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/

Twitter: @oarsandalps


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.

Angela Bradford of World Financial Group: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To…

Angela Bradford of World Financial Group: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Live a life of service. As you give to others, you will find your true self and purpose. When you find that, then the times that seem tough feel less of a struggle. You begin to realize there are people going through rougher times then you can imagine, and you become grateful and at peace with the life you have.

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 Angela Bradford. Angela is a Senior Marketing Director with World Financial Group. Within four years of transitioning from the blue collar world of trucking and training horses, to the white collar world of finances and training people, she has opened multiple offices and started expansion into two countries. She has an amazing team working with her and has the goal of opening an office in every state and province in North America within the next 10–15 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 backstory?

What brought me into the financial industry was my choice to take an opportunity that came up just over 4 years ago. I believe in taking opportunities and seeing where they take me. Life is short, so I want to live it to the fullest!

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?

One of the most interesting stories I can think of right now was once when I met someone on a bus to the airport. They didn’t seem like the type of person that I was looking for. I was prejudging them.

I decided to chat anyhow and got their business card. This meeting was the start of a big money opportunity, and a positive ongoing relationship with a good person.

What did I learn? Don’t prejudge others. We have no idea who people really are based on an initial opinion.

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

What makes World Financial stand out is that it is a brokerage. What does that mean? We are able to shop around and save people money on everything!

Recently, I sat with a family and we saved them $500 a month AND also added 3 to 4 times the coverage to their original protection plan. I have also been able to get proper coverage for people that have been declined for insurance through various other companies. That feels amazing!

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 so grateful for Steve Holbrook for sharing his story of conquering a health challenge while building a very successful business. His story opened my eyes to see that I, Angela, could build a successful business and that this business could allow me to support myself and to help out my family if and when they were in need.

I have so much gratitude for his sharing his vulnerability, because when my health changed and I got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I knew I could continue even on the tough days.

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

I believe resilience is when people can get back up and keep going no matter what happens in their lives. The time they spend knocked down gets shorter and shorter as they work on growing themselves into the best version of what they were created for.

There are a few characteristics that come to mind. One, is the strength of mind to continue fighting when others would quit and give up. Two, is people have a sense of purpose bigger than them, that drives them to higher levels. Three, they have an inner peace because they know that they are becoming better day by day.

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

Steve Holbrook. He has health issues and built a business and a family when people said he couldn’t. When others said to stop, he kept going. Right now his business pays him over a million a year, and I am sure he is glad he didn’t quit!

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 for sure! When I decided to quit trucking and get into the financial industry there were a lot of people that told me that it couldn’t be done. They told me that no one ever succeeded doing this. They told me not to quit a good paying job for a chance.

What they didn’t add, is that it would be choosing to give myself this chance! I am worth betting on time and time again. I’m so grateful I didn’t listen to those people.

The best part is that some of the people that told me I shouldn’t do this, are grateful now that I did go ahead. They see that now I’m able to help them. I’m able to make a difference in their life. To top it all off, through doing this, I’m making a huge difference in my life as well.

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

Yes I sure can and would love to! I was diagnosed with MS in 2019. This was a huge turning point in my life. I realized that there were things that were bigger than me. Through the struggle of overcoming the tough times with this autoimmune disease, I have learned how to be stronger and also love others and myself more.

I have been asked to share my story so that it can help people let go of their excuses. This can then help them become the best version of themselves. In other words, it is through our struggles that I feel we can grow into the ultimate version of ourselves.

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

This is a great question! I sure was influenced by my upbringing. My dad left the family when I was young and that influenced my life a lot. I realized that life could go on no matter what happened around me. This truth gives me strength today.

My mother is a very strong lady and watching her while I was growing up, I also learned to be strong and rely on a higher power for the strength to continue.

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.

I 100% agree with this thought! Everything can be taught. Here are a few steps that have helped me grow in this area.

  1. Have a plan on how to grow yourself daily. I made a decision to read and listen to good audio daily. When I read and listen to audios on topics about areas of growth I am looking for, I begin to change. Reading over a book a week has helped me grow and develop so much into the person I am today.
  2. Pay attention to your associations. Surround yourself with those that lift you up, those that encourage you to reach higher and become more. Be around people who are more empathetic than sympathetic. These people embody resilience.
  3. Practice gratitude. Focus on all the good in our lives, rather than the negatives. We are all so blessed and it helps to focus on the positive and to be grateful for everything. When we program our brain toward gratitude and we have situations that seem tough coming into our lives, we can learn to focus on the benefits we had at first not seen.
  4. Spend time building the relationship with yourself. If you can’t really love yourself all the time, it is harder to love yourself in the tough times. When I feel weak, I need to love myself, especially in these times.
  5. Live a life of service. As you give to others, you will find your true self and purpose. When you find that, then the times that seem tough feel less of a struggle. You begin to realize there are people going through rougher times then you can imagine, and you become grateful and at peace with the life you 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. 🙂

I am working on creating a movement to empower women to reach their full potential. Women are powerful and many of us just need someone to help us find our “seed of greatness”.

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

I would be honored to spend time with Emily Frisella, as she is a serious boss lady with a huge mission to make a change in the world, especially among women entrepreneurs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find me on Instagram at @the_angela_bradford. and I would love to connect with anyone there!

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


Angela Bradford of World Financial Group: 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.

Author Dana Wilde: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Make an emotional connection. People make decisions with their emotions and then they justify those decisions with their thinking. When you make an emotional connection with your followers, then they will follow you anywhere. Be transparent and relatable, and using humor helps too. When you are invested in the experience and results of your tribe, they can feel it. If you think about how Disney makes you feel, then you know what I’m talking about!

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

Dana Wilde is the number one bestselling author of Train Your Brain and the creator of The Celebrity Formula. After growing her own business from zero to a million dollars a year in under 19 months, Dana shows you how to make money by being happy and get paid for being YOU! With over 100,000 followers in 110 countries, she is featured in the movies The Abundance Factor, The Truth About Prosperity, and Dream Big. As the host of The Mind Aware Show, she reveals how to intentionally and systematically change your mindset so you get better outcomes.

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 an entrepreneur because I’m basically unemployable! I’m kidding a little, but not really. Some people have a hard time working within the confines of a 9-to-5 job, and I’m one of those people.

Throughout my 20’s and 30’s I bounced from job-to-job, and then finally, at the age of 38, I started my own business.

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 brought my business online, I didn’t know anything about the internet or online marketing. But I knew enough to realize I needed a website. I didn’t know how to create a website, so I invested $500 in a website design course called Joomla. At the time, 90% of the websites were WordPress, but I didn’t know that. I could have hired someone to build a website, but that didn’t occur to me for some strange reason. So I spent the first three months of my entrepreneurial journey becoming a very proficient website designer. I became proficient in a program called Joomla, which I’ve never used again. Haha. The big lesson I’ve learned since then is that you can outsource almost anything you need. There is no need to do it yourself. However, I also discovered that the internet wasn’t so mysterious after all. The course wasn’t the best use of my time or money, but I did gain from taking it. Learning that program made me realize I could learn anything I needed to know about online marketing.

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

If you look at nearly every expert teaching people how to build online businesses, they are nearly all focused on the “how to” of building a business. They are teaching things like how to get the word out about your business or how to do Facebook Ads or how to be a better networker. Almost no one is teaching the single most important aspect of building a business — your mindset. In order to be successful, you must think like a successful person and there is a systematic way to LEARN how to do that. That’s what makes Train Your Brain different from the usual “build your business” fare, but also different from the “motivational” side of being an entrepreneur. Other experts will tell you what to do and that you have to believe in yourself, but we show you HOW to believe in yourself.

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

We are just launching The Celebrity Formula 3.0 which shows professionals in the personal development space how to “step into their celebrity” and become the influencer in their respective niches.

