The Future Is Now: Gregory Keough of DeFi Money Market (DMM) On How Their Technological Innovation…

The Future Is Now: Gregory Keough of DeFi Money Market (DMM) On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Financial World

DeFi can address the hurdles to financial inclusion that currently inhibit millions of people from fully participating in the global economy. You don’t need to have a bank account to earn interest. All you need is to deposit digital assets in the DMME and you can start generating yield. This capability directly confronts the scarcity of earned interest in today’s global monetary systems and gives anyone the ability to earn passive income from their assets.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gregory Keough, Founder of the DMM Foundation, the organization behind the DeFi Money Market (DMM).

Keough is a seasoned global executive and entrepreneur with 25+ years global experience in the Banking, Lending, Payments, mobile financial services, DeFi, Blockchain, and Crypto arenas in the US and internationally. He also boasts an impressive track record of digital innovation in both large enterprises (MasterCard, Telefonica, and others) as well as startups. Prior to founding the DMM Foundation, Keough served as the Founder and Chairman for the Institute for Blockchain Innovation, a think tank composed of global pioneers in the Digital Securities and Blockchain Payments space. He also founded Blockchain Credit Partners in 2019. Keough is one of the few living recipients of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) Intelligence Star Medal for extraordinary courage in the line of duty.

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 a fintech entrepreneur for about 30 years. I had one of the earliest online financial portals, which was sold to Citigroup. After that, I built a company that created the first online interface for mortgages with Freddie Mac, which was then acquired by realtor.com. I was also the CEO of a joint venture between Mastercard and Telefónica that involved using phones to bring people into the global financial system. So, I’ve been interested in financial inclusion for a long time and have come to believe there is a big disconnect between opportunities available to people and the way our current financial system is structured. The way I see it, there are two major flaws:

1). Constant fiat debasement, meaning governments printing more and more money.

2). Even if you earn this money, you can’t gain any interest on that value.

Both of these trends have led to the creation of a negative societal dynamic. DeFi, or decentralized finance, is a path to try to correct this.

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

If we look back on the 2008 Financial Crisis, we can see that the underlying cause was a lot of debt that was not properly rated and did not have adequate validation behind it (assets that were AAA rated were actually junk, and some assets that were securitized had no documents to back them up). This problem grew to a scale of such giant proportions that it almost brought down the entire financial system. If the structures forming the DeFi Money Market (DMM) existed during 2008, the financial crisis would not have happened. First, DMM introduces complete transparency into the assets used to generate yield. Secondly, because the yield generated and the assets used to generate it are overcollateralized, users can often recover more value than what they owe in the event things go wrong. DMM is an example of recognizing a flaw in our current system that hurt the average person and using DeFi to fix that flaw.

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

As the Founder of the DMM Foundation, the organization behind the DeFi Money Market, I recognized that the greatest flaws in our financial system stemmed from a lack of transparency and user empowerment. Using blockchain technology and decentralized protocols, we are able to create an ecosystem that empowers regular people with control over their own money and governance. Anyone around the globe can deposit digital assets into the DMME to earn passive income in the form of interest generated by the real-world assets in the DMM Ecosystem (DMME). These real-world assets are determined by members of the DMM Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO). This is completely decentralized and lets anyone participate in the decision-making process, which exists in stark contrast to legacy financial systems that are run by centralized institutions whose power brokers operate behind “black curtains” without transparency or accountability.

How do you think this might change the world?

DeFi can address the hurdles to financial inclusion that currently inhibit millions of people from fully participating in the global economy. You don’t need to have a bank account to earn interest. All you need is to deposit digital assets in the DMME and you can start generating yield. This capability directly confronts the scarcity of earned interest in today’s global monetary systems and gives anyone the ability to earn passive income from their assets.

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

The drawback isn’t the technology, but rather if we fail to leverage this technology, we will fall into a dystopian future wherein centralized entities retain complete control over global financial systems with no accountability or transparency. Blockchain technology can save us from such a future.

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

I’ve often thought about what I would use to store value and earn interest for myself as well as for my children and future generations. This question inspired the creation of DeFi Money Market, because I recognized that the then-current options were not sufficient when it came to options for earning interest. All fiat currencies (i.e. USD, EUR, GBP, YEN) suffer from inflation, as do all fiat-based financial instruments, including bonds, loans, stocks, and funds. DMM is the solution to that problem.

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

We need to continue to improve usability and promote education. DeFi systems are way too complicated for the everyday person right now. Apple didn’t invent the concept of a phone; they just made it incredibly intuitive for the average person. We need applications that do that for DeFi. Very soon, a host of platforms will be interfacing with the DMM protocol allowing anyone to buy mTokens, which allow users to generate interest with fiat currencies. This will make using the DMME much simpler for the non-crypto-savvy person. I’m confident we will see mass adoption of DeFi protocols sooner rather than later because the choice is clear between legacy financial systems that generate zero interest versus DMM’s ecosystem that enables users to generate positive interest each year.

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

Our first audience is the cryptocurrency community who understands the technology best. Once we have captured their interest, we will expand to the mainstream. Right now we are participating in AMAs, doing virtual panels, and connecting with our community across social and community channels to spread the word about how DMM is bringing earned interest back into the global monetary system. Every month, we add new capabilities and announce new partnerships that advance our mission of closing financial inclusion gaps.

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 transitioned out of working for the government to the private sector, I didn’t have a lot of experience or money to my name. I was connected to Tom Pownell, who was CEO of Martin Marietta, which is now Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest defense contractors in the world. He was a navy veteran, so we had some common experience. I told him I wanted to start a company and he helped me by providing financing and guidance. He was an amazing leader, and I often think about what he would have done when I’m faced with tough business decisions.

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

I am very interested in financial inclusion, which I believe is one of the biggest factors keeping millions of people from participating in the global economy and having a decent quality of life. I see a basic quality of life as being able to generate income and save for future needs and growth, including health, home, and education. Unfortunately, there are billions of dollars being poured into financial inclusion initiatives that are not helping to solve the core problem of a scarcity of earned interest. That’s what we’re working to solve at DMM.

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 three business lessons I’ve learned:

1. Whenever you start a new venture, there is going to be a ton of work, whether you’re starting a restaurant or an internet platform where you can buy anything (i.e. Amazon). The difference is the potential to scale. The local restaurant is limited in terms of the number of customers it can attract. Amazon is limited by the size of the global population with internet access.

2. Everything is going to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think. I remember my first business plan, and all those numbers on paper are aspirational.

3. Everyone tells you that people are the most important element in an enterprise, which is true. What I learned is that the right people can come from any background or experience. Just because they graduated from Harvard or had a prestigious internship doesn’t mean they are the best fit for the job. It’s more about team chemistry, work ethic, and perseverance. The most important question is, does the person fit the task?

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 a perfect world, everyone should be able to make enough money to have a decent quality of life, and I believe we can achieve that vision by leveraging DeFi systems to help bring earned interest back into the global economy.

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

Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I very much ascribe to the view that it takes a tremendous amount of work to achieve anything that really makes a difference in the world.

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 🙂

Fiat currencies are constantly depreciating in value. At the same time, even when an individual is able to save, it is nearly impossible to earn interest, as the vast majority of the world’s currencies (in digital or traditional form) are earning little, zero, or even negative interest. The combination of currency debasement and the difficulty of earning interest creates an enormous hurdle to participation in the global economy and exacerbates financial inclusion issues. DeFi Money Market (DMM) is a novel digital currency ecosystem that solves the dual problems of currency debasement and the near-impossibility of earning interest with its DeFi protocol that empowers anyone to earn a positive yield (interest) on digital assets.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best way to stay up-to-date on DeFi Money Market’s developments is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DmmDAO

And here is my Twitter as well: https://twitter.com/gregorykeough

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


The Future Is Now: Gregory Keough of DeFi Money Market (DMM) On How Their Technological Innovation… 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: Adam Gibson of Safe Stations On How Their Technological Innovation Will Create…

The Future Is Now: Adam Gibson of Safe Stations On How Their Technological Innovation Will Create Safer Environments

We’re working on how to reopen businesses and events with safety and technology.

Our technology partner, Malong Technologies, has developed artificial intelligence with detection abilities for temperature, coughing, sneezing, masks, social distancing and weapons.

When we do gather in groups again, public health and safety measures will require more mitigation technologies than we are currently using. Our health deserves these technologies to be accurate and commonplace.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing​ Adam Gibson of SafeStations.org.

Prior to Safe Stations, Adam was a part of the drone industry since 2012 at Ctrl Me Robotics, a custom drone and robotics manufacturer, where they were acquired in 2016 by Snap, Inc. Adam is an RBA Graduate of West Virginia University and lives in Venice, California.

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

When I moved to LA from SF in 2011, I wanted to do something where creative problem solving was more valued than data mining and social media. The drone industry was emerging heavily as a prosumer category and I was experimenting with drones for the hotel industry when I met someone who wanted to start a drone company in Venice Beach. We took on as many custom builds as we could find and many of them were for studios, networks and theme parks abroad as the US regulations had yet to evolve.

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

Universal Studios Japan hired us to fly a drone show from Halloween to New Years in 2015. This was one of the most advanced aerial choreographies to be attempted at the time as we were flying at night, near people, sometimes in the rain with Chinese flight controllers, Japanese pilots and American engineers and producers. 75 shows and zero safety incidents with three language barriers at Harry Potter World in Osaka kept things interesting.

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

We’re working on how to reopen businesses and events with safety and technology.

Our technology partner, Malong Technologies, has developed artificial intelligence with detection abilities for temperature, coughing, sneezing, masks, social distancing and weapons.

When we do gather in groups again, public health and safety measures will require more mitigation technologies than we are currently using. Our health deserves these technologies to be accurate and commonplace.

How do you think this might change the world?

Produce is often displayed in ways we perceive it to be fresh and clean. Many items in grocery stores can carry germs from customers who cough, sneeze or put back with other produce in the pile. Detecting these behaviors in real time and sharing them with grocery staff will create safer environments.

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

Welcoming robotics and artificial intelligence to the grocery aisle could create restrictive diets to prevent people from purchasing certain foods in the future, provided they opt in to certain programs and agreements.

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

As AI continues to evolve, I believe grocery stores of the future will have this technology or they won’t. The ones who do not have ThermalNet cameras will be seen as unhealthy to the ones who do because they can’t give the consumer the same product with any certainty. Customers in the future will have more information overlays when purchasing products, especially ones they are consuming. Much of this has been observed with retail AI research and applied to ThermalNet.

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

We would love to work with any grocery partner who believes in the future of artificial intelligence and providing the healthiest produce sections in America. Some partners we have on our radar for working with are H.E.B., Publix, Safeway, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s or Wegman’s.

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

We have been doing virtual demos, small events for temperature detection and Gold’s Gym before the lockdowns. Now we are focusing on referrals, it’s ultimately the best marketing you can get. If your products are great, new customers will come automatically.

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 was in college, I met the COO of FedEx Freight and he was the first person to teach me about ‘Paying it Forward.’ He invested in my venture at the time and taught me much about how business works at scale.

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

At Ctrl.Me Robotics, we were one of the first DJI Dealers in California. We sold thousands of drones and taught hundreds of drone classes to first time pilots. It was really great to share such a fun experience with so many people as it became a big part of their lives.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

Be Deterministic — An abundance of information can create an abundance of delays. I believe making decisions in an appropriate amount of time is critical to the success of any organization.

Be an Olympic Listener — Listening closely has solved many challenges I have faced in my career.

Seek hard-to-reach Contacts — Some of the best opportunities I’ve had were from those who were nearly impossible to contact in the beginning.

Avoid hyper specific services — Don’t offer something at a loss to appease some of your customers because you can’t make everyone happy.

Fail forward — Don’t repeat the expensive failures others have by ignoring market behaviors.

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.

Pay it Forward.

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

“Good ideas rule all.”

In the end, it’s all about creative ideas and technologies. It’s the lifeblood of our society. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really smart people and the most consistent factories in Asia. As we evolve, so will the platforms and devices, I believe good ideas will see all of this through.

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.

Safe Stations ​services and distributes the most innovative software and hardware for public health and safety.

While the world has had much focus on PPE in 2020, the software and hardware Covid defense companies have been busy building.

As many states prepare for 2021, we are ready to provide solutions with our industry relationships and expertise.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@safestations — IG & Twitter

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


The Future Is Now: Adam Gibson of Safe Stations On How Their Technological Innovation Will Create… 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: Oded Eliashiv Of ‘BuiltUp Ventures’ On How Their Technological Innovations Will…

The Future Is Now: Oded Eliashiv Of ‘BuiltUp Ventures’ On How Their Technological Innovations Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

Our platform combines proprietary technology with years of experience, company building skills, and in-depth market knowledge. This helps us identify the most promising tech companies and guide them along an accelerated path of growth, while enabling investors to access these opportunities.

It creates a place where investors and startups can come together to launch new technological solutions that may not otherwise see the light of day, as well as enables a more secure financial path for startups. The platform will also democratize the ability of investors to achieve returns — until now, these types of opportunities were only available to an elite group of players.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oded Eliashiv, Principal and Founding Managing Partner of BuiltUp Ventures, which invests in innovative, early-stage Israeli proptech companies. He is also Managing Partner of B-Seed, an investment arm of Besadno Group that invests in early-stage technology firms. A longtime entrepreneur, he has founded and led multiple startups including EPOS, a provider of advanced digital positioning technology to the PC peripheral, notebook and touch-screen markets.

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

As an entrepreneur, I am always thinking about how to come up with solutions for different problems, either for my own companies or others. Over the years, I became fascinated by the potential of crowdsourcing. I was in the process of raising funds for a new equity crowdfunding platform when I met Eli Gross, the founder of Besadno Group, which invests in and supports growing technology and real estate companies. Eli asked me to join Besadno and work with him to restructure the company as well as realize my vision for the platform, which we are now planning to launch in the fall.

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

The son of a good friend of my family died in 9/11, which had a strong impact on me. As a result, I became very interested in tech development for emergency evacuation. Approximately four years ago, I saw an ad for SkySaver, an evacuation solution for high-rise buildings. I ended up meeting with Besadno Group, which is an investor in SkySaver. At the time, I was getting ready to raise funds for my crowdfunding platform. However, based on that meeting, I decided to put my platform on hold and go to work for them. As a result, I was able to help other entrepreneurs take their innovations to the next level, along with my own. I opened an office in Tel Aviv and became involved with BSeed, a sister company of Besadno focused on investing in technology firms in a wide range of industries. More recently, we launched BuiltUp Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in innovative, early-stage proptech startups. Now, I am coming full circle by realizing my dream of starting an equity crowdfunding platform.

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

Our platform combines proprietary technology with years of experience, company building skills, and in-depth market knowledge. This helps us identify the most promising tech companies and guide them along an accelerated path of growth, while enabling investors to access these opportunities.

How do you think this might change the world?

It creates a place where investors and startups can come together to launch new technological solutions that may not otherwise see the light of day, as well as enables a more secure financial path for startups. The platform will also democratize the ability of investors to achieve returns — until now, these types of opportunities were only available to an elite group of players.

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

The investor-startup relationship has traditionally been cultivated through face-to-face relationships, but the move to a “virtual society” could endanger this personal interaction. While there are many advantages to a remote investing platform, particularly in the new COVID-19 age, we run the risk of endangering our social relationships. It is important to find the right balance between the physical and digital world, while keeping everyone’s health and safety in mind.

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

An accumulation of experiences brought me to this point, from being a company founder to a mentor, CEO, and now an investor. Having endured all of the hardships an entrepreneur faces– from a lack of funding and cash flow to difficulty accessing markets — I know the chances for any startup to break through are slim. I began to understand the need to do things differently. By sharing our experiences (both good and bad), we have been able to help increase our startup partners’ opportunities for success.

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

We need to make sure we have a well-oiled machine, with all of the necessary parts in place. If everything is working together properly, we can create a scalable solution.

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

We are scheduling a series of public initiatives ahead of the launch including podcasts, webinars, and online lectures.

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?

It wasn’t one person in particular, but rather the “crowd wisdom” I have accumulated over the years. I never stop learning from people, and it can be anyone from a seasoned CEO to a young entrepreneur. I think the key is being willing to learn from whoever has knowledge to contribute. This is something I strongly believe in, and it has been central to my success over the years.

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

I am using my experience to help other entrepreneurs realize their dreams.

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

1. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is much harder than one might imagine.

2. You might fail many times before you succeed.

3. Sharing is not a sign of weakness: As an entrepreneur, I never wanted to let my investors know about any problems I was having with my company. I thought, “I’ll just fix it.” However, they may have been able to help me if I did tell them.

4. You will spend a lot of time running in airports to catch flights.

5. Be less cynical.

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 always been a strong proponent of sharing wisdom, and I believe that providing your market knowledge to others is key to enabling the democratization of capital, which can ultimately help bring prosperity to more people.

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

“Show empathy, not sympathy.” This belief has helped shape the way I interact with people in all parts of my life including work, family and other relationships, and made me more understanding and less judgmental of other’s situations.

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 🙂

As the head of a VC (BuiltUp Ventures) as well as an entrepreneur, I would offer the following advice: Don’t be boring. Try to stand out, be articulate, and say something different. You need to show enthusiasm for who you are and form a connection with the interviewer, not just focus on providing data and selling your product. One way to do this is to study the VC you are pitching beforehand, and focus on areas that are relevant to them.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can always connect with me on LinkedIn.

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


The Future Is Now: Oded Eliashiv Of ‘BuiltUp Ventures’ On How Their Technological Innovations Will… 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: Anthony Macciola Of ABBYY On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Anthony Macciola Of ABBYY On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The AI Industry

We’re changing how people and companies work. No matter what stage of digital transformation an organization is in, or the level of technical expertise employees have, we make it easier for all stakeholders to achieve their digital future.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Macciola, Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company. He is responsible for the company’s overall vision, strategy, and product innovation leveraging AI enabling technologies that help enterprises realize their digital future. His initiatives leverage machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing and text analytics to identify process and data insights that improve business outcomes. Macciola has more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing and process automation and is an advocate for the democratization of 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?

It’s been an interesting journey that has stayed relatively within the same technology path but has evolved and advanced significantly over the years. My career path in Content intelligence began in the early 1990s with capture technology. We used neural networks, support vector machines, and machine learning engines to build classification and extraction models — it was not called AI then, but we were using AI to solve document-related problems like accurately digitizing, classifying and extracting data from documents. Now, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are looking for new opportunities to apply AI and realizing what we have known for ages.

As my teams and I innovated technology to perfect the transformation of unstructured content, we’ve advanced it to incorporate cognitive skills that mimic human reasoning, decisioning and understanding. This form of AI is an example of emerging technology available today, whereas people were expecting human-looking robots to mimic humans when in reality, it is software robots accomplishing this.

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

I recall when mobile apps on smartphones were emerging — mainly games and task assistants. And by the early 2000s we saw consumer companies, like national pizza chains, monetizing their mobile app. It clicked in my mind when I called my local pizza shop and they knew my previous order based on what my son had ordered on the app that the enterprise needed to be doing this. What’s interesting about this is that it takes more than a consumer-facing mobile app to be a digital company. In a typical organization there any many siloed business systems that make it hard for a seamless customer experience. That’s when I realized that no matter how smart you are at digitizing and accessing your enterprise content, if you don’t have process intelligence, it’ll be near impossible to agile and profitable.

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

Artificial intelligence augmenting human intelligence is currently on the bleeding edge of enterprise digital transformation. The concept of robots taking over humans’ jobs has been predicted and even dreaded. However, rather than mechanical robots at assembly lines within factories, RPA digital workers have entered global enterprises and they will continue to increase by 50% over the next two years. Despite initial fears that this level of automation would replace workers, humans are actually happy to delegate mundane, repetitive tasks they hate doing like reviewing long documents, data entry, electronic filing and even attending meetings.

However, digital workers are not smart — they go where they were programmed to go and often get stalled or repeat broken processes. That’s where we’ve been able to leverage our expertise in NLP, machine learning and AI to infuse digital workers with Content Intelligence. Going further, we’re making these cognitive skills easy for non-technical business analysts to add to any intelligent automation platform. Even developing a virtual advisor for digital workers to seek guidance on types of content they’re working with and the best workflow they should follow.

To further extend the bleeding edge, we’re now using predictive analytics capabilities and AI within business processes for Process Intelligence to truly identify which processes are best suited for automation. Previously, the C-suite would approve the automation of certain processes based on opinion, bias or internal politics and not have the entire enterprise ecosystem in mind.

How do you think this might change the world?

We’re changing how people and companies work. No matter what stage of digital transformation an organization is in, or the level of technical expertise employees have, we make it easier for all stakeholders to achieve their digital future.

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

With software robots gaining more human-like cognitive skills, human workers will need to learn new digital skills so they can control and continuously train their digital worker counterpart.

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

The driver for innovation is solving a challenge or need. Watching the challenges enterprises had with RPA, business process management (BPM), customer relationship management (CRM), electronic resource planning (ERP) platforms and other intelligent automation systems had with content and processes was the catalyst for ABBYY evolving our core technologies into a Digital Intelligence platform.

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

Getting heard above unicorns’ and tech giants’ marketing budgets are definitely factors for widespread adoption, however, we have an advantage in that our solutions are used by more than 5,000 customers including many of the Forbes 500 in financial services, insurance, transportation, healthcare and other industries. We also have a global presence with offices in 13 countries. We are also hyper-focused on our customers and partners where they know we have their success as our priority.

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

In addition to have a dedicated sales team and educational resources for partners and customers, we’ve made it easy for people to engage with us with a newly launched ABBYY Community, an open source library NeoML, ABBYY Digital Resources Hub and are frequently profiled in high profile media outlets such as Authority Magazine.

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 working within a global enterprise and in a highly competitive market, there are dozens of people that have roles in each other’s successes. We very much work as a team where the team’s success is more relevant that an individual’s. With that said, the confidence, guidance and collaboration by ABBYY’s CEO Ulf Persson and ABBYY’s Chairman of the Board Robert Youngjohns have been of great influence.

What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I started with AI over 30 years ago. Back then the term AI wasn’t used. It was all about neural nets, machine learning, and support vector machines. I wish someone would have told me or predicted that those basic technologies would experience a renaissance and transition from niche implementations to broad market adoption.
  2. More recently, I wish I would have been tipped off sooner to the value associated with the ability to digitally package knowledge and seamlessly disseminate it throughout an organization in the form of digital skills. The value is obvious — package one person’s knowledge and expertise and replicate it throughout the digital workforce. Although we’ve led this initiative throughout the market relative to understanding and processing content and we’re now expanding the concept to embrace process related knowledge and expertise, I would have liked to be a year or two ahead of where we are.
  3. To date in the enterprise, AI is mostly leveraged in areas of analysis, learning and prediction. We’ve also seen it make an impact in collaborative chat related experience. During the same time period, we’ve seen the rise of personal assistants from more of a consumer standpoint. I believe the next area where AI will deliver material value is a hybrid of these use cases. This will take the form on a new generation of enterprise tools that will have integrated digital advisors as part of their design studio and configuration / training tools. As technology is democratized, organizations are wanting to empower business centric ‘citizen developers’ as active contributors to their digital transformation journey. Enabling this broad audience will be dependent on making a casual user and expert. Said another way, transforming individuals and teams into rock stars. To do this, software vendors will need to rethink their approach and infuse the concept of guided user experience that is context sensitive.
  4. Provide the user with advice and guidance as to their ‘next best action’ based on where they are
  5. Automate configuration or recommend optimal configuration choices whenever possible
  6. Monitor system performance and identifying opportunities for optimization and recommending finetuning action

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 think in this day and age it’s all about quality of life and establishing an optimal work / life balance. Information is exploding and organizations need to be smarter and nimbler. I keep hearing about robots replacing humans. I think that’s the wrong way to think about things. I think it’s all about making humans more productive by:

● Helping offload mundane, repetitive tasks

● Helping them make better more decisive decisions quicker

● Freeing them up to focus on higher value tasks such direct customer interactions

● Providing free time or down time to think about and look for opportunities to create value and increase customer experience

These sorts of things combined with not having to work 50+ hour work weeks. This creates a happier, more effective workforce and a satisfied customer base.

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

“Listen, plan, act.”

There are tons of opportunities to innovate and create material value. Some folks are gifted with the ability to sit in a room and think things up. My experience is there’s nothing that can replace customer face time. Face time where you’re listening and watching (interacting) more than talking or death by PowerPoint. If you understand technology and you take the time to understand cause and effect, customers can oftentimes help fill in the gaps. Not by telling you what they want but by describing that they’re trying to accomplish.

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 🙂

ABBYY is a Digital Intelligence company. We provide a Digital Intelligence platform that delivers a complete understanding of business processes and content to raise organizations’ Digital IQ.

Digital Intelligence is important because most organizations have started their digital transformation journey, but many aren’t seeing the anticipated results. They lack the proper tools to discover and analyze insights from data and processes, where automation will provide the most value. With access to real-time data about your processes and the content in the documents that fuels them, you are equipped to transform your enterprise the right way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow everything I’m doing and influencing on Twitter @ABBYY_Software.

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


The Future Is Now: Anthony Macciola Of ABBYY On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… 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: Saideep Gupta of Wing AI On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Saideep Gupta of Wing AI On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

My goal is simple — I want Wing to be able to leverage our highly advanced and skilled Hybrid Intelligence concepts powered by proprietary technology and be able to solve the toughest of problems, to allow us to be free of the boring and tedious tasks in life, and to spend time with the ones that matter most to us — our family and friends. We have gone to great lengths in order to ensure that everything we do at Wing is to enhance our customers’ lives and to add value at every step of the way. My teams are working towards further perfecting our systems thereby increasing our AI’s success rate — which could really open up the world at our fingertips. Imagine being able to say, “hey Wing can you walk my dog and make sure the dry cleaning is picked up and schedule a meeting with the dentist for tomorrow and maybe also order a cake for dad’s birthday” — and voila — consider it done. Wing is really pushing the limits of what’s achievable and stepping into this new era of automation. Imagine what this can do for our differently abled friends, for our senior citizens, for working moms and dads, for the nurses and the doctors during this crisis, and for the millions others who need help, somebody that can just take some things off their plate. Well now — they have Wing.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saideep Gupta, CTO at Wing.

Saideep is a technology enthusiast, ambitious entrepreneur. and a passionate leader. As Wing’s CTO, it is his responsibility to lead the company forward with cutting edge technology and innovative solutions to add more value for Wing’s customers. Saideep and his team are at the forefront of AI revolution, always striving themselves to be better than ever before

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

Ever since I was a young kid, I have always been really fascinated with creating. I absolutely love to create and innovate, to use my technology to make the world a better place, and to find solutions that would usually be termed as crazy. Started coding when I was like 10 years old, very early trying to find simple and easy ways to learn and teach myself. I originally hail from India and grew up in a normal home with limited access to technology. I remember going to the computer store near my house and spend hours, just trying to use the internet, something that was new and emerging at the time, that nobody understood exactly, but everybody wanted to be on it. There was just this crazy drive to know it all, to click every possible link on google (trust me that list of links was shorter back then :D). My parents were amazed by this passion of mine and supported it with an unstoppable force. Their energy to push forward still drives me. And finally the day came — I woke up to see my dad standing next to a new computer. MY NEW COMPUTER. It was this huge and heavy box with wires going in and out of it and a million other things connected to it — would probably find it down the road at Silicon Valley Computer Museum :D. But yes. The computer was here and I was, unsurprisingly, jumping.

I think this one project of mine was the game changer — the sense of satisfaction was unreal. I must have been 13 or so. There was a major problem and I just had to find the solution. So problem — our water tank for the house would overflow every day as there was no way of knowing when it was full and cutting off the water pump. Can’t forget my mom’s face worried every day about how full the tank was. So I decided to do something about it. All I needed was 1 motion senser, 1 small bell, and 1 cheap arduino board (and definitely the box of a computer to write code on). Some 12 hours and 100 lines of code later — I had a solution — my mom would now get alerted by the bell ring which would get activated as soon as the water touched the motion sensor placed an inch from the mouth of the tank. Such a trivial solution to such a painpoint. By this point — I think my parents had seen me do everything from making them play the weird games I would code, or having them drive me to a hackathon 3 hours away, or even taking the computer apart and putting it back together. There was no turning back from that point on. So I think the water-tank-overflowing-sensor-ringing project is definitely at the top of my hall of fame :D.

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

Oh it’s interesting stories after interesting stories. Trust me, running a startup is a rollercoaster where you don’t know whether the next move is up or down — you just go with the flow screaming with excitement and holding on :D. There’s definitely the occasional story of not knowing that we have a scheduled demo in the morning with a billion dollar fund and then spending the night putting the demo together — killing it always :D. But I think the most interesting story, for me at least, would have to be from the early days of Wing, back at UC Irvine when Wing was just a baby. The big launch was coming up, we were in the deep end of development, working 80 hour weeks, while creating buzz around Wing. I remember in order to sustain our tech costs and marketing expenses, my co-founders and I would buy a bunch of cheap Costco pizza and sell it outside the bars down in Newport Beach — people coming out would be willing to pay upwards of $5 for a slice :D. I think looking back to that and seeing how far we have come — that’s what makes it really interesting for me.

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

My goal is simple — I want Wing to be able to leverage our highly advanced and skilled Hybrid Intelligence concepts powered by proprietary technology and be able to solve the toughest of problems, to allow us to be free of the boring and tedious tasks in life, and to spend time with the ones that matter most to us — our family and friends. We have gone to great lengths in order to ensure that everything we do at Wing is to enhance our customers’ lives and to add value at every step of the way. My teams are working towards further perfecting our systems thereby increasing our AI’s success rate — which could really open up the world at our fingertips. Imagine being able to say, “hey Wing can you walk my dog and make sure the dry cleaning is picked up and schedule a meeting with the dentist for tomorrow and maybe also order a cake for dad’s birthday” — and voila — consider it done. Wing is really pushing the limits of what’s achievable and stepping into this new era of automation. Imagine what this can do for our differently abled friends, for our senior citizens, for working moms and dads, for the nurses and the doctors during this crisis, and for the millions others who need help, somebody that can just take some things off their plate. Well now — they have Wing.

How do you think this might change the world?

Every tech entrepreneur likes to say that they want to change the world and that their tech will change the world. I guess at Wing, our ideology is more oriented towards maybe not so much as changing the world but rather more towards changing the way the world works. We still anticipate all the billions of things continuing to happen as is — you are still going to want to get dry cleaning and the dry cleaning shop is still going to do the dry cleaning, your cat will still need her food and the grocery store is still going to sell that food, and yes — you will still have your birthdays and anniversaries and will still visit your favorite places to celebrate — things are as is, but what we want to do is change the interactions and the processes of doing things. Rather than collecting all your dry cleaning from throughout the house, bagging it up, taking it down the stairs, stuffing it into your car, driving to the dry cleaner through a 30 minute bumper to bumper, maybe have to get gas on the way, and then arguing with the shop over rates and pickup date (oh and repeating most of this again when you have to go pick it up), why not just ask your friendly assistant 😀 “Hey Wing can you drop off the dry cleaning at the usual place and have it picked up? I need it before the end of the week”. Trust me — its that simple. And this simplicity is I think what makes it so interesting.

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

Trust me, there is nothing terminatory in this technology. I think over the years, Hollywood has thrown such wild and vivid imaginary about this alter universe where AI has taken over the world, robbing us of the opportunity to see what it can do for us, the kind of wide scale benefits it can bring. I understand the concerns that all of us have, but I can assure you as a tech professional — we have designed and developed our technology from day 1 as a secure vault, investing numerous hours of engineering time to ensure safety of our customers’ identities and privacy of their data. Wing olds itself to the highest standard of security and as such we use the latest in-class technologies like Google Cloud’s Secret Manager to store user information (using banking level encryption) and Stripe enabling us to securely make purchases without exposing user payment data. Checkout our YouTube channel or even the website, we have a 10 minute long video explaining more things 😀

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

There’s always that tipping point, that one moment when you feel it from within, like the entire universe is telling you to do it, like this is everything that you were working towards but did not know what it was — until now. We had that too. This goes back to our freshman year at UC Irvine. Karan and Martin, my two other co-founders, were roommates and I used to live across from them. We were all hanging in their dorm room this one silly night at like 2am when Martin realized that his parents were going to drop by in the morning. And the room was, for lack of a better word, trashed. Oh we were so worried. And hungry. We just wanted someone to get us some Jack in the box from across the campus. Oh, and clean the room too. We tried looking online for cleaners but no help. We even tried posting on our residential hall Facebook group offering $20 for cleaning help but to no avail. Oh, and still no food. This was a problem, one which we couldn’t find a solution to. We even saw something interesting — our “Cleaning Help; $20” Facebook post got a lot of comments — but not of people offering help but +1ing it as they wanted cleaning help as well. We began thinking — how many others wanted cleaning help, or food delivery, or a car wash, or homework help, or dry-cleaning pickup, or the tons and tons of other chores we all take on everyday. We were just a bunch of young kids with a desire to help I guess. That was where Wing was born — the tipping point of everything.

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

That’s a very interesting question — something my team and I try to answer everyday. I would say its not a single entity or a 1-D model but rather a system of components that all work together to allow adoption. Wing works very hard to ensure the highest levels of quality service through next generation proprietary tech that has been battle tested. Wing’s business model is setup from a customer-first perspective — we rely heavily on our trusted partners (which also go through a rigorous onboarding process as well as internal rating algorithms) to render services to our customers. A hurdle that we at Wing are actively chopping away at is having qualified partnerships for our list of 100+ services in every corner of the country, and then eventually the world. As far as what can help enable adoption easy? Customer education. Most of us out there have never experienced having somebody always there to help, having someone who can take things off your plate, having an actual assistant. As a result — we are very used to doing everything by ourselves, without asking for help. But this is exactly what we eliminate through Wing. You now have this superhuman assistant with all kinds of superpowers to help you within the palm of your hand. Need groceries? check. Need to renew your car registration? check. Need to make a reservation? check. Need to cancel a reservation? check. Need your dog walked? check. I can keep going on and on. But this right here. What I am doing right now is exactly what we need for widespread adoption — for people to realize the potential we are offering at just $10 a month (or $20 a month for the plus plan) to have a personal assistant (which would otherwise cost thousands of dollars) to get anything done.

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

Definitely. My marketing team is working round the clock — writing and pushing out articles on a whole list of topics to public forums as well in-house publicly-viewable blogs, increasing our social media presence on all platforms including Instagram and Tiktok, as well as coming up with new and innovative ideas for ad series that can be features on platforms like YouTube. I have in-house creative teams whose full-time job is to create more and more videos that allow us to educate our customers while presenting the value proposition in an entertaining way. We just created another great piece on one of our newer product offerings — Wing for Business. You can check it out on getwingapp.com/for business and click to play video. We are also doing a lot of various different marketing campaigns including digital billboards, google ads, Facebook ads, and a whole series around user testimonials and how Wing has been instrumental in helping them get through these past few months. We have also been receiving a lot of media attention — Wing was just recently written about in Forbes as well as Business Insider. I just recently got published as well in TechPanda as well as StartupBeat magazine. So I would say we are definitely making a splash and seeing traction as well.

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?

Couldn’t agree more. I have always believed in the fact that my success has never been of my alone — but of all the people who have helped mold me into the leader that I am today, both personally and professionally. However, the most impactful person, or rather group, has been my family. Their support is the fuel to my fire. Their faith in my success has been nothing short of a blessing. Over the years, we have seen lots of ups and downs — trust me — running a startup is not easy :D. But they are always there to lift me back up during the lows, pumping me with the belief that success is right around the corner, and also always there to support and celebrate my wins. Their unending faith in me drives me. It always has. Oh, and it fills me with happiness when I see them actually using Wing. I built something to make their lives better :D.

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

My culture we believe in goodwill, in the act of karma, and of giving. When COVID hit, Wing was one of the first tech companies to respond. We immediately launched a platform, “Wing in Crisis”, that was solely geared towards providing assistance to not only our users but to anyone visiting the platform, without any associated fees, by letting people post their needs and then our AI systems working to connect them to those goods and services. We had testimonials coming in calling us a “savior” as well as “essential”. I remember I myself was deep into the trenches. My engineering team and I spent 48 hours of nonstop development to code, test, deploy, and promote the entire product. We also geared our customer apps to offer COVID support including providing directions and information for the nearest relief center, sending supplies to your loved ones, arranging masks and other PPE items for yourself, as well as partnering with Postmates to offer fast and easy delivery of food and grocery. We also had our corporate partnership teams starting to look for more ways where we can be of support. And we found the answer. The frontline healthcare workers, the doctors and the nurses, were the ones under heavy fire and pressure during this time, risking their lives everyday to help the rest of us in need, and we wanted to help. Wing partnered with Kaiser Permanente as well as John Muir Medical Group to offer Wing absolutely free to all their staff. That was magical to see how much pain Wing could ease in these times.

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

  1. I wish someone told me that “its not going to be easy” to chase your dreams, to actually become the next big thing in tech, and to achieve success. We are all so deeply invested in looking at the success that we never think about the grunt work and the long nights that go into achieving that success. There are days when you wont get to have a meal for 20 hours at a go cause of back to back meetings, when you would just lose a contract and the world seems to be crumbling down, and when it would seem as if all efforts are futile. You have to keep pushing forward and focus on the next day.
  2. I wish someone told me that “leading is tougher than it looks”. Being a leader at Wing, I have a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders, I have people who look to me for direction and mentorship, I have teams who are following a roadmap I have built, and I have stakeholders who have have entrusted their faith in me to lead the company forward. Part of being a good leader, as I have come to learn, involves not one but many functions — listening to your team’s concerns, creating an open work environment, trusting your team members that they are acting in the best interest of the company, trusting your gut as your decisions could impact the entire functioning of the company, and sometimes even acknowledging that you may not be right about something. Its fun 😀
  3. I wish someone told me that “team work makes the dream work”. At the end of the day, it is the team that has to stick together and make sure the trains keep moving forward. Running a company is not a one man show. People come together, form ideas, and that’s how you create a billion dollar company. As a founder it is important for me to make sure that the value of team work is something we set from the top down.
  4. I wish someone told me that “you have to focus on the big picture”. Running a startup and then leading it to become the next unicorn (or decacorn) is not about “I got us here” but “we got here” — that’s what matters, and something that I have learnt is that you cannot only focus on the small things. Celebrate the small wins definitely but dont make it an issue about who gets credit for that small win. That is the single most deteriorating thing to success. Everybody deserves to get their moment — if they have worked hard for something, then I make it my personal duty to make sure they get rewarded for it.
  5. And last, I wish someone told me “to never get emotionally attached to a product”. We are running a business and part of it is developing products for others, not just for yourself. Something that may fit perfectly into your world may not fit into the broader’s group’s world. And being able to accept the truth and letting go of something that you may have been working on for days — that’s I think the hardest challenge for a developer. It is never an easy call to make, but as a leader, sometimes even the toughest and critical of decisions are on me to take. Everything we do at Wing is to add more value to our customer’s lives and to make their lives easier.

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

That is a really excellent question. There’s definitely something that I have been wanting to do for a while, and have even kind of undertaken in the past — I want to enable younger kids — between middle and high school — to pursue “something” in tech. There’s a specific reason i use the word “something” — its because most kids who might even be very interested in learning more about or even passionate for tech but may not know where to start or what to do. I think as young professionals and leaders of tomorrow, we have the power to have the most impact on them. I think these young adults are able to connect really easily with lets say someone like me. Late last year, in pre corona times, Wing actually organized a hackathon where we opened ourselves to all high schoolers as well as freshmen to come try their luck at winning a Wing internship. The quality of work that we see pursued by ambitious ideas was really empowering. Most of my colleagues will tell you how excited I get when a teenager applies to Wing for an internship role. One of my current interns, really brilliant guy — hes currently a high schooler, buy you will be amazed at what all he’s worked on, pushed entire projects to finish, in the past couple months.

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

Steve Jobs, one of the greatest of our times, somebody who I and millions others look upto, during his “Crazy Ones” speech said something that has stuck with me for years at this point. It was the tail end of his words, but the most impressionable ones — “the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”. I dont know what it was about what he said, but it still fills me with a sense of drive. I think the reason may be that in my mind, I can picture myself as one of the “crazy ones” or as Jobs says, “the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently”. I am never the one to settle for the status quo, to accept things as is. I have always been a sucker for innovation and for bringing a change. Trust me, when we started Wing — it wasn’t all rainbows and stars (it still isnt :D) — we did meet with lots of criticism and push back — from investors, from friends, from professors, from colleagues, from incubators, from banks, even from strangers — things like “this wont work”, “can you really build this”, “why would this work”, “you will get crushed” etc etc. Earning people’s belief that what we are doing is not only going to work but actually become the next big thing was challenging, but it starts with believing in yourself. And I think those words really resonated with me. It was kind of like, “yeah you think I am crazy, wait till I change the world”. And here we are 😀

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 having a superhuman with you 24/7 to take things off your plate, to free you up of the mundane tasks, to have somebody always there that you can count on. Need groceries or food? done. Need your dog walked? done. Need someone to babysit the kids? done. Want someone to go wait in line for you at the apple store? done. You can literally get anything done with the tap of a button. We have had people ask us to book private jets, to buy homes, to get their parrot’s toenails cut, organize events, setup appointments, and anything else. Its like having thousands of specialized assistants jumbled into an app, powered by proprietary AI and technology of course. And for a fraction of the price — just $10 (or $20 for the plus plan) a month. If you are a wing user, you can access us through the mobile apps, through chrome extensions and the web, through slack, or even directly through text and phone. We launched February 7 on Product Hunt and were immediately crowned Number 1 globally — we had thousands of people visiting the websites and about 2500 requests flow through in the first 3 hours. Shortly after we became part of Berkeley Skydeck, one of the top accelerators in the country, and have been growing crazily ever since. We also recently just launched “Wing for Business”, a product geared towards small and medium sized businesses to help as an office assistant at only $1000 a month (⅕ of what you would have to pay someone to do these chores) and have already onboarded many paying businesses. There’s so much more to talk about. Just shoot me an email or a LinkedIn message, and I would be happy and excited (trust me I get very excited talking about Wing — I am sure you can tell) about chatting further.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin is definitely the best way. Am always down for a fun chat as well. https://www.linkedin.com/in/saigupta/

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


The Future Is Now: Saideep Gupta of Wing AI On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… 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: Evan Leaphart of Kiddie Kredit On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake…

The Future Is Now: Evan Leaphart of Kiddie Kredit On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Our World

Having kids learn and understand credit before they actually have to deal with it is something that has never consistently been emphasized before despite being a huge part of our society. The overall financial literacy for kids is fragmented, so a lot of our developments are geared towards being more collaborative in nature rather than competitive. This means that we may recommend products that work better for teaching within a specific age demographic or partnering with other platforms that teach about investing or saving since we hyperfocus on teaching credit. When we say that we teach credit we get thrown into a box of all other financial literacy apps and that’s really not what we’re about, our mission is to teach about credit.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Evan Leaphart, Founder of Kiddie Kredit, a mobile chore tracking app that teaches kids about credit. He combines a passion for financial literacy and innovation with a commitment to solving real problems that help the community around him. As a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Black Men Talk Tech Conference, Evan’s previous endeavors include a cleaning business and an auto transport business. With regards to Kiddie Kredit, Evan explains, “I’ve always enjoyed being an entrepreneur but it feels good being focused on the project I’ve always wanted to create.” Evan’s early childhood experiences in Pittsburgh and Baltimore allowed him exposure to many different cultures and environments which has aided in his ability to connect and mentor youth. Evan encourages youth to follow their dreams and pursue their passions — to create great careers rather than jobs that make everyday feel like work. He now commutes between Los Angeles and Miami for work.

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 started Kiddie Kredit for two reasons. The first being that I’ve always felt entrepreneurship is one of the biggest keys to our society. If we had more entrepreneurs, especially in more adversely affected communities, we’d see these communities improve through more job opportunities as well as overall economic growth. The issue is businesses are difficult to start and they require capital. I’ve been asked numerous times how much money I raised for Kiddie Kredit through friends and family, which is a very elitist assumption since a lot of individuals don’t have friends and family who can act as a financial resource. The thing is, if those people who want to start a business had better credit and access to the credit world earlier they would be in a better position to start up on their own. That’s where Kiddie Kredit comes in, by implementing financial literacy from an early age through chores, we tackle this issue of adults not being able to fund their projects and dreams.

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

I would honestly say that seeing the support I get from others due to their familiarity with the issue of not learning what credit was early on is one of the most interesting things I’ve learned. The most common response I get from people when I explain my business is, “Oh my god where was this when I was a kid!” It’s just been very fascinating to see how common this problem really is and that there isn’t a mainstream solution for it yet.

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

Having kids learn and understand credit before they actually have to deal with it is something that has never consistently been emphasized before despite being a huge part of our society. The overall financial literacy for kids is fragmented, so a lot of our developments are geared towards being more collaborative in nature rather than competitive. This means that we may recommend products that work better for teaching within a specific age demographic or partnering with other platforms that teach about investing or saving since we hyperfocus on teaching credit. When we say that we teach credit we get thrown into a box of all other financial literacy apps and that’s really not what we’re about, our mission is to teach about credit.

How do you think this might change the world?

If we had a generation of youth that turned 18 and instinctively understood credit we’d see massive amounts of debt reduction. There’d be a more economic chance for people to start their business from early on without having to accumulate better credit over their 20s and throughout their careers. We would have economic equality because the barriers for entry to a lot of opportunities would be greatly reduced in America if everybody started out with a better credit score.

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

A lot of times people get concerned when you tell them about creating some sort of credit school for kids, they think that it’s a way to track them early but that’s not our intention at all. We’re not collecting any data from the kid’s side of the app, we just focus on how to provide them with a good education about the mechanics of credit. Currently, kids might receive one or two lessons about credit during their middle school or high school education, but it’s not something that’s been fundamentally instilled at least on a programming level to help kids understand what it is. Our app is just an introduction so that kids will know how credit works when they reach an applicable age.

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

I was at a job and I had a business idea that I wanted to start so I looked into it and my credit score wasn’t good enough which prompted me to think back on how I’d made so many financial mistakes as a young adult and even though it wasn’t that many years of mistakes it was about 3x the amount of the length in terms of time for recovery. I just had this aha moment that I feel like most people experience about why I hadn’t learned or been taught about credit earlier.

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

I want to make sure that we focus on growth and are building an app that’s prepared for that. The demographic we serve is parents and children which is such an important asset to life so we want to make sure our security is safe and solid. We are also improving the UI and UX so that parents love it because of its simplicity while still being engaging enough for the kid to want to use it consistently.

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

We’ve been fortunate enough to have some organic features on what we’re doing, Forbes for example, and I just did an interview with CNBC as well as some smaller features in the South Florida area where we’re located. We’ve gotten a lot of support around our project and part of that could be appreciation for me but I think it’s based more on the fact that we have created something that if done right can be very impactful.

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?

Matt Cohen. He and I built the initial wire frames for Kiddie Kredit together and he had done this before so he was really able to help me with the learning curve. The app he already built had scaled up to 100,000 users so he knows what it takes to get an app to that initial point as well as general knowledge about what it’s like to be the founder of a startup. There’s a lot of things I may not have known or might have learned eventually but not as quick if it hadn’t been for him so I’m very grateful.

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

Right now we’re just focused on doing the work. We can bring good to the world by educating kids so that they’ll be able to know what utilization means or what making a payment on time looks like. That type of knowledge is pivotal to our world, so by increasing the success of the company we are simultaneously bringing more good to the world in terms of setting people up for more financial freedom and opportunities.

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

  1. I know you think that it’ll be hard (in all honestly it’ll probably be even harder than what you’re expecting) but the payoff is incredibly rewarding. Just make sure to stay on course and focus on building up the product rather than making money, because if your product is undeniable it’ll be easier to promote and potentially save you work later down the line.
  2. Have motivated team members around you at all times. The journey is going to be tough and a lot of times you and your team members are working for no money so it’s important to have mission driven people as opposed to money driven. The people working on Kiddie Kredit helped motivate me greatly and by having dedicated team members it’ll ensure that they can help carry the project through tough times.
  3. Make sure you have some mental balance. It’s going to take a toll on your family, friends, and significant others so I found it really important to have conversations to make sure that they understand that the reason you’re doing what you’re doing and how you’ll be behaving for the next couple months or years is so after you can live a life more free.
  4. Find your own way to organize. It can be really challenging to have a daunting list of 100 tasks in front of you. I found that instead of looking at it as a whole and getting overwhelmed, it’s more efficient and less daunting to create a to-do list and oragnize that way. Focus on two tasks per day and by the end of two months that initial list will be gone and you’ll be able to look back and feel accomplished. Just don’t get overwhelmed by what you have to do, instead break it down piece-by-piece and you’ll get there.
  5. Be supportive of other founders. As lonely as your journey is, other founders are going through the same situation, so just find your support system so you can talk about shared struggles. You should be aware that as a founder you’ll have to ask people for things so make sure when you’re doing this you’re thinking in a win-win mindset and also make a point to give without asking for anything in return. I like to think this increases your founder karma.

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. 🙂

Economic equality; I want to live in a world where all ethnicities are provided with equal opportunities. For example Black communities, we have tremendous amounts of Black power but our average wealth per household is significantly less and there’s reasons for that outside of our control that’s only just starting to be more addressed. I want to be able to help others build towards generational wealth and reduce poverty for generations to come by helping them learn how to put themselves in an advantageous situation.

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

“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” This quote resonates with me because it reminds me of why I do what I do. Why I work 12–16 hours a day and choose to run on very little sleep. I try to be mission oriented and always keep the goal in mind. One of my favorite books is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and one of the habits is to always begin with the end in mind. This ties back into the quote and I just believe it’s really important to try and always have a goal so that you can see the reason for all your hard work.

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 three things VCs are typically looking to hear about is your team, your traction, and your revenue. We have a very strong team at Kiddie Kredit, we have a lead engineer at Amazon as our CPO, a chief engagement officer that’s taught financial literacy and entrepreneurship for over 15 years, the founder of Black Wallet which is a leading financial blog for urban millennials and a digital marketing influencer as our CMO, and some really amazing mentors. Our company also officially partnered with Equifax Foundation recently and we are focusing heavily on building the 2.0 version of our app to release in the next couple of months. Essentially, you want to get in now before it’s too late.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My personal Twitter and Instagram is @EvanLeaphart and the username for Kiddie Kredit is @Kiddiekredit.

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


The Future Is Now: Evan Leaphart of Kiddie Kredit On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake… 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: Antony Vitillo of ‘New Technology Walkers’ On How Their Technological Innovation

The Future Is Now: Antony Vitillo of ‘New Technology Walkers’ On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Live Events

Virtual and augmented realities will probably be the next technological platform after the smartphones, so they have the potential to revolutionize the lives of us all. Virtual Reality can make people “teleport” to virtual universes, and for instance, living magic adventures with their friends. Augmented Reality instead can improve the experience that people have in the real world, for instance with a 3D digital assistant that helps the user in every moment of his/her life. The potential is enormous.

Talking about things I’m personally working on, the virtual concerts, exhibitions, and festivals are what has the most potential of helping people. You can wear a virtual reality headset and from the comfort of your home, you can see yourself in a digital venue where there is some performance happening. And together with you, there can be other people from all over the world, that are there to attend the same event and have fun with you.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Antony Vitillo (aka “Skarredghost”), an AR/VR consultant and blogger. His blog The Ghost Howls has been awarded many times as one of the “Top 50 virtual reality websites” and he has held talks in important conferences like AWE, View Conference, and WCVRI. His works include innovative projects like a system to provide full-body virtual reality without wearing sensors; a mixed reality fitness game called HitMotion: Reloaded, developed with his team New Technology Walkers and the support of HTC; a concert of the electronic-music legend Jean-Michel Jarre held completely in virtual reality and followed in streaming by more than 600,000 people.

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 pleasure to be here talking with you! My story began in 2014, when a previous classmate of mine, Gianni Rosa Gallina, asked me if I wanted to join him in his entrepreneurial adventure. He wanted to start a business using some cool new technology and he knew that I was nerdy and crazy enough to start this adventure with him.

It was 2014, and we two had seen those amazing videos about the Google Glasses, that promised a device that you could wear on your face and enter the future of technology. In the spot, they promised you could have a device always on your face to help you in your daily tasks, like staying in touch with your friends or finding the best way to reach a restaurant, in a completely natural way. We paid $1500 to buy a pair of Google Glass, to then discover that they were terrible and unusable. They were just a tech prototype, far distant from the futuristic gadget that had been promised us in the videos.

We were disappointed, but my buddy was a smart man, and he had a plan B: the Oculus Rift DK 2. This was a devkit (that is, something more than a prototype) of a virtual reality headset. I remember when I tried it the first time in the office: the graphics were mediocre, I could see the pixels on the screen, the interactions were clunky, and in few minutes I wanted to vomit (My stomach said: “You choose, either VR or me!”). But, WOW, I had these goggles on my face and I was teleported in a villa in Tuscany, it was like magic. I can’t describe the feeling to who has never tried VR, and videos on Youtube don’t give justice to how it is amazing. That moment I decided I wanted to fully dedicate my life to virtual reality. And I have never regretted that decision.

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

There are many stories I can tell. The VR field is so new and so full of opportunities that unexpected things happen to me continuously. For instance, in my blog I have been able to interview high caliber people like the president of HTC China Alvin Wang Graylin; the inventor of the bullet-time in “The Matrix” John Gaeta; the inventor of “The Lion King” Charlie Fink. And for every one of these fantastic people, there is an interesting story to tell about how I met them and what I have learned from them. Curiously, many of these connections have born on Twitter or Linkedin. The piece of advice that I give to people is to always show up inside your communities and provide value to people. In the end, you will get connections that you couldn’t even imagine were possible.

But if I had to share a single story, well, I would probably pick the concert “Alone Together” organized by VrrOOm, where the living legend of electronic music Jean-Michel Jarre performed completely in virtual reality. I was the lead Unity developer in the team, and it was a crazy but very rewarding adventure.

VRrOOm CEO Louis Cacciuttolo contacted us at the end of May 2020 saying that the French Ministry of Culture was looking for new ways to organize its Fete De La Musique (Music Fest), that couldn’t be performed because of the coronavirus. He proposed them to do a full concert in virtual reality, and the Minister agreed. We were all excited by the idea, but then Louis told us that we had only 3 weeks to organize everything. 3 Weeks. From having no idea of the experience, and not even the artist that should have performed, to have a full concert in virtual reality. It was a crazy plan, so of course, I accepted it.

The next three weeks have been a long rush towards the delivery of the concert, and in the end, I can say that we nailed it. Jean-Michel performed on June, 21st in VRChat (a social VR world, think about it like an enhanced Second Life), with live streaming on Youtube and Facebook. More than 2,500 people attended the concert in VRChat and more than 600,000 watched the live stream.

We got many compliments, many people told us that we were innovators because we performed one of the first truly live concerts in virtual reality (many of the other ones are prerecorded). The technologist Robert Scoble told us that it was like going to Coachella while staying at home. But we also got our big share of critics and complaints, because in some of the VRChat worlds the concert experience was not working well.

Here the lesson is: no matter the effort, if you work with cutting edge technologies, you are going to have many problems. You have to find many compromises to make things work from a technical standpoint, and in the end, probably you obtain a much simpler result than you hoped for, and there will be unexpected bugs and problems. But it is very satisfying, it is stimulating, and in the end, you feel like you have helped the whole world in pushing the technology forward.

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

Virtual and augmented realities will probably be the next technological platform after the smartphones, so they have the potential to revolutionize the lives of us all. Virtual Reality can make people “teleport” to virtual universes, and for instance, living magic adventures with their friends. Augmented Reality instead can improve the experience that people have in the real world, for instance with a 3D digital assistant that helps the user in every moment of his/her life. The potential is enormous.

Talking about things I’m personally working on, the virtual concerts, exhibitions, and festivals are what has the most potential of helping people. You can wear a virtual reality headset and from the comfort of your home, you can see yourself in a digital venue where there is some performance happening. And together with you, there can be other people from all over the world, that are there to attend the same event and have fun with you.

