview of “security” department of the organization with a simple mandate of securing the premises. The cameras are placed to catch intrusion but seldom positioned to achieve anything more. Besides, the network that supports such infrastructure is often insufficient.

For optimal performance of our technology, it is important that the organizations invest in CCTV infrastructure with a planned and futuristic mindset.

While our technology delivers face recognition, generates demographics, and even operational parameters, the major inhibitor is the mindset.

In other words, there’s resistance to change. Humans, in general, are creatures of habit and often take some persuasion before accepting that the disruption, expense, or adopting new processes will eventually be worth the overall gain.

However, once we are able to create awareness about the product and how it enhances resource efficiency and reduce costs, people are likely to become receptive and engage with us.

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

Our experience of working with global conglomerates is highly useful as their endorsement helps us move forward. We are proud to work with leading Fortune 500 companies, globally. We are actively talking about ‘the power of computer vision technology’ across our narratives on our blog, social media channels, partnerships, collaterals, and events. Networking and live demo of our product in industry events have proved to be a major boost for our portfolio. Besides, our partnership with a PR agency has been garnering good media coverage and visibility.

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 started Integration wizards when after being settled for about 10 years in various corporate jobs. The responsibilities were manageable, I had a great team and obviously there was sense of stability in what I was doing. Starting Integration Wizards meant giving up on something I was so well settled in.

Before IW was actually started, we spent several weeks deliberating about the possibilities, the pros and cons of starting up at that point. Most of these brainstorming sessions were with my co-founders who also happened to be a part of my team, and my wife. There were nightlong planning sessions, competitor research and funding strategy.

I am grateful for the positivity I had from those discussions. All possible difficulties were discussed and mitigation plans were drawn up. What never came up during this discussion was the viability of the idea and our capability to deliver it. We believed in ourselves and

we believed in each other. This has given me the confidence to start up and remains my biggest drive as we try to overcome new challenges every day.

The fact that I did not need to worry about the financial stability of my house as my wife Puja had taken it up.

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

We have contributed significantly by making workplaces safer. Even before the advent of COVID-19, our solution was designed to save lives. We support companies meet their occupational health and safety goals and have significantly reduced accidents by identifying and correcting safety hazards in real-time.

Post-COVID, we believe our impact has been far greater. We have helped several large organizations, particularly in India, restart their operations after a prolonged lockdown. Some of the largest manufacturing hubs (including steel, construction, and automotive), hospital chains, warehouses, and malls have used our solution to monitor face mask compliance and ensure social distancing.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started”.

1. It never gets easier as we grow and progress, we just get used it.

2. What we know today is hardly worth anything, how fast and efficiently can we learn is all that drives the success.

3. There are no best practices as far as building the best team is concerned. Every organization has to devise a strategy that works best for them.

4. Technology can be stolen and copied what eventually defines an organization are people — employees and customers alike. Their trust is the only thing worth striving for.

5. Irrespective of everything we try there will be mistakes and failures. Our competitors will make them too How fast can we get back on our feet after stumbling is what is going to define us.

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 the next generation would foster a product development mindset. If they will be able to feel proud of a successful product, they will be the ones defining paths and breakthroughs, rather than simply following the “best practices” set traditionally.

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

The quote “By your stumbling, the world is perfected” by Sri Aurobindo, who is a noted philosopher and author, carries special significance to me. I believe no effort ever gets wasted. Just like any other organization, we have also had our share of slipups, but a positive attitude helps us navigate our failures and learn from them. I believe we are where we are because of our mistakes as much as our achievements.

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 🙂

We are a six-year-old bootstrapped organization, based out of Bangalore, with offices in the US and UK. Nine of our customers are global Fortune 500 conglomerates. With solutions deployed in over 21 countries, we have a significant lead in the area of enterprise computer vision platform.

Even by some of the most conservative estimates, there will be over 1 Billion CCTV Cameras by the end of the year. We believe CCTV cameras are one of the most underutilized infrastructure investments used mostly for retrospective forensic analysis.

We have a platform that enables customers to use this existing infrastructure investment to derive actionable insights that help them improve productivity, sales, safety, and security.

We have experience deploying our solutions in warehouses, retail outlets, manufacturing outlets, petroleum retail outlets, malls, and hospitals.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kunalkislay/

Readers can also reach out to me through our company pages on social media:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/10034684/admin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iwizardsolutions/?view_public_for=454831034676983

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iWizardsLtd

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

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


The Future Is Now: “AI-powered computer vision” With Kunal Kislay of Integration Wizards Solutions 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 new model that correctly rests responsibility for change…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change with local leadership” With Matt Warner of Atlas Network

The world bank is estimating that COVID-19 could push over 70 million people globally into extreme poverty. We can’t let that happen, but we need a new approach. In order to end poverty for good we have to radically shift how we view our role, as Westerners and as outsiders in the process. Property rights, free markets, and the rule of law supported by democratic institutions are the reason poverty has declined as much as it has. But to build an institution that lasts in support of lifting people out of poverty for good, locals must take the lead. This might sound obvious to some, but historically, this has not been the model we’ve acted on.

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 Matt Warner the president of Atlas Network, a nonprofit grant making organization committed to supporting local NGOs in more than 90 countries. Matt is the editor of Poverty and Freedom: Case Studies on Global Economic Development and coined the term “the outsider’s dilemma” to describe the challenge of helping low-income countries develop without getting in the way of their most viable paths to prosperity. His organization just launched the project Dignity Unbound: a whole new approach to solving poverty for good. Matt writes, speaks, and consults internationally on the topics of economics, institution building, nonprofit management, and impact philanthropy. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, The Hill, Cato Journal, Forbes, Harvard’s Education Next, and EconTalk, among others. Matt has a master’s degree in economics from George Mason University and is certified by Georgetown University in organizational development consulting. He is also a 2019–2020 Penn Kemble Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy, a member of American Enterprise Institute’s Leadership Network and a recipient of America’s Future Foundation’s 2019 Buckley Award.

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

I grew up a comfortable, suburban kid so my knowledge of poverty had to be learned. As a teenager I volunteered at a nonprofit where my brother worked helping homeless families get job training and childcare. That opened my eyes to the challenges people face. Later, I took a two-year break from college to work with low-income, immigrant communities in Brooklyn and Queens. I became very close with many people from all over the world and I worked with them to help them learn English, find employment, and a sense of community in their new neighborhoods. I learned quickly just how diverse we all are — each with our own ideas and dreams — but we share this need to make our life count for something, to mean something. That’s human dignity. Preserving human dignity on a large scale is what has motivated my career path. It’s an important time now to be pushing a whole new approach to ending poverty for good.

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

The first time I went to Kyiv to visit one of our grantees, a friend there arranged for me to spend an afternoon with the young revolutionary who first occupied the palatial estate of Viktor Yanukovych after he fled Ukraine during the Maidan Revolution. He gave me a tour of the main residence with its unbelievable luxury paid for by corruption. He took me through the underground tunnels that Yanukovych traveled by golf cart to go to his exercise buildings and spa. I also saw his large automobile collection and party boat. All of this indulgence while GDP per capita in Ukraine began its plummet to $2,000 per year. This is what unchecked power does when democratic institutions of accountability fail. I am in awe of the young people who risked their lives to take their country back. Those kinds of injustices keep me motivated to work harder. I’ve seen the same injustices in India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Guatemala — it goes on and on. We have to stop abuse of power so that low-income populations have a chance to thrive but the way we’ve tried to do it through foreign aid and foreign policy has backfired.

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

The value and importance of human dignity is a universal language and should never be underestimated. This has been the guiding principle in our work and the inspiration for Dignity Unbound. Over the last few years, I’ve traveled to dozens of countries and have listened to locals and community leaders describe a vision for change and prosperity for their people and their country. What we have strived to do at Atlas Network is help them realize that vision, not nation build on their behalf.

The problem with large foreign institutions such as USAID and the World Bank leading local change is that they put so many conditions and expectations on local communities that it gets in the way of something that actually works well in the local context. For example, it was a local think tank NGO in Peru that understood why microenterprises could never grow — they were required to make monthly tax payments even when they hadn’t yet been paid themselves. How to navigate to a fix for that broken system is not something outsiders would have thought to prioritize and would not have known how to go about doing it.

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

The world bank is estimating that COVID-19 could push over 70 million people globally into extreme poverty. We can’t let that happen, but we need a new approach. In order to end poverty for good we have to radically shift how we view our role, as Westerners and as outsiders in the process. Property rights, free markets, and the rule of law supported by democratic institutions are the reason poverty has declined as much as it has. But to build an institution that lasts in support of lifting people out of poverty for good, locals must take the lead. This might sound obvious to some, but historically, this has not been the model we’ve acted on.

Consider these two examples: In Uganda, Western academics spent $300,000 to entice a local village to stop growing bananas and start growing corn in order to increase their crop yields. They got bigger crop yields but there was no local market for corn and nowhere to store it. In the end, the village had no bananas and suffered a rat infestation due to all the rotting corn. Atlas Network does things differently. We support systemic change led by locals. Nearby, in Burundi, we gave a grant to a modest think tank NGO. They wanted to find ways to make their economy more inclusive for the large number of low-income street vendors and others operating very modest businesses. Because most of those microenterprises aren’t formally registered as businesses, they have no legal recourse when the police harass them and take their money and goods. It’s a massive problem. Our grantee worked with the government to lower the barriers to business licensing so that more of the existing economy could move from the shadows to the formal sector where they can grow and increase incomes. In the year prior to those reforms there had been a 5% increase in formal business registrations. In the year following Burundi saw a 49% increase. That represents an economic revolution, but it had to be locally conceived and locally led to succeed.

Stepping back and letting other countries design their own futures is a key feature of a liberal democracy. People deserve and need to choose for themselves. Large institutions such as USAID and the World Bank can continue to play a role but it should be restricted to facilitating knowledge sharing and increasing opportunities for global engagement.

How do you think this will change the world?

Unfortunately, we are witnessing a global rejection of liberal democracy in favor of authoritarian populism, a return to “strong man” politics. You see this in Hungary, Poland, Russia, China, and Brazil, though there are many others. This phenomenon is built on the exploitation of the disappointments and humiliations that have come as a result of our ham-handed attempts to spread liberal democracy through conditional aid and foreign policy influence. Political scientists Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes refer to this attempt, beginning after the fall of the Berlin Wall and ending in 2016, as the Age of Imitation, during which we worked with transitioning economies to replicate Western norms, laws, and governance structures. This has not been the right model. A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change with local leadership is much more likely to accelerate the strengthening of liberal democracy over time. Ultimately, this sets the stage for real, and long-lasting progress towards alleviating poverty.

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?

It is not easy to make the shift I am proposing both for practical and political reasons. The practical reason is it is not intuitive to most donor countries and donor organizations to adopt a model like ours — which lets locals take the helm You have to strike the right balance between letting your grantees lead while also holding them accountable to high standards. The trick is to let them define those high standards for themselves. It takes humility to recognize that donor expertise is insufficient to lead local change in faraway communities. Change is always hard, but this particular change asks well-meaning, very capable experts to stand down from what they consider to be a very moral cause. It’s hard to steer moral conviction if the new direction feels like doing less. I also recognize that any shift, though advisable, represents some short-term tradeoffs that are difficult to navigate. While tough choices are an everyday part of the status quo, I personally feel humble about the tradeoffs that will have to be navigated as we shift to a smarter model.

Politically, foreign aid is a useful instrument for donor countries. Some of the most generous countries, as a percentage of GDP, heavily use foreign aid to advance national interests. It serves them well and it is attractive to local politicians in recipient countries, but it’s too often a disaster for local communities. That perverse dynamic will be difficult to get away from. But we can make progress now by increasing the role of philanthropy and work towards crowding out those political arrangements.

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

I attended an event cohosted by #BlackWomeninDevelopment and the Center for Global Development on the topic of consent. The panel discussion challenged all of us in the room to think about what getting consent looks like in the context of foreign aid and development. It struck me that this is a very difficult question to answer under the traditional model of foreign aid and foreign NGOs who are working in-country to solve problems. What’s worse, we undermine budding democratic processes abroad when we make their governments accountable to us and to our preferences for solving local problems. The alternative model I support solves the consent problem by investing in locally-led NGOs who promote their own ideas and who work to persuade their local stakeholders of their merits in the local context. When they succeed in getting their ideas adopted through this very public and transparent advocacy, local consent is baked into the process.

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

My criticisms of foreign policy and foreign aid are widely shared. The aid industry, in particular, has been introspective the last 20 years about its own efficacy and the actual harm it has unintentionally caused. With COVID-19, the urgency to redefine our role has increased. I see a natural coalition forming that transcends politics and focuses on results. This coalition builds on our own #dignityunbound initiative as well as the seminal work of the Doing Development Differently project out of Harvard, and joins the #shiftthepower movement from Global Fund Community Foundation and the broader “localization agenda” covered by the media outlet Devex to restructure donor countries’ support of liberal democracy building around the world. This can be a powerful, diverse coalition that respects local culture and the prerogatives of local actors to choose their own destinies. If we can join together on this shared mission, I think we can make a big difference in redefining the role of outsiders in favor of local leadership.

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

“People support what they help create.” This is something I learned from an organizational development course I took midcareer and it has become my mantra. It is so insightful and applies to all levels of human endeavor from working with my daughter on her homework, to galvanizing a professional team, to institution-building in faraway countries. Smart people can come up with great solutions and, if they have the authority, implement them without consulting anyone. But they will be far more successful if they think of their idea as a hypothesis and then work inclusively with relevant voices to validate, improve, or pivot off what they think is best. A “genius” plan that is at odds with the thinking of those who will be relied upon to execute it is not as good as a consensus plan that others have helped to shape.

Be confident about being vulnerable. I slowly noticed that a lot of successful people were uninhibited in seeking advice, help, and feedback. They learned so much faster than people like me who were so worried about not looking like an impostor that they hesitated to admit what they didn’t know. For the first event I was ever in charge of just out of college I decided everything in a vacuum. From the event name to the type of invitation, my instincts were all wrong for the audience I was trying to attract. The result was woefully low attendance. At the last minute, my boss had to scramble to get his friends to come to prevent a total flop. If I had simply reached out to some of my intended audience to ask for their feedback on what I was planning they would have immediately steered me in the right direction. Again, if I cared more about what I was working on than my own need to prove myself, I would have been much more successful.

Focus more on the content of your work rather than your performance in doing it. As in writing or public speaking, I am much more effective if I focus on the value of what I am communicating rather than how successfully I am doing it. I once gave a speech that went so horribly I had to pull out my notes and read the second half of my remarks. I realized it was much more natural for me to share my passion for the content than to worry about impressing people, the latter just made me self-conscious.

Everyone is your customer in some respect. Treat them accordingly. Whether an intern, a former colleague, or a member of your board, everyone matters. I can’t count how many times someone from my past has reemerged in my professional life in an important way that I never would have anticipated. So, really — burn no bridges.

One of my mentors from early in my career always said, “Don’t take it personally. Take it seriously.” I think about that all the time whenever I am tempted to be offended by someone correcting me. Criticisms should ideally be shared constructively and thoughtfully, but however they are shared they are useful data and if I can take that data seriously instead of personally I can learn something from it.

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

Run as fast as you can with the vision you have rather than pace yourself out of fear you don’t have it right yet. You don’t, but the faster you learn that the quicker your vision can evolve to become more sophisticated.

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 🙂

We have the opportunity to end poverty for good, but it will require a complete rethink of our philanthropic approach. Atlas Network has developed a model that works at large scale because we do two things differently than almost everybody else: 1). We invest in social change at the systemic level — the rules of the game that make the biggest difference for low-income communities. 2). We support the vision of local research and advocacy organizations in each country who know better than the best foreign experts how to achieve that change at the systems level in their local context.

Over the last three years, our judicious investments in this portfolio have totaled less than $5 million but with that we have achieved measurable successes in 36 countries to date. This includes the removal of a tariff on sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka, legitimizing street vending in India, transferring title to post-Apartheid victims in South Africa, and many, many more. In response to COVID-19, we launched a new grant opportunity, the COVID Relief Fund, to provide timely support for local think tanks who are leading reforms to accelerate economic recovery in their communities. Our vast network includes independent partners in 96 countries. They have huge potential to do even more and we are prepared to scale up our model to achieve an even faster rate of social change return. Not only that, new research shows the fiscal crises caused by government mitigation efforts in response to COVID-19 represent a ripe opportunity for systemic and regulatory reform. If we can raise another $5 million to invest in the next 12 months, we predict more than double the results of the previous three years by 2022.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @mattwarnerdc @atlasnetwork @dignityunbound

Facebook: Atlas Network

Instagram: AtlasNetwork

Youtube.com/AtlasNetwork

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Oz Etzioni of Clinch: The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years

One thing that has grown during the pandemic was the need for personalized ads. Consumers today are constantly subjected to advertisements, and they are adept to tune out generic ads that have no real connection to them. We see brands adapting to the changing times by showcasing personalized ads that take into consideration three major factors: time, context, and location. By incorporating these factors, brands were able to target their audience with accurate, relevant, and personal advertisements.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Oz Etzioni the CEO and co-founder of Clinch, an AI-powered omnichannel personalization technology platform. Clinch’s platform combines brand, product and consumer data with dynamic creative messaging to generate unlimited personalized versions of advertisements for programmatic and social media video and display ads.

After spending years leading user experience, design and innovation teams at major agencies, Etzioni founded Clinch to take advantage of the explosive growth in programmatic and address the need to provide data-driven video creative at scale. As CEO, Oz has led advanced omni channel, personalized campaigns. Today, Clinch is the only creative technology company to enable advertisers to use data to personalize videos regardless of platform to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

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

Early in my career I was focusing on digital consumer products that connect the online and offline worlds. As user experience became more and more essential and core to a brand’s initiatives, it was clear that personalized content that is relevant and tailored to the individual will be crucial for digital advertising, so we started building Clinch solutions.

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

The funny / absurd fact is that we actually built Clinch as a video solution first, however back in the day every brand we talked to told us “What would I do with video??” or “Can you offer me the same solution for HTML5 banners?” Priorities were different then, but at that point we realized we needed to build more capabilities that address all the different channels and executions, and on the same core technology, as building a separate solution would add unnecessary cost, and complexities. That was when we started thinking of omnichannel and the potential of actually learning between the channels and executions of display and video. Soon, video became the hot commodity, and the demand quickly turned from HTML5 banners to video…and our video solution was already battle-proven and fully integrated into the full omnichannel solution. That initial clients’ “rejection” to our offering truly helped us shape our product vision going forward.

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?

A lesson about the importance of brand guidelines and the subconsciousness of ads…In the early days, a client from the travel industry asked us to create ads for a “hot sale” event, for which we developed an amazing animated ad with elements that were on fire, and an amazing animation of a plane flying acrobatically through the ad. We were very excited to accomplish such a complex level of animation in HTML5 at scale. Then the client feedback came and we were roasted on the fact that not only it seem that the plane was on fire and out of control, but the animation ended with the plane disappearing into the lower left edge of the ad, in the worst possible angle, giving the viewer the notion that the plane did not have a successful landing. From that point on, brand guidelines, emotional takeaways, and storytelling became essential components in our solution, and just as important as the tech itself.

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

Video advertising has caused many marketers to hit a rough patch. From lack of efficiency, speed, and cost many industry experts fall short. We recently launched the industry’s most advanced and efficient video rendering engine, called Clinch Xenon. Our new innovative technology replaces existing common rendering solutions for video advertising personalization at scale. Clinch Xenon provides customization and control for video editing and significantly reduces processing time, making it far easier and cost-efficient to produce the scale and variations of video assets required for true omni-channel personalization. This gives industry execs the ability to streamline the process, removing unneeded steps where errors may be introduced. Because of its lightweight, cloud-based design, error-reduction, and speed, Clinch Xenon can reduce rendering costs by 90%. You can learn more about Clinch Xenon here.

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

Stay true to the vision but be aware and attentive to clients’ needs and market trends and be bold enough to iterate the product and positioning accordingly (don’t fall in love with your initial concept). Your team is an essential part of your offering to the clients, they are the real engine of the company. Choose the right people, take good care of them, and most importantly, empower them.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My family and my co-founder. No one in the startup world can succeed without the support from their closest people; they all become co-founders in one way or another, and all carry the burden and challenges and ups and downs of building a company with a vision that starts from scratch and grows. A good, honest, ego-less and target-oriented relationship between the co-founders is crucial (make sure to pick right for the LONG TERM!).

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

I sure hope so. We built our tech to make sure that we help our clients and their consumers provide value for each other. The idea behind personalization, not only in advertising, is to make things relevant and customized for me as an individual, so I can enjoy and maximize the benefits from everything I do or experience. It could be to save time, save money, even just entertain. Regardless of the specific goal, I dedicate my time and attention, and I want value in return. So we are trying to always improve our tech to build value and help consumers get what they want or need, when they need it.

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 COVID-19 pandemic changed the way consumers will shop for the foreseeable future. The major adjustments made were:

  • E-commerce: This experience opened the door for the e-commerce industry, consumers were flocking to online shopping during the pandemic and brands took clear notice by offering pick-up and delivery services. The industry has now seen major growth in e-commerce and consumers have now acclimated to the current reality, the ease of use has been a major player for the new consumer mindset. The path to purchase has become more digital-reliant and retail will become a showroom / experience.
  • Ad Consciousness: Advertisers had to change the way ads were seen, displayed and positioned to consumers. Within the matter of months social gatherings were considered taboo and ads needed to reflect the current reality. The key is to ensure that the content being consumed is as relevant, personal, and geographically applicable as possible (e.g.: offering delivery messages in ads to people in locations with a stay-at-home order, and to offer curb-side pick up messages to people in less restrictive locations. In the upcoming back to school campaigns, when we are setting up personalization parameters, we not only have to consider geo on a state level, but also at the county-level, in order to determine messaging that resonates with schools that will operate in-person vs. remote). Seeing ads that didn’t reflect the current reality would not seem relevant to the consumer, and doesn’t connect with your audience. Brands need to stay conscious of the types of ads displayed for their client base. The most successful ads resonate in a relevant manner by “addressing the times” head on, and remain authentic to their brand. Avoiding the issue altogether has its own set of risks.
  • Personalization: One thing that has grown during the pandemic was the need for personalized ads. Consumers today are constantly subjected to advertisements, and they are adept to tune out generic ads that have no real connection to them. We see brands adapting to the changing times by showcasing personalized ads that take into consideration three major factors: time, context, and location. By incorporating these factors, brands were able to target their audience with accurate, relevant, and personal advertisements.
  • Transparency: Just like the ‘organic’ movement in the food industry and the demand for food sources transparency, ingredients, and transparent process of production, etc. The retail industry might experience a similar process which they need to prepare for. Consumers want transparency with where and how products have reached their warehouses and shelves. Safety and health conscious consumers are more prevalent now than ever before. Brand messaging needs to have a purpose, not just a vague “we’re in this together.” Viewers want to know: Who are they helping? Is it believable and authentic? Is the brand doing its part? Can I trust this brand? Do I share its values? Where did it come from? Is it safe? Brands will need to showcase supply chain management, efficiency, and sanitation needs to keep consumers at ease while shopping both online and in-store.
  • Dynamic Audiences segmentation: DMP segmentations will continue to generate audiences that are too broad. The idea of identifying and segmenting audiences based on engagement, preferences, and context will drive retailers to start segmenting audiences in a more granular, precise, and dynamic way. This will allow the retailers to address consumers with much more relevant and personalized content, and form much better and frequent communication that is beneficial to both sides.

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

I would focus on food and water resources, as this is accelerating to become a global issue that needs to be addressed well ahead of time and not when encountered, as it’ll be too late.


Oz Etzioni of Clinch: 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: “Diagnosis and Treatment For Soft Tissue Injuries” with Dr. Mary Rose Reaston of

The Future Is Now: “Diagnosis and Treatment For Soft Tissue Injuries” with Dr. Mary Rose Reaston of Emerge Diagnostics

It is difficult to be an innovator. I have learned that people are not always receptive to new ideas and technology. The light bulb went on when I was presenting to a group of people and they kept putting up roadblocks as to why something new is better. It was then I looked down at the table and saw my iPhone and looked back up at them. I asked the question who remembers the rotary dial phone and half the group raised their hand. I then picked up my iPhone and asked who has one of these; most of the room raised their hands. I said congratulations you adopted an innovative technology.

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

Mary Rose Reaston is an innovator, author, expert witness and is the CEO and Chief Science Officer of Emerge Diagnostics, Inc. MaryRose has a successful track record in the development, commercialization, marketing and governmental acceptance for advanced Electrodiagnostic testing. She is the Co-Inventor of EFA technology and holder of several U.S. and international patents. She has been named as an Industry Risk Innovator and Responsibility Leader.

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

Many years ago, I was involved in a severe car accident that left me with debilitating headaches. I was told, after trying medications, various treatments including physical therapy that I was “suffering from” soft tissue injuries and since there was no way to diagnose these types of conditions that my treatment with be” hit or miss”. This was not acceptable to me. I just wanted to get better. After much research become a Co-Inventor with Phil Reaston of the Electrodiagnostic Functional Assessment, EFA technology. EFA technology has proven to be the gold standard for soft tissue injury diagnosis and treatment. It was thought that I had migraine headaches after the car accident but with the development of the EFA, it was found I had tension headaches with a vascular component. Being able to distinguish the difference allowed for site specific treatment. With the specific treatment I became pain free and have not suffered these types of headaches. This led me on my journey to be able to further develop this innovative cutting edge technology so that other people could benefit.

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

One of the most interesting events that will always stay with me, was when we decided to make the technology wireless. In order to be able to accurately evaluate soft tissue injuries, you have to be able to look at many muscle groups simultaneously. Also, just looking at muscle groups wouldn’t be enough because in order to understand the muscle pathology you needed to know what the person was doing. We decided to integrate range of motion testing with the muscle testing and that meant more sensors. More sensors with wireless technology was an issue as current technology only allowed a few sensors to be connected. Phil Reaston came up with an innovative method that allowed many sensors to be used simultaneously so that many muscle groups could be monitored with multiple access for range of motion- our EFA technology. This was unheard of and critical for effective diagnosis. Our first large technical meeting scheduled a demo of the technology with industry leaders at Intel. Walking into the meeting with the introduction of the technology, I was met with overwhelming skepticism and everyone saying that connecting all the sensors we needed could not be accomplished. The joy of my face and the looks on their faces when we provided the working demonstration of the project is something I will always treasure. Phil Reaston has continued to upgrade and expand on the technology so that it is truly cutting edge and proven to be successful in the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

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

The $100 billion dollar problem: soft tissue injuries, typically defined as back, neck and shoulder pain is a leading health cost driver in the United States. These conditions are the most common reasons for people to seek medical care. They are difficult to diagnose and treat. Previously, there has been no way to access the injury and a doctor often must rely on the person’s complaints. Now, there is Exciting Emerging Technology: Electrodiagnostic Functional Assessment. (EFA) EFA uses FDA registered technology and is the gold standard for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. For the first time, connection via wireless technology multiple muscle groups and range of motion can be monitored. This allows for pinpointing the precise location of the injury and allowing for site specific treatment. This has helped prevent surgeries and helped people to become better and lead productive lives. In fact, the EFA technology is changing the face of diagnosis and treatment and allowing for better care via telemedicine. With the advent of EFA technology and telemedicine a doctor can gain more information than if the person was sitting in front of them in an office. This is important especially with COVID. Since bringing EFA technology to market, we have helped thousands of people get better, return to work sooner, and lead more productive lives. With COVID facing the World and in person care being limited, we had to adopt our technology to be better able to handle telemedicine visits. In the past, telemedicine was not an option for people who had a soft tissue injury since the doctor was not able to palpate of feel the person through a video link. The EFA enables “virtual palpation” for a more objective assessment, which is a critical component of the physician’s evaluation process that was, until now, impossible via telemedicine or any other remote/virtual platform. In fact, with the EFA the doctor actual receives more information than if the person were sitting in front of them. Better care anywhere with the EFA especially via telemedicine will enable people to get more accurate diagnosis for the leading healthcare issues/cost drivers. Being able to pinpoint with the EFA the precise location and type of soft tissue injury will allow for better directed care, anywhere.

How do you think this might change the world?

I really do believe the EFA technology can change the world because it fills a void in medicine. There are great diagnostic tools, and each serves a specific niche, for example x-rays are excellent for broken bones but they cannot look at soft tissue injuries. EFA technology is designed just specifically to evaluate soft tissue injuries. With the advent of EFA and telemedicine this innovative solution can be offered worldwide. The EFA solution dramatically reduces the costs associated with inaccurate diagnosis or prolonged treatments. By being able to ascertain if conservative care is appropriate and offering site specific treatment recommendations an individual can recover faster and not only return to work but all the activities of daily living. If surgery is appropriate that can be identified early on and the person can get the best treatment possible. Accurate diagnosis and treatment also reduce the reliance on pain medications and narcotics which has become a worldwide epidemic. I have many stories of how the EFA has benefited humanity, but I would like to share two of my most memorable. A young AAA picture who had undergone rotator cuff surgery and was unable to return to baseball, came to me and asked if there was anything, we could do to help him. His arm hurt to throw pitches and he was “demoted” to the A team. He was going to be cut from baseball. Baseball was his entire life and livelihood. The EFA found he had referred pain from his neck muscles that was affecting his arm. With appropriate care as outlined by the EFA evaluation, he was able to pitch and was once again return to the AAA roster. Using our guided EFA telemedicine program, we evaluated an individual who was injured at work and we were able to compare him to a baseline EFA and determine he had a work-related change in condition to his shoulder. He was able to be seen very early on in the case, had surgery, and returned to work 8 weeks later with a full duty release. Because of the site-specific care, he had appropriate early treatment and had very little pain medication. Better diagnostics equates to better care and with telemedicine that can be anywhere.

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

The EFA technology is truly an innovation for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. That being said, there is no panacea in medicine. There is not one global solution so the only drawback I could foresee with the EFA, as with any technology, is that it been used for what it was intended for: no more no less.