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 tells people “why” to buy whereas product marketing tells them “what” to buy. The reality of the world today is that nearly everyone is selling some version of the same thing. If you look at a top expert in let’s say, Social Media Marketing, that person may not have information that is that different from another social media expert. Or someone selling a backpack may not have a backpack that is SO different from other backpacks. But in reality, our clients and customers aren’t buying a backpack. And they aren’t buying social media advice. They are buying the backpack sold by YOUR brand. Or the social media advice the way YOU teach it. People don’t buy products, programs, and services. They buy you. They buy the brand. This is why brand marketing is so important. Your brand is the reason your customer buys from you.

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?

Developing a brand, makes it easier to sell. People may buy a product once from someone who is “product marketing”, but they will buy again and again from a likeable, trustworthy brand. When you have a solid brand that people know, like, and trust, then you have more freedom in your business to be creative because your followers want to see what you’ll do next. They are sold on “you” or the brand, rather than the product.

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. Know who you are. Take the time to make a list of core values for your business. What do you stand for as a company? How do you want to be seen in the world? If you make a decision about who you are, then that also helps to define the kind of customer you will attract. For example, part of Tesla’s mission statement is “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”, and that says a lot about them as a brand.
  2. Niche your market. In addition to knowing who you are, it’s important to know the type of customer you want to attract. If you can be specific about the type of person that you can help or that you want in your “sandbox”, then it’s easier to build a following faster. Nerd Fitness does an amazing job of catering to a specific niche, and it’s accelerated their growth. You only need to hear their brand name and you immediately know if their tribe is for you.
  3. Strive for excellence. In every aspect of your business, continually ask yourself, “How can we make it better?” For example, when a client buys a product or program from you, what is your onboarding system? Do you send emails? Do they reflect your core values? Do you include videos? Can you do a phone call (even if it’s automated?) Can you build in opportunities for community interaction? Do you have a place for fans to gather, like a Facebook Group? I’ve only just started, and I’m only talking about one small aspect of a business — onboarding. How can you make every aspect of your company better?
  4. Make an emotional connection. People make decisions with their emotions and then they justify those decisions with their thinking. When you make an emotional connection with your followers, then they will follow you anywhere. Be transparent and relatable, and using humor helps too. When you are invested in the experience and results of your tribe, they can feel it. If you think about how Disney makes you feel, then you know what I’m talking about!
  5. Believe that you can. Naturally, as a mindset expert, I would be remiss of me to not mention the importance of mindset. When Amazon started, their mission was “To make available in less than 60 seconds every book, ever written, in any language.” In order for them to become the behemoth they are today, Jeff Bezos had to believe that their goals were attainable. Set lofty goals and believe you can achieve them.

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?

Apple is a really good example of all of these principles. I’m not sure if it’s urban myth or if this is a true story, but I heard that when they built the iphone, they first had to create the machines that built the iphone. So, where most companies would look at the manufacturing machines they had and ask, “What can we build with these machines?” Apple instead said, “What do we want to create?” and then they built the manufacturing machines necessary to create that product. To replicate that thinking in any business, you have to start with that question, “What do you want to create?”

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?

This is a great question as an extension of the last question. You’re not just asking yourself what do you want to create in terms of products, programs or services. What you’re really asking yourself is “What is the impact I want to make in the world?” What is the legacy I want to leave behind?

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media gives your followers a place to interact with you, whether your brand is a person or a company. Social media is the place where the members of your tribe can engage with you and with each other and shout to the world that they also stand for XXXX (fill in the blank with your brand’s core values.) It’s the place where they feel like they are a valued part of your brand.

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

I would remind them that as humans, we are better “thinkers” when we take care of ourselves. Genius ideas don’t come from overworked, tired, stressed out brains. When you make time for self-care and make space in your day for relaxation, you’re actually making space for faster business growth because you’re making space for those genius ideas.

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 happiness is practical. It is possible to be a proactive thinker of thoughts and when you intentionally choose thoughts that feel good, you get better results.

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

I love the quote from Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is a primary goal in my life. I want to make a positive impact on the people around me.

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. 🙂

Jim Carrey is someone who is continually exploring the leading edge of thought. I’m sure that would be a fun conversation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best place to get freebies and really hang out is the Facebook Group at http://www.danawilde.com/FacebookGroup.

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

Thank you so much for having me. I love this magazine and it’s an honor to be included!


Author Dana Wilde: 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.

Tod Barrett of OneBlade: Five Things You Need to Build A Trusted and Beloved Brand

Don’t get too focused on branding until you have an advertising approach that is working to scale your business. We jeopardized our business early on by over spending on branding before we knew how to scale our business

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Tod Barrett, CEO of OneBlade Inc.

Tod has taken an initial concept of creating a tool that would allow men to enjoy a ‘barbershop’ quality shave at home and brought it to reality. After 1 ½ years of R&D and with the extraordinary help of a few outside development firms, Tod has led OneBlade through five years in the marketplace achieving over 40% year over year growth in revenue and customer acquisition for the last three years.

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 have always been extremely curious about how things work. From a very young age, I was infamous for ‘fixing things.’

Towards the end of college, I started working in a startup business in California that specialized in manufacturing consumer goods, mostly via partnerships with factories in the far east. This partnership provided me a ‘crash course’ in product development, marketing and manufacturing management — — I was hooked! I was able to work directly with some of the best product development firms in California on everything from bike parts to CD storage cases to making anatomically correct working models of the knee

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?

It didn’t seem funny at the time, but in my second business, we developed and manufactured media storage products…. back when media storage meant boxes and bags that were designed to store and organize floppy discs and eventually CD’s. We had a design concept that we were selling for storing CDs, but we decided that it would be a good idea to apply that invention to storing 3.5” floppy discs, which were quickly being replaced by CD-ROMs. We spent a lot of money designing, tooling and manufacturing this product with the argument that customers just didn’t know yet that they would love and want to purchase this product = “We loved it, surely the marketplace will love it”. The cost of not listening/paying attention to where the market was headed cost us an extraordinary amount of money for a product that never sold more than 1000–2000 units = total failure.

A great product solution is not only something that is very functional and beautiful, it must be relevant.

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

At OneBlade, we have never compromised in our quest to develop the very best shaving experience for men — delivering a closer shave and healthier skin.

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

Our latest big development at OneBlade Shave that we are very excited about is our new Hot Lather Machine. Once again, we went to a proper barbershop setting to learn how we could help men have an even better experience shaving at home. It was easy to see that a huge component of enjoying a ‘barber shop’ shave was the iconic hot lather experience. The problem was, the hot lather machines in the barbershop are large/they take up a huge amount of space on the counter. They are very difficult to keep clean and sanitary and they run on 120 volts which makes them a safety concern in a bathroom sink area. We set out over a year ago to address each of these issues while also working hard to develop a natural, healthy shaving cream solution to go with it.

The resulting product outcome is everything we were hoping for and we can’t wait to begin delivering this new addition to the OneBlade shaving experience this holiday season

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?

Indirect vs. direct. Branding is all about helping the marketplace know what your business is about — the company’s personality.

Product marketing is telling the consumer what you can do for them.

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?

People like to buy a brand when they buy a product. Consumers want more than product benefits, they want brands that will help people understand what is important to them, their status, their values.

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.

Brand positioning is very tricky. It is critical to be consistent. The challenge is how do you deal with a very competitive and rapidly changing marketplace while remaining unchanged in terms of brand positioning.

#1 Don’t get too focused on branding until you have an advertising approach that is working to scale your business. We jeopardized our business early on by over spending on branding before we knew how to scale our business

#2 Social channels provide the most affordable opportunity to position your brand in the marketplace. Managing social well is critical. For OneBlade, this is an area that we are always working to improve. Content creation has to be taken seriously

#3 Don’t forget what you said your business was going to be about before you even started. At OneBlade, we committed from the start that we are all about ‘taking back premium shaving experiences for men.’ It is critical that everything we do, including critical things like education and instruction, are done exceptionally well — — even things like the shopping experience on our website. We invest significantly in our site every year to continually be improving the shopping experience

#4 Especially in your first three years in business, your customers are a huge resource in terms of building your brand. Make time to be engaged with them and don’t hesitate to ask them for help. Be specific with what you need.