This is important in a time like the one that we are living now when people can not meet anymore, can’t travel, can’t even hug. And artists are forbidden from giving concerts because of the pandemic. Thanks to these virtual events, artists have a new way to express themselves and can offer concerts in virtual reality. And people can follow them even at home, from the lockdown, and enjoy a nice moment where they can also meet new people without having to move. I remember when during the lockdown I virtually hugged a friend of mine from the United States: it was a while I couldn’t hug people, and I was there at 3 am at home, moving my arms with the controllers in my hands… probably looking like an idiot seen from the outside… but feeling so good in VR because I was finally physically hugging another human being again. It has been a heart-warming experience.

How do you think this might change the world?

Immersive realities are already changing the world: companies are using them to prototype 3D elements faster because people can meet in a virtual space to model 3D objects together; psychologists are using it to improve the treatment for syndromes like PTSD; training in VR has been proven to be much more effective than standard training; and so on.

If I think of the next 20 years, I imagine a world where we all live with AR/VR glasses always in front of our eyes, that guide us in every aspect of our lives, suggesting new places to eat, motivating in exercising, helping us in working, etc… AR glasses have cameras that can always see what we are seeing, and thanks to the progress of AI, 5G and cloud computing, it is possible that these glasses will be able to understand what we have around us and help us in coping with every task, providing visual feedback in front of our eyes. They will also help us in “augmenting” our spaces: now we have to spend $200 to buy a physical TV for our home, but if we have a system that augments our vision, we can spend just $1 for a TV augmented reality app that puts a virtual giant screen in front of our eyes and let us see our TV without the need to buy a home appliance. We won’t need other displays, we won’t need real decorations, because the world we will live in will be a natural mix of real and virtual elements.

In 100 years, thanks to the development of Brain-Computer Interfaces and Artificial Intelligence, we could all live in a virtual world like The Matrix. The real world is a limit, and it has many rules (like the laws of physics) that we can’t break. So why can’t we live all the time in a virtual world where we can fly for instance? It is a fascinating research field and something that may actually happen: Elon Musk is working on a system to connect your brain to an artificial intelligence right now.

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

“With great power comes great responsibility”: AR and VR can change the world for the better, and empower our lives, or they can become the ultimate surveillance system. If you have some cameras always installed on your face, the company that runs the operating system of that device can discover everything about your life. There are enormous privacy concerns, and the debates on this topic have just started, considering that one of the companies that is more successful in the field is Facebook, which owns Oculus.

Will there be privacy in a future where we will always be connected? And what about totalitarian regimes that will have the ultimate control machine being able to see the lives of all people? It could become very dystopian, even much worse than what Orwell imagined for 1984.

We need clear user data management rules in AR/VR to avoid these problems. We must define the privacy regulation now that the technology is still not widespread. Most data should be processed on the device and only the necessary ones should be transmitted to the cloud.

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

My tipping point with AR and VR has happened almost immediately, the first day that I tried the Oculus DK 2 and I decided I never wanted to come back again.

As for the virtual festivals and concerts I talked about before, it has been the meeting with Louis Cacciuttolo, which happened inside a WeChat community about VR (The “XR Story” group). We both love VR and we both love China, so we were both inside these virtual communities in WeChat. He was thinking about doing some virtual festivals, and he needed a tech guy to help him, so I decided to join his quest. As soon as I saw the first people joining the virtual festivals from all over the world, and having fun there by admiring artistic experience, I understood the amazing potential of this technology in connecting people and in spreading art and culture. With the first festival, “Break Down Those Walls”, I already understood that I wanted to keep working on it.

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

Here it is not a matter of what “I” need, but more of what AR and VR in general need. The technology must evolve, and become more user friendly, offer better performances, and better content at a cheaper price. And we’re getting there: the recent success of the Oculus Quest is proving that with the right combination of good content and affordable price, virtual reality can become popular.

The more VR headsets are around, the more people can join these virtual festivals and enjoy some art in VR. Widespread adoption will come, probably in 2–3 years, according to analysts.

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

I have not made any innovative marketing stunts. For all the things I’ve done, like the “Alone Together” concert, or the mixed reality fitness game “HitMotion: Reloaded”, I just used the standard marketing tools. Being a blogger, I also use my blog and my social media accounts to talk about what I’m doing, and this has proven to be very effective to generate awareness on my work.

Since the VR field is a niche, we more or less all know each other, so it was nice that when I asked all the most popular AR/VR influencers to help me in spreading the voice about our fitness game, many of them accepted helping me and shared my story with their communities. It was very good for the marketing of the game, and it was especially heartwarming to see that in my community there were so many people willing to help.

This hasn’t happened by chance, but because I’m the first person willing to help others in succeeding. Remember, if you provide value to others, many people will be grateful to you and will be willing to help you.

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?

Many people helped me in getting here. I can’t exactly choose one, so let me at least take two: Gianni Rosa Gallina and Massimiliano Ariani.

I’ve already explained to you how Gianni was important to draw me into immersive realities in 2014, but what most people don’t know is that he was also the one that let me become an “influencer” (even if I don’t like this word).

In 2015, he suggested me to use Twitter to help to spread the word about the work we were doing at our startup Immotionar. I had no willingness to waste my time on social media and I was too lazy to open an account there, so he advised me to recover an old account of mine that I created when I wanted to become an indie game developer with him. I asked him “What? The one of the ‘Skarredghost’? Really? That one has never worked and I abandoned it two years ago”. He insisted, so in the end, I recovered the account. For the first weeks, he also sent me the news to share on my feed, because I was too lazy to read the online magazines about VR. The result was that I started gaining followers very fast, much more than him that was sharing the same links. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was because I used the right hashtags, or maybe because I also put my personality in my tweets. Whatever was the reason, this suggestion of his led me to my current role of “evangelist” (another word I don’t like).

Massimiliano (Max), instead, was the guy with which I founded the consultancy agency New Technology Walkers when the startup Immotionar failed. He has been and still is very important for me because he comes from an artistic background, so he taught me a lot about creativity, art, UX, and also about communication.

He has helped me in learning how to properly do a Youtube video. I still remember the travels we did together so that I could attend VR events and make Youtube videos and articles about them. At Gamescom, in 2018, he almost didn’t sleep because every night, after a terrible dinner bought next to the Airbnb we rent, he had to edit the videos of the interviews that we did during the day and upload them on Youtube… I think in the end he wanted to kill me! Gamescom was the first big event I attended, and while I was a bit shy and confused in front of the camera, he was there confidently guiding me all the time.

He’s very good at mixing art and technology, and he did the humble cameraman for me when he’s actually a great UX and game designer. I’m very thankful because he has helped me to level-up my communication skills.

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

On my blog and social media channels, I like to give visibility to whoever I can. I tweet about indie games, VR startups, immersive projects, and so on. It is my way to support the people in my community, also the ones that have a low marketing budget and get no attention from the big VR magazines.

There are some nice stories about that: for instance, one day a guy sent me an e-mail pitch about his project on Kickstarter. The e-mail was not written enough well to get the attention of a journalist, but I decided to give him an opportunity the same, and I listened to his story. This man, called Jason Moore, was trying to bring improvisational theater to virtual reality with a project called “MetaMovie”. It was an amazing idea, so I wrote an article about it on my blog, 2 days before the end of his Kickstarter campaign. Thanks to my post, he had a little spike in traffic on Kickstarter, and he reached his goal of 10,000€. He is now performing those shows on NeosVR (another social VR space) and The MetaMovie is getting some attention. I’m very proud of it.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

  1. “A startup is all about money”. I made my first startup Immotionar always thinking about doing something technologically perfect and never thinking about the product-market fit, that is building something that people would pay for. The startup of course died. No matter the passion, the product, the team, the technology, if your startup doesn’t make money, it is doomed to fail. Think about money first, all the rest comes in second place.
  2. “Marketing is as important as development”. As a techie, I thought that if you make a good product, it will sell itself, thanks to the magical “word of mouth”. Well, it is not going to happen: shipping a product without marketing is like winking at a woman in a dark room… she is not going to see you. My blog is helping me in giving visibility to my projects, and it requires me a lot of time that I have to remove from development, but it is paying off;
  3. “Succeeding is hard”. I mean, I knew it even before starting, but I couldn’t realize how much it is hard. It requires a lot of time and effort, and you risk losing relationships with your friends and relatives because of that. Once my father said that I should give him a photo of mine so that he remembers how is my face since he doesn’t see me anymore. Before embarking into an entrepreneurial adventure think if you are willing to sacrifice a big part of your life for work;
  4. “Doing business with your friends is not a good idea”. Startup life puts you under big pressure, and usually, in these conditions, it is easy to argue with other people. If you are doing business with your wife or with your friends, you risk ruining your relationships with them. If instead they are not your peers, but they work for you, it is even worse, because you usually don’t dare to tell them what they are doing wrong. In any case, the best is working with people that you esteem, but that are not close friends. I have ruined some good personal relationships because of work-related problems;
  5. “Your network is one of the biggest assets that you have”. This is one sentence that I tell everyone: if you have a network full of interesting people, that create lots of opportunities, it will be much easier to succeed. For instance, thanks to my blogging gig I got to know HTC China president Alvin Wang Graylin and sometimes we exchange some opinions on social media. When HTC was looking for games for its new upcoming Vive Focus Plus headset, it was very easy to get in contact with the company and discuss a collaboration, that in the end lead to the release of HitMotion. Without this connection, getting in touch with a big corporate like HTC would have been very difficult. The connections you have can open possibilities that you still don’t know about. But remember that they should be true friends to you, you shouldn’t go around connecting to people so that you can exploit them later on. You should give value and then obtain value back.

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. 🙂

Oh, that’s a very good question, and honestly, I don’t know what to say. If I had to create a movement, it would be about helping others in creating a better world.

I’m not talking about great goals like ending world hunger (well, that would be great, though), but in being ready to provide value to the people around us in their daily struggles. A network of people that help each other when they are in need, depending on their capabilities, even in little actions, like giving life lessons, helping in spreading the word about nice projects and giving moral support.

I know that there are already many places on the web where people can connect and help each other, but I still think that the web is too much about “me” and not about “us”. Social media are places where people showcase their lives, where the “selfie” is the leading type of photo, and where there is still too much hate towards who has a different opinion than ours.

I would like that we all become more a community. I know, it’s a utopia, but I try to lead by example.

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

“If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”.

Some people think that I’m an expert, but actually, I’ve just learned a lot from the people around me. In the VR communities, I am surrounded by very smart people that just by talking with me give me many insights, that then I elaborate in my mind. I have learned how to design a computer program, how to write a blog article, how to shoot a Youtube video, and many other things by the people that were around me in real life and that knew about the topic.

I felt dumb a lot of times, and it is not a pleasant sensation, but by suffering this way, I have learned many new concepts, and I’ve become a person that now knows about development, business, marketing, writing. I’ve learned all these skills from the smart people around me. I wouldn’t be here writing this article if I hadn’t been the dumbest person in the room many times.

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 🙂

Oh, VCs don’t have 60 seconds, they have much less time because they are very busy!

I would tell them that immersive realities are the future of technology, and they are going to disrupt our perception of technology as we know it. So either they’re going to jump on the train, or they’re going to be hit by it.

Being a blogger, a developer, and an entrepreneur, I have three different points of view on every topic, and many connections with different expertises, so I’m the right person to invest in when it comes to an innovative idea in the AR/VR landscape.

And I have some virtual reality projects I’m working on that can become profitable for an investor, in fitness (HitMotion), online festivals and concerts (VrrOOm), and scalable entertainment (this one is still in stealth mode, so I can’t tell you the name). All of them can disrupt a traditional model with a VR one that enhances their functionalities and their profitability, and that can so make any investor happy.

That would be my pitch of 40 seconds. In the last 20 seconds, I would recreate that scene of Jerry Maguire when Cuba Gooding Jr. dances and sings “Show me the money”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-mOKMq19zU

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Here you are some links through which you can follow me!

– Blog: https://skarredghost.com

– Twitter: https://twitter.com/skarredghost

– Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/antony-vitillo-vr/

– Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/Skarredghost/

Of course, I wouldn’t like people to just follow me, but also interact with me! And if you want a piece of advice or I can help you somehow, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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

Thanks to you! It was great to have this chat with you 🙂


The Future Is Now: Antony Vitillo of ‘New Technology Walkers’ On How Their Technological Innovation 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: Eve Ackerley of Jenzy On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How…

The Future Is Now: Eve Ackerley of Jenzy On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How Parents Shop

Jenzy aims to take all of the purchases parents make that require a level of expertise and consolidate them into one, single platform. In terms of tackling our first product line — kid shoes — our aim was to take the sit and fit experience a child would normally have at a shoe store and bring that into an eCommerce world.

The app we built is therefore a marketplace ​with top rated kid shoe brands combined with an easy-to-use sizing technology. By creating a universal sizing system to standardize all of the shoes on our platform, we know how each shoe fits inside and out. When we combine that expertise with information about the child — such as their foot measurements and past shoes they’ve worn — we can accurately match them in the best size 9 out of 10 times. ​For comparison, ​when shopping on Zappos, 1 out of 3 shoes need to be returned. On Jenzy, only 1 out of 10 need to be returned!

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing ​​Eve Ackerley, co-founder and COO of Jenzy. At UC Berkeley, Eve studied architecture and interned at multiple startups in the Bay Area including Lucid and Koozoo. After graduating in 2013, she accepted a teaching position with Teach For China. It was in rural China that Eve met her future co-founder, Carolyn Horner, and had a shoe shopping experience so bad that it sparked the idea for what is today, Jenzy. As Jenzy’s COO, Eve has spoken on data trends, new technologies and the retail industry landscape at notable events such as the Total Retail Conference, SXSW and Philly Tech Week.

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

Carolyn, my co-founder, and I first met when teaching abroad in rural China for Teach For China.

Living in such a remote place had many apparent challenges. Although, despite the remoteness of where we were, everything was connected because of apps like WeChat. In the two years we were abroad, we saw WeChat transform from a simple texting service to a platform to shop, buy flights, and pay friends.

With these new features, everything became more convenient because of the ability to do so much in just one app.

Returning things bought online was a struggle because the nearest post office was a thirty minute trek away. One day after having to return yet another pair of shoes, I told Carolyn that there should be a simpler way to size and shop for shoes and it should probably involve your phone.

Carolyn and I bonded over the idea of a “super app” that we knew we had to explore. It was this initial app idea that was swirling in our heads when we returned to the U.S. We started doing some initial market research and put the question out to all of our friends and family on Facebook. We asked, “Which do you hate shopping for more: your shoes or your kids’ shoes?” The answer was unanimous: shopping for kid shoes is the worst.

Young kids grow quickly, many shoe stores, such as Stride Rite and local boutiques, have closed their physical locations, and when shopping online, it’s difficult to know what size to buy. We knew we had identified a gap in the market. We had also found a passionate demographic — parents — that were searching for a solution and excited about the idea we had proposed.

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

Since Day 1, parents have been a key part of Jenzy. We have had countless conversations with moms and dads, and organized multiple beta tests to fully understand the main pain points when kid shoe shopping to test our solution.

During our first year of developing Jenzy, you could often find Carolyn and I at parks around Philly, indoor playgrounds, or even “babysitting for beta testing.” That campaign was so successful that we’ve kept up the tradition of offering free babysitting in exchange for observing parents use the app with their children. Afterwards, they go on a date night while we watch the kids — it keeps our Friday nights booked!

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

Jenzy aims to take all of the purchases parents make that require a level of expertise and consolidate them into one, single platform. In terms of tackling our first product line — kid shoes — our aim was to take the sit and fit experience a child would normally have at a shoe store and bring that into an eCommerce world.

The app we built is therefore a marketplace ​with top rated kid shoe brands combined with an easy-to-use sizing technology. By creating a universal sizing system to standardize all of the shoes on our platform, we know how each shoe fits inside and out. When we combine that expertise with information about the child — such as their foot measurements and past shoes they’ve worn — we can accurately match them in the best size 9 out of 10 times. ​For comparison, ​when shopping on Zappos, 1 out of 3 shoes need to be returned. On Jenzy, only 1 out of 10 need to be returned!

Jenzy began as a test to see if parents would buy shoes on our platform and trust that our team was going to send the right size. What we have found over the past few years is that we can and in doing so, can help a lot of busy parents save time. We are developing a “shoe concierge” through personalization. By helping parents find the perfect fit and best shoe for their child’s development and even suggesting which shoes per season, we are eliminating all decision making from the shoe shopping process.

How do you think this might change the world?

According to The New York Times, “​Fifty-six percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding.” ​By giving parents a platform to receive trusted recommendations and personalized help while shopping for their children, we can add so much convenience to their lives. On top of that, we can help them feel confident about the products they’re purchasing for their child. For now we empower parents by helping them get the right size shoe for their child easily. Going forward, we aim to take this same approach to other product lines like clothing, accessories, toys and even telemedicine.

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

According to eMarketer, in 2019 we spent more time on our cell phones than watching television for a grand total of 3 hours and 43 minutes on average on our cell phones. Millennial moms are spending over 3 hours on their phone every day. On social apps, they’re engaging with their friends, family and communities online.

While technology can add extreme convenience to a busy parent’s life and help them stay connected to their network, it can lead to more stress or the natural tendency to compare yourself to other moms. Jenzy’s aim is to help moms make purchases quickly, so they can spend time on their phone doing things that bring them joy or even put down their phone to relax.

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

We talked to a mom who said that she needed a way to shop for her daughter while brushing her teeth. That left a lasting impression on us because we realized that shopping for something like kid shoes

requires research, reading and more often than not, multiple returns. Shoe shopping is typically a process where a mom often has to take time to sit at her computer and time — for most parents — is not something they have a lot of. This was a tipping point conversion. The mantra of quick and easy shopping is what we think about while creating the Jenzy eCommerce experience in the shoe category and other categories moving forward.

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

For tech companies, we have seen referral programs work really well. The example of PayPal has been very inspirational to show that there are many ways to get new customers. PayPal’s referral program consisted of the company giving people money — new customers got $10 for signing up and existing ones got $10 for referrals. This program helped PayPal get 7 to 10% daily growth, skyrocketing their user base to over 100 million members. The outcome of PayPal’s referral program has inspired what we are working on at Jenzy. We’re creating a similar type of referral program where our evangelists are incentivized to spread the word about our company.

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

We’ve found really effective marketing channels through paid ads, earned media, and influencers. For paid ads, we’ve increased our ad spend by 10x in the past few months and have maintained a consistently low CPI and high rate of quality users. Success has also come from earned media where we have experience pitching media and have seen a strong ROI. Jenzy’s feature in a “Top Tech Tools for Parents” article written by Parents Magazine, resulted in thousands of downloads. The influencer channel is a new strategy, but we have seen tremendous results with micro influencers who have 5k-10k followers and are focused on DIY projects and helpful parenting tools. The ease of shoe sizing and shopping, especially during a time when online shopping is on the rise, has resonated with moms on social media.

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?

Countless amounts of people have been great advisors to Jenzy. One of those mentors includes Andy Dunn — the founder of Bonobos. We were fortunate enough to be connected with him last year in NYC. His passion to help young entrepreneurs who are working on big ideas is so inspiring. He is always thinking about future trends in eCommerce and that foresight has helped us stay focused on developing a mobile app experience that is curated and personalized.

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

When Carolyn and I first moved to Philadelphia, we participated in the Philly Startup Leaders’ Accelerator program. It was a game-changing program that allowed us to connect to other entrepreneurs and mentors while creating the first iterations of Jenzy.

As graduates of that program, we have been active alums leading sessions, mentoring startups and continuing to cultivate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Philadelphia. Like many Philly-founders, we

believe the best thing we can do for our city is create the next big Philly-founded company. Whether with Jenzy or another Philly-based startup, we’re inspired to get to the next level everyday.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

1. Co-founder relationships are a marriage. ​Find a co-founder that complements you and prioritize your relationship. Julie Rice, the Co-Founder of SoulCycle, said on a recent episode of How I Built This, “​We really felt like the success of SoulCycle was a real combination of the two of us and so Elizabeth found us a business therapist coach.”

2. Pick three. ​You cannot prioritize everything in your life, but you can prioritize three things. As an entrepreneur, your business and your co-founder will be two of the three. Sheryl Sandberg calls it “ruthless prioritization.”

3. Always get enough sleep. ​Eating ramen and not sleeping isn’t the way to stay in the game. Arianna Huffington makes the argument for the power of a good night’s sleep or “sleeping your way to the top!” Carolyn and I always make sure health is one of our top three priorities (so now we’re down to zero!).

4. Take actions in 10X quantities. ​To reach your goals, you have to do more than you had planned to do. Grant Cardone writes in ​The 10X Rule​, “Success cannot be achieved by ‘normal’ levels of thoughts and actions.” You must increase your actions by a factor of ten.

5. Find people who get it.​If you are laying the bricks for a brick and mortar store and someone asks, “Why no sales?” they may not be the right fit for your team.

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. 🙂

Something we’re really passionate about is investing in female founders. ​As a startup that has raised money and is currently fundraising, the odds are automatically against us because we don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg. According to TechCrunch, in 2019, less than 3% of all venture capital money went to female founded teams. Therefore, the movement I hope to inspire is continuing to raise awareness about the inequity that exists in the venture capitalist and startup ecosystem. I want to work hard to challenge the status quo. Ultimately, when one female founder gets a VC investment, it starts a wave where her introductions are with other female founders and the connection, investment cycle, etc. can start to shift.

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

Many life lessons are relevant to my journey as an entrepreneur, but one lesson that stands out and rings true is Albert Schweitzer’s quote, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful”. I always remind myself that our passion to work hard for something we believe so strongly in, is what drives Jenzy. We love working with our inspirational team that makes it easy to show up everyday and work towards our goals. What’s so great about our startup is that we are passionate about the solution we are trying to create.

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 🙂

Jenzy is a mobile first marketplace that aims to become the most trusted way for new parents to shop. This year, parents will spend over $250 BILLION on kids under the age of 6. However, there are many purchases that parents make reluctantly because so many purchases require a level of expertise to make

a confident decision. Our aim is to consolidate these purchases that require a level of expertise onto one platform thereby creating the most data driven, personalized way for new parents to shop.

In 2020, 50k parents have​​created a profile on Jenzy, we’ve increased revenue by 700% and have uncovered cost effective marketing channels. Currently, we’re raising a seed round and are looking to partner with a VC firm who can help us scale quickly, expand into new markets and work side by side with us on this journey.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us at @ShopJenzy on ​Instagram​, ​Facebook​, and ​Twitter​!

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


The Future Is Now: Eve Ackerley of Jenzy On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How… 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: Gal Hochberg of Clear On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Gal Hochberg of Clear On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up International Trade

At Clear, we are building a truly decentralized business network between enterprises. We are able to use cryptography, networking protocols, orchestration, and blockchain to connect companies from around the globe into one safe environment where they can directly interact in a trusted way involving billions of dollars. A key element of this, is that unlike many existing networks, the companies don’t have to use middlemen to connect — it is software talking directly to software, but we are still retaining the assurance and trust that were usually only available in centralized networks. This also lets them build new and complex products in cooperation, which is key for their success.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gal Hochberg, CEO and Co-founder of Clear, the developer of blockchain-based settlement and clearing networks to remove friction in complex B2B trade. With more than 15 years’ experience as an accomplished engineer and researcher, Gal has a wealth of knowledge on topics ranging from cybersecurity, computer graphics, and machine learning, to big data and web-applications. In addition to establishing Clear, Gal is also co-founder of HiredScore, an AI HR company used by Fortune 500 companies to identify the best candidates in their funnel.

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 always fascinated by complex machines and computers, and since I was in school I’ve been building programs and software. Then, combined with the growth of the internet, I began to learn about networks, orchestration, and the power of automation — especially as my own life grew more connected and many opportunities were created for me through the internet. As I grew older I wanted to not just build the software itself, but build organizations and companies who would create amazing connected tools for people to make their lives better and more enjoyable. That made me decide to move from technical roles, to leadership roles.

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

I don’t know if this is the most interesting story of my career, but it is one that has inspired me many times. At one time during my career I was doing incident response for a large corporation, helping them to understand the ramifications of a recent cyber attack. I joined the project while it was already in progress and led an avenue of investigation. Six months in, while we had found some interesting leads, the trail had pretty much gone cold as the attack happened a few years prior. The customer was getting tired of the expensive consulting work we were doing and the team was starting to feel like it would be an unsolvable case. The project lead disagreed, and kept pushing everyone to chase every single lead and clean up every angle before we declared defeat. He believed we could win. This was not very popular with the customer or the team, but the project lead’s enthusiasm and drive inspired us to at least complete the planned tasks. As we were nearing the end of the investigation, on the final check on the final lead, we found an archived file kept in a hard drive which had hard evidence of the attack itself. This was the golden key which allowed us to follow the attackers tracks in all they did in the network, bring all other pieces into focus, and understand how the customer was compromised. The customer could then intelligently work to contain the breach and save millions of dollars. This led to the customer becoming a great partner of the firm I worked at and it was an overwhelming success. I always remember the project lead’s incredible (at the time) insistence that we would find a lead if we kept at it — and how he ended up being right. It gives me strength to both believe in myself and my view of the world, to listen to other’s knowledge and intuition, and to stay optimistic — especially when things look bleak.

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

At Clear, we are building a truly decentralized business network between enterprises. We are able to use cryptography, networking protocols, orchestration, and blockchain to connect companies from around the globe into one safe environment where they can directly interact in a trusted way involving billions of dollars. A key element of this, is that unlike many existing networks, the companies don’t have to use middlemen to connect — it is software talking directly to software, but we are still retaining the assurance and trust that were usually only available in centralized networks. This also lets them build new and complex products in cooperation, which is key for their success.

How do you think this might change the world?

I personally believe that the world is going through a big democratization process. As both the number of people and the scale of economic activity has grown, our traditional institutions and processes have had a hard time scaling with them. This has led to many problems such as the inequality of opportunities the less connected to these institutions you are, dampers on growth and innovation, and sometimes cronyism and brittleness. What we’re seeing now, and the work at Clear is part of that, is a democratization of infrastructure and opportunity, combined with a deepening of complexity. If all you need to innovate is a computer and some software, we will see a great explosion of ideas and wealth. Companies will now be able to invent and implement new products very rapidly which is something that is required to thrive in today’s environment.

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

Eran Haggiag (Clear’s Executive Chairman and Co-founder) and I were sitting on a bench in mid 2017 and discussing the recent trend of cryptocurrencies gaining traction. He shared his experiences in building successful advertising technology companies prior and how almost all of his business was digital, except the commercial interaction with partners. We then realized that blockchain technologies and cryptography could be a building block to take those business relationships and digitize them as well, without giving up the privacy they require or the trust that must exist for them to function. At the same time we happened to connect with some business leaders who we shared this insight with and quickly realized that this connects to a very real problem large businesses have today for legacy services and will continue to have even more for upcoming services.

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

Creating transformation in large enterprises is a long process. The drivers for the adoption of the technology are very strong, with the demand for services growing. To change enterprises today, we need strong open-minded partners within enterprises who understand the evolution of technology. Shifting to a new paradigm isn’t easy, and is very different to the short-term bottom-line approach most departments need to be in. We like to partner with the visionaries, who can think 3, 5, 10 years down the road and work with us to create that future.

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

One of the things our amazing team, led by Eran and the imitable Ruth Lotan who is VP Business Development and our Marketing Lead at Clear, has been to take the values we want to embody in our products and turn them into personal experiences for our customers. At Clear, we want to make business frictionless, enjoyable, and clear — which the team has done an amazing job of turning into a physical reality for people who interact with us. This is done by focusing on personal interaction through connections and not mass-emailing campaigns. Through creating unique lounges and physical spaces in events and not the standard hard-sell booths with brochures. Using understandable and clear language and visuals to explain even the most complex topics (and in blockchain they can get pretty complex!). In general, trying to give companies interacting with us the same experience as we think they should have when using our products. This has worked well, in a field with many large companies, our brand is well known and respected. Customers understand not just the product features but the vision of the world we want to help bring to reality.

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?

We could not have achieved our success without our amazing Clear team including Eran, our strong executive team members, and advisors. For me, the focus on supporting each other and interacting positively has been crucial in achieving success. In startups (and right now, in the wider world in general), there are many ups and downs. New challenges come up every day, and many of them may feel unsurmountable. At the same time, you need to be excited and come with fresh eyes and a fresh mind to be able to innovate, succeed, and lift the rest of the team. Personally, Eran, the team, and our advisors play a crucial part in encompassing that everyday — even when times get tough.

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

We are in the beginning of that journey, and it is very important to us. Clear’s product aims to create a more enjoyable, more connected, and a more frictionless world by empowering people and companies to focus on new and exciting things and stop focusing on repetitive manual tasks. We are also exploring ways to directly give back to global causes.

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

It’s going to work — Building a global trade network is a big goal, and in the beginning we were not sure it would work. Looking back now, I have confidence about the future of the network and it would have been great to get a message sent from the future letting me know that if we execute and take care of what’s under our control, we’re on the right path.

Focus on good partners — One thing which has been pivotal for us has been partnering and working with the right people and companies. When you work with such large customers as a small company you need the right advice, connections, and insight to be able to create a big impact with limited resources. We have been able to find great partners and I think that using that mindset from the beginning — focusing on good, effective partnerships could have led to even more success.

Take care of yourself along the way — In the beginning of Clear, I didn’t take care of myself from a diet and exercise perspective. I have recently changed that and I have noticed that my ability to perform and enjoy myself at work has increased dramatically. While this isn’t exactly esoteric advice, I wish someone explained to me how powerful the shift is once you do it right, and how much you miss out from not doing it.

Find places looking towards the future — At Clear, we focused on modernizing different kinds of services — but the kind that tended to work best are those who want to become more efficient today so they can do something new tomorrow. Efficiency is important, but companies are much more driven by creating the future then optimizing the past. We did spend some time in areas that are big today which may not evolve into the future, and it would have been good to understand how that negatively affects adoption and speed, versus those places that can understand how they will use digitization and modernization to grow.

There will be a global pandemic starting in February 2020 which will greatly affect life and business in every country — I think it’s pretty obvious why that would have been convenient to know before we started :) — We’ve been able to react pretty well to COVID, shifting many of our efforts to remote and online.

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 think the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this journey, which I would be very excited to see turn into a movement, is the power of interacting positively with others, no matter what happens and at all times. Many times we react in anger, disgust, disrespect, or aggression to the people around us, not because that is the effective response for them or us, but because it is our knee-jerk reaction when we are stressed, afraid, or feel cornered. This has a high cost to those around us who are exposed to our reactions. They may feel attacked and become less open and productive. If each of us could aim to use our internal abilities to take ownership of our reactions, and believe that we are each capable of handling ourselves to interact positively with those around us, the result would be incredibly productive and enjoyable. This doesn’t mean ignoring our challenges, or giving up on our boundaries or objectives, but learning to communicate them authentically, positively, and with respect. I’ve had luck while working at Clear to meet people such as Eran and others which have taught me that it is within my personal power to do so — and it would be great if other people could realize this as well and apply it within their lives.

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

Bill Gates has a quote, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” I believe it’s a quote that’s relevant in both a business and personal capacity. In business, many times we feel like things are “taking too long” — milestones are hard to hit, and it takes a while for things to achieve fruition. Similarly, in the personal realm we need to use a lot of effort to grow and improve ourselves, and over scales of weeks or months the results can sometimes be underwhelming. However, if you zoom out to a scale outside of the tactical one you live in you can see how these efforts build on one another and become truly transformative. You should not take the fact that things are harder than you thought as evidence that the big audacious goal is beyond reach. If you persist, you will achieve in time things you could not have imagined possible when you started.

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 world is evolving and becoming digital and many enterprises are still stuck partnering with paper and manual processes. They’re going to need to reinvent themselves to provide the types of services people want today, instead of the services people wanted 20 years ago. They’re not going to want to give up control when they do this. At Clear, we’re building the infrastructure for the next generation of complex business to business trade, which honestly they already need right now. We are already working with the largest telecommunications providers and are expanding to other markets as well. If you are a long-term thinker who understands this shift, you might find what we’re doing interesting.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow “Clear Blockchain Technologies” on LinkedIn or Facebook or @ClearBlockchain on Twitter for news about the company.

My personal account is Gal Hochberg on LinkedIn or @Gal_Hochberg on Twitter.

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

Thank you, it was a pleasure.


The Future Is Now: Gal Hochberg of Clear On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… 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: Alexander Gillett of HowGood On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up

The Future Is Now: Alexander Gillett of HowGood On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Our Planet

Farmers and growers who really care about their impact often understand what’s happening on their own farms, but may not know how that compares to what’s happening on the next plot over, across the country, or halfway around the world. The groundbreaking research that HowGood does is collating all that data and making it accessible, so that people ranging from farmers, to food manufacturers, to retailers can make educated decisions about the food they are producing, sourcing, and selling — many for the first time ever. This leads to companies making the kinds of commitments necessary to not just do less harm, but engage in practices that sequester carbon, improve waterways, benefit the health of the soil, and countless other metrics that add up to making the world a better place to live. In short, our technology makes all this global data actionable.

As part of my series about the “The Future Is Now: Exciting Emerging Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Gillet, co-founder and CEO of HowGood, an independent research company with the world’s largest database on food and personal care product sustainability. Since 2007, Alexander has guided HowGood’s business trajectory, driving innovative partnerships with like-minded companies and organizations. Under Alexander’s leadership, HowGood has provided critical data and insights into the quickly-shifting world of sustainability for retailers, consumers, and CPGs, while maintaining its mission to increase transparency and reduce the impact of food and consumer goods on our world.

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 brother (a co-founder) and I have always debated whether the food system needed revolution or evolution. Over the years, we’ve come to the conclusion that, while there are indeed very appealing aspects to revolution, it also has the ability to cause more harm than good. Evolution provides incredible potential to improve the food system for the long-term and that is what I have dedicated my career, and in many ways, my personal life to.

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

Years ago, I was at a festival. My brother and I had struck up a conversation with a few men who had a shared interest in the future of agriculture, and I discovered part of the way through that it was one their birthdays. Though he shrugged it off, it had always been an important part of my childhood to come together and celebrate, so I managed to get upwards of 200 people who were standing nearby to come together and sing him a riotous round of “Happy Birthday.” He was clearly touched, as was his friend. Not long after, that friend became one of our early investors.

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

Farmers and growers who really care about their impact often understand what’s happening on their own farms, but may not know how that compares to what’s happening on the next plot over, across the country, or halfway around the world. The groundbreaking research that HowGood does is collating all that data and making it accessible, so that people ranging from farmers, to food manufacturers, to retailers can make educated decisions about the food they are producing, sourcing, and selling — many for the first time ever. This leads to companies making the kinds of commitments necessary to not just do less harm, but engage in practices that sequester carbon, improve waterways, benefit the health of the soil, and countless other metrics that add up to making the world a better place to live. In short, our technology makes all this global data actionable.

How do you think this might change the world?

For too long, our society has focused on doing less harm. But even if 50% of companies reached a net-zero goal, we would never achieve the kind of impact that’s needed to reverse global warming. Companies need to be more ambitious and driven to go beyond those outdated goals towards more regenerative practices. The problem is, many don’t know the most strategic steps to take — the exact ingredients to start with. That’s what HowGood’s role is: We shine a light on the comprehensive impact of every individual ingredient so that the path toward more regenerative practices is clear.

You can also think about this on a personal level. On your deathbed, how would you feel if you had zero impact? Neither positive nor negative, the “do less harm” paradigm. It’s not very inspiring, is it? We all want to make the world a better place to live. If we were to hold companies to the same standards as we hold ourselves, we would be living in a very different world.

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

It’s important to acknowledge the imperfection of data, but the only thing worse than using imperfect data, is not using data at all. What we do at HowGood is try to represent the complexity of the food system and our ecology as much as possible by partnering with leaders throughout the scientific community. These efforts negate any potential downsides of imperfect or incomplete data by always striving toward a granular, holistic view of any issue.

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

We founded HowGood 14 years ago, and for a large part of that time we were focused on consumer-facing efforts by working with retailers. A little over a year ago, we began partnering with brands after seeing just how valuable and rare our dataset is in the CPG industry. With this shift upstream, our sustainability data is now informing decisions far earlier in the supply chain, and therefore having an exponentially larger impact. Understanding the rarity of data as granular and comprehensive as ours was the real tipping point in this shift for us.

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

What we — and more importantly, the world — needs is ambitious champions within large-scale food and agriculture companies to see the opportunity in shifting toward a more sustainable and regenerative supply system. We’ve found partners in places like OP2B (One Planet Business for Biodiversity) and within innovative organizations like General Mills and Danone who have helped catapult our company and further the strength of our offerings. To see change on the level that’s needed, though, we need far more industry leaders to step up and make commitments to ambitious, data-driven sustainability strategies.

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

We’ve found that developing individual connections and dedicating time to thought leadership initiatives have been the most successful marketing methods for us. One of the most important aspects of building any business relationship is trust, and really putting in the time to engage with potential customers on a personal level makes all the difference not only in sales, but in creating healthy, mutually-beneficial relationships down the line.

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 had a professor in college who used to say that ‘you have the least amount of responsibility now than you will ever have, and that will be true every day for the rest of your life.’ As time goes by, you have a dog, then maybe a mortgage, a family, etc — basically, it gets harder and harder to take a leap as you get older, so the best time to start a business is right now. That was hugely impactful on me, and a big reason why I decided to take the leap sooner rather than later.

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

‘Bringing goodness to the world’ is really the entire focus of our company; it is baked into everything our team does and why our company exists. Our own success as a business is tied to our success in achieving this goal both in the world at large and within the specific complexities of the agricultural system.

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

“There’s no right way to do it.” We’re a “start-up” that was founded 14 years ago. Is this unusual? Yes. Is it working for our team, our customers, and the world at large? Also yes.

“It will be both harder and more rewarding than you think.” On one hand, I’ve discovered over the years that nothing can prepare you for being days — even hours — away from almost running out of money. These have been the most gut-wrenching moments of my life, and I’m not sure there would ever be a way to know what they would feel like. But on the other hand, looking out at my team gathered together at an end of year party, in a year with a lot of successes, and knowing that we all worked together to make something truly amazing happen that is benefitting not only us but hundreds of thousands of people around the world — that’s better than I could ever have imagined.

“There’s no longer a question of can we make a difference, but will we.” This is something that I’ve continually seen proven on small and large scales through our work at HowGood, and I remind myself of it almost daily.

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 regardless of whether or not I actually qualify as that, really what I want to do is support the movements that are happening right now at enormous scale. In our own field, it’s the regenerative agriculture movement, proving as you read this that farming can be used to sequester carbon and not just stall, but fully reverse, the effects of climate change on our planet. In other arenas, it’s the Black Lives Matter movement, bringing critical attention to the systemic racial injustice in this country and deserving of every ounce of our nation’s attention.

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

It’s important to me as I go about a day of video calls, investor pitches, and the various minutiae of the everyday to see the divinity and complexity within every person with whom I interact. The “life lesson” would be to see God in each other. And if you can see that divinity within other people, you can see it in yourself, too, and act accordingly. I try to honor that every day.

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 🙂

Well really what I want to say to them is this: “Are you tracking the impact of your portfolio? If not, you should be.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.instagram.com/howgoodratings/

witter.com/HowGoodRatings

medium.com/@howgoodratings

facebook.com/HowGoodInc

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


The Future Is Now: Alexander Gillett of HowGood On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Gerald Finken’s Big Idea That Might Change The Medical World

I want to make clinical trials available to everyone, everywhere by bringing the practice of pharmacy into clinical research. Believe it or not, this has never been done before.

It will improve healthcare by giving people worldwide clear access to more lifesaving medicines and access to the medication experts — the pharmacist.

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 Gerald E. Finken, R.Ph., M.S., founder and CEO of RxE2.

Gerald is a licensed pharmacist with almost 40 years of experience in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. In 1997, he founded Clinical Supplies Management, Inc. (CSM), a clinical supplies packaging and labeling company, where he invented On-Demand packaging and labeling as well as Clinical Trial Research Pharmacist (CTRP®) services. He also pioneered Direct-to-Patient services. In 2013, he founded Center Point Clinical Services and subsequently created the innovative Siteless CRO model. In 2020, Gerald launched RxE2 where he now serves as CEO. Gerald focuses on innovation, disruptive business strategies, and growth opportunities.

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

My big sister, Shirley, who is two years older, was my inspiration. She was so competitive and determined to achieve. From a very early age she told me that we were going to college and medical school to become doctors. Sounded good to me.

My sister excelled at high school with her eye smack on the medical school ball. She went off to study pre-med and then was accepted to medical school.

I, however, had detoured. In high school, my love for competitive sports overshadowed my academic ambitions. Spending all of my time on the field took a toll on my grades and I started to question my chances of being accepted into medical school, let alone my ability to get through the course work.

The summer vacation of my junior year of high school, my sister, who was home from college, suggested that instead of being a doctor I should consider being a pharmacist. I asked, “What is a pharmacist?” She replied, “You know, the person behind the counter at the pharmacy. They are professionals and they help people.”

I thought: great idea. I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare and to help people. So, I applied to pharmacy school the following year under early admission and never looked back.

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

I started my career working at a large pharmaceutical company. A few months into the job, I teamed up with colleagues to start the first clinical supplies packaging and labeling company.

By day we worked at the pharmaceutical company and by night, my partners and I spent our time writing a business plan, a competitor analysis, and detailed financials.

After two years, and many meetings with my partners and various VCs later, we closed a $1M seed investment in our start-up.

The whole experience was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating. We had achieved what so few companies had achieved. We were funded.

I was on top of the world as we met with the lawyers to finalize the legal paperwork for incorporating. I remember taking the 4-inches of legal paperwork home and showing my wife. I was so proud.

It was also the last time I heard from my two partners. Secretly, they had decided to go into business without me and legally solidified this with our lawyers. Though I had written 75% of the business plan, they felt that I was too young to be a partner in this venture.

I was devastated. It took me six months to start feeling like myself again.

I learned a valuable lesson and ten years later I started my own packaging and labeling company called Clinical Supplies Management, Inc. (CSM), without VC backing and without partners. It was a great success and in 2018 the company was sold for an initial consideration of $150 Million.

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

Work hard and if things are not working out, work harder. Be honest. Use the principles of Problem Analysis to work everything out.

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

I want to make clinical trials available to everyone, everywhere by bringing the practice of pharmacy into clinical research. Believe it or not, this has never been done before.

How do you think this will change the world?

It will improve healthcare by giving people worldwide clear access to more lifesaving medicines and access to the medication experts — the pharmacist.

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?

Yes, money can get in the way. What do I mean by this?

Clinical trials often start out with lots of goodwill to help people. Then, as there is progress, the corporations get involved and the data collection and analysis process often times becomes convoluted and the data itself is often misunderstood or even misused for financial gain.

For example: a patient may report they are feeling well, but in their voice or facial expressions you can see that this answer is not quite right. If the person collecting this information is only listening to the answer to “check-the-box” to collect data, then the true value may be missed. If this happens too many times, the drug may be approved, but when it is introduced into the market, problems may arise.

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

One late evening as the sun was setting, I was on a bike ride north of Fargo, ND. It was in the Fall and the wheat fields were golden brown. The wind made the fields look like water as waves and waves of wind moved across the miles of wheat. I was lost in free thought when I had an epiphany of how to disrupt clinical research. I had been in the business for more than 35 years then and in an instant, I realized how things could be done differently. Thus, I came out of “retirement” to follow the path before me.

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

New ideas are sometimes hard to accept — — not because they are difficult or problematic, but because they are new and hard to wrap our minds around. This is especially true if the process is ingrained in everyone’s mind, as is the case with clinical research. Think about trying to explain the Internet to someone living in the early 1900s.

There are two major things required for the widespread adoption of this idea:

1) For local, independent pharmacies to get involved.

2) The realization of pharmacy customers with pre-existing conditions that they can go to their local pharmacist to discuss what clinical trial options are available to them, how to enroll and how to participate. Their pharmacist can then work with them to find a match.

I plan to do my best to educate people that pharmacists do more than just dispense medication. They are available to people and patients almost 24/7 to discuss their healthcare and medications, answer their questions, and address their concerns — — all for free and even during pandemics.

This is the exact reason why the future of clinical trials should be managed at the pharmacy level. This way, people everywhere can enroll in clinical studies, with the guidance and instruction of their local pharmacist and physician.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and Why.

1) Be patient.

“Rome was not built in a day” and “good things come to those who wait” are great sayings as these imply that you need a good foundation and wisdom to build something lasting. When I first graduated from college I wanted success immediately so I got involved in a get rich quick investment. What I learned from this is that there is no such thing and that the more prudent road to take is one of patience and hard work and this eventually leads to success.

There are two types of success, both of which are important: 1) Financial, which of course, most people want, and 2) sense of personal achievement. This is often harder to achieve.

2) Ask, Listen and Learn.

This is one of my favorite expressions because what I’ve learned is that I usually ask, talk and tell, which means that you don’t invite other people’s experiences and ideas. This shuts down the team approach which I have learned is crucial to success. The idea is to gain knowledge which leads to wisdom. As one of my colleagues always says (wisdom passed on from her late grandfather): “You don’t learn anything, if you’re the one doing the talking.”

3) Build ahealthy work-life balance.

To have a successful company you also need a successful home life. I almost learned the hard-way to do this, but am thankful that I not only applied my “work-harder” mentality to my work life, but I also applied it to my family life. For this reason, I made and continue to make sure that everyone at my company takes their vacations and do my best to make sure our company culture values the family.

4) Remember: First things first.

It is important to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, but you must take the first step to get there. This must be done every day.

My first mentor in my first job would always shake his finger at me when I was too eager and would gently scold me with a smile on his face while saying “first things first”. In other words, slow down and think. Forty years later, my current mentor also often reminds me to slow down and do the “one thing” today that I need to get done to achieve my vision. I guess I am still too eager.

5) You cannot afford to, but you cannot afford NOT to.

When you begin in business, you do not know, what you do not know. You may end up spending lots of money on something you may not think is totally worth it. But eventually, you understand that those expenses were necessary and produced great value.

I found this to be true of marketing. When I first started I thought that this was an unnecessary expense, but as I became more business savvy, I realized that this is an area you must spend money on for business success, especially if the idea is disruptive.

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

Believe with unwavering conviction and actually “see” the success. If you have no doubts, you will succeed. Of course, you must do your part. So, work hard and if things are not going so well, work harder. Read Jeff Olson’s book, The Slight Edge and make sure that everyday you move yourself forward.

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 next disruption in clinical research will not be XaaS, it will be Service as a Service, going old-school and focusing on person-to-person relationships while using technology as a tool rather than a solution.

Everyone is saying that technology is a disruption in healthcare and they are using data mining, AI, and the Internet as a service. In time, these will prove to be true. But in the meantime, we need to improve the data we are collecting and lay a better foundation today to get there. We need to go back to the relationships we once had in healthcare to build those future systems and models.

Right now, healthcare is a mess. So how can we build the AI and do the datamining? How do we build a system based on a healthcare foundation that is crumbling?

We intend to bring back person-to-person business and interactions, leveraging the patient/pharmacist relationship to improve the existing clinical trial process and advance the quality of healthcare.

We will build upon the very important human social needs of trust and dependability, both natural in the patient/pharmacist relationship.

If a next XaaS solution could be a billion-dollar business, then a SaaS business has the potential to be a trillion-dollar business. Our model finally solves the time, cost, and quality clinical research issues that technology has not solved in 40 years.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

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


Gerald Finken’s Big Idea That Might Change The Medical World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dave Furneaux’s Big Idea That Might Change The Tech World

Cyberattacks are happening more frequently because software applications are now running our world. While we used to say this about software, technology has continued to evolve, and software applications are more prevalent than ever within our society.

Each time a person or company deploys a new application, there is additional surface for attackers to hack into systems. In turn, this leads to greater risk for data breaches and a loss of privacy for some of the most important industries and companies, including critical infrastructure, healthcare organizations, financial services and more. By shifting our focus to a world that views cybersecurity as a social issue, we have the potential to positively impact the massive amount of people that interact with applications on a regular basis. Cyber threats will only get more invasive and sophisticated, so it’s important that companies are on board with protecting their applications and infrastructure in new and innovative ways. After all, the way our society operates is at stake if we aren’t willing to make necessary changes to defend against these attacks.

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 Dave Furneaux, CEO of Virsec.

Dave Furneaux has been a driving force behind Virsec since its inception, as an investor and active board member, prior to becoming CEO in 2020. He has spent his 25-year career as an entrepreneur and venture investor, forming, building and investing in numerous high growth companies in information technology, including successful cybersecurity companies, such as Watchfire (acquired by IBM), Skystone (acquired by Cisco), Application Security (acquired by Symantec) and Aironet (acquired by Cisco).

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 was lucky as a kid that my father exposed me to the world of high technology and venture capital. In the 1970s and 1980s, he participated in the personal computer revolution and raised billions of dollars for or invested in companies such as Apple, Compaq, Intel and many other companies that became global successes. I entered the business world in the 1990s and took part in the Internet revolution for the next 2+ decades. I found early on that I loved building companies and solving deep technical and science-related challenges.

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

I learned early on that many times I was “on to something” in forming a new company when the consensus from the people around me was that whatever I had an instinct about was a “bad idea.” A great example of this was when we were starting the first WIFI company. I clearly remember many people telling me that it was a bad idea and that people would not care about connecting their computers to the Internet. But then search engines emerged, e-commerce exploded and computer networks grew. Now, WIFI is relied on every day by the entire developed world and much of the developing world.

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”?

There are so many social issues facing our world, but one detrimental problem impacting almost all global citizens is cyberattacks. Although there is a seemingly endless amount of cyberattacks, cybersecurity is often thought of as a business issue, rather than a societal issue.

I beg to differ. I strongly believe that cybersecurity should be treated as a social issue based on the number of people it impacts on a daily basis. A business issue is one that companies can address by creating products and solutions to make money off of. Cybersecurity does that, but with the number of attacks occurring around the world on a daily basis, there is a need for a shift in our mindsets. Even more, there is a need to stop these attacks from happening altogether. A social issue is one that significantly impacts many people within a society, and cyberattacks do that regularly. Cyberattacks keep businesses and critical infrastructure from being operational and can lead to devastating consequences for a company and its end users if not detected and defended against quickly enough.

Cyberattacks are happening more frequently because software applications are now running our world. While we used to say this about software, technology has continued to evolve, and software applications are more prevalent than ever within our society.

Each time a person or company deploys a new application, there is additional surface for attackers to hack into systems. In turn, this leads to greater risk for data breaches and a loss of privacy for some of the most important industries and companies, including critical infrastructure, healthcare organizations, financial services and more. By shifting our focus to a world that views cybersecurity as a social issue, we have the potential to positively impact the massive amount of people that interact with applications on a regular basis. Cyber threats will only get more invasive and sophisticated, so it’s important that companies are on board with protecting their applications and infrastructure in new and innovative ways. After all, the way our society operates is at stake if we aren’t willing to make necessary changes to defend against these attacks.

How do you think this will change the world?

By treating cybersecurity as the detrimental societal issue it is, rather than downplaying its significance, I see a real opportunity to change the future of the way we do business, which in turn will change the way we detect and defend critical applications against cyberattacks for the better.

Our society is already changing drastically in the wake of the pandemic, and it’s inevitable that this new tech-centered, cloud-based world we live in will continue to shift to a remote-centric workforce. COVID-19 has only accelerated the timeline in which we need to address this problem. The pandemic has forced companies to move their employees to remote work. This has presented a great influx in the number of security vulnerabilities because remote employees don’t always have secure networks protecting them.

The issue of cybersecurity is a global issue that any company has the potential to face. In fact, COVID-specific cyberattacks have increased over 30 percent throughout the course of the pandemic. One of the major problems right now with cybersecurity is that there are plenty of companies protecting endpoints, including devices like phones and laptops, and they use ‘sexy’ technology like artificial intelligence to do so.

Unfortunately, this means there aren’t many companies protecting critical workloads and applications. The attack surface of apps has grown exponentially from the more traditional on-premise server to serverless environments and containerless environments and cloud environments, and it’s time for a much-needed shift in the industry to address this glaring issue. By protecting applications, no matter the size or number of people it reaches, we have the opportunity to protect individuals from a loss of privacy, as well as keep massive data breaches from negatively impacting the influential products and services companies produce on a daily basis.

There is also a need for cybersecurity companies to protect applications from the inside, rather than at the perimeter, which is what my company Virsec does. Attacks are becoming more sophisticated in nature. Rather than attacking at the perimeter, hackers are getting into the deepest levels of an application — the memory-level — and doing more damage to applications than ever before. By allowing automation into the cybersecurity process, critical applications will be defended more effectively to ensure crucial data and information is not exploited.

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?

One area that I think people need to think more deeply about when it comes to this topic is that every company is susceptible to attack. Many people see attacks on large organizations, such as the Equifax security breach and Garmin ransomware attack, and assume that this only happens to the “big players” in every industry.

Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. Every company has private data and information that can be exploited, and attackers know that smaller organizations don’t always have the same security measures in place to defend against an attack. If every company doesn’t take this idea seriously, attacks will continue to become more sophisticated, and it will only become harder to protect against them.

Another potential drawback that people should take into consideration is that whenever problem-solving technology evolves, bad technology will inevitably evolve as well. In the case of cybersecurity, attacks will always find savvy and complex ways to hack into systems and take critical information. To this point, it’s even more important for every company to treat cybersecurity as a social issue, because the longer they wait to upgrade their technology and fight back against attackers, the harder it will be to do so.

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

Across every industry, leaders need to start thinking about the paradigm shift in security, opening themselves up to a new perspective and approach to handling potential cyber threats. This change is not an instantaneous process by any means, but is an extremely important one nonetheless. Cybersecurity best practices are continually evolving as attacks become longer and harder to defend against, and leadership teams need to be willing to shift their security protocols to fight back against these evolving threats.

To lead this idea to widespread adoption, I believe it’s a matter of educating companies about the cybersecurity risks they face, no matter the size of their business. Many companies believe attackers only go after large organizations, but in reality, every application has vulnerabilities that hackers want to exploit.

All organizations need to buy into the idea that their business is at risk on a daily basis, and these attacks have the ability to impact their operations and a large number of their customers. Attacks are only becoming more sophisticated over time, and the longer companies wait to protect their applications, the harder it gets to identify and defend against these attacks. With cyberattacks on the rise, it’s more important than ever for companies to take a hard look at their application’s security and be willing to spend money to protect it.

One option for companies who may not have the time or budget to spend on a full security team is implementing a security solution that automates the entire process. By automating the process, companies have more time to respond to genuine threats, rather than spending a majority of their time sifting through each potential threat to see if it has the potential to exploit critical information.

We have to stop thinking that it’s good enough to secure the world the way we have been. Consumers, government and business leaders must embrace the idea that security technologies must be integrated into the infrastructures and workloads that power our lives. By integrating security inside application workloads, we safeguard our assets, our privacy, our capital and our well-being.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

Early on in my career, I wish that someone had told me that life is not supposed to be easy, and great things happen over time. I learned these two lessons with time and once I did, these lessons set me free to think longer term, to have context for decisions and to enjoy each day as it comes.

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

Success is a mindset more than a destination. Being grateful, living in the moment and seeking ways to be of service all lead to happiness for me. Happiness is the definition of success. Part of being successful is living a life with balance and to consciously invest in our minds, our bodies and our spirits every day. We also need to have empathy for others and to find ways to ignite other people’s happiness.

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 🙂

Cybersecurity is a top five global issue according to the World Economic Forum. The problem is the worst it has ever been and it gets worse every day. The first wave of cybersecurity companies focused on protecting the networks we developed with the emergence of the Internet. Companies like Symantec, Checkpoint and McAfee became the leaders. In the last decade, the security entered a second wave to protect the laptops, computers and phones that exploded in use as the Internet matured. Companies like Crowdstrike, Z-Scaler and Fortinet led this wave. We now have been forced into a third wave, to protect the applications that power the world we have created. This is ultimately the most important wave to get right because in the last 30+ years,cyber attacks have gone from being a business issue to now becoming one of the top societal issues in our world. Enough is enough! Virsec’s mission is to protect critical application workloads from the inside and in doing so to restore trust in our businesses, governments and the critical infrastructure companies that power our world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on LinkedIn or follow Virsec on Twitter (@virsecsystems).