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

The tipping point that lead to this breakthrough came from Phil Reaston. The limitations of getting to a telemedicine option and an option that could be mobile rested with the ability for us to make the technology wireless. Wireless technology was limited to very few sensors and no real time or live access. The A- HA- moment came when Phil thought outside the box and found a way to connect it all together. That is the secret sauce so to speak, and this has enabled us to be able to offer the EFA to anyone including unmatched telehealth care. I will never forget the day that Phil took many EMG sensors and range of motion sensors and said watch they can all connect. He made it seem so simple but so many years of development went into the effort. Our technology and programs are now offered worldwide.

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

For wider spread adoption, we need people not to be afraid of innovation. A good story, I will always remember is from a friend of mine who is an orthopedic surgeon who embraces the EFA technology in his practice. He had a deposition and the EFA was mentioned. He was asked did you learn about the EFA in medical school doctor, and he replied no. I went to medical school over 30 years ago and at that time I did not even learn about the MRI. Medicine must constantly progress and change, and people need to embrace change and innovation.

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

One focus of the EFA is to assist employees and employers with work related soft tissue injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Soft Tissue Injuries are the leading cause of lost workdays and health care dollars spent. Our EFA-STM (EFA Soft Tissue Management Program) is a bookend solution that helps give better care to employees with work related injuries and uses our telemedicine platform. Achieving better results in a complicated and challenging worker’s compensation environment is what every employer and employee should want. If a workplace incident happens, the employer is responsible to return the employee to the employee’s condition prior to the incident. The employee wants better care and back to work quicker. The EFA-STM program is built to achieve these results for the employee and employer, a win for all parties. Our clients and their employees have had tremendous success with the program. Employee’s with work-place injuries are returning to work quicker with a more focused diagnosis and our clients are benefiting from less lost workdays, less recordable days and the knowledge that EFA tested employees will have the benefit of the EFA-STM program in the event a work-place incident occurs. This is an innovative concept and it changes the game of workers’ compensation into a win for all parties.

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 particularly grateful to Robert Thompson. Bob was the prior CEO of Emerge Diagnostics and my mentor. When we first started to work together at Emerge, I was the Chief Science Officer of the company. Bob saw in me the ability to become more to the company. He helped me learn the business side of the company and help me ease into the role of COO. As COO Bob helped me refine my management style and learn more about delegation. He had confidence in me and when he left the company, he promoted me to CEO and President. He left me with invaluable knowledge: people love sausages, but they don’t really want to know how to make them. This might sound corny but so true it taught me solve the problem and provide the results.

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

Absolutely. With my success as Emerge, I am focusing on affordable healthcare and wellness. We are developing a program that will allow individuals and their families to have unlimited access to telemedicine and wellness programs at very low cost.

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 is difficult to be an innovator. I have learned that people are not always receptive to new ideas and technology. The light bulb went on when I was presenting to a group of people and they kept putting up roadblocks as to why something new is better. It was then I looked down at the table and saw my iPhone and looked back up at them. I asked the question who remembers the rotary dial phone and half the group raised their hand. I then picked up my iPhone and asked who has one of these; most of the room raised their hands. I said congratulations you adopted an innovative technology.
  2. Be true to Yourself. Often on this journey I received overwhelming negative feedback as the EFA would never be accepted, would not work, would not be reimbursed by insurance. This chatter was sometimes more pervasive then any positive feedback. It was during these times I would look back on my struggles with ineffective care and headaches and look back to how the EFA changed my life. This gave me the strength to continue on this journey.
  3. Always surround yourself with excellence. If it were not for Phil Reaston’s thinking outside of the box and being a true innovator in his field, we would not have the EFA technology that is changing medicine today.
  4. Listen to the experts and incorporate their ideas into new technology. An earlier adopter of the EFA technology was a gifted neurosurgeon. He loved how the EFA could assist him in providing a more objective diagnosis. When we wanted to advance into telemedicine for soft tissue injuries, he said no way. He was a surgeon and he had to “feel” the patient. His suggestion and needs advanced the development of the EFA telemedicine platform.
  5. Think Outside the Box. If you are willing to be creating and evaluate a problem for many different perspectives, I believe a solution can be found.

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. 🙂

Always strive for better healthcare and new technologies and innovation to offer to people everywhere. Don’t make better healthcare options unobtainable to the majority of people.

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

One of my favorite Life Lesson Quotes is Believe in Yourself. If you do not believe in yourself then how can you expect anyone else to believe in, you. If you believe in yourself, you project confidence and that is what is needed to be an innovator to have breakthroughs for cutting edge technology.

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 🙂

Want to change the world for the better with cutting edge healthcare…. We have it. There is no other technology for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injury and most importantly in today’s times of COVID where social interaction are limited, we have the most objective telemedicine platform. Don’t’ be left out, together we can change the world for the better.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

MaryRose Reason — Linkedin

@MaryReaston Instagram

Mary Cusimano Reaston Facebook

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


The Future Is Now: “Diagnosis and Treatment For Soft Tissue Injuries” with Dr. Mary Rose Reaston of 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 Platform That is Zoom Meets Masterclass Meets Calendly Meets Venmo” with Troy

The Future is Now: “A Platform That is Zoom Meets Masterclass Meets Calendly Meets Venmo” with Troy Roques of Symposium

The opportunities with our platform are endless. Musicians can offer their creative process to thousands who want to virtually be involved. Chefs can cook with their biggest fans. Therapists can offer their services to their clients while the country remains partially shut down. Accountants, tax consultants, life coaches, personal trainers, and tutors all have a place to make their mark on Symposium. I can see the utility for anyone who has a burning passion for a subject that they want to share with others.

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 the cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Symposium, Troy Roques.

Troy is a former Marine Corps Veteran who has a background in Casino Marketing, where he managed the profiles of numerous high-profile clients. In 2014 he partnered with the National Hotels Association to develop his brand Room Deals Travel, which provided wholesale rates to over 750K hotel destinations worldwide. In 2018, he co-founded the startup Symposium that offers itself as a platform to help people market and sell their skills through videoconferencing chats.

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

Hello and thank you for having me today. That’s a great question and one I’ve often asked myself. The beginning of the Symposium story started after a long hard day of nothing going right. I was in sales before starting the company, and in sales, you face many obstacles and gatekeepers, including dealing with people’s personal schedules, the fact that they don’t know you, or may already use the service you provide. All of this puts you at a huge disadvantage. That was the moment that Symposium was born. I knew I had to create a way to circumvent all of the obstacles so I could speak directly to a decision-maker who could help me get to the next level of success in my life. I knew I was ready to start my own company and it would be one that would empower business owners. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Transformers 2: Revenue Of The Fallen when Sam Witwicky was flooded with signs and symbols. I went home that night and started writing a business plan.

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

The most interesting story that happened to me since I began this career relates to the undertone of racism when it comes to African American founders and CEOs in tech. One instance that stands out is an investment meeting where a gentleman flew to Las Vegas after hearing about how Symposium had essentially figured out how to sell the last free commodity on earth — TIME. After excusing myself from the meeting, the gentlemen asked, “Do they all look like him?” I didn’t hear about this until the next day, and that same gentleman invested a significant amount of money into another company.

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

The philosophies I live by are pretty simple: One of them is “you have not, cause you ask not,” which I learned about from Steve Harvey. You can’t get discouraged by all the nos along the way; you have to stay true to your vision. Albert Einstein said, “imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” The moment you stop believing in yourself and let other people blur your vision is the moment the blueprint is altered. I can tell you from personal experience, as an entrepreneur, the worst thing to see is someone else becoming successful from an idea you had long ago that someone talked you out of doing. Lastly, “get out of your comfort zone.” The things you fear are exactly the things you should do more of.

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”?

I am a cofounder of the tech startup Symposium. We are an all-in-one video marketplace where professionals, consultants, and creatives can take their talents and offer their knowledge, expertise, and services to users around the globe. What separates us from other platforms is that calendaring and monetization are built right in. You don’t have to book or pay manually and then have a video chat/conference — with all three on separate platforms. Nor do you have to rely on problematic forms of monetization like ad revenue, which at any time, a platform can strip the ad from your video through tricky algorithms. Symposium places all the power into the hands of the people. Creatives and professionals offer their services, set their own prices, and make their own schedules. They can offer a direct one-to-one video conference, or host thousands at a time. They can also create direct messages for their individual followers. Users don’t have to pay for anything more than the time that was given to them; e.g. if a booked session for an hour only goes 35 minutes, then they are only charged for 35 minutes.

The opportunities with our platform are endless. Musicians can offer their creative process to thousands who want to virtually be involved. Chefs can cook with their biggest fans. Therapists can offer their services to their clients while the country remains partially shut down. Accountants, tax consultants, life coaches, personal trainers, and tutors all have a place to make their mark on Symposium. I can see the utility for anyone who has a burning passion for a subject that they want to share with others.

It also doesn’t have to be all that serious. One of our users is the mother of a four-year-old boy, who is on there to be a virtual buddy to his peers, and offer a consoling voice for other kids who might be feeling lonely during these stay-at-home orders. Contrast that with Dr Janice Hooker-Fortman, a 78-year-old relationship therapist who found Symposium as a way to reinvent her business and continue offering her services to all her clients during the pandemic. There is plenty of opportunity for people of all ages to contribute.

How do you think this will change the world?

I think we’re slowly realizing how virtual our world has already become. COVID-19 took our world by storm and it was virtual replacements that allowed people to maintain a sense of stability. It kept the classroom alive, so students wouldn’t have to fall behind. Delivery services were taken to a new level — now you can press a few buttons and have food brought to your doorstep. And of course, the stock prices of video conferencing companies skyrocketed. Businesses realized how efficient they can still be without paying for all that office space. For many people and businesses, virtual platforms are key.

However, many professions were left out to dry. Some people have the wrong impression that if you teach yoga or piano, or do any style of coaching that you can transition to YouTube and it’s smooth sailing from there. It’s a totally different ballgame to upload to an audience versus having that direct interaction with someone in real time. That’s where Symposium is going to fill the gap. Our main focus is to nurture that human connection that often gets lost when things go digital. It’s one thing to follow your favorite chef on his or her YouTube channel, try their recipes, and leave a comment on the video. It’s another thing to cook alongside your favorite chefs, interacting with them in real time and asking them for suggestions. Maybe you have a certain way that you like to do things and you can share that with the expert. That’s what separates us from other online platforms: at its best, Symposium is Zoom meets Masterclass meets Calendly meets Venmo.

The same way Facebook changed the nature of friendships, to where you don’t have to actually have met somebody in person to consider them a friend, Symposium will change the relationship between creatives and consumers, chefs and foodies, and trainers and fitness enthusiasts. You can develop working relationships with clients whom you’ve never met all over the world, which has the potential to change our idea of a network. If enough people use the platform, it will alter the way people look for work. If not someone’s only source of income, Symposium allows everyone to have a taste of the entrepreneurial journey.

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?

In any new technology that aims to push the boundaries, there comes unforeseeable risks. One thing we don’t want is for Symposium to make it so that people never need to meet face to face again, even with the clients they have virtually. What it’s meant to be is an option that makes itself especially useful during times like these when social distancing is recommended or required. Even when society can return to previous behavior, people deserve to have options that allow flexibility in their work schedules. People will still get sick and have transportation hurdles and family issues that prevent them from going into work. This allows people to continue to provide their services even when life gets in the way. This also allows more chances to take little vacations throughout the year, because Symposium eliminates the need to completely check out every time you decide to travel. And most importantly, you can connect to people all over the world; an expert in New Zealand can teach piano to a student in Pakistan.

Going back to the potential drawbacks. If a power user becomes popular, I worry about the potential fort them to take advantage of their followers; that is that they’ll charge for a service such as a SymGram, which is an option available that allows creators to record a personalized message to a follower, and not deliver on those personalized messages. We have protocols in order to prevent that from happening, but it’s still a worry. We also want to make sure that people aren’t lying about their credentials and knowledge base to make a quick buck. We want our users who are passionate about learning to be given the best guidance possible.

On the more futuristic end, I worry about the potential rise of deepfake technology being used on our platform. The more realistic it becomes, I worry about scam artists posing as other celebrities and influencers and using our platform to offer false advice to users who think they’re speaking to the expert. To keep things contemporary, perhaps our most pressing concern is security. We don’t want to have the same problems that Zoom was having where video conferences can be breached by hackers and have people’s privacy compromised. We work hard every day to think of worst-case scenarios and then do our best to get ahead of them so we’re fully prepared for every possibility.

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

I was in sales before starting the company. In sales, you face many obstacles and gatekeepers, including dealing with people’s personal schedules, the fact that they don’t know you, or may already use the service you provide. All of this puts you at a huge disadvantage. That was the moment that Symposium was born. I knew I had to create a way to circumvent all of the obstacles so I could speak directly to a decision maker who could help me get to the next level of success in my life. I knew I was ready to start my own company and it would be one that would empower business owners. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Transformers 2: Revenue Of The Fallen when Sam Witwicky was flooded with signs and symbols. I went home that night and started writing a business plan.

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

What we need are backers and people who believe in the platform. The more widespread we become the more useful we can be to others. The Symposium platform is only as strong as the users who are on it. So if you have a passion, a level of expertise in a particular field, or a talent you want to share, we could use your voice on our platform. If you want to learn something, want to be entertained, or need some one-to-one guidance, create a free account and see what’s out there. Encourage your favorite content creators, streamers, podcast hosts, and creatives to join and see what they can offer. It never hurts to tap into a new market to grow your audience and open up a new stream of revenue.

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

Oh! I love this question.

1st. You may lose some friends.

It has been an eye-opening experience to see the people who I thought would be the most helpful not show up when I needed them, especially some of my celebrity friends. Symposium is a work-from-home solution; and with unemployment at an all-time high, our teachers out of work, and the whole country shut down for the remainder of 2020, who doesn’t want to support that?

2nd. Whatever amount of money you think you need, DOUBLE IT!

I am fortunate enough to have a First Ballot Hall-of-Fame investor and co-founding partner with a champion mentality, because getting Symposium out of beta to where we are today took longer than initially anticipated, and we were over budget. If I had to find another early-stage investor, it would have been disastrous, and asking for more money with no leverage is a tremendous disadvantage.

3rd. Say goodbye to sleep.

If you want to work from 9 to 5, then get a job, because this life is not for you. Being responsible for the success of your business and your investor’s money is a huge responsibility. My team and I work around the clock: learning, building, and strategizing to improve Symposium and our customer experience. 3 am text messages from the team and sleeping with my laptop are a common occurrence.

4th. You can’t do it all yourself.

I can’t express to you enough the importance of having a good team. Having a good idea is just the beginning, but it requires a team to implement your vision and bring it to fruition. I am blessed to have a team of knowledgeable hard workers who don’t see problems as problems, but as opportunities for solutions. On a personal level, I have grown a lot by being in the presence of such an amazing group of people.

5th. Get a dog.

OMG I love my dog. Her name is Kona and she is our greetings director. Kona always seems to know when my stress levels are high because she’ll jump in my lap and start demanding attention. You will often see her on conference calls with me or at the boardroom table where she has her own chair. If you’re ever in Las Vegas, make sure to stop by the Symposium offices and meet Kona, along with the rest of the team.

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

I like to start my days by waking up early. I stay away from my phone and don’t worry about what can go wrong, but instead I get excited about all that can go right. After breakfast, I’m off to the gym where I enjoy boxing and kickboxing conditioning classes before heading into the office. Along with my daily work, I’m known to swing for the fences. My mindset is this: you have not ’cause you ask not, and every no is a step closer to a yes.

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 🙂

Symposium has successfully figured out a way to monetize the last free commodity on earth — TIME. We are more than just a paid video conferencing app. We have created a culture where people are willing to share their real-life experiences to help others reach new levels in their lives. On Symposium, the more you share, the more you earn. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that when the world shuts down, all we have is each other. People need people to survive. People need real, meaningful interactions that are meant to educate, entertain, and inspire. We have all either paid tuition or paid attention to get where we are today, and Symposium is the marketplace where you can finally get paid for the time you spend in perfecting your craft. So I ask you, how much is 15 minutes of your time worth? Simply answering the question is proof of concept and qualifies you as a seller in our worldwide marketplace. Someone somewhere is seeking your advice and is willing to pay you for your time. As you continue with your day, take a moment to stop and ask a few people this very same question; but don’t ask the colleagues that you work with. Ask the Starbucks cashier who moonlights as a math tutor. Ask the valet attendant who gives trumpet lessons after work. Soon you will realize that we all can and should put a value on our time. How would you like the opportunity to get a piece of each transaction?


The Future is Now: “A Platform That is Zoom Meets Masterclass Meets Calendly Meets Venmo” with Troy 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: “User engagement to pay for your phone” with Brian Boroff of Adfone

…We bring bleeding edge user engagement and monetization capabilities from the mobile gaming sector to the world of telecom operators and mobile service provisioning. As a result, users worldwide can now lower their mobile phone bill costs the more they use our platform to discover and interact with brands, games and much more.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Boroff, Founder and CEO of Adfone.

Dubbed a “Natural Born Entrepreneur” by the Daily Telegraph, Brian Boroff founded Adfone in 2015 after having successfully founded and grew his telecom company in the UK which was a multi-national Software-as-a-Service provider to Tier-1 wireless carriers. With 20 plus years of industry experience and a proven track record in the IT, Marketing & Telecom sectors, he grew Adfone from concept to closing on a $7.5 million seed funding round this year. He has been featured in UK journals including The Guardian, The Mirror, Mobile Today, and The Sunday Times. He is an author and subject matter expert in the fields of Customer Retention & Acquisition technologies, Competitive Intelligence, Wireless Telecom and Entrepreneurship.

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

During my freshman year at University of Central Florida, I was hired by AT&T Wireless Services as a part-time call center advisor. Within several months of starting the role, I was promoted to web master of the department, responsible for automating inbound call processes and improving call handle time. I was recognized by the executive leadership team for my work and by the age of 20 years old was reporting directly to the Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Wireless Services, overseeing the implementation of Customer Acquisition & Retention solutions deployed nationwide. Immediately after graduating, I launched my first start-up, which brought me to London, UK, where I resided for nearly 12 years. We were selling Customer Acquisition & Retention solutions to carriers around the world including Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and O2 to name a few. Shortly after my return to the U.S. in 2015, I conceived the idea for Adfone with the vision of putting an ad-supported mobile device in every prepaid users’ hands on the planet.

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

As an entrepreneur you must, above all, have confidence in your abilities during the most difficult times. There have been numerous occasions in my startup experience during which I needed to secure cash, in a relatively tight timescale, to enable the company to survive. The most interesting fundraising experience was when I was given the opportunity to present to an Angel club that was based in Doha, Qatar. This came through an introduction by one of my existing investors. He told me that while an investment in the company was not guaranteed, attendance in person would increase the chances of a positive outcome. As a global company, I valued having a diverse investor base and decided to jump on a 17-hour flight to Doha for a 30-minute pitch, in person. I had been to many investor pitches in my career, but this was the most fascinating to me given the cultural differences. Upon my return, I was notified that they decided to invest in my company.

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

Adfone’s Play2Pay™ platform is truly unique. We bring bleeding edge user engagement and monetization capabilities from the mobile gaming sector to the world of telecom operators and mobile service provisioning. As a result, users worldwide can now lower their mobile phone bill costs the more they use our platform to discover and interact with brands, games and much more.

How do you think this might change the world?

The other day I walked into a Starbucks and there was a sign above the register that read “At this time, it is recommended all Customers use cashless payment options whenever possible during their visit to our store.” This is the new reality that we now live in and consumers worldwide will be looking for alternatives to paper currency as a matter of health and safety. Adfone’s platform is the world’s first to convert user engagement into mobile payments, initially focused on mobile phone bills. Rather than use cash or credit cards, our users can monetize their attention. We see this as transformative on a global scale.

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

Our technology is only provided on an opt-in basis, so users have the control in their hands, literally. Users are rewarded for interaction with the platform and receive value for their time. With this in mind, I don’t see any potential drawbacks.

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

When I returned from the UK, I had no idea what I would do next professionally. It was only after shopping for new mobile devices that I was able to experience firsthand the difference between the U.S. and UK phone markets, specifically around how devices and service subscriptions are sold. Having been accustomed to receiving my device for free in the UK, I was reluctant to pay anything for one. My original idea was to have a device with an OS level framework that would serve ads via the lock screen to fund the hardware, hence the name “Adfone.” Over time, with refinement, the platform became a way for users to offset subscription costs from their wireless carrier, with the lock screen being only one of many methods of interaction.

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

Our commercial model is Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C). It means that we would never have a direct media budget or user acquisition costs. We partner with wireless carriers who have massive subscriber bases and marketing budgets, and are responsible for driving adoption of the program. They (and us as a result) are uniquely positioned to drive scale given a carrier’s ability to preload our app on devices or sim cards, coupled with messaging their existing customers about our value proposition and leveraging their brand which customers know and trust. We are backed by formed CEOs of wireless carriers from around the world, which helps us to develop relationships with carriers from all corners of the globe.

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

Continuing on from my last point, for us it is a matter of signing up wireless carriers to distribute our platform. To this end, we have had great success from publicity around our company and platform leading to many inbound requests from wireless carriers around the world. We are big believers in the power of earned media and word of mouth and will continue to focus on this strategy.

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 have had many advisors and mentors throughout my career, but the one that has had the greatest influence on my career path has been the former Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Wireless Services. At a very young age, I was given an opportunity to lead an initiative that on the surface would seem like too much responsibility for someone of my experience at the time. She saw something in me that others perhaps would not have and, as a result, my career in information technology and mobile telecom was launched. I kept in touch with her over the course of 23 years, and she even helped me enter the market with Adfone by helping to pitch our first client.

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

I have given many presentations on entrepreneurship, startups, and raising capital, both in classroom and professional settings. I believe it is important to give back and this is one of the ways that I can do so by mentorship. In the future, I plan to have a more structured approach to this, whereby I can most effectively dedicate my time, knowledge, and experience to helping budding entrepreneurs to blossom.

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

I would actually like to answer this in a slightly different way, which is to share the “5 things that someone told me that I wish I learned sooner.” Each of these was taught to me by a different mentor at various stages of my career and I think all founders would benefit from them.

“A small piece of a large pie is better than a large piece of a small pie.”

Obsessing about dilution is an impediment to the growth of the company.

“Performance is your best defense”

The best protection of your role and equity stake is to hit your targets.

“Hire slow, fire fast.”

I think this one speaks for itself. It is human nature to the reverse.

“Recruit, Retain and Reward.”

Focus on these three “R’s” and the rest will follow

“Don’t let Best get in the way of Better”

Striving for perfection can be detrimental to progress.

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. 🙂

It took me decades to discover it, but I realize now that the key to success lies in our ability to have self-discipline. Discipline comes in many forms. It is a muscle that needs to be trained. Applying disciple in a certain area of one’s life means one will be able to apply it more easily in other areas. Having self-control in terms of what we say, eat or drink are excellent examples. Why is that we are careful about what we put into our mouth and not what comes out of it? I believe that training yourself to control what you say and how you treat others is not only critical to one’s success as a leader, but if enough people practiced this the world would be a better place. Helping others to strengthen this muscle seems like a movement worth inspiring.

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

Every day we face obstacles in our business and personal lives. It is how you deal with those obstacles that determines how your day will be, and it is the combination of all the days throughout your life that determine your success. Famed racing driver Mario Andretti said, “If everything seems under control, your just not going fast enough.” I love this quote and when I am having a rough day and feel like I’m losing control, I think about this quote, because to me that means that on that particular day, I’m actually making great progress.

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 tell them that COVID-19 has forever changed the way in which consumers, service providers and advertisers interact with one another. By enabling mobile customers to discover new brands and apps while reducing the cost of their bills, Adfone’s Play2Pay™ platform gives those customers an alternative way to make payments, service providers a new form of monetization and advertisers a powerful way to acquire new customers. With billions of smartphone customers worldwide and hundreds of billions in in-app advertising spend each year, Adfone is uniquely positioned to help reshape this new reality and, in doing do, create substantial value for all stakeholders involved. This, in turn, will make Adfone an incredibly valuable company.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bboroff/

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


The Future is Now: “User engagement to pay for your phone” with Brian Boroff of Adfone was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jan Van Bruaene of Real-Time Innovations (RTI): Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage

Jan Van Bruaene of Real-Time Innovations (RTI): Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Hang out with your remote team. With weekly group meetings, regular 1-on-1 meetings, and almost daily conversations, I felt I was in tune with the team in Spain. I was wrong. I didn’t walk in their shoes or sit next to them. I didn’t realize how loud the office was without much sound absorption. I didn’t realize the stress they get at the end of their day when the California office comes online, or from the 5 p.m. meetings. You can only understand that when you hang out there for some time, with no specific agenda.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Van Bruaene, Real-Time Innovations (RTI).

Jan joined RTI in 2006 and has over 23 years of experience in technical and customer-facing leadership roles at companies such as Sun Microsystems and VLSI Technology. He has led professional services, support, and engineering organizations and has experience in middleware, grid application and infrastructure software, operating system design and device driver and network chip development. In his current role of vice president of Engineering, Jan is responsible for RTI’s Research and Development efforts and for software development processes and product quality.

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 Silicon Valley backstory has been always about networking: from networking chips, to Unix drivers, to integrating third party networking and peripheral products with Sun servers, and to a real-time connectivity platform. My story started as many immigrant stories to the Bay Area do.

A few days after graduating in 1995 with a degree in Electrical Engineering in Belgium, I was already on a plane to Silicon Valley. My plan was, after a 3-month culture/work immersion as part of an educational exchange program, to travel for a month throughout the Western United States. I was lucky enough to have found an interesting opportunity at VLSI Technology working on telecommunication and networking chips. That plan changed quickly when I was offered a permanent role on the team.

In 1999, I got the opportunity to expand beyond hardware and firmware, with Sun Microsystems. It was an exhilarating time to work for the company who put the dot in dot com. I worked again on I/O and networking technologies at Sun. As a software engineer, I was responsible for integrating third party networking and peripheral products (PCI, USB, 1394, Infiniband) with Sun thin client, workstations and large servers. We had one of each system in our lab. And when not being used for testing, we would compete with other companies to see who could complete the most SETI@Home workloads at night.

In 2006, I joined Real-Time Innovations. It was a big change from a huge systems company to a smaller software company.

I joined RTI as a senior applications engineer in the Services team. We helped customers succeed with our technology by training them and providing architecture guidance and on-site consulting. I spent the first summer at RTI, commuting weekly to one of our customers in San Diego. Although you spend the entire day until late in a cold lab, it was always great to conclude with a warm night in San Diego. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to be the group lead for a dedicated support team. It was a great place to learn customer skills and work under pressure. After managing the application services team, I moved over to the product development side and joined the R&D team in 2012 as RTI’s new VP of Engineering.

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

As I managed the RTI R&D and Support team, we got an interesting and special support case. Our software had been part of a NASA experiment where an astronaut controlled a K10 rover on the Roverscape at the NASA Ames Research Center. The experiment had been a smashing success, but, there had been a short snafu at the beginning, which was quickly resolved. We learned about this when we received a picture from the astronaut’s laptop screen with the “error” message. Who receives a support case from space? That was pretty cool.

Sometimes it is about the little things that may have a large impact. As Sun transitioned to USB for many of the peripherals, I was a part of the team working on the Solaris USB developer kit. As part of the project, I created example driver code. Little did I know that the small piece of code would end up in production, as part of a family of storage systems from Sun.

For most of my years at Sun, I had a remote manager in Boston. One time, he asked me to join a meeting for him and our group but didn’t tell me who else would be there. As I walked in, I was quickly starstruck as I joined the table with Sun luminaries Bill Joy, James Gosling and Whitfield Diffie. I wished I had a camera-phone at the time!

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?

Be careful before you allow any application access to your contact list, even if they are reputable companies. During the early days of LinkedIn, the application was encouraging its users to reach out and grow your network. “Do you allow LinkedIn access to your Google contacts?” I expected it to show me a list of contacts which already were on LinkedIn and offer me the option to connect. I don’t know how it happened. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, or the questions were misleading. However, all my contacts received an email to connect with me on LinkedIn. That included the Sun Microsystems Alumni alias — a 60,000 people email list. That also included my non-work related contacts, such as my barber and gardener. Both of them recommended me for my Unix administration skills.

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

First of all, it is important to encourage the team to take time off, for a week or two, to really disconnect from work. A long weekend is nice, but it is not the same to really be away from work. At RTI, as part of the rPTO time off policy, we pay employees a small bonus if they take at least a week off and are not checking email or thinking about work. Plus we changed the overall approach to time off so you can take time whenever you need it, rather than when you accrued sufficient time.

On a day-to day-level, I recommend people to actively manage their calendar so they have larger blocks to think and be creative. If your day is a constant stream of interruptions, email replies and Slack messages, it will quickly become very exhausting. Context switching is a real productivity killer.

Block two hours to work uninterruptedly. Dedicate a day for deep work. I reserve Tuesday. Agree as a team for a meeting-free day. Fridays in the R&D team at RTI are lighter in meetings, because the team in our Spain office ends their day earlier and because we encourage the managers to make it a limited-meeting-day.

However, I disconnect most when I am creating something else. One of my colleagues does woodworking and mentions his mind cannot think of work when his fingers are nearing the spinning saw blade. My creations are different. I enjoy cooking, I am a beginner banjo player, and I use my Saturday mornings to write.

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?

RTI evolved from having the team primarily at our Sunnyvale headquarters, to one where more than 50% of our employees are elsewhere. We have a large group of employees in Granada, Spain, and a number across the US and Europe, working from their home offices.

I’ve managed remote employees, and teams for the past 10 years. The R&D team is about 70 people and is distributed around the world including Sunnyvale, CA, Granada, Spain, and with remote employees in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Colorado, Virginia and Minnesota. The team works in 5 different time zones.

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 and what can one do to address these challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

Top 5 challenges and advice when managing a remote team

1. Setting up the team as an extension of each other, rather than as a separate function, builds a cohesive team, and a team which can work more independently.

When we started the development team in Granada, we didn’t set up a specific function or product. We hired for almost every function there: core libraries development, tools development, customer support, etc.

This brought a few important benefits. Firstly, we could hire the best people, regardless of whether their product or team was local. Secondly, by having almost all teams and engineering functions in Granada, the group could work more independently. If the support team needed to talk to a core library engineer, they had a local person to work with. Local expertise was also beneficial when on-boarding new engineers. Lastly, everybody felt a part of the same larger R&D team, rather than being identified by location.