In the earlier days of our business, ‘shaving blogs’ were an important source of reviews of our razors. We needed help ‘steering the discussion’ and were able to get help from a few customers who were active on the blogs

#5 Be humble and keep doing your best at the one thing that is most important to you = “show what you say.” At OneBlade, our customers expect an exceptional experience and outcome from everything we sell. We kept a cosmetic product in stock after having received a few complaints that it was separating in the container. It really upset our regular customers because they had an experience that was inconsistent with what we promised them.

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?

The first brand that comes to mind is YETI Coolers, an incredibly premium brand with an extraordinarily loyal following. They did an incredible job of engaging with their core audience — the serious sportsman.

For OneBlade the main lesson is two-fold:

One = Be selective in terms of who we are targeting

Two = Stay focused on building our relationships with existing customers

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?

Very different and very difficult! Ultimately, the most objective measure of brand building success is your company’s growth curve. If your branding effort is working well, your growth will move from being linear to exponential.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

It’s VERY important — — probably the most cost-effective way to position and build your brand.

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

Be cautious about setting goals. Manage your budget carefully. Make sure you have the capital you need before you get started.

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. 🙂

Wow big question! The easy but politically incorrect answer is: Help people to know and follow Jesus (the simple gospel message of the bible)!

More politically correct answer: Inspire people to actually celebrate and appreciate the idea that they can actually like and enjoy other people who have different ideas and opinions than them — still gets you back to “Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

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

“The sun don’t shine on the same dogs ass all the time.” Being entrepreneurial is about being persistent, impatient and patient. Marketplace timing is really never in our control. We can pay attention, but we can’t control it.

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 very curious about Winston Churchill. He seems to have been quite a character.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.onebladerazor.com

https://www.facebook.com/onebladeshave

https://twitter.com/OneBladeShave

https://www.instagram.com/onebladeshave/

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


Tod Barrett of OneBlade: 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.

LaWann Moses of LAM Consulting: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

LaWann Moses of LAM Consulting: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Have a determined and growth mindset. Always look for opportunities to grow and evolved. Don’t let anything stand in your way. When you have a determined spirit, you become unstoppable. You find strength that you don’t know you have and realize that you can make it through just about anything. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, but you will realize that nothing is impossible and as long as you keep pushing, learning, and evolving you will do just fine.

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 LaWann Moses.

LaWann Moses is a Productivity and Success Strategist who helps moms master their mindset and own their time so they can make money moves. LaWann is the Creator and Host of the More Than A Mother podcast where she empowers moms to own their identity outside of motherhood. At More Than A Mother, we believe you can pursue your dreams and be a great mom at the same time.

LaWann equips her clients with tools needed to strengthen their sense of self and reclaim their power so they can take ownership over their lives and find the freedom to do more of the things they love and enjoy. She believes love is the greatest gift of all and she strives to do everything in love.

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

Business is full of interesting stories, especially when first starting out. I learned early on the importance of having a clear message and a target audience. Failing to do so will not only confuse your audience, but it will also leave you feeling all over the place and lacking clarity in business. I made the mistake of a generic message and trying to reach too many people at once which caused me to be stuck and stagnant in my business for way too long. The main lesson and takeaway is: Narrow down your audience and have a clear brand message. By trying to serve everyone, you end up not serving anyone.

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

I feel my company stands out because I serve mothers, but I serve them as women not just mothers. All mothers started as individuals before they ever became someone’s parent, partner, caregiver, etc. Yet for some reason, moms tend to attach our identity to our roles. I am big on helping moms to remember and own their identity outside of motherhood. This is unique because many blogs, podcasts, groups that you encounter for moms often focus on the role of motherhood and parenting with topics centered around families and children. In my company, I highly value the role of a mother, but I empower moms to go beyond that and truly reconnect with themselves on an individual level so they can show up as their best self in all areas of life.

This focus on individual identity came from a time in my life where I was so consumed by my roles that I lost myself in motherhood. I lost sight of who I was and the things I liked to do which left me feeling miserable, resentful and eventually I reached burnout. Not only that, I realized that because I felt unfulfilled in my life I was putting unnecessary pressure on those around me to give my this sense of purpose and fulfillment. Failing to realize that I was the only one that could truly give myself what I needed, I eventually made everyone else around me miserable.

Then one day, it hit me that I was LaWann, an individual before I ever was someone’s mom and wife and that I needed to get back to the things I love and enjoy so I could feel complete and satisfied inside. Therefore, this led me to build my business focusing on the individual first and then the roles will fall in place behind individual needs, wants and desires.

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?

It is so incredibly hard for me to just pick one particular person. Looking back over my life, I am grateful for the love and support of my parents and partner over the years. I would not be who I am today without the love and support of my parents and partner. I have so many stories I can share, but I will say they have been the foundation for my success. No matter the choices I made, the crazy things I did, all of them were there to support me along the way. My parents are the epitome of unconditional love and support. My partner who worked (and continues to work) countless to help support my and my dreams. No matter, what ideas I have, he is always in my corner, supporting in any way he can.

Over the years, I have had had an entire village of support which I call my “support squad”. Whether I needed a babysitter while I attended school or transportation to and from events, my support squad was there. This extended beyond my parents and partner; however, they have been my foundation throughout the years. They are always there to support and help me on my journey towards success and achieving each and every goal set forth.

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

To me, resilience is the ability to adapt, adjust and keep moving no matter what challenges or obstacles you counter. I believe resilient people are those who have learned that you have to work hard for anything you want in life. It is not always easy, but in the end it is worth it.

Resilient people are determined people. They have a growth mindset. They are full of optimism and hope even when things aren’t necessarily going well. Resilient people have realistic expectations and they have learned to trust, handle and control themselves in the hardest of situations. Resilient people know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and they just have to weather the storm and bide their time for eventually the roller coaster of life will start going up again.

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

When I think of resilience, honestly, I think of myself. Years ago, I had a pastor friend of mine speak to me about a dream he had of me. In this dream, I was an elephant that kept getting knocked down, pushed over, etc. but no matter how many times I fell down, I always got back up. He spoke to me at that time about the spirit of resiliency and buoyancy he saw within me and it has stuck with me ever since.

I think becoming a teen mom taught me resilience early on in life. Going from a child to someone’s parent seemingly overnight definitely taught me some much-needed survival skills. It was during my years as a teen/young parent that I developed a determined mindset and refused to let anything get in the way of my dreams and goals. That has stuck with me, now no matter what hardship, illness or challenge I encounter, I may feel the feelings, but I always look for the bright side or the way out of the situation.

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?

Most definitely. As I just mentioned I was a teen mom, and it is automatically assumed that because you become a mom at a young age you will be a statistic, live in poverty etc. Many doubted that I would still reach my dreams and goals once I became a teen mom, but like I said I was determined to make it. I went on to college and although it took me an extended time, I still got my degree.

Now thinking back to when I was in my mid-20’s and I just had my second child. At that time, I was working for one of my state government offices and receiving public assistance and I had just been assigned a new caseworker. For some reason, this new caseworker had an unwelcoming presence and gave me a hard time about everything. I will never forget the one day I had a conversation with her and somehow the topic of school came up. I let her know I was currently enrolled in a master’s level program and her words to me were “Why do you need a master’s degree? The state only requires a bachelor’s degree, I have a bachelor’s degree”. Her job was a state job also and it was as if she was saying to me “how dare I try and get an education higher than hers”.