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


Dave Furneaux’s Big Idea That Might Change The Tech World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Robert Berry’s Big Idea That Might Change The Art World

Hosting monthly online art gallery exhibitions, and getting rid of the expensive commercial lease side of the gallery business. I wanted to tell their stories, and also have control of the artistic vision of the gallery. I also wanted to provide better customer service, taking care of my clients, giving them personal attention, finding the right works for their budgets and collections.

People have a lot of time on their hands during COVID, and are now comfortable purchasing vintage cars, rare antiques, expensive tech products, luxury watches — and they are also getting more comfortable with discovering new artists, and acquiring artwork online. it was pure coincidence that my launch took place during this, and it has been the best thing that could have happened for my business.

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 Robert Berry, a New York City-based art gallerist, consultant, and advisor. Having represented many of Manhattan’s top art galleries, and with over 15 years’ experience selling and collecting fine art, Robert launched his own gallery Robert Berry Gallery in New York City. Mr. Berry has featured works by Chicago-based artist John Ruby; London artist Machiko Edmondson; a curated show of collage art by American Art expert Peter Falk; and will be hosting a show by New York-based Alex Cao this fall. Robert Berry Gallery was founded in 2014 with a focus on world-changing art, and a specialty in identifying and working collaboratively with emerging 21st century artists whose work has the ability to positively and powerfully influence society. Robert Berry Gallery works with art industry professionals, galleries, museums as well as advanced and beginning art collectors to establish award-winning collections that are both meaningful and hold long-term value.

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

As founder of Robert Berry Gallery, I have a passion for art that started when I was a kid. I encountered Jackson Pollock’s famous Autumn Rhythm at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that was the painting that changed everything for me. It was that moment when I was inspired to pursue a career in the arts. As a teenager I would walk around New York City, and put extra emphasis on visiting all the Chelsea galleries discovering new art. I realized early on in my professional career that I was very good at selling, and that the gallery business was going to be the right path for me. After 15 years of leading sales and shows at art galleries in Chelsea, SoHo, and the Lower East Side, I decided to open my own gallery to exhibit and represent the artists that I wanted to work with.

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

My first sale was 15 years ago, and the owner of the gallery pointed out how naturally the sale came to me. There are many interesting stories, but mostly it’s about the stories behind the artwork. I love learning how it’s made, the artist’s background and influences, and knowing who it would be right for. I also love getting to know collectors, their preferences and collections, so I can give them something that will be a perfect fit.

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

Honesty is the best policy! Be honest above everything else. I have collectors who have followed me for years over quite a few galleries because they like my curatorial eye, and because they trust me. With Robert Berry Gallery, I represent the artists that I truly love. I even show the collectors how they look in my own home! Second, be a good listener. Artists, collectors and organizations all have unique perspectives on art and what they want to buy. It’s imperative I listen to their hopes, fears and dreams in order to best serve them. Part of building high-quality relationships means being both honest and a good listener.

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”?

Hosting monthly online art gallery exhibitions, and getting rid of the expensive commercial lease side of the gallery business. I wanted to tell their stories, and also have control of the artistic vision of the gallery. I also wanted to provide better customer service, taking care of my clients, giving them personal attention, finding the right works for their budgets and collections.

People have a lot of time on their hands during COVID, and are now comfortable purchasing vintage cars, rare antiques, expensive tech products, luxury watches — and they are also getting more comfortable with discovering new artists, and acquiring artwork online. it was pure coincidence that my launch took place during this, and it has been the best thing that could have happened for my business.

How do you think this will change the world?

There are hundreds of galleries in New York City, so what I’ve decided to do with my business is to create a virtual gallery. What that means is that I’ll be running a gallery business with monthly exhibitions, connecting artists to collectors, but all of my exhibitions will be done digitally. The only limitation an artist has for their show is their own imagination. There’s a much lower overhead of a digital gallery, the artists are able to earn more, and I am able to promote more efficiently. Historically, galleries have made a generic “art buying” experience the objective, which can mean pretentious salespeople, new buyers not getting access to work, and generally, not a fun experience.

I want to create a positive art experience for my collectors. In a digital gallery, artists can promote their visions thoroughly, more clearly, and without worrying about limitations, such as shipping expenses, production costs, and logistics.

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?

Black Mirror is actually one of my favorite shows of the last ten years… and it’s usually the loss of humanity that is the downfall to every protagonist’s tale. There are lots of companies that are selling art online, but most of them seem overly commercial, and they don’t have the artist’s career in mind. I want all of my artists to dream big, and let me help them work towards their short and long term goals. I suppose the worst that could happen is the site starts to become self-aware and start selling art for me while I go climb Mount Everest. Guess that’s not too bad actually!

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

Too many dealers are focused on closing the sale at any cost — and they risk losing trust. I’m here to champion the artists and make a long-term positive impact on the world. The other main tipping point is that I want to be able to help my clients build reputable collections that they love, not just sell them whatever I think they should have in their collection. I want every person who purchases art to come back to me and say, “Robert, I still love that painting I got from you ten years ago. I’d never sell it, but I’m glad to see that it’s gone up in value.”

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

Nearly 30% of all artwork is sold online, and with COVID-19, 100% of art is being sold online right now. The major art fairs and auctions have all been digital, claiming that record-breaking sales are still taking place. My hope is that more dealers start to see the web as a platform for artists to showcase their talent, and not just another sales tool in their arsenal. Robert Berry Gallery encourages the creativity of every artist — and an online forum offers wide-reaching possibilities a physical space does not.

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

1. Start now! Working for myself and one on one with artists is much more pleasant. I spent time learning from others, and I’ve known for at least ten years that I wanted to be my own boss before I turned 40. I have finally met that goal at 39!

2. Don’t wait until you’re ready, just start. I wish someone told me not to focus on making sure I was 100% ready, as if I did, I never would have been able to launch. It will never be perfect, the point is to start your vision and let it evolve and build over time.

3. Let technology work for you. The art world is moving on from brick-and-mortar locations. I can put on more exciting shows now that production, shipping, and logistics are no obstacle.

4. Prioritize relationships. Clients, artists, art professionals — this is a people business above all else. Spend the time to get to know people better. Drink, laugh, and find out what drives them. Then help them on whatever their journey is.

5. Focus on what you have now. The clients I know and have worked with over the years are more important than a “top 200 list” or any celebrity buyer. The people who already know and trust me are the ones to focus on.

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

Success is a habit, and it starts with committing to doing your best work every day. My best advice is simple: never reply angry, and always have good news when picking up the phone to call someone. I’ve also learned the power of positive thinking, and that most difficult situations are a challenge waiting for a solution. We are our own biggest critic, and don’t listen to any self-doubt. I learned from my mother that hard work will get you far, but using your intuition will get you the rest of the way there. Lastly, if something takes less than five minutes, do it now — there is no time like the present to get things done.

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’m the founder of Robert Berry Gallery, a virtual gallery based in New York City focusing on emerging artists of the 21st century whose work has the ability to positively and powerfully influence society. I’m not just creating an art gallery, I’m creating a movement toward having more beauty in one’s life, whether that be a painting or sculpture, whether it’s in their home or office. People need beauty, enjoyment, and inspiration more than ever before and as we emerge from today’s global health crisis, a new emphasis has been placed on mental health and emotional wellbeing. Art is a great outlet, offering beauty, enjoyment and inspiration to all who experience it. My vision for Robert Berry Gallery is to help new and experienced collectors broaden and enrich their collections, while offering them enjoyment and value. The world of art will change more in the next five years than it has in the previous 50 years. How people collect art, and how they experience it is rapidly evolving. People are finding that by collecting art, they enrich their lives.

I started the groundwork on my company ten years ago, with the intent on working with only the artists that I personally believed in. I wanted to tell their stories, while also having control of the artistic vision of the gallery. My vision is to find the best artists in their respective mediums, and to find the right client for every work that my artists create: from abstraction, figurative, sculpture, painting, or photography, from first-time buyers to seasoned collectors. For those readers with questions on starting their own art collections, whether for home or office, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out me at www.robertberrygallery.com; I hope my advice can help, inspire and motivate those interested in emerging art.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/robertberrygallery.com and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertberrygallery. Please feel free to reach out any time.

For more information, please visit www.robertberrygallery.com.

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


Robert Berry’s Big Idea That Might Change The Art World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ryan McQuaid’s Big Idea That Might Change The Healthcare Industry

James and I believe the current healthcare system is frankly, “pretty crappy.” PlushCare is paving the way for all patients to gain high-quality, affordable primary care.

How? PlushCare is the only telehealth solution focused entirely on the primary care model and fostering a trusted relationship between physician and patient. By offering physicians from only the top 50 medical institutions in the U.S., PlushCare empowers patients to choose from a highly qualified group of physicians who they can trust. Once patients choose their physician, they can message, call and video conference their doctor, whenever they want to and regardless of if they have insurance.

We believe it’s not enough to bring brick and mortar primary care online. PlushCare is raising the bar for a frictionless primary care experience that can be delivered how and when patients want.

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 Ryan McQuaid, CEO and co-founder of PlushCare, a leading virtual health platform that offers primary healthcare and virtual doctor’s visits to patients in all 50 U.S. states. Ryan graduated from The University of California with his undergraduate degree. While in college, Ryan prided himself in being a student athlete where he had unlimited access to quality healthcare services. He understood this is not common for the average person, and with the current state of U.S. Healthcare, he knew he wanted to lead efforts in making quality healthcare access seamless and affordable for the everyday citizen. Prior to launching PlushCare, Ryan led AT&T’s MHealth Platform.

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

When my friend Dr. James Wantuck and I first started PlushCare, we were working out of the back of an old dentist’s office. I took phone calls and he provided virtual care to patients. I remember answering thousands of calls and continuously hearing stories about the U.S. healthcare system failing patients every day. Healthcare isn’t an easy thing to navigate — and on top of that managing your health requires making some very hard decisions. James and I saw firsthand that patients truly need someone to help guide them in their healthcare journey, and we knew that our vision for PlushCare could fill that gap. James and I founded PlushCare with a mission of providing patients with a doctor they can trust, and who will be there when and where they need them.

We knew we were doing something right when we began to receive calls from patients telling us about their experience with PlushCare. I distinctly remember one patient named Amy called us back nearly in tears because she was so thankful that we resolved a problem for her at the pharmacy. She had spent hours waiting for a prescription, then called us in frustration — we were able to get on the phone with the pharmacy and track her prescription down for her.

James and I founded PlushCare with a vision for a platform that would provide people with the highest level of care, and sometimes, the care people need the most is from a person who knows their story, understands their needs and can help hold their hand through the process.

Every day, we learn of countless PlushCare success stories like Amy’s, and with each of these stories, we know we’re transforming the healthcare system.

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

Three principals have always served as a guiding light for me.

First, extreme candor. The book, “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott has been integral in shaping my leadership style. My team knows I will always tell them the truth and be real (and I expect the same from them).

Second, I lead with empathy. I think this is most evident in our mission at PlushCare to provide every patient with a “wow” healthcare experience, regardless of if they have insurance. We believe everyone deserves an incredible primary care experience, and that starts by ensuring our employees are happy and our team of physicians are supported.

Lastly, building trusted relationships have been critical to my career progression. Just as I trust my leadership team to steer us towards bringing PlushCare to every American, I also am passionate about ensuring every patient has a go-to physician that they can trust.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change the World”?

James and I believe the current healthcare system is frankly, “pretty crappy.” PlushCare is paving the way for all patients to gain high-quality, affordable primary care.

How? PlushCare is the only telehealth solution focused entirely on the primary care model and fostering a trusted relationship between physician and patient. By offering physicians from only the top 50 medical institutions in the U.S., PlushCare empowers patients to choose from a highly qualified group of physicians who they can trust. Once patients choose their physician, they can message, call and video conference their doctor, whenever they want to and regardless of if they have insurance.

We believe it’s not enough to bring brick and mortar primary care online. PlushCare is raising the bar for a frictionless primary care experience that can be delivered how and when patients want.

How do you think this will change the world?

More than 35% of Americans do not have a primary care doctor, and even if they do, they have to navigate a complex healthcare system. We also need to acknowledge that there are systemic barriers that keep some patients from accessing high quality care. We can all do better. By providing patients with a trusted doctor of their choice, we can break down these barriers and help patients make smart healthcare decisions that improve health outcomes and lower costs. PlushCare is filling a gap in care that cannot be met by just the latest technology gadgets or solutions — it’s about reinventing primary care in a way that is more affordable, accessible and equitable.

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?

PlushCare is a healthcare first company powered by technology. Some telehealth or virtual care companies focus too much on just the technology versus the patient experience. People don’t want a chatbot as a doctor, they want a human who doesn’t treat them like a number. At PlushCare, we focus on providing a world-class healthcare experience by building an intimate relationship and trust between our doctors and patients. This is critical to helping people treat the whole person (mind and body) and making lasting behavioral changes that lead to healthier, happier people.

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

Five years ago, I was in my twenties but was so sick that I couldn’t walk to my own kitchen. Like many of Americans, I didn’t have a primary care doctor, so I turned to James who helped me navigate the health system and diagnosed me with an autoimmune disease. Without James and his physician background, I wouldn’t have known where to go or how to get the support I really needed.

For the millions of Americans who don’t know where to turn, need help or need better care, we wanted to do better. So, we sought out to democratize primary care with PlushCare.

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

We need to capitalize on the momentum COVID-19 has sparked for telehealth. There are many misconceptions about telehealth, such as “it’s too expensive,” “it’s not personalized” and “the doctors are just call center employees.” While for some solutions this may be true, PlushCare isactively dispelling these myths by providing every patient with a top doctor at an affordable price, who is available when and where they want. I encourage doctors and patients to spread the word about PlushCare because people need to know that a top doctor — and building a relationship with one — is just a click or call away.

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 will be harder than you think — I never thought building my own business would be easy…and I was right. Be prepared for sleepless nights, long days and early mornings.

2. Hitting milestones will take longer than expected — Rome wasn’t built in a day and achieving your ultimate vision for the company won’t happen overnight. Be patient, stay motivated and just keep pushing forward.

3. Even though you are passionate, inspired and believe in your mission, self-doubt will creep in — I’ve been an athlete most of my life. In sports, sometimes when you’re in the middle of a game or on the run, your mind plays tricks on you and tells you to stop or that you can’t. The same thing happens when you are building a business, but this doesn’t mean you should stop or that you are not capable. It’s during these times you need to trust your gut and your training.

4. Founding a company with someone is like a marriage — Like a spouse, you have control over who you go into business with, and you want to make sure you find someone who is in it for the long haul. James and I have been through so many ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we share the same set of values and know we can lean on each other to weather any storm.

5.There is no “work-life balance,” and everyone is impacted — When you start your own company, you’re not the only one who will be impacted — your family, friends and community will also be affected. It’s critical to keep good lines of communicationopen with loved ones and constantly reflect on your priorities.

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

I live every day like it is game day. As a college athlete, I knew my success on the field was directly tied to my preparation in the gym and at practice. Discipline and preparation are essential to success in sports or in business.

Additionally, being transparent with your employees, your customers and your family and friends is critical to being a good leader. Trust is a core value at PlushCare and a key to success in business, and I believe transparency is the foundation for building it.

If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Our healthcare system is broken. Too many Americans do not have access to a primary care doctor and those that do often experience a confusing and expensive system. At PlushCare, we’ve set out to democratize healthcare by connecting the nation’s top doctors with patients through telehealth.

We’re patient obsessed. We aim to deliver an exceptional experience for every patient and doctor by fostering an intimate, trusted relationship. People who use PlushCare count on us for a frictionless care experience where they can message or call their chosen doctor at their convenience, and we deliver it every time. We handhold patients through the entire process — from scheduling an appointment, ordering medications or recommending a connection with our care team.

Wealso help doctors do what they do best — provide great care. This means we take care of all of the backend administrative tasks that so often burden physicians today.

PlushCare is set apart by our passion for convenient, affordable care that improves health outcomes while increasing patient satisfaction. We know this approach works because as we’ve scaled to support more than 200,000 members, we’ve maintained a 90 net promoter score (industry standard is 3) and we’re proud to score a 4.9 out of 5 stars across platforms like Yelp and the App Store.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn

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


Ryan McQuaid’s Big Idea That Might Change The Healthcare Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Amit Haller’s Big Idea That Might Change The Housing Industry

Our goal is to build better homes, faster, so we can help build and support communities. We believe everyone should have the chance to live in an exceptional home. As we manufacture homes at a speed and quality above the industry standard, we’re not just setting out to address the national housing shortage, we’re also set on improving the standard of living. Part of that includes long-overdue innovations to the real estate industry. Specifically, we’re addressing a material need for high-quality homes, while also providing solutions to house those acutely impacted by homelessness and crises. In partnership with the City of San Jose, we were able to build a 78-unit development in under 90 days for those experiencing homelessness or displacement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a week, our team assembled 50 walls at the site — a record in the construction industry. This is one example of a recent development that highlights our unique approach and what we’re able to achieve because of it.

In addition to addressing the national housing shortage, it’s truly our goal to bring exceptional quality to each new homeowner and consumer. As we continue to build Veev homes at scale, we’ll make it easier for consumers to find higher quality homes for a reasonable price.

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 Amit Haller, Cofounder and CEO of Veev, a home company that specializes in building high-quality homes at record speed and a fraction of the cost of traditional homes. He also serves as Cofounder and CEO of Reali, a real estate platform making the homeownership journey simple, affordable, and stress-free by combining a number of processes under one roof — from agents and loans to escrow and title. Before Veev and Reali, Amit founded Butterfly, the company behind the first Bluetooth core technology (later acquired by Texas Instruments), and cofounded and scaled IXI Mobile, a mobile device data and service company. Now with Veev, Amit is utilizing state-of-the-art building strategies and streamlining the construction process to bring people cost savings and quality.

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?

Prior to entering the real estate industry over a decade ago, I built my career in the tech space, first founding Butterfly Communications and then later co-founding and scaling IXI Mobile. At the same time, I kept a pulse on the real estate industry as a hobby. Having noticed that the space had seen little systemic progress for so many years, I felt that my fresh point of view and extensive multi-disciplined background could help lead change in the industry.

When I first got into real estate, it started with just my good friend Ami Avrahami and me investing in multi-family homes in East Palo Alto, Sacramento, and Fresno. About a year later, we were joined by Dafna Akiva who brought additional real estate knowledge and expertise to the team. As part of our business, we would buy, sell, and renovate homes, which gave us a great deal of knowledge about the industry — and allowed us to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Two key observations came to light. First the bottleneck created by collaboration (or lack, thereof) among various subcontractors. The construction process was hectic and fragmented, and was a major source of delays and inconsistency, with a great lack of quality control. We realized that the process needed to be streamlined and rebuilt from the top down to improve quality, cost, and efficiency. Second, was the utter lack of innovation — large or small. We started looking for new solutions for different areas, from framing and infrastructure to finishes to home automation. From our experience, we set out to reinvent the homebuilding process completely, leading us to cofound Veev together.

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

Rather than specifically one, there are a number of stories that brought us to one conclusion: people deserve a better living experience, and in order to deliver that, the homebuilding process needs to be disrupted for the better.

In our early days, we were continually disappointed to find that the industry standard required a compromise on quality, at almost every turn. There was rarely a focus on the customer, and really no real focus on the user experience like we see across most industries. For us, a business model that places the customer at the center remained essential. For companies that had chosen to make that sacrifice, often for budgetary reasons or time restraints, we saw that they still retained very little control over their spending and would still run over their estimated timelines.

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

A hunger for quality and innovation has driven a great deal of my work. When I first entered the industry, I noticed that a home, the most significant purchase most people ever make during their lifetimes, is built entirely without the homeowner in mind. This is further complicated with misaligned incentives among subcontractors and involved parties.

As many other industries adopted technology and were disrupted, in housing, developers and subcontractors refrained from innovating, settled for archaic processes, refused to experiment, and shifted toward lower-quality materials to increase profit margins. In this century, where every other industry has progressed exponentially, I wanted to be a part of that cultural shift in homebuilding. As different brands continue to push the envelope to improve the consumer experience in different industries, I want to deliver that same quality of experience to consumers through the most personal products we can own: our homes.

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”?

Simply put: we are fundamentally rethinking homebuilding and homeownership. In the same way that a car, smartphone, or computer is built with the end user in mind, we are bringing that approach to “productize” the home. We’re creating homes that people love and are proud to own, and that have been built to the highest standards.

Our enabling formula to make that possible is in how we control each step of the homebuilding process. To start, our design and engineering teams have developed an algorithm and proprietary design software that allows us to automate up to 70% of building design across Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) functions. By eliminating standard, repetitive tasks in the home design process, our teams get to optimize their time and focus more attention on the design tasks that matter. That dramatically speeds up the architecture to building timeline while reducing the chance of human error and inconsistency.

We then manufacture walls, ceilings, floors, and virtually every piece of the home offsite in our factory, and then assemble onsite at record speed and at a fraction of the cost of traditional homes. By completing all the wiring, plumbing, lighting, and other intricate tasks at the factory and integrating them directly into the walls, homes are move-in ready as soon as they’re assembled. This also allows us to cut costs and valuable time coordinating with subcontractors since we have our own designers, engineers, plumbers, electricians, and construction workers in-house at the fabrication site. Doing so gives us the chance to design homes using materials of the highest quality and craftsmanship while outfitting them with the latest smart technology.

How do you think this will change the world?

Our goal is to build better homes, faster, so we can help build and support communities. We believe everyone should have the chance to live in an exceptional home. As we manufacture homes at a speed and quality above the industry standard, we’re not just setting out to address the national housing shortage, we’re also set on improving the standard of living. Part of that includes long-overdue innovations to the real estate industry. Specifically, we’re addressing a material need for high-quality homes, while also providing solutions to house those acutely impacted by homelessness and crises. In partnership with the City of San Jose, we were able to build a 78-unit development in under 90 days for those experiencing homelessness or displacement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a week, our team assembled 50 walls at the site — a record in the construction industry. This is one example of a recent development that highlights our unique approach and what we’re able to achieve because of it.

In addition to addressing the national housing shortage, it’s truly our goal to bring exceptional quality to each new homeowner and consumer. As we continue to build Veev homes at scale, we’ll make it easier for consumers to find higher quality homes for a reasonable price.

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?

As we innovate and scale, we want each house to remain as personal and customizable as consumers desire. The last thing we want to do is make a home “just another house,” which has become a product of the traditional homebuilding process. That’s why from our perspective, we’re doing our best to solve the many unintended consequences that have come as a result of such a fragmented homebuilding process. The drawback of having so many contractors involved has been the bottleneck that goes into building a house. Because design, craftsmanship, and materials vary so much when working with a variety of workers, the end product, the home, can become a bit Frankenstein. Our strategy is to streamline every component and bring it in house, bringing unparalleled consistency, quality, speed, and control to the homebuilding process.

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

When I entered the real estate industry, I noticed that there were a number of shortcuts and discrepancies in the homebuilding process. For one, as developers moved on to produce homes at extraordinary scale, I noticed some were taking shortcuts to increase profits — whether that’s sourcing lower-quality materials or settling for mediocre design and craftsmanship. At the same time, contractors — experts at what they do — have been hesitant to explore new strategies, technology, and materials that can be seen as risky. Some have instead mastered their own process and refused to adopt new ones.

What all of this has done is stunted innovation in the homebuilding process, and given some new homeowners a product that looks good on its surface, but often requires a laundry list of maintenance and improvements to reach today’s standards. As a person that takes pride in my own home, I wanted to change that, and give people a home that belongs in this era — something that is modern and innovative today, but that will also last a lifetime, and be outfitted with cutting edge technology.

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

Our company is currently working to scale operations. We’re building multi-family housing units, single family homes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that allow us to support community needs for housing. In the last year, we’ve developed dozens of homes across the Bay Area, which is a highly competitive market for homebuyers, and one deeply affected by housing shortages and exorbitant prices. We believe that our success in the market has served as a validator of our ability to scale production and build quality homes that people want to live in.

Between sourcing materials, designing, manufacturing, assembling, and building, we’re refining processes in order for it to be done at a large scale. For widespread adoption among consumers, all it takes is a step inside of a Veev home. Our homes are built to the highest standards from the ground up. We start by laying a high quality foundation with helical piles, which save time and are stronger than traditional foundations, while also being more environmentally friendly. Rather than using wood and drywall, our walls are designed with light gauge steel and versatile high performance surface (HPS) that allows for increased durability and customization, as a variety of colors, textures, and materials can be printed directly onto the HPS. Because our main ingredients are steel and HPS, our walls are mold, bacteria, moisture, and termite resistant.

It is our goal to bring an exceptional living experience to every consumer by providing them with a home they can be proud of. When people walk into a Veev home, they know it’s a Veev home by the quality, look, and feel. As we continue to showcase our homes to prospective buyers, we have no doubt they’ll become a part of Veev’s widespread adoption.

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

To be successful in any business, your goal should always be to put the customer at the center and ensure that they’re always taken care of. If you continually strive for an exceptional customer experience, without compromising on quality, everything will fall into place. It’s important to always ask “why?” Why is an industry the way it is? Why is it successful? How has it failed? How must it improve? Why is this important? Asking why through the lens of a customer is one of the most intimate business processes you can do. It will lead you to innovate, creating breakthroughs in otherwise traditional disciplines, and will make you a better leader.

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

When we first got into the homebuilding industry, we were unaware of just how inefficient it was until we started to build our business. Rather than specific “things” or “lessons” I wish I had known before I started, there were a few guiding principles that we’ve held close to our goals as we’ve innovated in the space.

The first is to ensure that obstacles don’t get in the way of the bigger picture. We’ve had to do a great deal of learning along the way, and although sometimes tedious (and even demoralizing), we’ve learned that it’s all a part of the process and that in order to achieve something truly great, it’s going to take trial and error.

Secondly, we pride ourselves on placing our customers at the center — asking ourselves, “why is this important for them?” and “how will this change their living experience for the better?” Doing so allows us to solve our customers’ needs directly, ensuring that they are taken care of so that they can later advocate for our work.

To be honest, there’s not quite anything that I expected to know or “wish” I had known before I got into this industry. Rather, I’ve enjoyed the learnings that have come along with the territory. We’ve met a slew of challenges, but with extra effort and the combined expertise of our multi-disciplined team, we’re constantly innovating to meet challenges head on. The truth is, we can’t fix the industry solving just one problem, we’re here to solve the whole thing.

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 🙂

At Veev, we’re building better homes for everyone, faster. No brand has dedicated itself to delivering a home and living experience that consumers need today. While the housing market has grown and continued to evolve, homes are continuing to be built the same way as they have for decades. Instead, Veev is completely rethinking the traditional homebuilding process in order to construct homes of the highest quality at a fraction of the cost and time. To do so, Veev has taken a vertically integrated approach to productize the home, and has been able to improve on speed, cost, and quality. From real estate and development through to the design, materials, and manufacturing at our fabrication facility, we manage the entire process to produce and assemble a higher quality home.

In the last year, we have honed our approach and ability to build homes faster, successfully building at 4x the speed and ½ the cost of a traditional build. We have achieved this through consistent innovation across our entire ecosystem, from design to digital fabrication to plug and play systems on site.

Since consumers want intuitive, easy to control tech that makes their lives easier, we’ve also focused on consumer design as a core part of our homes to deliver smart systems that are self-regulating, simple, coordinated, and capable of making decisions based on user preferences. With the Veev smartphone app and a wall app, homeowners can control everything from the living room temperature to the kitchen lighting, as well as get the status of each component, from anywhere, at any time. To truly deliver an exceptional living experience, quality materials, craftsmanship, and digital home technology should be the standard, not the exception.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can connect with me on LinkedIn. For those interested in learning more about the Veev story, our progress, and where we’re headed, they can also find us on LinkedIn or at Veev.com.


Amit Haller’s Big Idea That Might Change The Housing Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jason Lee’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

When I realized the need for on-demand pay, my first thought was to build completely from the ground up, to truly start from scratch. By creating DailyPay, that’s exactly what we did. We created a new “pay experience” for both the employee and the employer.

From the employee’s viewpoint, she is now at the center. She has complete control over her pay. She can see what she earns each day, access her money to pay bills on time, and put money from her earned pay directly into her savings account, all before what used to be called payday.

From the employer’s viewpoint, they have a much more engaged workforce. You see, when you put employees at the center of the pay experience, they actually start behaving differently. For starters, they stay with the company longer. Our clients report an increase in retention of 45%. Employees are also more engaged at work and more likely to pick up extra shifts. Importantly, this is all accomplished without changing a single thing about the employer’s payroll process today.

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 Jason Lee, a fintech entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of DailyPay, the current market leader in the on-demand pay software sector.

A financial engineer by training, Mr. Lee spent nearly two decades on Wall Street creating numerous new products and markets to manage areas of risk. In 2015 he disrupted the calcified world of payroll processing by launching a start-up that grew into a premiere enterprise software company that promotes financial wellness.

Jason’s vision for DailyPay was to create products to deepen the relationship between the employer and employee. DailyPay’s mission is to democratize access to pay for the most people, providing them with financial security and peace of mind.

He leads DailyPay’s Management Committee and serves as Chairman for the Board of Directors.

DailyPay has been awarded a Top 500 Human Capital Management Application (#112), Financial Services Platform of the Year (2019), Stevie Award for Financial Company of the Year (2019), and a Top 10 HRMS Tech Company (2018, 2019).

An innovator with a mission, purpose and real results, Jason is a well-known public speaker and author whose work has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg. He has been recognized as one of the premier thought leaders in global finance by the International Financing Review and Milken Global Institute. He has also been named one of the Top 20 Digital Innovators in Benefits, by Employee Benefits News.

Throughout Jason’s long-standing career in the financial services industry, he has served as Chairman of the Board of SafeSpace, a social services nonprofit based in New York City dedicated to family rights advocacy.

Mr. Lee is an ardent supporter of organizations focused on fair representation, equity, and re-entry including The Kalief Browder Foundation, House of Renewed Hope, Innocence Project, and Defy Ventures, all of which focus on the rights of the falsely accused, in particular for those who do not have the resources or means for fair representation.

Mr. Lee graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

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?

Before founding DailyPay, I worked on Wall St. for almost 20 years, where I built and led a Global Structured Equity Group. While there, I saw a profound need for working Americans to have flexible access to their pay and to improve their financial wellness. My background as a financial engineer helped me to see how an outdated payroll system affects the well being of employees and the bottom line of employers. In many organizations, payroll systems are outdated and lack the modern capabilities needed to meet changing business and compliance needs. Nearly eight in 10 full-time workers in the US live from paycheck to paycheck. Delaying payroll even by just a week would throw 66% of Americans into financial turmoil.

In 2015, that realization became a mission. Hard-working Americans needed money to support themselves and their families but had to wait two weeks (or more!) to get paid, often putting them in dire financial situations. The two-week pay cycle wasn’t working. People were getting second jobs just to get immediate funds to make ends meet. There had to be a better way.

What if we were to innovate and change payroll — rebuild it from the ground up, but put the employee at the center of the system this time?

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

It’s extremely difficult to pinpoint just one story over the last five years of building DailyPay. From incredible stories of our employee users being able to pay their bills on time or help their loved ones in need, to the stories of retention and recruiting transformations our partners have seen as a result of implementing this benefit, DailyPay’s impact shows just how essential on-demand pay has become. We’ve started an incredible awakening across America’s leading employers to show that they must pay differently. DailyPay isn’t just a benefit, it is truly changing basic life dynamics in the most incredible way.

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

Start simple.

Diversity is how you win.

See the circle.

These are the principles that have guided me through my life and my career, as well as values that our incredible team at DailyPay lives up to each day. Everyone has to start somewhere, and often the hardest part is actually getting started. I myself try to make continuous, incremental improvements by challenging myself and growing with every opportunity.

Diversity is an incredible strength to have in an organization. I am constantly ensuring that I incorporate diverse perspectives into the way we run our business. In fact, I believe it’s a business imperative. I dedicate myself to ensuring diversity across all facets of DailyPay. This includes everything from testing ideas against other people’s thoughts to being actively involved in and supporting the employee resource groups that foster inclusivity across our organization.

“See the circle” is something that the DailyPay team has heard (too) many times, but I’ll never stop saying it. Personally and professionally, working as a team drives superior results. Seeing the “we” and being collaborative by nature brings synergies far beyond what I could ever accomplish alone.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

When I realized the need for on-demand pay, my first thought was to build completely from the ground up, to truly start from scratch. By creating DailyPay, that’s exactly what we did. We created a new “pay experience” for both the employee and the employer.

From the employee’s viewpoint, she is now at the center. She has complete control over her pay. She can see what she earns each day, access her money to pay bills on time, and put money from her earned pay directly into her savings account, all before what used to be called payday.

From the employer’s viewpoint, they have a much more engaged workforce. You see, when you put employees at the center of the pay experience, they actually start behaving differently. For starters, they stay with the company longer. Our clients report an increase in retention of 45%. Employees are also more engaged at work and more likely to pick up extra shifts. Importantly, this is all accomplished without changing a single thing about the employer’s payroll process today.

How do you think this will change the world?

The antiquated payroll system is an outdated relic of the past. We are living in a digital, contactless world where you can access almost anything you want at the touch of a button. And millions of our users have come to rely on easy access to their money as they earn it. It has literally been a life-changer for millions.

As we’ve been building out our franchise, we started to notice something interesting. We didn’t set out to become a bank, but we noticed our users treating us like one.

78% say they use the DailyPay product to avoid overdraft fees. It’s cheaper and now that they have savings in their bank accounts, they avoid the risk of the bank shutting down their account due to a negative balance.

Almost all of our users pay a portion of their bills directly out of their bank account, but that service is completely useless if they don’t have the money in the account to pay those bills on time. 87% of DailyPay users say they use our product so that they can pay bills on time that they would otherwise pay late.

Not everyone has or wants to use a credit card to go to the store freely and buy things whenever they need them. This is why 74% of our users say they transfer earned wages so that they too can buy groceries or supplies today, when they need them as if they had a credit card.

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?

The only obstacle in our way is fear of something new. For payroll professionals, the last thing they want is their job to become more complicated, but in reality, we are making their jobs easier. The benefits administrator has been so focused on the suite of benefits, they have neglected the one thing employees care about most — getting paid quicker. Seeing opportunities for innovation, improvement and change gives one the ability to change the world.

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

About six years ago, I had a revelation as I was ordering pizza one night. I thought to myself that it was so arbitrary that hard-working Americans, like my pizza delivery guy, had to wait until a designated payday to access the money they had already earned. I took a hard look at the entire landscape of how people were paid in this country, and all I saw was a mess. We have a pay system that revolves around the employer. It results in completely arbitrary decisions regarding payday schedules that don’t work for most employees. Those employees then seek highly inferior alternatives, like payday loans, to address the gaps caused by that system’s failure.

And so that led me to this question: what if we were to radically change payroll and rebuild it from the ground up, but this time, we put the employee at the center of the system?

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

We are well on our way to widespread adoption. 86% of Fortune 100 companies that offer an on-demand pay benefit use DailyPay as their provider. The global pandemic has accelerated this adoption as companies begin to realize that DailyPay is a zero-cost benefit that can support their employees through both day-to-day life and unprecedented financial emergencies.

With a DailyPay benefit, employees are more productive and stay at their jobs longer. This saves companies millions each year on recruitment costs and gives them a competitive advantage when trying to attract top talent.

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

Do Your Research — Knowledge is power, research is fuel. Never settle for the status quo. Strive to be a perpetual student and always be prepared. Stop at nothing to get it right every time. Understand that views may differ or change, yours included.

Pull The Wagon — Winning takes teamwork, ambition and diligence, not egos. Pitch in and do whatever it takes to move the company forward. Lead or follow, but be an active part of the solution.

Move The Line — Break the rules. Push the boundaries. Stretch the limits. Be forward-thinking and not afraid to innovate.

Be Long-Term Hungry — To build a generational company, we strive for flawless execution in everything we do. Be obsessed with ensuring the success of our clients, our users, our shareholders and our colleagues.

Act Like an Owner — Decisions are creative opportunities for expansiveness. Be greedy for the best long-term outcome, even if it causes short-term sacrifice. Act with purpose and invent the future. Be maniacally focused on building the best long-term solutions for our stakeholders.

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

In my position, I’m incredibly lucky to have a unique oversight into the success mindsets of some of the most talented leaders who are consistently attaining new levels of achievement. Just recently, we announced our 2020 Class of Directors, and it made me truly reflect on what drives success. After many hours deliberating, this incredible group of 5 business leaders and culture carriers stood out, as they display incredible habits and mindsets that are key to success.

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 🙂

There is a massive market opportunity for this space, and DailyPay is the clear number one player in this market, which we invented. We founded the company in 2016 and by year-end, there were two companies doing what we did: ourselves and one other. Today, there are 27 companies in the United States, and 18 in other countries, including New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates. We are the gold standard in the market. We work with 86% of the Fortune 100 who offer on-demand pay. We have over 200 employer partners and have never lost a customer that represented more than 0.1% of our revenue.

The future of DailyPay is not just as a valuable tool within the payroll marketplace. We can own the entire financial experience of a worker from the time she logs her first hour of the day to the time she pays her bills and saves what is left over in her paycheck.

We know our users love our product and they are loyal. Think about any consumer financial company. Their first interaction with you is to convince you to use their product. With our users, we don’t need to convince them because we’ve already proven to them our loyalty and our dependability.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonleem2/

http://twitter.com/jasondailypay

https://medium.com/@jason.lee_7495

https://jason-lee.co/

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


Jason Lee’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jim Buchanan’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

Our vision at Cadient Talent is to revolutionize the way the world makes hiring decisions.

Our goal is to make the hiring process as transparent as possible and consider all of the variables that are used in a hiring decision. That’s extremely complicated, if not impossible, if you have nothing but a human-based approach. The decision-making of a hiring manager is far more complex and less understood than those of a machine learning algorithm. So, we want to focus on the strength of simplicity in a machine learning algorithm; meaning we only want to look at variables and data that are pertinent to the hiring process — and exclude any data that are irrelevant to the job performance.

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 Jim Buchanan, CEO of Cadient Talent. Cadient Talent provides talent acquisition solutions focused on distributed hourly hiring. Cadient was formed in 2019 through a business unit carve-out from a large private software company. Prior to Cadient, Jim spent 15 years in executive management roles in the talent acquisition industry.

Jim co-founded Merlin Technologies, a human capital management company specializing in assessment software and solutions. Under his leadership, the company saw significant growth and was acquired in 2015.

Before Merlin, Jim was CFO of Peopleclick, one of the first companies to offer an applicant tracking system serving a blue-chip customer base — including forty-nine of the Fortune 100 and more than a third of the Fortune 500. Jim earned his bachelor’s degree at Indiana State University and his MBA at Indiana University.

Fun Fact: Though Jim’s basketball skills are what some may call ordinary, Jim worked closely on a class project with Larry Bird, one of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History”! Then, much later, Jim had the opportunity to work at a company where David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, served as board member.

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

I began exploring the ins and outs of human capital management many years ago, mainly because software companies serving HR needs were some of the first to use software-as-a-service business models. I didn’t know much about HR, but I liked the SaaS model so much more than the perpetual software license model. It seemed to be a much better way to do business and I wanted to give it a try. Once I learned what a great return on investment talent acquisition solutions provided, I never wanted to do anything else.

What’s the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Well into our careers, a business partner and I got the itch to do something entrepreneurial. We formed a company, raised some money, and acquired an existing business in December 2007 -just in time for the great recession of 2008. The acquisition had a normal amount of leverage and it was a very tense time as revenues dropped, but the debt service load remained the same. The interesting part about it was the incredibly loyal team that worked together to weather the storm. Our original business plan became a pile of scrap paper and we adjusted the strategy to survive. Our great employees and investors pulled together and we were able to push through it. Because of our determination and culture, it became a really successful company. Despite many sleepless nights, it was all worth it.

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

Don’t think more highly of yourself than you think of other people.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Our vision at Cadient Talent is to revolutionize the way the world makes hiring decisions.

How do you think this will change the world?

We primarily serve companies that have a need for distributed hourly hiring. Local managers make hiring decisions and are normally not well equipped to make such decisions. We have data on hundreds of millions of candidates and tens of millions of hires. This post-hire data is critical in developing machine learning algorithms to predict which candidates will become the best employees.

It’s not good enough to automate the way a local manager hired previously. Most have very high employee turnover rates and we don’t want to automate that process — that only leads to hiring the wrong candidates at a faster pace. Our algorithms recommend candidates based on the traits and characteristics of long-tenured, productive employees. The objective is to select a candidate who will not only be a great employee but also feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in their job. This will reduce employee turnover, improve productivity and revolutionize the hiring process.

Our goal is to make the hiring process as transparent as possible and consider all of the variables that are used in a hiring decision. That’s extremely complicated, if not impossible if you have nothing but a human-based approach. The decision-making of a hiring manager is far more complex and less understood than those of a machine learning algorithm. So, we want to focus on the strength of simplicity in a machine learning algorithm; meaning we only want to look at variables and data that are pertinent to the hiring process — and exclude any data that are irrelevant to the job performance.

We want to be able to augment the intelligence of humans, in particular by using the experiences and prior judgment in past hiring decisions, with an emphasis on those that resulted in good hiring decisions. “Good hiring” can be measured in a number of ways, that don’t implement inappropriate bias, such as the longevity of employees. If a new hire does not remain on the job very long, then perhaps the recruiting effort was not done well, and, in hindsight, you would not have chosen that applicant. But, if you hire someone who is productive and stays for a long time, that person would be considered a good hire.

The only way to address a problem like bias in the hiring environment is to acknowledge it head-on. With machine learning, we are able to learn where mistakes have been made in the past, allowing us to alter our hiring decisions to be less biased moving forward. When we uncover unconscious bias, or even conscious bias, and educate ourselves to do better based on unbiased machine learning we are able to take the first step toward correcting an identified problem. Our machine learning can help us achieve that.

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?

Our view on artificial intelligence and machine learning is that it should provide augmented intelligence about hiring. The process should be managed as rigorously as any supply chain but you’re hiring people. That’s different than other supply chain processes. There always needs to be a human element to it. Relying strictly on artificial intelligence and machine learning to make hiring decisions turns the hiring process into a conveyor belt of on-demand employees. That would be a mistake.

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

We make it our business to learn as much as we can about hiring. We know that distributed hourly hiring is extremely difficult and feel that there must be a better way. Recruiting is only one of a local manager’s countless responsibilities. Open shifts have to be covered, customers don’t receive excellent service, operating costs increase, and ultimately the business suffers. Often, the local manager hires quickly based on candidate availability and limited information. They hope that somehow it will work out. Many times, it doesn’t, and the process starts all over again. This results in employee turnover in the high double-digit, or even triple-digit percentages. We have seen too many instances of this occurrence. We knew there had to be a better way. Our experience coupled with all the data in our system put us in a position to lead a revolution in the distributed hourly hiring process.

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

Education and awareness.

Many people are not aware that a solution like we have exists. Many who are responsible for talent acquisition in a distributed hourly hiring environment accept high employee turnover as an inevitable cost of doing business. They are not aware that there is a streamlined method available.

There is a general feeling that more candidates will solve most of the hiring problems. What do local managers complain about? Not enough candidates. But an abundance of candidates is not the answer. First, hiring managers can’t possibly analyze hundreds of candidates for a job. They won’t even look at 50 — maybe 20. Second, hiring someone quickly(rather than strategically) to fill an open shift should not be the objective. The real objective is to find a candidate who becomes a great employee and is loyal to the company.

We are continuously surprised by the number of people who don’t track employee turnover and don’t understand the consequences of its expense. Replacing an employee costs $1,500 indirect costs. That doesn’t include indirect costs such as lost productivity and reduced customer satisfaction. Those indirect costs can triple the loss. Educating those in the hiring industry on the effect of a bad hire on their business is key to spreading the word and conveying the impact our machine learning can have.

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

a. Over Communicate: Communicate the strategy of the company with your employees more than you think is needed. At Cadient Talent, we shared a vision of the three S’s. Stabilize the acquired software product, Supplement the offering with additional functionality and Separate from the competition through AI and machine learning. Stabilize, Supplement, Separate was pretty easy to remember but it took the repetition for everyone to understand exactly what that meant and how it affected them personally.

b. Find What Makes You different: Focus on what your company does better than anyone else. In the world of technology, there are a lot of temptations to chase the latest and greatest tech things because they’re cool. Next thing you know, you have a bunch of cool stuff that doesn’t work well together. It makes for great demos but unhappy customers.

c. Listen Twice, Speak Once: I like to move quickly and believe that my instincts are right most of the time. But none of us alone, are as smart as the whole team. If you’re like me, it’s hard work to really, truly listen. Without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisers, they succeed.

d. Don’t Be Afraid To Fail: Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” We’d all like to be guaranteed success, but life and business don’t work that way.

e. Be A Servant Leader. The people who work for me are the biggest determinant in whether I will succeed. In reality, they don’t work for me, I work for them. It’s my job to help them achieve success and in turn, that will fuel my success in the long run. If I invest in their lives and careers, they will invest in our mission.

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

Conviction, persistence and preparation. In every venture which I have been involved in, at some point, something comes up that makes you doubt your ability to succeed. It takes a lot of courage to stick to your convictions and keep working, preparing and being persistent. There is no substitute for the hard work of preparing to succeed in something. Bobby Knight, the men’s basketball coach for my alma mater, Indiana University, famously said, “The key is not the will to win… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important”.

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 may see this if we tag them!)

The human capital management sector is extremely competitive and has experienced a lot of investment over the past decade. Everyone is trying to catch the eye of HR for the latest and greatest tool to acquire and manage employees. The absolute best HR investment a company can make is to hire the right person the first time. Talent management systems are not very useful for hires who are unreliable and don’t stick around. In the talent acquisition sector, many providers are not focused on business outcomes. Goals like recruit more candidates, hire faster and make it easier, don’t produce value if you’re not hiring the right people. Paying for a talent acquisition system that doesn’t provide a tangible benefit to your bottom line is a waste of an investment. There is a lot of talk in this industry about soft benefits, but the best B2B technology investment opportunities are those that provide a tangible, quantifiable ROI. Cadient Talent can provide that, and more.

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


Jim Buchanan’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Alan Shelton’s Big Idea That Might Change The Worl

Author Alan Shelton’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

The big idea that will change the world is the unvarnished and unapologetic dive into our original story. What is that you might ask? We all come into our existence as a perfect story. Joseph Campbell would have called this our original myth. But soon after our arrival we are conditioned or molded into family, society and institutions. We lose our original story and become a bastardization attempting to fit in a world where there is no fit. Does it seem to you that the world at large is in constant turbulence and turmoil? Why is that? We don’t know our true identity or our true story. We think that what we have learned to project is who we are, but most of us walk around with that uneasy feeling that something is wrong. That is our intuition, the voice of consciousness, telling us we don’t know who we really are.

Imagine a world where we all recognize our own original expression of life.

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

Within the corporate world Alan Shelton is known as a ‘modern day sage’, a master storyteller, by mentees and loved ones and is the creator of both “Story Theory” and “The Spiritual MBA”.

There is nothing which thrills Alan more than tending to the ‘wisdom pond’ which began in earnest in 2017… however, there is a different life story proceeding this eventual destination and that began in 1977.

Alan began his careerat Price Waterhouse, structuring and negotiating Fortune 500 merger and acquisition transactions. After years managing and advising large multinational companies, he migrated to designing curriculum for executive development for some of the largest brands in the world including Nike, Boeing, IBM, Vans, The North Face, and many others.

In his late thirties, Alan left the corporate world for several years to travel to India. Once in India, Alan spent this time meeting some of the true masters of the spiritual world. It was here that he logged thousands of hours inprocess and encounter groups as well as meditation. This led him to become a therapist facilitating groups of seekers in primal, encounter, and meditative offerings.

After leaving Osho’s ashram, Alan developed a close relationship with Ramesh Balsekar, a former CEO of the Bank of India, and well-known teacher of Advaita. It was upon the recommendation of Balsekar that Alan returned to the United States and began creating programs for seekers looking to apply spiritual realization to the business world.

Alan is the author of Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self Mastery. The book won two business ‘Book of the Year’ awards, was reviewed by the Huffington Post, and has been used as part of the leadership curriculum at USC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown.

Alan now teaches his Spiritual MBA program to select business executives and The Path of Non-Separation to spiritual seekers around the world.

He lives in Pahoa, HI with his wife Justine and their two dogs, Gaylord and McKenna.

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 with two fierce components that I have spent a lifetime cobbling together. My grandfather was a wise man who embraced intellect. Intelligent engagement was a staple of any interaction with him. At the same time my family, grandpa included, were hard working normal folk. So that intellectual embrace was required to be real and live in everyday life. Knowing that, it is no surprise that a young boy wanting to be a philosophy professor became a large deal guy who later morphed into a leadership resource in the corporate world. The grittiness of the corporate terrain was the perfect place for a budding philosopher to transform into a wisdom resource.

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

I have had a long career so I will pick one. In my younger days I was privileged to be in a process group of CEOs. There were 14 of us and we would meet for a whole day once a month to be a working board of directors to each other. Now, I was just 29 at the time having rocketed into success very young. And around me sat “long time” executives of household name companies. Over the 5 years we were together these men became my dearest friends, but early on I was still clearly the puppy of the group. On one of these early days we were asked to go around the room and point out the most powerful attribute of each CEO. Of course, all of the seasoned leaders were easy to classify. But when they got to me you could see this room of executives was clearly at a loss as to what to say. Finally, one of the men said, “I think Alan’s most powerful personal attribute is the ability to make the obvious more so.” This of course threw the room into a fit of laughter as we all were now off the uncomfortable hook. Now years later I see that this story is exactly the case. The simplicity of the obvious is the wisdom that often is overlooked due to its very simplicity.

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

I was once asked what my main internal drivers were. I recognized in my answer that my drivers have been a constant in all of my behavior throughout my life. Could I have told you what these were and was I aware of these as guidance as I went along? Nope! They simply are. My drivers are that anything I do needs to land, and secondly it needs to make a difference. The sense of landing and making a difference live in the felt experience of life itself. In the early years I tethered money and influence to this understanding. These both fell off early on in my journey.

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 big idea that will change the world is the unvarnished and unapologetic dive into our original story. What is that you might ask? We all come into our existence as a perfect story. Joseph Campbell would have called this our original myth. But soon after our arrival we are conditioned or molded into family, society and institutions. We lose our original story and become a bastardization attempting to fit in a world where there is no fit. Does it seem to you that the world at large is in constant turbulence and turmoil? Why is that? We don’t know our true identity or our true story. We think that what we have learned to project is who we are, but most of us walk around with that uneasy feeling that something is wrong. That is our intuition, the voice of consciousness, telling us we don’t know who we really are.

Imagine a world where we all recognize our own original expression of life.

How do you think this will change the world?

The deep dive into self has long been the staple of the wisdom tradition. In the East, Buddha, and in the West, Socrates, pointed to self-knowledge. But in the West, the need to perform and produce soon eliminated the wisdom traditions. Why work on the inside when all that matters is on the outside anyway? Knowledge and wisdom became conflated. Today we live in a knowledge culture where data and content are seen as the pinnacle of humanity. We have traded in our birthright of self-realization for money and influence. The stabilizing anchor of humanity is authenticity. The presence of the authentic, alone, will eliminate turbulence and turmoil as the presence exuded broadcasts and magnetizes within our tangible lived experience. What would that be worth in a world of conflict?

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’s impossible to assess this idea from a binary position. The very base of our existence is the awareness that we are. This awareness doesn’t live in a context of positive and negative poles. What could be the consequences of authenticity when this is our original self? I don’t induce folks to think more deeply, I induce them to be more deeply. Thinking is highly overrated.

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

My early career was highly influenced by my mentors. Peter Drucker, one of those mentors, constantly spoke of modern business organizations as the new gatekeepers for human development and cultural responsibility. I think that this message has been largely overlooked, although I have spent my years in its service. Perhaps the tipping point that allowed me to see how to deliver this as a possibility within organizations was the recognition that executive presence was the same as any kind of presence. It exuded and attracted. Only the authentic original story could channel such powerful essence. It was this moment that shifted my course in my career. I could see that it was possible to take executives on a journey that allowed them to become the most authentic version of themselves.

A case in point.

There I sat across from the CFO of one of the largest apparel brand companies in the world. He was asking one question, “Can you make the initiatives that are presented to me more compelling?” You see he felt that the cases presented to him were becoming flat and that the company was losing its anchoring in their own brand story. I looked at him across the desk and told him I could create that change. He then followed on and replied, “Then I would guess that we will see the best designed cases that we have ever seen”. Another moment that knowledge was seeking to supplant wisdom. I immediately responded and said “No, your cases are already as well constructed as is possible. But you want them to be compelling, and the sense of compelling lives in the depth of the presenter.”He immediately stopped and said, “I know that is true as it’s obvious. But why hasn’t anyone told me that before?” I told him that most consulting companies didn’t focus on the inner development of the executive as a doorway to productive outcomes. As a result, most folks spend their time teaching their executives knowledge and how to polish their ego. The deeper dive into wisdom and authentic story requires more commitment from those with whom you surround yourself.

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

The adoption of a wisdom approach is in the broadcasting of its power. Authenticity, whether in use or not, lives within every human. The broadcast of the possibility will always magnetize leaders to want deep rooting. In a sense, the beauty of reclaiming our birthright in wisdom has no other need than being heard.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

This will be the toughest question. The first thing to see is the assumption on which the question rests. It assumes that there are things you can skip that would make your journey easier or more effective. This possibility only lives in the mind that believes that it can rearrange the course of life itself. Stephen Covey, another of my mentors, would often compare our movement in life with the 7 days that God took to create the world. He would tell all that would listen never to skip any of the days. He saw the crisis of leadership as one of leaders pretending. Pretending they had lived day one and two of the path but had actually skipped to a later day. He was clear that every experience was necessary and should be harvested as part of the human development possibility.

So, when you ask that question, I want to encourage everyone to boldly encounter every experience. There is no category of “things I could have skipped”. In fact, the appreciation of everything that led one to any point in life’s journey should be extended to all events. Of course, my hope is that this answer isn’t seen as cute or dismissive. I teach this pointer in all of my corporate development engagements. So, I humbly submit that this may be the wrong question to ask.

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

The most successful habit or mindset is that of earnestness or endless dedication. All the rest live on top of this one. Authenticity is the magnetizer of movement towards itself. Don’t mistake this with effort. There is a difference between the egoic effort within the inauthentic story and the magnetization of the authentic itself.

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 🙂

In today’s terrain of brand story and simply story itself, the point of difference is the magnetizing of the market to that story. Any company, no matter how great it’s product or service, is at a disadvantage in the market if it ignores its own authentic story. Companies are recognizing this dynamic currently by concentrating on the internal development of the brand story within a company and those who deliver its message. The individual story of each leader in a company locates within the greater brand story itself. I would never enter a race starting 10 meters behind. I wouldn’t bet investor dollars on a company that didn’t seek to secure its place in the market in every way that it could.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/awakenedstories/) Linked In (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alaneshelton/) Instagram (@alanshelton) My websites are alanshelton.com and awakenedleadership.com

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


Author Alan Shelton’s Big Idea That Might Change The Worl was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Houston Kraft’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

The way we think about things in our brain shapes the way we interact with them in the world. Words (and our definitions of them) shape nearly everything we do. I think our world has done the word “Kindness” an unintentional disservice. It is something we collectively say we believe in and yet, as we look around, something we are actually rather bad at. Why? The way we talk about it dismisses how hard it really is to practice. We’ve painted a narrative in our culture that we should just “be kind” because it is free! “Sprinkle that stuff everywhere” or “throw Kindness around like confetti” are some of the posters and postings I’ve seen in schools and on my social media.

I am my number one obstacle to overcome when it comes to practicing Kindness. Kindness, then, is often about getting ourselves out of the way. Deep Kindness (the book’s title and how I want to reframe the word) requires the messiest type of work — the kind that acknowledges that I am both the root of the problem and the potential source of the solution. I think that this is the only way we begin to see meaningful change in our politics, our families, our racist systems, and in the day-to-day suffering that we experience both internal and external.