This setup does bring some logistical challenges, in that team meetings need to take into account both people in Silicon Valley and Spain. Furthermore, your manager may not be local, which can be a challenge for new graduates figuring out how to work in a corporate setting. We solved this by having local mentors.

2. Experiment and educate the team on how to best use the communication and productivity tools. This is harder than we think.

We all know the remote team tools to get: Zoom for video conferencing, Slack for group conversations, and Google Apps for collaboration. For each of them, there are a number of solid competitors as well. How you use these tools, however, is more important than the tool choice itself.

When we introduced IRC (the predecessor to Slack) to the team, we set up an IRC server and told the team: you are all engineers, you either know what this is or you can figure it out — good luck. We had a few enthusiastic early adopters, but the majority of the team wasn’t participating. They were trying to figure out how and when to leverage it. Our first foray into group communication soon fizzled out.

We tried again a short while later with HipChat. This time we made a plan and offered a more guided introduction to using the tool. First of all, we wanted maximum participation. We created the #GoodMorning channel. The price to be invited to HipChat was your commitment to start your day by posting a Good Morning message.

“Good Morning, today I have a customer meeting with GE, and a code review in the afternoon about the new content filtering feature. For lunch, a few of us are heading to Robee’s falafel”.

It was the equivalent of walking into the office and sharing with a colleague what you were up to for the day. The little message created more awareness of what people were up to, but also lowered the barrier of entry to using the tool.

We created a few more easy entry channels: #rvk was the RTI Virtual Kitchen for all kinds of non-work water cooler banter. #Arstechnica was for non-work related geek discussions.

We have since switched over to Slack. As folks had become very familiar using the tool, and as the rest of the company joined, we phased out the #GoodMorning channel as it became unwieldy.

It is important to experiment with how to use a tool and educate the team. The introduction of a new tool should always come with guidance, training and one or more shepherds of the tool.

Here are few small practices and lessons we learned:

  • Have a remote first attitude — Arrange the conference room seats to face the camera and television screen rather than having remote participants to the side. It is all too easy to forget there are remote folks when you do not see them all the time or are not facing them.
  • Invest in good audio, especially in larger conference rooms or when holding company presentations. It has taken us many tries to get this right. A great audio system is not cheap but pays for itself when you realize the costs of a poor meeting or briefing.
  • Spend the time to write it out, be it the meeting agenda topics or the meeting conclusion. A lot can be lost over a video conference. A lot may be unclear when participants are at different levels of the English language. When you write out your ideas, they tend to improve in clarity. I also recommend this for 1-on-1 meetings: we have a shared document where we prepare the meeting topics and capture conclusions.
  • Guide the team on what type of feedback you are seeking, and how you want to receive the feedback. The collaborative nature of Google Documents is very powerful, but also can slow us down a lot. Google Docs’ commenting feature makes us lazy. It invites us to make drive-by comments and creates more work for the original author of the document. We love to add our two cents or wordsmith. In many cases, these comments are rarely improving the original idea substantially. The commenting feature doesn’t really lend itself to elaborate, as comments are squished into the margin. Resolving the many little comments becomes a job in itself. All this creates Execution Drag. Instead, ask the reviewer what you want specific feedback on, and encourage them to write it inline with the document for easy contrasting with the original idea.
  • Considering the purpose and desired action will help you determine the optimal communication method. In my blog, “A framework to work more efficiently and effectively as a distributed team,” I discuss how depending on whether you are sharing information, creating something or deciding, you should adjust your approach. A simple example of that is separating high-signal (must-read) from low-signal (fyi) Slack channels. For example, I created the #team-eng-mgrs and #team-eng-mgrs-fyi channels.
  • Frequent mini-updates keep a remote team informed. We hold internal tech briefings to share technical updates. These presentations don’t have to be polished, and demos don’t have to fully work. Early information sharing is what we’re after. There are other ways we share updates continuously, from internal quarterly product updates, to mini “What’s cooking” in each sub team bi-weekly updates.

3. Hang out with your remote team

With weekly group meetings, regular 1-on-1 meetings, and almost daily conversations, I felt I was in tune with the team in Spain. I was wrong. I didn’t walk in their shoes or sit next to them. I didn’t realize how loud the office was without much sound absorption. I didn’t realize the stress they get at the end of their day when the California office comes online, or from the 5 p.m. meetings. You can only understand that when you hang out there for some time, with no specific agenda.

I made it a point to travel there every quarter, even if there was no big decision to be made, or a planning meeting to be organized. When I go to Granada, I also meet with all the new hires, and go for walks through the town while talking about their work, and their life. Walking together is a non-confrontational way to meet, rather than on opposite sides of a conference room table.

In those conversations, you also realize important culture differences. For example, when hiring in Spain, candidates will only apply when they meet all requirements in the job description. In the US, that is different. I see many people applying when they’ve barely met 25% of the job requirements. When hiring for Spain, we are very careful in what and how we phrase the job requirements.

Every year, we also bring the entire team together in California. We have presentations about the plans for the year and/or about new product features. However, the real value from the company kick-off (CKO) week are not those presentations. The real benefit from the CKO event is what happens in the kitchen, at the bar in the evening, or while playing a game during the team building events. That’s where you build trust as a team and accrue goodwill.

A company kick-off event is a large planning endeavor. It may be hard to do those multiple times a year. Do plan smaller team get-togethers. The immediate cost will be dwarfed by the return you get from better teamwork and lower attrition.

4. Language skills matter

During the hiring process, we also assess the candidates’ English skills. They are infrequently a disqualifying factor, though they give us an idea about the ramp up time. English is the primary language in the company, and we want to make sure all people can defend their ideas adequately.

We host language classes, provide opportunities to practice presentation skills in a friendly environment, and have tried a few other things to improve the English proficiency of the remote team, such as English-only-Mondays.

The latter is hard when the team is almost 95% Spanish speaking. It is a bit unnatural to talk to your colleague in a foreign language when you could be much faster in Spanish. If you have different nationalities with different mother tongues, the language barrier will be much smaller as teams will default faster to English.

5. Ooch into bringing the time zones closer together.

Eight years ago, many engineers in Silicon Valley would start their day around 10 a.m. and work until late. The RTI engineering team meeting would be around 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. PST. Even though for Europe, Spain’s working hours are shifted, that didn’t work. Slowly we moved the time zones closer to each other. Nowadays, many team meetings start at 8 a.m. PST / 5 p.m. CEST. Many start their day before 8 a.m. PST, or end their day in Spain closer to 7 p.m. We are definitely atypical for Spain in that regard.

A few years ago, we made the change that Friday 7 p.m. meetings are off limits for Spain. As a matter of fact, people can arrange their day to leave around 3 p.m. on Friday, as many Spanish companies in the South of Spain allow.

This was not something we changed overnight. We slowly “ooched” into a better overlapping schedule. A willingness to stay late or wake up early for your team, combined with a meet-only-when-necessary approach are key to making sure distributed teams feel appreciated. I start my day before 7 a.m. I am available for my team early in the morning and that creates a lot of goodwill and trust.

I am also cognizant of energy levels across the group. If you launch into a heavy topic at 6:30 p.m. local time, you can expect people to be drained. In this case, publish the agenda well in advance and allow for plenty of prep time. This way, you can still get the input when faced with the time zone differences.

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?

Indeed, facial expressions and body language are very important. We encourage verbal and video conversations, over email feedback, even for positive feedback. If you have to have a tough conversation, I always like to make sure it is a video conversation. I do want to cue on the visual feedback.

Even though my 1-on-1 template includes a feedback topic, I always make sure I discuss it during the 1-on-1.

Your topics (No need to complete all the fields here. This is a template to remind ourselves if something fits into these categories.)

  • Highlights — items you are especially proud of
  • Lowlights — items you wished had gone differently
  • Challenges — even if you are handling it, and don’t need help
  • Needs — how can I or others help you?
  • Other topics:

Jan’s topics

  • FYI
  • Feedback — let’s go over this in the meeting
  • Review/Follow up — not all the time
  • Career Development Plan items
  • Your milestones
  • Your OKRs
  • Action Items
  • Other topics:

Secondly, I ask more explicitly for confirmation. “Do you agree with the feedback? Is it fair?” or “What do you think about my comments?” I want to externalize what you normally can figure out from body language or facial expressions.

Thirdly, one of my reports provided me with feedback that I could be quite persuasive in these meetings and that he needed time to think it through. Since then we made it a standing 1-on-1 topic, as a follow up from the previous meeting: “Is there anything for our last discussion that we need to revisit or discuss?”

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

Ninety percent of the work here is unrelated to the email. You need to build trust and goodwill every day through 1-on-1s. How you interact every day will dictate how your email will be interpreted.

In the Radical Candor book, Kim Scott points out that providing feedback is key: criticize in private, praise in public. If you mess this up, you lose goodwill. And as a result, the email may be misread. Another tip is to think very hard when reviewing who is on your cc list. I’ve seen multiple times where people weren’t necessarily upset about the content of the email, but more so who the email was shared with.

In my experience, you may start with sharing constructive feedback via email, though it best to be followed up in your weekly 1-on-1.

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?

People just miss the camaraderie of hanging out together at work or having lunch together. Even though we try informal coffee chats or a virtual happy hour, no Zoom session can replace that. There is definitely a transition period and people need time to adjust.

When you are in the office together, it is easier to know how the group is doing. Perhaps Ross is frustrated about the code check-in, while Rachel is pumped that she finally figured out the hard software bug. We have been trying a few things to get a better read on the team working remotely. The HR team has done pulse surveys to figure out how people are doing working remotely, and what type of support they need. We also started the engineering manager meeting by taking the stress temperature: red/yellow/green with a sentence or two about your state of mind, both professionally and personally. E.g., it may not be obvious that Joey and his wife are struggling to balance work and two toddlers at home.

To combat Zoom fatigue, and a bit contrary to some of the advice to turn on video all the time, I recommend folks to go for a walk while joining a call. Get up and move around.

One tip I found useful for people who didn’t normally work remotely was to create an end of day ritual: pack up your bag, walk outside around the car, and approach your house like you’re coming from a long day’s work.

There are a few things I haven’t figured out yet as I transitioned to a home office, like having an effective virtual whiteboard. I am a visual person and am known to quickly grab a pen and jot things down on a whiteboard. Also, I’m still trying to figure out how to manage a planning meeting with multiple remote people. Typically we get together in person to hold planning meetings. Perhaps Zoom breakout rooms can aid, though I haven’t gone through the experience of organizing a virtual off-site.

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?

My three essential tips for creating a healthy and empowering work culture with a remote team would be:

  • Clear responsibility maps are even more important when the team is remote.
  • Promoting life balance. We do virtual classes or games to encourage healthy habits. Employees at RTI love sharing healthy recipes. #ChefsOfRTI
  • Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Do an impromptu call or set up a 15 minute check-in

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

I am more of a pragmatic person of incremental and continuous changes than of big visionary ideas. To effect change you need both the dreamers and those who make dreams come to life. I see myself more in the second group.

Global warming and affordable healthcare are top priorities to solve. They affect us all, regardless of our background, nationality, ethnicity, or political affiliation. However, if I had my TED wish, it would be about education. The development of a curious and creative mind will lead to solutions for whatever problems we are facing or going to be facing in the future. It will also bring us back to a time where decisions and opinions are rooted in science. Or at least we will be talking about the merits of a scientific study, rather than discussing opinions.

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

Growing up in the Flanders region of Belgium, you tend to be down-to-earth and humble. I grew up to work hard and with the mantra that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

I do believe that “nothing worth having comes easy.” That surely is true for big causes.

That’s also true in everyday life. A great Thanksgiving dinner takes time in the kitchen. You have to hike up that mountain to get the beautiful view. Growing great-tasting tomatoes in your vegetable garden takes constant care… so, as you work on your dream or a tomato garden, enjoy the struggles and hard work.


Jan Van Bruaene of Real-Time Innovations (RTI): Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage 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 Universal Coffee Lid” With John Antignane of The…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Universal Coffee Lid” With John Antignane of The LidGrabber

…For me, it was the fact that I was honestly always grossed out at the thought of what could possibly be on the coffee lids. What if someone had not washed their hands properly before fitting it on? I was bound and determined to find a device that could securely fit on a lid so no coffee would drip out while you were drinking it, and to do so in a very hygienic manner a well.

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 John Antignane.

John Antignane is the founder of The LidGrabber. A patented, groundbreaking, and innovative solution designed to support both self-serve and full-service coffee environments. It provides” SECURITY” a healthier way to seal lids to coffee cups, “ SAFETY” eliminating hand-to-lid contact, “SATISFACTION” customers will walk away pleased know their coffee order is LidGrabber safe. It’s a low-cost simple device that conforms to most lids available at major retail coffee shops.

John’s mission is to have the LidGrabber in every coffee shop and revolutionize the way businesses serve coffee by showing customers they matter and to raise awareness among consumers to expect nothing less.

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

Thank you for having me. I’ve always considered inventing to be one of the greatest gifts that God has ever given me. I’ve just always had this habit where I’m looking for problems and easier ways to solve those problems than have already been invented. Perhaps my first notable achievement was when I helped work on custom made radio case in November 22 1963, which tragically happened to be the same day that President John Kennedy had been shot.

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

Hmm, well in the 1980s I devised Christmas gift bank on wheels for each of our corporate customers. I asked a toy company who had a wooden armored truck to have the truck modified by drilling holes at the top rear part of the truck, enabling it to hold coin tubes that I invented. These are the same plastic reusable coin tubes that you see today. They are a wonderful learning tool for kids to count and save their money.

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

You need to know (and feel) what you were made to do. Like I said, I’ve always had a passion and a knack for finding better solutions for common, everyday problems. I was good at it, and I’ve enjoyed doing it through the many inventions that I’ve made throughout my career. By pursuing something that you are both good at and enjoy, it makes life a lot more fulfilling.

Ok thank you for that. 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 favorite invention, or my big idea that I hope will change the world, is called the LidGrabber. Over ten years ago, I walked into a fast food restaurant. I noticed this rather peculiar device being used to put lids over coffee cups. When I inquired about this device to the manager of the restaurant, he just said that it was a part of the franchise. Personally, I don’t like lids because I’m honestly a bit grossed out at what I think might be lurking on top of the lid.

That’s when I began thinking about a device that could fit coffee lids over seventy different sizes of coffee cups. I just didn’t want people to be grossed out by coffee lids anymore like I was. I’m always turned off when I see somebody handle a coffee lid, because who knows if they washed their hands or not.

How do you think this will change the world?

I collected many different kinds of coffee lids, and worked via email with Louise Harpman, who has the largest collection in the entire world (she’s a professor over at New York University).

In her words, as I think she explains it best:

“The LidGrabber solves a problem you might not even know you have. Except you do! Imagine this scenario: You order your cup of hot coffee to go. The barista gives you the cup of coffee. Either they or you put a coffee lid on top. But the lid does not hold firm to the side of the cup. When you go to drink through the lid, the coffee dribbles out the side, or what is worse, the whole lid “pops off” because it was not fully attached in the first place. Mess? Yes. Burn? Possibly. Avoidable? Yes. The LidGrabber is a new, easy to use product that promotes a positive lock between the cup and coffee lid. The LidGrabber also keeps (possibly dirty) hands away from the lid itself. You know, the one you’re about to drink through.”

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?

People may think that it’s not really necessary, because they can just put the lid on themselves or they may not even care about potential germs on the lid in the first place. But I think that when they begin to use the device for themselves, they will begin to see its practical uses.

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

For me, it was the fact that I was honestly always grossed out at the thought of what could possibly be on the coffee lids. What if someone had not washed their hands properly before fitting it on? I was bound and determined to find a device that could securely fit on a lid so no coffee would drip out while you were drinking it, and to do so in a very hygienic manner a well.

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

Simply the material resources and endorsements from enough coffee shops! I have lobbied the local Board of Health to make proper handling of coffee lids a part of the health inspection checklist. I said forks, spoons, knives, straws, and toothpicks are protected with paper wraps around all of them, but nothing around coffee lids. Coffee lids are a big germ avenue. This should be addressed especially in these times of COVID-19.

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

Number one, know what you are good at. I knew from a very young age that I was skilled at finding practical solutions to common problems. Two, know what you enjoy doing. I was fortunate enough to enjoy what I was good at. Three, always find people who can help you in whatever it is you need to accomplish. I was fortunate to receive a great review from Louise Harpman after she tested the LidGrabbers. Fourth, persevere! I came up with this idea back in 2009, and here in 2020 I’m still here working on it and making headway! Fifth and finally, enjoy life along the way. Focus on your goals and what you want to achieve, but don’t ignore or miss out on the small things.

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

So long as you are both very skilled at something and passionate about or enjoy it, you’ll find the drive that you need to accomplish anything.

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 🙂

Imagine this scenario: You order your cup of hot coffee to go. Either the barista or you put a coffee lid on top. But the lid does not hold firm to the side of the cup. When you go to drink through the lid, the coffee dribbles out the side, or what is worse, the whole lid “pops off” because it was not fully attached in the first place. Mess? Yes. Burn? Possibly. Avoidable? Yes. The LidGrabber is a new, easy to use product that promotes a positive lock between the cup and coffee lid. The LidGrabber also dirty hands away from the lid itself. You know, the one you’re about to drink through.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Universal Coffee Lid” With John Antignane of The… 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: “An interactive stage where performers can interact with…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “An interactive stage where performers can interact with fans who are safely at home” With Bubba Ginnetty of InCrowd

Success is for the doers. Success comes from turning ideas to tangible things. Never be afraid to fail, it takes 100 terrible ideas to get to the great one that changes everything. Also being successful requires a team and that requires being a good leader. As leaders, we take good care of your people and I’ve always been dedicated to making sure that our crew is taken care of and feels appreciated

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bubba Ginnetty. With tours cancelled, stay at home orders issued and social distancing changing the landscape of live concerts and comedy shows/performances for both fans and performers, one man is introducing a solution. Ryan “Bubba” Ginnetty (director/production manager) launched a Los Angeles-based immerse innovative experience — InCrowd, an original multimedia concept that creates an interactive stage where performers can interact with fans who are safely at home. This allows the performers to see, feel and laugh with the audience which is a key element to stage performances.

Each LIVE virtual event can hold up to 50,00 General Admission attendees and 300 VIP Wall participants who will be displayed on screen and heard virtually anywhere in the world. Ginnetty’s pandemic proof solution was to combine his stage and lighting design skillset to create “The Wall.” VIP fans are shown to the performer via a 360-degree video wall during their performance, streamed LIVE. Ginnetty designed ‘The Wall’ so that it is curved around the performer to simulate a surround-sound audience. The Wall projects up to 300 VIP participants who can see, hear and interact with the talent and other members of the audience. Each show is directed live and controlled by an in-studio broadcast and production team allowing for an ultra-high-quality multimedia stage show.

When Ginnetty has time off from traveling around the world producing shows for DJ Snake, French Montana, and Zeds Dead, he is also a stand-up comedian. InCrowd Entertainment unifies the latest technology in live streaming and stage production with comedians, musicians, theatre productions and more that thrive in a live audience setting. From live studio performances and talk shows to concerts and theatre, InCrowd is the new way to experience live entertainment from the comfort of your home.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Bubba! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to create InCrowd Entertainment?

Thank You for having me. For over 10 years I have been stage designing and production managing for some of the biggest music acts in the world, and at the same time I was writing and performing Comedy. I would go from the main stage at Coachella, to a dive bar in West Hollywood to do stand up all in the same weekend. My journey here has been quite unique and InCrowd is really a culmination of my life’s work.

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

To me the most interesting part of my career is that I have gotten to travel the entire world and learn about their culture and eat their local food. The most fulfilling part of that is that I have gotten to work with people hand-in-hand from these countries and I have built strong friendships and bonds that I will have for life, with people so different than me, that I would have never met in any other way.

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

“Say what you mean and mean what you say”. To me is about accountability and business ethics. I believe I have been successful because everyone I have worked with in some way or another knows that they can count on me and that I can be trusted with their project, artist, and budget. Also, I believe in staying present and allowing creativity and hard work to manifest new projects and opportunities. The biggest piece career wise is to collaborate with others and be willing to take direction and criticism from your peers. I work directly with very skilled and talented people that are experts in what they do. As much as I believe in myself and my vision, listening to them and staying open has led to some of the biggest creative accomplishments in my life and career.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

My biggest idea I am entrenched in currently. My partners and I coined it “InCrowd”. InCrowd is an interactive audience experience that was spawned in the midst of the pandemic. While it is current, we believe it is still ahead of its time! InCrowd brings comedians and musicians directly into the homes of their fans, where they can interact with each other live and in real time! This wasn’t possible before now and we have made it possible and everyone that experiences it wants to come back! When have you ever been able to talk directly to your favorite artist from your couch while they are on stage performing live? It is a really special experience to have. This is the future of live entertainment, there are so many unique new elements this platform brings to both the fans and the artists themselves. We believe this is just the beginning for InCrowd, we have so many avenues we are pursuing with live ticketed shows as well as programming for existing streaming platforms and television. We are beyond excited for what the future holds for us.

How do you think this will change the world? 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?

Some may say this is a supplement for the times or that InCrowd will take away from ticket sales in future physical events. I do not believe either to be true, for a few reasons. The InCrowd experience is unique and offers elements that an in person live show doesn’t. We believe the two can co-exist and in fact complement each other. There are so many reasons InCrowd is here to stay, from people living in smaller markets, to sobriety, to budget to park and overpriced tickets, disabilities, I could go on and on. To be honest these contrarians to me are just holding onto old ideas. Evolving your habits and ideas is tough. Changing business models and structures are even tougher. InCrowd is a perfect representation of Vertical integration.

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

InCrowd is honestly serendipitous, the pandemic hit, myself and my crew were on tour with a musician and that tour was cancelled. We were pondering what was next and what was possible to pursue to create, innovate, and continue to feed our families. My creative passion and artistic craft have been standup comedy and it’s been a real outlet for me between living the life of a professional production manager and touring. I saw immediately how live music was changed by this, but I also saw how live comedy was being hit even harder. Comedy can’t happen without the audience’s reaction so I thought about a solution and me and my team here at InCrowd created a creative solution by designing an interactive stage that brought the audience in and allowed us to re-create a live performance environment that feels real, and connected, and it works.

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

We are in the process of working on that each day reaching out to performers, managers, and many different agencies about several show concepts and options for their talent to take advantage of this medium. And more and more of them are learning about us and our capabilities and see the vision and possibilities for themselves. Ultimately to be the most widespread we are working towards being an application on your apple TV or Roku, a network of sorts that you rely on for the best in interactive programming where you can jump into the audience and be part of the live show right from your home. We also are gaining ground in collaborating with some of the biggest names in live music and comedy, producing their own shows on the InCrowd platform and reaching wide audiences and the numbers really tell the story for us.

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

As a comic I wish someone told me that just being amazingly funny and a great personality is no longer the barometer for success. So many people rely on the popularity of their socials. But as someone who is a writer, comic, and stage designer/producer I do the work each day, and so therefore the talent is in my work not on how many blue check marks follow my accounts. I’ve figured it out on my own but the entertainment industry of all kinds and especially in Hollywood is a marathon, not a sprint. I moved to LA from Boston 15 years ago and I’ve been working on so many projects since, that have both contributed to experience and creativity, but most of all relationships. None of these things would be possible if it wasn’t for a strong team that I work with every day and knowing what it takes to produce a quality show of all kinds. It requires time, dedication, process, and development. If you would have told me that the pandemic would put touring and live performance on pause around the country and the world but myself and my team would still figure out ways to do live performances and bring relief to both audiences and the artists, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible at a time like this. We refused to quit, and our creativity is at an all-time high. We are working just as hard if not harder now to figure out solutions daily. Lastly, If you said I would pitch this platform and company to Jamie Foxx and he would see the vision immediately, just like I do, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I did and he does, and so do many more well-known performers and artists that I admire and respect. I’m a father of a 10 month old beautiful baby girl and I’m just as motivated as I’ve ever been about my profession and creativity and I wake up every day with a new purpose, I believe that one of my times is now.

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

Success is for the doers. Success comes from turning ideas to tangible things. Never be afraid to fail, it takes 100 terrible ideas to get to the great one that changes everything. Also being successful requires a team and that requires being a good leader. As leaders we take good care of your people and I’ve always been dedicated to making sure that our crew is taken care of and feels appreciated, and we work so hard for the artists that we work for to achieve their visions of their show that they respect us and we all have a real relationship working towards a common goal.

Some very well-known VC’s (venture capitalists) 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. 🙂

Ahhhh, the elevator pitch. Here you go. InCrowd is what the future of Live Performance will be but it’s right now. The opportunity of talent from all aspects of entertainment to produce their own shows, tours, and specials where their fans participate from their own homes. This isn’t a concept or an idea, we are doing it now, and the numbers and the possibilities are endless. We can do a show for 50,000 fans today, and see VIP fans interact with their favorite talent in a way that they didn’t even know was possible. This is a different kind of experience and on the business side this is a different kind of model. An artist can schedule in one day a World Tour from LA, a show in Sydney, a show in London, and show in Japan, then in close it out NYC, having reached all those markets and those fans in a unique way that fulfills that fan base and it all happened from one stage in one 24 hour period. You do the math, but we have done it, the ticket sales are there, the ad and brand opportunities are there, and we can change and personalize the art direction all in house with our InCrowd animators. The InCrowd is moving towards being something you see on television and streaming platforms, through high concept shows and recorded live performances. This will be a platform everyone knows and loves, that they will engage in for decades to come. InCrowd will be one of companies in the article we read in 10 years about the companies and brands that exploded during the most difficult and trying time in American history. Reach out directly, we’ve got the investment deck ready for your viewing. There is existing interest, and this is an exciting and fast moving medium with so much star power and several revenue streaming opportunities.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on Instagram : @incrowdcomedy & @incrowd.studio . Our company website is: Incrowd.studio


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “An interactive stage where performers can interact with… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Renè Michele: F.A.T.E From Addict to Entrepreneur

The moment we stand up and admit to ourselves, “I have an addiction”, the burden of secrecy and deception is broken. This is most definitely the first step in taking your power back and working towards overcoming your addiction, permanently.

As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview René Michele, Founder and Principal of Renemichele.com.

René established herself as an entrepreneur in 2017 after spending the majority of her life trapped in a cycle of substance abuse and addiction, stemming from significant childhood abuse and neglect. Today, she is an international speaker, published author, coach and consultant, and was named one of eight female Changemakers of 2020 by YMAG, Australia’s leading women’s empowerment magazine.

Rene’s remarkable story is powerful and inspiring, and continues to encourage, empower and equip people from around the world with the tools to transform their own lives from victim to victory.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?

To say my childhood was lonely and chaotic is quite the understatement. Following the break-up of my parent’s marriage when I was ten years old, my mother and I moved from a very small country town in New South Wales Australia, with a population of approximately 200, to the large multicultural city of Sydney with a population of approximately 3511,000.

As a young child, I struggled to cope with the drastic change in environment and lifestyle, which was significantly exacerbated by my mother’s inability to provide me with adequate emotional support due to the decline in her mental health. She became depressed and began to take large doses of sleeping pills and drinking both heavily and regularly. By the time I was eleven years of age, she was leaving me home alone on the weekends so she could go out partying with men at the local hotels, and within a few months of this new lifestyle, she began bringing these men home.

Unfortunately, these men not only enjoyed my mother’s intimate company, but sought out mine also. My childlike innocence was forever shattered by the cycle of sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted upon me by my mother’s many occasional partners. These men were predators who hid their depravity well. They would wait until my mother’s back was turned to reach out and grab at my pre-pubescent body or purposely rub themselves up against me as they walked past. It made me feel dirty, and with each and every assault, I froze with fear.

The most difficult struggle I faced with what was happening to me was my inability to confide in my mother. I was already terrified of becoming yet another burden for her, as the collapse of my parent’s marriage changed her. I could visibly see the strain on her face, her features once soft and gentle had become hard, fixed, and she was unemotional and unaffectionate towards me. I felt partially to blame for the stress she was clearly under, and I was determined not to make her life even more difficult. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my mother’s love all together. She was all I had in the world and I was fixated on safeguarding that.

The secrets I carried bore with them immense shame and guilt, and as a result, I fantasized about suicide constantly. My first suicide attempt was just prior to my eleventh birthday. Every day was a psychological and emotional struggle for me. On one hand I despised my mother for bringing these disgusting men who violated me into our home, yet on the other hand I felt fiercely protective of her and craved nothing but her love and affection. I would close my tear-soaked eyes at night and envision her coming into my room to hold me in her arms and tell me she was sorry for what was happening to me, that she was going to protect me and that everything was going to be alright. Unfortunately, I craved something that was never to become my reality.

The abuse I experienced continued until I was sixteen years old, which was the legal age a child was permitted to leave home and the care of their parents at that time in Australia, so that is exactly what I did. I packed my belongings and moved out as soon as I found a job to support myself, and I never looked back.

I felt free, and I truly believed that the worst years of my life were now over, that I was finally safe. I could never have imagined that the years of abuse I had experienced would continue for many more to come.

Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?

I was exposed to addiction and substance abuse in early childhood. My mother was initially a binge drinker, which later turned into full blown alcoholism. We routinely had parties at our farmhouse when my parents were together which was where I observed the adults in my life getting drunk and partying well into the morning hours. They were always laughing and dancing, so as a young impressionable child, I made the assumption that alcohol went hand in hand with having a good time.

It was at one of these very parties when three of my older sisters encouraged me to snort crushed up paracetamol through a straw when I was only nine years old. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, and I looked up to my sisters more than anything at that age so if when they said I would be “cool” for snorting paracetamol, I didn’t hesitate. My sisters also showed me how to steal and swig cans of beer while the drunk and preoccupied adults weren’t looking. Such behavior became normal to me, which is why in my early adolescent and adult years, drinking to the point of vomiting and passing out never dawned on me as excessive or necessarily bad in any way, I considered it to be a regular part of life.