Needless to say, she gave me an even harder time after that to the point where I voluntarily walked away from public assistance. I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew I would make it. When I let her know I was closing my case and no longer needed benefits, she was nonetheless shocked and couldn’t believe that I chose to take back power over my life instead of jump through all the unnecessary hoops she created for me. And in spite of it all, I went on and complete my master’s degree program.

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?

One of my greatest setbacks came recently. About a year ago, I started experiencing dizzy spells for one week straight and they became increasingly worse as the week went along. I went to see my doctor and she performed an evaluation and couldn’t really find anything wrong. She gave me some meds typically used for vertigo and gave me a couple days off work. The next day, which happened to be Halloween, I had been in bed most of the day. I awoke from a nap and it was time to get my daughter from the bus stop. I went to run down the steps to get her, however I noticed my left leg wasn’t coming with me, so I grabbed onto the rail to catch my balance. As I continued down the steps, I noticed a delay in my left leg moving. I went to get my daughter from the bus stop and when we returned, I went to go up the steps and fell. Placing both my hands down, I tried to get my left foot up the step and kept hitting into the steps. At that time, I had my daughter get my partner and let him know that something was wrong. He called the ambulance and at that time they thought I was having a stroke. I was rushed to the hospital and I noticed that my left side was getting increasingly worse with movement and feeling.

After a series of evaluations, the ER doctors decided to call it a stroke alert and rushed me into this room where all of these people start poking, pricking and hooking me up to all types of machines. A neurologist came in and started asking me all kinds of questions and it was at that time; I remembered an issue I had with losing sight in one eye a few years and being diagnosed with Optic Neuritis. It was then, he came the conclusion that I most likely had Multiple Sclerosis and what I was experiencing was a relapse. I was hospitalized for 5 days. I had a couple seizures while there. My left side was noticeably weaker, and I had to go home walking with a cane, unable to drive and unable to do anything. Lights bothered my eyes. I couldn’t stand up and walk for too long without getting dizzy or getting a migraine. It was truly a difficult time in my life.

However, during this time my brand and podcast, More Than A Mother, was birthed. During this time, I was forced to just be me and it helped me see that all these years through all the work I was doing with my personal development business that this is the core of the message I needed to deliver. Being in my weakest spot, brought about my greatest success. I have been able to build a successful podcast, blog and consulting business because this moment in my life forced me to be me, truly learn what I wanted to do and go at it without letting anything stand in my way.

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

As I mentioned earlier, I was a teen mom. Becoming a mom at a young age truly contributed to building my resilience. I shared some of my story earlier, but I will say that being a teen mom, really established my character and made me who I am today.

As a teenage girl with plans to go to college, I found my college dreams thwarted by this unplanned pregnancy. While my friends were preparing to go to college, I was preparing for motherhood. I had to grow up, get a job, and overnight I went from being a child with no responsibilities to someone’s mother.

From there I was thrust into the world of teenage motherhood, lack, and poverty and soon depression took over my life. I lost all motivation for everything and found myself emotionally unavailable to my son and withdrawing from life altogether. One day I decided I was going to end my life, however through what I call “divine intervention”, my life did not end that day.

Instead that day became the beginning of my transformational journey which led me to where I am today. It wasn’t easy and I encountered many setbacks over the years, but that day I became determined to live and achieve success no matter the odds.

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. Know your purpose and never forget it. Life is full of distractions and these distractions often come in the form of problems. It is up to you to not get caught up in your problems or let your problems take control over your life.
  2. Recognize that change happens and be okay with it. We can have the best laid plans and then “BOOM” life happens. No better example than that is the current pandemic we are in. No one would have ever thought a pandemic would come and completely shut everything down. It is up to you to learn to be flexible and adapt to change so that you don’t get stuck. While you can’t control the pandemic there are many things in your life that you do have control over. Trust the process and do what you can.
  3. Look for the good in every situation. It is so easy to get bogged down by a negative mindset and by the “bad” things that happen to us. However, I challenge you that instead of focusing on the “bad” or on the problem, start to switch your mindset and instead look for the good in every situation. I believe experience is life’s greatest teacher. Take notes on the experience, learn the lessons you can, and then move on. Don’t get stuck.
  4. Realize that life is full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys. It is natural for you to experience some of your best moments, followed by some of you lowest moments. While we all would love for life to be good to us all the time, that is not the case. Life happens and there is nothing you can do about. Stay aware. Stay alert and realize that this too shall pass and there is light at the end of tunnel.
  5. Have a determined and growth mindset. Always look for opportunities to grow and evolved. Don’t let anything stand in your way. When you have a determined spirit, you become unstoppable. You find strength that you don’t know you have and realize that you can make it through just about anything. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, but you will realize that nothing is impossible and as long as you keep pushing, learning, and evolving you will do just fine.

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 a podcast called “More Than A Mother” where we believe moms can pursue their dreams and be great moms at the same time. Through this I hope to start a motherhood movement. I hope to empower moms to flip the script on motherhood. For too long, moms have sacrificed everything for their families and loved ones. Moms seem to lose their identity in motherhood and roles and feel guilty when we take steps to do things outside of mothering and caretaking. However, the More Than A Mother movement is saying goodbye to mom guilt and hello to our dreams and goals. No longer does motherhood mean losing oneself.

When I last checked, there are 2 billion mothers in the world (85.4 million in the US). Imagine how impactful such a move would be. I hope to inspire nations of mothers to rise up, reclaim their power, and proudly say “I am more than a mother”. They can proclaim, “I have dreams, goals and I’m going after everything I want and more. That doesn’t make me any less of a mother or take anything away from my other roles. I was a woman before I was a mother, and I have every right to have joy and be content in all areas of life”. We give accolades and pay homage to our moms and those that came before us. We understand they did what worked for them, however, now is our time moms, and we can have it all.

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

I would love to have a private breakfast/lunch with Sarah Jakes Roberts, who is the daughter of Bishop T.D. Jakes. She is a very prominent leader right especially in the church and I would love to sit down and talk with her about her journey as a teen mom who overcame obstacles and challenges while in the public eye. Both of us grew up in a two-parent household, in church all our lives and while I didn’t a parent that was a pastor (at the time, my mom is a pastor now), I was heavily involved in many church activities and ministries. And as God girls, “church” girls we both got pregnant and became teen mothers.

I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for her especially when her dad was/is in the public eye. All the battles I faced were behind closed doors only witnessed by a small amount of people. But her life was on public display so every challenge she encountered, every move she made was in the public eye and often times heavily criticized especially by those in the church. I believe she has such an inspirational story, which like myself, she detailed in her books and I think the two of us would have a dynamic conversation and perhaps even find a way to bring our greatness together to impact the lives of mothers, women and young ladies all around the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can connect with me on Facebook: https://facebook.com/LaWannMoses, Instagram: https://Instagram.com/LaWannMoses, LinkedIn: https://Linkedin.com/in/LaWannMoses and Twitter: https://twitter.com/LaWannMoses.

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


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

Dan Klein of Spoke Marketing: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Stay visible. The old axiom out of sight, out of mind has never been truer. With so many communication avenues available, you need to determine which ones best match the media habits of your customers. Whether you rely exclusively on an online strategy utilizing search, banners, retargeting or include the traditional forms of print, broadcast and direct mail, the more you keep your name in front of the customers the greater the odds they will think of you prior to purchase decisions.

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

Dan Klein is the founder and partner of Spoke Marketing. He has decades of sales experience in everything from software and manufacturing to professional services. It’s the kind of knowledge he utilizes to empower sales teams with the right tools to achieve success.

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 took a weird path to get where I am. I started in engineering and construction using Primavera software that ultimately led me to become a sales rep for opening a systems integration company in Chicago. When you become a business owner it’s imperative to learn marketing. The marketing I learned was directly related to sales which is why my firm’s main message is about aligning sales and marketing.

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?