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 Houston Kraft, a speaker, author, and Kindness advocate. He just published his debut book, Deep Kindness (Simon & Schuster, Tiller Press), has spoken at over 600 schools, and co-founded CharacterStrong which works with nearly 3,000 schools globally to help change the way education approaches social and emotional skills.

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?

My life was shifted when I went to a summer leadership camp in Washington State. I’d been elected student body president in high school going into my senior year and I wanted to make a meaningful difference, but didn’t necessarily feel like I had all the tools to do so. I listened to a guy on stage one night named John Norlin who told a simple, but profound story about showing up for 182 straight school days an hour early to hold the door open for his classmates. He talked about how leadership wasn’t about a position or a title, but about our willingness to show up in compassion for others. When we serve others intentionally, we build influence with them over time — and that’s what true leadership is about.

I went back to my high school and started a club that met every week where we talked about and practiced Kindness. These perspectives shaped what I did and studied in college and, as I finished up at university, I began speaking right away in schools. The first person to ever hire me to speak? John Norlin. 600 schools later, we came together as co-founders of Character Strong which now works with over 2,500 schools across all 50 states and 9 countries to help better teach things like Kindness, Empathy, and Leadership.

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

I’ve spoken at schools that have a graduating class of 1000 and a graduating class of 3. I’ve had a middle schooler vomit on the back of another student’s head in the middle of my talk. On more than one occasion, a student has confided in me about some of the scariest secrets of their life and it’s my job to hold space for them, listen carefully, and provide them with some comfort and a long hug.

Working in schools is a mini-preview of the world to come. You get to see, across all different sorts of communities, how young people are thinking about the world and the things they are being taught. You get insight into their fears and their wisdom.

I spoke at a school in Texas a few years back. At the end of the assembly, a swaggering senior boy walked up to me. “Hey man, I realized while I was listening today that I’m a really nice person.”

I thought he was messing with me. He wasn’t.

“I’m nice, but I don’t think I’m kind. Most of my school says they’re kind, but they’re nice. They’re helpful when it’s convenient. They’ll show up for someone if they like ’em or agree with them. Nice is reactive, yeah know?”

I encouraged him to keep going.

“Nice is reactive, but the way you talked about kindness today…it’s proactive. I have to practice it even when it’s messy and uncomfortable. I realized that it requires a lot of work…and I think I have a lot of work to do.”

While I’ve objectively had a lot more “interesting” moments in my career, it is these small insights that help shape my work and my world. It reminds me of the power of paradigm shifts and that’s what I want my career to be about: changing how people think about a thing with the hopes that it changes the way we act with it.

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

My dad’s earliest life lesson was, “Girls like a guy who can dance.” My mom’s was, “Hug like you mean it.”

Those both have played a role in how I live my life.

I think one of the most important ideas that guides my world is 1) every relationship only functions because of Trust, 2) we are human beings and human “becomings,” 3) success doesn’t have to be measured in the ways our world tells us it should.

My friend Kyle Scheele says that his definition of success is the number of nights he comes home smelling like campfire. I like that and I am always thinking about more meaningful ways to measure achievement in my life and my work.

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 way we think about things in our brain shapes the way we interact with them in the world. Words (and our definitions of them) shape nearly everything we do.

I think our world has done the word “Kindness” an unintentional disservice. It is something we collectively say we believe in and yet, as we look around, something we are actually rather bad at. Why? The way we talk about it dismisses how hard it really is to practice. We’ve painted a narrative in our culture that we should just “be kind” because it is free! “Sprinkle that stuff everywhere” or “throw Kindness around like confetti” are some of the posters and postings I’ve seen in schools and on my social media.

The problem is that when we think of something as free, we don’t accurately allocate the proper resources to improve at that thing. People tell us all the time to work hard if we want to get into a good school or make a good living. We know that consistent exercise over time is the pathway to a better body and mind. But somehow we’ve dismissed Kindness as this fluffy thing and, as a result, I don’t think we give it the proper discipline, time, and sacrifice to truly improve at it.

The gap between what we say is good and what we are good at is really wide. And I think we need to revolutionize the way we talk about, teach about, and act in Kindness in our world if we are going to heal as a culture and as a world.

How do you think this will change the world?

There’s a popular story about the London publication of The Times. It is said they printed an open question to their readers: “What is wrong with the world?”

It’s a question I’m sure we all have many answers for in our current reality. In the early 1900s, however, the prolific writer and philosopher G. K. Chesterton had a much more direct approach.

He wrote back simply, “I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”

I am my number one obstacle to overcome when it comes to practicing Kindness. Kindness, then, is often about getting ourselves out of the way.

Deep Kindness (the book’s title and how I want to reframe the word) requires the messiest type of work — the kind that acknowledges that I am both the root of the problem and the potential source of the solution. I think that this is the only way we begin to see meaningful change in our politics, our families, our racist systems, and in the day-to-day suffering that we experience both internal and external.

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?

When you take an abstract, lofty, and almost spiritual ideal like Kindness and try to make it practical or measurable, you always risk that thing becoming less pure or authentic. How do you hold yourself to a disciplined daily exercise of Kindness without it losing its realness or impact? If a culture were to reorient its expectations of us — its metrics of “success” — to be more about compassion and connectedness instead of productivity, do we lose the magic of the generosity that Kindness currently requires?

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

10 years and 600 schools in, I realized that no matter how many good ideas I offered to practice Kindness or how earnestly I told inspirational stories of Kindness in action, it didn’t really guarantee long-term behavior change at scale.

The story of the shift starts 3 years ago when I was speaking at a student leadership conference with 5,000 people in attendance. My time slot was third in the day and I was supposed to follow Noémi Ban, a ninety-four-year-old Holocaust survivor.

She was brilliant. At the age of twenty-two, Ban was sent to Auschwitz alongside eleven of her relatives who did not make it out of that horrific camp alive. Ban was later sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, where she intentionally constructed faulty bombs to save future, unknown lives. She escaped during a death march and found her way back home to Hungary. During the entirety of her talk, she had a glass of water in front of her. She shared stories of how the Nazis would taunt their captives with water after dehydrating them for days. They wanted the Jews to attack each other, proving that they were “animals.”

At the end of her talk, she held the glass aloft, took a sip, and spoke her final line: “Freedom.”

She made her way slowly off the stage. Listening to Noémi, I realized that I’d been selling answers when what I needed to do was ask better questions. Perhaps the more meaningful and challenging call to action about Kindness had less to do with its implied morality and more to do with our willingness (and ability) to ask ourselves the question, “What gets in the way?”

The exploration of that answer for myself and the desire to create frameworks and curriculum to help others unpack that concept is what led me to write the book.

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

I think we need the cultural courage to confront those things that prevent us from exercising real compassion. We are watching friction rise to the surface in ways that feel more palpable, consequential, and ubiquitous than perhaps ever before (with thanks/frustrations to how accessible social media makes information and conflict). But friction is a precursor to change. We need to revolutionize the way we talk about Kindness and then teach the skills necessary to bring it to life in our schools, our homes, and our organizations.

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

1. Everything can lead to something. I’ve learned along the way that most of my “failed” experiments have led to some of the best new connections, new ideas, and repurposable content for whatever comes next. When we cling on to the narrative that things need to “work” in order for us to feel good about them, we can easily miss the growth amidst the groans.

2. The most compassionate people have the most boundaries. Saying “no” often helps you say a more authentic, generous “yes.” Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to make everything happen for everyone. Even though you’re attempting to be Kind, you’re actually burning yourself out and giving a less than ideal version of yourself in lots of directions.

3. Time = Priority. There’s an amazing article from the Wall Street Journal called “Are You As Busy As You Think?” It asks us to reframe how we view time. Instead of saying, “I don’t have time!” trying saying, “This is not my priority.” It’ll change the way you see the value of things.

4. “Self-Made” doesn’t exist. Find a partner or team quickly who can support the things you’re not so excited or skilled at. The entrepreneurial culture touts independence but rarely talks about how lonely solo success feels. Do meaningful work alongside people.

5. Do what you love and you’ll work harder than ever. I think it’s a silly narrative to tell young people that if they do what they love they’ll never “work” a day in their life. When we discover something purposeful, we want to work hard for it. And that thing will require lots of work — both the kind you love and lots of moments where it is truly just work. Let’s reframe what it means to create harmony between work and passion in a way that honors both.

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

The biggest self-check will always be, “What does success look like?” With a lot of projects, my metrics of success have to do with the number of amazing people I can bring into the creative process or the number of powerful voices I can help amplify. With some projects, that success is when a student says, “This really helped me. Thank you.” Or the educator who says, “This just made my job 100x easier and more meaningful.

If I were to pinpoint a habit that helps me bring forward work I love, it’d be protecting time for the necessary playful conversations, unstructured dreaming, and dot connecting that can happen when we give ourselves the space to stew on an idea before we force productivity out of ourselves. It’s usually in the weeks leading up to a true full powerhouse work sprint that the dots are connecting in the background. When we are constantly in deadline mode, creativity deadens.

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 🙂

If you believe that education is the pathway to a better world and that we can better equip the next generation with the sorts of skills that help a person live a successful and meaningful life, then I’d love your support and wisdom.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Find me anywhere at @houstonkraft and check out the book at www.deepkindness.com!

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


Houston Kraft’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kim Bohstedt & Diane Mantel’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

Upbeet + Rooted is a women-owned marketplace, a community where vegan, plant-based, and cruelty-free lifestyles come together to live out our mantra, “do no harm,” through our thoughtfully hand-picked foods, products, and goodies from small businesses across the country.

Our mission is to empower a no-harm world for the good of animals, people, and small businesses across the globe.

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 Kim Bohstedt & Diane Mantel, the Founders of Upbeet + Rooted.

Upbeet + Rooted is a women-owned marketplace- a community where vegan, plant-based, and cruelty-free lifestyles come together to live out our mantra of“do no harm,” through our thoughtfully hand-picked foods, products, and goodies from small businesses across the country.

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?

We are both very passionate about animals and living a life where we do not harm them in any way. I, Kim, own a dog walking company, and (my mom!) Diane is a kitchen and bath designer. We both wanted to do something for the greater good and something that we are extremely passionate about. We are very close as mother (Diane) and daughter (Kim) and wanted to be able to see one another more often, so we decided to create a plant based/vegan business together!

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

In August of 2019 we had our very first pop up market, and we had absolutely no expectations or idea of how it would go. The most interesting part to us was that it went off without a hitch! Everything flowed, it was seamless, and truly magical. It showed us that we were on the path to something great and that the vegan industry was ripe for this.

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

We believe wholeheartedly in manifestation and trusting the process. We feel that if we are true to ourselves, our values, kind to others, and follow our passion, we will not fail.

For Upbeet + Rooted — we choose partners who share similar values so that we can work together to make the world a better place.

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”?

Upbeet + Rooted is a women-owned marketplace, a community where vegan, plant-based, and cruelty-free lifestyles come together to live out our mantra, “do no harm,” through our thoughtfully hand-picked foods, products, and goodies from small businesses across the country.

How do you think this will change the world?

Our mission is to empower a no-harm world for the good of animals, people, and small businesses across the globe.

By having this platform with ‘No Harm’ brands we are :

-Saving animals — billions of land and sea animals are slaughtered every year for human consumption.

-Saving the earth — animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction planet-wide.

-Saving human lives — animal products have been linked to degenerative diseases.

-We are building a powerful community of people and brands committed to living the no-harm mantra in order to create meaningful change through product choices and intentional living.

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?

-The only drawback that comes to mind is possibly a financial one.

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

We always wanted to work together and have always had the same passion for animals. One day, while living in different cities, we said, “let’s do something to bring awareness to this No Harm lifestyle we are so passionate about.”

We didn’t know what it would look like or how it would unfold but we decided on that day in January 2019 that we would begin the process. We have had and still have SO many ideas in our idea tank and cannot wait to see how we will incorporate them synergistically.

COVID19 was our most recent “tipping point,” leading us to the need for a pandemic pivot and new idea for a traveling pop up market. We were forced to find creative ways to replicate the business online so we could help keep vendors’ businesses afloat and continue to spread our mission of being the go-to site for those looking for clean, no-harm products.

Going virtual beginning this December, our new market will feature all our favorite brands and products that align with our ‘do no harm’ mantra. The updated website will grow as a trustworthy source that makes no-harm living easy, fun, and approachable. Every item is vetted to support brands that share our values while taking the guesswork out of the customer experience.

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

We need the support of our amazing community that continues to grow, exposure from large reaching publications/blogs/businesses/companies that believe in us and want to help support/promote our Do No Harm mission.

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

  1. We wish we would have started earlier because of the amazing response we have received thus far. It’s clear that the industry is ripe for this.
  2. You can’t do it all yourselves. It’s ok to ask for help but be selective of who you let into your little bubble.
  3. Be prepared for things to change course several times while trying to nail down your concept. It’s ok to massage/reshape different ideas and be ok with (the word of the year), PIVOTING.
  4. Don’t second guess yourself/trust your gut. If someone shows you what they are all about/who they are at their core, believe them.
  5. Don’t take things personally or let the criticism from others get in the way. There will always be those who don’t understand/like what you’re doing. There will also be gossip, don’t engage, it’s a waste of your time and energy and that needs to be spent on the business. No matter how hurtful it is, it is not worth it to engage.

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

  1. Be kind (to yourself and to others)
  2. Be consistent
  3. Build an amazing community /network
  4. Stay true to your mission, don’t get off course
  5. Give back
  6. Stay humble

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 🙂

Upbeet + Rooted is a women-owned marketplace, a community where vegan, plant-based, and cruelty-free lifestyles come together to live out our mantra, do no harm, through our thoughtfully hand-picked foods, products, and goodies from small businesses across the country.

U+ R exists to empower a no-harm world for the good of animals, people, and small businesses across the globe.

We are a powerful community of people and brands committed to living the no-harm mantra in order to create meaningful change through product choices and intentional living.

A few additional notes to the VC’s

– We’ve proven this concept and validated the idea with the market

– We’ve grown our social following 250% over the last 6 months

– We know that what we’re doing is good for animals, businesses, the environment, and humanity.

– Have an opportunity to make real meaningful impact

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram : @upbeetandrooted

Facebook :upbeetandrooted

Website : www.upbeetandrooted.com (new site coming this winter!)

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


Kim Bohstedt & Diane Mantel’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Bennett Washabaugh of TenantBase: Five Things I Learned As A Twenty-Something Founder

Everyone wants to tell you how to do things. When you are young, everyone wants to give you advice, but they don’t always have the right answer. I have any number of examples, but the key point in this, for me, is that you have to be confident in your own decision-making. It’s your business and you know it better than anyone.

As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bennett Washabaugh, Co-Founder and CEO of TenantBase.

He is an entrepreneurial trailblazer with a vision to create a modern experience for local businesses traditionally underserved by commercial brokerage firms. TenantBase is a tech-enabled commercial real estate platform designed to simplify the process of leasing your next office, industrial or retail space.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., and after graduating college I worked as a commercial real estate broker in downtown Chicago. In that role, I saw the challenges of efficiently matching clients to an available space. I was specifically shocked by the fact the traditional brokerage model was especially broken for addressing the needs of SMBs. It was an actual problem. I started talking with my co-founder and partner, Mike Zei, who was a great friend of mine (Mike was working with Cassidy Turley in Dallas at the time). The energy from the initial conversations about TenantBase was incredible — we started looking into the numbers and realized 80% of the local business market is SMBs, and began obsessing about how we could create a technology platform that could digitize the commercial real estate leasing process for such an underserved segment of the market. It sounds simple, but there were so many nuanced reasons why it had not happened yet in the industry at that time.

In mid 2013, I quit my job to start TenantBase. We ended up recruiting our third founder and partner, Andy Kish, to join us as our CTO. Andy was working at Google in Seattle as a software developer and was one of my childhood friends. We moved to Ann Arbor where both of us were from, and during the day I would cold-call law firms to pitch lease restructures to fund the business from brokerage fees, while at night Andy would code the initial TenantBase software as I sketched out plans. In 2014, we moved the business to Nashville, where Mike was living at the time, and we launched the operation. The company then expanded in 2015 to California after being fortunate enough to be accepted into EvoNexus, a technology incubator in Southern California (whose largest funding partner was the Irvine company). Today, TenantBase is seven years old and we’ve raised approximately $22 million in capital from incredible backers, which has helped us to grow into 13 markets in seven states and change the commercial real estate experience for local businesses.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?

In 2014, we decided to host our first company trip. There were only five of us on staff at that time, and we took a road trip from Nashville to Rosemary Beach to stay at a home owned by Mike’s wife’s family. We had no money for an extravagant trip, so we all piled into my SUV and headed out, traveling well into the night when we stopped for a fast-food dinner. Right after, our VP of Business Development had an allergic reaction to something he ate. We were debating whether we needed to find a doctor when suddenly the transmission actually dropped out of my SUV. It was 1 a.m. in the middle of nowhere in Alabama, and we had to get the car towed and ultimately had to rent a vehicle to get to our destination. We wound up having to rent a small car for each couple (think Smart Cars) at the Huntsville airport because there were no cars left on the lot, and formed a tiny car caravan for the rest of the trip through the middle of the night.

If you would have told me the trip would include a ton of worry about our friend and colleague, a broken down SUV in the middle of nowhere, and topped off with a late-night tiny car caravan through Alabama for our first company trip, I’m not sure we would have gone in the first place. But the trip was fitting. Once we got through it, our VP of Business Development was fine. It was an absolutely amazing trip and later we could laugh about all of the crazy things that happened. But looking back on it, I realize that experience also represented the journey of entrepreneurship — you may have a destination and a goal, and a roadmap to achieve it, but the path you actually take always looks different than what you expect. If you ask any entrepreneur, the journey isn’t always ideal either, but the journey is what you will always remember.

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

What I think makes us unique is that we help the people that no one else helps. With our platform we can work with any size of company, but we started out focusing on the smaller businesses who struggle to find someone to help them lease a property. One of our first clients was a small contractor who became one of our biggest advocates because we helped him find what he needed, and we were there with him every step of the way through the process.

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

I am grateful to my two co-founders, Mike and Andy, certainly. I’m also grateful to my uncle, who was our first angel investor. He’s always stood by us and I’m so grateful for that.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

In addition to expanding within our current markets, we have developed a third-party platform to partner with brokers in the markets where we seek to grow. We’re confident this will allow us to scale quickly and help tenants in many more cities in the United States. We are simply leveraging our proven technology platform and processes from the last seven years to create the same online leasing experience for tenants through partner tenant rep brokers providing great local service. These partnerships allow us to help more companies find and lease their perfect space faster.

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

I think this really goes back to the comment I made earlier about our uniqueness — we are very passionate about working with clients that don’t fit the traditional brokerage model — local businesses that struggle to find good representation in the process. Local businesses are the engine that drive local economies, and when they succeed, we all succeed.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

When I was very young, I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel and it had a real impact on me. The key takeaway for me was that, when you are at your most uncomfortable in life — when you face a big struggle, that is when you learn the most. And when you look back on those moments, they are the ones you appreciate the most.

Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”. Please share an example or story for each

  1. Everyone wants to tell you how to do things. When you are young, everyone wants to give you advice, but they don’t always have the right answer. I have any number of examples, but the key point in this, for me, is that you have to be confident in your own decision-making. It’s your business and you know it better than anyone.
  2. Everything takes longer than you think, and you are always under-resourced. It truly does take years to become an overnight success. When you have an idea you know will work, you think things will happen faster, but it takes time to build a solid business.
  3. Work-life balance. A lot of people talk about this and how to achieve it, and I have to honestly say I don’t quite have it figured out. Along the journey of starting this business, I got married and we have two children, with a third on the way. I love the business, I love my family and I want to do it all — I just have to take it one day at a time and do my best. I believe that, if you’ve done your best, that’s success.
  4. There isn’t any limit to what you can do, but you are only one person. One thing I recognized early on in our journey is that you have to have a team in order to be successful. As one person, there are only so many hours in a day or days in a week; with a team, you can do so much more. I was grateful to have Andy and Mike as co-founders and continue to be grateful for the team we’ve built over the last seven years.
  5. One of the greatest rewards of our journey is that we have built a team that genuinely cares about one another. I trust every one of my colleagues and they are my best friends, my second family. By being close-knit the way we are, we can always be open, honest and real with one another. That’s especially important during challenging moments — you want to know your team has your back, and that you have theirs.

What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty-year-old who is looking to found a business?

You have to keep perspective during tough situations you will encounter in building and growing a business. You need to remember it’s a growth period and a defining moment, and that if you don’t encounter those uncomfortable things, you won’t look back and consider yourself successful.

I would also say, “just do it.” I think everyone manufactures anxiety about whether they should or shouldn’t go for something. You have to take risks, and also remember, what’s the worst that can happen? I think it’s worse to always wonder what could have been. For me, I didn’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not starting this business.

We are very 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 U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with Warren Buffet. He is a brilliant person, and that’s one reason. But it’s also because of how he handles himself. I am a big fan of understated people — those who can be humble and who want to leave the world better than the way they found it. He is a great example of that.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

https://www.facebook.com/tenantbase

https://twitter.com/tenantbase

https://www.linkedin.com/company/tenantbase/

https://www.instagram.com/tenantbaseinc/


Bennett Washabaugh of TenantBase: Five Things I Learned As A Twenty-Something Founder was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Andy Bozzo of Tablet Command: Don’t get “big leagued” by big money

Don’t get “big leagued” by big money. We knew we were developing this concept in a small but reliable market. Money people would nod their heads but wanted quick turnarounds on money. Because that component was missing and this was a longer term play with lower returns (than Twitter), they would cast doubt on the idea. “Screw that, screw them, and move on to a believer,” is what we told ourselves. We stopped wasting time with VCs and went for smaller, more agile investors.

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 Andy Bozzo, BIO, CO-FOUNDER OF TABLET COMMAND

Andy has 22 years of experience in fire service in California and Washington State. He is currently a Captain in Contra Costa County, CA. Andy has a visionary mind and has provided many of the conceptual aspects that are foundational to Tablet Command. Andy is passionate about continuing to improve the Tablet Command solution by using it in the field, learning from other users’ experiences, and sharing his experiences as part of the training team. Andy has a BA in Biology from Middlebury College, and prior to working in the fire service Andy was a science teacher.

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?

With firefighting, there was just an allure that had been present since childhood. When I was about four or five, growing up in Central California, the simple preschool visits to the fire station were enough to hook me. But one specific event really drew me in: I spent part of my childhood growing up on the back side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and one summer, the mountains surrounding our house went up in flames! I was on my front porch all day and night, watching the feverish but deliberate battle; retardant drops by large bomber-like airplanes and helicopters dipping in to make precision strikes, so that the hand crews below could march in to cut swaths of fire line and make forward progress on stopping the fire. This was all very seductive to me. I was a war movie nut with my dad, so to me this was like war without having to kill anyone. Years later, I was doing pretty well in the sciences in school and sort of talked myself out of becoming a firefighter. But ultimately, I needed to make money for graduate school, so I fought summer fires to sort of “get my fix and get it out of my system.” But, of course, I ended up falling deeply in love with the profession and dedicated myself to becoming a professional firefighter.

What does this have to do with Tablet Command software? Flash forward 20 years later, and to me, as a career firefighter in the field — or “on the floor” as they say in some parts of the country — I was keenly aware that there wasn’t really a modern tool capable of tracking our whereabouts and progress during an emergency. A horribly tragic event that happened about eight years into the job, sort of thrust this problem to the foreground. But, when I look back, I’d been dreaming up this idea in some form since the day I got hired.

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

Anytime you’re dealing with people in need of emergency assistance, it’s all pretty interesting. I’d say one of the most interesting times in my career was during the Wine Country Fires in Napa, which is not too far away from where I’m based. That fire, along with several others in that five-year span from about 2013–2018, were mind-blowingly big, erratic, and seemed to take on lives of their own. When a division supervisor (the boss on a particular slice of the fire) tells you, “Don’t let any sparks or embers across this road or we’ll lose another town today.” it gets your attention. Again, the massive coordination of resources — equipment, people, aircraft, food, tools, fuel — we’ve been doing it for so long on paper, and there isn’t really a modern way to see live-action intelligence or situational status. But now that’s coming into view with Tablet Command’s technology. Several members of our company have been at the tip of the spear as working firefighters, and see how information (or lack thereof) can make situations better or worse. We’re making something practical for all of those ground-pounders out there who are fighting fires and dealing with emergencies everyday.

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

I think you gotta be real and honest with yourself. It’s not easy becoming a firefighter, but even still, once you become one you can hide in a station on the quieter side of town and still call yourself a firefighter. You can still have the tee-shirt, and you can still impress plenty of people with the title. However, that’s not enough for most, and that mindset can be dangerous.

I’ve always done my very best to work in environments that really represent our society. I’m turned off by the high-rent areas. To me, that’s not real, and it’s pretty homogeneous, although you don’t tear your body up as much. The real people are in the tougher parts of town; the tough neighborhoods where lots of things happen. I’m attracted to those environments where you’re going to get the most amount of reps on the job. It will expose your weaknesses pretty quickly, and it’s REALLY important to acknowledge them.

The type of person who becomes a firefighter is sometimes averse to being vulnerable, but it’s really important to say, “I suck at this particular part of the job,” or even more daring, “I’m afraid of this part of the job”. But then you fling yourself into it and challenge yourself to get really good at it, because it’s going to happen: that thing you feared or resisted or hid is going to lay itself right at your feet someday. You don’t like emergencies in long dark tunnels? You’re going to get that exact call someday. We can’t pretend to know everything, and we rely on those closest to us who know us the best to every now and again show us a mirror and challenge us to get better.

I think this is true when you’re building a business from nothing. You can’t strut around and pretend you know everything, and you also can’t be afraid of falling on your face and looking vulnerable. The type of people with false bravado don’t belong in the fire service, frankly, and they don’t belong in leadership positions of business. You have to be brave enough to surround yourself with smart people, and then trust them — that’s how a team really soars.

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 “Big Idea” is called Tablet Command. As working firefighters in the field, we’ve worked hard to create a digital platform for real-time emergency incident management. Think about the games of “Risk” or “Battleship,” which are modeled after military battle simulators. Tablet Command resembles these simulators, but in real-time with real-life assets, existing on a platform where the incident commander can deploy and redeploy resources to handle the emergency. The perimeter of the emergency is like a battle map, and the resources (firefighters, fire engines, helicopters, ambulances, police cars, etc.) are like game pieces. Tablet Command is a real-time intelligence tool with access to the most accurate map overlays, helping the incident manager to deploy their resources in the safest and most efficient manner.

How do you think this will change the world?

We are proud to say that Tablet Command has already changed lives by saving lives. Because of Tablet Command, four firefighters were able to escape being burned up during a “blow-up” (when fire behavior becomes explosive and erratic) in the massive 2018 Carr Fire that scorched Northern California.

We’ve been successful in enhancing situational awareness and creating a shared common operating picture with real-time incident viewing ability for our first responders in North America. And we’ve created access to information that has never been available to responders in the field before; every rank can participate in the information stream, and that’s a big change from just a few years ago. Combine this with faster notifications and alerting for emergencies where first responders are getting out the door quicker, and with a clearer mental picture of what’s going on.

We’re responding to every type of emergency faster, with better information, and making a tangible difference in people’s lives. And that’s a BIG DEAL.

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?

Tablet Command is a first responder tracking system in that it tracks assignments, time on task, and location of apparatus. At some point we’ll track individual personnel, too. We also have the potential to aggregate live drone footage, which could conjure up fears about “Big Brother,” surveillance, and the militarization of civil services.

In addition, we provide access to information and data that could be considered sensitive and personal, although we’ve taken stringent measures with regard to data and user security to ensure that this information will never fall into the wrong hands.

Today we have the ability to consume and display map data from multiple sources, including predictive fire behavior modeling. And we also have the potential to aggregate sensor data from multiple sources, including humans. So again, fears of us adding to a society governed by AI where the human factor is further removed from the decision loop, could raise fears. Currently, Tablet Command allows for all members of a fire department to view an incident being managed by an individual or team of people. That kind of real-time scrutiny has raised concerns about too much information being available to onlookers.

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

I’ve been a firefighter since 1998, and as I stated earlier I’ve always tried to work in the busiest areas that my department covered. I had personally been to several fires and had a couple of close calls leading up to 2007. In July of that year, my department lost two of our own in what was thought to be a standard or “bread and butter” house fire. Shortly after this tragedy I began working on that Engine Company where our firefighters had lost their lives. Every day I came to the station, I thought about that accident — it haunted all of us like a ghost. During that time, our fire department was doing a deep dive on operations as well, and I was tapped by one of my department’s chiefs to gather info on a firefighting tracking system that I had used in my previous department. Spoiler alert: It was totally analog.

On my days off I began digging out the materials for this tracking system, and it was spurring a lot of thoughts about the tragedy our department had suffered and how we could do things better. I distinctly remember taking a break from thinking about that incident and this tracking system, and picked up my NEW iPhone 2 and started playing a game called “Words with Friends.”

The game is essentially digital Scrabble where tiles populate 7 at a time (coincidentally, about the same number of emergency apparatus that show up to a fire). I realized I was playing with someone from somewhere else in the world, and it hit me that I was essentially exchanging information in a certain arrangement (specifically, arranged tiles) with that person. To me, the tiles looked like the same tokens we used on white boards to represent fire engines or fire crews on our analog makeshift command boards: think World War 2 battle maps where personnel with wooden wands push tokens around a battle map.

It was at that moment I realized that if we could keep the interface recognizable for the old fire commanders out there, and build some timers behind each action, we might be able to easily convert the fire service from analog to digital when commanding fires and tracking resources. We’d have a more accurate account of the emergency with respect to strategic and tactical movements of crews. After a few storyboard drawings, the concept of Tablet Command was born!

There had been a lot of talk about larger tablets coming out in the future, which essentially meant that this command map could happen on a larger scale that was shareable. This idea needed to live in the world.

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

We need more forums for our currently successful users to evangelize and refer prospective users toward our product. The idea of implementing new technologies in public safety still has obstacles, and these are mainly psychological with some physical barriers. We perceive ourselves as “blue-collar” technophobes when we’re wearing the uniform, yet we’ll book plane tickets on Kayak, find a restaurant on Yelp, and navigate with Waze. It’s a tricky paradox, but our current customers really help us get the word out. We just need more of that more often.

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

  1. Be really clear about what you want the technology to look like, and how you want it to act. We made assumptions about what we saw in our imaginations versus what others heard and produced. It took us a while to find a dev group who “got” us (ie understood the workflows of public safety).
  2. Don’t get “big leagued” by big money. We knew we were developing this concept in a small but reliable market. Money people would nod their heads but wanted quick turnarounds on money. Because that component was missing and this was a longer term play with lower returns (than Twitter), they would cast doubt on the idea. “Screw that, screw them, and move on to a believer,” is what we told ourselves. We stopped wasting time with VCs and went for smaller, more agile investors.
  3. 0% Churn is a very important statistic: As we continue to build a customer base, we have 0% churn and positive income. That should be worth a lot to a potential investor. We had investors that would poo-poo us because we sell to the government, but what they failed to see, and what we failed to tell them emphatically, is that once we were installed it was going to be a tough prospect to get us out. To this day we’ve had 100% contract renewals and growth within current accounts, year after year.
  4. You don’t need an MBA. Our domain expertise was all the education we needed, even if we were initiating this in a small market. If we own the market, then we win. We’re on that path now.
  5. Clearly define milestones early in the process: As brand new co-founders in a tough market, we kept our heads down and worked pretty hard for the first few years. We weren’t necessarily pausing to celebrate some of the early wins: The first enterprise customer, the first integration with 9–1–1 software, the first contract renewal. That was probably a function of being “in the weeds” while we built a company. As we’ve matured, we’re able to look back at our tremendous accomplishment — we built a company from a blank piece of paper and put something new in the world. We didn’t do this alone, however. The growth of our team has been proportionate to the growth and success of our product, and we’re proud of that. Early on it felt like ancient mariners fearful of sailing off the edge of the world, but eventually we found a new world across a vast unknown, and have been building momentum ever since.

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

One word comes to mind when I think about this question: Perseverance. Starting something on a blank piece of paper, even when it’s right in your domain, takes lots of time and effort. And there’s no exact recipe for success. The edges will be very ragged and the road is really really bumpy with lots of turns and switchbacks and detours. You will not be perfect and you will lose some battles — just be in it to win the war.

And it’s ok to spend purposeful, thoughtful time figuring out the product market fit, as well as experiment with which strategies will work best. Then you’ve got to make pivotal decisions and have confidence that your product will stick, without trying to “boil the ocean” and be something you’re not. As we began to narrow our mission, deepen our understanding of our market, and focus on customer success, we really began to see solid momentum. It’s ok to stay on this tack for a while, if not for the lifespan of the company, if growth is continual.

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 🙂

Tablet Command is the most highly-recognized and best end to end emergency response and incident command platform being deployed in North America today. LIke never before, Tablet Command brings faster notification, enhanced mapping and navigation, and accurate and timely incident tracking to firefighters and other emergency workers around the continent. Tablet Command has successfully disrupted legacy incident notification and emergency response data systems from around the country, and replaced it with faster and more streamlined technology that better represents a modern, intuitive, and recognizable interface.

Our customizable platform can easily be adapted for non-emergency events in other vertical markets with expansion of our team, and would result in larger opportunities in nearby markets. Tablet Command has been deployed in non-emergency events like Superbowl 50, The Rock and Roll San Diego Marathon, and the Mavericks Surf Contest.

With a team of domain experts and industry veterans, Tablet Command has successfully positioned itself to become the largest and most intuitive response, mapping, and management platform in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram and Twitter: @TabletCommand

Facebook: @TabletCommandICS

Linked In: Tablet Command


Andy Bozzo of Tablet Command: Don’t get “big leagued” by big money 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 Meetan Kaur of UNITED SIKHS is Helping To Support Some Of The…

Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Meetan Kaur of UNITED SIKHS is Helping To Support Some Of The Most Vulnerable People In Our Communities

…This is a great question that we have thought about many times on our team. Offering food is one way with an immediate need for sustenance, a daily need most of us take for granted. But perhaps one of the best ways is to ask a homeless person what they need the most help with. It might be access to food, it might be hygiene related, it might be a safe place to shelter, it might be access to healthcare. One of the best things one can do is to connect homeless people with services and organizations that serve their diverse acute needs.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Meetan Kaur, Associate Director, UNITED SIKHS.

UNITED SIKHS is a U.N. affiliated international non-profit, non-governmental organization focused on humanitarian relief, human development, and advocacy aimed at empowering those in need, especially disadvantaged and minority communities across the world.

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

I grew up in a small town in western India, with 14 people in the same household. My family routinely took me to the Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship), where hundreds of homeless men, women, and children came twice a week to eat langar, a community meal prepared and served for free to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status, or ethnicity. It always amazed me that these people walked anywhere from an hour to three hours for just a meal at the Gurdwara. Some of my best childhood memories involve volunteering in the Gurdwara kitchen and serving langar to those who needed it most.

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

My paternal grandparents had three sons; my father is the oldest. I was blessed with two very kind uncles steeped in spiritual pursuits. My family had a catering business and it was common to have sacks of veggies and other raw materials around the house for next morning’s catering order. One night, I got out of bed for a glass of water and I saw one of my uncles carefully opening up very tightly wrapped plastic wraps around vegetables and placing each bell pepper, broccoli head, lettuce, and other veggies out on the dining table with the fan on. When I asked him why he was doing that when the items were going to be transported to the catering site within a couple of hours, he said he couldn’t see them suffocating like this — they needed to breathe free. The love and care with which he treated our vegetables had a huge impact on me and showed me how one must truly live and care for every other living being. His demeanor has always been so godly, and his aura so calming, that it became apparent to me what my purpose in life should be. Life can get stifling at times, and all it takes is a little TLC from another person to put things into perspective and set one free. Each homeless individual I see reminds me of this experience; every time I see them, I feel this sharp desire to help them improve their lives and breathe free.

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

The homeless crisis has a complicated and long narrative. Homelessness has existed from the early days of the union. There are institutional and systemic forces that have led to and exacerbated the problem in cities across America. Natural, human-made disasters and wars create disturbances that propel many into homelessness. There is not a single reason that leads to homelessness. In the last fifty years, a confluence of key factors involves the lack of mental health infrastructure, a widening income disparity tied to rise in poverty, and an epidemic of drug addiction and racial inequities.

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?

Even in the scenario you have described above there are varying implicit forces that create vulnerabilities towards homelessness. A young person who is LGBTQ or trans has increased risks, despite the stated factors being in place. An African American person with a heritage of slavery and segregation leading to lack of generational wealth faces added risks. A young woman has to face the potential of gender-based bias and violence pervasive in our culture, which adds to her risk. I share these to emphasize that not every young healthy person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, and a community support system is on equal standing.

For example, a young person with all of these things might be a first-generation immigrant with a hard-working family where both parents work low-paid jobs. The family lives on paycheck to paycheck. They have extended family in similar circumstances. They go to church and have a good community support system. A parent or a child falls sick and is diagnosed with a medical condition that requires extended care. Medical expenses over time push the family out of their rented home into a situation where the family is living out of their car. The young person takes a second job to pay for the medical bills. They park their vehicle every night at a local church. The church is gracious enough to let them use their facilities for a shower. The family is homeless and lives in this mode for months and years.

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

Implicit in this question is the assumption that a city with cheap housing will solve the problem of homelessness. This is where the shallowness of the word “homeless” is laid bare. Homelessness is not only the loss of four walls and a roof with amenities. Homelessness is tied to the concept of family, a source of income, a community as a support network, access to basic healthcare, access to funds for a rainy day. Small cities with cheaper housing at times lack some of the public resources and funds to take care of those who have fallen on difficult financial circumstances.

To solve homelessness we have to try and solve the source of all of these challenges. Just giving a homeless person a structure to live in is not going to solve the underlying problems. Housing is a good and necessary start but it has to be structured around resources to get people out of temporary housing for a healthy future.

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

This is a great question that we have thought about many times on our team. Offering food is one way with an immediate need for sustenance, a daily need most of us take for granted. But perhaps one of the best ways is to ask a homeless person what they need the most help with. It might be access to food, it might be hygiene related, it might be a safe place to shelter, it might be access to healthcare. One of the best things one can do is to connect homeless people with services and organizations that serve their diverse acute needs.

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

There are two different scenarios here. If someone wants money for gas, one is to presume they have a vehicle. You can pay for gas yourself rather than giving cash to the person. That makes sure the money goes towards the need for gas.

If someone asks for rent money, we are typically looking at a significantly larger amount. It is difficult to know if the money you were to give will go towards rent. Doing this transaction for a homeless person yourself is complicated.

The best response is to connect the homeless person with social services and other agencies/organizations that offer rental and other amenity assistance to homeless persons.

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

Our work with homeless communities across the nation is focused at the moment on the most immediate needs of cooked meals, dry grocery supplies, hygiene products, water, clothes, and PPE. We are addressing the most basic human needs at the moment. As the pandemic eases, we are planning to create a mechanism to connect homeless communities we serve with social services and other institutions that can serve the long-term impact needs.

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

The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities and disparities in our society in a way nothing else has in the recent past. Food insecurity is something many Americans do not worry about, but in the midst and immediate aftermath of the pandemic, many Americans got acquainted to a spectrum of food insecurity. The most vulnerable always knew this insecurity up close. Now the homeless are even more vulnerable to even higher levels of food insecurity.

As a hopeful sign, Americans have donated resources, food, and their time to respond to issues of food insecurity. We have seen volunteers and donors step up to serve homeless communities in numbers we have not seen before. There is an elevated level of collective empathy created in this global public health crisis.

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

Many of the individuals we serve have mental health issues, and sometimes when we are there serving meals some individuals stop by and hurl insults at us, pass racist remarks, get violent, and start throwing food at our truck. Every time when this happens, inevitably another homeless person quickly jumps to our defense, apologizes for what happened, and tells us just how much we are appreciated by everyone we serve. The love and blessings we garner out of this service are so uplifting and rewarding that they completely outweigh the risks we face in situations like these.

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

An immigrant woman in Los Angeles became homeless after her husband abandoned her. By the time we found her, she had had two strokes and was partially paralyzed because of the abuse she had been exposed to. UNITED SIKHS has been serving her cooked meals and groceries for a few months now. She considers us her family.

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?

Job insecurity is one of the major root causes of homelessness and has to be tackled for any real solution to this problem. We need a new societal infrastructure to support mental health like we support physical health, addressing prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and research for better wellness strategies. Income disparity is perhaps one of the leading sources of creating conditions for homelessness. It is also one of the most challenging problems in our society, which is defined around a capitalistic financial system that rewards continuous wealth accumulation. In our economy wealth begets wealth. The wealthy have much better statistical odds to become wealthier. Our culture rewards and aspires towards exponential wealth accumulation which is rationally and morally inequitable and non-inclusive.

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

Access to Mental Health Resources as basic human right.
A version of Universal Basic income.

Housing First as a means of getting homeless people off the streets to set up a foundation for them to lead healthy & independent lives.

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

I come from a heritage, the Sikh way of life, which has a short history full of persecution at the hands of tyrants. This path is centered on love, compassion, and serving humanity. Suffering and Happiness are part of this journey. The goal is to merge with the universal creator energy we call “Ik Onkaar.” This heritage keeps me going.

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

I believe we can get closer to solving this challenge.

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

  1. You cannot control the outcome of your efforts; you can only try and hope for the best. When we started our local efforts to help the homeless communities in LA and Orange County, we started very small. There were times when we had to scramble for donations and support to sustain the efforts. With God’s grace, we continued our operations despite all odds, even through the pandemic. To date, we have served over 100,000 meals to homeless communities. Today, we do not have to worry about how we’ll sustain the program.
  2. Just because you believe in the cause does not mean that people around you do too. The only way you can gather support for your cause is by doing what you’re doing, no matter what. People now see the difference we’re making; donations and volunteers come as a result of our passion to bring a positive change in the lives of people living without a shelter.
  3. Support will come from where you least expect it. Do not expect friends and family to support you in your mission as a default. Almost always, support came from people I least expected to help with the cause. Social media and WhatsApp groups play a very crucial role in spreading the word about your service and like-minded people will join you when they find out!
  4. Your phone will never stop ringing! Being in this field essentially makes you a public servant without an elected office. People expect you to be at their service 24/7; they come to you with a variety of problems and issues and you’ll be surprised how much of it you can resolve by just playing the role of a navigator.
  5. You can only help those that want to be helped. Homelessness is more complicated than one can imagine. Some people get used to this way of life and do not necessarily want to be helped. It’s best to start with the people who are looking for change and are willing to work towards it. My job is to spot opportunities during my encounters with this community to ascertain even the slightest willingness to start the dialog for change.

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. 🙂

A movement to serve not only those you feel compassion for, but also those you feel contempt for. See the oneness of humanity.

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

Other than the Lord, no one can kill or rejuvenate. O mind, do not be anxious — remain fearless. — Guru Granth Sahib Ji (The spiritual guide for the Sikh path)

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. 🙂

Michelle Obama. An article put it very aptly: “She would’ve been impactful simply by being in the White House, the first African-American First Lady. But she also used her position of power to improve the world around her.”

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/meetan-kaur-60ab3257/

https://www.facebook.com/UNITEDSIKHS.org/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Meetan Kaur of UNITED SIKHS is Helping To Support Some Of The… 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 Pam Barker of Yfoundations is Helping To Support Some Of The…

Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Pam Barker of Yfoundations is Helping To Support Some Of The Most Vulnerable People In Our Communities

The issue is that there is not enough affordable housing for all human beings on this planet. This leaves those most vulnerable competing for properties and waiting on lengthy waiting lists to get access to housing. Other issues are being able to fund housing close to education, employment and transport facilities, things that support a person to live day to day.

This is your problem and it is mine. In the case of young people who are experiencing homelessness, these young people once went to school with your children, might have lived in your neighborhood, or sat next to you on the train. We’re talking about children as young as twelve, who through no fault of their own, have slipped through the cracks. Youth homelessness is rarely the fault of the victim — rather their plight is commonly collateral damage of domestic violence, mental health, family breakdowns, and financial hardship brought on from wider societal issues. Youth homelessness takes on many forms but, in many cases, they are a hidden statistic.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Pam Barker, CEO of Yfoundations, one of the peak bodies for Youth Homelessness, and brings extensive experience across the not-for-profit sector. She sits on the board of NYCH: National Youth Coalition for Housing, My Foundations Youth Housing, WayAhead Mental Health Association, and Australian Youth Affairs Coalition: AYAC. Her experience includes youth services, homelessness prevention, mental health programs, and policy reform.

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

I grew up in Brisbane, Queensland in Australia. I had a lot of challenges growing up and I had to face a lot of things a young person shouldn’t have to face. At the age of 14 I experienced homelessness. I continued to work hard and I completed my higher school certificate. I managed to overcome a lot of stigma and discrimination due to the challenges of being a young person who couch-surfed their way through high school. Couch surfing is when a person has no permanent place to call home so move from couch to couch to avoid sleeping on the streets.

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

I have always been passionate about empowering young people to be all they can be. My lived experience of homelessness and being a young person who was in the child protection system has motivated me to continue to advocate and work hard to improve the lives of young people.

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

Youth Homelessness stems from a lack of systems that are designed to support our most vulnerable young people. Those who come in contact with the child protection system, who identify as LGBTIQ, have lived in volatile homes, and those escaping domestic and family violence often end up homeless. The lack of access to support, financial means and affordable accommodation makes escaping homelessness almost impossible — especially as a young person.

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 affect anyone. Those who have experienced homelessness are people just like you and I who have contributed to society in a meaningful way. A series of events occur that then leave a person without a home. Young people affected by homelessness usually experience this due to no fault of their own. Often, they are in the child protection system and too young to work, access financial support or sign a lease agreement.

Consider this: how could a young person hope to get a job if they don’t have a fixed address? How could they possibly secure enough money to get a private rental, especially with little or no references or employment history? How could they get a driver’s license without a family to help them learn, or the money to pay for lessons? How can they complete schooling without access to funds for basic supplies or if their time needs to be spent finding ways to get help or money?

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

The issue is that there is not enough affordable housing for all human beings on this planet. This leaves those most vulnerable competing for properties and waiting on lengthy waiting lists to get access to housing. Other issues are being able to fund housing close to education, employment and transport facilities, things that support a person to live day to day.

This is your problem and it is mine. In the case of young people who are experiencing homelessness, these young people once went to school with your children, might have lived in your neighborhood, or sat next to you on the train. We’re talking about children as young as twelve, who through no fault of their own, have slipped through the cracks. Youth homelessness is rarely the fault of the victim — rather their plight is commonly collateral damage of domestic violence, mental health, family breakdowns, and financial hardship brought on from wider societal issues. Youth homelessness takes on many forms but, in many cases, they are a hidden statistic.

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

I would listen to them if they asked for help and be open to assisting in finding help. You can be open to carrying some change in your wallet or if they are hungry be willing to purchase them a meal if safe to do so.

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

I would if I had any spare change but if you can’t afford to give or feel uncomfortable then please don’t. You could offer help in other ways. Contact a local service and let them know where the person is who was asking for help. A lot of street teams will get to know who is sleeping rough and will be able to go out and locate the person and provide outreach assistance.

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

Yfoundations advocates for and educates people about youth homelessness. We influence government, media and the general public to gain a deeper understanding of the issues young people face and how we can provide pathways out of homelessness for our young people. We lobby for innovative and affective housing models to be implemented, providing affordable and supported housing for young people. We lobby for funding and resources for an already under funded and under resourced youth homelessness sector.

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

COVID-19 has increased the need of a community response to homelessness. How do you self-isolate when you don’t have a home? How do you look after yourself and access medicine if you are homeless and contract COVID-19? How can you ‘social distance’ yourself in a shelter? These are real issues. We know those who are homeless are highly vulnerable when it comes to diseases. We also know that donations reduce in times of fear and economic hardship. And we also know that homelessness has increased due to the impact of the pandemic.

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

Yfoundations has a Youth Advisory Council that supports us in our work to gain a deep understanding of the lived experience of young people who have experienced homelessness. At the beginning of COVID-19 a lot of young people lost their jobs. Yfoundations were able to use our contacts to support some young people in navigating the government support system to keep them housed and accessing financial support (Stay Afloat). Even though we are the peak body for youth homelessness and don’t provide direct service provision to young people, we were able to provide guidance when it was needed.

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

I can’t speak to a particular case due to confidentiality. What I can say is we advocate for children and young people who should be in out-of-home care (foster care), due to neglect and abuse. Often the government will wait until these children and young people are older, so the responsibility of care does not have to be taken. This is because there being so many young people needing support. There are not enough government resources to help all young people reported at risk.

These young people fall through the cracks easily and end up in Homelessness Services. Yfoundations is part of a steering group made up of government representatives, child protection and homelessness services working to prevent these young people falling through the cracks. We advocate for both policy and processes to be changed so young people in need of care and protection are given the support they deserve by the government. This is a way Yfoundations directly impacts young people who deserve a safe and stable home to live in.

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

  1. Education: It is important people understand the drivers of homelessness and the issues that prevent a person from exiting homelessness. Those who are homeless as young people will most likely experience homelessness as an adult. Read the news, get involved with volunteering or fundraising for a local service.
  2. Speak with your local politicians and councilors to gain an understanding of their policy positions and what they are doing to end youth homelessness. Educating others and creating awareness is important, however youth homelessness is a community issue and we need to hold those in power accountable to advocate for change. For example, advocate for more affordable community housing.
  3. Financial support: In the current pandemic a lot of organisations have seen their fundraising dollars decrease. Organisations rely on this money to help fund programs that are not government funded. I would like to encourage those who can give to give and provide much needed funds to organisations who support and empower youth to break free from a life of homelessness.

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

We would introduce a universal basic income that can be accessed by all people and kicks in when things financially get tough in order to keep a person housed.

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

Knowing we can truly make a difference if we all invest in changing our minds and hearts. My experiences as a young person drive my desire to advocate for change to see young people achieve their dreams.

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

Yes, I do, I don’t believe homelessness can be totally avoided, however we can create a safety net that means homelessness is a small event in a person’s life. A person can access support to prevent or change their circumstance quickly and provide them a roof over their head while they work through the other challenges that got them into the position in the first place.

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. Look after yourself first (put your own face mask on before helping others). In my first CEO role I achieved a lot and continued to make a meaningful difference, however it came at a great personal cost because I forgot to look after myself.
  2. All people are inherently good regardless of where we end up. For example, I was in the supermarket when I witnessed a store manager shaming a person for stealing food in front of onlooking shoppers. This upset me greatly as the person stealing the food wouldn’t do it unless they had to. See the good in others and think about why people may do the things they do, not just their actions.
  3. Perfectionism is a lie and does not reflect who we truly are as humans. So be kind to yourself and others. We strive so hard to get things perfect and forget that failure is a good tool to help us grow.

A few years ago I placed this theory to the test and agreed to be a guest actor in a stage show production, and it was the best thing I ever did. Was I good at it? No. However I learnt a lot about myself and others in the process, and it was a lot of fun.

4. You never know who you will meet or cross paths with. It is important you treat others with kindness and respect. People are not always who and what they seem.

A person may be homeless now, however they once were like you or I, working and with family. Life can change quickly, and things can get out of control. We should treat others with integrity and respect always, regardless of our internal judgment.

5. Boundaries are paramount to success: Having healthy boundaries in your work and personal life is important to success. You can’t be everyone’s friend and sometimes you need to make tough business decisions that others won’t like.

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. 🙂

Universal base income. So, all people have the ability to eat, have shelter and connection. Humans need to thrive in order to live.

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

My life lesson quote:

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. Don’t define yourself in terms of what you’ve done before, but in terms of what you’re doing now.” Alan Watts

For me it is important to you love what you do, and that it makes a meaningful difference to others and that my work is aligned to my personal values. If you work in a job that aligns with these things it is play and not a heavy burden to carry. I want to live life and love others in all I do on this planet.

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. 🙂

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day! I would love to have breakfast with Brené Brown as she has inspired me to be all I can be as a human, fostering compassion and humility in all I do life and work. She is an inspiration to me and my leadership.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Yfoundations on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook

Linked In https://www.linkedin.com/company/yfoundations-inc

Twitter https://twitter.com/ceoyfoundations?lang=en

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

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Pam Barker of Yfoundations is Helping To Support Some Of The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Frances Reimers of Firestarter: 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and…

Frances Reimers of Firestarter: 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Rev up your content — I have really enjoyed watching the evolution of fast food marketing and consumer engagement over the past several years. It’s become so fun, sassy, interactive — and very effective. All businesses can take a page out of their playbook to develop content that is more authentic to your target audience. A CPA firm isn’t going to necessarily create a campaign that would be described as “sassy”, but they can certainly think about campaigns that are more lighthearted in nature. Not everything, and not everyone, wants their content to be stanched and serious all of the time.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Frances Reimers, founder and CEO of Firestarter, a personal brand consultancy located in Alexandria, VA.

Firestarter helps athletes, coaches and sports executives to develop, manage, enhance, and protect a key professional asset: their personal brands.

Some of Firestarter’s current and former clients include: the Denver Nuggets, the NFL Alumni Association, Buffalo Bills offensive linemen Jon Feliciano, LA Rams Aaron Donald’s AD99 Solutions Foundation, Dale Earnhardt Jrs’ JR Motorsports, GMS Racing, and multiple other retired and current professional athletes, coaches, and professional service providers.

Frances currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, and Soldiers To Sidelines.

Frances has featured in articles in O Magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post, Front Office Sports, Thrive, BuzzFeed, Washingtonian Bride and Groom, Washington Post, and You Can Magazine. She’s been a frequent guest on radio and TV shows and podcasts. In 2014, she was a featured guest on CNN’s Live with Piers Morgan. Frances is a 2016 recipient of the Alexandria, VA Chamber of Commerce’s 40 Under 40 award.

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?

Personal branding and content creation have been my career destination since childhood — although I didn’t really know it at the time. While growing up in Cheyenne, WY, developing content like home videos with our massive Camcorder or taking selfies with a Polaroid were ways I’d pass the time. I had no idea that one day that I’d be creating these types of content for professional athletes! Believe it or not, I originally wanted to be a family law attorney. Even though I majored in criminal justice, my outside-the-classroom activities consistently revolved around marketing, public relations, and events. Storytelling and creating content were always things that just felt very innate to me.

Business ownership was not directly a goal of mine, but I probably should have seen it coming. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and willing to take risks and find ways to innovate. Now 20 years into my career, I own my own personal branding firm that caters to athletes, coaches, and sports administrators.

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?

I don’t really have a humorous marketing or branding mistake to share.

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?

From 2014 to 2016 I truly felt like I had finally created and was growing my personal brand. While serving as the Director of Corporate Visibility at PCI (now Yes& Agency), I was able to experiment what worked for my brand. As a result, I received positive feedback — for both me and the agency, regarding my daily thought leadership content: Media interviews were increasing, my social media engagement was going up, and I was booking more speaking engagements. At the time, I had multiple clients and projects to manage each day, so it took about five years to get to this groundswell period. Knowing this, I always encourage people to remain patient and consistent with their personal brand efforts. It will be slow to start, but once you find your niche, things will really take off.

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

I’m currently responsible for the day-to-day marketing and public relations for three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald’s AD99 Solutions Foundation. I’ve been involved with the organization since its founding and it’s been a pleasure to help build its brand from the ground up. Our mission is to help change the trajectory of Pittsburgh’s underserved youth and communities. We launched in 2019 and have already had a measurable impact through our programs to provide PPE and meals to vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19. Also, through our Cohort program, we provide a year’s worth of tuition-free academic, athletic and life and career skills development opportunities to a selected group of Pittsburgh-area student-athletes. We have so much on the agenda for the 2020–2021 school year, including a. get out the vote initiative, a continuation of our free, virtual Mental Flex Forum series, and a continuation and expansion of our ‘Fuel Up for Success’ initiative. it’s really an exciting time for the Foundation, full of so many brand touchpoints.