By the age of thirteen I was getting drunk occasionally when my mother herself was too drunk to notice, and by fourteen I was sneaking out of the house and meeting friends in local parks where I got paralytic drunk to the point of unconsciousness most weekends. Getting drunk was my way of coping with the shame and self-loathing I felt towards myself as a result of the sexual abuse I experienced for six horrendous years. I told myself that because I automatically froze during each assault, that I was in some way to blame for the abuse. This belief haunted me for the majority of my life.

I continued to struggle with a negative self-image for decades, and I attempted suicide by overdose at age seventeen and then again at age nineteen when my addiction was in full swing. My first introduction to recreational drugs however was when I was seventeen and homeless, which led to couch surfing at various friends’ houses. I was always moving around and living out of a suitcase which I was embarrassed and ashamed of, then one night while out partying at a club, I was introduced to a group of people who said they all shared a house that had a spare room which I could move into if I wanted. I felt like I had won the lottery, finally I was going to have a stable home and a fixed address, I was excited to say the least. Unbeknownst to me, the oldest guy in the house, who was forty-five years old, was both a tattooist, and a drug dealer. This new arrangement I had found myself in was the perfect recipe for destruction. I was an extremely vulnerable young girl, in a house with practical strangers, estranged from my family, broken and depressed, and all of a sudden, I am surrounded by a never-ending flow of drugs and alcohol. My new life was nothing like I could ever have imagined it would be.

We partied hard every weekend, and one night not long after I had moved in, I was offered some acid and amphetamines by my new housemates, which I hesitantly accepted. Inside I was terrified, I must have been physically trembling when I put the tab of acid in my mouth as one of my housemates hugged me and said, “It’s okay, we are here to look after you.” Strangely, hearing those words meant the world to me and all I could think was, “I am so lucky to have found such kind people.”

This is how messed up I was, I actually thought they were the nicest people I had ever met because they said out loud the words I had always wanted to hear. They told me they were going to look after me, and I wanted that more than I wanted air to breathe. For me, drugs were both an escape from the pain that I carried with me every day, and a way to become someone else for a few hours. I became a “fun” person who wasn’t afraid of anything, who could laugh without fear of judgement, and when I was high, my walls came crashing down. Drugs turned me into someone I wasn’t, they made me bold, loud, confident, and that in itself was intoxicating. They provided a temporary escape from the René I hated, and before long, they took over my life and ruled every thought in my mind. They became all I wanted as the temporary escape from reality became an addiction all of its own and wanted to be anyone other than myself more than anything in the whole world.

What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?

Shame — plain and simple, for me, it was shame. The shame that I carried around with me was so deep, so devastating that it stopped me from seeing myself as a person with any type of value and worth. I believed I was nothing, a waste of a heartbeat, not worthy of living. When you hate yourself that much you have no ability to see beyond that. You have no way of believing things will get better because there was no one in my life that was healthy or living any kind of life that was positive and good.

I had zero role models, the only people I had in my life were drug dealers and drug users, so I became exactly what I surrounded myself with. Broken, sad, lost and lonely, this is who I became, this is what we all were deep down inside. We were a group of shattered individuals desperate to belong and to be loved. Drugs and alcohol numbed my pain and covered up the deep loneliness within me, however they were only able to make me forget that I hated myself for hours at a time. Each time I woke up, I hated myself even more, and the high I chased was never as effective as it was initially, so I needed more and more drugs to achieve a state of oblivion. I was on an endless rollercoaster than I had no idea how to stop.

Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?

The lowest point of my life was at age nineteen, when I woke up in the emergency ward after my second failed suicide attempt, with my entire body wracked in pain. No one tells you that overdosing is actually acutely painful, and in my case, I took enough codeine, antihistamine and paracetamol that if someone hadn’t found me and called an ambulance, I would be dead today.

Not only was overdosing painful, it caused severe damage to my body and my organs began to shut down. In my case, my liver pulled the short straw and the doctors had to act swiftly to ensure I didn’t require a transplant or die of liver failure. At one point I flatlined and had to be resuscitated, the very thought of which to this day, causes me to shake my head in utter disbelief, I had come so close to dying.

When I woke up, I was in the hospital all alone, covered in vomit from the doctors attempts to pump my stomach, and writhing around in extreme physical and emotional pain, so immense that I have consistently failed to adequately articulate it. It was a terrifying and dark place I found myself in, and I hated myself even more, for being the one who put me there.

In my addiction, my lowest point was most definitely the day I stood in my father’s bathroom at age twenty-three, snorting lines of amphetamines off the surface of his bathroom sink. It was my stepbrother’s birthday and all my extended family were just outside the door celebrating and laughing. Little children were running around playing outside and I could hear them through the door. As I finished inhaling my first line of powder, I caught my reflection in my father’s bathroom mirror. In that moment I was disgusted in the person looking back at me, so much so that I couldn’t bear it, I had to look away.

In that moment, the familiar echo of vile words rang loudly though my mind, words like “disgusting” and “failure” , — that was my opinion of myself. I sat on the floor with my head in my hands and cried, and I told myself what a terrible person I was to dishonor my father and my family that way. I got up, wiped away my tears, washed my face and I didn’t ever take drugs again in my father’s home. I always hid my addiction from my family, so in my mind, even my drug affected mind, I had crossed a boundary. My actions also revealed to me that I was in fact an addict because I had lost logical control over my drug taking and broken my own personal values regarding my family. Actions like these are what fueled my shame for so many decades. My inability to make sound choices again and again is what continually kept me angry at myself, no matter how hard I tried, I struggled to imagine a life without my inner rage and self-disappointment.

Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?

My life became an endless downward spiral that consisted of constant drinking sessions, blackouts, repeated sexual abuse, domestic violence and heavy drug use. I looked like a happy party girl, yet I was miserable. I felt empty and dead inside and thoughts of suicide were constant. I was self-harming by way of slicing my skin with broken glass and razor blades and punching myself in the face hard enough to cause black eyes and swollen and bruised cheeks. My life was in tatters, but my heart and my soul were much worse, they were utterly decimated.

One morning after a big night out partying, I woke up in a strange bed next to someone I did not recognize. I was horrified and very, very scared. I got dressed quietly and crept out of the house, terrified of waking anybody up as I had no idea where I was, or who I had been with. I found my way outside and walked for what felt like hours to a bus stop where it took me half the day to get home. When I finally arrived home, I scrubbed my body raw in the shower and couldn’t stop crying. I still couldn’t remember what had happened the night before, and my body was covered in bruises. It was at this point that I knew I didn’t want this life anymore, that I didn’t want to feel disgusting. I didn’t even like being intimate with men, I was afraid of them, so I was so confused as to why I repeatedly found myself in situations where I could not protect myself, and even worse, situations where I ran the risk of losing my life altogether.

Deep down inside, death is what I secretly hoped for, and placing myself in risky situations was yet another means of self-harm. At that stage of my life, I didn’t care if one morning I didn’t wake up. But that morning after returning home, I made the decision to pack up all my belongings and move away from Sydney and start over somewhere else. I knew if I stayed living at that house with drug dealers and free access to whatever drugs I wanted that I could never make the changes I needed to beat my addiction.

I moved many hours away from Sydney, found a job and began the long road to rebuilding my life and overcoming my habit. I got a small apartment and put myself through college to gain qualifications in hospitality as I knew that I needed a stable income and financial security to be able to build the life I had always wanted. It wasn’t easy. While I wasn’t craving drugs anymore, drinking continued to remain an issue for another few years until I realised yet again it was cutting short any possibility I had to build a healthy, happy life for myself.

At age twenty-six I gave birth to my daughter-falling pregnant with her saved my life. I immediately stopped drinking, not one drop did I consume, and I became driven and focused on creating the life for her I never had. I was determined to be her provider, protector, nurturer, teacher and greatest supporter in life, and it was this mindset and persistence that enabled me to turn my life around and truly begin my journey of healing and recovery.

How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?

This was one of the hardest lessons of all. Knowing that I had broken people’s trust, that I had lied to them, hidden the truth of what I was doing and the damage that I was willingly and knowingly inflicting on my body caused me to be extremely ashamed of myself, and at times was too much to bear. I sought out the help of a counselor and sought support from my local church who were amazingly encouraging and understanding of my journey. They helped me to see myself in a brand-new way, without shame and guilt, but with acceptance and forgiveness. It was a long hard process that is for sure, but it was the key to be being able to see that I had carried with me for so long a blame that wasn’t mine to bear.

Once I accepted that I was not responsible for the abuse I suffered as a child, or the domestic violence and sexual abuse I experienced throughout my life, this is when the true process of healing from my past and looking towards the future became my reality. I learned how to reframe my past and look at the strength and courage it had provided me, I learned how to rebuild my identity from a person of worthlessness to person with value, and I learned to rewrite my story from victim to victory. Trauma, abuse and addiction is not a life sentence, there is hope and healing available to everyone and it all starts with believing we are worth the fight.

When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?

I became very active in my local church and I threw myself into reading self-development and leadership books, I volunteered in the community and threw myself into parenting my daughter. I wanted to be the best mother I could, the kind of mother my daughter deserved, and the kind I never had. I joined parenting groups to learn all the skills that had never been modelled to me and I rebuilt my life from the ground up. I also made the conscious choice to distance myself from those in my past that I knew could be a potential trigger or bad influence on me, and I surrounded myself with healthy, happy, thriving individuals.

I also learned how to “be” with myself and enjoy peace and quiet. I learned the act of journaling and practiced the art of gratefulness which I continue to do today. I appreciated the sunshine on my face, my daughters laugh and waking up in my own bed, in my own home without ever having to wonder how I got there.

What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?

I am very grateful to say I have never relapsed into addiction, and I believe the reason for this is my two children. My daughter is now eighteen and my son is fifteen. Being a parent truly tapped into a part of me that I never knew existed. I became a better, stronger more capable person when I became a parent. In saying that however, I have taken on a particular approach to life, a mindset that keeps me performing at my best.

I am very focused on healthy living and exercise which keeps my mental health strong and my mind clear. I also discovered early in my recovery journey the necessity for having mentors and accountability partners in life to help me stay on track and both challenge and support me when hard times come, and they do come, for all of us. I have surrounded myself with very strong leaders in many areas of life including business, spirituality, wellness, family and relationships to ensure that I stay motivated and honour my personal and professional values and beliefs. My trusted circle knows my journey, and they are nothing but supportive, encouraging and loving, they are the reason I am able to do what I do with such energy, passion and commitment; they keep me grounded and are my true family.

Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?

I fell into entrepreneurship by complete accident. I had never imagined myself going into business, let alone starting one from scratch, so when my fiancé and I began contemplating how to utilize my passion and skill for writing, my first solo startup was born. I opened a resume writing and interview coaching business, acquiring my gold certification as an Advanced Resume Writer within three months of operation, an accreditation that can take up to twelve months to acquire. I hit the ground running and within twelve months of operation successfully assisted over 250 people globally acquire senior level positions. I specialized in several unique categories including law enforcement and military to civilian transition and health and community services applications.

It is strange however, when in life some doors suddenly slam shut and new ones open, which is exactly what happened with my resume writing business. I was extremely busy as the solo writer and coach in my own business as well as being a contract resume writer for another local business, and at that time, I thought writing resumes would be my permanent vocation when all of a sudden, I began to feel pulled towards public speaking and writing of another kind.

It was at this time that I began writing my memoir, Battle Scars Are Beautiful From Victim To Victory, and new opportunities and visions for the future were born. While working with my publisher on my book, I commenced sharing my story via several social media channels, and the response from people around the world took me by surprise.

Within months, my online global audience had grown into the thousands and I began to receive constant requests to feature on podcasts around the world, to share my story and how I was able to transform my life. As the impending release of my book drew near, my online tribe began requesting in depth support around how to overcome their own past experiences with trauma and abuse and it quickly became apparent to me where my true purpose lie.

In 2018 I began running online workshops and webinars and was acquiring public speaking opportunities around Australia. Unable to keep up with the demand for resumes, I phased out my resume writing business completely and rebranded myself under my own name, René Michele.

My focus had become crystal clear. To empower survivors of child sexual abuse and trauma through coaching, speaking, consulting and in 2019, as a published author

What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.

My addiction most definitely exacerbated a prominent negative belief I carried since childhood, one that said I was not good enough. This presented itself throughout my entrepreneurship journey as perfectionism and imposter syndrome which in business and in life, can be your demise. I always believed that I had to work harder than anyone else in the room, that I was not as deserving as others which led to extreme exhaustion and robbed me of any and all work satisfaction.

When I began my resume writing business, I would work up to eighteen and twenty hours a day because I believed this was the only way I was deserving of success. Then, when the success came and I received outstanding results for my clients, I felt like an imposter and struggled to receive it, throwing myself back to the grindstone to repeat the cycle of limiting beliefs all over again.

What I quickly came to realize, was that I needed to surround myself with amazing mentors and leaders in business that were further along the journey than myself that I could glean from, just as I had done in my recovery journey. So that is exactly what I did. I focused on networking and I fostered authentic, strong connections online, with a range of men and women from different spheres of business and entrepreneurship, and I cultivated within my own business the philosophies, mindsets and practices that I admired and aligned with, and I did so with the upmost honesty and integrity.

I transferred the same approach to kicking my addiction as I did to growing my business — I surrounded myself with healthy, strong, admirable, empathic, wise individuals who were generous and gracious enough to support and encourage me along the way.

Addiction however, also taught me the importance of loyalty, friendship and integrity, as I never had those things in my life. An addict is a user and consumer of things, and of people, and addiction is a state of pure survival, we take what we need, without considering the consequences. Loyalty, friendship and integrity have no place in the land of addiction, they are foreign concepts that as an addict, we cannot recognise or reciprocate.

I am a walking, talking, thriving example that experiencing and overcoming addiction can actually be a gift. Today, the positive that I take from my years as an addict, is that I am an exceedingly strong, resilient, loyal, real, transparent and encouraging person because of my addiction. It taught me the value of all these things and so much more, including the power of gratefulness — I am truly grateful for my past challenges and experiences because they have made me appreciate how far I’ve come and I will never forget the dark places I walked through to now live my life in the light.

I am an unstoppable woman with a powerful vision and purpose because I know what it is like to have nothing, feel nothing and believe you are nothing, that is why my clients seek me out today, because they know I understand their journey, it is what sets me apart and equips me to guide my clients from victim to victory.

Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?

There continues to be significant stigma surrounding addiction which keeps addicts and former addicts shamed and silenced. Many people assume their professional reputation may be damaged if they were to disclose issues with addiction as unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, assumptions and misunderstanding when it comes to the reasons why people become addicts.

There is no clear-cut answer as the pathway to addiction is as complex as it is unique to the individual. I have worked with addicts from a range of ethnicity, ages and socio-economic status, from the chronic homeless, to middle class, right up to the highest echelons of society.

Addiction is a global crisis and it does not discriminate, and like many other issues we face today, I believe there needs to be a much greater focus on early intervention and education, and we must get better at utilsing those with a lived experience of addiction as members of funding bodies, advisory boards, therapeutic rehabilitation and service centers, advocacy agencies and counseling/support services.

It is through the power of our stories, of triumph over tragedy, where shame is broken and people find hope, and that is the entire reason I speak out about my own life. When people see and hear that an ordinary person like me can overcome addiction and trauma, it can be enough to give them the courage to believe it for themselves. Rather than judgement their needs to be empathy and acceptance.

While I was once an addict, I have always been a human being, and what we all must understand is that addiction is an outworking of a much deeper problem. No child dreams of growing up to become an addict, therefore we as over comers of addiction need to be speaking out, and we as a society need to continue to educate ourselves and demonstrate empathy towards those that struggle to escape addiction’s grasp.

Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?

  1. A crucial step in getting help to overcome any life controlling issue, particularly addiction, is to admit to ourselves that we have a problem. Contrary to popular belief, there is immense strength in submission, it is not a sign of weakness, but of power. Submission means to accept or yield to a superior force, and the superior force that an addict must submit to before lasting healing and recovery can occur, is truth. All addicts live in a world of secrecy, lies, and deception; lying mostly to ourselves which we do my justifying or minimizing our actions, despite the negative consequences. If you constantly say things to yourself like, “I have it under control,” or, “I can stop anytime I want,” yet despite your best efforts you return to the very thing you’re trying to stop, it’s time to face the truth.The moment we stand up and admit to ourselves, “I have an addiction”, the burden of secrecy and deception is broken. This is most definitely the first step in taking your power back and working towards overcoming your addiction, permanently
  2. There is no shame in asking for help, similar to admitting to ourselves that we have an addiction, asking for help demonstrates strength and courage. The complexity of addiction and the various pathways that lead people down that road are unique and personal to the individual, as is treatment, and the road to recovery is not something that we can manage alone. Therefore, my second piece of advice is to reach out for help, even when it scares you. Consider speaking to a trusted mentor, a specialist counsellor or a help line. You can make an anonymous phone call to a crisis line if that’s easier in the beginning, and a far better option than continuing to struggle and suffer in silence. We all need help from time to time, and the reality is, the road to recovery from addiction is paved with twists and turns and requires a range of supports to be effective. As human beings we are fallible, we face struggles and times we need the support and assistance from others to be our best, and addiction is no different.
  3. My final piece of advice is to hold onto hope and believe that you can and will beat your addiction. There will be days you want to throw in the towel and give in, there will be days when you believe it is too hard, and that you are not strong enough to keep going or beat it, but they are feelings, not facts. Our mind is the most powerful element to overcoming addiction, therefore it is our mind that we must master if we are going to rebuild our lives beyond addiction. If you begin to doubt yourself, your ability to get well, if you become fearful of reaching out for help or speaking out, remember to take one step at a time, one day at a time, one minute at a time. Trust the process and remind yourself of your why, your what and your who. Why are you an entrepreneur? Why do you do what you do? What is your vision? Who do you want to help? Take an inventory of why you began your entrepreneurial journey and reignite the passion that is within you to make a difference in this world. Addiction will rob you of your purpose, it will steal your joy, your peace and the legacy you seek to build and leave behind. Don’t allow that to happen. Take your life back and step into your truth and your power today.

Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!


Renè Michele: F.A.T.E From Addict to Entrepreneur was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Drew Gerber of Wasabi Publicity: Five Things You Need to Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Being Connected: Working remotely vs. in-person affects how connected your team is to one another. To address this, make technology your best friend! Schedule times when everyone can connect via Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom to share, ask questions, and just support each other.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to know to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity. Drew is on a mission to change global conversations and challenge industry conventions. He lives to spark “aha” moments, helping people discover new ways of thinking to create positive change.

Wasabi Publicity works with clients who are clear they have enough and who are committed to making a difference. Drew is the author of “Destination Aha! Becoming Unstuck in Life and Business,” and he lives in Budapest, Hungary, with his husband and two rescue dogs, Brodee and Koki.

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 degree is in chemical engineering. I never planned to be the CEO of a PR company. But, as fate would have it, I had a passion for marketing and fell in love with PR. When I met my business partner, Michelle Tennant Nicholson, that was when I got clear about the power of PR in changing what people are talking about, which ultimately changes the world.

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

The main reason Michelle and I decided to go virtual when we created Wasabi Publicity in 2001 was so we could live anywhere in the world. Back then the whole virtual concept was new, so much so that we were recognized by Good Morning America and The Christian Science Monitor for innovative business practices. The decision made it possible for me to live in the most beautiful city in the world: Budapest, Hungary.

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 learned the difference one letter can make in the meaning of a sentence when I was working on marketing copy for a company. Instead of “Your publicist is your most sacred business relationship,” I put “Your publicist is your most scared business relationship.”

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

Be flexible in the integration of healthy work/life balance. This ensures your employees remain less stressed and more in control and satisfied with their lives (and in turn, more productive).

For example, allow and encourage employees who are parents to be with their child on the first day of school, or attend a holiday lunch, or award ceremony. Simply prepare in advance for staff absences with skill redundancy. In our company, we make sure at least one other team member can do someone’s job, which means we can continue to serve our clients and avoid any undue stress.

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?

20 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?

1. Lack of Information: Even with video conferencing, the nuances of body language and nonverbal communication are missing. People interpret words (especially written words) in different ways, therefore dealing with emotions can play a large part in managing a remote team.

2. Being Connected: Working remotely vs. in-person affects how connected your team is to one another. To address this, make technology your best friend! Schedule times when everyone can connect via Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom to share, ask questions, and just support each other.

3. Structure: It can be very challenging to create structure when everyone works from home. Again, utilize technology to keep staff organized and set expectations. We use Basecamp.

4. Being Related: We are human beings with a need to be related to each other. Ask your employees how they’re doing, or how their kids are doing. Discuss fears and concerns around the pandemic. Don’t be afraid to get personal and encourage a personable, relatable culture.

5. Flexibility: A remote team comes with all kinds of distractions and considerations. The majority of our staff are parents (skin and fur), and the reality is, we deal with kids crying and dogs barking all the time. Be flexible! It’s all part of the fun and being related.

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

If there’s an upset, get clarity — with a conversation, not an email.

One of the most important distinctions I learned at age 15 while doing the Landmark Forum is called The Vicious Circle™. When something happens, we assign a meaning, and then we form an opinion. Over time, that opinion (the story we tell ourselves) becomes the way it is, and our actions are based on that interpretation. When we can separate what actually happened from our story, situations that may have been challenging become open to change.

Here’s a great example: A huge challenge when we first created Wasabi Publicity virtually 20 years ago was dealing with emotions and interpretation around short texts and emails. Sometimes, the person on the receiving end would misinterpret the brevity, getting upset and worrying that the sender was mad with them. In reality, the sender is almost always just busy. Being able to separate your meaning from what happened alleviates a lot of unnecessary drama.

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?

Another powerful lesson Landmark taught me is on the power of listening. Clear, effective communication requires us to hear what is really being said, as opposed to what we may be adding based on our experiences or our view of life.

I believe constructive criticism requires these steps:

1. Listen carefully to what’s being said.

2. Distinguish what’s being said from your interpretations.

3. Use language to create new possibilities and relationships.

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

From my experience, if constructive feedback is needed, don’t send an email. Do a video call so you can see how that person is taking the feedback and to make sure they’re left empowered.

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 an opportunity for companies to reevaluate what works best for them. A lot of employers that believed people who work remotely are less effective are now finding the opposite is true. As we’re navigating these uncertain times, this is the perfect chance to evaluate and set up the working situation that best serves the company and its employees.

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?

Years ago, we created PR Power Hour (aka water cooler chats). This provides a daily opportunity for our team to collaborate, share, and be connected via Google Hangouts.

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 owe a lot of the way marketing currently works to one man: Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Louis Bernays. In the early 1900s, Bernays realized that people’s emotions were the key drivers of their decisions, which meant that manipulating those emotions could elicit whatever reaction you desired.

Being fascinated with neuroscience, something clicked for me recently. Our current “Bernays” marketing model is designed to aggravate our brain’s amygdala, leaving us feeling unsafe, insecure, and unsure — and desperately seeking a solution to escape that feeling. Our amygdala is hijacked. We make decisions that are not in our best interests, or the world’s.

Amygdala-driven marketing feels off for me, and now more than ever, it’s not business as usual. My commitment is to support people, companies, and organizations who want to market differently. They are clear they have enough, and they want to make a difference by sharing their message (without activating the amygdala) and making 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?

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” by Deborah Moggach: ”Everything will be alright in the end, so if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

If I could create a movement it would be to have people relax and enjoy the journey.

Thank you for these great insights!


Drew Gerber of Wasabi Publicity: 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.

Mike Rodriguez: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Don’t get sidetracked; Never give up.
I made a commitment long ago that I could live with tiredness, difficulty, and hard work in order to accomplish what I have been called to do, but I also committed that I could not live with the pain of regret. I still haven’t met anyone who can honestly say that they can live with regret. I came to terms with the fact that when I fell, If I didn’t get back up, that I could not live with the results. I could not live a life of mediocrity or failure. Therefore, I get back up.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share, 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 Mike Rodriguez.

Mike is CEO of Mike Rodriguez International LLC (MRI), a global speaking and training firm specializing in leadership, HR, engagement, and change. Mike is also a professional speaker, a master trainer, and a trusted adviser for business and life strategies. As a multi Best-Selling Author Mike has written 15 books and over 75 articles. He was signed by Nightingale Conant, the world’s leader in personal development to produce several of his audio courses. His firm works with clients around the globe and their logos include names like Bank of America, McDonald’s, Thomson Reuters, U.S. Army, and many others in tech/ software. Mike believes that through faith and action, you can overcome the challenges in your life to uncover your greatest potential.

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 have learned that your life story can be used as an inspiration to excel or it can serve as anchor to be used as an excuse not to succeed. For me, I grew up with the opportunity to create many excuses, but thankfully I had people in my life who kept pushing me to focus on my potential and not on my circumstances. I went from dropping out of college while working two jobs, to working in a variety of jobs making zero progress with my life. Through a series of poor decisions and reckless actions I got caught up drinking too much and almost destroyed my life. I worked hard at blaming others and making excuses until I decided to take accountability for my life. It was at that point that I was inspired to do something. I went on to have a very successful career in corporate America for close to twenty-five years. Then, when I finally realized my gifts were to help others, I committed to put them to use and I left my career to start my speaking and training business.

Now as I continue to develop my potential, I am focused on growing in all areas of my life as I believe you should never stop learning. I have studied at Harvard Business School online, abroad in Oxford, and I am currently finalizing my master’s degree, all while I speak at over 60 events per year, write books, and coach global leaders. Through my faith, I have cleaned up my life and built a successful career spanning three decades training some of the world’s best-known brands. I also lecture at many universities. I don’t share these things to boast, but to let your readers know that the only true limitations you will have in life are those that you accept and believe. Excuses, blame, bad habits (and people) can and will hold you back, but you only truly fail once you decide to completely give up. Although I have had many reasons to fail, my life purpose has always been much stronger, and it keeps me going. It’s easy to find an excuse, its always harder to get back up, but the payoffs are worth it!

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?

Early on in my career in my twenties, I was given a ticket to a seminar in Dallas to see the world-famous sales trainer/author Tom Hopkins. There were several thousand people at that event, and everyone was fired-up. It was amazing to see how Tom engaged with the audience and how the crowd hungered to be successful in their profession. That seminar inspired me to not only get my profession in order, but it uncovered how I wanted to speak and help others in the same way. That day at Tom’s seminar, I was honestly imagining myself on the stage doing what Tom was doing.

Fast forward about twenty-eight years later and during a trip I had to Arizona where I was speaking at a seminar, I was invited to Tom’s house. After meeting and connecting, Tom’s people followed up asked me to be a guest speaker at his upcoming seminar in Dallas, it was unbelievable!

For a guy who was a seminar attendee almost thirty years earlier in Dallas, here I was now sharing the stage in Dallas with one of the biggest names in training in the world. It was humbling and amazing at the same time. From that amazing experience I learned that how you view yourself and the actions you take in your life are your responsibility. Your experiences can create opportunities for you, or they can break you. In everything you do, you are either building or destroying your brand, but it is up to you. My previous success allowed me to believe in me, for Tom to believe in me, and for us to do together what the average person would call luck. Resilient people know that there is no such thing as luck, there are only strategic actions that allow us to be prepared to meet unique opportunities.

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

According to our clients, our company stands out because we really aren’t just another speaking and training company. I am a professional committed to the success of the specific people we work with, therefore I take the work we do very seriously. I recognize that every client has different needs because people are dynamic. We deliver customized content based on the client’s needs that we uncover through our engagement process together. It doesn’t matter what industry they are in; it matters how we prepare to teach and inspire their specific people. We also don’t use paid corporate trainers; not that they are bad, but I am an expert in my field and our clients get to experience my professional delivery, content, and expertise first-hand. We build relationships and teach content relative to our client’s challenges, not my topics or agenda. With that, we have many clients but, 92% of our clients are referrals from a previous event.

As an example, I was speaking at a large conference a few years back and afterwards four different people approached me to inquire about booking me at their organizations. One lady said that she was the president of a very large speaker’s organization. She wanted to know if I would be willing to be the keynote speaker at their upcoming conference for their aspiring speakers. She said her members were too cliché’ in their approach and she wanted me to teach my unique delivery to their hundreds of members. I was blown away that such a sharp lady who led a group of aspiring speakers would admire my style, content, and delivery. That request from her created a great feeling knowing I stood out. I always say you are in the ‘people business’ first, so you better be genuine and understand how to work with people; we do.

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?

You are right, we can never gain success on our own because it’s impossible; we always need help. Although I am grateful to many people who have helped me, I am profoundly grateful for my wife Bonnie and I mean that. Not only is she my best friend, but she is also my business partner and my personal motivator. She simply sees things that I cannot see and has supported me through everything we have faced together. The day I left my twenty-five-year career in corporate America to start speaking and training, I was elated! I finally felt relieved that I was free, and I was excited that I was pursuing my calling. However, the next morning, the realization that I was on my own, without salary and benefits, and with a mortgage, cars, and kids in college slapped me in the face. I was nervous and I started having major doubts. I realized I had to put into action everything I had always talked about, but the reality was overwhelming knowing I was starting from scratch, again. I went for a drive to gather my thoughts and finally came back home to pick up Bonnie to talk. I told her what I was thinking and without skipping a beat, she reminded me of not only ‘why’ I was doing what I was doing, but she told me I was crazy if I didn’t keep pursuing my calling. She helped me to put into perspective that what I was called to do was bigger than me and our current situation, and that I needed to step up and work through my doubts and fears. She was right and I’m so glad I listened.

I often say that looking back now, I am way more afraid of what wouldn’t have happened if I had decided not to take action and stay where I was! I would be in a very different place. I am thankful that I listened to Bonnie that day. Each of us needs to have people in our lives who sincerely care about us to help keep us on track and to help us keep going. The problem with people today is that most people seek out those who will simply tell them what they WANT to hear. But those who really love us, who can see in us what we fail to see, will always tell you what you NEED to hear to keep you moving forward one step at a time.

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?

Resilience is such a wonderful word that is often used improperly as a platitude. It is frequently discounted, or it is written off as a magical word for tough people, and that is simply not true. Resilience comes from the Latin word ‘resilire’ which means to ‘rebound’ or ‘start back.’ When I think of resilience or of being resilient, I often visualize hitting a wall and falling, and thinking how it is my responsibility to connect my heart, attitude, and actions to get back up and start going again!