Funny, sure. Maybe even stupid. I was a keynote speaker at an event where I was talking about the need for a marketing plan. I came up with a clever way to capture the leads in the room. I asked everyone to pull out a business card and write Y/N three times on the back of the card. My first question was do you have a plan Y/N? I ended with now that you have heard me speak, would you do a plan now Y/N? And finally, answer Y/N if you’d like to meet with me and turn in your card. Regardless of the answer, I told them I would draw a winner and give a gift card for lunch. In a room with 50-plus people, everyone returned their cards. Thirty-six wanted to meet. Do you know how many I followed up with? Zero. I think that’s the mistake a lot of companies make even today. Companies spend time and/or money on marketing and don’t follow up.

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

We talk about “It’s not how you want to sell, but how your customer wants to buy.” We’re a marketing firm that asks you about sales and wants to be held accountable for results. We provide fully-integrated marketing and sales programs that define and activate the Customer Buying Journey. Each is grounded in strategy, aligned with the company’s sales process, delivered with strong creative, and designed for the highest possible return on investment.

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

We work with sales driven product companies mostly in manufacturing and software. Covid-19 has really disrupted the sales approach and cycle for most of these companies. Manufacturers have traditionally relied on face-to-face engagements by either traveling to their distributors or meeting them all at tradeshows. So, the exciting projects we’re working on consist of recommendations on how to transition to online trade shows and marketing that support virtual sales. This typically includes updating websites to better convert the traffic they get.

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?

Let’s begin by using a very simple definition of a brand. A brand symbolizes the promise of performance by a product, service or company. You notice that performance is unqualified as being good, bad or somewhere in between. And that’s an important distinction. For consumers who have positive experiences with a brand over time, the brand stands for a consistent, satisfying relationship. Established branded products and services can command higher price points even when facing competition from similar ingredients or offerings. For consumers who have had negative experiences with a brand, the brand stands for something undesirable. For prospects who have never interacted with a brand, but are interested in buying, hiring or utilizing one of its products, the appeal of interacting with the brand is dependent upon its awareness, reputation (brand equity), personal referrals, public reviews and/or its perceived ability to satisfy a need not currently being met.

Product marketing is the application of specific strategies and tactics to sell the benefits and features of a product within the brand’s portfolio. Brands stand behind the products they sell. A product’s success in the marketplace is dependent upon how well it meets the demands and needs of the consumer. But also, how well it is positioned versus its competition in terms of price, availability and overall value.

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?

The brand serves as the anchor for all of its products. Whether it’s Coca Cola, IBM, Caterpillar or McDonalds, if a consumer has had a satisfactory experience with a product that is offered under the brand name, then it helps provide immediate credibility and acceptance of the other products also offered under that brand name. In addition, established brand names can command higher prices. Just check that out next time you are in a drug store and compare the prices of branded pharmaceuticals vs. the comparable ingredient store 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.

  1. Stay visible. The old axiom out of sight, out of mind has never been truer. With so many communication avenues available, you need to determine which ones best match the media habits of your customers. Whether you rely exclusively on an online strategy utilizing search, banners, retargeting or include the traditional forms of print, broadcast and direct mail, the more you keep your name in front of the customers the greater the odds they will think of you prior to purchase decisions.
  2. Have a dynamic website that is easy to navigate and allows for customer feedback. This is your real storefront today. Reinforce why customers are making the right decision when they buy from you. Update the website regularly and make sure the messages being communicated are timely and consistent with the image you wish to keep.
  3. Promote the unique benefits of the brand and its portfolio of products. What can you say about every product you sell that supports the quality, consistency and performance of your brand promise? if you are selling commodity or parity products, then find a niche and put a stake in the ground and own a piece of real estate your competitors are ignoring. Me too isn’t a compelling reason to buy. Prospects want to know why your brand is worth their time to investigate.
  4. Build a relationship with the customer. Stay in touch with them through a thorough and updated email list. Offer them incentives to give you their addresses. Keep them posted what’s new or what’s changed. Create panels for feedback. Do webinars. Engage them.
  5. Be a good corporate citizen. Today millennials and GenZ are far more interested in environmental concerns than previous generations. They want to do business with someone who is doing their share to help make the world a better place to live.


Dan Klein of Spoke Marketing: 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.

Michael S Seaver: “Here Is How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”

Michael S. Seaver: “Here Is How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”

Stronger Customer Connection. From communication style, to motivators, to core values, to languages spoken, to life experiences, to socio-economic backgrounds, to strengths, to ethnic heritage, to age, and much more — there are a myriad of ways diverse employees will see a problem and potential solutions. Increased quantities of perspectives and ideas will reduce an organization’s risk. Reduced risk will likely lead to more consistent revenue because the organization can adjust as societal events transpire and customer desires evolve.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael S. Seaver.

Michael S. Seaver, Founder of Seaver Consulting, LLC, is an executive coach with expertise in executive leadership, personal branding, change management, organizational effectiveness, and employee engagement. Clients have included executives and leaders at Stanford Healthcare, Honeywell, Boeing, and more. Prior positions included the Director of Talent Sourcing at Banner Health, largest private employer in Arizona with over 50,000 employees, Director of Career Management Alumni Services at Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Assistant Director at W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University coaching MBA students and alumni. He is certified to deliver TTISI assessments (e.g. DISC, 12 Driving Forces, EQ). www.michaelsseaver.com

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?

I was raised in a West Michigan town of 2,500 residents. My grandfather started the family business, Seaver’s Lawn Service, Inc., in 1953 and my father took over in 1987. From ages 12 through 24, I maintained lawns, landscaped properties, and plowed snow, leading crews of five to ten people. I learned the values of hard work, sacrifice and setting long-term goals.

My wife and I moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2003 to escape Michigan’s snow and join a growing economy. Yet, as it slowed in 2008, we divorced, and I suffered minor bouts of depression and understanding my place in the world. Thankfully, I was accepted to and completed an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management where I traveled internationally, interacting with students from 53 countries and saw the importance of authenticity, assertive communication and inclusion of diverse people when conducting business.

I started my coaching and consulting practice in October 2011 and have traveled the world uncovering new perspectives. I’ve been blessed to coach leaders and have worked on a number of projects that have changed corporate cultures from command and control, to align and empower. Through it all, I realized that the more I challenged mainstream ideologies, the more I recognized the patterns in human life, and the more I shared how people are more similar than dissimilar — the more I could uplift others to live authentically and empower them to become coaches to the people around them. All the hardships and lessons I learned had purpose and now I uplift others as they uncover their authentic selves.

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?

In early 2012, one of my very first clients asked for an outline and timeline of the learning I would be guiding him through in our six sessions together. I didn’t have one. I had taken his money and didn’t have an expected outcome for our time together. I intuitively knew how to ask questions that pulled learning out of people, but I was completely unaware about how to sequentially manufacture learning experiences that would evoke necessary emotions and key learning that would set the person up for what was coming next. Embarrassingly, I invested the next seven nights into reading coaching books, designing a haphazard process, and paying a coach way too much money to tell me the process was okay to use. Lesson learned. Fast forward to today, I have a six-step branded process. Each step has a specific name, activities the client needs to complete, and defined emotions I want him or her to feel. I learned quickly that a coach’s brand is built upon the outcome they’re known to produce in their clients.

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

Our society judges’ businesses on how much money they make, and I don’t play into that narrative. I want to be judged on the impact I had on my client’s lives and how they pay forward what we created together. I met Sara in 2018. She had been following me on social media and finally requested a complimentary 30-minute strategy session with me. The call lasted over 90 minutes. We clicked. Sara, an artist, could not afford my coaching packages, but the voice in the back of my head said I needed to partner with her. I offered to give her my VIP day package in exchange for a custom painting from her. Thankfully, she agreed. I thoroughly enjoyed my time coaching her as she challenged herself, asked insightful questions, and took my homework for her seriously. As she was contemplating what she’d paint for me, she asked me reflective questions I hadn’t considered before. Sara painted a 4’ x 6’ canvas, entitled Parallels, of a lion’s head, bird’s feathers, the sun, and an ocean. When she presented it to me, I cried. I received from her something I will always cherish and the significant progress she made has trickled down to her students, clients, and social media community.