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

There are two pieces of advice I’d give. First, the lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that we have to listen to our bodies. To keep your machine running at peak creative condition we must get plenty of rest, mind our mental health, and eat well. Each of us needs to give ourselves permission to step away and recharge. I know it’s hard for some to conceptualize, and by some I mean me, but the world really will continue without you. Second, you can’t take yourself too seriously. We’re not nearly as cool or important as we all think we are. Standing back and laughing at yourself — and your work, once in a while is good for the soul.

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

Brand marketing or branding is the act of building a relationship with your stakeholders by sharing your personal philosophy, thought leadership, and culture. To me, product marketing or advertising is when you identify your target audience’s pain points and demonstrate how your product will solve the problem, make their lives easier, etc. Brand marketing is storytelling or knowledge sharing, not selling.

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?

Prior to the pandemic, we were already living more of our lives online. For the past five months, that’s literally all we’ve done! And to be honest, I don’t think we’ll fully reverse course. The reality is that no matter if you’re searching for a job, a romantic partner, or more customers, people are more likely to search for you or your company online before connecting through other mediums. You have the ability to tell your story and control what is seen. To that end, people should invest resources and energy into putting their best foot forward in a way that speaks to who you are, builds trust amongst your stakeholders, and helps you achieve your personal and professional goals.

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

In the past six months, we’ve seen everyone from companies to sport teams, even country bands, rebrand to reflect the change in public opinion. Anytime your brand is associated with an antiquated idea or a bad reputation is a good time to consider a rebrand. We’re also seeing some companies begin to reposition themselves to reflect a significant change in how COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how we live our everyday lives.

What I often see when assisting professional athletes with their charitable organizations is that brand elements like logos are developed without taking into consideration how it reflects the organization’s mission or how it will be used for years to come. As the charity grows it’s forced to piece together brand elements to fit the needs of the day. When that’s happening within your organization, it’s a clear indication that it’s time to stop the wheel and consider a rebrand.

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

The ultimate downside to rebranding is that what’s created doesn’t resonate with your audience. That scenario is pretty much every marketing professionals nightmare. The LA Rams recent rebranding efforts are still receiving mixed reviews. The fans wanted to keep it simple, potentially returning to the traditional blue and white. The team proceeded with a five-color palette and a change to the traditional font and the iconic horns on the player’s helmets. As the 2020 NFL season kicks-off in a very unorthodox fashion, I wouldn’t have advised them to rebrand, but we’ll soon find out if fans adopt or reject the new look.

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

  1. Focus on your employees — I’d be remiss if my first tip didn’t involve personal brand building. Companies who leverage employee personal branding — allowing their staff to frequently develop content that highlights their work and passions, will reap the benefits. Why have just one marketing steam when you can have many?
  2. Stop being non-commital with social media — We all know those companies that have only one social media profile and they barely use it. But yet, they can’t figure out why their competition is outpacing them. We are long past the days when social media is an afterthought or something to be managed by this year’s interns. Dedicating time, resources, an experienced staff toward your social media efforts is a business imperative.
  3. Rev up your content — I have really enjoyed watching the evolution of fast food marketing and consumer engagement over the past several years. It’s become so fun, sassy, interactive — and very effective. All businesses can take a page out of their playbook to develop content that is more authentic to your target audience. A CPA firm isn’t going to necessarily create a campaign that would be described as “sassy”, but they can certainly think about campaigns that are more lighthearted in nature. Not everything, and not everyone, wants their content to be stanched and serious all of the time.
  4. Make your CEO an influencer — Your CEO doesn’t need to be Tim Cook or Jack Dorsey to be considered an influencer. Every person who has ascended to that position has a unique story and perspective to share. And at the end of the day, their outreach efforts and engagement with their audience could really help improve the public perception of your company’s brand.
  5. Engage the media — For a myriad of reasons, companies and organizations tend to shy away from engaging with the media. But when doing so leave a lot of visibility opportunities on the table. If your company has public relations professionals, challenge them to find new ways, i.e. highlight different staff or board members, share information about strategic partnerships, etc to earn press for your company. If you don’t have staff, engage a freelance public relations professional to develop a plan to help you accumulate more earned media for the coming year.

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?

The first company that comes to mind didn’t technically complete a brand makeover, but rather a brand evolution is the NBA. How the organization has evolved over the past five years provides a roadmap for many other companies to follow. Transparent top-down leadership, willingness to diversify, active listening to their stakeholders, and embracing all visibility channels has truly allowed their brand to retain previous and attract new consumers. They’ve fully leaned in to the culture that embraces their sport

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. 🙂

My personal passion has always been to empower women of all walks from life to embrace who they are and leverage their personal brand. For too long, women have been silenced and marginalized in the workplace. We now live in a time when every person can get into the driver’s seat and tell their own stories. Daily through my own actions I hope I’m encouraging and demonstrating to women how to do just that.

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, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” It seems rather contradictory that someone who develops personal brands would love this quote; but this mantra has been a key ingredient to my overall success. There’s always going to be someone who has something negative to say about who you are or what you’re trying to achieve, but you can’t focus on that. That’s their issue, not yours. To be successful, and happy with your success, you have to stay focused on your dreams and fearlessly put yourself out there.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Twitter @YourFirestarter, Instagram @FirestarterCEO, and on LinkedIn at /FrancesReimers.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Frances Reimers of Firestarter: 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tony Nordeen of Blue Painting Company: F.A.T.E From Addict To Entrepreneur

Working with someone who has been through it will help more than treatment. Treatment is a start, but working with someone sober will help you sustain your sobriety.

Your health matters more than anything. You won’t make your business goals if you aren’t in a good place. You might make it 5 years, but you won’t make it 20 or longer. Stopping or pausing to get help is the most important thing to staying in business long term.

As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Tony Nordeen, co-founder of Blue Painting, a high quality home and residential painting company based out of Minnesota. Tony took his life and turned it around from rock bottom to becoming a successful entrepreneur with a passion for building businesses and bringing ideas to life from the ground up.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?

I actually had a good childhood. My dad wasn’t around a lot so my mom mostly raised my siblings and I.

As a kid I had a lot of anxiety that I didn’t know was anxiety at the time. At school I would constantly get these stomachaches– like it was a daily thing that I expected. I felt nervous a lot. But I also had a lot of freedom. Around 10 years old or so, mom started dating someone and wasn’t around as much. Since she was gone more often, I felt like that meant I was allowed to come and go as I wanted, set my own rules per say. Things got crazy from that point going forward.

It didn’t get crazy right away, though. As an introvert, I spent a lot of time in my room. I got really into computers at around 12–13. I actually built a computer at 14 and started learning how to code. I got so good at it that I would actually hack into other people’s computers. At that time, I didn’t really see anything wrong with doing that. I definitely didn’t think about other people’s privacy. Now I know better, but at the time it was just another skill I taught myself that I thought was fun to mess around with.

At school, my head was always in the clouds. I was always late and got kicked out of every first period class that I was in from being late everyday. I really was a good kid, but I was kind of a class clown. I loved making people laugh and smile. Oftentimes, I would get in trouble and get kicked out or suspended because I was just trying to make people laugh. I really didn’t know any better and I definitely wasn’t trying to be a rebel or anything like that, I truly just enjoyed seeing other people laugh and smile.

Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?

A family member got into drugs when I was about 13. They started hanging out with other people who weren’t really the best influences on them, and they would stay up all night. I was given the task to snoop in that family member’s space looking for drugs or whatever else I could find. When I was around 14 or 15, another family member who lived with us started drinking in their room with their friends. They would party all night and it made me super anxious worrying about what was going on. I’d go in their room to check it out and they would be blacked out on the floor. A lot of times, they tried to get me to drink with them and I was super against it at the time. I was super fearful of it all and saw how they turned out and didn’t want to end up like they did.

I used to hangout with these family members quite a bit, but seeing how the choices they made turned out for them, I really wasn’t into it. I started hanging out with other friends who I knew who were a little younger than me so they weren’t really into drugs or drinking at that point either. At that point, I just really knew I didn’t want to get involved with any of it.

The first time I drank was with one of my family members, but I didn’t really drink a lot again after that. I still had those visions in my head of them blacking out and how stressed it made other family members. But when my younger friends started drinking, I started drinking with them. That was it for me–I suddenly started taking whatever I could get my hands on.

There is that song called Speedfreak that I really liked but I didn’t know what speed was or meant. I literally did a Google search for “What is speed?” and it popped up saying Ritalin. I knew a friend with ADHD and hit him up for Ritalin and bought some. I did it up in my room by myself before I went skating.

Once I did it for the first time on my own, the feeling was so good. It was euphoric– the anxiety that I had felt my entire life up to this point just vanished. Why wasn’t I doing this before? I started telling all of my friends about it and getting everyone into it.

I remember when I went to tell my family member who drank down the hall from me, I saw a rolled up dollar bill and white powder in their room. I decided I wanted to try that. I told them that next time they were going to do that, to tell me so I could do it too. I did end up trying it with them, but I didn’t really feel that into it. Fast forward, I ran into someone at a football game who I knew did it and told him I wanted some. We left right there and I got hooked.

What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?

It was definitely helping to cover up the feeling of being less than. I was really self conscious, had a lot of self esteem issues and all of that turned into anxiety. As a kid I remember saying to my uncle that “I just got my daily stomach ache”. He was so confused, and I explained that I always had a stomach ache every single day. Later I realized that it was anxiety. Using drugs helped me relieve that anxiety and feel like I was finally able to feel like myself without all of the worry and tightness in my stomach all the time. I also really like the feeling of doing something and then sharing it with other people. I guess I like to be a leader per say. Now, I do that with healthier choices, but at that time it felt good feeling social and influential.

Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?

I had gotten to a point where I would drink all the time, and I would always need to take an upper when I drank. And just to clarify, an upper is a stimulant and a downer is a depressant. As soon as I drank I would have to find adderall or find an upper in order to not black out. I would do whatever it took to get what I needed. I would wake up, go to the liquor store, get a bottle of vodka, drink it then figure out where to get adderall. I’d be wide awake from the upper and would start to sober up again so I felt like I would need to find more alcohol again. Life became a lot of up and down and chasing the high. Meth was one of the things I told myself I would never do. But then I started doing it with another family member when they were living with us. Thankfully, I didn’t get too far into that rabbit hole because I looked at this family member who was quite a bit older than me, and realized I didn’t want to go down that same path for the next 30 years of my life living on someone else’s couch because of addiction and decided I wanted to get sober.

Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?

I felt like I always wanted to quit. I was constantly trying to quit. I had a girlfriend at the time who was against it, and my mom caught me doing coke and kicked me out. I had fun for a little bit but then wanted to be done, and realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. It’s like you have the voice telling you that you want to stop but then the same voice kept giving reasons why I should still do it. I’m really analytical, so I realized my own brain was working against me and it felt like I couldn’t win.

Listening to that family member who I had briefly done meth with– the one who was living on our couch with nothing but a green backpack to their name, they would say “you just have to control it, just only drink beer”. I realized I had the same thought patterns and that this person was 30 years older than me, and that if I kept going this way I was going to keep going down the same path.

For a while, I stopped trying to quit and kept blacking out. I figured I’d go to jail and eventually die. At the time, I didn’t know about treatment and AA. I didn’t really know anyone sober who had struggled. I was stealing from people and basically exiled from my hometown.

One day I was at my girlfriend’s house at the time and had blacked out. I don’t remember what happened, but I know I was treating her really poorly. I left and went to a skateboarding event in Golden Valley with friends who were willing to hang out with me. From there, a friend asked if I wanted to go grab a beer so a couple of us went.

While we were there I remember telling my friends I needed some adderall. I blacked out, scraped my knee and was crying. I ran into another friend who I really looked up to. I was so excited and invited him to go party. He told me he was sober and didn’t drink anymore. I had already accepted that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol, which is the first step in AA so I begged him to let me know when he went to the next meeting. I wanted to be sober so badly so finally knowing that someone close to me was sober was encouraging and sparked a little bit of hope inside of me again.

I went back to my girlfriend’s house later that day after talking to that sober friend and asking him to take me to an AA meeting. I woke up at her house the next morning with a new feeling of empowerment. I kept saying over and over that I was never going to drink again. I had said it before, but this time someone I looked up to had given me a way out of this mess that I had gotten myself into. I went to my first meeting that Tuesday (two days after I had seen him at the skating event) and have never drank again since then. Within those two days, I did try to drink again but I was with my uncle and thankfully he wouldn’t let me. Without him, I don’t know that I would’ve made it to that meeting.

The meetings were amazing. There were other people– other YOUNG people, and a group of friends who were there. As an introvert, it was really uncomfortable being in this kind of social setting, especially while sober. I had a good friend who forced me to stay and to go to fellowship after. I don’t think I could’ve done it on my own, but having friends who were in a similar place as I was in and were able to overcome it helped me to stay and work through it all and to keep coming back.

How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?

Over time, I did the 12 steps. Before you can reconcile the pain you caused others, you have to get to a spot where you can do it and justify it. Otherwise you’re just going and saying sorry. A lot of it was about me. I went to go get sober, not to make other people happy or to make up with other people.

Where I was back then, I was a lost soul. I just wanted peace. I had done so many bad things and caused people so much pain. Even today I have flashbacks and have feelings of shame about how I treated people who were close to me. Reconciling it with myself was just doing the things that were asked of me and allowing myself to feel again. It was hard at first but I had to choose not to run from things that caused me pain. Learning how to deal with things on a daily basis really straightened me out. Right and wrong didn’t make sense to me when I was young and using. Over time, getting away from that and correcting my mind, right and wrong now makes sense to me. I can stop and look at the right vs the wrong action and choose to make the right action.

Once I got to a spot where I was feeling more even and level headed, I started making amends with other people. I let them speak about their feelings and their experience with me. It wasn’t just me saying sorry and definitely wasn’t just a facebook post apologizing to a mass group of people, but going to each individual and asking what I could do to make it right. No excuses and not blaming the addiction. You can see the real pain that you caused. They’ll tell you what you did, and what you can do to make it better. Then you are able to move forward and do everything possible not to cause that kind of pain again.

When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?

I felt like I missed so much time in the past that I got this new energy and ambition. Within the first three months, I was obsessed with time management and organization and finding ways to not waste time. Even in school, I wasn’t still all there and was always running. I became obsessed with learning and making the most of every minute and living in the moment.

It’s not so much filling time, but using it and making the most of it. It’s okay if I’m sitting and drinking coffee and petting the cat if that’s what I feel like doing, it’s wasting time if I want to do something and end up not doing it because I do something else that I didn’t want to do.

Every moment is now filled with purpose. If it’s not purposeful I try not to do it.

What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?

I have really incorporated a lot of healthy habits into my life. I practice daily meditation and regular journaling. I regularly figure out where I’m at and where I’m going. It helps me to remember and learn about who I am. I have a spirituality, I do things that agree with that. I go to meetings regularly still and have sponsees now. I try to do positive things on a regular basis, I try to stay motivated and help motivate others to also be ambitious and motivated to make the most out of life.

Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?

I have always wanted to own and run a business. I’ve come up with hundreds of ideas, inventions, business models, business plans, but I never really got anything further than the planning. For a while, I was part of a painting company and was running production. I had a good friend working with me. The company announced they were going to stop operating because the owner was going to do something else. I had the choice to follow him to his new venture, or break off with my friend to do something on our own. We had to make a quick decision so we had to run with it.

When you start a business, the most important thing is to take action. You don’t need to spend as much time planning. We came up with a name and logo, printed flyers and knocking on doors in order to book our first jobs. We took a 10% deposit and took it from there.

It was a scrappy start but it was still a start. We took that and ran with it. Our first three months were in the winter, Feb-Apr. We didn’t have any painters at the time. We were estimating jobs and didn’t know how we were going to book them– we took the deposits to start funding marketing efforts, getting friends to help us spread flyers and knock on doors. When spring came, we switched and started using our funds to hire and train painters. We built up four crews and did over $350,000 in the first year. This level of success was partially based from our experience but mostly because we just had to hit the ground running. I’ve always been better at managing than actually getting out there with a paintbrush, because honestly someone else probably has a lot more skill in that area so I can just step in and train them how to get the job done.

What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.

When I was on uppers I would really get sucked into things. I think I probably have classic ADD. Uppers helped me to feel more focused. With ADD you get hyper focused on things, and I do that now in my business. I don’t need to take an upper if I’m interested in something– my brain gets excited on its own and I just get sucked in.

I’ve also always been an all-in kind of person. I started drugs the same way, I found sobriety the same way, and I started my business the same way.

In all honesty though, I feel like a completely different person now than I did when I was drinking and using drugs. The first few months my brain completely changed and I haven’t ever gone back to that person. I don’t really relate at all with the person anymore.

Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?

It’s because people don’t understand it. There isn’t enough understanding about what addiction is. It isn’t just doing something you shouldn’t be doing. It’s that a group of friends who have never used are all susceptible to addiction because of the type of person that they are. It’s more about how your brain works as opposed to self will. People will write people off for doing drugs. Someone dies and others will say “well they shouldn’t have done it in the first place”. It’s deeper rooted than that. You can be sober your whole life and at 40 be prescribed a painkiller and become addicted and die from it. They chose to not do drugs their entire life until that point. People don’t understand the way that addict’s brains work differently. That makes it uncomfortable to talk about since it isn’t fully understood.

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?

  • Reach out to someone you know who has also struggled and has sobered up. If you don’t know anyone, then call AA inner group or get ahold of someone who has struggled even if you don’t know them. They found a way to get sober and if they don’t feel comfortable helping you, they at least will be able to get you to someone who will.
  • Working with someone who has been through it will help more than treatment. Treatment is a start, but working with someone sober will help you sustain your sobriety.
  • Your health matters more than anything. You won’t make your business goals if you aren’t in a good place. You might make it 5 years, but you won’t make it 20 or longer. Stopping or pausing to get help is the most important thing to staying in business long term.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram– my personal account is @n7ndez and Blue painting is @bluepaintingco

Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!


Tony Nordeen of Blue Painting Company: 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.

Vicki Mayo of The TouchPoint Solution: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

Start with your recruiting team. 80% of my recruiting team is diverse — representing various cultures, sexual and gender roles.

Widen your social circles. It’s likely that your social circle looks like you and acts like you. Branch out. Meet and mingle with others. Attend various cultural meetups and groups. Network not for you, but for the benefit of others. Meet with underserved and underrepresented community leaders, non-profit leaders and more.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vicki Mayo, Entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer.

Vicki Mayo is a self-made serial entrepreneur and business powerhouse behind the TouchPoint Solution, inventor of a patent pending technology that alleviates stress in 30 seconds. A mental health advocate, Vicki founded TouchPoints to help children and adults regain focus, while reducing stress and anxiety to improve their lifestyle. As of 2020, Vicki has helped 12 Million people press and destress thanks to The TouchPoint Solution.

Successfully finding and selling her first company for profit at the tender age of 17, Vicki has continued to find success as a young entrepreneur and business leader. As a first generation American, Vicki has found her place as a trailblazing woman in the male dominated technology industry. In addition to The TouchPoint Solution, Mrs. Mayo is also the owner of GMI, a relentlessly focused IT Solutions company and Valor Global, a top minority owned contact center headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.

Vicki specializes in Six-Sigma business process and creating true representation in the workplace. A thought leader in Diversity and Inclusion, Vicki has devoted her career and personal time to changing the status quo for minority and women leaders in both the profit and non-profit sectors.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My father immigrated to India with $2 in his pocket. I was born a few years later and grew up witnessing him achieve the American Dream, from working for corporations to entrepreneurship. Inspired by his grit, I started my own successful reservation business at 14 that I later sold for profit at 17. After graduating from college, I went on to run my own hospitality management company before starting and operating the three companies that I own today — GMI, Valor Global and The TouchPoint Solution.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

When I started The TouchPoint Solution, we were touring a manufacturing facility. I showed up in heels with a room full of businessmen. They didn’t want to take me seriously at first. Until I showed them that I was there to talk business. Sometimes people won’t take you seriously or believe in you, but you have to always believe in yourself.

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

The TouchPoint Solution is in the business of changing lives. Yes, we relieve stress but we also help those with PTSD, Parkinson’s, ADHD and Autism. In 2017, we had this young man with autism. He had trouble focusing in school and taking part in life in general. After using TouchPoints, his entire life changed. In fact, his mother exclaimed that her son hadn’t looked into her eyes in over five years until using TouchPoints. His entire life changed and now, he is in college living a life he never dreamed of.

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

Right now, we are very focused on a healthy lifestyle. What we mean by that isn’t just physically, but a full, broad spectrum of health from mental to physical. We are continuing to create resources for our users through our app, content and other resources to enhance not only our product, but our overall user experience. We are also building upon our Personalized Stress Profiles (PSP). This is a free tool that can be built in just a few minutes online at ilovetouchpoint.com. The PSP’s help individuals better manage their stress and their stress response with a variety of tools to get a more personalized look at holistically increasing their health and wellness.

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

At all my companies, we have a Dream Manager Program. This program was created to help employee dreams come true. And we’re not just talking about going to Disneyland. The Dream Manager helps career path dreams come true, purchase a new home, reunite with long lost siblings, open a non-profit and more. I believe that when we help and inspire those in our businesses that we therefore see our own businesses flourish and thrive alongside with them.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

Communicate. Don’t be afraid to jump in and take part in conversations with all levels of your staff. When is the last time you ran an orientation for new employees? Jump in, take part so you know what’s going and start the conversation.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Start with your recruiting team

80% of my recruiting team is diverse — representing various cultures, sexual and gender roles.

2. Widen your social circles

It’s likely that your social circle looks like you and acts like you. Branch out. Meet and mingle with others. Attend various cultural meetups and groups. Network not for you, but for the benefit of others. Meet with underserved and underrepresented community leaders, non-profit leaders and more.

3. Promote from Within

We promote 90% of our leadership internally. Each of these promotions come from our entry-level employees that we placed through our Leadership Academy and mentored into the fine leaders that they are today. If we promoted from an external pool, we likely wouldn’t be achieving the same levels of diversity within our organization.

4. Work with Diversity Suppliers

Diversity suppliers have a plethora of benefits for your organization outside of just expanding your diversity needs. Check that the supplier is ethnic represented and expand your knowledge, your reach and innovative needs.

5. Mentor in underserved communities

As noted, I am a huge advocate for youth-at-risk. Some of those youth have come to intern for me and later even become one of my employees.

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

When I was in college, I learned of two boys that were abandoned by their family. At the tender age of 21, I became a mother to those two boys and an advocate for foster children. To this day, I spend my free time giving back to those in need, especially youth-at-risk. In addition to our corporate giving programs, I also am a true believer in continuing to serve communities in need. At TouchPoint, we give a scholarship program to give our product to those that need it but may not have the resources to obtain it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” — Deepak Chopra.

This quote resonates with me two-fold. Not only as a life lesson to keep true to myself and who I am, but in my great respect for Deepak Chopra and his ability to be American while also staying true to his Indian roots. He is one of the most inspirational people I’ve met and personally engage in his meditations every single morning.

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?

Outside of my parents, my husband is a large inspiration. Not only are we partners by marriage and in parenting, but also my business partner. In fact, we purchased our first commercial building before a home! We have stood by each other, being our rocks through every single step of this wild and crazy entrepreneurial journey.

We are very 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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Deepak Chopra, of course!

Thank you for joining us!


Vicki Mayo of The TouchPoint Solution: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Women Leading The Blockchain Revolution: “It’s such a fast-moving industry; Dive in and absorb as…

Women Leading The Blockchain Revolution: “It’s such a fast-moving industry; Dive in and absorb as much as you can” With Liz Kukka of ETC Labs

Dive in and absorb as much as you can because it’s such a fast-moving industry. The industry is still nascent enough that users have to understand more in order to be involved. Using blockchain platforms is not yet the same as posting to traditional social media, sending an email, or purchasing something on Amazon. It requires some technical knowledge.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth (Liz) Kukka, Executive Director of Ethereum Classic Labs (ETC Labs), leading supporter of Ethereum Classic (ETC), a public blockchain with a market cap of $1.5B. Liz manages the ETC Labs accelerator program for blockchain and crypto-focused startups and is responsible for the accelerator’s overall operations, processes, workshops, networking, investment committee and introductions. She is also Principal Investor at parent company Digital Finance Group where she brings her 10+ years of experience as a mentor and coach in science, design thinking, product development, and operational management to guide the entrepreneurs in each cohort.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?

In 2014, I was getting my MBA. During my studies, I took a course called the Innovation of Money and I found out about bitcoin through that class. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, as it was too nascent to consider using it to create a product as part of the coase. Later, in 2016, when I learned about Ethereum and how its smart contracts can be deployed by developers to build decentralized applications that enable more private and secure peer-to-peer transactions, I was much more enthusiastic about the possibilities. Joining ETC Labs was a natural career move from there, given our focus on addressing issues of financial inclusion and leveraging the blockchain to support social impact projects.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Several of these projects have been introduced to us by UNICEF Innovation, a partner of ours who we made a $1 million-dollar contribution to last year. We made a commitment to co-invest in projects that UNICEF supports. One of these projects is OS City. We supported them in creating “proof of origin” for handicrafts for craftspeople in Mexico and Argentina. Sometimes the memorabilia you find as a traveler is actually made in a factory. These less expensive, falsely labeled “handicrafts” take potential income away from the true craftspeople who rely on this type of commerce for their livelihoods.

We also worked with W3, a team based in Bangladesh that built on Ethereum Classic to create a decentralized app that enables people in refugee camps to share phone data. Basically, if I have surplus data on my phone, I can give it or sell it to someone who needs it. This allows them to receive updates from the Red Cross on food and clothing handouts as well as severe weather and announcements.

Another project, PngMe, is a data company who provides a financial API for developers and the finance industry to offer innovative products and services to its customers throughout the continent of Africa. Some of those customers are unbanked/underbanked and lack a credit score or are unable to gain access to lines of credit, specifically SMB (Small and medium-sized enterprises).

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 in 2018, Kilian Rausch at our parent company Digital Finance Group, helped further my understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrency. I would grill him with technical questions about blockchain, and our conversations over lunch inspired me to dive deeper into this fascinating space.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

  1. Your wallet, your crypto — Blockchain’s capability of granting users control over their value is so important for financial empowerment and eliminating reliance on banks and other third parties that can’t always be trusted to make the best decisions for the people they serve.
  2. Data ownership and data privacy — Data is the new currency in today’s digital economy, and individuals should be able to control how their data is used and be protected from data breaches.
  3. Censorship resistance — The pseudonymity enabled by blockchain helps to protect people from being censored for their views and political beliefs, which is particularly important for those living under totalitarian regimes who wouldn’t otherwise have secure avenues for communication.
  4. Using blockchain for good — Blockchain technology is certainly deployed by investors to make money, but, more importantly, it can be leveraged to bring about positive change by putting power in the hands of people rather than corporations.
  5. Access to markets — There are too many people who cannot participate in the global economy because they do not have a bank account. Blockchain technology can close financial inclusion gaps by enabling access to financial services to the unbanked.

What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

  1. Shifting regulations — London will no longer recognize crypto derivatives as legal come 2021. These types of regulatory changes hinder the industry’s overall growth and development, because it’s difficult for companies to predict what might come next.
  2. Need for more education — If someone who doesn’t understand the space goes to a random exchange and gets their funds stolen, they are going to have a negative perception about cryptocurrency, despite the reality that there are many highly-reputed exchanges with rigorous KYC processes and insurance measures to help traders get their money back in the event of a hack.
  3. Usability — Blockchain systems need to develop easier-to-use interfaces so that users don’t get frustrated by the complications and leave crypto entirely.
  4. Trust — Even though the whole idea of blockchain is that it’s supposed to be a trustless system, most people don’t want code to be their trust system. They need a human touch in order to feel comfortable. Much of blockchain is missing that right now.
  5. Reputation — Unfortunately, cryptocurrency got off to a bit of a rough start with its initial platforms like Silk Road that were primarily used for the sale of illegal products. Blockchain technology has matured massively since then and can be used to make the world a better place with its capacity to empower people with control over their own data, value, and governance.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

OriginalMy, another project we are working with, is based in Brazil. They are putting marriage certificates on the blockchain to ensure that no change in administration can undo those vows. Supporting these types of projects that are helping real people is what I find most rewarding.

As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?

  1. Women shouldn’t be afraid of talking to the men in the room. In order to get everyone to listen to your ideas, you need to build a report with each person, including men and women.
  2. Dive in and absorb as much as you can because it’s such a fast-moving industry. The industry is still nascent enough that users have to understand more in order to be involved. Using blockchain platforms is not yet the same as posting to traditional social media, sending an email, or purchasing something on Amazon. It requires some technical knowledge.
  3. Buy some crypto to be invested in learning more. Having a stake in the industry will motivate you to understand how to use a private wallet, metamask, etc..

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?

In the Twitterverse and on some other community channels as well, the atmosphere can be a bit aggressive with images that clearly pander to men and don’t feel very welcoming to women. This would be one thing that the industry could work on.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

At the end of the day, we’re all just people — no better or worse from the next person — so treat everyone like they could be your best friend, sister, or brother. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone approached one another in this way.

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 care deeply about closing financial inclusion gaps, and I believe that the peer-to-peer transactions enabled by blockchain technology will help us to achieve that goal.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us at our website: https://etclabs.org/, and here are our social media channels:

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


Women Leading The Blockchain Revolution: “It’s such a fast-moving industry; Dive in and absorb as… 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 Christine Simiriglia of Pathways to Housing PA is Helping To…

Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Christine Simiriglia of Pathways to Housing PA is Helping To Support Some Of The Most Vulnerable People In Our Communities

Make eye contact and acknowledge them. Maybe buy them a cup of coffee or lunch and strike up a conversation. Most great acts start with a little kindness. If there are specific needs, reach out to a local resource and try to connect them. Most communities have resource guides that list shelters, meal programs, and other services.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Simiriglia, President and CEO of Pathways to Housing PA, a homeless services agency she launched in 2008. Under her leadership, Pathways has rapidly expanded services to meet the growing and changing needs of those with disabilities experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. The agency currently serves over 550 individuals and has an 85% housing retention rate after five years for individuals who were considered “not housing ready” by other programs.

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

I grew up in an Italian working class neighborhood in South Philadelphia. My mother is a strong woman who raised me, and my three younger sisters, alone after my father left us when I was 12. My mom worked several jobs, always, to take care of us. I am the first person in my family to go to college, though my younger sister, Annette, was the first to get a graduate degree.

I’ve always been insatiably curious about everything, so I learned to read quickly so that I could read a lot. I love traveling and spending time with people from other cultures. My idea of saving money is saving to buy the next plane ticket.

From an early age I’ve been outspoken and assertive. My sisters call it bossy. I prefer to think of it as “having leadership skills”.

I’m married to the love of my life, Joshua. And we have two rescue pups, Leo and Rudy.

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

When I was a freshman at St. Joseph’s University, many many many years ago, I volunteered with the St. Joe’s Committee for the Homeless. I joined because I had a crush on David LiVigni from campus ministry, but stayed because I’d found my calling.

We did outreach once a week, bringing sandwiches and blankets to people sleeping on the streets through the Philadelphia Committee for the Homelessness. That volunteer work meant a lot to me and I found myself helping out at PCH whenever I had some free time… doing outreach, sorting mail, making sandwiches — whatever needed to get done. There were many holidays where I spent more time at a soup kitchen, than I did with my family. That work just felt right to me… like it was what I’m supposed to be doing.

The more I got to know people living on the street, the more I realized that what people really needed was permanent housing first and foremost. Most programs had conditions attached to housing that left a lot of people without any options.

Fast forward about 35 years — I’m still doing this work that I love, and unbelievably, have been able to serve some of the folks that I met on the streets doing outreach years ago. The exciting news is that some of those chronically homeless people with disabilities are now housed and being served by Pathways. It is a gift to be able to provide people with what they need to thrive.

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

Homelessness is a symptom of our failing systems: lack of affordable housing, poverty and erosion of the middle class, unemployment, dismantling of our social safety nets, failing school systems, barriers to accessing primary care, mental health care and substance use treatment, not to mention systemic racism, among others. Hopelessness is another symptom and it has led to the increases in substance use disorders which has subsequently increased the number of people living on our streets, especially in cities.

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?

First of all, there is no such thing as a “typical” progression. Many people aren’t healthy and have never had a stable place to live, a job (or a job paying a living wage), or a decent education. Many have never known the comfort of family, social or community supports. What many have known is decades of lack of opportunity, going to bed hungry, schools without books or nurses, self-medicating for untreated illnesses, trauma, PTSD, a biased justice system, and other societal ills. Yes, homelessness can happen to anyone, but most often it happens to folks who are under-resourced and underserved to begin with. All it takes is one setback, like an unexpected medical bill when you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, to lose your home. The constant stress and trauma that results from making decisions between food and necessities on a daily basis affects your health and triggers any existing mental health issues, making it more likely that you’ll make a misstep that leads you to sleeping in your car or unsheltered. On the surface, it may appear that someone is fine; these struggles aren’t always visible. Especially for younger folks, the desire to fit in and appear “normal” is so strong that they hide any signs of their struggle from their peers.

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

Places with less expensive housing also have lower wages and less job availability so the value is cancelled out. Also, it costs money to move and for someone wondering where their next meal is coming from, that is just not a viable option.

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

Make eye contact and acknowledge them. Maybe buy them a cup of coffee or lunch and strike up a conversation. Most great acts start with a little kindness. If there are specific needs, reach out to a local resource and try to connect them. Most communities have resource guides that list shelters, meal programs, and other services.

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

I’m not a proponent of giving people money on the streets, especially if they are panhandling. However, during the pandemic, I have given people money for food understanding that a lot of the food resources that were available in our city are now limited or closed. Whatever you are comfortable doing, understand that it is helping an immediate need (which is important) and is not going to end that person’s homelessness.

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

Pathways to Housing PA has moved 550+ people out of homelessness and into market rate apartments throughout the city of Philadelphia. We provide holistic services including — case management, primary care, mental health care, treatment for substance use and help with activities of daily living. Our staff works with people to relearn how to interact in the community and to feel comfortable visiting places like church, recreation centers, restaurants and other activities that are part of everyday life.

In addition, we opened the Philadelphia Furniture Bank to furnish homes for individuals and families moving out of shelter and transitional housing and into permanent housing. We also launched Housing First University to teach other organizations and communities how to do what we do, and enjoy similar positive outcomes.

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

COVID-19 has made it more important than ever to find safe places for people to stay/live that are not crowded shelter sites. From March to May of this year, in the middle of the pandemic, we moved 77 people off the streets and into apartments of their choosing. That is 77 people living in a safer environment and receiving vital services to keep them healthy and safe. Our work has increased to fill gaps in service due to the virus. We needed to become a provider of food for many as those resources cut back or were overtaxed. Our clinic volume increased as emergency departments dealt with COVID. We are graced with an amazing staff who stood up to meet the changing and challenging needs as presented.

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

What makes me most proud is the fact that we can instantly move someone into an apartment of their choosing, and with some help, actually end their homelessness permanently.

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

We met Maria (not her real name) in 2014 after she had been living on the streets for 9 years. Maria struggles with mental health issues, is deaf and was wearing metal braces on her teeth well in to her 30’s. She was deathly afraid of going to a shelter, but found comfort in numbers on the streets.

Maria had been living on her own in an apartment. One night, her apartment was broken into and she was assaulted. Because she is deaf, she didn’t hear the assailant enter her home. She was afraid to be there after that, and so began a long and heartbreaking struggle with homelessness.

With support, she began to trust us to help keep her safe and she moved into a Pathways’ apartment. She got cochlear implants to help her hearing, adaptive technology to make the apartment safer, and had her braces removed. Over the years, Maria has really opened up and now lives a life focused on wellness (she does yoga videos) and purpose. She is an inspiration and her life is a story of resilience.

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?

  • VOTE for legislators who understand the root causes of homelessness and poverty and are committed to changing them.
  • GIVE to vetted organizations that are working to lift people up. Do some research and be confident with your gift.
  • DO acts of kindness and services that make a difference in your community. Help keep your food pantry stocked. Serve at the local soup kitchen. Tutor kids in underprivileged situations.

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

I’m not sure about laws but in terms of policy:

  1. More focus on developing affordable housing, and supported housing for everyone in need. The housing and rental markets in this country are out of control and don’t match the income levels of the people looking to buy or rent. We need to fix this broken market.
  2. Universal healthcare. Taking care of our citizens is not socialism, it is good business. Doing the right thing will provide a healthier workforce for employers and, in turn, a healthier economy for the nation.
  3. Revisions for all local, state and national legislation that even hints at racial or gender bias. It is everywhere and touches everything. Language is power so we need to clean it up as a step toward healing what ails our country.

And really, we spend enough on hammers and golf in the federal budget to cover the costs.

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

  • I work with people that I love.
  • I see kindnesses happen every day.
  • I have a great support system.
  • I’m amazed, every day, at the resilience of the human spirit and that gives me reason to keep moving forward.

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

I believe there will always be those who have more, and those who have less. As an overly enthusiastic young person I thought that we could end homelessness. Now I think that we can end homelessness for one person at a time, and improve our service systems to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring.

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

  • Everyone deserves an opportunity.
  • Nothing is personal.
  • There are no great accomplishments without risk.
  • Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
  • Always speak truth to stupid.

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’m not so sure about the “enormous influence” part, but I think we should start a movement to do small and not so small acts of kindness each day. Let kindness be the lens through which we make decisions, and interact with people. Let us know that sometimes kindness may make us uncomfortable, or cost a little, or take some time, but know that that act of kindness can change a life and, in turn, change the world. There are 7.8 billion people in the world. Think what 7.8 billion kindnesses can do for us all!

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

“Hope is not a plan.”

Hope alone is useless unless it is part of a strategic plan with specific actions to lead to the hopeful outcome. I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist.

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. 🙂

Nadia Bolz-Webber is a Lutheran Minister and public theologian. Nadia is irreverent and holy at the same time, making sure that everyone (and I mean everyone) knows that they are included in God’s grace and ensures that all are welcome and celebrated. Every single time I read something she’s written or hear her speak, I feel like I’ve reconnected with a force greater than myself. She helps me to define the reasons I do this work, and how to do more and better, and not crumble under the weight of it all.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @ChrisSimiriglia

LinkedIn: @ChrisSimiriglia

…and occasionally on the Pathways’ blog: https://pathwaystohousingpa.org/news

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Christine Simiriglia of Pathways to Housing PA is Helping 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 Savonna Stender-Bondesson of Pivotal is Helping To Support Some…

Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Savonna Stender-Bondesson of Pivotal is Helping To Support Some Of The Most Vulnerable People In Our Communities

Seeing folks struggle isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult to be that person, so use your empathy. Before you look away, or try to avoid eye contact (as many do), imagine what it must be like to be experiencing a stay on the streets. “Not easy” would be an understatement. Say hi, treat them with dignity, respect, and kindness and most importantly, know that any small acts of kindness really do matter and can even echo beyond that moment for others.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Savonna Stender-Bondesson.

Savonna is the Director of Coaching Programs at Pivotal, a non-profit in the Bay Area focused on academic and career coaching for youth currently and formerly in foster care. Savonna has been working as a social worker in the Bay Area for the last six years.

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

I was born and raised in San Jose, California. Growing up, there was a lot going on in my family so at 18 I decided to ‘get away.’ I moved to Utah to live and go to school by myself, figuring out a lot on my own. I found my passion for working with teenagers when I worked with homeless youth in a downtown shelter and in a transitional living facility. I came back to California to pursue social work and earned my Master’s in Social Work at SJSU. I have intentionally focused my work in education equity spaces because education was how I was able to get out and do my thing, so it’s very personal to me when I can help those who also want it. More recently, I’ve been interested in healthcare advocacy, especially at end-of-life stages, because I was a caretaker to my mother who died from ALS. From that very personal experience I learned that the medical care system needs to get overhauled. That might be my next step.

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

There was this time when I was working graveyard shifts at a motel while I was still in my undergrad program. We routinely threw away blankets, comforters, you name it, that weren’t suitable for the business. We had some blankets; each had just one cigarette burn but were otherwise clean and had been washed. We were about to throw them out when I had someone come to the door in the middle of the night and tell me how cold he was (I had moved to somewhere where winters were harsh). I just decided right then and there he was going to get those clean blankets, even if my employer might not think it was the “right” thing to do. From there, I worked with folks who were houseless, and those currently and formerly in foster care. There is much overlap between the two populations as many foster youth end up experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.

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

Where do we begin? Systemic issues are seen as ‘too big to tackle’ but that’s what keeps cycles of crisis occurring. On-the-ground work is excellent work and systems need to compassionately change for there to be the kind of relief and the kind of dignity given back to those who have lost so much in the last few years, including their homes. We have not prioritized economic justice, so that folks can have equitable opportunities to create a material life that can then allow them to move beyond paycheck to paycheck. Data from Nielsen in 2019 as well as Bankrate’s latest financial security index have both found that 3 in 10 adults have no emergency savings and that even families making $150,000 a year are living paycheck to paycheck. In San Francisco, a family would need a combined $350,000 a year to even barely fit into lower-middle class. Bankrate also found that student loans, credit cards, and unexpected medical expenses deal such a huge blow to an individual’s economic situation. The same study noted stagnant wages along with rising costs of living making the struggle even harder. The modern economy leaves too many people out. Median household incomes in black households are still 61% of that of a similar white household. Median income in 1970 for black households was $23, 800 and in 2018 was about $33,000. This pay gap has persisted over time and is just one example of economic injustice disproportionately affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Having to live paycheck to paycheck does not leave folks with the ability to think outside of survival and instead be able to live and think of themselves as workers with autonomy, creativity, and dignity. Too many people feel like a cog in the machine. BIPOC are disproportionately affected by inequitable economic systems and policies, and have been all throughout history. BIPOC are also disproportionately represented in the foster care system, so now imagine being system-raised, BIPOC, and trying to live independently when your chances of economic thriving are so highly different from those of white counterparts who have not lived with foster care experience.

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?

No same person has the same progression. What I can tell you from my own experience in this field is that homelessness is not typically the result of some series of unfortunate events or ‘bad choices’ that snowballed out of control. Instead, it’s the result of one or two things that fall out of place, which bring a person’s or family’s life to a place of houselessness and instability. Job loss, mental or other health issues that are inadequately addressed due to poor healthcare access, toxic stress levels, an argument with a roommate who kicks you out, all these things and then some can play a factor.

In my work with foster youth, I have seen a young person have a disagreement with a roommate who initially agreed to provide a temporary stay on their couch and then within a day was living in their car again. They had already outstayed the maximum amount of days they would be provided in a shelter that serves former foster and they were also no longer in the foster care system, which meant no housing support from their county. The rules in some of the shelters and other housing options are meant to keep some structure but are also often even more restrictive than one might have for their own teens. Have you ever stayed out longer with friends than your parents wanted you to? Well, in a place with a never-ending influx of foster youth or others in need, that could be grounds for expulsion from the program. It does not take much, and it is not always avoidable.

I have also watched a foster youth who had a landlord who was relentless about receiving their rent payment on time with no consideration for the circumstance, evict them for being 6 days late on rent for the very first time. The youth had been working, and through no fault of their own, the organization they were now employed by had miscommunicated start dates, causing a delay in when she could begin and receive her first paycheck. Because of the delays, the organization opted to pay the youth through digital means (PayPal), but with a typical three day hold on transfers to bank accounts, it caused another delay. Three delays were too much, and that youth ended up in their car for some time again.

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

First, moving itself is expensive. Generally, if you are moving more than 100 miles, without even factoring in movers, you could spend on average anywhere from $900-$2,000 with the cost of gas, truck rental, moving items, and motel stays. Second, moving somewhere with cheaper housing is not a solution in and of itself. Cheaper housing might come with a less favorable job market, with less available opportunities. Lastly and most importantly, folks who are houseless are human just like any one of us. We have friends, family, close relationships, places we enjoy. None of these things are less so for someone who is houseless. In some cases, these very things might provide the support someone needs to get back to housing stability. They’re just as important for anyone. Foster youth, as with anyone, are drawn to the Bay Area and to Silicon Valley. Even entry-level, minimum wage jobs here in San Jose pay 2x as much as the federal minimum wage, even though that is still not enough to live solo in Bay Area rents. Transportation, resources, and job opportunities abound and are growing compared to rural or less expensive areas. Foster youth also have families, connections, and roots. I know so many foster youth who have taken on informal responsibility for younger siblings in and out of the system themselves, so they inevitably make choices not just for themselves since it also affects others they care about.

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

Seeing folks struggle isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult to be that person, so use your empathy. Before you look away, or try to avoid eye contact (as many do), imagine what it must be like to be experiencing a stay on the streets. “Not easy” would be an understatement. Say hi, treat them with dignity, respect, and kindness and most importantly, know that any small acts of kindness really do matter and can even echo beyond that moment for others.

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

You know yourself best and you know how comfortable you may be in responding to this request. I would suggest if you’re uncomfortable or cannot support them financially, try to know about some local resources that you can give to them to search for their material needs. Some local shelters and other coalitions tackling homelessness have info cards that you can keep with you.

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

We’re tackling a small part of this crisis but know this: 40–50% of foster youth will become houseless within 18 months of leaving the system. Our scholars are persisting in high school with diplomas, persisting in community college, and graduating with their bachelor’s degrees at 10x the national rate of their foster youth peers. Education can’t be taken away from someone, nor can the confidence and skills they build in our career readiness and summer internship programs. We’re coaching and preparing the most vulnerable youth to have the skills, abilities, critical thinking, and leadership necessary to live economically, independently, and to become future allies and leaders in the homelessness and foster youth space.

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

It’s not easy to be living in a pandemic without space to social distance or keep yourself as safe as one might like or need to. It has affected our ability to help people, but only in that it has forced us to work within the new parameters. The work hasn’t stopped and it’s not going to. The most surprising fact for folks in the community to know is that the digital divide is huge. Even foster youth do not always have reliable access to technology including phones or computers, nor reliable Wi-Fi, which are an absolute must now with digital learning. Our first step once we moved to digital work was to do a huge survey of who had reliable access to technology and internet. We then followed that all the way through to securing funding specifically to ensure that our foster youth had the laptops, phones, and internet service needed to not only do their virtual work, but to stay connected with their Pivotal coaches.

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

Right now, what makes me most proud is how quickly Pivotal moved to create an Emergency Assistance Fund for our scholars. We had it up and running with all hands-on deck within two weeks of shelter-in-place. Through the EAF we supported not only some of our scholars who are without a home, but also supported scholars with financial assistance so that they could keep their places of residence and not become homeless.

In our first Emergency Assistance requests, we had a young person who desperately needed rent money. At the beginning of the pandemic she got laid off from her customer service job and had just turned 18, so her financial assistance from foster care had not yet transferred to her name. She had also just moved to a new place and now had no way to stay current on payments. We helped with 1 month of rent, which helped relieve the financial and emotional stress. Luckily, she ended up getting a job soon after and was able to support herself. In a big picture snapshot, 45% of our emergency assistance money went to support rent payments and 50% to groceries. That’s an astonishing amount of basic need that foster youth could not support on their own and needed to ask for financial assistance for in order to just live.

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

I worked with a young person who was constantly having housing instability. They were back and forth from living in a shelter space, while also spending time in their car, friend’s houses, and hotels. Luckily, they were able to finally find a permanent living situation. We were with them every step of the way, through every journey to look for new housing, to making sure they got meals while living in their car and hotel. That’s not the part that makes me proud, though — I am so proud of that scholar. They went through all of that while still staying active in college and getting through classes. They want to be a doctor someday.

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?

I’m all about the preventative, but of course many needs are present and current.

Give to organizations who not only serve the homeless but who also work to prevent homelessness from happening. Stable jobs, stable necessities, stable connections also help prevent homelessness.

Advocate for (with your voice, your money, your anything) mental health resources that are not only affordable and accessible, but also destigmatize seeking mental health. JAMA Internal Medicine did a randomized study on 40,000 people and found that while 8% were living with depression, less than 30% were seeking treatment. Not seeking treatment happens for several reasons.

Serve as a mentor, especially if you aren’t white. It’s important for foster youth, as well as any child, to have strong mentors who look like them and come from their communities.

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. Legislation that provides quality access to internet for all areas of the United States. Internet should be a utility like gas, water, heat, and not a service.
  2. Legislation or laws that allow parents and families to be in Court prior to children being removed. Once youth enter the foster care courts it can be so difficult to get out. Why not bring the family and professionals together to work on things before that happens? It just seems to happen too quickly without much parent input.
  3. National legislation that gives foster youth the choice to stay in care from 18–21. California has this, called AB12, but not every state does, and some are still leaving the system at age 18, sometimes still in high school at that age.

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

People. People from all walks of life fill me up with so much love and bring me so much joy. I love working on behalf of someone and for someone. I see myself always being in this kind of helping work.

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

I do, it keeps me going, but will it ever really happen? I don’t know the answer to that.

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

Speak up. I have spent too much time thinking others had better things to say than me.

It is okay to feel and speak from the heart when something does not feel like it is serving your community or your population.

That not everyone is going to “get” the work you do. Find people who do, or at least people willing to listen and love on you during the tougher days.

Find things you enjoy outside of work. When you are in this field, it is not just a job, it feels like a life mission, but even your life needs things that fill you up, too. I like to try new things and try to get good at them. Most recently, I bought a motorcycle and I’ve been practicing riding.

You come in with heart and think you could never be racist, or judgmental, or biased. You are. We all are. Don’t stop working on knowing when those things come up for you and how to address them.

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. 🙂

To be honest, I’m a white cisgender queer woman, that is to say: I don’t need to inspire a new movement, I need to support my BIPOC colleagues who are already creating, sustaining, and maintaining movements. The work must get done before, during, and after, and we all need to share the weight to keep something going.

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

Everyone is and can be a leader. I have spent too much time in my professional life thinking others knew more or were smarter. Here’s the real deal: you’re intelligent, you know yourself, raise your hand in class, say that thing in the meeting, because the world needs you and your leadership.

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. 🙂

Laverne Cox. I saw her speak once at an event near me and a child came up to her on stage and asked about how to deal with bullies who were mistreating her since she likes to dress in “boy clothes.” Laverne had a beautiful response, of which I can’t remember all of it, but what stuck with me was her beautiful way of “being” with the child. She bent forward, asked her to come closer, and just wrapped her up in so much love and compassion and kindness. I’d love to feel that energy for an hour. Also, have you seen her dance videos on Instagram? She’s fire.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’d rather folks follow my org at Pivotalnow.org for insightful and creative content on what we are doing during this crisis on behalf of young people.

I can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/savonna-stender-bondesson/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes of The Homeless Crisis: How Savonna Stender-Bondesson of Pivotal is Helping To Support Some… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Damon Burton of SEO National: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes. By creating silly requests, you can proactively eliminate half of the job candidates immediately. I like to ask candidates to contact me through a specific channel with a specific message. For example, if I post a job on a website, I’ll ask the candidates not to message me in that portal’s messaging system. I’ll send them elsewhere, like Skype. I’ll also ask them to copy and paste a bizarre intro message, like “When you message on Skype, please say, “T-rex is bodacious!”

Why? You’re passively finding candidates that: read thoroughly & can follow directions. In the past, I made the mistake of making exceptions. I’d see a shiny resume in my inbox on the hiring website. The candidate looked perfect, so I replied. I’ve also responded to candidates that Skyped me but didn’t tell me how bodacious T-rex was. Save yourself. It. Never. Works. Out. Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes.

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

This search engine marketing expert has beat billion dollar companies at their own game and has proven strategies to grow your business.

Over a decade ago he beat a billion dollar company by outranking their website on Google. Since then, he knew he was onto something and has gone on to build an international search engine marketing company that’s worked with NBA teams, and Inc 5000 & Shark Tank featured businesses.

Having started his business right before the 2008 recession, Damon is familiar navigating and growing a business through times like today. Never before has there been so many people needing something to focus their attention on… AND the time to do it.

Since founding his company SEO National in 2007, he has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, BuzzFeed and USA Weekly, and has helped high-profile clients make more in a month than they used to in a year.

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”?

In my twenties, I started a car enthusiast website in 2001, EliteRides.com. Little did I know that it was the first step towards launching a multi-million dollar business over the upcoming years.

I still own the domain, but the content is archived, and there is nothing to see. How did this site launch my career?

The purpose of the site was to showcase aftermarket cars. I’d build profiles and feature local cars that had modifications done. As the website’s popularity grew, I asked myself how to make the website better for users. That threw me into the rabbit hole of improving my web design skills.

After improving the site design, I became curious about how to monetize the ever-growing traffic. Voilà. That’s how I got started in internet marketing.

For a while, I did design on the side. Once I built up enough clients where I could take a calculated risk of cutting my income in half, but freeing up 80% of my time… I jumped.

That was in 2007. Fast forward nearly 14 years later, and I have a team of twenty. We’ve optimized websites with NBA teams, billion-dollar international real estate agencies, businesses featured on Shark Tank, INC 5000 companies, and so many other cool companies and people.

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

I’d guess it was about 28 years ago that I went to my first Utah Jazz game.

They played the Denver Nuggets.

Never would have guessed two decades later I’d build an internationally respected SEO company, and one more decade later that the Utah Jazz’s Team Store would be one of its clients.

As I’ve thought about the exciting news leading up to announcing working with this client, I realized that there’s something special about welcoming them.

Sounds funny to say that I’ve had bigger clients than the Utah Jazz’s Team Store. A freakin’ NBA team. But I have.

However, welcoming the Jazz has an excitement about it that no other company, no matter their size, can beat. Bigger contracts can’t bring bigger emotional ties.

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 2007, I had I woke up early to work on one of my first significant SEO client’s site. When I uploaded a new file, little did I know that file already existed on their server, but it was set to hidden.

When I loaded the “new” file that “didn’t exist” from my program’s view, it really overwrote the hidden file that DID exist.

  • Crashed the site
  • They were an online retailer, so their business was now down
  • 5 am, so no one was in office yet.
  • Emailed them, owning the situation
  • Called and left a voicemail, double-owning the circumstances
  • Worked nervously on the site “offline” for hours, waiting for a return call

Luckily, they were cool. They granted access to correct the file — instant restoration.

That client went on to increase tjeor median monthly organic sales by 226% that year. As the years past and our relationship and marketing efforts grew, that percentage of growth increase substantially. Their online sales grew so much through my team’s SEO efforts that they sold for millions. They snowballed their earnings into building and selling five more businesses in ten years, and has become a good friend.

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

I’ve gone over a decade, having never met my team of 20 in person. And I’d put their loyalty up against anyone else’s team. The key is to be human. Be vulnerable. Check-in with them more than on projects. Ask how things are going outside of work.

By asking genuine questions from a place of sincerity, you earn trust and build relationships. This is even more valuable of an approach due to COVID.

In a recent Skype chat meeting with my whole team, I asked them, “Has anyone picked up new hobbies, or how are you staying mentally sane?”

I asked them because I’d like to invest in their sanity. Maybe I could purchase something of benefit to them online and have it delivered directly to them, or forward a little extra cash to help them buy something locally that would make life easier.

I know that:

1 — Mental health can be intimidating to talk about.

2 — Some people are quiet to being with, so talking about mental health is even more intimidating of a subject.

I wanted to be transparent with my team to encourage them not to hesitate to contact me if I can help. If I can contribute to helping them find a reasonably priced guitar because they want to learn, let’’s explore that option. Or maybe they want to learn a new skill on Udemy, unrelated to work, count me in.

Proactively emphasizing that a channel of honest, vulnerable communication was available can mean the world.

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?

Since day one, which was nearly 14 years ago. I have a team of 20 that I’ve never met in real life. How crazy is that?!

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. Frontload your hiring efforts to find the right candidate

Better to take more time finding the right person than to “save time” finding the wrong person and have to clean up the mess later and start the search all over again.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

2. Experience over resume — ask to see their work

Anyone can say anything on a resume. Understandably, people need a job. Unfortunately, that means skills are exaggerated.

When available, depending on the industry, ask to see some real-life examples of their work. Seeing tangible results is infinitely more insightful than a resume.