The truth is that we are all going to hit walls or drop in holes in life, and when we do, we will almost always fall. Walls and holes are inevitable, and falling is often the result, but to get back up and to keep going is always a choice! With holes, we can get stuck and not see the way out, but it’s there if we can just rise higher to see it. We must learn that resilience is a choice!

When we choose to be resilient, we aren’t focusing on the wall, the hole, or the fall. Resilient people focus on much bigger things; they focus on WHY they are doing what they are doing, and they focus on WHY they need to get back up!

The characteristics of resilient people always start with having a positive attitude, a clear purpose, shifts to focus, and ends with another action to keep going, again and again. Resilient people understand and accept that success will never come if they stop, but if they keep going, the results are potentially endless. Resilient people aren’t special people, but they believe in something that is special to them. Because of that belief, they get back up to pursue it when they are knocked down. Resilience starts becoming mandatory in their lives, because it becomes a part of who they are.

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 Nick Vujicic, the author of Life Without Limbs. If you haven’t heard of Nick, look him up, he is one of the most inspirationally resilient people alive today. He was born without arms and legs, but he doesn’t focus on that ‘supposed limitation’ that would destroy most people. Throughout his life his parents encouraged him to keep rebounding after he would literally fall, and he ultimately found strength through his faith. Watch 5 minutes of Nick speaking and any reason or limitation you have created in your mind for not getting back up after you fall, while having two arms and two legs, will seem utterly silly.

For a man who has a thousand reasons not to succeed, Nick won’t tell you any of those. Instead, he will challenge you to get back up and to find a way just as he did. He is amazing to watch and hear and understanding his life story should change how you view your life story. Nick lives with and shares love, faith, purpose, positive actions, and hope through his resiliency, and we all could use just a little bit of his mindset in today’s world.

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?

That has actually been my personal mantra. I’ve always been very determined to pursue my big dreams, so If I’m told I cannot, or that things are impossible, I most certainly choose to find a way.

When I was younger, I used to do things just to prove people wrong because I wanted to show them that I was capable. Now in my life I don’t seek to please people, I seek to encourage people. I challenge people to pursue what is important to them, but that they might believe is impossible due to having a faulty belief system. I also challenge people to rethink the concepts of “quitting” and “failing.” Quitting is a decision, usually made by people who aren’t committed, while failing is a result of taking an action that needs to be re-evaluated. Resilient people learn from failing, while others learn to adapt to quitting, often justifying why they quit.

When I committed to starting my speaking and training business, I was told by many people, including many well-known professional speakers and trainers, that the career was impossible to break into and that I shouldn’t take the risk since I had a family. Some said I should quit, but I was determined to succeed, knowing and understanding that I would face failures. I would politely thank them and remind them that their opinion had absolutely no impact on my career outcome, and that my path was unique for me. Ironically, after starting, my career actually took off within a few months. Before long I was speaking in front of crowds of hundreds and it only grew from there. Those same people are silent today.

When I went to write my first book, that same resistance showed up from a new set of people, but I stayed the course. When I faced failure and was told to give up, I got back up. Now thirteen books later and over 100,000 trained globally, many of those same people ignore me today.

Unfortunately, success is hard for people to pursue and almost impossible for others to accept. Most people aren’t against success, the truth is that most people have big dreams, but very few take action to pursue them. Whether they are afraid of failure, judgment, or they might lack confidence, or maybe even have excuses that they grew up believing, if a person has dreams that they believe are impossible, they will become impossible to them. But that isn’t the biggest problem…the biggest problem can be the fallout from quitting, as those same people sometimes criticize others, because they need to blame someone for their lack of success. This creates a circle of negativity, anger, jealousy, and lashing out; the chronic traits of complainers. For me, my life story has been about people telling me things are impossible, that I shouldn’t do certain things, or that some things just couldn’t happen. I have found that when people tell you that “something is impossible,” that’s only what THEY believe, therefore it will be impossible for them. The better question that I ask people to evaluate is “what do you believe?”

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?

Yes, just this year has been a fantastic story of resilience. We started off this year very strong, but like most businesses, we were immediately shut down. We had many scheduled events that had to cancel, and it was discouraging. In addition, we quickly realized that most people wouldn’t be holding any new live events with crowds of people anytime soon. Plus, since we are in the travel business, visiting people in crowds,” we also recognized that any new business would vaporize or become extremely anemic. We were knocked down hard, but we knew we had to not only get back up quickly, we had to get started in a new way and even stronger.

I often say that when you face a difficulty, you don’t change your goal, you change how you get there. For us, we had to change our methods to reach our goals of helping people with our strategic content. We quickly launched our virtual speaking and training business, teaching and inspiring via ‘live’ online sessions and seminars. The result was that people started engaging. They told us that through their current difficulties, they appreciated having a viable option to train and motivate their people live online with a pro. The change hasn’t been easy but change never is. I often say that through faith and action ALL things are possible. I still believe that if people aren’t finding a way to learn to attain their goals and dreams, that they will find an excuse and quit. Setbacks are a given, but quitting should never be an option for those who are committed; you must find a new way.

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

My parents are resilient people and I have been impacted by their life lessons. Both my mom and dad were raised poor and had a million excuses to fail, but they always fought to create a way together. Without speaking English and without a formal education, my dad joined the U.S. Army when he was about 17. As a Hispanic, he fought to build a career at a time when it wasn’t fashionable for minorities to excel in the military. My dad built a 44-year career in the Army, overcoming many crazy obstacles. His resilience allowed him to retire as a Chief Warrant Officer 5, which is a pretty high rank. My dad had more reasons than most people I know not to succeed, but he chose to not let his excuses define him. I believe that if more people today thought like my father, we would have more success stories and less complainers. Instead of focusing on what he didn’t have, he knew what he had inside, and he put it to work for himself. The payoff was tremendous as he built his career in the U.S. Army.

As a child of an Army Soldier, my family moved around a lot and I had to change schools and make new friends every couple of years. In addition, my father was frequently off on other assignments (at war, etc.,) many times. I had the privilege of being raised by a mother who was often by herself, but she successfully raised five kids by choice! My mom encouraged us to keep going, and my father taught us not to focus on what we ‘can’t’ do, but to figure out what we ‘could’ do and to get it done!

My life experiences taught me what focusing on my limitations would get me, and I wasn’t ok with that. I have always been driven by possibilities, so I’ve never listened to others who were negative.

By moving around so much, I had to learn to make things happen and that mindset still grows in me to this day.

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.

Like muscles, everyone has access to resilience inside of them to recognize and build. Here are my five steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

Recognize that you have resilience inside of you and that you can use it if you choose to.
Throughout my life, every time I experienced long-periods of failure, I was always not recognizing my resilience therefore I wasn’t using it. Instead, I was focusing on failure, excuses, blame, self-pity, and other life anchors, or I was hanging around the wrong people. I tell people to look back on their lives and find an opportunity where they could have permanently failed, but they didn’t because they kept going. Now review what was going on at that time and work to apply those principles to your life today. When you can believe and accept that you do indeed have a choice about your life direction, you can get back up, and move to step two:

Determine your BIG purpose that inspires you.
Purpose is the fuel that prompts you to get back up and keep going. For me it wasn’t until I figured out my true purpose that I got on track for success. I often tell people that if they lack purpose, they will probably never get started, or if they do get started, and their purpose isn’t genuine or their own, they will probably quit when things get too tough. Many times, I meet people who aren’t succeeding in their lives because they aren’t following their own dream, therefore it’s not important to them. As a result, it’s easier for them to give up. I was in the business world for twenty-five years and although I never quit, I never realized my true potential. Don’t get me wrong, I was very successful, but because I wasn’t doing what was aligned with my heart and skillset, I wasn’t using my gifts to their fullest. When you realize what is important to you, you will remove the things that aren’t important; you will accept nothing less than your purpose. That leads us to the next step:

Commit to your Big purpose.
Most people don’t make commitments, simply because they don’t have the right purpose or if they do commit, they won’t make it public to avoid accountability if they fail. Instead most people use the phrase “I’ll try.” The truth is that you will not succeed in anything you are only ‘trying to do’ and you will not commit to something that isn’t important to you.

When it comes to commitment, much like resilience, we must understand what the word means. My definition is that “commitment doesn’t mean you won’t fail it means you refuse to give up. No excuses, no exit plans.” Resilience and commitment are critical components that must be present and used together. When I started speaking, we encountered many failures as we launched, but because I was committed, we would evaluate failures and learn from them to find a new way. When you commit to something that you believe in, that’s positive and good for others and this world, then you will want to keep going to create a positive impact. This type of commitment is what keeps you on track through the difficult times. Don’t try, commit and find a way!

Have faith and avoid people without it
This is another word that is often shared as a platitude. Faith means that we are focusing on things that we do not see today, but that we know will be possible for tomorrow, if we only keep going today. Throughout my life, my faith was often diluted or absent when I listened to discouragers or let the negativity of others compromise my faith. Today I tell people that others probably won’t understand your dreams and goals, and that’s ok, it’s not for them to understand, but you better have faith if it is your dream. Throughout my life I have had many distractions. Whether I was hanging out with the wrong people or group, or being involved with unhealthy things, I always felt that I could do more and become more. I believe distractions are the key to failure for most people today. Distractions fill time, but don’t help to build people up. Distractions cause most people to simply believe that they cannot do more or become more. It’s another self-destructive lie. The people you hang out with and the things you are doing are indeed having a critical impact on your life. You should honestly ask yourself “Am I growing or slowing?” If you are slowing, then you are being distracted and you need to take action today to break free.

For every success I have had, my faith has always pulled me through. Although I have had people encouraging me, I have also always had a group of people who sought to discourage me, sometimes those who were very close to me. You must have good friends, but again, look for people who will guide you and encourage you to keep going.

Don’t get sidetracked; never give up.
I made a commitment long ago that I could live with tiredness, difficulty, and hard work in order to accomplish what I have been called to do, but I also committed that I could not live with the pain of regret. I still haven’t met anyone who can honestly say that they can live with regret. I came to terms with the fact that when I fell, If I didn’t get back up, that I could not live with the results. I could not live a life of mediocrity or failure. Therefore, I get back up.

I have also committed to the fact that when you give up, not only are you choosing not to rebound, but more important, you are choosing not to be a better you. The question is can you live with that decision?

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 like to inspire the movement to work together to “Find A Way!” so we can eradicate negativity and complaining. I’m not saying to act like all things are wonderful. But what I am saying is that we all should be looking for truth, not complaints; we should offer solutions, not resistance, and we should stop gossiping and posting about what we don’t like, but we should promote what we love.

In today’s world too many people are focused on hate all in the name of love and they want to share that hate with everyone, all in the name of love. It’s ironic and destructive chaos. Real love forgives and seeks resolution; it seeks to find a way.

Whether you or someone you know is facing a difficulty or has been knocked down, and their purpose is valid and beneficial to all, remind them that through faith and action all things are possible.

Don’t complain about life or focus on what you don’t like, focus on what you DO have, what you CAN do, and then get it done.

Negativity itself is a movement that seeks to prevent success, impede productivity, destroy faith, and create resistance. Complaining is the preferred tool of negative people to propagate anger, which holds people back and stops us from finding a way. It destroys lives by suppressing the very idea of resilience.

We all should choose to discover our purpose, to commit to it, to create a positive impact in this world, and then to passionately pursue it while we encourage others with positivity. If we want to change the world, we must first commit to changing our own lives first; we must find a way.

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 🙂

When I look at my life and career, Robert Herjavec is a person that I would love to share time with. As a trainer of leaders, I am in the business of genuinely helping people to think bigger and to realize their true purpose by focusing on the big picture in their lives. This requires helping people to connect their hearts and minds, something that is missing in this world today. Robert does a fantastic job of expressing genuine interest and involvement in not only what he does, but also in the people he is working with; he connects hearts and minds in a forward-thinking way. He is a great example of what a leader in today’s world should look like, and I have a unique question for him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m very active on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikerodspeaker/

and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MikeRodSpeaker/

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


Mike Rodriguez: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do 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.

Peter Jackson of Bluescape: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

In 1994, I was tasked with managing six different divisions of operations and consolidating company spend. To do this effectively, I had those teams work from home. We didn’t have Zoom (it was still the age of the fax machine), but luckily, we had great people in the field who had strong relationships with clients. A learning I took away from that part of my career and am applying to my company today is how important it is to stay engaged, even though it’s more difficult to communicate.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Jackson, CEO of virtual workspace software company Bluescape.

Peter Jackson is a serial entrepreneur and advisor with a broad and deep knowledge of technology, business, and financial markets. Prior to Bluescape, he co-founded Ziploop Inc. (acquired by SNIPP in October 2017), served on the Boards of Eventbrite, DocuSign, and Kanjoya; took Intraware to IPO, and was President/COO of Dataflex (NASDAQ. DFLX) following its acquisition of Granite Systems, among other achievements.

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”?

Briefly touching on my childhood, I was born and raised in Berkeley, California, where my mother taught deaf and blind students from our home. There, I grew up quite imaginative, and was always dreaming up inventions and businesses, and taking up small jobs wherever I could find them.

My first real job out of college was as an associate in sales at a company where they’d hire 10 people and then immediately fire seven. In that working environment, I taught myself to work smart versus more. While others were making 100 calls a day to make their sales, I would focus on 10 accounts by connecting with my customers in unconventional ways. Instead of working overtime to hit personal call quotas, I’d leave the office to go where I knew my clients spent their free time to make actual relationships. I went from being #400 to #1 salesperson in less than 2 years.

From there I co-founded two companies, Ziploop and Intraware, even taking Intraware to IPO. Additionally, I have served on the Boards of Eventbrite, DocuSign, and Kanjoya; and worked as President/COO of Dataflex.

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

At my first sales job, everyone was working like crazy. But like I said before, I prioritized just 10 accounts and honed in on the actions that made me the most productive. For example, if I knew that some of my clients were going to be at a soccer game, that’d be my office for the day. By looking at what I had to do to sell over what was perceived as the ‘office norm,’ I made myself the #1 salesperson.

This forever shaped my belief that the future of work is a future where we can accomplish our responsibilities on our own terms. If someone can complete what they need to do for that week more swiftly, they should not be bound by geographical or 9-to-5 time restraints.

Years following my first position in sales, I met a man who was told by his company that he needed to work 40 hours a week. He asked them if he could choose which 40 hours he worked — and they said yes. He would start his work on Sunday and work up to Wednesday so that he could spend the rest of the week with his family. He was given the freedom to create his own schedule, but even more, he proved that work can be task- or outcome-oriented versus time.

Much like the geographical restrictions that we’ve unbound ourselves from during the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that we should free ourselves from the traditional 40-hour workweek. If workers can complete their day’s tasks in 5 hours, why should they sit at their desk and twiddle their thumbs? At my company, we’ve cultivated a culture prioritizing outcomes, independent of assumptions about time and place.

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?

This story started as a mistake and resulted in altering my status at my first job. It was a Friday night and I was grabbing a bite after work when I saw another gentleman who immediately started engaging with me in conversation. Halfway through the chat, he said, “Man, I’m so sorry but I have to tell you why I’m so happy.” I had time to spare, so I told him I was all ears. That’s when he told me he just won a major contract for scanning equipment for every grocery store in Canada, to be followed by the U.S.

I offered to buy him a drink to celebrate, but he instead insisted on buying me a round. He asked what I did for a living and I told him that I was in tech, selling equipment that big providers couldn’t manage. He lit up and said, “I just made your life” and instructed me to meet him Monday morning in front of that same restaurant for a meeting.

On Monday morning, he picked me up in front of the restaurant to meet with one of his partners. Upon walking into the office, his partner hands me a huge stack of paper, easily worth $35 million in orders. I was making about $30K as a salesman back in 1983 and my company ended up making $20 million from that deal, bringing me to the #1 salesman.

The learning from that night was simple: You can meet anyone, anywhere.

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

As a nation, we’ve all been working non-stop from our homes due to coronavirus. Teams are struggling to disconnect, especially as companies become more decentralized and work across various time zones. While we’re bound to our homes, we still need time off to prevent burnout and boost productivity.

Comparing 2019 to 2020, employee PTO requests have reduced by nearly half. However, employers are juggling more than ever — ranging from personal burdens to new ways of working to the emotional and physical toll of today’s many pandemics. Employees need to take a break and it’s up to business leaders to create the space for them to do that. Even before the pandemic, 2 out of 5 employees felt that time off to address their personal lives would negatively influence their futures. This is why the responsibility lies in business leaders to be flexible and support their employees for long-term success. The first step is rethinking company PTO policies. Whether that means unlimited PTO, creating new company holidays, or even planning company-wide mental health days, these new policies will provide employees with the space — and trust — needed to take much-need time off.

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?

In 1994, I was tasked with managing six different divisions of operations and consolidating company spend. To do this effectively, I had those teams work from home. We didn’t have Zoom (it was still the age of the fax machine), but luckily, we had great people in the field who had strong relationships with clients. A learning I took away from that part of my career and am applying to my company today is how important it is to stay engaged, even though it’s more difficult to communicate.

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

Managing remote teams can be challenging, especially if you don’t have the proper tools to communicate, collaborate, and track team projects. Layer in the fact that, for many, this is the first time they are working remotely — and had to adapt practically overnight. With new management styles, technology, and even home offices, here are a few of the biggest challenges I’m seeing:

  • Managing progress without exhausting teams with “catch-up” meetings. We’ve all experienced ‘Zoom-fatigue’ and this is seen even in our personal lives with the disappearance of Zoom happy hours! Attending these virtual meetings take up more energy and focus than in-person meetings, so traditional phone calls or even regular email updates can make up for this. Reserve video conferencing for in-depth discussions/brainstorms or when you need quick updates in real-time.
  • Accessing, collaborating, and finalizing content, remotely. Even in the office, teammates may ask each other, “Do you remember where this document was saved?” However, in the office, responses are much more prompt. By centralizing all of your content, remote teams don’t waste their time and energy to search and toggle between documents and applications.
  • Engaging teammates during virtual meetings. Allow team leaders to focus on delivering key information while designating a moderator to run the meeting, focus on asking questions, and engage each member of the team. This balances the participation rate and ensures everyone has an equal share of voice.
  • Developing feelings of stress and tiredness from long hours. Many reports show that we’re productive only 3 hours a day. Yet, we are still transitioning from the era of punching the clock for compensation. This approach has not credited employee efficiency and has slowed production. Rather than tracking time, record milestones and deadlines and reward for the effective completion of assignments.
  • Creating secure best practices to prevent cyberattacks. Remote work has created several vulnerabilities for company data and employee personal data and privacy. Creating best practices with regular reminders to employees will empower teams to stay vigilant while navigating online.

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?

When giving feedback to a remote employee, you want to be clear enough so they understand there is an issue at hand. However, you also want to ask them questions about how they feel about the situation and discuss processes and suggested actions moving forward. Asking your employees questions about how they feel about the feedback and how they got to their situation will help make up for the body language/physical gap created by today’s remote work environment. It’s also important to discuss work processes, as employees are confronted with a new working environment. Maybe they are used to ad hoc brainstorms with their neighboring office mates, but no longer have the creative outlet to have these discussions. Business leaders must always remember to foster growth in their feedback and criticism.

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

Honestly, I don’t recommend giving constructive feedback solely over email, unless they’re factual or quantitative. Even when it comes to one-off employee performance feedback, I think managers should address these during 1:1 meetings to get an employee’s real-time reactions and thoughts. Emails can provide space for different interpretations and for feedback to be constructive, it must be concise. However, after 1:1 discussions, managers can summarize the discussion and feedback in an email to their employees as a record of the conversation and a way to align on concrete next steps.

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?

While we are learning to live with today’s global pandemic, we’re also learning how to work in new ways. COVID-19 is pushing businesses to integrate remote work technologies to keep their companies running, employees productive, and customers served — all while implementing company-wide remote work policies for the first time. Some of the challenges companies should be aware of, and ways technology can help, include:

  • Maintaining visibility on important business initiatives. In a remote setting, it takes more effort to get team updates on projects, especially since we aren’t able to drop into a coworker’s office. This is where the right technology can help executives keep a pulse on projects and team members by tracking deliverables, timelines, and budgets from a singular workspace platform.
  • Lacking access to important data. Finding information saved in the cloud by other colleagues can be frustrating even when working in the same office. Unfortunately, progress and timely decision making are compromised when documents aren’t more easily retrievable. Again, be sure to put into place a technological solution that makes it easy for authorized employees to find what they want and when they need it.
  • Transitioning the company culture during a global crisis: While COVID-19 is transforming the business landscape, what companies are doing in response should not be viewed as temporary. Remote work is shifting company culture and going back to “business as usual” will be disruptive. As the virus abates and people return to the office, companies need to have a plan in place around the long-term future of remote work.

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?

I make a conscious effort to check in on every single one of my employees at least once a week, usually through Slack. With a quick message, I can see how they’re doing and how they are working. At Bluescape, we also have weekly town hall meetings where I try to engage everyone with a fun trivia question and a cool reward.

I think that making each employee feel appreciated and heard is the best way to boost morale and productivity. I really believe success is about productivity, not time. Productivity leads to the business making money, and to do that, your workforce needs to feel like they have the right tools, whether its education, technology, environment — or especially mental health. Again, business leaders need to put employee well-being at the forefront of their decisions, especially during this critical inflection point.

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. 🙂

From my perspective, the movement I try to stress is that your opinion — whatever that is — is very important. It’s not my job to judge your opinion or feelings, but to listen and try to understand what you are expressing and experiencing. I think to be compassionate and really listening and processing what people are saying and feeling can be very powerful, especially now.

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

You must have honesty and integrity. People can read your eyes and will gravitate towards you if they believe in what you stand for. I think, right now amid COVID-19 and remote working, this becomes difficult. It’s hard to read people on Zoom and get the right body language. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to have honesty and integrity.

Thank you for these great insights!


Peter Jackson of Bluescape: Five Things You Need To Know 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.

Julie Cottineau of BrandTwist: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize…

Julie Cottineau of BrandTwist: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Tweak your brand name, Probably one of the most successful examples of this is when Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed the brand name to KFC. This was to draw focus away from the fried nature of the food when consumers were starting to pay more attention to healthy eating. It also capitalized on the way that loyals fans were already referring to the brand.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Cottineau. Julie is Founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporaitons build stronger, more profitable brands. She is the author of best-selling book TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands (Panoma Press 2016) and a globally recognized branding expert and teacher. She has been an Adjunct Professor and Guest Lecturer at Columbia, Cornell and Stanford and has supported hundreds of women entrepreneurs through her Brand School Master Class.

Julie is a frequent commentator on in media such as Forbes.com, Entrepreneur Magazine, C-Suite Best Seller-TV and CNN. She is the former VP of Branding at Richard Branson’s Virgin and was a Global

Account Director for Grey Global and the Executive Director of Consumer Branding at Interbrand.

She is a highly rated keynote speaker and is frequently addresses groups of women executives helping them to identify and own and their personal brand TWISTS.

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?

Well going way, way back…when I was a little girl my parents wouldn’t let me get a pet because my brother was allergic to pet dander. Undeterred, I went into my garden, picked a rock and put it in a Cool Whip container. I poked air holes in the container and put in a blade of grass for food. Voila! I had created the pet rock. A few years later, a copywriter in San Francisco, Gary Dahl, was bemoaning the fact that friends were leaving the bar early to go feed their pets — so he created the official Pet Rock. A gag gift that made millions. I remember seeing it in stores and feeling upset that he had “stolen” my idea (I was only 10 years old at the time). But this was the beginning of my path toward finding ways I could use my creativity to develop solutions that would solve problems — and make a living from it!

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 working in advertising at Grey Global, I had the fabulous opportunity to transfer to Grey Paris for a few years to head up account management on a global P&G account. While I was fluent in the language of Procter & Gamble beauty care marketing, I did not actually speak French. The official business language with the client was English, but inside the agency it was definitely French. I really wanted to bond with my new co-workers and show them I was not the ugly American sent over from HQ to spy on them- so I dove feet first into learning their language. I learned French basically on the job, supplemented by a private tutor when I had time between meetings. Anyway, for a while my ambition to speak French outpaced my knowledge. I remember the day I asked the receptionist to reserve a meeting room for an appointment I had with my client to discuss new ad concepts. I asked her to book me a “chambre de reunion”. Well I found out quickly that “chambre” means bedroom. I should have said “salle de reunion”. That branding mistake made the way around the agency with lightning speed. But I was a good sport about teasing, and I think that went a long way to helping me be accepted as part of the French team. I ended up extending my two year contract to three years, met my French husband of 22 years (at French tennis camp- not in a chambre de reunion), and am now fluent in my beloved second language!

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?

Transitioning to starting your own business can be hard. Especially when you come from a background where you have always had the strength of big brands behind you. This was the case when I decided to start my own brand consultancy, BrandTwist, after over 20 years working for large, well-known companies such as Grey, Interbrand, and Virgin. For the first few years, I would meet people at networking events and conferences and often they would look kind of dismissively at the unknown company name on my name badge and move on in search of a contact with a more recognizable brand name. That was really hard for me. I had always been sought out in those situations — because I represented brands that people had heard of and wanted to get to know. But I was not deterred. I kept building my business through thought leadership, speaking engagements, the publication of my best-selling branding book TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, and an online Brand School for entrepreneurs. In the early days, I was often introduced as Julie Cottineau, Former VP of Brand for Virgin — rather than Founder & CEO of BrandTwist. But I remember a meeting that signalled the tipping point for me. My brand building efforts were beginning to pay off in terms of exposure, a growing social media following, a lot of positive media and interviews behind the book (such as a feature on CNN) and a small business visionary award. I was at a conference and someone looked at my badge and said “Julie from BrandTwist, oh I love your work”. I kept my cool and extended my hand, but I really wanted to grab my new best friend in a bear hug. That recognition made me feel like I had arrived on the scene — with a brand that I created. I guess the lesson for others is be patient and keep at it. Brands are not built overnight.

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

Like everyone else, my world has been turned upside down by the Pandemic. As a thought leader, I felt the need to get out and help people navigate this new normal. I truly believe that disruption, while difficult, can be great for brands. So when the world started going crazy, I launched a micro-site called BoostYourBrandImmunity.com. Through webinars, key notes, workshops, Facebook Live, and Brand Coaching, I’ve been helping businesses of all sizes to TWIST uncertainty into opportunity and look at new ways to focus their branding. I wanted to help as many people as possible, so I decided to offer a speed version of my 1 on 1 strategy sessions called a “Brand Booster Session”. In :30 minutes, I help a business come up with at least one idea that will bring in much needed revenue right now. I price these sessions at a very affordable rate and I give a portion of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders. I am proud to say that we’ve done a great many of these Brand Booster Sessions over the past months, have helped a lot of businesses, and have been able to donate to a worthy cause.

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

Make time to fill up your own tank — intellectually, emotionally, physically. I try to follow this through regular TWISTING Tuesday’s. I set aside one day a week where for a few dedicated and precious hours, I do something new to shake things up. This could be taking a bike ride on a new trail, watching a NetFlix documentary about a subject I don’t know anything about, or visiting a new retail or museum experience (in person or online). I call this going on a Brand Safari even if it’s just for an hour — and not in Africa. During this time, I practice “Triple A” Twisting. I consciously become Aware of something new, I Analyze what makes this experience special and then I Apply what I learn to my own brand or to a client project. This keeps things fresh for me, and helps me to step away from my screen. I think keeping yourself curious and energized is really important when you work in brand innovation.

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?

Great question. There is a lot of confusion around this even among senior executives. For me, your brand is the fundamental story of who you are as a business, what you offer, what you stand for, who you serve, and the problems you solve. It is your core identity. It is brought to life by your brand assets (name, logo, tagline, tone of voice and core brand touchpoints like a website) and your actions (how you treat clients and employees). I don’t really use the term “brand marketing”. I prefer Branding. Marketing (corporate or product) is how you get that message out and build awareness- advertising, promotions, partnerships earned media, social etc.

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?

Many people think they don’t need to invest in branding because their business is built through referrals or word of mouth. But even if this is the case, your brand walks into the room before you and hangs around after you are gone. It can help reinforce your message and help you stay top of mind. Research has also proven that strong brands are able to charge higher premiums, minimize consideration of other brands, create word of mouth recommendations, have lower cost of acquisition for both customers and new hires, and are more easily forgiven when inevitable errors occur.

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

Rebranding can be a great opportunity to tell your brand’s story in a fresh way while energizing your employees and customers. There are many reasons a business might want to consider a re-brand, but here are the three I see most frequently.

1) There is a disconnect between the product and the brand. This happens fairly often in technology companies. Often, a tech company starts out with one platform or offering, but over time, they’re actually adding value in a different direction. Then they’re constantly explaining and saying, ‘Well, I know we sound like a data streaming company, but we’re not.’” If you are constantly explaining why your name doesn’t fit anymore, wasting valuable time in meetings with prospects, then it’s definitely time to consider rebranding.

2) The company has grown through merger or acquisition. Mergers can be an exciting, but also a scary time for businesses- they struggle in how to present the new entity. There is usually also a bit of internal angst and chaos. The employees of each company are trying to figure out their roles in the new structure, and often even if they are excited about the new opportunities, they are mourning the loss of the comfortable old brand they are accustomed to. Creating a new brand can be a rallying cry for internal teams to all get behind something new. It can also be a great opportunity for leadership to go out to the market with a new message that focuses the conversation on the strategic vision moving forward — which is encapsulated in a new brand.

3) The brand feels tired and even dangerously out of step with current culture and trends

I see this with a lot of brands that have been around a long time. Brands created in the past may suddenly find themselves out of step or out of sync with the present. The brand name or logo might even have become a bit of an albatross. We are seeing that right now with product, sports team, and academic institute names that are deemed culturally insensitive to the world we live in now. In addition, we often see logos that worked well on the side of a building or a traditional format, but are struggling to convert in a new digital age where many brands’ primary representation is an app on a smartphone. I’ve done quite a bit of work helping clients re-brand for the digital age.