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

For the last two years, I’ve provided coaching and consulting to a multi-state top 100 accounting firm. In December 2019, we requested applications, interviewed, selected and then trained and certified 35 of their employees (from all levels of the business), to be internal coaches. Little did we know that three months later COVID-19 was going to turn upside down their traditional business practices. The unexpected daily habit adjustments, business process changes, and emotions the employees started feeling were profound. We chose to create a questionnaire and scoring system that would help the 35 coaches assign a numerical value to any employee’s emotional state. We readied resources internal and external, facilitated an in-depth training session, hosted community of practice sessions, drafted monthly emails to all staff, and created informal communication channels to assess anyone’s need for support. Because of these 35 people and their persistence in checking in with 200+ employees regularly, the organization didn’t have to lay anyone off and their turnover dropped. They’ll meet their revenue target for this fiscal year and employee engagement scores rose. What I hope this teaches others is that command and control leadership structures are being replaced by cultures that align and empower employees at every organization level. Employees want to know what is expected of them, deserve to receive recognition and be cared for as a person, to have their opinions count, and receive chances to learn and grow. Instead of leaving this up to the Principal leaders in the group, we’ve now decentralized certain aspects of leadership by creating an entire organization of coaches.

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

Open as many lines of communication as possible. Grassroots movements of information will produce innumerable benefits to the employees and the organization. Consider offering open office hours, town halls, suggestion boxes, pulse surveys, weekly reach outs, small focus groups, internal Shark Tank competitions, affinity groups or a Netflix Club. When humans feel psychologically safe to express themselves, through a myriad of means, they feel empowered to share ideas. When humans feel empowered, they’re more likely to take responsibility for their own growth and the betterment of their colleagues. When colleagues see one another as human, gossip, sabotage, and ego take a backseat.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

I’ve worked with organizations to change their quarterly employee bonus calculators. To set up metrics-driven and time-based goals connected to the organization’s strategic plan. To set a strong vision around client experience and show, month after month, how each employee contributes that experience. But, things really click when a culture of recognizing one another and sharing wins becomes commonplace. According to Tony Robbins’ research, one of the six core human needs is contribution — to add value to the lives of those around us. One of the best, and easiest, methods to help team members feel more confident and a part of something bigger than themselves is to begin one-to-one and team meetings by recognizing one another and then inviting each person to share wins. According to Google’s Project Aristotle, psychological safety is often born out of feeling empowered to share your story vulnerably. When we appreciate a colleague in the way they desire to receive praise, they will feel more confident and likely be more engaged, productive, and willing to go above and beyond for the team. When we offer one another chances to share personal or professional wins, we help them see how they are growing, they take on more responsibility, and share lessons learned for betterment of the team. If your organization bakes these practices into its weekly meetings and all departments and leaders perform them consistently, synchronicity is a given.

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. Stronger Customer Connection. From communication style, to motivators, to core values, to languages spoken, to life experiences, to socio-economic backgrounds, to strengths, to ethnic heritage, to age, and much more — there are a myriad of ways diverse employees will see a problem and potential solutions. Increased quantities of perspectives and ideas will reduce an organization’s risk. Reduced risk will likely lead to more consistent revenue because the organization can adjust as societal events transpire and customer desires evolve. I worked with a Phoenix-based state and local tax accounting firm and when the CARES Act was passed in 2020, their leadership team invited every member of the team to offer ideas via an online survey, all-team town hall, and smaller focus groups. This investment of time paid significant dividends as they developed a number of new ways to communicate and engage their clients that didn’t exist in 2019.
  2. Peer-to-Peer Learning. The more people I coach, the more I see that words don’t teach, experiences do. An employee can read a book, listen to a podcast, attend a webinar, but the new information will not be fully absorbed until he applies it when serving clients. In 2018, I coached two leaders within a consulting practice. We talked through the value of hiring a learning and development associate and increasing the budget for employees to attend offsite trainings. We then realized we could solve a cross-functional communication challenge the organization had (and engage and educate people) by having their employees volunteer to lead webinars, book clubs, one-to-one mentorship, write how-to manuals, etc. and then work on projects together over two to three months to cement the learning objectives. Employees were valued for diverse skill sets, learned new skills with minimal expense, and we opened lines of communication that were closed before.
  3. Emotional Intelligence. As you climb the corporate ladder, your IQ slowly becomes less relevant than your EQ. Your capacity to listen, connect disparate dots, and make people feel a part of something bigger than themselves makes people want to be led by you. In order to develop strong self and social awareness, the capacity to regulate your emotions, and deepen relationships over a long period is dependent upon how many diverse people you have experiences with. Each of them teaches you critical lessons about yourself, that there are multiple solutions to every problem, and that the more diverse the team, the better you’re able to serve clients. Years ago, a friend of mine was about to complete an HR internship at Amazon. Prior to starting, she set a goal to have 55 informational interviews in the three months she was there. She met her goal, gained perspectives she’d never considered before, and became a more empathetic, accepting, and inclusive leader.
  4. Employee Engagement. In 2019, I helped a tech startup that was growing rapidly with their company culture. Although the growth was good financially, employee turnover was high. I needed a means to help their young leadership understand that their office needed to feel like home, a place that employees would want to spend time. One where they were valued for their opinions, were getting feedback weekly, and felt they could trust their colleagues to produce quality work. After completing an employee engagement survey, we created a matrixed, cross-functional team that was given authority to implement select ideas presented in the survey. This diverse group of employees worked to design an enhanced onboarding process, a handful of leaders received a change management certification, and every-other-week supervisor to employee one-to-one meetings began. Because this team collected diverse opinions and allowed a diverse team to implement change, their turnover reduced 53% by the same time in early 2020.
  5. Branding. In Robert Cialdini’s best-selling book, Influence, we learn about the “law of liking.” Cialdini’s research shows that humans subconsciously trust and prefer doing business with and buying products from people like themselves. The more diverse your customer-facing workforce is, the more diverse your customer base will likely be. If you train your employees to ask great how, what, and why questions, and willingly share commonalities with customers, diversity will be to your benefit.

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

I’m attempting to teach people to stop looking to celebrities, athletes, government officials, or subject matter experts for answers to their lives’ most pressing questions. I believe Teddy Roosevelt said it succinctly when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” External stories can be motivating, but someone else’s unique journey shouldn’t be emulated. Your journey is yours. I believe each of us has the answers inside us already. We have to dig to find them. By being still, sitting in meditation or prayer, and crashing disparate ideas together, an empowering path forward will be made available to you. Instead of believing in something outside yourself, believe in yourself. I share my and my client’s lessons via my blog. On my social channels, I share pictures of each step of my journey. My online classes and my next book openly share my step-by-step processes for becoming your most authentic self. I know you have the answers inside of you, do you trust yourself enough to listen?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Your challenges aren’t in the way… they are the way,” Ron and Mary Hulnick. I was sold hook, line, and sinker on perfection. On being perfect. On not making mistakes. On projecting an image of who I wanted others to think me to be. For years, I was unhappy. Miserable. Inauthentic. One day, I considered suicide because I couldn’t find a way out of the hole I dug for my life. Somehow, I came across the Hulnick’s quote and I was able to connect the dots in how my life’s challenges happened for a reason. I was meant to experience them so that I could learn how to overcome them, and then guide others to overcome the same challenges for themselves. Today, I safely walk people and organizations through the most emotionally messy changes. By choosing to be the person I needed when I was younger, I proactively teach leaders how to heal themselves and then they pay it forward coaching and mentoring others. As the tide rises, each and every boat does 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?