3. Pay for a test

I pay candidates to do a test all of the time. Offer a paid test and set realistic expectations that you want to make sure their skills are a match. That way, you establish trust (if you do continue engaging) by valuing their time. They’ll also appreciate time not lost as unpaid if the opportunity didn’t work out.

4. Trust your heart

Maintaining positivity within the organization is a must. If you have a candidate with an amazing resume and skillset, but they come across as an emotional vampire… NOPE!

5. Trust your gut

If something feels wrong, something is wrong.

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

Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes. By creating silly requests, you can proactively eliminate half of the job candidates immediately.

I like to ask candidates to contact me through a specific channel with a specific message. For example, if I post a job on a website, I’ll ask the candidates not to message me in that portal’s messaging system. I’ll send them elsewhere, like Skype. I’ll also ask them to copy and paste a bizarre intro message, like “When you message on Skype, please say, “T-rex is bodacious!”

Why? You’re passively finding candidates that:

  1. read thoroughly
  2. can follow directions

In the past, I made the mistake of making exceptions. I’d see a shiny resume in my inbox on the hiring website. The candidate looked perfect, so I replied. I’ve also responded to candidates that Skyped me but didn’t tell me how bodacious T-rex was. Save yourself. It. Never. Works. Out. Don’t make exceptions to your hiring loopholes.

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?

Proactively communicate that you’d rather someone be honest with their question, fear, or mistake so you can help them proactively, versus you finding out on your own and have to correct course reactively after the damage is already done.

Beyond just mitigating awkward feedback sessions, I don’t want to micromanage. For that reason, I’d way rather spend weeks finding the right candidate than hiring quickly. Sure, not filling a role can be painful as the workload builds up, but having a poor performer or someone that brings a gray cloud to company culture is a lot more painful to try and cleanse later.

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

Compliment sandwich:

  • top bread = compliment

Be sincere. Compliment them with something that is truly one of their good characteristics. Otherwise, you’ll make the whole situation worse with fake schmoozing.

  • “meat” of the compliment sandwich = the feedback

Be direct. Don’t give a huge backstory, don’t justify what you’re about to say. Say what needs to be said and how it impacts you all. Don’t make it come across that only one side or the other suffers. Communicate that you’re a team, and by correcting course, it’s not only a win for you but also for them and their colleagues.

  • bottom bread = compliment

Thank them for their time and willingness to be open-minded to creating a winning solution for the whole team.

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?

Different reality = different people.

Stay humble and be graceful as you’re given a unique opportunity to virtually join people in their homes that are otherwise private.

We’re all human and bring that awareness of humanity to the discussion. Everyone’s homes will be different; some bigger, some smaller, some perfectly polished, some homes a FEMA kid tornado zone.

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?

Just because you’re not physically close, doesn’t mean you can’t be emotionally close. Do virtual team bonding activities or offer one-on-one growth opportunities. Find out what activities are near the team members’ locations, figure out their interests or if they’re a parent, and offer unique activities that they can do within groups that they can socialize with.

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 like to encourage confidence in more people. That’s really something I’ve taken to lately, is encouraging others — especially good-hearted people.

It has been really interesting being more introspective the last year or two and seeing how most people have insecurities. Often, they’re so simple to the outsiders but so huge to the person. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudging at the right time from the right source of caring, and amazing things happen.

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

“Pay the price today so you can pay any price tomorrow.” — Grant Cardone

I’m not a huge guru-follower, but this quote often stands out to me.

When I was younger, my family moved a lot. A lot, a lot. From one family friend’s basement to another, sometimes 2–3 times a year.

As I hit late teens, early twenties, I knew that I’d be a family man one day. That encouraged me to put in the work in my youth (“pay the price”) so that I could be financially secure, residentially secure, everything secure (“pay any price tomorrow”) so that I could provide my future wife and kids roots.

By the time I was thirty, I had accomplished what many would consider lifetime accomplishments. That afforded me, my wife, and our kids to grow into our beautiful house. We’re fortunate for my wife to be able to stay home with our kids, I work from home and can be with the kids as well, and things look brighter and brighter each day from the seeds I planted ten years ago.

How can our readers follow you online?

Personal blog: https://www.damonburton.com

Business website: https://www.seonational.com

Free Copy of SEO Book: https://www.freeseobook.com

https://www.facebook.com/damon.burton

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

https://www.instagram.com/entrepreneurdamon/

Thank you for these great insights!


Damon Burton of SEO National: 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.

Andrew Suzuka of Otamot Foods: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Relationships; Ensure the people you hire are OK using video, as voice-only relationships will never foster great relationships.

Trust; Get comfortable knowing while some people will take advantage of you, the trusted ones will prevail.

Culture; Don’t play online games with your team to build culture. Instead, dedicate time weekly for a group chat, and ask engaging questions to learn something new about each person.

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

Food has always been a passion for Andrew Suzuka, who grew up around his father’s Westchester County, New York sushi restaurant. His entrepreneurial spirit first became apparent at the age of 7, when he began selling homemade cookies to his Putnam County neighbors. Over the years, his foodie tendencies and keen business sense have only grown. In his junior year at NYU he founded his first advertising agency, Key Factors, where he ran national experiential campaigns for clients like MTV, Nike, and P&G for a decade.

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 the founder of Otamot Foods, which creates nutritious versions of everyday foods. Inspired by my daughter’s picky eating habits, I originally began whipping up my first product, a super tomato sauce that looked and tasted like a traditional pizza or pasta sauce, and made sure it packed a seriously nutritious punch by incorporating ten vegetables, cooked precisely to preserve their essential vitamins and nutrients. Our first product line, veggie-loaded organic tomato sauces, launched in 2019 and is now carried nationally by Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme Market, and many others.

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

Early on, I was asked to sell Otamot on QVC, which is a TV shopping channel I used to joke with my best friend about because his mom loved it. Our third show performed so badly (they use SPM, sales per minute, as the sole measure of success) that they were not going to have me on again. However, I was relentless and convinced them to give me another shot. Thankfully, our fourth show beat expectations, so I was invited on a fifth time where we sold 20,000 jars of Otamot in 8-minutes! It was a total mind-trip.

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?

During our first production run, I drove up to our factory in Vermont with plans to load my Subaru with about 1,000 jars of Otamot to take home. For some reason, I thought I could fit 150+ cases of sauce in my backseat. I encountered two problems. One: I still had two car seats in the backseat that I forgot to remove, and two: 1,000 jars of sauce would not only not fit, but it would have weighed more than the weight of the car. I learned pretty quickly that freight companies are better at transporting product than me.

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

It starts with hiring for passion. If someone is passionate about your product, your mission, and building something great together — they will love what they do. If someone loves what they do, they will thrive, and their risk of burnout will be low. Just remind them to take a vacation once in a while if you see them being overly dedicated.

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 s. remote teams?

I have about 20 years of experience managing remote teams.

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?

Relationships; Being a great manager means having great working relationships with your team, which is challenging when you can’t simply grab a lunch or a beer with them. I once hired someone who I interviewed over a call, and never went on video. It was nearly impossible to try and build a relationship with just a voice, so that didn’t last too long.

Trust; You cannot manage a remote team when you have trust issues. My former CEO asked to install software that would allow him to see what people were working on, 24/7. First, I didn’t care what they did in their personal time. Second, people need their personal space, and not just outside of work hours. We quickly shot down that idea before triggering a mass exodus.

Intuition; Sometimes you get a bad apple, it’s life. My mantra is “trust but verify” and I had a hunch that one of my employees was not working as much as they claimed. During one day that seemed to take them longer than it should have to complete a task, I checked their Facebook page and found him posting pictures from the beach with his girlfriend. That was his last day.

Culture; This is one of the hardest things to build remotely. I once tried to have my team play an online version of Scrabble as a team-building exercise. The issue was not everyone spoke fluent English, and also people just thought it was pretty lame.

Kids and Pets; Remote workers have their own challenges, like caring for their kids and pets while working from home. There was a group Zoom we were on, and the person’s dog in the background kept walking in circles, sniffing and doing more circles. Finally, the dog let his presence be known by leaving a gift for his owner. We all just broke out laughing…as it might go down in history as one of the most memorable Zoom moments ever.

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

Relationships; Ensure the people you hire are OK using video, as voice-only relationships will never foster great relationships.

Trust; Get comfortable knowing while some people will take advantage of you, the trusted ones will prevail.

Intuition; Trust your gut. If you really feel that someone is simply collecting a check, find ways to validate your concern.

Culture; Don’t play online games with your team to build culture. Instead, dedicate time weekly for a group chat, and ask engaging questions to learn something new about each person.

Kids and Pets; Ask your team if there are any times that are tougher for them to meet during the day, and avoid scheduling meetings during those times. And take your dogs for walks more often.

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

I’ve been told that I don’t always come across well over email. I’ve learned that constructive feedback is best delivered live, but when written communication is required, be direct while being empathetic. Most are under more stress at work and home, so coming from an understanding point-of-view will increase your chance of that person pivoting their behavior for the better.

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?

When starting remotely, it’s easy to Zoom everything while getting less actual work done. Avoid required daily Zoom meetings, and give your team breathing room, so that they can learn and adapt to the new ways of working, and figure out what works best for them.

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?

Everyone needs to get from A to B. Your job isn’t to tell them what exact path to take, only to be there in case they get lost along the 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. 🙂

Mom Mondays. Too often we forget about the person who delivered us here, the reason we have a birthday to celebrate. Once a year, we celebrate Mother’s Day, but 365 days a year, she took care of us. Mom Mondays would be a great movement to inspire people to take 5-minutes out of the 1,440 minutes in a day to simply call and say hi to your mom (or another loved one). It will be the brightest 5-minutes out of the 10,080 minutes in a week.

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

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” Life is full of surprises — embrace those moments of uncertainty. When I launched my first startup, I had no real plan, no real understanding of if or how things would work. However, I always believed in myself and my ability to see my way through any situation.

Thank you for these great insights!


Andrew Suzuka of Otamot Foods: 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.

Damien Lavis of Epro: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal.

Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest person on the video call is feeling the most isolated. That’s why I think empathy is a crucial part of company culture — and you need to set an example from the top down. Building rapport with people will encourage them to reach out if needed.

When it comes to scheduling, consider pairing people together to assign multiple tasks, allowing for flexible hours for that all important overlap.

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

Damien has worked across technology, media, military, and health tech companies, bringing to each his expertise in Quality Assurance and testing, his excellent team management ability, and his dry sardonic sense of humour. He is the Quality Assurance and Test Manager at Epro, a healthtech company helping the NHS in the UK to focus on patients, not paperwork.

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”?

After studying Computer Science at the University of Swansea, I have worked for a number of tech companies, both big and small. From managing the digital rights of video games to military security, the companies I have worked for have given me a varied career to date and now I’m the Head of Test and Quality Assurance at Epro.

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

Years ago when I was a child, my mother was a Greenham Common protestor. She used to take me in a pram to rallies, decked out with stickers and badges with slogans such as, “I want to grow up not blow up!”

Fast forward a few decades, and I was working for Babcock International, and I had to cross the picket line of some of the original protestors. For all I knew, I had met them before but as a child.

It made me reevaluate my job and choose to move into something that had a more tangible positive outcome for the people around. It’s why I have moved into healthcare, and giving back to the NHS through my work here at Epro.

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 was always warned never to run ‘rm -rf’, or remove recursive force, on a Linux machine. While it’s a useful tool when used correctly, it can result in unrecoverable system damage — and of course, one day, I managed it.

I was reconfiguring a vital system server. I ran the command thinking I was wiping a directory from the disk, but due to a typo I was wiping all files from the disk. I thought “no problem, I’ll restore the backup”. Turns out there were no backups. The irony here was that I was working on a data backup product at the time.

I then had to spend a stressful weekend rebuilding it from scratch. Although it was not something I would ever wish upon someone, it has certainly taught me to always check your backups! I’ve learnt a valuable lesson!

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

Listen to them when they come to you with problems. You hired people you felt were smart enough to do the job. That means if they feel whatever issue is important enough to bring to you, then you should probably listen to what they have to say. It doesn’t matter whether it be a technical concern or something more structural like the feasibility of hitting deadlines.

Your people are your best asset, and you ignore them at your peril.

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 spent three years as the scrum master of three teams split across America, United Kingdom and India — and that means three different time zones, which was a real challenge. It was impossible to have a meeting that everyone could attend, and that meant a lot of non-synchronous work. I ended up acting as a go between where I could, encourage constant digital communication even if we couldn’t all get on a call.

This allowed us to follow the sun, where the Indian part of the team would update the British team with their updates at the end of their day, then the Brit’s would update the Americans, and finally the Americans would update the Indian team.

Since then, I have spent the last half a year managing a new remote team due to COVID-19 restrictions here in the UK. That’s been a different kind of challenge as we have had to adapt our ‘office’ practices to what makes the most sense now we’re in different locations.

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?

  • Communication — absolutely vital for trust, remote teams can suffer from information inequality because you miss informal conversations. The challenge is that you can’t pop to someone’s desk or overhear a conversation that you can input into, and so you miss those types of conversations.
  • Tracking progress — understanding task priority and progress can be difficult in remote teams, even in agile ones, as you are depending on your team to be visible with their workloads.
  • Professional development — how can you direct training and personal growth without being in the office? Training new hires becomes very difficult, as there’s only so much that screen share can do.
  • Loneliness — although not a uniquely COVID experience, we’ve certainly prioritized team cohesion, introducing regular check-ins and making time to talk rather than just formal meetings.
  • Scheduling — communication across time zones is a real challenge, especially as you are not able to see over someone’s shoulder. Getting times in the calendar when everyone is available is a difficult one, especially for handovers during absences.

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

During COVID especially, but for all long-term remote teams, you have to build this stuff in. You can’t just assume it will happen organically.

For communication, I recommend tools like slack or mattermost, as well as regular one-to-ones. Make sure you are including all people in calls and email chains, so no one feels left out. Of course, you need to ensure your employees are doing the same and communicating with one another!

That’s why documentation is so critical: all procedures and required knowledge should be written down in one location in a consistent way, so anyone can pick it up.

For tracking progress, take a look at tools like rally or jira. But it’s so much more than a digital solution; you need to ensure everyone in your team is keeping a sensible work life balance. Overwork is bad, not just for them, but for the company too.

Professional development doesn’t need to stop for remote teams. Discover and set shared goals, and help more junior staff to learn by pairing them up with more senior people. Being available for questions will create a culture of learning, because so much of training is often informal.

Loneliness can be hard to spot — sometimes the loudest person on the video call is feeling the most isolated. That’s why I think empathy is a crucial part of company culture — and you need to set an example from the top down. Building rapport with people will encourage them to reach out if needed.

Lastly, when it comes to scheduling, consider pairing people together to assign multiple tasks, allowing for flexible hours for that all important overlap.

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 can’t meet face to face, then video is best. It is important to have put in the groundwork of having a good relationship with the employee in advance, because no one likes to feel victimized.

The framing of the call is important. Try to avoid stark lighting or darkness, and your background and attire should be warm or neutral. If video isn’t possible, then make sure it is clear with no distractions, so that it’s clear you are giving your focus to the employee.

Ensure the tone of language is positive: this is a chance for us to improve. Try to schedule the talk in advance so they are aware of what is to be discussed, so that they can be prepared. Ensure you make your point clearly and make sure that any negative outcomes are explained, and also recognize any positives in the situation.

People value honesty. Give honest advice and actively listen to their feedback. They may have suggestions for improvements that you had not considered. Be clear in expectations and summarize them at the end of the call.

And of course, make time for small talk! It can help set the mood and show your interest in the employee and learn more about their motivations, which in turn allows you to tailor their objects to align to both your and their desired outcomes.

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

This is very easy to get wrong. You want to ensure the message is clear and to the point. Do not attempt to joke or add anything which could be misconstrued — make your tone and language positive and give concrete examples of the problem. That will help you to guide the individual on how they could do better.

This is a chance for them to grow, and by framing it that way, the individual is much more likely to take on board what you’re saying. If needed, follow up with a video call later to discuss further.

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?

You can use instant messaging (IM), but don’t rely on it. A call can be much quicker at getting to the point, especially if you’re using screen sharing wherever possible. Ensure you still talk to your co-worker via IM or calls, both about work, and the other things you would do at the office. Don’t assume everyone has heard about something, communicate it widely.

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?

Meeting in person is a great thing to do, even if it’s only occasionally, but that isn’t so easy with COVID restrictions — especially if they vary in different regions. Prioritize your internal regular communication, and live out the values you’re setting for your team so they can see you are holding yourself to the same standard.

I would always encourage leaders to be open and transparent with both issues and opportunities. When you trust people to do their best, and give them the tools to do so, you usually get great results.

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

Education is vital. it should be free for those that need it, and allow all applicants to have the same chances. I think all countries should follow Norway’s example of no private schools, which has raised the standard of all schools in the country, and remove university fees.

At the same time, I want to remove any stigma that might prevent people from getting opportunities. I think we should anonymize an applicant’s cultural and educational backgrounds, and instead focus on their achievements and potential — and not their wealth or privilege.

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

“Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.”

Success is built on going from failure to failure without losing your motivation. You learn how to do things through trial and error, and once you work out how to do it, you can be successful.

Thank you for these great insights!


Damien Lavis of Epro: 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.

Steven Dorfman of The Perecman Firm: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

Steven Dorfman of The Perecman Firm: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

I’ve tried to bridge the gap presented by our distanced and remote work environment by holding regular meetings with staff, reaching out frequently to personnel and trying to continue to connect with the employees in a way that reminds them that, while we may be separated by distance, we are all still in this together, working towards a common goal.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Dorfman, Managing Attorney at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.

He is a prominent New York attorney with over 20 years of experience representing individuals in catastrophic personal injury matters. During the course of his legal career, Steven has secured tens of millions of dollars in compensation on behalf of his clients, most of whom have been injured, underrepresented construction workers.

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”?

After graduating from George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, I studied at Brooklyn Law School. I graduated with my Juris Doctorate in 1996 and then joined a prominent New York personal injury law firm as an attorney. There, I represented individuals in catastrophic injury matters, including several high-profile, complex cases such as the 2008 Manhattan Crane Collapse, the 2013 Spuyten Duyvil train derailment and the 2015 Metro-North accident that occurred in Valhalla, New York. Through leadership, hard work and commitment to achieving great results on behalf of my clients, I was promoted to Managing Partner of that firm in 2001.

In 2016, I joined The Perecman Firm as Managing Attorney, where I continue to pursue my devotion and passion for representing seriously injured individuals in complex matters. As a first-generation American and the proud son of Argentinian immigrant parents, I feel particularly sensitive to the plight of vulnerable individuals that do not speak English as their first language. Being bilingual has allowed me to connect directly with my Spanish-speaking clients and further my commitment to assisting those who have been seriously injured and unfamiliar with the legal system. In addition to my professional background, I am a proud father of 3 daughters and a very fortunate husband of a smart and caring wife.

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

I love what I do. The love and devotion that I have for this amazing profession is, in and of itself, the most interesting thing about my career. The fact that I have been entrusted to help people who, due to the negligence of others, are seriously injured and unable to fend for themselves is a tremendous honor and I take that responsibility very seriously. Every aspect of the profession is interesting to me; whether it be a deposition, motion, trial or appeal that I’ve handled, I’ve been enthralled by every bit of the experience.

That said, there have been some unique and rare experiences that I can’t help but be reminded of, such as, (i) my first trial in Federal Court, where I had the honor of appearing before Judge Jack Weinstein, one of the most senior and legendary members of the Federal judiciary, (ii) my first trial victory, where I first felt the exhilaration and pride that I was able to help an injured client, (iii) my representation before the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund of several families and victims that were impacted by the tragic events, and (iv) the honor and privilege to serve as one of the lead attorneys and members of the Steering Committee for the Plaintiffs in the case of the 2015 Metro-North Accident that occurred in Valhalla, New York.

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?

During the summation of one of the first trials I ever handled, I remember standing before the jurors and passionately stating my client’s case. During my closing argument, I noticed that one of the jurors (we’ll call her Juror #3) kept moving her head left and right, and I could see she was winking at me! I took her gestures as obvious signs of approval and was convinced that my case was won. Once the Judge gave the case to the jurors, I felt confident and excited about the obvious signs of approval that I observed from Juror #3 and was convinced we’d win. After some time, the jurors returned, and we received a favorable verdict. However, when we concluded, I took the opportunity to speak to the jurors to get feedback. I was a young attorney, so I was looking for useful input from the jurors that worked with me for the previous week. I firmly expected that Juror #3 would have nothing but nice things to say, so, naturally, I solicited her opinions first. Well, to my surprise, Juror #3’s “signs of approval” had nothing to do with my eloquence. Indeed, Juror #3 told me that I needed to stand still during my closing because every time I shuffled left or right, the sun would shine on her, causing her to move her head and squint (not wink, as I thought) her eyes! Despite my client’s victory, I was immediately humbled and moderately embarrassed. I learned an essential lesson that day. That is, never think too much of yourself. Since then, I’m reminded that being overly confident can cloud one’s judgment and perspective. Thanks to Juror #3’s advice, I now stand firmly when speaking and always try to remain grounded and humble.

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

I try to manage with empathy and concern for everyone that works for us. From the part-time clerk to the most senior attorney in my office, I’ve made a conscious effort to always take the time to speak to each person and show them that I’m concerned for their physical and emotional health. To that end, I have consistently demonstrated that I am accessible to everyone at their request at any time. I also try to bring the group together with team events, whether it be something social, such as bowling, a civic event, like a charity drive or just sitting together for a firm-wide meal. I believe these events help bring us all together and increases the esprit de corps, which, in turn, eases everyone’s tensions.

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?

While I’ve had many years of experience as a managing partner at a law firm, I had never managed an entire team remotely prior to this year. One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced as an industry has been the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, most New York City law firms have had to pivot regular business practices to keep staff members employed and caseload effectively managed. For our firm, we closed the physical office and facilitated our staff to work from home.

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. Maintaining our close congenial connections has been very difficult for obvious reasons. Our work can be very stressful; for that reason, the relationships we’ve made are essential to working together. Everyone has learned to trust and rely on each other in order to get the work done. To battle the sense of isolation and distance, I’ve tried to have regular Zoom meetings with the groups. I found it very important for co-workers to see each other and think we’ve all gained from the experience.
  2. Closely related to #1, maintaining morale is so hard to do in a remote setting. We’ve been working remotely since March of this year. We have been maintaining long-distance relationships with our co-workers for more than six months. The lack of daily face-to-face contact with our co-workers can threaten our morale. I’ve tried to combat that by holding many Zoom conferences. I’ve tried to dedicate large portions of each of those meetings to first discuss personal, non-work-related matters. Wanting to know how people are doing, what little moments they’ve celebrated during the week (say, a child getting into the college of their choice, an engagement, etc.) allow us to feel connected to each other and reminds us of what we’ve missed during our time working at home. Zoom is such an impersonal, one dimensional way of conducting face-to-face business that these personal moments remind us all that the little squares on our monitors are images of the people we’ve worked with for years; they’re the people we still care about and miss.
  3. Measuring work productivity can be difficult to do without the benefit of being present and close to the other employees in the firm. I’ve heard from colleagues at other firms that they don’t believe that their remote employees are putting in a full day’s worth of work. I don’t see things through that sort of lens. I find that perspective to be too cynical and negative for my way of life. Instead, I’ve managed the office with the attitude that our employees are loyal and hard-working and will continue with the same work ethic while working from home. In the truly rare instances that I have been proven wrong, I’ve addressed it on an individual basis with the employee and have discovered that there haven’t been any repeat offenders. I have a lot of built-in tools for measuring whether people are working; between time records and built-in reports in my practice management system, I am able to get a good measure at employees’ productivity, but, ultimately, I am results-oriented and, if the work is getting done in the manner that I expect, I will not disrupt the process and understand that working from home, sometimes with children, spouses or pets, presents unique conditions that will often require our workers to “get up from their desks” for extended periods of time. As long as we’re continuing to serve our clients, maintain profitability, and, most importantly, continue to be healthy, I am satisfied with everyone’s efforts.
  4. Keeping tabs on our employees’ client outreach is quite difficult to do when you’re not in close proximity to the staff. One of the ways I’ve been able to comfortably keep track of our employees’ responsiveness to client’s messages is by maintaining continuous contact with the personnel responsible for those communications. I have regular Zoom meetings with my attorneys and speak with my personnel via phone on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.
  5. Working remotely has prevented me from communicating with my staff as frequently as I’d like. I believe that successful leadership is developed through trust and mutual admiration. I always try to cultivate these qualities by maintaining a regular and open dialogue with my employees. The disruption posed by working remotely has limited my ability to communicate with my staff as regularly as I care to.

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

I’ve tried to bridge the gap presented by our distanced and remote work environment by holding regular meetings with staff, reaching out frequently to personnel and trying to continue to connect with the employees in a way that reminds them that, while we may be separated by distance, we are all still in this together, working towards a common goal.

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?

Providing constructive criticism to an employee is always a sensitive moment in any employee/employer relationship. The situation is ripe for taking offense and hurt feelings. Even in the most innocuous context, when an employer reviews an employee’s missteps or errors, it is likely that, at its worst, the employee feels that her job is in jeopardy or, at a minimum, she leaves the meeting embarrassed and possibly angry. The remote work environment makes it even harder to hold these important conversations. That said, in the instances when these conversations must be had, I’ve found three simple rules for conducting the conversation in remote settings:

  1. Avoid criticizing via email. Important conversations, especially when they have the possibility of setting off feelings, should never be done via email.
  2. The meetings should be done face to face via Zoom or a similar platform.
  3. The conversation should always address the behavior or task that was problematic, but, unless it is an error that warrants dismissal, the discussion should always end on a positive note with a reminder to the employee why they are a valued member of the team.

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

I think providing constructive feedback via email is a bad idea and is something that I avoid at all costs. Email does not give the reader the benefit of the author’s tone, facial expressions and physical cues. It is always best to have these sensitive conversations in a face-to-face setting.

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?

For most of us, we spend more hours of our days at work, in the company of our co-workers, than we do with our families. Indeed, our co-workers are, in many respects, also part of our family. For that reason, once we were forced to work from home, in a remote setting, I felt it was essential to hold regular meetings via Zoom so our employees could, at least for a little while, forget about the loneliness of working remotely and be reminded of their work “family.”

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?

Communicating regularly with staff is essential to maintaining a healthy work culture. The anxiety brought on by the pandemic and the forced separation from one’s co-workers exacerbates the loneliness felt by the staff working remotely. Communication provides a regular reminder to my team that their contributions are valued, that they are missed and that their job is not in jeopardy.

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. 🙂

Limit the use of social media. Popular social media platforms are a poor substitute for human contact. Where once we used to pick up the phone and see how a friend was doing, many of us now rely on “feed” or photo posted to social media to answer the critical question of “how are you?” or “what’s going on?” Moreover, these social media platforms now deliver misinformation posing as news. For the foregoing reasons, I think we could all stand to benefit from putting the smartphones down and stepping away from our social media accounts. Call a friend, read a newspaper or take a walk. Be present in our beautiful three-dimensional world rather than reflecting on a one-dimensional image of a person’s life posted in 25 words.

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

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” — Steve Jobs

“Courageous convictions will drag the dream into existence” — from the song “Vital Signs” by the legendary Canadian band Rush.

As a trial lawyer, it’s completely normal to want to succeed. However, I think lawyers, particularly when we’re younger, fall into the trap of assuming there is only one way to perform a task. It’s not uncommon to be surrounded by experienced and highly successful colleagues that are eager to share their war stories and instruction. Unfortunately, while there may be things to gain from the anecdotes, attempting to mimic someone else’s “voice” rarely leads to success. The only path to victory is painstaking preparation. The information you acquire during your preparation will direct you towards your own path to success.

Thank you for these great insights!


Steven Dorfman of The Perecman Firm: 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.

Angel and Kristine Mason Broadus of Puzzle Pieces Marketing: Five Things You Need To Know To…

Angel and Kristine Mason Broadus of Puzzle Pieces Marketing: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

We have a very robust and detailed project management system. We’re able to host team competitions that are tied to prizes and give bonuses based on work quality, and deadlines. We also make it a point to give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. It’s important to us to keep the lines of communication open so that they know we are here to give any feedback or support they need.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angel Mason Broadus, along with her wife, Kristine, co-owner of the fabulous, do-gooding, creative and colorful marketing and PR agency, Puzzle Pieces Marketing. Founded in 2009, PPM focuses on social good and providing services that benefit their community, working primarily with nonprofits and mission-driven businesses to develop strategies that inspire action. In the spirit of giving back, Angel serves as a member of the Board of Directors for North County Philanthropy Council, Moonlight Cultural Foundation, and Point Loma Nazarene Marketing Advisory Board.

Kristine Mason Broadus is an animal and human rights activist. VP & co-owner of Puzzle Pieces Marketing, an agency focusing on social good and providing services that benefit the San Diego community. She is an active volunteer for United Way of San Diego and the Boys & Girls Clubs’ of San Diego. Kristine’s education includes a BA in Psychology from UMKC and AS in Respiratory Care. She specialized in Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care, was awarded Valedictorian and an Honors Member of the Lambda Beta Society.

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”?

Angel:

I never wanted or dreamed of being an entrepreneur or business owner, but over the years of running the business, I realized that this is exactly where I belong. I founded Puzzle Pieces Marketing in 2009 when I was laid off from my last corporate marketing position. It may sound odd, but honestly, I am grateful for being laid off because it put me in the position to start the business.

When I was laid off, I thought it was the worst thing that could have happened to me both personally and professionally. It was a huge blow to my self confidence, I was terrified and felt as though I was disposable. I took that layoff as a reflection of my value or worth. I was scared but knew that I needed to get back out there so I immediately sat down at my computer and started looking for another job. That’s when I realized that going back to work for someone else where I could so easily be discarded again was not something I was ready to do. So I made the decision to try to start my own consulting business. I didn’t have high hopes and gave myself 6 months to figure out if I could make this business work. Fast forward to 11 years later and we’re still in the game!

In 2015, Kristine joined the company full time as our Vice President. She manages all of our Digital Marketing services with our Social Media, Search Engine Optimization, and Website Development team members report directly to her. I get to do and manage our team members for all of the other stuff like, Marketing Strategies, Public Relations, and Graphic Design and Branding.

Kristine:

I grew up in a small town in Missouri. I was poor and raised by a single mom. I was blessed to be able to go to a small Catholic school that instilled so much discipline, critical thinking, and motivation in me. With the good, there is usually another side. Being the only Black person, poor and living in some questionable neighborhoods put a target on me, but it didn’t stop me at all. My school was highly academically competitive and that made me want to be better each day. I was always on Honor Roll, took college classes in high school, and excelled in my education. I always had huge goals for myself. I would catch myself thinking maybe I should own a business, but had no clue what. So, I did what everyone thinks you should do after high school and decided on a university.

I used my intelligence to get out of my circumstances and received a full undergrad academic scholarship. Graduating with a BA in Psych, my goal at the time was to be a social worker. I got into UNLV, packed my car up, and fled to Las Vegas in a hurry. Let’s just say, once young Kristine realized how broken the system actually was, she decided social work was not her forte. To make a long story short, multiple years of being a server, being a tutor, and going back to school and becoming a Respiratory Therapist (Valedictorian) specializing in Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care, I met Angel shortly after starting a position at a Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, MO.

I asked Angel to marry me, she said yes, and we both thought it would be better for our future together for me to stop doing work for everyone else and build the business with her. In 2015 I became Angel’s sidekick (VP) of the company, we rebranded, and there’s nothing but smoke behind us from the fire of remnants of a power couple moving so quickly. I guess there really is some truth to not forcing your life and going with the flow because it took me right where I belong.

In 2017 we rebranded and that’s when we made the decision to focus on working primarily with nonprofits and mission driven businesses. It was the best decision we could have made. Growing up, my parents taught me that you don’t live on this earth for free. The price you pay is to give back and to contribute to your community. We both were always raised to understand the importance of volunteering, getting involved, and philanthropy.

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

One of the most interesting (or should I say heartbreaking?) things I’ve experienced as a business owner is realizing that one of our biggest clients, one we had worked with for years, did NOT have a value system that was even remotely close to ours. When I say not even close, I mean far from it. The business owner supported anti-LGTBQ, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim views, which is so far from what we stand for as an organization.

The lesson learned from that, however, is that the beauty of owning a business is realizing that not only do our clients get to make the decision of whether or not they want to partner with us, but we also get to decide with whom we want to partner. I truly believe that the clients we serve are a reflection and extension of our value systems. I am grateful that we are in a position to make the decision of how we use our talents and what type of businesses and organizations we help succeed.

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?

The funniest mistake I made when starting the business would absolutely be the first name and branding I chose. I originally named the business “Mason Consulting”. The name was boring, the branding was boring and corporate. There was NOTHING unique, different, or exciting about it. It was the complete opposite of who we are and what we stand for. I didn’t take any of my own advice when it came to branding. It was just stale, boring, and blah. I think it’s a funny story because I was making the same mistake that I tell our clients not to make.

We changed the name very quickly within the first few weeks to Puzzle Pieces Marketing. Over time, the branding has changed to what it is today and is a much truer reflection of who we are. We’re colorful, creative, unique, and different. We’re the MisFits, we don’t fit in and that’s ok. It’s our uniqueness that makes us special and we’ve built a brand that embraces and reflects that uniqueness

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

Treat them like family, listen, and lead team and individual calls by asking how they are and what questions they have first. This tends to help them get everything they want to say out and listen in a fresher state.

We also try to lead with motivation, compassion, and positivity. We work primarily with nonprofits and mission-driven businesses. It also helps keep our team motivated by reminding them of the why? The work we do supports the mission of our nonprofits clients.

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 in business for 11 Years and have had members of our team work remotely since the beginning. We have a physical office in San Diego that allows us to host our team meetings and meet with clients but we have always given our team the flexibility of working from home. Hosting our team and client meetings via Zoom and Google Meet has always worked for us. Because we have always been set up to facilitate our team working from home, making the transition during the pandemic was much easier for us because it was as if we were already prepared and set up for this accidentally.

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 really don’t have a lot of challenges managing our team remotely since we have been doing this from the beginning. But what we have noticed since we closed our office on March 8th and since then have even taken all of our client and team meetings online, is that some of the creativity that comes from collaborating is not as organic when working remotely. When we’re meeting and strategizing in person, we’re able to bounce ideas off of each other and build off of each other’s energy. The collaboration just feels forced when meeting online.

We realize that we also have to work harder at keeping our team members motivated, engaged, and focused on their work. There is so much going on right now outside of working remotely and it is easy for any of us to lose focus. Staying focused seems to be more challenging because we’re unable to have in person interactions with our clients. Meeting with clients regularly is one of the ways we stay connected to their mission and another reminder of why we do what we do.

Another challenge that comes with managing our team remotely is maintaining a healthy work schedule. It’s as if there is no such thing as office hours when you’re not in an office. We will receive messages from team members at all hours and on weekends. We try to be as responsive as we can because if they’re working, we want to be working. It goes back to wanting to make sure our team members feel supported and are staying motivated. However it doesn’t make for a very healthy work environment and schedule for us if we’re constantly putting the expectation on ourselves that we have to be responsive and available 24/7.

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

We have a very robust and detailed project management system. We’re able to host team competitions that are tied to prizes and give bonuses based on work quality, and deadlines. We also make it a point to give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. It’s important to us to keep the lines of communication open so that they know we are here to give any feedback or support they need.

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 we think there is a chance that what we are saying could be taken out of context or too negatively, then we will opt for a video conference instead so that we can all see what is being conveyed and at least see each other’s body language.

If not video, then we suggest giving the team member the opportunity to ask questions and ask them if they understand what you are saying so not to dominate the conversation. Also, making sure your tone fits the message you are conveying helps immensely.

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

We always start with the positives and what is working well before transitioning, in a nice way, to point out “a few things that need tweaking or some additions that would be great.” Another way to frame feedback is by stating that we want to discuss some areas of opportunities that may not have been explored. We can then have a conversation about bouncing ideas off of each other about things we can do “differently” and why, as opposed to focusing on things that someone may have done “the wrong way”.

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 it’s important for teams that are used to working together to consider doing regular and potentially even daily check ins. They can be quick 15 minute calls with the entire team just to make sure no one is feeling isolated or unsupported or even just sending daily messages asking if there is anything they need from you before they start their day.

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 important to make sure your team knows we are available for any questions, collaborations, and brainstorming sessions they may need. We also try to make sure that our team members understand that they own the work that they do and try to give them a lot of creative liberty. We give them direction but we don’t micromanage or try to stifle their creative process.

Check in with them regularly without being too overbearing so that they do not feel like they are working in a silo. Give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. Keep lines of communications open so that they know we are here to support them.

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

If we could inspire a movement it would be to eradicate racism at every level. We’re living in the middle of a movement right now and we hope that people are listening, learning, and taking notice of how they can be a part of the change. It saddens us to think that we still live in a time where so many of our young Black and Brown faces will never live to see their full potential because of the systemic racism that we still so prevalent in our society today.

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

Kristine: “We Receive to Give”. This can be your talents, knowledge, money, time, etc. I have always tried to think of anything I possess as something that can possibly help someone else. All gifts I’ve been blessed to receive have led to helping people as a mentor, tutor, saving lives (as a Respiratory Therapist), and having this business support nonprofits in my community right this second.

Angel: My parents always taught me that “you don’t live on this earth for free. The price you pay is to give back to your community.” It’s a lesson that I’ve carried with me through my entire life. It’s what motivated and inspired me to volunteer, to get involved with nonprofits, it motivated me to sit on the Board of Directors for several nonprofit organizations. That lesson is what made me want to work primarily with nonprofits and mission-driven businesses. I am so grateful that my parents taught me that lesson because not only has it shaped me but is also the value system that our company was built

Thank you for these great insights!


Angel and Kristine Mason Broadus of Puzzle Pieces Marketing: Five Things You Need To Know To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Keeping track of time: Seeing where time is spent and how long projects are taking is crucial for effective remote team management. Without accurate time tracking, it’s easier to go over budget or go down the wrong path for too long before realizing how much time was wasted. This is especially important if you’re working with remote freelancers or contractors, and need to pay them accurately for their time.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Nevogt, co-founder and the CEO of Hubstaff where he leads marketing and growth. Dave has founded several multi-million dollar businesses and writes about growing startups on the Hubstaff blog. Together with Jared Brown, he leads the 100% remote team that builds time tracking and Agile project management software called Hubstaff Tasks.

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 career started in a way I think a lot of people can relate to: a cubicle, a long commute, and a corporate job that I was struggling to find meaning in.

I didn’t last long there before I started my own online golf training business in my off hours. That company took off, reaching $900k in annual revenue. By the time I sold it, I was ready to move on to my first remote job.

I saw the challenges remote teams faced firsthand and knew I needed a better way to manage work and teams. Things like accurate time tracking, payments, and knowing what your team is working on were a source of frustration for me.

The idea behind Hubstaff was to make the difficult parts of remote work easier to manage, so that everyone can focus on the work itself.

Today, we’ve grown the business beyond a platform for better remote work. Hubstaff supports many different types of businesses, including those with field teams who want location-based and geofenced time tracking, or any company that wants to improve its efficiency.

We’ve been remote-first from day one and are now over 60 members strong. The business is generating close to $10mm in ARR.

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

I would say to give them freedom to be creative. When people are challenged, they perform better. What you want to do is find the people who accept the challenge, think through how to solve problems, and provide solutions. All of that takes creativity, and benefits the business in the long run.

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

I started my first business in 2003 but the first time I managed a fully remote team was in 2009. Hubstaff has been remote-first since we started it in 2012, which has allowed us to create an ideal remote work environment over the last 8 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?

I’ve learned a ton along the way, like the importance of prioritizing the right business goals and how remote team management requires a different way of thinking.

To me, there are three main areas that can be a challenge for remote teams.

  1. Communication: Keeping others updated on progress and communicating feedback in the right way can be a challenge. Remote teams should embrace asynchronous work, which requires a heightened level of communication. The idea here is to include all relevant details in your communication so that anyone can pick up a project and run with it when they’re up.
  2. Keeping track of time: Seeing where time is spent and how long projects are taking is crucial for effective remote team management. Without accurate time tracking, it’s easier to go over budget or go down the wrong path for too long before realizing how much time was wasted. This is especially important if you’re working with remote freelancers or contractors, and need to pay them accurately for their time.
  3. Not being able to discuss projects in-person: You’ll need a default method of communicating that mimics in-person discussions. Embrace the idea of recording a video or jumping on a call after two much back and forth.

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

I’ve found that there are 6 essential principles for managing remote teams:

  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Lead by example
  • Self-evaluate
  • You can’t change people
  • Everyone is accountable for their own actions
  • No excuses

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 a lot easier to give feedback when you’re clear upfront about your goals and priorities with the project. We create detailed specifications documents for every project, and encourage discussion to help clarify the idea.

If you need to give a lot of feedback or redirect the project, a phone or video call is probably best. You can list the bullet points in a document or comment, but then create an accompanying video that walks through why you’re recommending a change or what is unclear to you.

Finally, embracing transparency can help create a culture of continuous input and improvement. We’ve created a list of Hubstaff behaviors that help our team know what to value and work toward. When it comes to feedback, two key behaviors stand out:

  • # Mean it — Share opinions honestly and respectfully. Don’t be afraid to pick a side and defend it.
  • # Feel it — Start with empathy. Not an assembly line. Take initiative and think with the customer in mind.

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

We avoid email at all costs. Hate it.

To us, it’s not an effective medium for internal communication, nor is it a place to manage work from. Unfortunately many companies use it for both.

We use our own Agile project management tool, Hubstaff Tasks, to keep all task-related communication in one place. Rarely should you have to leave the task to find answers; everything should live within the description, attachments, and comments.

However, we follow the same advice for any communication, which is to default to a call should we have too much feedback for a comment or marked up document.

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?

Over-communicate. That doesn’t mean you need to be on calls all day, or have daily check-ins. In fact, software can often replicate this without eating up your work time.

It just means to be as transparent and clear in your communication as possible. Document processes and best practices so that any team member can reference them.

Finally, you need project management software. When you’re moving from an office where you can have whiteboards or walls to pin work up, spreadsheets or physical lists just won’t cut it. Invest in a good PM tool and outline how you will use it as a team.

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?

Celebrate the work. Dedicate a Slack channel to sharing recently launched projects and company news.

Be clear but flexible. Before you hire, make sure everyone knows the expectations for when they need to be online so that there’s overlap with other time zones. Then, understand that people might work at other hours of the day when they can be their most productive.

Encourage ownership. Give team members their own key performance metrics (KPIs) so that they can see the impact of their work, and can prioritize based on what’s going to allow them to reach their goals.

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

I believe that most roles can be performed remotely, and that remote work provides more happiness to people and families in many ways. We are working to enable people to work remotely away from offices and commutes.

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

“To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” I think that deep relationships are very key to happiness. You cannot be close to everyone, but you can choose several people that you are very close with and you can impact them deeply.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff: 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.

Mellisa Gooden of ‘A Good Place For Help’: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness…

Mellisa Gooden of ‘A Good Place For Help’: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

Strengthen your current connections-Improve the quality of the relationships you do have by asking deeper open questions, planning quality time together even if it’s while maintaining social distance. You can schedule a virtual movie night, a game night, a cooking session, or explore your inner artist with a paint party. The purpose is to deepen your connections by showing up authentically and requesting the same from those we’re in a relationship with.

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 Mellisa Gooden, M.A., LMFT, LMHC & DRK Beauty Healing Resident Therapist.

DRK Beauty Healing is a digital content and community platform, founded by Wilma Mae Basta and Danielle Jackson, that provides a space to celebrate women of color in all their diversity.

It aims to empower and support women of color by producing curated content that resonates with often-neglected communities as well as provide mental health resources through their initiative, DRK Beauty Healing. This nationwide initiative provides 10,000 free hours of therapy to those who identify as women of color and have been affected by COVID-19.

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?

My name is Mellisa Gooden, founder of A Good Place For Help. From as long as I can remember I have always been a problem solver and curious about people’s behavior (why do people do what they do). I like to say I was a therapist before I knew it. I can remember being the go-to person for my family and friends alike to confide in. Initially, I thought I’d become a lawyer. I watched shows like Law & Order as a kid while role-playing my cross-examination for fun. I was a part of debate teams and pre-law clubs up until 8th grade. Somewhere between 8th and 9th grade, I traded my career aspiration of being a lawyer after taking my first intro psychology course. After that course, it began clearer to me that I wanted to help people cope with their worlds a little better.

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

It’s tough to narrow it down to just one story or the most interesting. I can say looking back now over my career I am most grateful for the position I held in a community mental health clinic. It was there working as an outpatient child and adolescent therapist that I was most challenged (as everything was new to me) but the opportunity gave me a wide range of experience which grew my professional skills tremendously. One story that comes to mind is the day I had a whole therapy session in an elevator. Despite having a preferred population (children and adolescents), the clinic had a policy that you pretty much served whoever came through the doors. So one day a client who suffered from anxiety expressed that they wanted to work on social anxiety and fear of elevators. I assisted the client with various trauma techniques, mindfulness, deep breathing, and progressive relaxation. The client was given full control as to what they felt comfortable doing and when to progress. We began by using the stairs until they were ready for the elevator. We must have gone up and down the elevator about 10 times. We did this for the full session which was about 50 minutes. Needless to say, I got a workout that day and the client made great strides in overcoming their anxiety.

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?

One of the most humorous mistakes I made was at the same job as mentioned previously. When I first started, I worked long days with little to no break in between sessions. The work culture was such that self-care wasn’t prioritized. Lunch breaks were hardly that as I used that time to complete notes and prepare for the following sessions. Skipping lunch caused me embarrassment one day. During a session, my stomach began to growl from hunger, something serious. I am talking deep (DMX deep) growling. For as long as I could I ignored it and even tried raising my voice to mask the sound. The client (a teen) was like do you hear that?? In full transparency, I told my client I skipped lunch. The client offered me a snack. I used the impromptu snack break in the session to discuss self-care. I learned that you can’t fully show up and be present for others until you do so for yourself.

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

Currently, I’m working on completing my certifications for anxiety (CCATP) and trauma (CCTP). I currently serve and have served a lot of clients that suffer from these two conditions. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition affecting numerous people globally. It was important to become certified as it is my responsibility to be informed on new research and practices within my field as to best serve my clients. In the post-pandemic future, understanding the psychological effects (like anxiety, trauma) caused will be of great importance as we heal. Also, I’m now providing supervision for counseling interns. There is a shortage of mental health professionals (especially POC clinicians) and given the current social climate, this deficit is likely to increase. I’d like to be a part of giving back to my profession by helping to increase the number of helping professionals.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I’m a Dually Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). My training and clinical experience include treating children, teens, adults, couples, and families. I have served clients in various settings such as schools, substance abuse treatment centers, outpatient clinics, non-for-profit agencies, private practice, and in-home. It is my clinical experience that has given me a professional understanding to be able to offer insight on the Loneliness Epidemic.

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?

Loneliness is harmful to one’s health as it affects your immune system. Prolonged loneliness causes emotional stress which weakens your immune system over time. The mind and body are connected in a way that mental health can greatly affect physical health and vice versa. Loneliness is harmful as it has been associated with mental health disorders like depression. It has been linked to physical conditions like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and may even decrease your life expectancy.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Loneliness affects us from a societal standpoint because loneliness can be contagious. It’s a cycle where the more you feel lonely the more you misread social cues and self isolate prematurely. That social connection is cut which in turn leads the other person involved to self-doubt and isolate from their connections. On a bigger level, loneliness affects us as a whole in that loneliness is part of a negative cycle that can create other more severe health conditions thus creating an ill society. The more people perceive the quality of their relationships as meaningless; the less they engage in socially (leading to more and more communities and future generations that are socially inefficient).

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.

Despite technological advances, we are facing a loneliness epidemic for the following reasons:

  1. The natural consequence of social distancing and quarantine mandates from the Coronavirus pandemic. The recent requirements of social distancing during this pandemic has caused an increase in reports of loneliness as many individuals are forced to distance themselves physically from their loved ones/support systems. This forced isolation causes increased loneliness and depressed mood.
  2. Increase in single-member homes. Even before the pandemic, the number of individuals who were living alone has increased greatly over the last 10 years. This was due to several factors like divorce rates, delaying marriage and family planning (amongst millennials), and changes in the job market resulting in more automated/single role jobs.
  3. The overcompensation of online social engagement that creates a void of real-life connectedness. Much of loneliness is the perception of one’s relationship lacking real connectedness or feelings like not fitting in (being accepted/understood).

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.

  1. Invest in a pet, a plant, or both– Research supports the positive impact of having a pet as a companion can offer individuals. Many individuals have such fondness for their pets and consider them to be extensions of their families. Pets can offer companionship that is non judgmental and unconditional. Plants offer a variety of wellness benefits (like cleaner air, positive mood, increased attention, aligning with nature) for home environments. Learning how to care for plants can reinforce a positive mood to combat loneliness.
  2. Volunteer-When we do good we feel good. When we give to others whether it is donating our time or resources, it increases our positive mood. Volunteering can help you build deeper social connections that can combat feelings of loneliness.
  3. Practice self-care– A regimen helps you to listen and attend to all the parts of you. Some areas to address are emotional (how you feel presently.), spiritual (use of prayer, meditation), physical (eating a nutritious meal, or engaging in exercise). Incorporating mindfulness techniques in your self-care regimen increases wellness and helps focus oneself. Self-care isn’t about spa trips it is the daily practices you perform to combat stress and improve overall wellness.
  4. Therapy– Seek therapy as it can help you identify and address your sources of loneliness. Everyone can benefit from therapy at some point. Therapy can improve interpersonal skills and give new perspectives.
  5. Strengthen your current connections-Improve the quality of the relationships you do have by asking deeper open questions, planning quality time together even if it’s while maintaining social distance. You can schedule a virtual movie night, a game night, a cooking session, or explore your inner artist with a paint party. The purpose is to deepen your connections by showing up authentically and requesting the same from those we’re in a relationship with.

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 would have to be normalizing compassion and respect. One of the things that I have learned from my work as a therapist is that the human experience is truly universal. While we each have our unique stories, we all can identify with feelings of loneliness, grief, anger, hurt, love, joy, and more. There is far more that connects us than divides us. I hope that the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) would be applied to and by everyone. When I think about recent racial and social injustices, it’s troubling, to say the least. POC who for years (as a result of systemic oppression) have been denied access and told they don’t belong; they don’t fit in. Although this principle of treating others with the same respect you desire isn’t new and can’t undo the generations of mistreatment caused; I believe it to be a movement that can change our course here in this world for the better.

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 🙂

This question was the most difficult to answer. There are so many individuals that I revere and would love to share a meal with. One person would be Ava DuVernay. Her body of work is amazing and speaks for itself. Her films move me emotionally and spark socially conscious dialogue. I appreciate her commitment to telling the stories of unheard marginalized groups.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

For wellness tips, follow me on Instagram @agoodplaceforhelp and @thisisdrkbeauty.


Mellisa Gooden of ‘A Good Place For Help’: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Roma Williams of Beauty Healing: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

Attempt some human contact. I wanted to say “put down your phone,” but there is a wealth of online groups and communities that we can connect with through the power of technology, and right now, that is the safest way to connect. However, it should not replace critical human contacts and connections. So go local and a find group or organization you can join in your neighborhood. Volunteer, helping others is a great way to see the beauty in your own life. Find a group of people that are interested in the things you like. There is a world of possibilities. Now that the world is digital due to the pandemic, you can still create and maintain a community sense.

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 Roma Williams, MA, LMFT a Marriage & Family Therapist and DRK Beauty Healing Resident Therapist. A digital content and community platform, founded by Wilma Mae Basta and Danielle Jackson, that provides a space to celebrate women of color in all their diversity aims to empower and support women of color by producing curated content that resonates with often-neglected communities as well as provide mental health resources through their initiative, DRK Beauty Healing. This nationwide initiative provides 10,000 free hours of therapy to those who identify as women of color and have been affected by COVID-19.

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?

Sure! It was in high school that I realized I wanted to be a therapist. I ended up doing an essay on children’s long-term effects from divorced families vs. children from intact families. The research followed the subjects over the span of their lives for maybe 20–30 years, and I can remember being so engulfed in that project. I had never known a therapist, so that instinct was my gift. And being a child of divorced parents, I wanted to understand things more and even understand my parents. I even wanted to understand my grandparents more, who remained married all of my life. I found human relationships to be very interesting, even back then.

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

OH, that’s a hard one. I used to counsel teens at their homes for God’s sake! But the thing that stands out most to me is being comfortable running a trauma group very early on. The senior clinicians were like, um she can’t do this, but the clients decided I could, and I was surprisingly comfortable to be there and hold space for those women to tell their stories.

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?

Well, I’m sure I did and probably still make humorous mistakes. I know I used to say anything very early on to help with nervousness and the insecurity of “what the hell am I doing.” I can remember sitting with a teen and her parent at their home and just firing off questions, and the mom was looking over at me and saying, “can you slow the hell down! You can’t even hear what she is saying!” I can look back and laugh now; I was mortified at the time. I learned in that instant, however, that you can’t rush the process, just like life, things will be revealed and evolve in their own time. You have to pay attention to know when it is happening. It was an invaluable lesson,

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

I am always working towards something; my best friend tells me that I am a lifelong student. I am currently working to become certified in emotionally focused therapy and expand my private practice. I will also be launching a coaching program dedicated to women looking for “Mr. Right”.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I feel that I am an authority on this topic because I have first-hand experience with it. In addition to that, it is something that I have become interested in understanding. As someone in the ‘millennial’ age bracket, I have had tons of friends, associates, and colleagues who have experienced such feelings. I moved across the country to go to college, and have not moved back home since. At times, things were very lonely for me, being away from my immediate support system, which many college students and young people who leave home will face. Once a person strikes out into adulthood, it can be traumatizing with all that one has to learn and manage. Then add being away from family, friends, and what is familiar to them, which can be difficult for someone to manage all of the feelings that can come with that. My peers and I found ourselves coming out of school at the time of the economic housing crisis, and a lot of them did not have a home to go back to as their parents were now struggling. However, you can be living with your family and be around friends and still feel lonely. I’ve seen a lot of this first hand, and I feel honored to be able to share my views.

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?

Absolutely. The first reason is that feeling lonely and isolated can affect one’s mental health. Depression symptoms and suicide rates increase in those who feel alone and isolated from the rest of the world. Another reason is that it can harm one’s physical health. Weight gain and vitamin deficiencies can occur from us not going out and getting sunlight and fresh air, which can happen when we tend to stay indoors and away from others. Right along with mental health concerns are the emotional ramifications that come from not feeling connected. It is our birthright and a basic human need to feel connected to something or someone beyond ourselves. When that does not happen, one may have a lower regard for their lives and the lives of others. For instance, that troubled teen or young adult you may see on your local news program who just committed a crime. Many people see a criminal, but I tend to see someone who may not have secure attachments or connections.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

I believe that loneliness is harming our communities in society in a way that most people don’t quite understand. In attachment theory, we look at a person’s relationships and bonds from as early as infancy. The research on attachment theory shows that when that child cannot make those secure attachments with caregivers, they tend to grow up and have a much harder time forming relationships and friendship because they may not know how to trust or have a healthy relationship. Having those stressful and strained relationships, that person will tend to have a higher propensity to be diagnosed or have symptoms remnant of anxiety and depression, including the feeling of loneliness or isolation. As a result, this can cause crime and drug and alcohol use to increase in communities where those insecure attachments tend to be more present. It is a cycle that has and can repeat itself across generations

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.

  1. I think the first reason will be social media. Yes, we have these free platforms that can link billions of people all over the world. However, on social media, we see many people and stories that are seemingly negative on social media. Although there are so many positive things and accounts that are present on social media (like a good D Nice Quarantine set, or a Verzuz battle), the negativity is what tends to get blown up, and social media can be a constant reminder of what we do not have or are lacking which can cause us to feel further lonely and isolated.