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

Re-branding can be scary for many people, and it’s not an exercise for the faint of heart. I don’t think there are categorically companies that I would advise against it but there are some considerations I would urge. First of all, finding a new name can be really challenging. It’s gotten a lot more difficult in recent years to find an available trademark. When clients come to me saying they want to change the name, I first ask them to review their logo and tagline. Sometimes a current name can still work if you change the other branded elements supporting it. If you do want to consider rebranding, it’s extremely important to first decide on the brand strategy before beginning any work on new names or logos. Don’t use a creative exploratory to decide your strategy. Agree to the updated strategy first (brand promise and values) and then use this as a benchmark to evaluate new name and logo candidates. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time and money. Branding is very subjective. Expecting an agency to “wow” you with no strategic brief agreed to up front, or a “I’ll know it when I will see it” approach is a recipe for disaster- and a waste of valuable resources. Designate a cross-functional brand development team to give input in the process, but make sure it’s clear who is the final decision maker. Usually this is the CEO in conjunction with the CMO. Deciding a new brand name, for example, should not be a democratic vote. This leads to settling on the lowest common denominator name. Going with something that everyone can live with, but no one is passionate about. A rebrand should have an internal champion that helps get everyone on board, and brands should always be launched internally with a lot of care and tools before being shared outside.

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.

Tweak your brand name

Probably one of the most successful examples of this is when Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed the brand name to KFC. This was to draw focus away from the fried nature of the food when consumers were starting to pay more attention to healthy eating. It also capitalized on the way that loyals fans were already referring to the brand.

Refresh your brand logo

Starbucks is a good example of this. In 1971 they started with a wood cut elaborate mermaid logo with the word “coffee, tea, spices”. In the late 80’s/early 90’s they simplified the mermaid design and the language underneath only referred to coffee. More recently, in the last decade, they have removed any words from the logo and further simplified and zoomed in on the mermaid design to make it more app friendly.

Infuse energy through a new tagline

Coca-Cola does this pretty frequently. The brand has always stood for enjoyment but from time to time they refresh the brand (pun intended) with a new tagline/advertising slogan. In 1929 the brand used the slogan “The Pause that Refreshes”. It was updated over the years with notable lines “It’s the Real Thing” (1971 — with the famous “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” jingle), “Always Coca-Cola” (1973), and Open Happiness (2009). These updates keep the brand current. However, it’s important to note that this iconic brand has never strayed from its core brand promise of enjoyment. It just finds new and relevant brand expressions.

Revolutionize with a whole new brand (name, logo, website)

There are many examples of brands that have opted for a revolution vs. an evolution strategy. An interesting one is Clear Channel radio who rebranded to I Heart Media in an effort to reshape perceptions of the company for the digital age when radio’s dominance is being challenged by digital entries like Pandora and Spotify. Comcast’s rebranding of its Cable Division to Xfinity to more effectively compete in an increasingly “on demand” driven market is another example.

Elevate and existing or under-leveraged brand within your portfolio

Developing and clearing a new trademark is a big challenge (I know I’ve mentioned that already). Often a great alternative strategy is to look and see if there is a trademark you already own that can play a more important role. Often this could be a product brand, a brand name of a singular division, or even a dormant trademark acquired as part of buying another company. This is what retailer Dayton Hudson Corporation did when it renamed the company behind one of its star brands and became the Target Corporation.

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 one example of a national nonprofit that is doing really important work is Feeding America. They were originally called America’s Second Harvest- The Nation’s Food Bank Network. The rebranding is explained on their website as a way to “ invite the public to understand and commit to fighting hunger, clearly acknowledging that each of us is connected to it. Our efforts to engage the public will have faster results because the name is so direct and action-oriented, which will translate to a better use of our resources.” As part of this rebrand, my own local Food Bank of Westchester was changed to Feeding Westchester. I love this example because it TWISTS the name away from a focus on the location, towards the benefit — and wonderful service they provide. I think any company can learn from this by examining if your brand is too focused on what you sell versus the value you bring. In Feeding Westchester’s case, I think they also remove some of the stigma for people who need help. Food insecurity is a huge problem in the US and people need support more than ever. I think when a “Brand Makeover” makes it easier for people to connect with what you have to offer that’s a huge success- no matter what type of business you are in.

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 love to inspire a movement to “Dream.Dare.Do”. I know so many people who have great ideas for innovative products or services and they just sit on them. Often these ideas are responses to something they wish were better or different in their own experiences — but could also help so many others. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate innovation. Often incremental improvements on the status quo can really improve people’s lives. The world needs new solutions right now — new TWISTS on old problems. I would love everyone to commit one day a week to working on something new, something they are really passionate about that solves a problem which could have a ripple effect of impact.

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

One of my favorites is from my mentor, Richard Branson. He frequently says “Screw it. Let’s Do it!” This reminds me not to overthink everything. If you have an idea that you are passionate about, get it out in the market. Get some reactions and revise as you learn. Don’t wait until it’s perfect and don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow me on Twitter at @jcottin, instagram at @brand_twist or on Linkedin. We also frequently post interesting brand perspectives and TWISTS on our blog at BrandTwist.com and invitations to Covid specific branding webinars on BoostYourBrandImmunity.com

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Thank you. It was truly a pleasure.


Julie Cottineau of BrandTwist: 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.

Vincenza Caruso-Valente of Sterling: The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years

Be agile. The last several months have shown that our daily life situations can change quickly. Adapting quickly to the environment around them and how quickly consumer sentiment and spending habits may change (need vs. want) takes on new importance in times of uncertainty and change.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vincenza Caruso-Valente.

Vincenza is the General Manager of Sterling’s Staffing, Retail, and Franchise group at Sterling — a leading provider of background and identity services. She previously held SVP roles leading teams that supported Sterling’s largest clients in Staffing, Retail, Gig, and Tech. She also played integral roles in Sterling’s M&A growth strategy. Her teams are dedicated to consulting clients on building best-in-class programs, optimizing the candidate experience, managing scale in growth eras, reducing time-to-hire, and driving profitability. Prior to Sterling, Vincenza spent over 11 years in leadership roles in sales, business development, and finance at Dun & Bradstreet, AT&T, and EDS.

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

At my core, I have always had a great passion for service and problem solving. At the age of 10, I watched my parents start their business (still successfully running today after 34 years!) out of the basement of our home. I learned so much, working alongside them. They taught me everything about the importance of work ethic, taking pride in my work and defining success not just by delivering product to their clients, but by how clients responded to what was delivered to them — did it meet and exceed their expectation? — and earning it every time. Out of college, I started my career in business and, several years later, this brought me back to my roots in retail and I have often returned to what I had learned as a kid while working alongside my parents and being in direct contact with clients on a daily basis (more to this story, later).

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

One of the most interesting things that happened to me was during a sales kickoff conference many years ago. I was a new leader at the time, trying to find my way and develop my leadership style. At this kickoff meeting, one of our days was spent doing volunteer work in the city where the conference was held. I was assigned (on the same day as the event) to lead a team of 20 people in building a wheelchair ramp for an elderly couple who could no longer use the stairs to their front door. Owning and executing this task was overwhelming and I was scared of failing and disappointing my organization and the elderly couple who were counting on me to lead the project. We had been given only four hours to complete the build, and to add insult to injury, what was forecast to be a sunny 80-degree day quickly turned into a 3+hour rain storm. I could tell that many on the team felt uncertain on how we would get it done. At my biggest moment of pressure and anxiety, I found an unwavering desire to complete the mission at hand. I strategized my approach to the situation, communicated to my team and knew that by engaging others and simply leveraging the strengths of every single person in our team — whether it be their ability to use a drill, manage a power saw, serve lunch, or be on clean up duty — each person had a part to play. Together we finished the project, even in the middle of the pouring rain. We found a way to work together. Nothing was more gratifying than being able to invite the couple out of their home at the end of the day to deliver them a fully built wheelchair ramp. Their gratitude has forever stayed with me, along with the profound power of people working together toward a shared goal. No one person is responsible for the success of something — it’s the ability of people deciding to rally together — and have each other’s backs — to get to that end goal. This one experience offered me a great leadership lesson that has stayed with me over the years.

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?

Right before I started my career in sales about 14 years ago, I stood in for one of my peers in another sales office for the week. I walked into the office thinking it would be a week of fun, exciting sales calls with clients and contract signatures. And while we did have some good times in the office that week, I was not prepared for some of the harder situations that occurred, which included losing a new sale that was in the forecast for the whole quarter, leading through the emotion of the loss of this deal felt by the sales rep and team, and galvanizing the team back from the loss. It was a great lesson on humility, preparation and leadership that has stayed with me ever since.

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

I am currently working on an initiative to enable continued safety in our communities by facilitating and incorporating COVID-19 health testing as part of our service offerings to our clients. It is exciting to be part of an organization whose focus on building a foundation of trust and safety continues to evolve in these ever-changing times. We are able to continuously support clients’ safe hiring practices so that they can deliver a safe experience to their customers and get their employees safely back to the workplace. It is very humbling to be a part of the team making it all happen.

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

My tips are simple but important:

  1. Stay connected to everyone in your network as often as you can — both personally and professionally. Take time for 1 on 1 interactions with your team and your colleagues, whether virtually or in the office. Connect with family and friends and — most importantly — take time for YOURSELF. The personal connections are critical to staying centered; time alone is equally important. I have built a habit of taking a two-mile walk by myself at the end of each day, at least three times a week, to help wind down and reflect.
  2. Keep things in perspective. Remember that the uncertainty we have been experiencing at work, home, and in the world around us has taught us to be resilient and understand ourselves better. Be proud of what you have been able to work through, even if it is as simple as getting through a conference call. Determine when to tune in and tune out what is going on around you and not let it consume you — balance is key.
  3. Restructure how you plan. We are living in a very fluid world right now, which requires agility. If you are used to planning out longer term, shift your planning to be more for 1–3 month game plans.

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?

Approximately 14 years ago, a few leaders and peers invested in me and my aspiration to move out of a corporate leader role and into the sales side of our business. Over the course of 18 months, they each played a critical role in teaching, coaching, and helping me build my skillset and knowledge to make the leap. I will be forever grateful to that team of six peers and two executives who helped and challenged me along the way.

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

I am very proud to have worked for an organization like Sterling for the last 10 years. Our goal is to help organizations make safe and smart hiring decisions by delivering on our mission to develop a foundation of trust and safety. From driving an organization’s business objectives to hiring the best talent and enabling people to get jobs that progress their careers and support their families, the meaningful work we do — for the organizations we partner with and the people they hire — inspires me daily. It is a great reminder to me what we do every day matters. I extend that same simple message to my team and colleagues daily — what they do every day matters.

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?

Yes, retailers are no strangers to change in the needs of their consumer and employees. In this environment, like in many before, retailers will need to:

  1. Reset business models to meet their customer and employee expectations.
  2. Modernize the experience they provide by evolving how they deliver a great product and service to their consumers. It will be important to understand how traditional and evolutionary delivery methods can co-exist successfully (brick & mortar + BOPIS + e-commerce).
  3. Prioritize SAFETY in their business model, both for their consumers and for their employees. Their employees need to feel protected and know that they will be trained on tools and processes available to them to stay safe when coming to work, so they can do their jobs and be set up for success in serving customers. Customers equally want to know they will be safe by having confidence that the people who are serving them are being treated well and following safety protocol, as it will directly impact their confidence and experience as a consumer. If their employees feel confident and safe, it will be felt by their customers.
  4. Be agile. The last several months have shown that our daily life situations can change quickly. Adapting quickly to the environment around them and how quickly consumer sentiment and spending habits may change (need vs. want) takes on new importance in times of uncertainty and change.
  5. Assess more frequently how well their strategies are working, pausing more frequently for feedback and having contingency plans.

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. 🙂

I have learned through these past several months of the COVID-19 pandemic how essential we are to each other — how human, yet amazing, we all are as individuals — and how much we have to be grateful for that we may have taken for granted. A great example is how essential grocery and convenience store employees are in our everyday routines. Not having the ability to pick up my cup of coffee daily — or a gallon of milk or loaf of bread — makes us all realize how critical those interactions and daily habits are to our personal and professional wellbeing. I have witnessed some amazing acts of kindness and selflessness, both in my personal life and professional life. As individuals, we are capable of having a profound impact on society in what we do daily. I do my best to live by my mantra: Leave it better than how I found it (whatever it may be).

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me here on LinkedIn!

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


Vincenza Caruso-Valente of Sterling: 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.

Anna Denysenko of Deneeze: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

I found my inspiration in the female leadership movement. Something that I’ve noticed ever since I moved to America is that it’s not just a country providing countless opportunities, but also these opportunities are equal and available to women. The female empowerment movements start here and shake the world with their strive for equity and equality for all. In the last twenty years, so much positive change happened, allowing people of any gender to pursue their dreams. I am a very active member of various projects and organizations. Participation in them inspires me and increases my enthusiasm towards helping provide equal opportunities for everyone.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Denysenko. Anna is the CEO and founder of Deneeze, a successful all-female owned and operated marketing and PR agency based in New-York City with its team scattered all over the world. Anna is beyond familiar with distanced management of employees, so even during the COVID-19 pandemic she keeps delivering excellent results and is eager to share some of her distant management strategy tips.

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”?

Growing up in Ukraine, I dreamt about becoming a lawyer, so my path started with enrolling into university to study law. While being a student I developed an unexpected interest in journalism and found success and international recognition in this field, yet I decided to take a chance and follow the biggest passion of mine — Public Relations. I moved to America in pursuit of new opportunities and experiences. To grow, one has to possess an ability to learn new things daily, yet starting my life over in a new country made it a bit harder to take risks and go out of my comfort zone. Seeking out new experiences, my first job in the US was working for the United Nations, after which I was invited to take the position of a managing editor of the ForumDaily, being part of their website relaunch to help other immigrants, very much like myself. To become even closer to my dream of working in PR, I moved on to working as the head of a marketing department in another company in an industry I wasn’t familiar with. This experience inspired me to branch out and allowed me to progress onto a new level of my career.

Currently, I’m an entrepreneur and an owner of my own company Deneeze, and, looking back, I realize that every single step of this journey was essential and led to what I have now. I am not planning on stopping getting closer to my dream anytime soon, yet, reflecting, my path showed me that conquering my goals one step at a time and not being afraid to open myself up to new experiences in different fields is exactly what made me who I am now.

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

Ever since I started my career, interesting situations would not stop happening to me. There is a quite obscure incident that I still can’t comprehend, and it even happened to me twice. Two years ago, one of my friends invited me to visit a breathtaking ballet performance. It was a fascinating event, but for the whole evening, I couldn’t help keep noticing elements I would’ve done differently from a PR/Marketing standpoint. I knew this cultural event was worthy of more attention and praise, yet not many people even knew about the existence of this show. I was genuinely interested in helping promote this event and, as you can imagine, the extent of my surprise was just colossal when, a year later, the curator of the exact ballet requested for my company to help them promote their upcoming performance. The situation occurred again with an art museum I was a fan of for many years. I’ve also been noticing some incoherent or inaccurate marketing moves and kept thinking over different scenarios of which strategies would benefit this company most. Out of nowhere, they also created a partnership with Deneeze so my visions became true again. One day I’m expressing my concerns and ideas about promotional strategies of a project to my friends and the next these projects are requesting my assistance. Never underestimate the power of our thoughts and how often they get materialized and always stay grateful for every opportunity you get.

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 learnt that often what we perceive as a mistake or a failure may actually be a gift that will help you learn and become better. Looking back at my story now, I can, luckily, just laugh at it and appreciate the lessons it taught me. Years back this mistake was a very important life lesson that helped me grow tremendously. While I was still working as a journalist, I always enjoyed writing exceptionally bold and scandalous material that provokes discussion. Some of my pieces would frequently cause a stir in the news or even be re-published by other publications. Working in a daily news source requires almost immediate response to every important event, yet this element can cause many inaccuracies to arise. Once I was responsible for the coverage of a new construction project. The article I wrote became sensational and spread very quickly, causing a wave of serious conversations. Shortly after, I realized that the neighborhood that the structure was being built in was identified incorrectly. This minor misstep snowballed into a massive problem for all parties involved, putting at risk the credibility of the publication and I. This situation made checking and reviewing information a priority for me. Please listen to my advice and learn from my mistakes — never rush into anything. Before acting upon anything, evaluate the information given to you as many times as you can. This is also applicable to working relationships. Important emails, documents or any part of communication in projects wholly relies on your responsibility for quality and liability of the material. Never hurry and think before you act.

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

As an increasing number of people worldwide have to adapt to working remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, I think each individual will have their method to be and feel most productive. From my experience, it is crucial to remember to sometimes distance yourself from all of the technology and emerge yourself into real-life events and enjoy the present, even though that might be a bit hard in the current circumstances. Things we usually take for granted, like taking a walk in the park, spending time with our loved ones to reconnect or having free time to enjoy hobbies are now key to happiness. I would also suggest meditation or other relaxation rituals that help focus on the present and stay grateful, clearing your mind. It is also crucial to have a schedule set in place with the establishment of distinct boundaries and work hours to avoid complications while working with people in different time zones. I advise you to spend time to identify an activity that helps you relax and enjoy yourself most.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience in 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 remote teams ever since I came to the US. I still had many connections and a job back in Ukraine so I had to communicate with my clients and employees digitally for 5 years now, figuring out the most efficient way of working from different parts of the world. All my jobs helped me constantly improve my skill of remote management. I had no choice but to come up with the most effective strategy of working remotely as the head office being in a 7-hour time difference with us. Later, while working at ForumDaily, I had to manage 40 employees from numerous countries. The website would present news from all over the world and different parts of the US and work remotely was our biggest advantage — no other form of working would result in such heavy news flow. We were releasing new information almost 24/7. Furthermore, when studying at Harvard Business School, I had to collaborate with classmates that were scattered globally, which required the entire process to be remote and digital. I got so used to this process and recognized the benefits of having specialists worldwide working towards the same goal, so I continued to work and develop even better distant management strategies. Thankfully, during the 5 years I’ve been in America, a distinct technological shift has occurred. Planning, organizing, scheduling and determining work hours and adjusting them to different time zones is very easy with the emergence of many different applications and online tools. This time of radical technological development decreased the occurrence of unpleasant surprises and difficulties to a minimum and made working with people across the globe easier, more enjoyable.

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?

The first challenge would be establishing communication. Sometimes, it can be very hard to find the time to devote to every employee individually and that can lead to misunderstandings.

Another challenge lies in organization. Due to time differences or just personal circumstances, every employee will have their individual preferences for a schedule. Differences in schedules are in the core of the decrease in team productivity.

One of the most important elements in the work process for me personally is face to face communication. I enjoy getting to know people and the absence of interaction with my team in real life is really one of the downsides that is very hard to deal with.

Tracking productivity can be a burden due to the distance between workers. It is easier for everyone to get used to procrastination and you can’t really supervise everyone, seeing whether they are distracted or working hard. It is especially difficult with big time differences as I have no idea what my employees are doing while I sleep.

When I created Deneeze, I immediately eliminated the challenge that was present at my other jobs. I made sure everyone was on the same page. Understanding of the task and how to use technology to complete it is crucial in the working environment. I educate every single person that joins our team on the software and programs we use as sometimes people who join the team simply may not be aware of how to use a program, yet are too shy or nervous to tell. When I worked at my first ever job, for a very long time I did not understand one platform the employer provided me with, although most other people seemed to be very comfortable with using it. I was too nervous to ask for an explanation, so I tried using other resources to do the same task which resulted in them being completed much slower. Only when the team noticed my pace being different from everyone else, I got taught how to use the correct software. After that situation, I always ask for clarification and put the worker’s understanding as the top priority.

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

Communicate as much as you can. Regardless of external factors, it is very important to find people who are willing to take on the challenges that come with this type of working environment. To prevent any mishaps and have a positive experience, install communication within the team through technology. Even though this method of getting to know one another is drastically different from the office environment, it is nonetheless effective. One of the greatest tips is also finding people you will have no problems communicating with, regardless of tools used. You have to genuinely believe in the capabilities of each individual and they have to be interested in the work and opportunities you provide them. Creating a habit of frequent communication, even though you’re not working in the same office physically, is key. People have to know that they can reach out to each other or to you to ask for help or advice. Also, use the right tools that allow for easy and accessible contact, such as videoconferencing and online chats. Putting all those means of communication into your schedule is the way to tackle this issue.

Good organization is an essential element of a good working pace. Systems like Google provide so many functions, amongst which are online scheduling, video meetings and chats. Zoom is also a current phenomenon and is extremely useful for effortless group communication. Amongst others, the programs I recommend for project management are trelo, gia and asana. Remember to make sure that everyone on the team is familiar with the programs used in your company.

Encourage collaboration to create opportunities for face to face meeting through various opportunities remotely. Some of the employees live closely so make sure to organize meetings for them, even though you may not be present. Also, if the client can talk over the project with one of your employees in real life, plan that for them. This will only benefit the company and will improve the team spirit. Organize outside of work activities(could be online as well), making the maximum out of employees who are able to travel and, therefore, meet each other. Team building is very important for the spirit of the company, even if in-person meetings occur once a year, they are still so worth it. Keep up the working pace through the team creating personal experiences, exchanging them and developing new ones together when possible.

For tracking productivity, you have to be familiar with the technology available and educate your team on them. Being on the same page and understanding the way each tool works and what kind of benefits it provides to everyone is essential and will help tremendously. The schedule of each employee should be able to adapt to circumstances and be flexible for collaboration with others. It needs to mould and change according to what suits other individuals in the team as well to make collaboration possible, setting the tone of mutual respect in communication to increase team productivity.

In order to make sure every individual in the team is up to speed with the current technologies, goals and plans, talk to them and explain everything, ask questions to prevent misunderstandings. Preferably, organize a video chat as it will make the contact even more personal. Make sure to cover all things that the person joining the team will need to know in order to perform to the best of their abilities and, in the meanwhile, get to know them a bit more to make them comfortable and decrease the nervousness that comes with entering a new team. Every team member understanding their tasks and how to achieve them and also being comfortable with the group they are is a promising combination that will take your company far.

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 true, you’re completely right.

Within any basic human interaction, there will always be an emotional and reactive impact. I can’t say that I have found the perfect approach to giving constructive feedback, but in my understanding, you should focus on the positive in any given situation and minimize the negative aspects. It is essential to highlight people’s strengths first so they learn to trust and respect constructive feedback. Facilitating two-way communication develops a deeper understanding of the issues at stake. Failure of the employee to fully understand what is required in the workplace will hinder self-improvement and reduce motivation. Through experienced and sensitive feedback your employee will be encouraged to develop and improve their skills. The length of time you have known this employee for and your relationship with them will determine whether constructive feedback is best delivered via video call or through personal communication. This will ensure the most successful outcome when seeking to explain how a situation can be improved or avoided in the future.

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

Coming from a post-Soviet Union country, I can say that people from where I’m from are often very straightforward. Understanding this information was crucial as it led me to find ways to deliver constructive criticism in a way which wouldn’t be perceived as rude or too harsh. For example, this situation can be compared to candy in the sense that you must acknowledge its external wrapping as well as its internal appeal. When communicating with employees via email or otherwise, it is important to demonstrate an interest in their concerns in the workplace and beyond. By actively seeking to understand their issues, a manager is better able to assess how to deal with an individual’s situation and provide appropriate support. At my company Deneeze, we have clients who are served by our remote workers on a global scale. As our remote workers continue to increase in number, we must continuously demonstrate our high level of management skills. Learning from the challenges our employees face, we can evaluate and adapt existing strategies to address similar issues in the future.

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?

Actually, after three or four months of the world-wide pandemic, examples like that are almost eliminated. As the majority of people had to adapt to the remote working regime, they have worked a habit out of this and found the ways of working that suit them best. For example, organizing your own working space inside your own house, managing all the inside distractions, setting boundaries for your schedule, and finding the right ways of channelling the communication to anyone in any part of the world regardless of the circumstances are all ways employees at my company have found ease during these trying times.

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?

At Deneeze, our employees work towards a common goal together while being thousands of miles away from each other, so we take empowerment of our team very seriously. Encourage an environment of open communication and feedback. Also, set the right expectations and communication methods. Always talk to your employees and reflect in every conversation to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

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 found my inspiration in the female leadership movement. Something that I’ve noticed ever since I moved to America is that it’s not just a country providing countless opportunities, but also these opportunities are equal and available to women. The female empowerment movements start here and shake the world with their strive for equity and equality for all. In the last twenty years, so much positive change happened, allowing people of any gender to pursue their dreams. I am a very active member of various projects and organizations. Participation in them inspires me and increases my enthusiasm towards helping provide equal opportunities for everyone.

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

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is a Chinese proverb that I apply to many aspects of my life. In every project I work on, despite how strenuous it may be, I believe that if I can allocate a significant amount of my time and energy towards it, I will be able to complete the task at hand successfully.


Anna Denysenko of Deneeze: 5 Things You Need To Know 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.

Brenda Darden Wilkerson of AnitaB: “In order to have women-led teams thrive, it is important to

Brenda Darden Wilkerson of AnitaB.org: “In order to have women-led teams thrive, it is important to ensure that as their leader you are supporting and promoting them in a meaningful way”

In order to have women-led teams thrive, it is important to ensure that as their leader you are supporting and promoting them in a meaningful way. And sometimes, this means knowing when and what to tell them to get the work done. Providing the information your team needs doesn’t necessarily mean telling them absolutely everything. Being selective in this way not only streamlines how the job gets done, but also helps define your leadership position among your peers.

As a part of my series about “Lessons from Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brenda Darden Wilkerson.

Brenda is the President and CEO of AnitaB.org, a global nonprofit founded with the mission to empower women in technology. Brenda is an advocate for access, opportunity, and social justice for underrepresented communities in technology. She currently serves as the President and CEO of AnitaB.org, an organization that connects, inspires, and strives for greater equality for women technologists in business, academia, and government. She founded the original Computer Science for All program, building computer science classes into the curriculum for every student in the Chicago Public Schools, and serving as the inspiration for the Obama administration’s national CS4All initiatives.

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 come from a family that champions the value of education which originally led me to pursue a career in medicine. With my desire to help and serve others, to decrease suffering and increase the impact of other people, I initially started as a pre-med biomedical engineering major at Northwestern where I was required to take two programming classes. This first-time exposure led me to programming and computer science, and helped me discover my new passion for tech. While my career path shifted, my goal to help others remains true 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?

Early in my career, I secured a teaching position at a community college where I signed up to teach an eight-hour class in Lotus 123. I led these classes for weeks, and tried to engage my often quiet class through the lesson plans. It wasn’t until the last class where I asked if they had any final questions and a student raised her hand and asked, “How do you turn this on?” referring to the computer!

This was beyond humbling and terrifying as it showed me how poorly I had read the room, how much I had assumed about my students’ prior knowledge, and how I took my own learning for granted. It’s funny in hindsight, but that was a pivotal moment in my career as an adjunct professor, and in all roles since that taught me how to know the needs of the people I’m trying to reach. Half the job is knowing what to teach; the other half is knowing who you are reaching.

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

It’s uniquely impactful to help women in tech understand how needed their work is, and how powerful they are. It sounds insignificant, but if you don’t know who you are, you won’t act with the power you have. You could speak with a woman who makes software that impacts 35 countries, but because she has been isolated from other people like herself, she feels like an impostor. AnitaB.org is able to put women technologists in proximity to each other while realizing the power of that network. That revelation extends beyond the individual; it follows her in every action she makes afterward.

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

With our annual Grace Hopper Celebration going 100% virtual, we have the ability to reach women we haven’t reached before. Historically, GHC engaged 60–70 countries. This year, we already have participants from 90+ countries registered, and counting. One of the reason’s we’re thrilled about vGHC is because it causes us to rethink how we reach out to our audience.

We’re also focusing on Membership, which addresses a historic and current need in the community to provide women with access to one another at the click of a mouse.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

No — absolutely not, and I don’t know if I ever will be. Here’s why: We have so much work to do in terms of changing what’s ‘normal’. People in STEM impact the lives of so many, so securing equal representation at every tech team’s table is critical for elevating creativity and accuracy for finding solutions.

One of the ways we can do this is by changing how we count; White men represent 31% of the population, yet 71% hold business leadership roles. Why don’t we raise our eyebrows at that? We must look at these numbers with a surgical eye.

We also must change what we measure; How does your company measure diversity? I don’t just mean ethnicity, race, and gender, but also difference of opinion, age, educational background, and more.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

In performance reviews, we see ambitious women are labeled “bossy” while ambitious men are seen as gearing up for success. In my second job in software, I was the only female analyst, and we would call the common area the “locker room” because it was full of men; I was an exception. Showing up is always challenging if you are in the minority, and most women in tech face that tokenism every day. This can only change when company numbers change — when companies hire from and successfully manage diverse groups.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

There’s a myth that all women technologists are this antisocial stereotype. There’s also the idea that every woman technologist needs to be a unicorn in order to be successful. This simply isn’t true. Every person is uniquely able to integrate their experiences into their work, and this should be seen as a positive.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

My experiences as being one of the few Black women in tech at my previous companies have taught me:

  • Be prepared, but not totally dissuaded by fact that the first thing people see are your differences from the norm.
  • Until we reach pay parity, we can’t model ourselves based on the current way of working. Be prepared to pioneer.
  • Learn to delegate. My generation was raised to ‘do it yourself’. But while women tend to carry more than they should, men immediately delegate. For your sake, and that of your project, delegate.
  • Find your mentors. To be frank, you need a male mentor to interpret the craziness of the male-dominated industry, and a female mentor as someone to learn how to navigate as well.
  • Be prepared to give your all every single day, and forgive yourself when you miss the mark you set for yourself. Grit includes self-forgiveness and is essential for growth.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

In order to have women-led teams thrive, it is important to ensure that as their leader you are supporting and promoting them in a meaningful way. And sometimes, this means knowing when and what to tell them to get the work done. Providing the information your team needs doesn’t necessarily mean telling them absolutely everything. Being selective in this way not only streamlines how the job gets done, but also helps define your leadership position among your peers.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

It’s important that the norms and values of your teams reflect that of your organization at large. If the norm is to treat one another with respect, that expectation drives how the organization and respective teams communicate and perform.

Delegation is another critical component of managing a large team, however this does not mean delegate and silo team members to perform certain tasks. Spread the wealth of tasks that align with their strong suits, and challenge them to move their career further.

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?

Cynthia Clontz was the dean at the community college where I eventually became the director of IT training. She was the reason I was able to transition from tech to education, and she taught me about what it meant to be a leader and woman leader.