I’m immensely grateful for my stepdaughter, Aleah. Her mom and I dated for seven years (did not marry), and although she and I are no longer together, Aleah is now 20 and an even bigger part of my life. Over the last decade, I have had four coaches, two therapists, and have paid for countless meals for mentors to help me find clarity. I’ve come to believe that children are our greatest teacher. They mirror back to us the very things we need to improve in ourselves, remind us about the purpose of human life, and the potential that sits latent inside. Shortly after she graduated high school, we backpacked across Europe. In Munich, Germany, she asked me a question I never ever considered. She asked me if I’d get matching tattoos with her. My heart melted. Two weeks later, we both had ink on the inside of our biceps. Because of Aleah, I honor diverse perspectives more easily, I display my authentic self with more confidence, and I help heal my clients’ relationships with their children.

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 🙂

Author Dan Pink. I envy his data-driven approach, the way he tells stories, and his empowering Pinkcast. I’d like to learn about how his parents shaped him emotionally, lessons he learned from traumatic events, and what he hopes to leave society with.


Michael S Seaver: “Here Is 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.

Julian Newman of Culture Creative: “Here Is How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”

They Become More Successful: The organization will become a more winning, successful environment by tapping into the experiences and strengths of people with diverse backgrounds. For instance, just from an expansion standpoint, having a diverse group of people at your organization allows for a broader range of ideas and opinions. Someone of a different culture might know of different organizations to partner with or they might know where the best place is to put advertisements because that community is their lived experience. Diversity broadens the company and the company will be more successful.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julian Newman.

Julian Newman, founder and CEO of Culture Creative, is a nationally recognized certified diversity and inclusion thought leader. As a cultural intelligence strategist, author and motivational speaker, Julian has spoken to more than 100,000 people and groups nationally and internationally during the past 20 years. Since the launch of Culture Creative in 2014, Julian and his team have worked with more than 100 companies and non-profit organizations to develop culturally aware leaders, employees, and more empowered communities. Julian inspires people to believe in their inner-hero and be world changers.

Julian shares his leadership development expertise with corporate, non-profit, creative, and faith-based clients virtually. Julian has a unique gift of bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to find common ground and become more beautiful together. He empowers them with curated seminars, training materials, and lectures that are specific to a client’s needs.

Julian speaks on behalf of the National Diversity Council and serves as an advisor to the Disruptive Technologists Think Tank. He has published writings with various media outlets, including Relevant Magazine, and will be releasing a series of books and cultural intelligence reports in 2020. Learn more about Julian Newman and his agency at www.culturecreative.org

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?

I am a California kid who now lives in the Midwest. I relocated years ago because I was serving as a mentor to college students for a non-profit organization. My relationship with racism was essentially centered on three different rules: (1) Historic, it happened long ago, for the most part, during the civil rights era, (2) Geographic, my dad was from the segregated South, in Alabama, and shared stories about his experience growing up, And (3) Episodic, every once in a while, in my world in California, I would experience racism.

I lived in a very diverse world. The school I went to, the neighborhood I lived in: it was all of us, not just some of us. It was a very diverse world: Middle Eastern, Asian and all parts of Africa. When I moved to the Midwest, I saw that racism was not historic, it was not geographic, and it was not episodic. When I think about that now it feels so naive.

My young daughters at the time were entering into kindergarten and they began to experience racism at incredible levels so I got into this work by trying to advocate for my daughters. I always say that my first clients were my two oldest daughters.

In addition to that, I love storytelling. I have a film degree. I love acting. I love writing. I’m working on a screenplay now. I love comic books. I love Marvel and superhero movies. I love the transition that comes with a hero digging in, pressing past the pain and helping the world by being fully themselves. I want to do the same thing.

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?

Well, it’s not really funny, it’s more of an embarrassing situation for me. I was doing a training session for a group of teachers, administrators, and parents. The group consisted of people from different backgrounds, religions, etc. I was trying to illustrate a point to the group in terms of not overreacting and having the humility and the flexibility to navigate interpersonal relationships. I was discussing ways in which people can say “I got that wrong” and to be able to talk through some of those hard and uncomfortable conversations. In the process of me doing that, I used the phrase, “We are not going to be crusaders for justice.” I meant it as a joke, only in the context of the discussion. There was a Middle Eastern woman in the group who had a problem with me using the word crusaders. She started to explain the painful history behind that word. Even though I didn’t mean it in any derogatory way, I was referencing something that had something to do with someone else’s experience.

I had a dilemma: here I am being called out by a person in the session that I was leading. The irony is that I was being called out for the very thing that I was trying to tell the group not to do. I started to feel defensive and I started to tell the woman that she is being too sensitive. I stopped myself. I realized that me being defensive was part of my own ego. My desire to deflect and put the blame on her, rather than taking responsibility for my own actions, was part of my own ego. Before I started to go into my defensive crouch, I turned to this woman and said I was very sorry. That word wasn’t part of my history or my experience so I told her I was sorry for not understanding the heaviness of the word. I also told her that I was thankful to her for having the courage to speak up.

That moment created an opportunity for the group to be able to model authentic relationships and how to experience different cultures. It took the group to another level of authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability.

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

I think one of the things that makes Culture Creative stand out is that we begin with the end in mind. We ask the leaders of the organization to tell us what “happily ever after” looks like for them. We ask them: “What does the vision look like?”

One thing I like to tell organizations is that we have a Zumba process. Meaning, it is very inconvenient to take Zumba classes. You have to wake up, get dressed, get sweaty, do a lot of physical activity. But people who take Zumba have a vision of what their goal is: they want that beach body. It is the vision of that “beach body” that gives them the tenacity and the will to do Zumba. That is our approach at our company. Instead of focusing on the hard part, Zumba, we focus on the results, the beach body.

We start with the end product, the finish, and then build the strategy of how we want to get there. We ask our clients: “What is your company today, what do you want your company to be and what does your company have to accomplish to get there?’’

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

I am writing a book, Beautiful Together. The book is a field manual of my company, Culture Creative. Beautiful Together focuses on the positivity of discussing diversity and inclusion. Oftentimes, when discussing diversity and inclusion, we think of it as something negative and talking about the negatives plays on the fears that people have when discussing the topic. One of the most important aspects in the diversity and inclusion space is how an organization perceives it. When a company views it through the lens of possibility, every investment becomes a competitive advantage. More than the right thing to do, it’s the necessary thing to do if your business is going to successfully navigate a rapidly shifting marketplace. When it comes to the diversity and inclusion in some organizations, the focus is on not doing bad things. Don’t say this. Don’t say that. Don’t offend anyone. Don’t get sued. Now, while this aspect of organizational diversity and inclusion has its place, by building strategy based solely in the negative, we just get to zero when goals are accomplished. Zero is not enough.

Rather than simply focusing on being in compliance, let’s look to creating environments where each and every person can achieve the highest levels of their human potential. What would it look like to leverage the collective, company-wide talent of every influencer and stakeholder? How would that change the trajectory of your business?

My book, Beautiful Together, discusses not just what we need to change but also who we must become and the positivity surrounding that. As we lean towards a pathway of togetherness, we are more beautiful together than separate.

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

My advice to CEOs would be to listen and learn from their experiences and the perspectives that they have. An organization has to be viewed as a multifaceted experience that encompasses everyone’s truth. The CEO sees the organization through a certain lens that reflects their own perspective and experiences. The managers see the organization through their own lenses and everyone in the different departments sees the organization through their own lenses. It takes collaboration, creativity, and the willingness to leverage the expertise and the talents of other people in order to make the organization function as a collaborative.

We are all blind, but we are all blind in different ways. And we all see in different ways. I see things in a way that you might be blind to and you might see things that I might be blind to. But if we can bind our collective sight to one another, then we can overcome the collective blindness that we all experience.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

I think that you manage large teams by breaking the large team into smaller teams. So you raise up leaders and influencers in the larger group and empower them to lead over smaller groups. That creates more opportunity, a variety of experiences, and momentum. We want to help organizations create environments where every person can operate at the highest levels of their human potential.