2. Insecure Attachments: If someone grew up not trusting or knowing that our caregivers can and will be there for us, it could be not easy to trust anyone. So, when we do not have the skillset to form and maintain healthy relationships (which include setting boundaries, emotional regulation, and the ability to be vulnerable), lasting and sustaining connections becomes almost impossible. One day that person will look around and say ‘I”m alone’ or feel disconnected because their experiences opening up to others may not have been good. Even if someone grew up with caregivers who were there for them when you find yourself in an environment where you don’t feel supported, that could trigger bouts of loneliness; however, for the sake of this article, I am referring to those people who have that constant feeling of loneliness that can trigger painful thoughts and emotions such as major depression and suicide.

3. Self-worth/self-esteem: Self-esteem takes a long time to build up and maintain but can be shattered in an instant. If a teen grows up feeling that they are not worthy, or that everything is wrong with them (which most teens will touch) and get that confirmed over time, that self-esteem will be lower. “If I don’t think much of myself, others probably won’t either, so why try?” can be one’s line of thinking. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules with everything, but self-esteem is one thing that the best of us struggle with.

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.

Attempt some human contact. I wanted to say “put down your phone,” but there is a wealth of online groups and communities that we can connect with through the power of technology, and right now, that is the safest way to connect. However, it should not replace critical human contacts and connections. So go local and a find group or organization you can join in your neighborhood. Volunteer, helping others is a great way to see the beauty in your own life. Find a group of people that are interested in the things you like. There is a world of possibilities. Now that the world is digital due to the pandemic, you can still create and maintain a community sense.

Cater your social media to what you need, especially if you feel those feelings of inadequacy. I know that I have had times where I’ve even had to unplug from social media or unfollow pages that are inundated with content that did nothing for me. Replace that activity with something like a walk in your neighborhood or explore an area of time you may not be familiar with. or check-in with a friend or family member.

Connect inward. I love to do things like guided meditations where the practitioner has us to say these positive mantras and affirmations. I like apps like insight timer, where you can do live events with some of your favorite practitioners. Sometimes it is the internal message that we send ourselves that makes us feel lonely and no one in the world understands us. Do some work to change that around for yourself, reflect on the positives in life, and motivate yourself to feel better. Keep in mind that optimistic people weren’t just born that way; many of them had to do much internal, disciplined work to get there.

Self soothe! Find the things that bring you comfort like A tv show from your childhood, a song that reminds you of family or a good time in your life, even a favorite meal. These things are ok to do, especially for those low moments where you may feel lonely and need reminders of when things were a bit lighter.

Reach out to a mental health professional to help you to identify some areas that may be blindsight to you. Especially if it is too hard for you to see the positives or do that work alone, it is always good to have someone you can talk to about that.

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 encourage an environment where everyone will have the opportunity to be validated. I recently learned how powerful that tool of validation is, and it is a gift that we all can experience. I believe that if more of us were to experience validation as opposed to shame, guilt, and disagreement, things in this world could shift for the better. I just picture these validation stands set up all over the world, ha!

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 🙂

Oh wow, well, I would have said, Kobe Bryant. That man has inspired me a great deal since I was eight years old. However, I would have to pick two, and that would be Erykah Badu and Janet Jackson. Erykah, I feel, has maintained her truth even in an industry that does not support that truth, and has great success doing so. Janet Jackson has always been a hero of mine. I admire the tenacity she showed to get to a point where she started living in who she was instead of someone’s sister or daughter. This truth, both women have remained steadfast in and carved their lane, and I would love to hear something from them about it, plus they are two of my favorite entertainers. And While I’m at it, how about I throw in Lil Kim, because, I mean, that’s Kim!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@romadoestherapy and @thisisdrkbeauty on Instagram

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Roma Williams of Beauty Healing: 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.

Heather Dugan of Cabernet Coaches: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

It’s important to establish that loneliness is not a judgement or personal defect. It is, most often, simply an unfortunate outcome: a function of the times we live in paired with a transitional event that separated someone from social connections at a time it was difficult to build new ones. This happens frequently. Even happy events — a promotion, move to a new neighborhood, or a new baby — can cause this. Difficult transitions, such as prolonged illness, death, or divorce, can make it even harder. The individual must build connections in a new and unchosen life zone while navigating an emotional hardship. Temporary disconnections are not abnormal. They happen to most of us at one time or another. There’s no cause for shame, just a big need to fix the problem before it grows chronic.

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 Heather Dugan.

Heather is an award-winning author of The Friendship Upgrade: Trade Clickable Connections for Friendships that Matter and Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, and the founder of Cabernet Coaches®, a social access group for women that fosters self-betterment through face-to-face friendships and social connection. Her talks, keynotes, and workshops are structured around building better business, community, and personal relationships. She addresses loneliness on both the personal and community levels and creates larger conversations on creating space for connection and stronger communities. She’s also a fan of the total disconnect, and often disappears with her adult children to hike mountain trails; cell phones turned off and connection switched on.

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?

A couple of weeks ago, someone commented on my “charmed life,” and I had to laugh. While I do feel exceptionally lucky and grateful, it’s always been about the pivot to “Plan B” (or “C”, or even “D”). Our imaginations and personal histories can be so limiting! It often takes a completely unchosen — and even painful! — life event to stretch us in a new and better direction. Learning to recognize and embrace those detours has been fundamental to becoming who I am today.

I sidelined my early career in voiceover and on-camera talent work with the arrival of my third kid. Years later however, during my divorce, I relaunched the voice work, learned production, and over time, grew more focused on content. I found more writing outlets and did features (travel, business, health) and a couple of advice columns (business/personal relationships). A very dark period that included several deaths, the divorce, and would have made for a great soap opera were it not my actual life, led eventually to an appreciation of the meaning we can mine from those types of painful experiences. I love that our worst times can be repurposed into something useful for others! It’s a Midas touch thing — nothing is wasted if we can transform a source of pain into a legitimate resource. This revelation led to writing my first books.

The isolation I experienced during my darkest time heightened my empathy and understanding of how easily even simple life transitions can disconnect us all. Having known that pain myself, I’ve been firmly focused on helping others build the strong interpersonal connections we need for full and healthy lives. This led to the founding of Cabernet Coaches®, a social connection group for women and has fueled my non-fiction writing. I do a lot of speaking to all kinds of organizations and community and business groups to help them identify causes, understand impact, and address the terrible issue of loneliness that carries huge costs for all of us.

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

My favorite stories tend to be connection-based. Little coincidences that might seem minor to others but underscore (for me) the lovely and complex ways we are all inexorably linked. For instance, after I recently moved to my new home, I discovered that a newly made friend had my last book on her reading list (What are the odds?!) and that another new neighbor had been very interested in a women’s group she’d heard about on the radio, but couldn’t remember the name….until she met me and found an in-person link to my Cabernet Coaches® group. For me, these two links with new neighbors highlighted how broad the need for deeper connection truly is within our communities.

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?

So many to choose from! Let’s go with a more recent, awkward incident from last year: I was speaking to a group of women how to build a friend network and suddenly felt the unwelcome out-of-body sensation that precedes a faint. Sinking down to sit at the edge of the stage, I explained my apparent dehydration while some kind angel brought me some water and attempted to forge on –sadly certain that I’d botched my connection with the audience. I view my talks as prologue to developing a group dialogue that can continue long after I leave and regretted the abrupt abbreviation! However, my very human moment helped open up a new level of conversation that afternoon. Women began sharing very private pain in ways that permitted first steps toward reengaging with life again. My failure to remain on my feet actually allowed them to find their own first steps forward! Lesson learned? It’s only a failure if you block the ending. If instead, I remain open, it just may turn out to be another great Plan B I wouldn’t have planned or imagined.

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

I’m finishing workbooks to facilitate deeper applications for The Friendship UPgrade and Date Like a Grownup. I’m also making steady progress on a next book (How to Be Happy While Human) that will help men and women recognize some of the misperceptions and misinformation that act as life interrupters and short circuit personal happiness. We need better skills to navigate these turbulent times, so I’m also making the most of virtual and hybrid speaking opportunities to help organizations equip and manage this extended isolation, while planning towards our eventual reemergence into more engaged living again.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

Against the odds, I survived a terrible time of isolation and loneliness in my own life. I’ve tried to lay out the “before picture” in The Friendship Upgrade and talk freely about the experience in many of my talks, but it was a pretty dramatic transformation. Gratitude and my insatiable curiosity led me to dig into the whys and hows of it all. I’ve spent (and spend) a lot of time researching the studies and have interviewed both the academic experts and the real-life ones –the men and women who’ve shared their private, often painful, personal stories. My accidental founding of the Cabernet Coaches® group is a testament to the great felt need of women (and men!) to be seen, heard, and understood by a few chosen peers. I’m fascinated by the life experiences of others and am always ready to listen. One lifetime will never be enough –I learn something from just about every conversation I’m privileged to have.

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?

The research is quite clear. Loneliness, that feeling of not being connected nor having meaningful conversations, harms both quality and quantity of life. Our bodies interpret isolation as an emotional threat, just as harmful as a physical danger. With extended isolated, we perceive an “unsolvable” problem and subject our bodies and brains to an ongoing stress response that, over time, impacts heart health, causes inflammation, and myriad other damaging effects. It’s a rogue version of the Fight or Flight instinct –an amygdala hijack, more or less. Secondly, this also triggers cognitive changes that perpetuate the very condition we want to escape! A negative perceptive skewing completely alters our approach and response to others, and in this state, we quickly lose the ability to help ourselves. Thirdly, lonely people begin to view the condition as a personal defect (rather than the result of an unfortunate set of triggering circumstances) and dwell in a cloud of negative self-talk. It’s difficult to put your best foot forward when your life doesn’t feel ready for company!

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Cigna published a couple of studies in 2018 and 2020 that have highlighted the very troubling growth trend. We were already struggling (pre-pandemic) against an overuse of digital communication that has diluted real conversation, lessened our face-to-face interactions, and removed important social cues such as facial expression and verbal tone. Consider the “simple” changes of the past thirty years such as replacing once-a-day postal mail with infinite email (plus texting and social media) and the switch from tethered landlines to on-demand cell phone usage! We fast-tracked our own lifestyles to keep up and have relied on false efficiencies within our interpersonal relationships that remove us from the real connections we need to thrive. I’m deeply troubled by what we’re modeling to the next generations. Virtually all of our biggest social issues (drug overdoses, mental illness, violence, suicide, the “us” vs “them” mentality…) have a root in loneliness and disconnection. By not properly prioritizing relationships — and rapidly losing touch with some basic conversational skills — we’re actively creating voids that will foster future ills. The pandemic is, of course, nudging us into safe but disconnecting habits that will be difficult to break. We do better together. Our best personal and corporate decisions rarely occur in complete isolation. We need one another’s voices, perspectives, ideas, and experiences to develop our best solutions.

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.

1) The illusion of connection is strong. Unless out of cell phone range on a mountaintop (which I highly recommend btw!), we’re rarely alone. But we’re grazers, never quite satisfying that hunger for real connection. We snack on social media. With our political divisions, there’s less unity and positive energy to tap into, and passive users simply feel more disconnected as they watch the curated depictions of others’ lives. Also, texting is convenient but will create relational space if it’s the dominant communication form. People think they should feel connected based on the volume of communication received, but connection is subjective — it’s that feeling of being understood and of having ties to the people we spend time with. That they don’t feel this way makes many feel deficient or defective in some way, which quickly saps the motivation to reach out or respond to others.

2) A second issue is what I call “Opportunity Clutter.” We have myriad options for just about everything. Choosing a breakfast cereal, a cell phone plan, a playlist or Netflix program or should we scroll Hulu, Amazon Prime, or HBO, maybe?… Google beats the physical encyclopedia searches many of us did as kids, but so much looks like it might be useful, actual decisions are difficult. Incidentally, I think that’s yet another reason for our exceptionally strong political alignments…grabbing and holding onto a decision can be somewhat of a relief in the face of so much noise. Increased extracurriculars for our kids has been both a blessing and burden to many families. Quick decisions can feel wasteful, as if we’re ignoring or wasting potentially better options. Domo.com publishes a yearly infographic of our 60-second digital usage that is, frankly, mind blowing. No wonder we can’t find time to call an old neighbor or friend!

3) Our response to the clutter has been to maximize our efficiencies. But we take it to the extreme, opting to be efficient for efficiency’s sake. I liken this to being so focused on speed that we often drive past our “destination.” An example might be bringing home a project-based mindset from the office and carrying it into conversations with your spouse or child, which will significantly impinge your ability to listen, absorb, and connect. We also tend to relegate friendships to leftover space rather than make the space to grow them well. There can be a tendency to funnel all social interactions through a narrowing channel which creates undue stress on primary relationships. We postpone our pleasures and rewards as if we’re holding our chosen carrot with a stiff elbow, closing off those release valves essential to good mental health and personal happiness. We multi-task, feeling vaguely more productive, but end up doing less and feeling more stressed and less connected to others and even our own selves.

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.

1) We must grow our awareness of others and remember that there are real people behind the protective masks and oppositional politics. When wearing masks, there’s an instinct to look away when we can’t easily read facial expressions. Our body language changes. Smiling eyes aren’t as obvious, but a nod or a wave can still create a connection. We need these little moments more than ever. Pausing for short (socially distanced) conversations when outdoors is mutually beneficial to passing neighbors. They’re reminders that we’re still a community. When driving, I also like to pause for pedestrians and to let others merge in front of me. In that moment, I’m reminded that the world is larger than the big and small stuff of my world.

2) Half of us were struggling against feelings of loneliness and disconnection, pre-pandemic. I’ve outlined the self-perpetuating factors that can turn a temporary or situational loneliness into a chronic, life-sapping condition. Knowing this, we must make efforts to reach those who’ve been sidelined. Speaking from personal experience, it’s exceptionally difficult to reach out to others when you’ve been alone for any period of time. A woman who lives alone commented at a talk I gave last week that she often fears her voice wouldn’t work! We need to help others practice conversational skills and be aware that the silent ones are often hoping for an outstretched hand. Someone has to go first. Let it be me. Let it be you.

3) It’s important to establish that loneliness is not a judgement or personal defect. It is, most often, simply an unfortunate outcome: a function of the times we live in paired with a transitional event that separated someone from social connections at a time it was difficult to build new ones. This happens frequently. Even happy events — a promotion, move to a new neighborhood, or a new baby — can cause this. Difficult transitions, such as prolonged illness, death, or divorce, can make it even harder. The individual must build connections in a new and unchosen life zone while navigating an emotional hardship. Temporary disconnections are not abnormal. They happen to most of us at one time or another. There’s no cause for shame, just a big need to fix the problem before it grows chronic.

4) We must be better about modeling connective behaviors to our children and grandchildren: prioritizing our friendships by giving them calendar space, utilizing digital detox times to let conversations flow naturally (rather than within a predefined time and space), and pausing for real eye contact within those conversations.

5) Model also an inclusive mindset. What does inclusion mean to you? Share this with your kids. Inclusion is more than simple proximity or access. It’s engagement, respect, and collaboration. Inclusion is living with a community mindset — knowing that we function better as a group and working to make sure all human resources have opportunities for engagement.

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 equip more women (and men) to grow their own Cabernet Coaches-type friend groups. It was such a wonderful accident and totally replicable. All I did was create an access point, a space for women to find and develop new friendships, without pressure, judgment, or shame that they might not already have them. Although we’ve been limited to virtual and more limited outdoor hiking and biking these past few months, our private Facebook group has been an ongoing connection point, and many of the women have had safe in-person connections with a chosen few from the larger group.

Women tell me the group has changed their lives, built their confidence, and helped them create and develop new options for themselves. We need this on a larger and broader scale, and I’d LOVE to help more communities develop similar resources. It was never about the cabernet (that was a quick alliterative choice when I had to give us a name!). It’s about the value of connection and honoring of our friendships.

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 🙂

I love how psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, and the “Dear Therapist” columnist and podcast host (is there anything she doesn’t do?), is actively removing any residual stigmas from the concept of therapy. The fact is, most of us input some wrong information as we’re traveling those early formative years, only to get bumped or burned by a few of life’s “uglies” later on. It is an empowering act of courage and strength to pause and adjust via therapy. But time… insurance… name your excuse!… prevent so many from opting for this life-changing choice! Lori’s book provides that empathetic and funny (you too?!) sort of entrée that enables an unlocking of this portal to better living. Only a well-timed phone call prevented my aunt (also a therapist) and I from sending copies of her book to one another — immediately! — after each reading it separately. Ms. Gottlieb’s personal honesty, resilience, and focus on empowering others to tap into best aspects of self really resonates, and a conversation with her would be quite inspiring.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please look for me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads, and Youtube, and at HeatherDuganAuthor.com. I’d love to hear from your readers!

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Heather Dugan of Cabernet Coaches: 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.

Eric Usher of ‘Just Checking In’: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

Send a Care Package. Communicate your love for someone and let them know you’re thinking of them by putting together a handmade care package. Gather care packages with some of your family member’s favorite items and ship it off in nice packaging for an added touch. Add-in their favorite candy, a nice item for their home like a candle, a handwritten note and perhaps a necessity item like socks, or lip balm. With many people still social distancing, especially elders, this is a way for you to show grandparents love and appreciation, without the obligation of attending in-person events.

Staying connected to family members who don’t live with you can sometimes be a challenge. With key tips like scheduling times to talk on the phone, sending care packages and setting family members up with the Just Checking In App, you can improve your relationships, stay more connected over-time and feel at more at-ease.

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 Eric Lee Usher.

Eric is the Co-Founder of Just Checking In and President of Heraclius, a member of the NMSDC (National Minority and Development Council). With over 15 years of experience, Eric is one of today’s leading millennial business entrepreneurs.

During his early years as an entrepreneur, Eric experienced many late nights, solo travels and numerous missed family events. His ambition unfortunately pushed him further away from his family than he ever would have imagined. He understands first-hand what isolation can do to your mental health. “Isolation is easily developed in a connected world”, said Usher. “It’s so important now more than ever to consistently stay connected.”

The Just Checking In App allows Eric to share his expertise to help reduce the health risk of depression and suicide triggered by isolation.

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?

I’m the guy that can take any situation and attempt to turn it into a positive. Growing up we consistently moved so I was forced to establish new friendships. Which developed into this feeling that no one ever stays in my life. I begin my entrepreneurial pursuit at a very young age walking miles from door to door to provide any kind of lawn service. I spent many days alone, which built my entrepreneurial muscle. I spent so many days alone with my computer working late and missing family events that I started justifying my success with individualism. It wasn’t until this pandemic that I realized I was masking a deeper issue. My being busy was a symptom of my anxiety and depression.

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

Interesting? That’s a really difficult question because of the many scenarios I’ve been in. But for the sake of the question and staying on topic, I recall my first time having to sleep at the airport so I wouldn’t miss my 5am flight. After waiting all night for a standby confirmation. I was extremely shocked by the number of people who found their corner or chair and created their fort. I first planned on staying awake until I noticed how normal everyone made it look. It was a long night.

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?

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

Just Checking In Mobile App, an app that helps keep you automatically connect to family and friends, to avoid isolation and loneliness. In midst of the pandemic, we have all felt the loss of direct human interaction and Just Checking In is reducing the health risk of depression and suicide triggered in these trying times. The app notifies your emergency contacts if you don’t check in and allows family and friends to view your daily check in status. With everyone’s busy schedules, it is easy to forget the simple gesture of checking in, and we don’t realize how important close bonds between families and friends across the globe are.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I wouldn’t consider myself the authority on the topic but as an individual who experienced and at times continues to experience loneliness it can lead to many destructive behavior. I feel each person experiences loneliness at some point in their lives and there’s no one that can be the judge of how you feel. What we can do is try to support each other in various ways.

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?

It is truly difficult to measure the effects of loneliness and isolation, however there is strong evidence to support loneliness was associated with depression, anxiety and suicide. CDC reported that, poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. With over 36+ Millions Americans living alone the feeling of loneliness does happen.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Focusing on our baby boomer for example, right now older adults are serious public health risk affecting a significant number of elderly. *The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.1 Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.

Reference Link- https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html

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.

Think of it this way, right now if you were to step outside for work, a meal, or drinks. The one constant thing you will witness are individuals with their head downs, on their phones. Now the reality is, we are all guilty of this regardless of how much research is done to prove this as a harmful thing. While technology was used to keep us connected, it also morphed into our primary connection point. I still experience misinterpretation via text. I have worked with individuals for years and only spoke with them via email. I am a believer that 80% of communication is none verbal. If all we are doing daily is sending edited text messages, when is the real communication happening. This is a contributor to the loneliness epidemic. When the pandemic formed, with governmental demands to isolate, millions of people were left alone with no one to talk with or interact.

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.

Schedule Time to Chat

This tip works at different capacities for different family members and relationships. For you, this may look like setting up 10 minutes to talk with your family every other day. On the other hand, it could be setting up time once a week, on Sunday nights at 7:00 p.m. for one hour. Scheduling time to chat makes both people feel like there is a committed time to talk and check-in. This works well for kids who may be off to their first year of college and are focused on their studies versus talking on the phone with their parents every day.

Start a Facebook Family Group

Private family Facebook groups are a great place for the group to stay connected and share anecdotes throughout their day. Posting and commenting can be done on everyone’s individual time and it acts as an open format to communicate with multiple family members without taking the time to individually reach out to each person. You can share pictures and updates throughout your day, comment on other’s posts and reminisce about old memories. Who knows, you may learn some new things about Uncle Dave!

Check-In Daily with One-Button Check-Ins On Your Smartphone

Check-in with family members without spending hours going down your contact list or overwhelming loved ones with needy calls and texts. You can check-in with select family members with one-touch check-ins from the Just Checking In App. This mobile app built for iOS and Android allows loved ones to check-in on a daily basis with a push of one simple button. The app even sends notification reminders if that person hasn’t checked-in for the day yet. Whether you have a parent who lives on their own, an aunt across the country, or a college kid in another state, the Just Checking In App provides a tangible, hassle-free solution to checking-in with family members and friends. Try it out here for a free 2-week trial.

Schedule In-Person Face Time

No we don’t mean on your iPhone…although this is a great option too! Plan fun things to do with friends and family who you care about most. This keeps excitement going in your family relationships and gives you something to plan for and look forward to. Real-life experiences can add appreciation for the relationship and give you all something out of the norm to do. This can be as simple as planning monthly dinners, planning a trip, making plans to tend to a parent’s garden and more.

Send a Care Package

Communicate your love for someone and let them know you’re thinking of them by putting together a handmade care package. Gather care packages with some of your family member’s favorite items and ship it off in nice packaging for an added touch. Add-in their favorite candy, a nice item for their home like a candle, a handwritten note and perhaps a necessity item like socks, or lip balm. With many people still social distancing, especially elders, this is a way for you to show grandparents love and appreciation, without the obligation of attending in-person events.

Staying connected to family members who don’t live with you can sometimes be a challenge. With key tips like scheduling times to talk on the phone, sending care packages and setting family members up with the Just Checking In App, you can improve your relationships, stay more connected over-time and feel at more at-ease.

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. 🙂

Thank you, The movement I want to inspire is simple, Just Check In. I for one am very guilty of having a busy scheduling and meaning to call my loved ones, then weeks go by and I justify it with some excuse. With Just Checking In, we want to eliminate that guilt and provide a simple solution for family and friends with the peace of mind that a check in can mean the world.

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 🙂

I actually want to challenge all the readers, to stop what you’re doing right now and go ahead and Just Check In on that family or friend you’ve been meaning to.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Our Instagram is @JustCheckingInApp & Facebook is /JustCheckingInFB

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Eric Usher of ‘Just Checking In’: 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.

Linsey McNew: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

I would define resilience as a human’s radical ability to remain true to discovering oneself despite outside influence or previous circumstances. My friend Mari O’Rourke says, “it’s the drive within us to find joy.” While political leader, Stacey Abrams recently shared: “I am not pessimistic or optimistic. I am determined.” My friend Stephanie Wagner, who has been challenged with cancer at times shared that quote with me and it perfectly captures how resilience feels.

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 Linsey McNew. Linsey is an award-winning writer, communications strategist, media relations partner and speaker.

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?

Thanks for having me! I’m excited to be discussing resilience, a skill everyone can use more of especially now. I started out my career as a journalist, eventually working my way into publicity for a decade before adding business owner and strategic partner to my skills.

In 2015, I asked the viral question: can my womb also be a grave in my first piece for Medium. Since the beginning of that exploration, following the death of my first born son while overworking, my clients and writing have appeared in Inc, the Washington Post, New York Times, BuzzFeed, TIME, VICE, Refinery29, as well as featured on NPR, Good Morning America and CNN on the topics of grief, death care, cost of loss among many other taboo topics. For over the last two decades, I’ve had the pleasure of working with teams from most every timezone, agency, brand, nonprofit, enterprise and startup as an independent, strategic partner. Often called in as crises arise, working as an extension of teams fulfilling multiple leadership roles while creatively designing projects and managing growing teams to drive results that scale demanding timelines.

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

I’ve had the privilege of navigating many interesting growth opportunities over the course of my career, one of the most transformative experiences was on a trip to and from SF in a day. It was for one meeting, following that meeting with the CEO I decided I needed to leave my role that did not value my work or the job. I went on to lead and grow a new practice at a media agency while carrying my first full term child. In the aftermath of my child’s death, I took off three months and decided during that time, my survival demanded I fully integrate my career into the life I wanted to live.

Among many other things, the experience of being a channel for life and death, teaches me how fragile and short our experience on Earth is — — we only get one life to live. Since that season of intense lamenting while continuing to maintain a full time job as the head income provider for my family, I learned how to intimately co-exist with trauma’s triggers before eventually evolving enough to thrive among them because frankly there are so many in today’s culture especially for working mothers.

My intro to motherhood has shown me many things and despite doing my best, tragic things can still happen, anytime no matter our greatest efforts and controls. After a series of more challenging experiences, I grew to open myself up to shifting expectations with a focus on taking greater care of myself and finally tapping into trapped, unresolved childhood trauma. The journey in self discovery and understanding emotions along with the value they bring to being a whole, healthy person has made me a greater leader, steward, partner, colleague, mother and friend.

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

Rich experiences and connections help my business stand out with this most frequently showing up in authentic communications and the level of accountability I keep. I also maintain a wide view through a narrow lens to never stop learning to understand how markets shift in ways that benefit my clients and their customers. One way I’ve found to help me do this effectively is getting terms right in the beginning.

My contracts, for example, are written in such a way where as soon as a client decides to not fulfill their end of the agreement, I have the option to stop activity. This helps me identify earlier on, which clients I can pursue longer term relationships with that align against my own growth plans. This practice has also helped me gain a practice of anticipating situations where it doesn’t make the most sense to continue forward with a client. One time I had a few months left on a project when I needed to bring attention to the fact my client had an absence of diversity within the leadership team and board. After sharing an initial assessment along with resources from Black colleagues, the client decided to not make the changes necessary for us to continue partnering together. Not only did I lose a client, I gained perspective while working to replace the business — working with a client in the medical industry who is not anti-racist is violent for everyone involved.

Having a better idea of the types of clients I want to build long term relationships with led me to the work of folks like Toi Marie Smith and Alicia Forneret. Toi’s workshop on Business Beyond Profit, fundamentally shifted my pursuit of clients, she also just released an eBook I’m looking forward to reading. I know Alicia’s work through the loss she share’s about and have heard amazing things about her offerings of grief at work training. Given the amount of death we’ve all encountered this year alone, I can only hope support for intentional grief becomes mandatory for all employers when employees are expected to continue putting in overtime.

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?

Great question and so true! It literally has taken a network of family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers for me to be where I am today. A couple of specific people come to mind, a friend of mine who offered me complimentary therapy sessions for over a year after I carried our first born to term and took full maternity leave that transformed me into what Minda Harts calls a “career revolutionary.” I also gain a lot of perspective from reading including Minda whose an entrepreneur and author of The Memo as well as Sarah Lacy, CEO and author of three books, of which my favorite is titled A Uterus is A Feature, Not a Bug.

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 like that you use the word flesh out, it feels appropriate for the work of resilience as it certainly often requires full body intention and response. I would define resilience as a human’s radical ability to remain true to discovering oneself despite outside influence or previous circumstances. My friend Mari O’Rourke says, “it’s the drive within us to find joy.” While political leader, Stacey Abrams recently shared: “I am not pessimistic or optimistic. I am determined.” My friend Stephanie Wagner, who has been challenged with cancer at times shared that quote with me and it perfectly captures how resilience feels.

Some traits of the most resilient people I know include calm, grounded, loyal, admirable, passionate and hopeful. Mari, who displays many of these traits, shared with me resilience is about getting to know parts of herself that she didn’t know were there before. It is primal and it appears in hindsight after going through something hard and coming out the other side. As Mari put it so beautifully — resilience is the extra muscles holding me up, waiting for the rest of me to get stronger and then after, it leaves me with more trust in myself.

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

Mothers, period. Specifically working mothers, my mom…Breonna Taylor’s mom…I’m leaving out a lot, clearly. No explanation is needed.

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, in many ways, everyday I am bombarded with messages that the way I work, the way my partnership and household runs is not normal. Many times in my role engaging media, agency partners have wanted my time to do the work within a regular 9 to 5 schedule and that just isn’t how media works, it certainly isn’t how news is consumed today.

If agencies are going to want to work with the best in the business to secure the greatest engagement for a client, they need to be open to stretching and in many projects, completely shifting these working norms.

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 manager at an agency had been on sabbatical for three months and after finally getting a chance to chat after she returned, she let me know the next week would be my last. I was surprised, though not shocked as I had recently stood up to one of the other founders in defense of a few different teammate issues. The agency was moving in a different direction that no longer included investing in my role.

Before I could respond, my manager shared her own story of bouncing back. At that moment, I had to decide what I wanted to do with the information I was given despite feeling deeply grieved for the work I was doing that would go unfinished. I decided to use the moment as an opportunity to negotiate three times the original severance package I was offered. It was my first time receiving severance and as I moved forward into an uncomfortable new space, I could feel myself gaining strength with each hard decision.

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

I am the most mature of three siblings with a family history of mental illness and abuse; also a survivor of adverse childhood trauma. From what I’ve learned, despite these early harmful experiences, I have gained emotional intelligence and resilience, by finding the methods that work best at bringing greater awareness to my needs and health.

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.

Totally agree! One of the things I love most about resilience is much like a muscle you can start building it at anytime, anywhere and with zero financial burden. While there are many more steps, below are five that continue to help strengthen my resiliency muscles:

  1. Interrogating personal privileges
  2. Exploring relationships I keep, businesses I support and systems I finance
  3. Not avoiding or numbing uncomfortable situations
  4. Building an authentic community of support
  5. Proactively investing in mental and physical health

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’s already happening at this moment within both the birth and death positive spaces. I couldn’t be more hopeful and honored to be a small part of supporting humans during our greatest transitions.

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

I’d love to get brunch with Yvonne Orji; she’s skilled at so many things I want to grow in: writing, faith, family, producing and plus she’s funny as hell. And getting together would likely mean the pandemic has passed and just the thought of that possibility brightens my current outlook.

How can our readers follow you on social media? I’m everywhere @LinseyMcNew

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


Linsey McNew: 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.

Mia Duchnowski & Laura Cox of Oars+Alps: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To…

Mia Duchnowski & Laura Cox of Oars+Alps: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Laura: It’s actually often said that immigrants have a very high level of resiliency in order to adapt and grow into their new surroundings. I moved to the US when I was eight years old and couldn’t speak any English. After college I put myself into a similar situation and moved to Hong Kong. Resiliency is confronting a task head on, every day, without being thrown off guard. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone but getting uncomfortable will only help you grow. It’s also knowing that sometimes, not all problems have a “right” or an easy solve but being able to pivot your thinking or be okay in solving part of the problem at a time.

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 Mia Duchnowski & Laura Cox.

Laura Lisowski Cox is the Co-Founder and CMO of Oars + Alps, a direct to consumer skin care brand for people who lead an active, on-the-go lifestyle. The products are made with natural premium ingredients. The company launched in 2015 after Laura quit her high-profile job at Facebook

Laura has spent most of her career focused on the digital space. She started her career at Digitas NYC in Strategy & Analytics advising Fortune 100 companies on digital acquisition and retention strategies. Clients included American Express and Delta. She then become Director of Consulting at OgilvyOne in Hong Kong helping companies such as Louis Vuitton and IBM on integrating customer data in their digital space to drive overall growth. Finally, Laura ended up at Facebook advising companies like Apple and GoPro on how to best advertise on Facebook to drive both revenue and brand — and closely working with their teams to measure and optimize budgets across channels.

Laura holds an International Master of Finance from the Brandeis Business School. She has a double major from Brandeis University in Economics and Psychology. She has always held a fascination with data and human behavior.

Laura raced downhill skiing for 7 years and was the captain of her ski team in high school. Her husband is an avid skier as well and has completed a handful of marathons — he is currently training for his first triathlon.

Mia Saini Duchnowski is the Co-Founder and CEO of Oars + Alps, a direct to consumer skin care brand for people who lead an active, on-the-go lifestyle. The products are made with natural premium ingredients. The company launched in 2015 after Mia quit her high-profile job as a TV Reporter with Bloomberg TV, one of the largest financial TV networks in the world.

Mia spent over three years with Bloomberg TV in Hong Kong and in New York City where she was responsible for global economic, political and business coverage. She was the first person at the network to interview the Chairman of Microsoft, John Thompson, after he became Chairman. She’s interviewed hundreds of CEOs and heads of states including the former CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts, and Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson. She’s routinely covered breaking news stories, such as the disappearance of MH 370, Nelson Mandela’s death, and Steve Job’s passing.

Prior to joining Bloomberg in June 2011, Mia served as an Anchor and Reporter for Forbes TV. She reported from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as well as interviewed prominent business leaders including Warren Buffett, former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson, former Bear Stearns CEO Ace Greenberg, SAP CEO Bill McDermott and more. Earlier in her career, Mia was a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, working in hedge fund sales and marketing. There, she helped establish strategic relationships with hedge funds representing over $1.2 billion in portfolio value.

Mia holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She has a double major from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in neuroscience and media studies, and a double minor in civil engineering and management science. While at MIT, she interned at NASA Ames Research Center doing artificial intelligence research. She was featured in Glamour Magazine as one of their Top Ten College Women in 2004.

Mia currently sits on the Auxiliary Board of the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo and the Junior Board of Greencity Market in Chicago. Mia has served on the Board of Directors for the MIT Club of Hong Kong and the Harvard Business School Club of Hong Kong. She loves cycling and yoga and has four kids.

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?

Laura: My parents escaped communism in Poland and came to the United States without knowing the language or culture. They were both engineers and it was instilled in me at a young age that men and women should be treated equal in the workforce and that I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard for it. My parents really pushed me into math, numbers and finance even though, in the US, there were more gender norms set that is was more traditionally a “male” role. I found a love for STEM and eventually got my Masters of Finance from the Brandeis Business School. While working in the field I wore many hats and grew more interested in problem solving, rather than just numbers. The ability to have and learn from this 360 approach, I feel, really helped me be able to build Oars + Alps to what It is today.

Mia: Growing up, I was always told to go after my dreams, and both my personal and professional lives have somewhat echoed that mantra. I was accepted into Harvard Business School and, after three semesters, decided to drop out to pursue an opportunity that I could not pass up, a career as a TV reporter covering financials. I was told, when making that decision, that I was the only person to drop out of Harvard Business School at the time in their 100 year history after three semesters, but I knew that I would always regret it if I hadn’t taken the job (I since went back and finished my final semester and now proudly hold an MBA). In 2015 I left my job as a reporter at Bloomberg TV to start Oars + Alps and have never looked back.

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?

Mia: It’s difficult to pinpoint just one but I think the through line was allowing myself to “see the forest for the trees.” I left Harvard Business School to pursue my dream job in TV and left that dream job to pursue starting my own business. Leaving that stable career in New York City and moving to Chicago to start Oars + Alps is not something that anyone could have imagined I would do, but ultimately it is what led us to an amazing partnership with S.C. Johnson and a successful, growing business.

Laura: When I first started in finance, my mentality, like most immigrants, was to put my head down, work hard and get the work done. I noticed that my colleagues that didn’t have as much experience as I did would go into a room and completely captivate their audience with just sheer confidence. From there, I realized that I had to be my own advocate as I knew just as much as the next person. This leads me to a time when I negotiating with a manufacturer in Hong Kong on behalf of a friend. The conversations were going well until it was time for me to make a trip to Hong Kong and when I arrived, realized that the entire thing was a sham and the factory didn’t exist. From my time in learning that I had to be confident in my convictions I was able to stand up for what was wrong in the situation, respectfully, and right the wrongdoing. While being kind and forging relationships is important, having that confidence to question and do your due diligence will serve you even more so.

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

Laura: I think what really makes Oars + Alps stand out is that we come from a place of authenticity. Both Mia and I wanted to create better products for our husbands. We aren’t creating products for ourselves so we really stick to the data and what our customers want, not just making products that we think would be great for us, but ones we know our customers want and need. Too often founders let their own instinct lead the way when they’re trying to build products for the population.

Mia: Echoing what Laura said, we crated this brand specifically for our husbands. Our insight was, and still is, unique as we were two women playing in the men’s space. We didn’t approach anything with rose-colored glasses as we knew we weren’t making products for ourselves, we wanted to test and scrutinize at every corner. Our brand has since evolved from strictly men’s focused to unisex, as women who traditionally hold the buying power were falling in love with the products they bought for their men.

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?

Laura: My husband, Stoney; running a business as a mom would be incredibly difficult if he wasn’t as supportive or encouraging. Not only as a partner in raising our family, but also someone who motivates me through the dark days and is willing to take on that extra workload when, inevitably, work follows you home. Stoney is the “alps” of Oars + Alps as he is an avid skier. He suffered from eczema and couldn’t find a product to help his skin so that is where a lot of my inspiration is drawn from.

Mia: My husband has been such an incredible force throughout my entire career. When I graduated, he pushed me to take a TV reporter job in Hong Kong as he knew it would be an enriching experience. He is one half of the muse for Oars + Alps and has been so generous with his time, helping me with his professional expertise and personal opinions. We both knew we wanted to have a big family and he supports us in parenting our four children. I’m constantly grateful for his personal and professional support!

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?

Laura: It’s actually often said that immigrants have a very high level of resiliency in order to adapt and grow into their new surroundings. I moved to the US when I was eight years old and couldn’t speak any English. After college I put myself into a similar situation and moved to Hong Kong. Resiliency is confronting a task head on, every day, without being thrown off guard. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone but getting uncomfortable will only help you grow. It’s also knowing that sometimes, not all problems have a “right” or an easy solve but being able to pivot your thinking or be okay in solving part of the problem at a time.

Mia: Resiliency is knowing that bad things will happen but being super elastic and being able to jump back and change your course of action to the new circumstances. This doesn’t always mean you’re happy about it, but the ability to be able to get the job done with a clear-head.

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

Mia: My mom is someone who I feel is the ultimate picture of resiliency. As an immigrant, she had to rebuild herself in the US and did so through her daughters. She put her heart and soul into raising her family and I see that same resiliency today as a grandmother to my children.

Laura: I think all mothers show the ultimate resiliency. You don’t get a manual how to raise your child so a lot is figuring it out as you go. I especially think entrepreneur moms show the ultimate form of resiliency. When my mom moved to the US she couldn’t find a job. She interviewed for a position five hours away from our home and when they asked her if she could commute to the office, she didn’t bat an eye and said yes. She landed the job and would spend her work week at an apartment closer to her office and commute five hours back to her family on the weekends.

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?

Laura: When someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes my blood boil and really makes me want to prove them wrong. It’s truly one of the biggest satisfactions to be able to do so. When I was initially exploring raising capital, I lot of my acquaintances in the finance world, mostly men, would try and steer me away or not take me seriously because I am a woman. This motivated me to learn as much as possible to play the game by their rules. I learned to both talk the talk and walk the walk by asking the right questions and gaining the knowledge base I needed to feel confident in my asks.

Mia: I never heard the word “no” so many times until I became an entrepreneur. I fully agree with Laura, there is a lot of bias in the industry against women, and especially against mothers. It is truly such an honor to partner with S.C. Johnson as they really believe in the power of female founders building in our space.

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?

Laura: I don’t like to look at the word setback in a traditional sense, but as in more of a pivot. During COVID-19, Oars + Alps pivoted our production into making highly in demand hand sanitizer which isn’t something that was in our pipeline. We worked day and night to get this out quickly, effectively and safely, and knew that we wanted to give back to our community in doing so. We partnered with A Better Chicago to aid in providing these essentials for our local underserved community.

Mia: Being an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared for every day to be very similar in the sense that there will be a handful of people who will be mad at you or who will fail you that day. It’s very easy to let those failures eat away at you but you have to learn how to celebrate the wins, even small. There are many that come to mind like our manufacturer putting the wrong fragrance in our product or products not arriving to a big out-of-state activation in time. You have to learn how to roll with the punches and have a sense of humor in order to figure out the best solution for the immediate problem at hand.

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

Mia: Living in a mostly white town in the Central Valley in California, I was teased and made fun of a lot. When you’re bullied you have two options, to shrink into a corner or stop caring about others liking you and do what you love. I chose the latter and joined the cheerleading squad, Scholarship Federation and mock trial, anything that interested me. As a founder, I see that a lot of other founders are really wanting to be liked by everyone and that’s not the best strategy. You have to be uncomfortable with not being liked or people not liking your point of view, and still feel comfortable voicing your opinions. Now that I look to invest in other companies, I look for those founders that aren’t trying to appease everyone but are confident in their convictions.

Laura: When I was hired for my first internship it was in competitive evaluations for an automotive group. One of the requirements was being able to drive which I was able to do. In my interview, I was asked if I’d be able to drive stick shift which I responded that I was an excellent driver and I’d be have no problem driving stick shift when I started the following month. The moment I was hired I enlisted my brother to teach me how to drive stick, which I hadn’t previously done, in knowing I had to hold true to my word. Putting myself in this, what could be deemed uncomfortable, situation and having the stamina to learn a new skillset is something that I feel really showed my resiliency and is a trait that I continue to build on, even today.

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.

Laura:

  1. Identify what makes you uncomfortable: for me, it was always public speaking.
  2. Figure out what your goals are: especially in those situations that you’re most uncomfortable.
  3. Put yourself in that uncomfortable situation: Having moved multiple times, my husband, who is a self-proclaimed extrovert, would always bring me to networking functions which I was very uncomfortable at. After time, I learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and it has helped me to grown and progress.
  4. Find tactics to help you through those situations: for me, I liked to come prepared with two stories and three questions in case I felt like I was in a jam.
  5. Have genuine curiosity to learn about others: Once I got over my fear of public speaking, I was able to really lean into the conversations I was having and gain knowledge and hear the most fascinating stories from my peers.

Mia:

  1. Acknowledge a situation — now, especially is the ultimate test of resiliency for new business but there are multiple paths to thrive.
  2. Build the courage — it takes a lot of mental strength and stamina to create the playbook to pivot.
  3. Formulate a plan — know that not all thriving brands currently have a clear and linear path towards thriving, know that you may have to pivot in order to be successful.
  4. Execute the plan — be mindful that this isn’t evergreen and you may have to pivot.
  5. Reflect on how it all turned out — again, especially now, anyone who has a business should be proud of the resiliency they’ve shown.

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?

Mia: Especially during this unsettling political climate, I think the power of patience is something I’d greatly like to instill. Lack of patience for others is severely impacting our empathy for humanity. Though I don’t agree with certain people on their personal, professional or political views, I feel like most people are so gung-ho about defending their own views that they don’t take time to listen to others. As a TV reporter, you’re taught that you are not the most important person on camera, the person you are interviewing is, and to really listen and you’ll find that when you’re quiet, you’ll learn who people really are. Having this patience can lead you to ask the right questions and, in turn, get the answers you want and need.

Laura: I think that giving everyone the tools to build a financial acumen is extremely important. Finance is viewed as a man’s world but it is something that everyone should be savvy in, no matter your background. My mom worked in finance as a computer engineer and instilled in me at an early age the importance of learning finance. She set me up with an investing platform which taught me how to manage money from an early age. This is why I’m so passionate about working with Project Entrepreneur, a growth accelerator for female founders, to help them understand the many facets of building a business like fundraising and what makes a company attractive. I think having these skills puts women on a more level playing field and helps them build the confidence to be resilient.

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?

Laura: Richard Branson — his spirit, excitement and curiosity about life is so infections. I love how he is so philanthropic and business-minded, yet he’ll always try and take what can seemingly been a monotonous experience and make it fun. I would love to live my life in the same vein that he does and continue to practice empathy and be an all-around good person, like I believe he is.

Mia: My answers is the same today as it was when I was a kid, Oprah Winfrey. I was always fascinated by her and she is the real reason I wanted to pursue a career in television. I think her ability to unite people of so many different backgrounds is truly remarkable.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @oarsandalps @mia.saini @lisowski

Tik Tok: @oarsandalps

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

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Mia Duchnowski & Laura Cox of Oars+Alps: 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.

Jacques Spitzer of Raindrop: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Remain true to your brand. When you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. Figure out who it is that your brand attracts and lean into them rather than trying to walk a fine line with others. You don’t necessarily need to narrow your audience too much too soon, but when the market talks, listen and pivot as you learn more.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Jacques Spitzer, founder of creative and performance marketing agency, Raindrop. Jacques is an Emmy award-winning storyteller and published author who entertains, inspires growth and gives a fresh spin on universal truths to allow others to own their future. He is a successful entrepreneur and impactful relationship architect who is laser-focused on taking people and brands to their next level.

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 had a great college experience studying Communications at UCSD. After graduating, I got a job as a writer at San Diego’s local NBC news station. About a year into the role, I began to feel like my future wasn’t in news. At that time, I was being mentored by an NBC News anchor Susan Taylor, having conversations with my high school history teacher Casey Tanaka and trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. Susan, along with Jackie Bradford, then-president of the local NBC station, told me I would be great in marketing. I had no formal marketing degree or marketing background, but they saw that I was always putting forward my ideas and the ideas of others.

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?

One of the first large companies to hire Raindrop was GNP Frame. We were just about a year into our business, and they engaged us to help grow their audience through email marketing campaigns and organic social media.

About 6 to 8 weeks into the engagement, we created a “sweetheart” deal as a Valentine’s Day promotion — except we ended up sending out an email blast for a “sweatheart” deal. I had worked Nathan Goodson, the director of GNP, previously at a different company, and, fortunately, he was very kind and understanding about the whole thing. But still, he was one of the first people to give us a shot, so it was unfortunate. While that campaign was a mistake I’ll never forget, we later helped Nathan launch Sam’s Club Custom Framing, using aspects of the GNP business. So that was a thrilling part of our journey.

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

In August 2020, we were excited to learn we had the top-performing ad of the year on YouTube (for Dr. Squatch). This has been a historic year for ecommerce, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of fear, pain and uncertainty, we had this great thing happen — essentially, creating one of the top-performing digital ads in human history. We’ve seen a lot of success with clients by creating ads that people don’t want to skip; rather, they enjoy them enough to want to buy the product being advertised.

We’re able to achieve these results because we have the kindest, hardest working, most humble team members who collaborate generously to get to the best idea. Design, media, social, content — they’re firing on all cylinders and aren’t afraid to get creative in order to get the best possible outcome. When people come to us from other agencies, we often hear how unique we are, and it makes us stand out.

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

We have so many exciting things going on for so many different clients that it’s hard to talk about just one. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • We’re launching a cool new set of tools for WORX, which will transform the way people create and make things.
  • We’re working with Caveman Foods to bring their healthy, nutritional and all-natural snack products to a larger audience like we did with Dr. Squatch. As a team, we are always excited to be a part of bringing better products into the world with really fun and engaging ads that make people smile, share and buy.
  • In early 2020, we started working with Honeybug, a baby and toddler brand, which I had previously personally used with my friends, family and clients. Since working with Honeybug, we’ve seen their business quintuple. Honeybug will definitely be a brand to watch in 2021.
  • We have brands like Omigo, Dr. Squatch, Kore Essentials and Crossrope coming off a record shattering year and some fun newer clients like Finchberry, WeShipFloors, Pit Liquor and Park Scents Candles (candles that smell exactly like theme park rides!). We’re also excited to see and support clients coming back from the pandemic, such as restaurants and the San Diego Symphony.

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. Generally, brands fall into one of two categories. The first category is that of already having market penetration and awareness, in which case the goal is not necessarily to explain the benefits of the product or service, but rather to remain top of mind. For these brands, recognition can be the difference between a purchase and losing out to a competitor. Branding makes people feel something.

The second category belongs to brands that need advertising more than branding in order to be specific about their approach. The goal here is to make sure that, by the time someone is done with an ad, they’re thinking, “I need or want that.” The purpose of the ad isn’t just entertainment; it’s to get a direct response and have them take action. Our work with Dr. Squatch, for example, started with creating a brand that would reach a broader audience and not just a niche group. Our goal was to bring natural soap to the masses through advertising, and that’s what we’ve been able to build and grow.

Branding and advertising are in our name for a reason — they go hand in hand.

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?

When we do our brand identity sessions — which our writing team does a wonderful job running — we extract main brand talking points that we’re always coming back to in our marketing communications. Without consistency, messaging becomes diluted. Independent or one-off efforts may be effective in getting someone to make a purchase, but we want them to connect and build a relationship with the brand. Clients sometimes come to us selling on Amazon, which means they’re selling a product, not a brand. They haven’t built a connection with their audience to make them more likely to buy or rebuy. Fostering relationships and consistently delivering tailored messaging creates the difference between branding and flat-out advertising.

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. Establish a brand identity. During the 1990s and early 2000s, companies focused heavily on things like their mission statement and core values. The problem with that is that it’s about you, not about how other people feel about you. Successful brands make people feel something. For example, a soap company isn’t selling soap; they’re selling confidence and a fresh feeling. If we’re selling sparkling wine, we want people to feel like winners celebrating an accomplishment even before that wine bottle has been popped. It all starts with the brand identity.
  2. Stay consistent. You have to be consistent with your marketing, messaging, and the customer experience.
  3. Understand and address pain points. This means being empathetic to what the consumer is experiencing and offering a solution to a problem, whether the problem is known or unknown. A video we produced for WeShipFloors is an example of this. WeShipFloors carries 100% waterproof and durable flooring. To put this into context for the consumer, we pointed out how carpet traps dirt and bacteria. So, not only are we showcasing the pinnacle of quality for the price point, but we’re also opening people’s eyes to the fact that, if they have pets, dirt and hair are likely still lingering, even after vacuuming, etc.
  4. Figure out what the self-expressive benefits of your brand are. That is a fancy way of saying: What am I saying about myself as a consumer by wearing your logo on my shirt, or buying your product? What do I stand for? As a brand, you need to be able to answer those questions and put those answers in front of people so that they can opt-in to your brand.
  5. Remain true to your brand. When you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. Figure out who it is that your brand attracts and lean into them rather than trying to walk a fine line with others. You don’t necessarily need to narrow your audience too much too soon, but when the market talks, listen and pivot as you learn more.

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

I have to go with Dr. Squatch. Whether you’re interacting with one of their ads, browsing their website, receiving an email or checking out their social accounts, everything is engaging, entertaining and providing value — they’re giving information about men’s hygiene in a cool and relatable (think cool older brother) way. When you read YouTube and Facebook comments, they’re 98% positive, which is rare on the internet. People genuinely look forward to and enjoy the ads as they come out. With 250 million views and over 20x sales growth in three years, Dr. Squatch exemplifies the power of what brands can do using the five strategies outlined above.

Another example of an inspiring brand is Disney. They lead with magic, imagination and a sense of safety, which is evident in the immersive experiences they create. I also appreciate how big of a stance they now take on diversity and inclusion. Disney is always dreaming about how to build the future.

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?

Brand-building campaigns are return on relationship (ROR) rather than just return on investment (ROI). They’re about how much of an impact you can make, how much value you can bring to someone’s day and, ultimately, how you can become a positive part of their life. It’s a hard thing to measure. Good brands know how to measure their success; great brands understand the art form of sustaining a brand. Not everything is transactional; it’s something much bigger and less defined. It’s the magic of falling in love with a brand and going out of your way to purchase from one company over another, even if it means paying a little more. You can find ways to measure this, but at the end of the day, it’s about taking a leap of faith and trusting that, by doing things with intention and consistency, you’ll move the needle over time. Of course, it can’t be all about branding; you have to sell as well.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is an enormous part of branding. It’s where conversations happen, and so brands need to be there. Social is word of mouth marketing on steroids. For example, having your close acquaintance post about a restaurant or brand is much more meaningful than seeing an influencer post about it. There is a lot of power in someone close to you promoting and valuing a brand. Social media is also invaluable in expanding your market while also targeting your efforts to drive conversions.

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

When I first started the business, it was just me. There are lots of things I am good at and lots of things I am not good at — and that is where other people have been such a big part of my journey to stay positive even in the most difficult of times. I was able to bring on incredible business partners and team members. I’m so fortunate to have had Josh Cartmell and Yena Lee as the first people I interacted with on this journey, and now I am surrounded by people every day that inspire me and spark joy. People like Adam Wagner (my business partner), and our department leads and supervisors like Carrie Jones, Tom O’Hara, Marco Pelloni, Priya Iyer, Heather Pimentel, Nick Geddis, Lauren Eschborn, Michelle Adams, Andrea Pundeff, Andrew Ruiz, Andrew Catania, Kelsey Buller and Dr. Danny Kim (our Director of People and Culture). We have scoured the world to find these special 50+ team members!

A lot of people tend to hit burnout when they stop doing things they love and instead do things they think they should be doing. It’s not about hours worked, especially if those hours are spent doing something that is important to you.

In my late twenties, I experienced genetic depression for the first time, which threw me for a loop because things couldn’t have been going better. But at the same time, I was extremely anxious and worried about things going wrong. Being able to identify that and learning how to navigate and battle those feelings, while working on my overall mental wellness, has allowed me to get to a place of being optimistic, even during the pandemic. Depression, at times, threatened my ability to thrive, but I am now grateful to understand what I’m experiencing and be able to speak to it and empathize with others.

I have immense joy and gratitude and have never been more energized. I love my team — we may not all be together in the office currently do to COVID (I do miss that), but I still love what we get to do and who we get to do it with.

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

I’m passionate about a lot of things. In terms of mental wellness, we have a long way to go to normalize the fact that what we’re battling is emotional, genetic and even spiritual in nature. There are a lot of forces at play, and, so often, people don’t utilize a therapist or mentor. In life, there are so few things you’d try to do alone — you wouldn’t fly a plane without taking lessons, for example. But so many of us try to pilot our lives without being equipped with the tools we need to do so.

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

I’ll share three. The first is from my seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Thangaraj, who said, “Early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable.” I’ve lived on that quote ever since.

The second is from my father, who always said that “Positive activity breeds activity”. Not all of our efforts will lead to output, but positive inputs will lead to positive results.

The third is from Jeff Campbell, the former CEO of Burger King and a close mentor of mine. He says, “You’re just a rock in their play.” We often overemphasize the role we think we play in other people’s lives, putting the burden on ourselves. Letting some of that burden go saves a lot of time and energy.

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. 🙂

Oh man, I can’t choose just one!

  1. Breakfast: Will Smith. Not only is he one of the greatest entertainers of our time, but he has found a way to maintain professional relevancy as a storyteller. Check out his TikTok.
  2. Brunch: Lori Greiner. Seeing the way her mind works when it comes to products — being able to immediately identify what’s a hero — makes her an incredibly impressive businessperson with a ton of savvy.
  3. Lunch: Marcus Lemonis. Another inspiring businessperson. He reminds me SO MUCH of my business partner.
  4. Dinner: Jesus. I am so curious what he thinks about everything going on in the world right now.
  5. Dessert: Oprah Winfrey. She has met everyone important in this world over the last 25+ years. The stories she could tell.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am most active on LinkedIn, and you can also follow me on Instagram @JacquesSpitzer.

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

Thank you!


Jacques Spitzer of Raindrop: 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.

Avishai Greenstein of ‘Method Sourcing’: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Go for a slow burn. It may seem desirable to start with a large war chest and scream your message from the mountaintops. Spend a little time and money building the foundation and start growing slowly and organically.

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

Avishai Greenstein is the Brand Manager of Method Sourcing, managing a growing portfolio of sustainable home brands such as Bamboozle. Greenstein oversees product development, marketing, and sales across multiple industries.