Looking back, the norm for women was to wear suits and never speak about our kids at work. She was an incredible exception to that norm. One day, my husband and I were at a church, and I was pregnant at the time. And she began to ask me, what are you going to do when you have the baby? Finally, she asked if I would join her college to teach as adjunct faculty. She phrased it as, “Can you help me?”

She taught me how to see talent in people where others might not and showed me it was okay to care about people while being successful. I hire people based on that mentality today. She’s a woman leader ahead of her time and we’re still good friends.

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

I am proud to have founded Computer Science for All. Since I lacked access to computer science in high school despite being a heavily involved STEM student, my goal was to ensure that people from all walks of life had the access and visibility to the computer science field.

I believe the opportunity to help others choose what they want to do/providing them with another career choice is critical to driving innovation and creativity forward.

Through our efforts, we were successful in helping turn computer science into a core class in the curriculum, and I am very proud that this year, 97% of Chicago public school students graduated with at least one class in computer science.

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. 🙂

Let’s change how we see our potential. You only go as far as where you can see. Forget your limitations and push for more.

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

Bobby Kennedy once said, “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” I reimagined it to address all genders, and his quote allows me to truly believe that one does not need to confine to preconceived notions of worth or potential in order to succeed.

We are very blessed that 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 if we tag them 🙂

Women who have saved lives. Right now, with COVID-19, I would love to have breakfast with Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel. And, of course, Michelle Obama.


Brenda Darden Wilkerson of AnitaB: “In order to have women-led teams thrive, it is important 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 Commissioner Kenneth G Hodder & The Salvation Army Have Been Hel

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder & The Salvation Army Have Been Helping To House 10 Million People Every Year

The Salvation Army houses nearly 10 million people every year who would otherwise be sleeping in their cars or under an overpass. One of our programs, Pathway of Hope, works to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. It often starts on the streets — our teams let those in need know we’re here for them. In several cities across the West, our teams use vans to distribute food and supplies to those experiencing homelessness, and invite them to receive long-term help.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder. He is the National Commander of The Salvation Army, the largest social services organization in the country, with 7,600 centers of operation that serve 23 million people each year. Before becoming the National Commander in July, Hodder served as the Territorial Commander of the Western Territory in the United States, where he worked diligently to address the growing homelessness crisis.

Thank you so much for joining us Kenneth! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background? How did you grow up?

I’m a sixth-generation member of The Salvation Army, or a Salvationist. My parents were both Salvation Army officers when I was growing up, meaning, we moved a lot, and I was automatically involved in the ministry. My parents were always deliberate about making their work a fun, fulfilling experience for the family, and their encouragement helped me understand what it meant to serve the Lord at a young age. We had a deep familial bond.

I didn’t originally intend to become a Salvation Army officer — I thought my work would be done as a soldier, or lay member, of the Army. After a few years of practicing law, though, I discovered that God had other plans for me: He called me, I responded, and I’m awfully glad I did.

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

I practiced law in Los Angeles, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. It was intellectually challenging and financially rewarding — I was living the dream. One day, I was called into the office of a senior partner, who presented me with a generous bonus check. I gratefully accepted, of course, but as I returned to my office, I realized the stack of papers sitting on my desk was a representation of my contribution to the world. I stared at the papers for a moment before looking down at my check. I knew then that all the money in the world wouldn’t give my life greater meaning, and I felt a definite calling to become a Salvation Army officer. That was a moment I will never forget.

When I was an attorney, I told my father I would buy him a Cadillac, so when I told him I decided to be an officer, he responded by saying, “So, I guess that means I won’t get my Cadillac.” He laughed, but was thrilled by the announcement. (And I ended up buying him a golf club made by Cadillac years later, so I suppose I’ve fulfilled my promise.)

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 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?

Homelessness has been a crisis for all of recorded history, and The Salvation Army has been combating homelessness since its inception over 155 years ago. The causes have always been many and varied, ranging from family breakdown and addiction to poverty and social limitations. After my wife and I returned from Kenya and the United Kingdom (we were overseas for 11 years, starting in 2002), we were in disbelief after realizing how much worse the problem had become during our absence. As Salvation Army leaders, we’re determined to get individuals and families off the street. There’s no short answer for “how we got here,” but my job is to get people out of homelessness.

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?

Homelessness can occur in several situations, but that’s only one subset of the problem. In my experience, people experience homelessness because of factors such as substance abuse, job loss, relationship troubles, death of a spouse, and mental illness, to name a few. The fact is, though, most people don’t begin from a position of strength — most have a far more fragile set of circumstances, which typically means their options and resources are quite limited.

A question that many people who aren’t 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 relocate when there’s an economic opportunity to do so, and the people we serve typically struggle to make ends meet, often living paycheck to paycheck. The people we serve, who are suffering from homelessness, have lost their jobs or struggle with substance-abuse issues, so they need to live where jobs are most available. The majority of the time, however, they aren’t able to take advantage of employment opportunities.

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

In my opinion, it’s always best to refer them to The Salvation Army, or another direct service organization that can help that person address their long-term needs. I always keep a small number of business cards in my pocket with information on how someone can get help if they need it.

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

The Salvation Army houses nearly 10 million people every year who would otherwise be sleeping in their cars or under an overpass. One of our programs, Pathway of Hope, works to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. It often starts on the streets — our teams let those in need know we’re here for them. In several cities across the West, our teams use vans to distribute food and supplies to those experiencing homelessness, and invite them to receive long-term help.

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 has been a dramatic increase in the opportunities we’ve received to address homelessness in the past four to five months. We’ve collaborated with hotels, governments at every level, and corporations amid COVID-19. That’s a positive thing! It has allowed us to help thousands more people in a compressed time frame. However, questions remain. What will things look like six months from now if our economic circumstances continue to deteriorate? The initial response from the public has been outstanding, though — people are suddenly more aware of how the well-being of those living on the street contributes to the overall well-being of society.

While there’s still a lot that’s unknown, one thing is for certain: The Salvation Army will continue doing everything possible to help those in need with the resources available to us.

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

When I first accepted God’s call to be an officer, I wondered whether my training as an attorney would be helpful. Salvation Army officers are ordained ministers and responsible for organizational and social service programs in their assigned areas, but they typically don’t have legal responsibilities. Soon after becoming an officer, though, I was appointed to a small facility in California, where a young lady would often visit for food assistance. She suffered from drug addiction, and at one point, she was charged with several minor drug offenses. I’ll never forget the day I went to speak on her behalf in court. I stood there, in my Salvation Army officer’s uniform, and it was at that moment that my professional life and my calling came together.

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

Over the years, I’ve received notes from people telling me about something I said or did, which I’d forgotten about, but which made a deep impression on them. I keep those notes in my desk drawer, and in challenging or difficult times, I pull them out and think back to the precious opportunities that I’ve been given to impact the lives of others. Those notes — along with God’s Word — that’s what keeps me going.

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?

Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

As communities, and as individuals, we should seek to be wise, striving for knowledge and discernment; to be kind, demonstrating gentleness, understanding, tolerance, compassion, and grace for each other; and to be helpful, continually lifting others up.

Every morning, in my personal devotions, I ask for guidance to be wise, kind, and helpful. If we all committed to doing those three things, the world would be a very different place.

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

I certainly have hope, but in the meantime, my job is to do what I can in my little corner of the field. I take great joy in seeing individuals and families who have not only escaped homelessness but have come to understand that God loves them.

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

I can’t say that there are a lot of things I wish someone had told me, but there are a few things wise people told me that I wish I’d listened to more closely.

For example: “It’s not about you.” When you’re young, it’s easy to think everything is about you and the contribution you’ll make to the world. In the end, it’s not about you — it’s about lifting others up.

Another example is, “We’re all the same.” When I was younger and immature, I was more willing to draw dividing lines between situations and individuals. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to understand that people face a lot of the same issues — the need for acceptance, fulfillment, and finding a place in the world. These are basic human needs, and they should unite us.

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 don’t have to inspire one, because I’m already a part of one. Christianity is a movement about unconditional love, grace, and acceptance that could wipe away anger, resentment, bitterness, addiction, unkindness, and discrimination. If people recognized that there was a God who cared, that they had a place in His creation and were loved, that they were worthy of respect and attention — it would change everything.

Can you please give us your favorite “life-lesson quote”? Can you share how it was relevant to you in your life?

I still use an old-school Day-Timer, and at the beginning of every month, I write out my personal mission statement:

“I will serve my God, to whom I owe everything; my family, whom I love limitlessly; and the Army, to which I am called.”

That little sentence keeps me focused on the things that matter.

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

Unfortunately, all the tagging in the world won’t help arrange my dream lunch. The two people I’d be honored to have that experience with would be President Abraham Lincoln and Sir Winston Churchill.

I’ve always respected Abraham Lincoln’s ability to grow as a leader, and I admire his willingness to change. I strive to be like that every day.

Lunch with Winston Churchill would also be memorable — there’s no one with more quotable statements than him. I could share Winston Churchill’s quotes with you all day long!

How can our readers follow you online?

You can always visit The Salvation Army’s website or social media pages on Twitter (@SalvationArmyUS) and Facebook (@SalvationArmyUSA).

You can also follow me on Twitter: @NatlCommander.

This was very meaningful. Thank you so much!

If there’s one message that I want to get across today, it’s that people who read this piece should ask themselves what they’re being called to do. Whatever it is, do it, because nothing else will ever be enough. You don’t have to worry about your passions, and you don’t need to figure out what you’d like to do — God already knows all of that. He’s just waiting for each of us to say that we’re ready to do what He asks, and He’ll take it from there.


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Commissioner Kenneth G Hodder & The Salvation Army Have Been Hel was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Larry English of Centric Consulting: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

When I had my midlife crisis at 25, I read a lot while traveling. I was searching for how I was going to live my life. One day when we were about eight months into our trip, I was lying on a beach in Bali when I read a quote that would change my life. In The Drifters, James Michener wrote, “Southern Florida is filled with people sixty-eight years old who were going to do something big in their lives but waited until it was safe. Now it’s safe and they’re sixty-eight years old.” I immediately knew I had to take a risk and try to do something big. I often read that so many people on their deathbed regret not taking a risk for something they were passionate about. I have tried to live life taking those big risks.

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

Larry English is president and cofounder of Centric Consulting, a management consulting firm that guides you in the search for answers to complex digital, business, and technology problems. Before Centric Consulting, Larry worked for a large international consulting firm out of college until he got burned out at 25. He and his newlywed wife backpacked around the world as he tried to find his path in life — and he did. Shortly after returning home, he and his like-minded pals founded Centric with a focus on changing how consulting was done by building a remote company with a mission to create a culture of employee and client happiness. Today, Centric is a 1,000-plus person company located in 13 US cities and India.

In his new book, Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams, Larry unpacks everything he’s discovered about creating and sustaining a culture of collaborative teams in a virtual environment. To learn more about Larry and how to become an office optional company, visit LarryEnglish.net or connect with him on Twitter.

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 had a midlife crisis at 25. I was disillusioned with the companies that I had worked with that were all about money and didn’t care about their employees’ happiness. After backpacking around the world with my wife, I realized that I wanted to start a company that valued employee happiness and balance. Part of that solution was creating a remote company that would make it easier for employees to find balance between work and what they were passionate about. We started Centric 20 years ago with this remote foundation and have grown to 1,000 people in the US and India.

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

About 12 years ago, I joined a peer group organization called YPO. One of the best parts about this organization is you get to be part of a group of 10 peers where confidentially is guaranteed and trust ensured so you can openly share and grow. This group of peers lovingly point out your blind spots.

The biggest blind spot they shared with me was that I was terrible at vulnerability. In my entire career, no one had shared this insight with me. It was transformational. I learned to show I had the same doubts and fears as my team. When I started sharing my vulnerability, my employees immediately felt much more connected to me as a leader.

For remote companies, vulnerability is key: it is the shortcut to trust. Teaching employees and leaders to show vulnerability and not making it all about business helps build virtual relationships faster.

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?

In Office Optional I share many funny and embarrassing stories from what we’ve learned about how to work remotely. It was unheard of 20 years ago to be a remote company. One day after we decided to start a remote company, I was presenting a final deliverable to our first client on a conference call to stakeholders spread out across the country. I was at home in my office, on speaker to keep my hands free. I was excited, and the presentation was going well.

My office had the kind of French doors where the handles don’t turn — you simply push to open them. My young son, still in potty-training mode, burst through the doors and came running into my office. I had no time to react before he loudly proclaimed, “Daddy, I’ve gotta poop, and you are going to wipe me!” Just like the movies, it felt like slow motion as I lunged for the mute button — but I was much too late.

But to be serious for a minute — the biggest mistake I have made running a remote company is skimping on software collaboration tools for too long. The right software will make you more efficient and lead to happier employees as your organization seamlessly collaborates from anywhere in the world. Software can even improve your culture. Here are a few examples:

  • Training employees on your culture. They can see the history of how you interact and treat each other.
  • Creating virtual affinity groups that share a common interest to improve employees’ sense of belonging, such as veterans or runners.
  • Breaking down silos. Employees are more effective when they know what’s going on across the company.
  • Increasing trust and making you a more transparent organization.
  • Building an intergenerational workforce. The right tool increases engagement because employees can interact in ways they are comfortable with.

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

We learned that when someone new joins us that has not worked remotely before, they work way too much. The boundaries between your personal and work lives disappear. The laptop is always right there in front of you, and your mobile phone is always on. Your ability to jump between work and personal tasks is suddenly a lot easier, but if you switch back and forth all day long, it quickly adds up. Before you know it, late-night work sessions can become the norm — hardly ideal.

We’ve found the best approach is to encourage healthy boundaries around work. Based on your life schedule, determine the time periods during business hours that are strictly for work and when you’ll be taking breaks. Develop the discipline to respect those times so you can achieve a healthy balance. And share your approach with your family, so they know when to leave you alone so you can stay focused on work. Being virtual isn’t about working more. It’s about better work-life balance, which leads to happier, more productive employees who in turn create a great culture.

Also, make it okay for remote employees to take advantage of being remote. Most feel guilty initially and want to hide that they are doing something personal during traditional work hours. We embrace it. Go to that yoga class in the middle of the day or take your kid to the park and call me on the way. Help employees learn to design their day around taking breaks that energize them. They will be much more productive this way.

Finally, help employees learn to stay connected. Working from home can be lonely. Depending on your job requirements, you may have periods where you don’t interact with coworkers for a large part of the day. To combat this, encourage employees to schedule regular time to catch up with coworkers.

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?

We’ve been operating as a largely virtual company, managing remote teams, for over 20 years now. When we started the company, we always envisioned this would become the future of work.

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 managing a remote team, the key to success is changing your leadership approach. Here’s how:

Increase the frequency and approach of check-ins — An old leadership saying, “You can’t coach from the press box,” speaks to the need to get out of your office if you want to keep a pulse on what’s going on. You can’t walk the halls in a virtual company, so you need to learn the virtual equivalent. Virtual employees can quickly feel disconnected from the company without regular interactions. Lacking the visual cues of the office environment, a problem can fester before you ever hear about it. You want to catch any feelings of disconnection before employees start looking for a new job — this can only be done if you’re regularly reaching out to your direct reports and “checking their temperature.” And business-related conference calls won’t cut it. You need to allocate one-on-one time (in person or virtual) to check in with individual employees to connect on a personal level and give them opportunities to share any worries. By building in this one-on-one time — which, by the way, shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice, given that in-office employees spend about 8 percent of their time socializing — employees will feel more comfortable bringing up issues when they arise. Without an established, trusted relationship, they’ll feel awkward starting those difficult conversations and might even leave before you realize there’s a problem.

Establish two-way feedback mechanisms — Great remote culture can’t exist without feedback to employees on their development and feedback from employees on how they are feeling about the company. Because you don’t see each other in the office, you will want to establish formalized mechanisms to make sure feedback is occurring.

We’ve developed an elaborate individual feedback, coaching and development process. Employees tailor the frequency and type of career growth feedback that is most beneficial to them. When you are a remote employee, engagement is critical. One way to ensure high engagement is by providing regular feedback. Feedback is a win-win. Employees get help climbing the career ladder, and you get more skilled, more engaged workers who are more likely to stick around.

Businesses need to keep their pulse on employee sentiment about the company. When you are remote, it is easier to lose touch with how your employee base is feeling. And employees can feel unheard. For virtual companies, regular feedback is even more critical. With limited in-person interactions, you must take extra, deliberate steps to get feedback and understand how employees are feeling. Determine how often you want feedback and how you’re going to get it. Centric uses a mixture of anonymous companywide surveys, exit interviews, external feedback via sites like Glassdoor, and touchpoints with individual employees.

Model vulnerability as a leader — We teach our leaders to model vulnerability so that our employees feel comfortable doing it themselves. Vulnerability is the shortcut to trust. When your leaders exhibit vulnerability, they are going to build relationships faster and be trusted sooner.

Train leaders to be experts at building relationships virtually — In addition to vulnerability, leaders need to be experts at building strong relationships when we can’t meet face-to-face. All employees in a virtual company need these skills, but as a leader, you must be able to:

  • Bring Your Whole Self to Work. Share your personality, showcase who you are as a person, share your interests, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Take Time to Nurture Personal Relationships. Encourage leaders to have a genuine interest in getting to know their teammates, to be curious, and to learn what matters to them.
  • Know How to Resolve Conflict Virtually. Conflict is always hard to resolve, even when you can see a person’s visual cues. It’s even harder virtually. We use a training course based on the book Crucial Conversations to help leaders become conflict resolution experts.

Hire leaders who help embody and infuse your culture. — As we’ve grown to 1,000 employees, we worried about how to scale our culture and make sure employees felt connected when everyone was remote. It turns out it is possible, and the secret is in your leaders. To have a great remote company, you need to hire leaders who embody your remote culture and infuse it into the area of the business they oversee. If you do this, you can scale your company to thousands of employees and maintain the same culture you had when you were just a handful of people. We have created a leadership development and mentor program to ensure that our leaders know how to lead remote teams with our value system.

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?

The first part of the answer is to encourage your leaders to build strong personal relationships with their team, so that feedback is easier to give and receive. The second part is the technique of how you give feedback. As I mentioned, we provide a training course to our employees on the techniques used in the book Crucial Conversations. It provides tools on how to approach conversations as an opportunity for an honest, human-to-human interaction that ultimately builds a deeper relationship.

Finally, we recommend that any feedback be done by phone, by video, or in person. We really do not want leaders to give feedback via chat or email. There is just a much greater risk of misinterpretation and frustration on the part of the employee.

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

I see this mistake all the time with new remote leaders. I do not recommend that you give feedback over email. There is a huge temptation because it is hard to give feedback and new leaders hide behind email. I’ve seen this backfire so many times. It will often create a bigger issue than the original feedback itself. It’s important to take the extra time to pick up the phone. You will develop and maintain a better relationship with your employee.

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?

We had this question a lot when the pandemic first started. We found many companies were surprised at how quickly and effectively they adapted to working remotely. We aren’t getting this question anymore. Instead, companies are now asking, “What do we need to do to permanently adopt remote work?” If you want to become a permanent, high-capability remote organization, you must develop an integrated approach across your people, operations and technology. Train your people to be great virtual workers, change your operations to accommodate remote work, and invest in software tools that increase remote collaboration effectiveness.

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?

The biggest suggestion is learning to build and grow relationships virtually. We think our culture is actually stronger by being remote, because we have learned how to build deep, trusting relationships with our virtual co-workers. I’ve already touched on some of these skills like modeling vulnerability, bringing your whole self to work, taking time to nurture personal relationships, and learning to resolve conflict virtually.

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. 🙂

Well, you might ask my kids about my powers of influence! Seriously though, remote is the future of work, and it represents a potential solution to creating jobs for many disadvantaged people. We have a massive digital divide in the U.S. Using the digital economy to train and then employ millions of disadvantaged people is possible with the right approach and leadership. That is also why I’m donating the proceeds of this book to helping solve this issue.

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

When I had my midlife crisis at 25, I read a lot while traveling. I was searching for how I was going to live my life. One day when we were about eight months into our trip, I was lying on a beach in Bali when I read a quote that would change my life. In The Drifters, James Michener wrote, “Southern Florida is filled with people sixty-eight years old who were going to do something big in their lives but waited until it was safe. Now it’s safe and they’re sixty-eight years old.” I immediately knew I had to take a risk and try to do something big. I often read that so many people on their deathbed regret not taking a risk for something they were passionate about. I have tried to live life taking those big risks.

Thank you for these great insights!


Larry English of Centric Consulting: 5 Things You Need To Know 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.

Adam Robinson of GetEmails: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Make sure your product is great, and the more differentiated, the better. Try to do things your competitors are not doing that provide value to whatever niche you’re going after.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Robinson.

Adam was born in Houston, Texas and graduated from Rice University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.

In 2014, he launched Robly Email Marketing after working on Wall Street for ten years. The business grew to $5 million in revenue in the first two years and by 2017 was awarded #1 in Customer Satisfaction across the entire email marketing space. After proving Robly’s viability, Adam worked to scale the business. After testing and scrapping a few ideas, he and his team launched GetEmails in 2019.

In GetEmails first six months it’s grown to $2.5 million Annual Recurring Revenue.

Adam is now based in Austin, Texas where he lives with his girlfriend Helen and their chiweenie, Bonnie Rosa.

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’ and how you got started?

I graduated from Rice University in 2003, then took a job in Manhattan trading real estate credit default swaps at the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. My first roommates were starting a company called Vimeo in the apartment I was living in. It planted the entrepreneurial seed, and I always wanted to do what they were doing. Starting a tech company seemed like a dream life.

After 2008 and the Lehman debacle, I lost everything, and decided that rather than try to go back into finance, I should try to get into tech.

Many years later, after trying and failing many times, I finally got something to work — Robly Email Marketing. That was my first startup. It’s a nice bootstrapped business, and it’s still running today by a group led by Sebastian Reingold. We have 5000 happy customers and have won #1 in customer satisfaction by G2 Crowd.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The “a-ha” moment for my current company (GetEmails) came about when I was trying to grow my first company (Robly).

We came up with this identity resolution feature that we thought was going to be very well received by people in the email marketing world. We could identify anonymous visitors on your website, and sell you their email address, first and last name, and postal record. And these are email addresses the businesses didn’t already have. Everybody wants to grow their email list, and we discovered the cheapest way to do it with targeted and engaged contacts.

We built the feature inside of Robly, called it RoblyID, and eight weeks later we noticed that new customers were signing up for RoblyID and not using any other part of the application. Not only that, we were doing customer interviews and people were saying that it was a 10/10 product and they hadn’t seen anything this good on the internet in the last ten years.

The original plan was to get people to switch to Robly Email Marketing because we had a unique feature. It turns out that people were just using RoblyID, downloading the file, and uploading it into their Email Marketing application.

It clearly wasn’t a great product if we made people use Robly to get value from it. We thought it would be a great product if we made it a stand-alone, and connected it to everything through one-click integrations.

So we built the stand alone product in eight weeks, launched it on Nov 4, and by Dec 1 we had spent 5k on ads and had 10k in Monthly Recurring Revenue from them. We knew we were on to something.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

We were building an email marketing application because we had found a bunch of email marketing customer information all over the internet (before the days of Builtwith and Datanyze). We had built everything except for the drag-and-drop editor. Then we hired a guy to build that, which he said would take three months.

At the end of three months it worked great … but when we went to send a test email to ourselves, it looked like absolute garbage. It turns out the guy had built an editor to make websites, not emails. We were about to launch, but we had to push the launch back another three months.

This was devastating for us. We had three non-devs sitting around (also a huge mistake) waiting for launch, and now we had to wait another 90 days before even the possibility of revenue existed.

We didn’t have a choice but to just put our heads down and wait. It was miserable.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are great now. Robly is a growing, seven-figure profit business that is managed entirely by a different team.

GetEmails, which we started in November, has been growing like crazy and just passed Robly’s revenue seven months in, with a huge upside. I’m having a blast and love the stuff we are working on.

There have been many failures along the way, none as stressful and severe as running out of money on that first business. But I have just kept trying because I love the game and I love starting things that end up working. Failure is a part of it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I used to be a real estate CDS trader at Lehman Brothers (think “The Big Short”), and quit after the 2008 crisis to start a tech company. I tried a bunch of stuff that didn’t work and made a bunch of investments that went to zero, but somehow one of the things I started — Robly Email Marketing — actually worked.

We couldn’t afford an office, so I was bootstrapping a business out of my apartment. We were growing with outbound sales — basically a boiler room call center. Room by room, this slowly took over my entire space. At one point, we had 39 people coming to my apartment making dials.

I had two bathrooms, but everybody took breaks at the same time and they were almost all men. The bathroom line was a massive problem at break time.

In order to solve the problem, I was going to put a urinal in my laundry room. But when I had a plumber over he told me, verbatim, “the only difference between a urinal and that sink is $3000”. So, we put up a stool to stand on, a little soccer ball urinal toy to aim at, some hand sanitizer, and a lock on the door — and now there was a third bathroom.

But as we transitioned from a 100% outbound to 100% inbound operation and I had to let all of the sales guys go, my Glassdoor reviews were horrible… “Adam even made us pee in the sink”. What did I learn? I’m never going to start an f-ing business out of the apartment again.

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

GetEmails uses video to establish a personal connection at scale in a way that no other startups are doing. We do weekly video ads like this and this which we promote on Facebook and Google. They’re short and funny and show the same two faces week after week — me and my girlfriend Helen, who’s also our head of PR. Our view is that we aren’t competing with software companies on these platforms, we’re competing with the rest of their news feed.

Six months in we have a following of people that leave hundreds of comments on our videos, and now we’ve created a storyline about our two characters that we are developing. It’s hilarious, Helen kicked me out of the company in this video two weeks ago, and made our product freemium. I then replaced her with our inbound sales girl Alice in the next video, and opened it up by saying “It’s Adam and Helen again”.

Our fans went nuts. I signed in three hours later to find over 50 comments saying “That’s not Helen”, “Bring Back Helen”, and somebody had even created a change.org petition demanding that Helen return to GetEmails marketing. Pretty amazing, considering these are ads that make us 5–10x ROAS.

We have a bunch of follow-up videos planned to really string this drama along. Helen is going to Aspen to look for new men, I’m trying to find a girl to replace Helen in the ads, etc.

Away from the ads, we are faces-forward across the entire funnel. We recorded a podcast that answers every possible question sales could get that looks like this, and we send custom videos to people after they complete step one of onboarding to try to establish a human connection. On Zoom calls we always leave our video on, even if the customer has video off. Many times they will turn it on, and even if they don’t, they are connecting with us by seeing our faces.

All of this is working fantastically well. Yes, our product is great and we have zero direct competitors, but this unusual style of presenting ourselves has tens of thousands of people feeling like they know us as people, even before they think about buying.

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

It’s hard in the beginning, but try not to work too much. I found especially when I started out that the feeling of being “busy” made me feel like I was moving things forward. That’s just not the case. Try to only spend time on things that are very high value, and quit every day at a certain time. I start early, and stop at five every day.

I’ve been most satisfied when I had some other long term pursuit going on in my life outside of work. I took Spanish lessons four days a week for two years when I was spending a bunch of time in Argentina, and I’ve done the same with piano lessons upon moving back. If you can diversify your identity beyond your job, then a bad day at work won’t completely ruin your mood. Your life is sitting on several other building blocks. This helps a lot with burnout.

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?

When we first started Robly, our original plan was to go after the customers of a defunct company called RatePoint that my brother was using for Email Marketing and customer review management. I made a video called “If you liked Ratepoint, you’ll LOVE Robly!”, and the founder of Ratepoint, Neal Creighton, saw it and wrote me an email. He said “if you try what you’re about to try, you’ll fail. If you do what I’m about to tell you to do, you will 100% succeed.”

The guy showed us how to find customer information from a vendor who was carelessly leaving it all over the internet. That trick alone got us to a mid seven-figure/year business in 18 months.

Even with that massive lead pool he showed us, we almost didn’t make it. If Neal hadn’t shown us that one thing, I would probably still be on a trading desk in Manhattan. He’s definitely been the most transformational relationship I’ve had. All the success I’ve had from creating things from the money that Robly made was only because he showed us how to get Robly off the ground.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We started GetEmails eight months ago. We currently have 500 paying customers that pay us an average of $425 each. Subscription prices range from $29 to $25,000/month. Approximately $2.5mm ARR, bootstrapped, with five people working on it, growing by around 50% per month.

Our video ads, which I think are the most unique thing about us, have driven almost all of this success. Again, we’ve done one new video ad per week (we pay for the distribution) featuring me and my girlfriend Helen. Originally the videos just answered product questions, but we are now developing a storyline so it’s almost like a sitcom.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We have a freemium model. 95% of the market can use our product for free. But if you want integrations, or your website has over around 10,000 unique visitors/month, you have to pay.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Make sure your product is great, and the more differentiated, the better. Try to do things your competitors are not doing that provide value to whatever niche you’re going after.
  2. Get things out as quickly as possible. Let people tell you what else they want after you throw something light out there.
  3. Try at all costs to sell something where you are making most of your money off subscriptions of thousands of dollars per month (instead of under $50 average). I have companies that do both. It’s way easier to grow and accrue enterprise value if your subscription price is high.
  4. Do not hire salespeople before you have product/market fit. This is a very easy mistake to make. To learn what product/market fit is, read the y-combinator blog.
  5. I personally find SaaS that is profitable (rather than burning money) to be much less stressful than raising venture dough and always having to be on the lookout for more money. The problem is most of the time high growth businesses need venture. Every once in a while you can create something that grows extremely quickly and doesn’t need outside capital. Usually it’s in a space that isn’t competitive and it’s a relatively new market. That’s the dream.

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. 🙂

I would try to add two subjects to K-12 education that I think are very important for living life:

  1. Mindfulness, emotional self-regulation, and navigating your internal psyche
  2. Personal finance — specifically, why you should avoid accumulating credit card and student debt, and how to do that

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Our companies are on twitter and Facebook — @usegetemails

I’m on Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/adam-robinson-64409348/


Adam Robinson of GetEmails: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dr. Kara Fasone of Kin + Carta: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Communication: In any team, healthy and consistent communication is key. While I’m a firm believer that work can be organized around asynchronous communication, I also see great value in using synchronous (or live) meetings to maintain feelings of team “connectedness” and drive accountability. While I encourage the use of project management platforms, like Asana, to allow team members to provide task and project updates asynchronously, I recommend meeting as a team via video conferencing on a weekly basis. This not only allows the team to collaborate and re-prioritize in real time, but it also creates opportunity for team members to catch up personally, share some laughs, and reiterate the most important to-dos.

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

Dr. Kara Fasone is a talent development manager at Kin + Carta and adjunct professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has a PhD in Industrial Organizational Psychology and a passion for pushing others to reach their fullest potentials. She practices a people-focused and data-driven approach to exploring workplace behavior and building incredible employee experiences.

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”?

For as long as I can remember, I hoped to find a career that would allow me to directly help others. I initially considered medical school … until I encountered my college nightmare — also known as Inorganic Chemistry. Soon after, I realized the sight of blood was a fool proof way to make me queasy.

While becoming a medical doctor was out of the picture, I didn’t give up on finding the perfect career for me. I eventually discovered my career “sweet spot” by aligning my personal mission — helping others to live happier, healthier, and more productive lives — to my professional strengths. This led me to study human behavior in the workplace and use that knowledge to help organizations maximize the performance, productivity, and overall engagement of their most important asset: their people.

Since completing my PhD in Industrial Organizational (I/O) Psychology, I’ve built my career by partnering with organizations to inspire people-focused and data-driven policies, programs, and cultures. Over the past 7 years, I’ve built, managed, and iterated HR programs in areas ranging from employee engagement to leadership development to diversity, equity, & inclusion (and everything in between!).

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

Growing up, I imagined that I’d have to find a job close to home, commute to the office daily, and eventually embrace the monotony that can come with having a “regular 9 to 5” job. I’ve been lucky enough to have escaped that grim reality by kicking off my career just as organizations were beginning to recognize the value of distributed talent.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more companies have begun to embrace the idea of partially remote (and in some cases, fully distributed) workforces. This is particularly exciting for me as an I/O and HR professional, because when we remove the constraint of geographic location in our search for candidates, the result is a much wider pool of super talented and diverse prospective employees.

When considering the future post-pandemic world, I’d hypothesize that remote work options are here to stay. My current company, for example, has looked toward establishing more permanent remote work options for many employees after being forced to adapt quickly in the face of the pandemic. Not only did we have to work tirelessly to convert conventionally in-person events to remote-friendly offerings (e.g., new hire onboarding, learning & development, etc.), we also collaborated with our clients to maintain trust and confidence in our partnerships.

The outcome? While the effort needed to support the transition from in-office to remote work was substantial, it ultimately wasn’t as big a deal as many had anticipated. Work days chugged along, employees continued to be productive and collaborate freely, and life went on.

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?

Throughout my career, learning and development (L&D) approaches have shifted rapidly. Whereas lengthy classroom learning sessions were popular at the company with which I kicked off my career, I’ve seen a shift toward shorter, remote-friendly learning sessions (based on employee preference and necessity!).

I once built and prepared to facilitate a remote workshop session on creative problem-solving. Just as the learners had signed into the video conference, I began encountering technical issues. It seemed that everything that could go wrong was going wrong (Murphy’s Law, anyone?), from difficulties sharing my screen to the inability to record the session for those who couldn’t attend.

The first 15 minutes became a group problem solving session in itself, but the class was engaged and laughing by the time we finally dove into the actual workshop content. That day, I learned you should never underestimate the importance of proper tooling for remote collaboration and facilitation. Since then, I’ve built my toolbox of go-to platforms and software for ensuring virtual work and delivery is smooth!

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

My advice is simple: just C.A.R.E.

In this case, the acronym C.A.R.E. can be used to help CEOs, founders, and leaders across all levels of an organization to support their employees in times of uncertainty and stress.

  1. Check in: While check-ins need not be formal or lengthy, they should be consistent. I make it a priority to send a quick instant message to my team members in the morning and as I’m wrapping up my day. This quick, 5-minute action shows that I care and I’m available to support. I also meet with each team member for a 30 minute 1:1 meeting weekly (or bi-weekly) to provide coaching, feedback, and deeper discussion on how they’re doing in their role.
  2. Ask how they’re doing: When you’re able to have an extended check-in with an employee, ask how they’re doing in a way that shows it’s okay to be honest and vulnerable. How? With 5 words: “How are you doing, really?”
  3. Rightsize expectations: In hectic and uncertain times, it can be easy to succumb to the work-eat-sleep-repeat cycle. This continuous flurry of activity can be more harmful than helpful in the long-term, leading to increased stress, disengagement, and sometimes even total burnout. Regularly calibrate with your team on key projects, anticipated timelines, and individual workloads to ensure the time and effort spent at work is realistic.
  4. Empathize & adjust: Not every team member will be forthright about feeling stressed or overworked. As a leader, practice perspective taking and open your awareness to nonverbal cues or atypical behaviors that may clue you in to an employee who needs a bit more support.

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?

Throughout my career, I’ve operated with remote colleagues in mind. My first job out of college was with a small firm that comprised a handful of distributed colleagues and no official office space, so communicating and collaborating remotely was a routine part of my job.

As an HR & talent professional, I’ve built countless workshops and talent programs that required a remote-friendly learning environment because of the distributed, global nature of the participants.

Over the past year, I’ve managed a global team which has helped me deeply appreciate both the challenges and benefits that come with remote working. Seeing the theory and research I’d encountered during my doctoral studies come to life in real-world practice has been an eye-opening and rewarding experience.

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?

Managing a remote team can be incredibly fulfilling, but also challenging at times. After quite a bit of reflection, I’ve narrowed down the top five challenges below:

  1. Communication: In any team, healthy and consistent communication is key. While I’m a firm believer that work can be organized around asynchronous communication, I also see great value in using synchronous (or live) meetings to maintain feelings of team “connectedness” and drive accountability. While I encourage the use of project management platforms, like Asana, to allow team members to provide task and project updates asynchronously, I recommend meeting as a team via video conferencing on a weekly basis. This not only allows the team to collaborate and re-prioritize in real time, but it also creates opportunity for team members to catch up personally, share some laughs, and reiterate the most important to-dos.
  2. Culture: Culture oftentimes serves as a competitive advantage for companies. It can, however, be difficult to maintain certain cultural rituals when transitioning to fully remote work. My advice? Keep what you can and create new virtual rituals to maintain a sense of collaboration, connectedness, and team bonding. I’ve seen teams be super creative here, organizing everything from quirky “Friday Funday” virtual polls to remote happy hours to pet photo swaps. The sky’s the limit, but remember to keep it relevant and light-hearted.
  3. Collaboration: Collaboration — similar to communication — can be accomplished via asynchronous teamwork. It does, however, require the right tools and productivity platforms to make it easy. As a leader, you’ll want to make sure your team is equipped with the following:
  4. A task or project management platform (I enjoy Asana and Trello)
  5. Video conferencing software (e.g., Zoom or Google Hangouts)
  6. An instant messaging platform (e.g., Slack) AND norms to go with it (e.g., respect “away” statuses, use concise & to-the-point messages)
  7. A shared drive (e.g., a protected Google Drive) to allow real-time edits and version control for shared deliverables
  8. Career Development: A remote employee’s accomplishments or peripheral contributions may be less visible than those who are able to work in a physical office environment. This can be problematic when it comes down to career development because visibility and senior-level advocacy can heavily influence internal decisions such as high-visibility project assignments or vertical promotions. In remote environments, self-advocacy and regular career conversations can help to mitigate the challenge of limited in-office visibility.
  9. Candid Feedback: Delivering open and honest feedback can be challenging regardless of your work environment, but remote work can magnify this difficulty. At times, when communicating via email or instant messaging for example, the absence of nonverbal cues and context can result in miscommunication and misunderstanding. Developing clear team agreements and knowing when to take communication “live” (i.e., jump on a phone call or video conference) can mitigate poor feedback delivery or reception.

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

As I described the 5 common challenges above, I offered up a few specific solutions. Ultimately, effectively managing a remote team depends on the leader’s willingness and ability to understand each individual team member’s motivations, work style, and ability.

I love sharing the concept of situational leadership with managers because it emphasizes the importance of flexing one’s leadership approach to align to the needs of the individual. Situational leadership is a leadership model coined by behavioral psychologists Paul Heresey and Ken Blanchard which claims there is “no one best” leadership style.

Rather, the most effective leaders are those who take the time to learn each individual’s level of competence (e.g., knowledge & skill to do their job) and level of commitment within their current role. Understanding the interplay between an employee’s competence and commitment helps managers understand whether they should take a more hands-on directing or coaching approach or a less involved supporting or delegating approach to managing each team member (see graphic, below).

I encourage all leaders to become acquainted with this model and deeply reflect on what they can be doing to personalize their style and level of support for each of their team members.

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?

When I coach leaders on giving effective feedback, I ask them to consider this simple 3-pronged approach. Ultimately, feedback should be provided with a focus on empathy, examples, and execution.

  • Empathy: In order to deliver constructive feedback, practice perspective-taking to help you understand the situation, surface underlying emotions, and anticipate potential reactions of the feedback recipient. Asking probing questions, gathering relevant context, and acknowledging your own personal biases can help you deliver feedback in a way that underlines the importance of the message while minimizing defensiveness.

Empathy also requires knowing when to take a conversation “live”. There are some messages that may be particularly sensitive in nature, and would be best delivered “face-to-face” via video conferencing. Use your best judgement here.

Be careful not to fall victim to what Kim Scott terms “ruinous empathy” — a phenomenon in which important constructive feedback is lost within an overly nice message.

  • Examples: Prepare specific examples to support any piece of feedback you provide. Not only does referring to examples validate that the feedback is real, it also provides an opportunity to discuss ineffective behaviors and ways in which the feedback recipient can evolve and change in the future.

Charles Jacobs, author of Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work, asserts that when we hear feedback that contradicts with our self-image, our first instinct is to discount or adjust the information, rather than changing our behavior. This instinct can be overcome by reflecting on tangible examples of our behaviors.

  • Execution: Feedback should always inspire action. You can accomplish this in a number of ways. Share strategies you’ve used to grow a similar skill, offer to brainstorm action items related to the feedback provided, or ask the recipient to set a tangible goal (or two) that can frame future progress discussions.

I’ve shared some examples to see this feedback framework in action:

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

Providing constructive feedback via email can be tricky because of the absence of social cues. Typically when we communicate with someone in person, we are able to consider nonverbals, like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. When we communicate through email, however, we are forced to interpret the meaning of messages without those context-rich cues.

When delivering feedback remotely, the importance of using empathy, examples, and a focus on execution is magnified. Here are a few tips to deliver delicate feedback via email without sounding too critical or harsh:

  1. Lead with appreciation — Kicking off your email with a simple “thank you” begins the message on a positive note while allowing you to genuinely acknowledge and reinforce something the feedback recipient did well.
  2. Frame feedback with an explicit example — As I mentioned earlier, this is important! Specific examples ground your feedback in reality and increase the likelihood that the recipient will accept and internalize your intended message.
  3. Describe the why behind any decisions — Clearly outline any changes in direction related to the feedback you provided and explain why these pivots were necessary. Make this into a teachable moment!
  4. Keep it concise — Keep your email short and sweet. If you’re writing paragraphs to convey your feedback, you’re likely to end up with a convoluted and confusing message.
  5. Know when to talk it out — Let’s face it. Sometimes instant messages or emails aren’t the most effective means of communication. When you have a great deal of feedback to provide or you need to discuss a sensitive topic, schedule a phone call (or even better, a video conference).

See below for a hypothetical example of providing feedback via email:

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 can be difficult to transition to a different routine and way of working, but it’s certainly not impossible! The great thing about having established teams is the fact that most team members are already aware of one another’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall work styles. Of course, you’ll need to adjust to your newly remote environment, but it helps to have a tightly bonded team going through the transition together.

Consider the following 3 tips to ensure a successful team transition from in-office to remote working.

  1. Preserve Rituals: Don’t cancel your team rituals simply because you’re no longer convening at the office. Rather, make some small adjustments to facilitate them virtually. For example, bi-weekly happy hours can be held via Zoom and birthday cards can be signed and sent as a virtual e-card. Preserving these rituals (whether big or small, frequent or infrequent) can instill a sense of familiarity and normalcy for team members.
  2. Clarify New Expectations: There will undoubtedly be changes to how work is done. Leaders should clarify new processes, policies, or tools to ensure all team members are on the same page. For example, a leader may introduce a temporary initiative in which the group will conduct daily virtual stand-up meetings as they transition to working together remotely. Stand ups are quick 10–15 minute meetings in which individuals can report their top priorities for the day, identify any blockers they’re facing, and express how they’re handling remote work.
  3. Keep Open Lines of Communication: While team members may no longer be able to do “desk drive-bys” to ask a question or say a quick hello to a teammate, that shouldn’t inhibit communication or collaboration in a remote environment. Encourage continued communication by leveraging your resources. For example, you might create two team group chats: one to be used for real-time problem solving and troubleshooting and the other to be used for social purposes (e.g., swapping pet pictures or sharing interesting articles and stories). Whatever you do, make it clear that as a leader, you’re available to support at any time.

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?

While I’m sure many readers are hoping for specifics, the answer is: it depends! To create a healthy and empowering culture with a transitioning team, it’s important to include your team members in building their new remote reality.

I’m an avid proponent of using principles of human-centered design (HCD) to put employees at the center of designing meaningful workplace interventions. While HCD might sound complex, it’s really quite simple (and not just limited to product designers or HR professionals). Managers can use HCD principles to build a killer team culture by considering the following steps:

  • Inspire: Fully understand what your team needs by probing into their likes, dislikes, challenges and overall experiences in transitioning to a remote work environment. You can gather this information through individual 1:1s, a team survey, or a focused group session. The goal here is to use the information gathered to inspire and envision the “ideal remote workspace” for your team.
  • Ideate: Bring the team together to share what you’ve learned and work together to brainstorm what you should start, stop, and continue doing as a remote team to feel connected, engaged, and productive. Create a space where all voices are heard and all ideas are considered (no matter how big). You can prioritize the best ideas at the end of this ideation session.
  • Implement: Once you’ve identified the most important changes you’ll make as a team, create a shared sense of accountability by identifying owners across the team for each project or task. Take it slow, gather continuous feedback from one another, and keep iterating until it feels right.

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 love to make mental health a more mainstream consideration in the workplace. While many employers offer access to employee assistance programs (EAPs), it still seems to be somewhat of a “check-the-box” type of offering. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. This statistic is particularly relevant to remote workers for a number of reasons, one of which is increased reports of loneliness. In fact, a Viking survey of 1,500 employees — both conventional office workers and remote workers — revealed interesting statistics. Approximately 30-percent of the office workers said they suffered from depression, compared to 56-percent of freelancers and remote workers.

As I’d shared earlier, my life mission is to help everyone I touch to live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. Since we spend nearly a third of our waking hours working, it’s not surprising that the workplace presents ample opportunity to help people increase their well-being and sense of self.

My vision goes beyond EAPs and conventional wellness programs. I’d love to see more flexible work policies, manager education on how to help employees manage stress and prioritize work-life balance, and safe spaces in which mental health can be discussed opposed to stigmatized.

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

Leading others is both an art and a science. While there exists countless theories, how-to books, and hypothetical case studies centered on how to most effectively lead, sometimes we lose sight of the simplest truth: great leaders in the workplace make employees feel empowered, excited, and elevated toward their potential.

Influence as a leader doesn’t come only from title, achievement, or persuasion. It comes from knowing and caring about those you lead. Use empathy to conjure up the right words, model the most positive behaviors, and inspire feelings of trust, respect, and engagement.

Thank you for these great insights!

Of course! I invite any interested readers to reach out via my LinkedIn page. I’m always happy to connect with individuals who are passionate about Human Resources (HR) and the many fascinating areas within this space!


Dr. Kara Fasone of Kin + Carta: 5 Things You Need To Know 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 Wendy Born: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Trust — as leaders it’s important to ensure we create an environment of trust, so our people feel safe to raise issues, concerns or new ideas without judgement. However, building and maintaining trust online can also be challenging. We now have less visibility of the workloads of team members and how much time people are actually spending at their desk. This can build resentment and distrust within the team and people subsequently feel reticent about speaking up or raising issues. I work with a CEO who wants her team to return to the office as soon as possible and is putting pressure on her leadership team to get this done. Her team believe this is because she doesn’t trust them to do their job remotely.

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

Wendy is recognised as an engaging, results oriented leadership specialist who leverages talent and strengths in leaders to create high performance within global organisations. Well known for her common sense approach and clear, articulate communication Wendy firmly believes the success of any business starts with the effectiveness of its Leadership Team to drive engagement, performance and deliver on strategic results.

As a highly experienced and recognized corporate coach, Wendy has over 25 years of experience in business development and management including 15 years in senior leadership positions across Finance, IT, Retail, Financial Services, Communication and Government sectors. She works with executives, senior leaders and leadership teams to enhance their leadership and performance, with a strong commitment to results.

Wendy is certified in Training & Development and has over a decade of experience as a facilitator and speaker earning her a reputation as an engaging, fun and effective professional who delivers results for her clients.

Wendy is a graduate from the Harvard Kennedy School, Executive Education in 21st Century Leadership and is the author of “The Languages of Leadership” and “Raising Leaders”. She holds a Trade Certificate, Diploma of Finance, Bachelor of Business (HRM), Post Graduate Diploma in Operations Management and a Certificate IV in Professional & Personal Coaching and is a member of the International Coaching Federation.

Wendy is accredited to administer Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), DISC, Strengths Profile and Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey (GLWS) which all provide unique insights into individual and team performance. She has a warm and engaging style and quickly builds strong and enduring relationships.

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 grew up in a small town in North Queensland in Australia and left school at the end of year 10 (end of Junior High School). I struggled with school in particular Maths and seemed to like the more practical subjects like sport, home economics and typing lessons. I guess I had an underappreciation of education and this lasted until I became an adult. When I left school I did a hairdressing apprenticeship and this taught me the ability to build rapport with people quickly. When you have someone sitting in the chair and you are about to cut their hair, you need to build their trust quickly. Throughout my apprenticeship I attended an adult college on a part time basis, and it was here that I leaned that all education was not the same. There was learning to be gained through interesting and practical ways and it was here that I then developed an appreciation for education.

I then left the world of hairdressing and went to work for a large corporate organization in the finance industry and worked my way up the ranks from a customer service officer to a senior leader. It was here that I developed my love of leadership and gained an appreciation for the good, the bad and the ugly sides of leading. I also went on to complete a Diploma in Finance, Degree in Human Resource Management and Post Graduate Diploma in Operations Management while working full time and raising two kids with their father.

After 23 years I left and went out on my own to work with leaders and leadership teams. I studied for my Certificate in Professional & Personal Coaching and went to the Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education in Boston, to learn about Leadership for the 21st Century. It’s fair to say my love of learning came after leaving school and that learning is different for everyone, you just need to figure out what works best for you.

I have written two books — The Languages of Leadership published in 2018 and Raising Leaders published in June 2020. Raising Leaders looks at the similarities between raising children and leading people, and as our worlds of work and home have been converged recently due to Australia’s Covid-19 restrictions, now more than ever we can leverage these similarities.

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

In March 2004 I was walking back to my office through the middle of the city when I felt a pain in the right side of my head. With every step I took the pain seemed to pound in unison with my steps. I then felt my left leg go weak and I thought I was going to lose my balance. As I lifted my left arm it also felt week and I wondered if I was going to have a stroke, right there in the middle of the street. This concerned me because I had a mountain of work to do and well, I didn’t really have all that much time for a stroke. It seemed to subside a little, so I went back to work and finished my day.

The next day I woke up with a very big headache, so I went off to the doctor who diagnosed a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics. The headache continued for another two weeks, multiple returns to the doctor before she finally suggested I have a CT Scan to which they determined I had far too much fluid inside my head. A referral to a Brain Surgeon, an MRI and further analysis resulted in a diagnosis of a cyst in the middle of my brain. The doctor said I would need surgery, the next day to remove the cyst.

As I sat on my hospital bed that night, I tried to make sense of it all. Here I was about to have my brain operated on by a man I had known for less than 24 hours. I was terrified, I felt alone, I felt extremely vulnerable.

So when I think about these uncertain times we are currently living in I often think about how we also try to make sense of it all. We are scared because we don’t know what to expect. We can feel alone in isolation and we can feel vulnerable because our health is in the hands of the authorities who we barely know.

I think we have to trust that the medical experts will get us through this, and that together we can support each other through isolation, and out the other side.

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 I was hairdressing, I recall I had a customer who wanted a specific style of haircut that was in at the time. The “Mullet” is a style that is short at the front, top and sides, and longer at the back. As I started cutting his hair I realized I had cut the top far too short and tried to cover it up, poorly! The customer returned a little while later and asked for their money back and it was then I learned two valuable lessons. Always get clear with your customer about what they want and their expectations, so you know what you need to meet. Secondly never, ever try to cover up your mistakes. They stand out and are always discovered so own up, cop it on the chin and learn from it.

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

I often see employees frustrated by the lack of empowerment from their leaders. Leaders become control freaks where they need to know exactly what their people are doing and all of the associated details. There is also the perception that the leader has all the answers. This puts employees under stress and at the risk of burnout.

When we truly empower our people, they feel more involved, they have more ownership and are more accountable. But empowering people requires leaders letting go of the outcome or solution, enabling the employee to arrive at their own conclusion. When you step back and let your people step up into their roles and actively contribute, you are sending the message that you don’t have all the answers and that’s okay. I always say that 5 + 5 = 10 but so does 6 + 4 and 7 + 3. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do. Empowering people is 50 per cent employee’s ownership and 50 per cent leader’s letting go. It’s uncomfortable and will make the leader feel vulnerable, but its worth it for everyone.

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?

For approximately fifteen years I worked for a large organisation that had a strong outsourcing strategy requiring the leadership of remote teams offshore. The teams we led were made up of finance professionals responsible for the processing of our standard operating procedures within the accounting function.

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?

We are now running organisations from our lounge rooms and while we have typically worked hard to keep the worlds of family and work separate, the two have been thrust together almost unceremoniously. We are working on marketing plans while helping children with schoolwork, running meetings while supervising art classes, and at times wondering if we can possibly put our teenagers on a performance improvement plan!

Running virtual teams adds a layer of complexity to an already difficult job. Here are my top 5 challenges:

Connection — As humans we are designed to connect, it’s in our DNA. When we eyeball others, smile at them, laugh with them, it makes us feel good. So, when we work remotely we have less personal interactions with our colleagues and employees. I was told about a university lecturer who had a student come up to him in the hallway and greet him like an old friend. The lecturer walked away thinking he had no idea at all who the person was. Turns out it was a student in one of his online classes who never turned his camera on during class.

Trust — as leaders it’s important to ensure we create an environment of trust, so our people feel safe to raise issues, concerns or new ideas without judgement. However, building and maintaining trust online can also be challenging. We now have less visibility of the workloads of team members and how much time people are actually spending at their desk. This can build resentment and distrust within the team and people subsequently feel reticent about speaking up or raising issues. I work with a CEO who wants her team to return to the office as soon as possible and is putting pressure on her leadership team to get this done. Her team believe this is because she doesn’t trust them to do their job remotely.

Health — maintaining our health is important at the best of times, critical during times like these. While physical health is more obvious to others, our mental health can go unnoticed and we can suffer considerably from feelings of anxiety, fear and isolation. A colleague of mine commented to me how she realized the value of going into the office and interacting with people since she has been working from home. She lives alone and can often go for days without seeing anyone face to face.

Language — as leaders we are always on show and our people observe our words, actions and behaviours constantly. In the office we can show our people the right way to speak, act and behave and to walk our talk. When we are remotely located our actions are reduced to a visual head and shoulders on a screen, and for a limited amount of time. Add to this the increase to written communication e.g. emails where we lose tone and body language, we can run the risk of our communication being interpreted incorrectly. An example of walking your talk is Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer who was photographed visiting her holiday home for the weekend. After she admitted that it was the second time she had done so during the lockdown period she was stood down from attending press briefings.

Focus — its hard enough when you’re in the office to keep everyone focused on the right thing, let alone when you’re all dispersed. Distractions from work are plenty and it’s easy to do a load of washing, clean the dishes or go for a walk when we should be working. When I know I need to sit and write an article or a chapter of my next book, I always have the cleanest house and am up to date with the latest series on Netflix — anything to avoid the hard work!

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

Connection — Connection can be done remotely, it just needs a little more organisation than when we are all in the office together. Scheduling time in our diary to call, Zoom or message others to check in is something we can all build into our day. I am part of a networking group and since we started meeting remotely, we have been more connected than we were when we met on a face to face basis. Also don’t let remoteness of your team deter your social gatherings. Having a virtual Friday afternoon drink with your team is a great way to connect.

Trust — The best way to build trust is to get to know each other, both personally and professionally. Finding things in common with each other helps with trust because when our brains see things in common they tell us this person is just like me so I can trust them. Also being vulnerable with each other builds trust and we can do this by sharing our stories. Stories like when we did something difficult or made a mistake at work and what we learned from it, or perhaps a funny story about something that happened at the start of our career. Sharing stories also shows others that we are similar and experience similar things, again increasing trust.

Health — Leading by example is best here. Sharing how you are feeling with your team is a good way to help others to open up and share. You can then offer additional support through your Employee Assistance Program or other psychological support system your organisation has in place. Also checking in when you have one on one meetings with your people will help you determine what level of support each employee needs. Also remaining consistent in your weekly routine helps. During times of uncertainty our brains look for consistency and certainty as it helps us to deal with and manage change. When we keep things as routine as possible it can help to put the changes into perspective.

Language — Always think about how your message is going to be received. Ask yourself “who is going to read this message?” “How would I feel if I was reading this message?” and “would I want this on the front page of the newspaper?”. When we consider the responses of those hearing or reading our messages, we are able to show empathy, consideration and care. Also reflection on our words, actions and behaviour is a great way to consider how they may impact on others. Daily reflection is a great way to build self-awareness and research shows people who reflect regularly increase their performance by up to 35%.

Focus — Taking the time to set clear expectations, deadlines and consequences will help people to stay focused on the task at hand. Also using systems and apps such as Slack or Monday.com helps the team to maintain focus on the work that needs to get done. Ensuring that you set deadlines and hold people accountable if these aren’t met also helps to maintain deliverables and productivity.

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?

Here are my suggestions for giving constructive criticism or feedback:

  • Use a video tool such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, instead of the phone. At least with a videoconferencing channel the employee can see the whites of your eyes and your facial expressions. Making eye contact helps to show empathy and understanding rather than relying on your voice alone.
  • Always use clear examples and stick to the facts. Using clear examples helps the employee to make sense of what you are saying rather than trying to interpret anything. When we try to interpret someone else’s meaning we use our own values and belief systems to do so. These are all different in each of us, so interpretation is never the same.
  • Ask open questions — when we ask open questions such as “how do you think this went?” or “what do you think you could have done differently?” it helps the employee to consider more than they would if they are being told what to do. When our people are involved in problem solving for solutions, or coming up with their own answers, they are more likely to do what they say they will.
  • Use your own experiences — sharing your own experiences of how you have dealt with similar circumstances helps to show the employee that you too make mistakes and that learning from our mistakes is a great way to develop and grow. Through sharing these experiences you are also being a bit vulnerable, which can increase trust. A good outcome for a difficult conversation.

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

Similar to verbal constructive feedback I recommend always using specific examples to ensure the recipient understands the “why”. If you can, outline a similar experience you have had before and how you reflected on it and what you learned from it. Again ask open questions in your email to elicit a response that requires the employee to actually reflect and think about the situation, what their role in the situation was, and how they might learn from the experience for next time.

Also use terms such as “I understand…” and “I can see how…” as this shows an understanding and empathy for the employee’s situation.

Through the use of open questions, particularly on what can be done next time, the employee is involved in coming up with their own solutions and will be more likely to adopt those actions in the future.

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?

Try to keep consistency in your weekly routine for meetings and get togethers. These are times of significant change and disruption, so keeping some level of routine will help with certainty in everyone’s lives. When we have some level of certainty it helps us to manage the changes going on around us.

Also talk often, every couple of days if needed to check in on your people. Even a 10 minute chat to check in on how they are doing is enough to say that you care about them.

Stay social as well. Having an afternoon virtual coffee of drink is a great way to stay connected and get to know your people on a more personal level. When we know some of the personal lives of our employees we are able to connect more and build trust.

Be careful to be considerate of what else is going on in the lives of your people. For example, their kids may be sitting beside them while they are on a Zoom call with you, so being conscious of what they may be hearing is important. Also be conscious of what’s going on in your own Zoom room. For example, I’ve seen people’s washing hanging up in the background. While I love my people I don’t really need to see their underwear hanging on the clothes airer while I’m talking to them — its distracting!

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?

I always say to my clients that empowering people is 50% them owning something, and 50% you letting go of the outcome or solution. The latter is usually the hardest part. When we let go of having to control the outcome we feel vulnerable and it makes us uncomfortable, but it’s worth the discomfort as it makes our people feel engaged, trusted and empowered.

Another idea is to have a team lunch together virtually once per week. Ask everyone to make a healthy lunch and be prepared to talk about what they are having. You can also have a diversity appreciation lens to your lunch by asking people to make something healthy and be prepared to talk about the cultural background to their lunch.

Encourage your people to talk about their views and opinions openly and honestly, without judgement. When our people feel they can talk openly without fear we create psychologically safe environments which leads to increases of engagement, productivity and innovation.

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 the “It’s bigger than you” movement because one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that leadership is bigger than you. When we start to put the team or organisation ahead of our own interests, and we operate in a caring, considerate and supportive organisation, we want to do more than just our job. We want to create more than what is needed and we want to be more than we thought we could be, because we can see the future, feel the future and be part of the future, together.

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

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow”. Mary Anne Radmacher author of Courage doesn’t always roar.

As I watched both of my parents endure and succumb to cancer, I saw their simple acts of courage facing into each day with dignity and faith. This quote epitomizes their courage and says to me that I don’t need to be standing on the highest mountain or in front of a thousand people, to be courageous. Courage is sometimes in the simplest of daily activities.

Thank you for these great insights!


Author Wendy Born: Five Things You Need To Know 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.