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 became interested in sustainability from a technological standpoint during my time studying business at RIT. At the time gas prices were skyrocketing and I was exposed to novel solutions by the engineers around me. We all felt as if this was our generation’s problem to solve. I continued my passion for sustainability as I retrained into the culinary field during the recession of 2008–2010 where other opportunities for a recent grad were limited.

I had worked in the field in various capacities until 2015 when my uncle asked if I would like to work with him on a new venture. I was apprehensive about working in manufacturing especially in the polluting plastics industry. As it turns out the project was a new sustainable materials housewares line, and it was my constant talking about sustainability that had prompted my uncle to reach out to me.

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?

About 2 days into our largest trade show a customer pointed out that the massive wall behind me had the world ‘sustainbable’ instead of ‘sustainable’. A detail that I had overlooked during planning multiple times and seemed to have missed it somehow. We had seen this wall so many times during planning, construction, and set up that somehow, we had just edited its content to what we wanted to see instead of what it was.

To me, this illustrated how important it is to have someone from outside of the daily process review your work. Its now our policy that someone from outside of the team reviews our work before a customer sees it. Having someone from logistics or customer service look at a piece of writing or graphic can bring a fresh perspective and catch obvious errors.

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

Our mission to empower our customers as well as ourselves to make good sustainable choices both ecologically and economically. While we do make innovative product building a brand requires a constant two-way conversation with your longtime followers and those looking to engage for the first time. This is where employees, policies, and management matter. It’s not sexy but it’s where the soul of the brand resides.

Customers frequently call us concerned over the material composition. This is understandable as our materials are new and our customers are rightfully concerned about their impact on our environment. Our policy is to share testing documents and material data sheets with anyone. To most, this is counterintuitive; these are complex documents and rarely paint everything in a positive light. This is especially difficult in the sustainable industry where everyone is searching for a silver bullet that does not yet exist. However, to us it is an opportunity to discuss and explain the choices we make and the innovation we push for.

Its through these types of conversation that our material and product evolve with the trust of our most diehard supporters. Their comments motivate us to do better and our willingness to engage leaves them more empowered to make better choices every day.

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

Currently our focus is in marketing and developing our newest material Astrik, a plastic that is completely made from plants. It offers the core benefits of everyday plastics with a reduced carbon footprint and biodegradability. We are onboarding housewares brands interested in reducing their impact to develop new sustainable lines within their field of expertise.

We know the adoption of materials like these are incredibly important in moving towards sustainable mass market consumption. Sustainable materials are confusing to the consumer due to their technical nature and imperfect implementation. Our goal is to grow a material brand that offers peace of mind to the end-user through clear authentic communication, transparent testing, and continuous 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?

Advertising is a pushing action. You are actively engaged in pushing customers toward your product. Sales and returns can be measured but must be constantly maintained as the effects are temporary.

Branding on the other hand is about generating pull. Building attraction through product, content, and relationships. The positive feedback is not at all immediate and constructing something big enough to be seen can take time and resources. The benefit is that foundations laid tend to last much longer with each effort building on top of the last.

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?

Advertising generates sales, branding generates value.

Without a branding effort you are always as good as your last sale. A day spend not selling is a day you fall farther behind, an exhausting proposition.

Nurturing a brand can be time consuming an expensive but slowly starts taking on a life of its own. This new entity no longer lives within the walls of your company but in the minds of any passerby regardless of their intent to purchase. When people engage with your content, return to purchase, or talk about it, the brand grows without your direct engagement.

Advertising and general marketing now have a long-term purpose. Exposing new customers as well as reminding others you still exist. Every exposure increases the odds of engagement with the brand.

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

  1. Go for a slow burn. It may seem desirable to start with a large war chest and scream your message from the mountaintops. Spend a little time and money building the foundation and start growing slowly and organically.
  2. Experiment and make your mistakes early. Try many ideas and monitor their successes carefully while your audience is small. Once your story is established it will be far more difficult to change perceptions you have erroneously created.
  3. A brand is not just your story. It’s part of the public conversation and may become different from your original intent. That’s a good thing! Adapt the good experiences into your central narrative. Shift your efforts to meet the expectations of the negative reviews.
  4. Be honest, build trust. That is the recipe for authenticity. Even things that may be undesirable are better off on display. As long as they have a reason to exist, they will be accepted by the community you are building.
  5. Everyone is a partner. Consider your vendor, customer, and competitors’ perspective and always look for opportunities to collaborate openly. Equitable honest relationships open doors previously unknown and can last a lifetime.

Although not a brand in the strictest sense, I find SpaceX to be especially intriguing. They do not make consumer product and are not publicly traded yet they support a level of dialogue with the public that should inspire the entire branding community. It’s their readiness to share their successes, failures and visions so openly that is truly something to emulate.

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?

Brand success can be measured in engagement in the broadest sense. This can be a sale, public conversation, ‘like’, or article. Numbers can become meaningless in such a holistic approach, but sustained trends indicate overall success.

My personal favorite is finding a product in an unexpected place. A rental house, the background of a TV show, or unendorsed celebrity Instagram. These may not be a marketing event but reflect on the invisible reach the brand has. Immeasurable, but extremely motivating.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is an excellent place to experiment with messaging, preview product concepts, and learn who your audience really is. The immediate feedback and the sharing allowed us to cheaply and quickly find that our core demographic was different than what we originally expected or intended.

It is also a convenient public forum for us to store and display content. However due to pay to play models and relatively low ROI we have shied away from anything more than frequent posting and reacting.

As limited as it may be, our paid ad strategy revolves around remarketing to users who have experienced our online store. A reminder of our presence to those who may have been on the fence at some point.

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

Plan for the future but live in the present. Focus only on what you can change today. I have personally been trapped in a loop of worrying about the what-ifs and dreading the next day. I learned the hard way that those worries fill the unproductive moments between projects and major decisions. Preventing you from connecting with your team, innovating, and being grateful.

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 truly believe that we can maintain our lifestyles while reversing the damage caused to the environment. I would call on governments, manufacturers, and retailers to consider sustainability and the carbon cost of everything they do. Large institutions need to build a path toward a shift in our materials and the sources of our energy through investment and incentivization. Most consumers will not, or cannot, change their lives completely. However, if given the opportunity to effortlessly do the right thing, they will.

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

“It’s a definition that if it’s not renewable, it’s going to run out at some point.”– Elon Musk

In 2017, when I watched this 60-minutes interview, Bamboozle was undergoing serious growing pains of a startup. This caused me a lot of personal stress. This rather obvious statement reminded me why we chose this difficult path. It simply and perfectly reminds us all that it is imperative that we work to make the change we want to see.

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. 🙂

Yuval Noah Harari’s book ‘Sapiens’ was formative in my understanding of branding. It’s a history book about the power of human storytelling and myth to create cooperation on a mass scale. Although on a much smaller scale this type of storytelling is exactly what branding is about. Taking complex and sometimes uninteresting concepts and building stories around them so they are more attractive to engage with and participate in.

While I doubt Mr. Harari specifically wanted his readers to get this insight from his work, I would love to discuss the relationship between the two at length.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Avishai Greenstein of ‘Method Sourcing’: 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.

Demee Koch of DE MOI: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Purpose Led: We all have our whys and a cause close to our heart. Understand it, define it, embed it in what you do and communicate it through your brand. For example, I always wanted to touch lives. In the field of beauty and fitness, one can spread happiness and empowerment through our craft and the giving back can have another layer by extending help to others through skills or financial support. Purpose is key to defining a brand’s identity.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Demee Koch, founder of the conscious beauty brand DE MOI, and Board Advisor & brand consultant for the fitness equipment brand SPARBAR.

Multi-preneur Demee Koch combines her two passions: developing & marketing products of substance and championing important causes. She is looking back on a career in the beauty industry spanning over two decades. As a sought after speaker, guest author and commentator on the subject of conscious beauty, she strongly advocates healthy beauty, inclusivity and empowerment. Recognized and honored with awards as one of the most influential Filipinas in the world, Demee uses her influence to give back. Demee is on the Board of Advisors of the boxing brand SPARBAR, which quickly became a viral hit, spearheading their social activities. She also supports various other charities working to improve the lives of others. Demee made Switzerland her home base after finishing her MBA studies in International Marketing at the Swiss Business School in Zurich.

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

This is a big question for me, since I grew up in a small town on an island in the Philippines, where life is modest. Basically at one point in my early adult life I decided to swap flip flops for real shoes, and stepped out into the world. I started out in the luxury beauty industry in Dubai, with the knowledge I had about the extensive beauty services offered in my home country. Then I did my MBA in Switzerland, and started operating multiple businesses from there on. There will be a book released about the whole story in 2021.

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?

We were looking into launching beauty treatments for men, and we actually wanted to call a treatment “face job”, since we assumed men love terms that sound technical. Fortunately, we didn’t go through with it, because we realized that it was way to mislead, having a sexual connotation. Teaches you to always get third parties’ feedback when coming up with marketing ideas after a long brainstorming session!

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

The brands I create, and the brands I am involved in as a consultant or Board Advisor need to have authenticity, integrity, rebellion and confidence at their forefront.

In this highly modernized world, I choose to do certain things in traditional ways. For example, I would rather work with a small or a mom & pop manufacturer who truly believes in my brand than with the giant ones. I focus on working with real and honest testimonials, and never use the traditional advertising or social media campaign approach. I build relationships and my reputation as a person of integrity to have real influencers and key opinion people actually proudly promote my brand. We are often asked for free products by influencers who wants to promote our products, but we politely turn them down. We also have a no discount or sale approach because our products are ethically priced under fair manufacturing processes.

For my brand DE MOI, we created our niche within the beauty industry. We put ourselves forward as thought leaders on conscious beauty, and advocate on diversity and communities.

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

Yes, multiple ones! The common denominator is that it has to have a significant social impact. I closed a deal for an exclusive manufacturing for Sparbar, and also started creating a production place for DE MOI in the Philippines. This will be supported by local community funding and training, so not only jobs are created, but people have the chance for development. Furthermore, DE MOI is in talks with the social enterprise Two Good Australia that focuses on empowering women who were victims of domestic abuse. For Sparbar, I will be spearheading the foundation that focuses on empowerment through sports and education globally.

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

Brand marketing is focused more on creating awareness, educating people on what your brand is all about and what it stands for. It is like creating an entity, a brand persona. The aim is to have a certain identity to gain respect and loyalty from your target market.

Product marketing is product centric and sales driven. The focus here is to showcase the product attributes (i.e. how it was made, ingredients, results and process) to generate sales.

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?

Building a brand means building a sustainable business with loyal customers. It is the foundation of your company. In the world of a highly competitive global game, having a strong brand is key to standing out and gaining customer loyalty efficiently. The general marketing and advertising alone is a short lived approach and more expensive financially and effort wise. Gaining new clients is more expensive than retaining loyal clients.

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. Purpose Led: We all have our whys and a cause close to our heart. Understand it, define it, embed it in what you do and communicate it through your brand. For example, I always wanted to touch lives. In the field of beauty and fitness, one can spread happiness and empowerment through our craft and the giving back can have another layer by extending help to others through skills or financial support. Purpose is key to defining a brand’s identity.
  2. Passion: Purpose and passion are intertwined. Passion evokes emotions and captivates attention. Passion will help build your credibility because with passion, not only you will walk the talk, you will always be more than willing to walk the extra miles. For example, I am so passionate about my brand that I never get tired explaining what we stand for and I personally stand behind it. I am always patiently answering even the most simplest questions during unholy hours when I can. People see my passion this way.
  3. Integrity: Always deliver a promise or a claim. No sugar coating. Integrity will make your brand gain respect and loyalty. Don’t use the social aspects as marketing tools, e.g. using the social angle of natural or organic ingredients, cruelty free development, or charity to gain sales are not an honest approach. Fortunately, consumers nowadays look closer into brands. Whatever you are selling, you must ensure that this particular product or service delivers results and maximizes the value for your clients. Also pricing a product that is packaged nicely, but has low quality inside is a no go.
  4. Authenticity: Get inspired, but do not copy others. Make sure that you create a unique value for your brand. We can channel our uniqueness in our brand. To be successful nowadays, you do not need to create something totally new, but you can build on what is available.
  5. Competition: Cooperate with your competitors. Use them as a motivation to do better. Compete ethically and fairly. If you want to stand out, highlight your USP, and let the clients do the rest. After all, the market is big, we can all share it. Avoid at all cost a price war, no one wins in this game.

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?

Sparbar is an impressive example of a brand built organically, by its community. Despite the very humble beginning, limited resources, and a very tough and unforgiving industry, the brand has managed to amass a strong global fan base (300 millions views and growing at a few hundred dollars social media advertising) and have inspired A-list celebrities and all the top MMA personalities to personally promote and rave about it, for free!

The most impressive part is that it attracts global talents to help build the brand stronger and the moment the founder talks about the vision and the youth support the brand provides, it immediately captivates people into wanting to be part of it.

Using the strategy I gave above will help replicate it.

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

The numbers are definitely a clear indicator of a brand’s success, but it cannot be about numbers in the start where you build your client base. The first few clear indicators of a branding campaign success are measured by the kind of employees you attract, the companies that want to collaborate with the brand, and the number of people who champion it. Becoming a point of reference in thought leadership is another indicator.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media gives you access to the global stage to channel your story; what your brand is all about, what it stands for and to show evidence of your claims. There you can build on your audience and attract your target market.

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

You are your greatest key to your success. Be purpose led. Practice self-care; listen to your body, “try” to keep a healthy lifestyle by eating well and doing some exercise, celebrate little wins / milestones, meditate, practice gratitude and kindness, give back (ideally from a place of overflow so you can give generously without limits), make time for loved ones, and during bad times be your own friend. Remember that you work to live and not live to work, and that each day you have is the best day you will ever have.

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. 🙂

This would be a movement of conscious entrepreneurship. I want every entrepreneur out there to care, to give back. After all, being an entrepreneur is a privilege. Therefore, I would like to inspire a new entrepreneurship, where founders make charity and community activities part of their business plan. It would need to be something they are truly passionate about, so the efforts will be continued. Just imagine, you would not only work hard for growing revenues and profit, but you would work hard because you know the cause of your choice will be supported through your efforts.

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

“No mud no lotus.” The lotus is a beautiful flower, but without mud it could not grow. I use this saying as a constant reminder that to actually bloom you need to go through process of hard work and overcoming challenges (the mud). This process should be appreciated, because it is the way to the reward (the lotus).

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. 🙂

Please schedule a lunch for me with Deepak Chopra! He is an inspiring source to me on the topics of consciousness, the human experience and connection. I enjoy his views on life, and his teachings on on the law of abundance.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Find DE MOI on Instagram @demoi.swiss and Sparbar @sparbarboxing.

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


Demee Koch of DE MOI: 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.

Author Cindy Donnelly Kibbe: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’

Quit every day. — I wanted to quit working on TRINE RISING more times than I can count. Sometimes I sort of did, only to find myself back at it the next day. I could not work on my novel if I tried. My heart would be filled to bursting and I just had to write. I wanted to give this story to others so badly. There’s so much darkness in the world. I’m not trying to teach some huge moral truth in TRINE RISING. It’s for fun, your fun. It’s a time for you to get away from the problems around you and embark on a tale of adventure. Sure, it’s got high stakes, tension, and some grittiness, but in the end, there is light. That’s what makes a good story.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Donnelly Kibbe.

Cindy Donnelly Kibbe has more than two decades of writing and editing experience. She has held careers in healthcare and journalism and was honored with several awards for reporting from state and regional press associations. Her personal writing gave her the most joy and challenges and as the self-described “Unsuccessful Quitter,” published her YA Fantasy novel after 20 years. www.ckdonnelly.com

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

I’m embarrassed to say, Star Wars probably had as much to do with my writing career as God. Since I was a kid, I’d riff on characters and stories I’d seen on TV or in the movies. I developed a myriad of different characters or different takes on the existing characters all set in the Star Wars universe. That movie led to other science fiction and fantasy movies, which led to other characters and stories. I thought I was so unique and original in this. I’m not. There’s a term for it: fanfiction.

I had so much fun with these forks on Star Wars stories, I tried my hand at writing a full-length novel set in the Star Wars universe. Close friends read it, and they both agreed my ideas were too good to be kept in a fanfic novel, which, would go nowhere. I needed to write something original. Damn them if they weren’t right.

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

When wasn’t the journey to becoming an author hard? I’ve faced everything: job lay-offs, loved ones dying, cross-country moves, bouts of pneumonia, and the recession. In short, real life is hard when you’re trying to keep up your mental stamina while writing a book.

But more specifically, a couple of incidents stand out.

Early in the development of TRINE RISING, I contracted with a very well-known screenplay writer and literary person to do a critique of the novel. I wasn’t the kind of writer that thinks every syllable is gold. I knew I had problems and needed help, and I told her so. The critique was heart-searingly negative. At one point, she remarked she hoped my protagonist would hurry up and die so she could stop reading. Three days of ugly-crying ensued, and I nearly quit my job as a journalist.

Years later, after completely redrafting TRINE RISING, I contracted with an editor whose writing blog I very much respected. She hated the book. She described one scene where my magically gifted characters use telekinesis to Mickey Mouse in Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Disney’s Fantasia. Ouch.

The final straw was 100-some rejections from literary agents. It was Christmas 2019. I was shattered to my core that my life-long dream of being traditionally published was just not going to happen. I had two choices: quit or self-publish. I knew Mirana’s life story was just too important not to share, so I chose to self-publish. (Cue sunshine and birds chirping with a heavenly choir.) Once I made that choice, TRINE RISING surged forward to garner 5-star reviews.

As it turns out, I suck at quitting. It never quite sticks. Every day, I wanted to quit writing, quit my dream of publishing novels. Somehow, the next day I was back at it, plotting, writing, editing.

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

My faith in God was the saving grace. For others, the resolve to continue might be something else, but for me, it was my Catholic faith and my belief in God’s calling for me. The stirring in my heart and soul that my path toward becoming an author would not end in failure kept me going when it looked like all hope was gone. For me, God speaks in many ways but never more loudly than through my husband and true friends. Their encouragement was often the support I needed to continue to work on TRINE RISING.

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

Like I said, I’m an unsuccessful quitter. I could have given it all up that Christmas, but I just couldn’t. With deep prayer and lots of tears, I realized that moment was the beginning of a new chapter for me, a chapter where I’d self-publish. I began to pull together a team of professionals to handle various functions a publishing house would such as legal, editing, public relations, and art design. I taught myself everything from creating videos to social media advertising to book formatting. Step by tiny, baby step, TRINE RISING moved forward until it became a reality.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

1. Trust the small, still voice in your heart.

That’s God, intuition, Higher Power, Universe Juice — whatever you want to call it — that’s “rightness” speaking to you. Trust it. For me, it’s God. Deep in prayer and wondering why I had this fire in my soul to write when it seemed so very impossible, I became aware of the answer: “Do you think I put you on this path only to fail?”

2. You know the people who are good in your life. Trust them.

Is there anyone honestly who doesn’t know kale is better for you than a Big Mac? It’s the same with the people in your life. Listen to the good influences in your life. For me, it’s my husband and a select circle of close friends, many of whom share my faith. When I’m feeling lost, I reach out to them. To borrow from a famous book title, they are chicken soup for the soul.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail or cut loose what isn’t working.

This is the converse of Lesson #2. There are people in your life that leave you feeling drained and bad about yourself. Put some distance between you and them. If it’s possible or truly destructive, cut them out of your life. I had a marketing person that seemed like a perfect fit for what I needed to promote TRINE RISING. She took thousands of dollars from me and gave me canned advice from videos she created years ago, none of which were applicable to launching a book. I terminated the contract for “services already rendered” and never looked back.

4. Do what you love; that’s what you should be doing.

I love writing; I always have. When I write, I’m merely taking dictation for the movie in my head. Sometimes, the prose comes faster than I can type. Hours can go by, and I won’t have even noticed. That’s the kind of fire in the soul I’m talking about. Maybe for you it’s writing, too, or a computer app or Abuelita’s nacho cheese sauce. If the world slips away as you work on it, honor it. Your passion is your purpose.

5. Quit every day.

I wanted to quit working on TRINE RISING more times than I can count. Sometimes I sort of did, only to find myself back at it the next day. I could not work on my novel if I tried. My heart would be filled to bursting and I just had to write. I wanted to give this story to others so badly. There’s so much darkness in the world. I’m not trying to teach some huge moral truth in TRINE RISING. It’s for fun, your fun. It’s a time for you to get away from the problems around you and embark on a tale of adventure. Sure, it’s got high stakes, tension, and some grittiness, but in the end, there is light. That’s what makes a good story.

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

The undying support of my husband Wayne kept me from descending into an abyss of self-loathing and despondency. There really isn’t one incident of his support that stands out but a lifetime of love. I met him at college when I was 19–and not a day of my life has passed without him by my side since that day.

Another person to whom I owe so very much is my PR rep Sherry Butler. No words can convey my gratitude toward her. When she said my book moved her like no book has in years, I was speechless. After so many professionals rejected TRINE RISING, here was a skilled professional who believed in the novel as much as I did. She has been a tireless bridge of love and support connecting me and TRINE RISING to folks I would have no way of reaching.

And, of course, God. I have a dedication in my book, a quote from the Gospel of Luke, commonly called Mary’s Canticle: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness…The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

This quote is deeply personal and was something I prayed years ago when I finished the draft that was to become the basis of the novel that folks are reading today.

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

We are still in the early stages of launching TRINE RISING, but through it all, I’ve always tried to help and support other authors. I know how shattering a vicious critique can be; it’s debilitating. I’ve dedicated myself to making sure no writer that comes to me for advice goes through that.

Soon, I hope to reach others through a broader message of, well, grit. Winston Churchill said it best: “Never give in, never, never, never–never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” If something burns in your heart, in your soul that strongly, it is meant to be given to the world. That “something” is your purpose, and you have a duty to bring it to life and share it with the rest of us.

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

We will soon be finalizing Book 2 of The Kinderra Saga, TRINE FALLACY, followed by TRINE REVELATION, the third book. Both books are already completed. I’m currently outlining Book 4 as well as putting together workshops for writers and the public.

I hope they will show others how a project that virtually no one believed in but me refused to die, and not only is continuing but flourishing.

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

The biggest roadblock on one’s journey toward success is self-doubt. Sometimes, we’re at a loss as to how to continue or even start. Other times, we just need a little handholding and support. Occasionally — and the most destructive — a negative sense of false modesty can get in the way as we wait to be begged to do “Our Thing.” You must have the fire in your soul for whatever that is, or no amount of support will help you bring it to fruition. If you don’t, that’s not Your Thing. Find something else that does light a fire in your soul.

Leaders of employees can best help their teams by doing more of what they’re already doing: being a safe sounding board and a resource-finder. Beyond that, it’s up to the employee.

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 think many folks aged 50 and older might think they’ve missed their opportunity to do or create Their Thing. Someday, I’d love to create a scholarship or some sort of financial support vehicle for first-time entrepreneurs aged 50 and over. These folks have so much untapped potential and experience. They are this country’s greatest resource, but everything from ageism to life’s demands, to years of lacking belief in oneself, can stymie great ideas.

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

“You’ll never know unless you try.”

One of the scariest endeavors for me as I was building my author’s social media platform was just that — being out there. Me, on the world’s stage, as it were. Showing followers a bit of myself was terrifying because “what would people think?” What if I made a mistake, or — Heaven forbid! — a typo in a post?! Don’t be afraid to fail. We’re all human. Cut yourself some slack.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/c.k.donnelly/

Twitter: @CKDonnellyTrine

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomck_donnelly

Amazon: amazon.com/author/ckdonnelly

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


Author Cindy Donnelly Kibbe: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’ was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jill Semegran of Notion Consulting: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’

Optimism is key. I can’t think of a better example of how important it is to have an optimistic attitude than right now. As we are faced with a global pandemic, uncertainty looms all around us in both our professional and personal lives. Despite this uncertainty, more than ever, we need to demonstrate grace, seek silver linings, and continue to be aspirational and optimistic.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Semegran.

Jill Semegran has more than 20 years of Change Management expertise. Her clients describe her as a real “go-getter” who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. She is a versatile, flexible and collaborative leader and team player and is committed to delivering quality and results.

Jill has worked with several Fortune 50 companies to lead “total change management solutions” including learning and development strategy and implementation, strategic communications, process design, workshop design and facilitation, change implementation, and measurement. Jill has both an entrepreneurial spirit and big-company experience. Prior to joining Notion, she spent 11 years running her own consulting practice; and prior to that Jill spent time working at Omnicom and Accenture.

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

The old adage, “everything happens for a reason” certainly rings true when describing how I entered into the career of Change Management. At the ripe age of 21 as a college senior embarking on the job hunt and interview process, a partner at Andersen Consulting said to me, “You are interviewing for the wrong job. You are truly meant to be a Change Management practitioner.” After learning more about the field with a double major in Psychology and Communications, I realized that he couldn’t have been more accurate. Two weeks later, I was hired by that same partner as one of two Rutgers graduates (the other being my roommate, coincidentally) to join the Change Management practice at Andersen Consulting. And, here we are, 20+ years later, and I’m still on my Change Management career journey.

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

The consulting lifestyle, while adventurous and dynamic, isn’t always a glamorous one. At around 25 years old, I had just settled into a New York City apartment and was excited to get a new consulting project under my belt. I vividly recall a Senior Partner calling me to let me know that I had been staffed on an overseas assignment. I would be moving to London for six months. In this role, I was very quickly required to step outside my comfort zone and adapt to a new culture, way of living, working, and being. With only a few days’ warning, I had to prepare to leave everything that was once familiar and safe. With time, I would soon realize that I would not only teach others about change, but more importantly, I would experience the process of change myself. It provided me the opportunity to accelerate my own personal and professional growth by successfully accomplishing something new and challenging.

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

Despite working with new people amid a new culture, I knew this was also an opportunity to prove myself professionally and personally. In the beginning, I recall lonely weekends without the familiarity of my family and friends. With time, what I wanted to accomplish became more apparent to me, and it became clearer that I would need a roadmap and plan to do so. From a professional standpoint, I worked hard on my project to prove myself and demonstrate my skills and capabilities in order to advance my career. Personally, I knew this was an opportunity to turn inward, leverage my extrovert behaviors, and learn as much as I could. I quickly immersed my whole self in a new culture, met new friends, and left London with a more open mind, and a fuller heart.

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

I deem myself to be relatively smart, but more importantly, I’ve always worked hard in every facet of life. Through school, and ultimately college and the workforce, I’ve always put my whole self into every single thing I did. I believe that hard work and practice are necessary ingredients towards achieving success. As mentioned, I may not have always been the smartest person in the room, but I’ve always known how to leverage and maximize my own strengths. I’ve learned to surround myself with gritty people. I’ve also learned that continued growth and practice helps to build expertise.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Stay strong, even when you don’t have strength. Early in my career, I had a very demanding boss who would require our team to work extremely long hours on a consistent basis. I clearly remember one night he gave me a major assignment at 5pm. I had very little strength left after an exhausting day, but I mustered up the energy to give it my all and accomplish the task with very little sleep. As I became more confident in my career, I learned the importance of aligning work expectations and not always giving in to demanding requests. However, in that moment, I put forth my best effort, even when I thought it wasn’t possible, in order to deliver with excellence, as expected.
  2. Be confident. Remember, there is more power in how you say something then in what you actually say. Make eye contact, use gestures, and remember that silence can show confidence and poise.
  3. Practice to be good at at least one thing. I’m a skilled public speaker, but I wasn’t always. I have had many opportunities for facilitation throughout my career. I recall a client asking me, “how do you facilitate with such ease?” My response…”practice, practice, practice”. When I was a young consultant, I often wasn’t sure if I was an actress practicing my lines, or a business professional. I would consistently rehearse pitches, and presentations. With time, I soon become a more natural and confident public speaker.
  4. Optimism is key. I can’t think of a better example of how important it is to have an optimistic attitude than right now. As we are faced with a global pandemic, uncertainty looms all around us in both our professional and personal lives. Despite this uncertainty, more than ever, we need to demonstrate grace, seek silver linings, and continue to be aspirational and optimistic.
  5. Show resilience. Another defining moment in my early career was when I asked to attend a retreat in Jamaica for high potential employees. As part of the program, it was a rite of passage to pull an all-nighter with your team to prepare a pitch, which would be presented to the Senior Executive Team the next morning. But when it was my turn to present, due to extreme exhaustion and fatigue, I nearly fainted, and was unable to present my piece of the pitch. At the end of the pitch, with some hydration, I jumped in and presented my piece while also connecting it to the topic of resiliency. This allowed me to demonstrate to the Senior Partners, and more importantly to myself, that I was capable of “in the moment” recovery and resiliency.

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

My mother was a huge influence in helping me achieve success along the way. People learn by doing, as well as by watching others. My mother, a single, full-time working mother, demonstrated the value of grit every single day. She raised two children, mostly on her own, while also working a full-time job. We all know this is no easy feat, and yet she achieved this with both grace and humility. My mom didn’t realize it, but without trying, she taught me that with hard work, motivation, and passion, you can accomplish any of your goals, big or small.

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

This past year, my daughter was preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah. She had spent so much time and effort practicing and perfecting her portions. Suddenly, when Covid-19 hit, we strongly encouraged her to do something that would have a positive impact on the world and to truly make a difference. We quickly pivoted from our original planned project (as change management professionals often need to be experts in the art of the quick pivot). Instead, we decided it was critical to raise money and food for children who would no longer be able to receive school lunches. I hope that through this experience, I taught my daughter the same thing, albeit in a different way, that my mom taught me. It is extremely important to pay it forward, especially to those less fortunate, in order to bring light and opportunities their way.

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

Yes! I am working with a major pharmaceutical company to help them articulate new ways of working in a virtual world. The Covid-19 crisis has forced me to bring out every skill in my toolbox, and I’m happy to be able to share my perspective and lessons learned with clients who need to quickly shift direction and show commitment for the long haul of enforced isolation.

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

Right now, amid a global pandemic, the workplace can be stressful and draining. It’s critical to ensure employees feel a sense of purpose in their company, as well as their work. To this point, it’s important for leaders to put their people first. We all know that the keys to higher levels of employee engagement include providing a caring, safe place to work where staff feel heard, valued, recognized, and rewarded. And, in case you didn’t know…higher levels of employee engagement lead to improved levels of customer satisfaction, profitability, productivity, and lower levels of turnover.

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

If I can inspire anyone, it would be our youth. We need to inspire youth, especially underprivileged children, so that they can work to fulfill their potential. Specifically, as the reality of having white privilege has become more apparent to me in recent days, we must recognize this disparity. If I could do anything, I would help those that are under-resourced to get better access to education, as well as more equitable hiring and employment opportunities.

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

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” This quote resonates with me because it reflects our power of choice. We can enact positive change in our lives. It’s impossible to change the past, so it’s important to let go, learn from our experiences, and control how you choose to live in the present and the future.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Sure, follow me on Facebook or LinkedIn at Jill Semegran.

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


Jill Semegran of Notion Consulting: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’ was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Karen Sorenson of Global Results Communications: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do…

Karen Sorenson of Global Results Communications: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Cultivate a positive outlook; when it’s all doom and gloom, it will only compound your mental health when it takes a turn for the worse during a crisis

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 Karen Sorenson.

Karen is an award-winning public relations practitioner with multiple individual awards, numerous top-tier articles, and product awards to her credit. She joins the GRC team as an Account Manger, overseeing PR strategies and tactics for some of GRC global clientele. Before joining GRC, Karen managed a range of B2B and B2C clients, focusing on software, MarTech, FinTech, consumer electronics and apps. She developed public relations plans for media outreach, awards, and speaking opportunities for clients. She has secured vital media placements, including print and online in USA Today, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and Cosmopolitan to name a few. Karen is on the Board of Directors for the LA Centurions, a charitable football team of the Los Angeles Police Department who play full-tackle football to raise money for the Blind Children’s Center of Los Angeles. Fluent in English and Lithuanian, Karen holds a BA in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations from Brigham Young University.

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 graduated high school thinking I would major in math, teach at a high school, and coach its women’s water polo team. That plan took a hard right when I took an intro to comms class my sophomore year to fill some general requirements. I realized I was going to love PR. My personality is such that I want to tell people about the cool things I love — like tell a stranger in Costco she should buy a book I just finished and loved kind of person. What can I say, I’m my mother’s daughter.

Early in my career, I worked in government, hospitality, and eventually found tech. I love the cool new OS updates, new apps, or innovative hardware. There are so many truly extraordinary technological advancements happening today; it’s hard not to get excited!

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?

My first job in PR after graduation was an internship with a top agency in Sacramento. That particular voting season had a few bills on the ballot that were of significant interest to our client, in that they wanted those bills to fail. We had a small team that worked to petition state senators to vote no on these bills in the California State Senate.

For months we worked, collected testimonials, signatures, and data to persuade district representatives to vote no, and it looked like we had it locked in. Unfortunately, the night before the vote was to occur, the Speaker of the House “encouraged” enough state senators to vote yes, and the bills passed. Our little team of newly graduated interns was crushed, but we continued on by petitioning the governor. Ultimately we secured a VETO on the bills and the outcome the client so much desired.

I tell this story, fully aware that there were far more players involved than our little group of interns. I learned the power of a team, players seen and unseen, and the role I can play, regardless of how big or small. I also learned that sometimes, despite my rather stellar work, I may not get the outcome I anticipated, but that’s no reason to give up there… I also learned that lobbying wasn’t for me. 😊

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

I’ve split my career between in-house and agency PR work, and among the list of past companies, none have offered GRC’s level of direction, help, and guidance for team members, from task completion aids to overall career development.

GRC is keenly focused on delivering high-quality results to its clients while fostering the growth and skills of its team members. One element that underlines all of this is the collaborative nature of this agency. It’s always “we” are GRC. Each team member offers a unique perspective, and that element is not wasted when developing a strategy for our clients.

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?

In my first role as a manager, I had a VP of Communications that will always be “that” person for me. She not only taught me how to elevate my craft as a public relations practitioner but also how to manage staff.

One particularly intimidating job requirement was to give staff reviews. I’ve never enjoyed confrontation nor sought having tough conversations, though I very much acknowledge they need to happen. Her careful coaching and advice guided me in tackling my responsibilities, which is something I’ve had to use many times since.

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?

It might be before my time, but the lyrics to Matthew Wilder’s song comes to mind — “Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no. I got to keep on movin’…”

To be resilient means to be resistant to pitfalls, trials, and hiccups. Not that those things won’t hit you smack in the face at times, but that you can adjust, pivot, and come out better than on the other side. There is a certain level of tenacity and gumption involved. I also feel that truly resilient people are not overbearing or in your face about their trials; they simply pick themselves up and move ahead.

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

During my college years, I took two years off and lived a former Soviet Union country for 17 months. I was young, 21, but living in Eastern Europe opened my eyes to some remarkably resilient people. I met families whose fathers were exiled to Siberia during the Soviet occupation. Women who were the sole breadwinner for the family during the post-occupation era, when actual bread was difficult to find.

These people had a rich history and were a large nation at one point, but were occupied by a series of European powerhouses. Despite all this, these people still worked and fought to gain a better life than what they had, with more opportunities available for their children.

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 incredibly blessed to have amazingly supportive family, teachers and coaches in my life. Most of the voices I heard doubting me, came from my own head.

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?

I was working in-house at a software company for about three years when they got bought out by a larger company. Due to the circumstances of the acquisition, my role on the PR team was no longer necessary, and I was let go. Bouncing back after that was a little rough. Your psyche, however strong, takes a hit, and personal doubt can easily creep in. It took about a month of interviewing, but I landed another job, but overcoming the personal doubt I felt was far more difficult than finding a new job. I was reminded that sometimes, despite your hard work, things just don’t work out. But hard work is also what it takes to ensure things work out, eventually.

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

I’m the youngest of 11 with 5 older brothers… I was teased All. The. Time. Need I go on? But really though, my siblings are all extraordinary with 17 undergraduate and advanced degrees shared between us. Being the last in a long line gave me strong examples of how to excel and what to do when you fall short of that excellence.

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.

  • Take regular self-evaluations and be honest with yourself in acknowledging what you need to work on
  • Be a person of action; the point of making goals is to achieve them, take control of that path for yourself
  • Cultivate a positive outlook; when it’s all doom and gloom, it will only compound your mental health when it takes a turn for the worse during a crisis
  • Build skills that help you to cope and manage problems that may arise, because they will
  • Find and develop a talent or hobby outside of work; the shift in mental exercise will leave you ready for the next challenge ahead

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 was younger, I swam competitively, and our team happened to share the pool with the US Olympic team (their facility in San Diego was being built at the time). I remember being on the deck, getting ready for our practice, and watching Amy Van Dyken swim. At one point, she mentioned something about wanting to throw up, something I could very much relate to after particularly harsh practices.

After her two Olympic appearances in 1996 and 2000, she was injured in a severe ATV accident that severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. After months of rehabilitation, she took her first steps. I was too young and shy to meet her then, but I’ve always admired her and would love to meet her.

Also, after reading his book, I would love to meet Steve Young. After all, we’re both alumni from the same university.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

https://twitter.com/KESORENSON


Karen Sorenson of Global Results Communications: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meghan Lynch of Six-Point Creative: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Courage. Companies that fail to build a meaningful, trusted, loved brand with their target customer are afraid. They are afraid of making someone mad. They are afraid of losing out on a sale. They are afraid of taking a risk. And that fear for second stage companies is totally understandable. I’ve been there myself. You have people you need to keep employed. You have a reputation and a legacy you are trying to maintain. You have people watching you. But being afraid will never allow you to build something that lasts. All companies and brands need to evolve. And there are ways to do that that still keep your DNA intact. So find the team and expert support that addresses your concerns and helps you mitigate risk, and then make the bold moves you really want to.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Meghan Lynch, CEO of Six-Point Creative, a brand strategy agency with a focus on second-stage businesses who have hit a growth plateau. Meghan has made it her mission to help small, family-owned brands challenge their larger corporate competitors through the creation of Six-Point’s Solve for Y brand development program.

As a second-stage leader herself, Meghan quickly saw the patterns in the challenges that she and her peers were experiencing as they were trying to create growing, scalable, and sustainable companies. She noticed that the leadership teams of these companies would have the same brand strategy conversations over and over again, and realized that their fear of making a mistake was holding them back from growth and opportunity.

Meghan created the Solve for Y process to help these companies make smarter, faster, more transformational brand decisions. Since then, she and her team at Six-Point Creative have been applying this process with companies in all industries, from fast casual restaurants, to industrial manufacturing, to artisan cheese.

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 actually never wanted to own a business or even go into marketing. I have a master’s degree in English literature and thought I was on my way to get my PhD and become a college professor. While in graduate school, I realized that I was enjoying my day job at an advertising agency more than I was loving academia. So I switched paths, and now I like to say that I read businesses instead of books.

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

When I first started out, I was a script writer for a TV advertising company. The first time I wrote scripts for a series of commercials, we were producing them in Toronto with Canadian talent, but for a U.S. market. When we were running through the scripts just before filming, I realized how many words with “out” sounds I had included in the scripts. The “outs” and “abouts” all sounded like “oots” and “aboots,” making the Canadian accents of the actors impossible to hide. I had to rewrite all of the scripts on the fly to replace those words before the cameras rolled. I think the lesson I took away from it was both to make sure that you always sweat the small details, and also the importance of authenticity. If you do things authentically from the get-go, you don’t have to worry about trying to cover things up.

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

Our empathy for what leaders of second stage companies are feeling and the multiple competing priorities they are facing as they make major positioning decisions for their company is one of the most important differentiators for us. At the end of the day, these are people taking a huge leap of faith, and understanding the gravity of that is absolutely crucial to uncovering what kind of support is needed to make a brand strategy successful.

One example of this was a time when I was working with the second generation owner of a family business, and we were talking through a few potential directions to evolve the brand. All of the sudden she looked at me and asked, “How will I know when I find the right one? Will it be like finding a wedding dress?” And immediately I realized what she was feeling and expecting, and I knew I needed to reset her expectations. I countered with a different metaphor: “No, it will be like buying your pre-teen son a new suit that is a bit too big for him. It looks a little odd on him now, but you know in a few months he will shoot up and fill it out and it will be perfect.”

From that moment on, she stopped waiting for the magic moment of a perfect fit and started thinking about what would propel their company forward. And since then, I have used that metaphor with other CEOs, and it totally helps them get into a better decision-making headset.

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

We are currently working with a new client, ALLPRO, that serves as a buying group for independent paint retailers. Small businesses become members of this group and it allows them to stay competitive with the big box stores and the chains like Sherwin Williams. Working with this one company will allow us to actually support 1,700 retail stores and their employees. It is a perfect fit for our mission to help the little guys challenge the goliaths. ALLPRO members are family businesses, community supporters, and important local employers. By helping ALLPRO with a more effective brand strategy, we are also helping their members build more competitive and sustainable businesses. The ripple effects of this project will be large, and that is exciting.

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

Brand is your reputation. You can influence it, but you can’t control it. In brand marketing, you are trying to exert that influence through clarity and consistency at every touch point with a customer or prospective customer. Product marketing is more about sales, not about reputation. It is about helping customers connect your product or service to a need that they have, and then moving them to action. Essentially, brand marketing makes product marketing easier and more effective.

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?

I think one of the biggest mistakes small companies make is assuming that branding is nice to have, but has no tangible effect on sales, profitability, or revenue. They often put off investing in brand awareness for far too long, and miss out on huge opportunities. In reality, studies have shown that if you split your marketing efforts into a 60/40 ratio of brand building to sales activation, you actually increase the effectiveness of your marketing budget. It can double revenue and profitability, and actually makes customers up to eleven times less sensitive to price. Branding is an emotional activity, and humans are emotional decision makers. So just because it is emotional and less concrete doesn’t mean that it won’t have a measurable impact on your business performance.

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. Focus. Most companies wait too long to narrow down their audience, especially smaller companies that need to compete against larger competitors with deeper pockets. They think that by casting a wider net and playing a numbers game, they will eventually be able to get a competitive advantage. In reality, the opposite is true. For example, our client, Hyde Tools, tried to compete in the big boxes for a while. But in the end, they kept getting squeezed on margin and were faced with needing to lower their product quality to make the sale. Instead, we helped them focus on the target market where they had the most loyalty with customers who wanted the quality of hand tools they were producing: the professional contractor, painter, and drywaller. They may have lost out on some top line revenue, but they were able to build a more profitable brand because they focused on the customer who would pay a price premium for their quality and innovation.
  2. Clarity. Often visionary CEOs can really struggle with communicating their vision in a way that connects with their customers and what they value. They are too close to the work and the company. It is like trying to read your own label from inside the bottle. For example, we had a client who wanted to move into the security market, but they were still trying to connect the work they did in other markets to security, which has a very different customer base that values very different things. We ended up needing to rename and rebrand their company in order to clearly signal that they belonged in security, that they understood the market, and that they could connect with the professionals in it. But as soon as we did, the market really responded to the brand and the value that they were offering. They were able to open doors that they never would have gotten through with their more muddled positioning.
  3. Consistency. Consistency is the simplest way to build a strong brand, but it is also one of the hardest for small, fast-growing companies. Often, they are trying to build a brand without ever laying out the basic messages and foundational visual elements for their team or their vendors in a brand guide. They are having multiple people create assets for them, with no guardrails to keep them consistent with one another, so there is zero opportunity for any brand equity to be built. Also, internal employees get bored with messages or images and want to change them before they have had a chance to make an impression. I always tell clients that they when they start to feel bored with a message or visual, that is when it is just starting to click with their customer.
  4. Listening. I cannot tell you how many CEOs will say to me “I think the customer values us because of X” (usually something vague like “customer service”). When I ask for proof, they will say that they know their customer. But they have never asked their customer. They are just assuming. That is such a waste of time and resources, when the reality is that customers love to give feedback to companies and be asked for their opinion. If you aren’t talking to your customers and market regularly and truly listening to them, there is no way you can build a relationship with them. Who would want to be in a relationship with someone who talks about themselves all the time but never listens to you?
  5. Courage. Companies that fail to build a meaningful, trusted, loved brand with their target customer are afraid. They are afraid of making someone mad. They are afraid of losing out on a sale. They are afraid of taking a risk. And that fear for second stage companies is totally understandable. I’ve been there myself. You have people you need to keep employed. You have a reputation and a legacy you are trying to maintain. You have people watching you. But being afraid will never allow you to build something that lasts. All companies and brands need to evolve. And there are ways to do that that still keep your DNA intact. So find the team and expert support that addresses your concerns and helps you mitigate risk, and then make the bold moves you really want to.

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

I am a trail runner and hiker, so I love some of the brands in the outdoor space, particularly Patagonia. They are a brand that has no fear of losing sales in support of its values, and every time they take a risk, their customer base just gets more loyal. They ran that classic ad telling people not to buy new clothes but to repair what they have, and then they went one step further and created the Worn Wear RV that goes around the country repairing old gear for people. They even stopped selling their popular logo vests to Wall Street and Silicon Valley corporations who don’t align with their values. That is clarity and consistency at its finest. I know it is easier to lose sales when you are a huge corporation like Patagonia, but I also see smaller businesses do this too. They don’t work with a big box retailer because they aren’t treated in a way that allows them to make a profit, or they sacrifice some short-term profitability to invest in their employees. I think any brand can look to Patagonia as inspiration to remember that saying no to something or taking a courageous stand actually builds loyalty, profitability, and sales. It is standing for nothing that will hurt you in the long run because your brand will be forgettable.

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

I would still measure the success of brand building by (profitable) sales. You just have to give it a longer horizon than a sales activation campaign. For brand building, you need to look 2–3 years out and play a long game. That is why you want to make sure that when you are running brand building campaigns, you are still running your sales activation or lead generation campaigns alongside them. Eventually, those lead gen programs will get more and more effective and lower in cost per acquisition. That will be another effect of the branding work taking hold. There are other ways to measure it (awareness or share of voice, for example), but those are often more difficult and expensive to measure than smaller brands can pay for. So there is definitely a leap of faith involved to see the full long-term effect.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

We often refer to the quote from Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you aren’t in the room.” Social media is a great place to influence and monitor that conversation. Different platforms and specific tactics are appropriate to different industries, but your target customers are having public conversations on social media, so if you aren’t a part of those conversations in a meaningful way, you are missing out on an opportunity. Also, just posting content is not being a part of a conversation. Great brands listen as much or more than they talk, and are also catalysts for their customers to have conversations with each other.

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

I have found that peer groups are absolutely critical to me. Hearing from other CEOs, usually in very different industries from my own, pushes me to think more expansively and give me ideas to try in my own business, which keeps things fresh for me. It also feels good to share things I have learned through my experience and see someone else get value from that experience. Peer support is also really important when I am not at my best. When you are a business leader, you can’t break down in front of your people or your customers. I lean on other CEOs I have relationships with through the Women’s Presidents Organization, or the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business alumni network, or other marketing and branding agency owners I have gotten to know over the years. With them, I can be more vulnerable, and they can help to pick me up when I am down or getting burned out.

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. 🙂

Food insecurity and loss of small agriculture are two things that I care a lot about. I would love to see a movement that ties the two together, where small farmers were subsidized to provide fresh, local food to food insecure people in and around their community. There are so many people who lack access to healthy produce, and so many farmers who struggle to make a living sustainably growing and raising food, it seems like there should be a push to bring these two problems together.

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

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” I love that, and fundamentally believe that curiosity is the root of our human potential. It not only helps us to solve huge problems, but also to connect with one another in meaningful ways. “Be passionately curious” is one of our core values at Six-Point, and I am always pushing myself and my team to approach roadblocks and disagreements with curiosity and openness.

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 am usually not a fan of the “entrepreneurs as stars” movement, but I think I need to say Sara Blakely, the CEO of SPANX. I think she has done such a great job of building both the SPANX brand and her personal brand. Plus I think it would be a really fun lunch with a lot of laughter!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Personally, I am most active these days on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/melynch/) and you can follow our work at Six-Point on Instagram and Facebook (@sixpointcreative) and on Twitter (@6pointcreative). We also post our events and educational content on our website.

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


Meghan Lynch of Six-Point Creative: 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.

Dr. Audrey Kunin of DERMAdoctor: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Dr. Audrey Kunin of DERMAdoctor: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Visualize yourself achieving your goal: Envisioning a positive end result helps make achieving that goal more likely. I never questioned that I could become a doctor despite the historical timing making it unlikely. Clearly seeing myself as a practicing physician from an early age seemed natural and helped tune out all of the road blocks that I encountered.

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 Audrey Kunin M.D

Audrey Kunin M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist, author, clinician, educator and the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of DERMAdoctor. Establishing herself as a trailblazer in the industry, Dr. Kunin created DERMAdoctor to address the all-too-common skincare concerns that were overlooked in the beauty industry, providing a hassle-free, highly effective, prestige treatment for these conditions, problem-solving without irritation and with no prescription necessary. These clean, cruelty-free and clinically tested formulations empower the consumer with solutions never before thought possible. In addition to founding DERMAdoctor, she is an accomplished radio and television talk show guest and has graced the pages of top consumer magazines. Her work can also be found in The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual: The Smart Guide to Healthy, Beautiful Skin and Looking Good at Any Age, which she wrote. In late 2020, Dr. Kunin is slated to launched her be + well podcast which invites listeners into conversations with Kunin and leaders in the beauty industry discussing topics on new innovations, trends and the future of beauty.

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 began DERMAdoctor at the end of 1998 initially as an e-commerce platform for consumers to purchase hard to find dermatologically correct products. Within the first year of answering consumer emails and drawing upon my own experience as a board-certified dermatologist, I realize that there were many niches within the skin care category that were being underserved. As I had a chemistry and compounding background, I realized that I would be able to create formulations that would aid in common problems seen by dermatologists. It took me approximately four years and I launched with just a handful of products with treatments for a variety of concerns ranging from keratosis pilaris which affects half the world’s population, to under arm skin discoloration with a brightening antiperspirant, as well as a redness reducing cream for sensitive and rosacea-prone individuals.

Shortly thereafter, we entered retail partners such as Nordstrom, Sephora and eventually Ulta Beauty. With two essentially competing business models, by 2014 we realize that we needed to focus solely on our DERMAdoctor brand and divested the others. Today, we are in over 1,200 retail stores here in the US and have a global presence with cross-border e-commerce in China, and a strong presence in the Middle East and the UK.

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?

Several stories come to mind and in the end, they inevitably have the same two take aways- trust your gut and never give up.

I once presented a new product launch to a prominent retailer who told me, “no one will ever buy anything with a chicken on it.” The packaging has a chicken running across the box and jar with foot prints left behind, playing off the everyday name for keratosis pilaris which is “chicken skin bumps” and our tagline being “say goodbye to chicken skin.” It was a fairly contentious discussion. That product, our KP Duty Body Scrub, was a category creator and went on to become that retailer’s top-selling body scrub for a decade. It continues to be one of our top-selling products and I am excited to share that our next generation KP Duty Body Scrub is launching in November!

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

Unquestionably innovation. We were the first company to focus on keratosis pilaris with a patented treatment, the first to address underarm discoloration with a brightening antiperspirant, and the category creator of the dual physical and chemical exfoliating scrub. We hold four patents on novel problem-solving formulations. It is our innovation that gives us our competitive edge against the beauty corporations of the world.

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?

My husband, Dr. Jeff Kunin, has been my non-silent silent partner from the beginning of creating DERMAdoctor. Without his technological abilities and his financial insights and business development strategy to guide us through this process we would never be where we are today.

During the first year of our business, Jeff would stay up late every evening into the wee hours of the morning, despite having a regular day job, in order to help me with the technology aspect of our fledgling e-commerce business and to work out all the kinks. Back in the beginning in 1998, we still had dial-up Internet service and it wasn’t unusual for servers to go down. It was really a very complicated feat to have any type of business on the Internet and Jeff just managed to conquer every obstacle he encountered.

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 literally the art of being able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get right back to work when life knocked you down or, in this case, business and as a business owner presents trials and tribulations. I think we all realize that there’s going to be many of these moments throughout the life cycle of a business. I suppose the most resilient people may be cockeyed optimists. They don’t even consider giving up even when perhaps they should. And the eternal optimist in them believes that not only will they get past whatever obstacle life has thrown their way, but that they will flourish in spite of it.

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

Oprah Winfrey. Portions of her difficult childhood followed by the educational support of her father with later success are very inspirational to me and something I can identify with.

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?

Multiple people told me I could never become a physician when I first realized that was my career goal, back in the late 1960’s — after all girls didn’t grow up to become doctors. I simply shut them out — it never occurred to me to believe them. I had made my decision at the age of 10 and that was that.

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?

Years ago we had an advertising dispute with the FTC. DERMAdoctor settled in order to avoid the cost of litigation and out of a spirit of cooperation with the FTC. While a trying ordeal, in the end, we implemented new policies and procedures and became a stronger company allowing us to bring innovative products to market with this additional knowledge.

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

As a first generation American on my father’s side, no primary relatives had ever graduated college. My father was incredibly supportive of my decision to pursue higher education and incredibly proud that I wanted to become a doctor. But as neither parent had the knowledge base or the financial resources to help me apply to school, I was essentially on my own to navigate the system.

I typed the applications I had sent for in the mail (it was the late ‘70’s), took my standardized testing without any type of prep classes (we had never heard of such a thing!), had no guidance on where to attend college except the mandate it had to be in state to keep tuition down and applied for student loans. I figured out everything from the fluff of how to decorate a dorm room (I was sent with nothing more than my clothing and an LL Bean Hudson Bay blanket for my bed), to how to compete academically and survive and thrive despite a lack of funds and life skills.

Hunger was an ongoing theme during both undergraduate and medical school. Learning to stretch a dollar by purchasing a baker’s dozen donuts that would act as my sole daily meal for a week (1–2 donuts a day) in college, getting a job at Domino’s Pizza answering phones as it not only supplied pocket change but was often the only meal I ate when “oops” orders occurred, to living on a 33 cent box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese a day during portions of medical school are pervasive memories. It was all worth it in order to achieve my dream.

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. Visualize yourself achieving your goal: Envisioning a positive end result helps make achieving that goal more likely. I never questioned that I could become a doctor despite the historical timing making it unlikely. Clearly seeing myself as a practicing physician from an early age seemed natural and helped tune out all of the road blocks that I encountered.

2. Stay positive: Do what you need for your own mental health to remain positive and not allow yourself to become depressed during inevitable downturns. Work with a therapist, take antidepressants if necessary, embrace your wellness needs, and turn to friends, family and your social support network to get through darker times. You can’t go it alone. I have done all of the above at one time or another. Letting yourself get too low can make it so much more difficult to claw your way back.

3. Play to your strengths. Do what you are best at and delegate the rest.: My strengths at DERMAdoctor include creativity, product development and brand evangelism. I know my limitations and delegate tasks I know someone else can perform better and far more efficiently.

4. Take decisive action. Too much red tape or the inability to make a decision are competitive drains on an individual and an organization.: We are lucky to have a tight, effective group in our company where we can nimbly make decisions and run with them.

5. Learn from your mistakes and failures. If you keep doing the same thing you will come up with the same outcome.: We have worked with manufacturers for years. Even though we have wonderful working relationships, you cannot let your guard down — we learned the hard way the one time we didn’t follow protocol. It will never happen again.

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

I believe medicine has to be readily accessible to everyone globally. I am a member of a medical board working to build and staff a clinic for The Joseph School in Cabaret, Haiti and have seen, in person, what healthcare challenges patients experience in third world countries, and frankly our own, too. Availability of medications, vaccines, diagnostics and physician access are critical needs we must endeavor to provide.

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 🙂

Bill and Melinda Gates would be my dream private discussion team to meet with. Spanning business, e-commerce/beauty and most importantly their philanthropic medical initiatives ticks all the boxes. I would especially love the opportunity to be mentored in how to complete our Haitian medical initiative we have begun and further expand health opportunities within the community.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram @dermadoctor_skincare

Twitter @dermadoctor

Facebook @dermadoctorofficial


Dr. Audrey Kunin of DERMAdoctor: 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.