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.)

When a company doesn’t engage in diversity and inclusion as a competitive advantage they will exhibit these symptoms: (1) Rigidity: Can’t Flex, (2) Redundancy: Waste of Resources and (3) Routine: Lack of Creativity.

Without diversity, an organization will have less rigidity and more flexibility. Without diversity, we duplicate our efforts because there will always be sameness and we become routine and predictable. For example, Michael Jordan was arguably the best basketball player of his time but if there were five Michael Jordan’s on the same team, then the team as a whole would be less successful. He needed Scottie Pippen and the other teammates because they all played a pivotal role in the success of the team. So even though, from a talent standpoint, five Michael Jordan’s would be more, it wouldn’t fit together properly. That is why diversity is important, it makes the team stronger because everyone will bring their own unique experiences to the organization.

So, five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line is:

  1. They Become More Successful: The organization will become a more winning, successful environment by tapping into the experiences and strengths of people with diverse backgrounds. For instance, just from an expansion standpoint, having a diverse group of people at your organization allows for a broader range of ideas and opinions. Someone of a different culture might know of different organizations to partner with or they might know where the best place is to put advertisements because that community is their lived experience. Diversity broadens the company and the company will be more successful.
  2. Better Listeners: Diversity gives the organization an opportunity to listen to different perspectives.
  3. Learn to Love: The organization will be better able to understand what it means to love and think about the bigger mission that is greater than the individual’s own self-interest.
  4. Growth: Diversity can not only help the organization but it will extend into people’s own lives. In order for people and organizations to do this well, it has to extend and be in their day to day life. My relationships, my dinner table, my lunch time, the people I spend time with in my life. It is all expanded because I am living it.
  5. We Become Better People: When the things we learn from others are put into place in our own lives, we essentially become that much better. We become better influencers.

When it comes to creating diverse teams and inclusive environments, as well as developing next level leaders we must have an appetite for the unprecedented. Prevention isn’t good enough. Let’s move the needle and stir the imagination. Let’s dream, expand, and make the world a much more beautiful place.

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

One of the things that I have done to bring goodness into the world, and that has really meant a lot to me, is that I participate in a program that allows me to read books to 2nd and 3rd graders. I have been doing this for about seven years. I read rhyming books, educational books, pictures books. I get to make the kids laugh. It’s part of a program called Be the Dream. The idea is that we need African American men in elementary schools to fight the negative stereotypes that we’ve had. It is an opportunity that I have been given to influence the next generation of students and make the world a better place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I’m going to quote my late grandmother, who was from Mobile, Alabama who didn’t graduate from high school but she was the wisest person I’ve ever met.

She used to say “You are very special, you are very precious, and go do something in the world with it.” I never forgot that.

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

I am grateful for my parents. They have been and continue to be great examples of doing your best whether it is easy or not. My parents are retired now and they don’t have Twitter or Instagram followers but they are very hard working people that challenge me and my sisters to do the best we can with what we have and I will always follow them.

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 🙂

I would love to speak with Ava Duvernay. I would love to have a conversion about her process to blend art, activism, and justice in her stories. And if I could choose two people, my second would be Brian Stevenson who wrote Just Mercy and he runs the Equal Justice Initiative. I would want to talk to him about the long walk of justice and perseverance through challenges and setbacks that his journey presents.


Julian Newman of Culture Creative: “Here Is 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.

Ned Staebler of TechTown Detroit: “Here Is How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”

…Having a diverse team and treating it well leads to less turnover, which saves your company money. According to Korn Ferry, a global organizational consultancy, a whopping 84 percent of the 700 respondents to their executive survey in 2015 said “a lack of attention on diversity and inclusion contributes to employee turnover.” If you’re worried about “white flight” in a diversifying workplace, you can stop. This UC Berkeley study of 800 firms found “no consistent evidence that diversity itself increases turnover.” Rather, the study’s authors found that employees from groups in the minority in a workplace were more likely to leave the less represented their group was.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ned Staebler.

Ned Staebler serves as the CEO of TechTown, Detroit’s most established business incubator and accelerator and Vice President for Economic Development at Wayne State University. He leads both organizations’ efforts to strengthen the Detroit region’s neighborhoods, businesses and leaders, overseeing a range of activities around innovation and entrepreneurship, business development and attraction, talent retention, transit and mobility, and placemaking.

Staebler previously served as the Vice President for Entrepreneurial and Capital Services at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. In this role, he was responsible for the oversight of the Michigan Strategic Fund Board and the 21st Century Jobs Fund, a $2 billion, 10-year initiative to transform Michigan’s economy. As part of these efforts, Staebler led the investment and management of $600 million of state funds into entrepreneurial companies, venture capital and private equity funds, and strategic service providers.

Staebler also spent nearly a decade in the private sector, working in both startup and Fortune 150 environments. He served on the management team of the Helios Group, a technology-based, startup financial services firm that he helped grow from 30 to 130 employees. After Helios was acquired in 2000 by Bear Stearns, he spent the next three years in the company’s London, England office as an Associate Director.

A Detroit native, Staebler is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Harvard, and he received a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He serves on various boards, including NextEnergy, Midtown Detroit, Inc., the Detroit Historical Society, MichBio and the Ann Arbor Local Development Finance Authority.

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?

I’m a native Detroiter with a strong family legacy of public service. I went to a local Jesuit high school with the motto “Men for Others” and planned to follow a path of service in my career. But, even before the craziness that is 2020, life showed it had lots of surprises in store. I was in college in the early 1990s during the Clinton versus Bush Sr. debates. I remember thinking that these were two guys seriously out of touch with average Americans and reflecting that if I was going to influence public policy, I should try to get a better understanding of how that policy impacts real people. So, I decided to go out into the “real world” (or a 20-year-old’s version of it) and spend a couple of years (a 20-year-old’s notion of how long it takes to understand anything) working, paying taxes, and building something.

I took a job with an early stage FinTech, helped grow it from 30 to 130 people and woke up in London nearly 10 years later working for a Fortune 150 investment bank. Needless to say, things had not gone according to plan. So, feeling disconnected from home and my mission, I quit the banking world, went back to grad school, and discovered “economic development.” In 2005, I moved back to Michigan and started working for the state’s economic development agency, putting both my passion for public service and my professional experience to work.

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?

Really early on in my career, I was at a bachelor party for one of my firm’s senior people. I was still a clerk, trying to get noticed and promoted. I was talking with another senior leader who expressed interest in my progress, and he told me that he heard from my boss that I was struggling in my role. He offered to help.

I was shocked. I had gotten nothing but positive feedback from my boss and thought I was ahead of the curve. I immediately tracked down my boss (who was also at the party) and confronted him. He immediately ’fessed up and admitted that he had only told the leadership team I was struggling so that they wouldn’t poach me away to work for the managing partner. I was irate, but I managed to turn it into a raise and a fast track for a promotion. I also got him to clear my name at the company.

What did I learn? Well, here was this senior guy who I thought was looking out for me by taking me under his wing, but he had basically stabbed me in the back. I learned very early on about the importance of recognition. People doing the work need to know that they are seen and valued both inside the company and with external stakeholders. Sometimes this can be reflected in money or titles, but frequently the recognition itself is compensation enough.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

First, it’s a skill set. Just like anything else you do in life, you can’t expect to be great at it right away, but you must be intentional about getting better at it. You need to study other leaders — hopefully you had some good examples on the way up the ladder — and you need to practice, practice, practice. Read the books and try different tactics until you find a set of strategies that work for your leadership style and team.

Remember, you will make lots of mistakes in this process and, even when things are “running on all cylinders,” not everyone in a large team will be happy all the time. People bring lots of things to the table that are way beyond their leader’s ability to control. Whether they’re facing a tough home situation, are struggling financially, or caring for an elderly parent, that becomes something that affects a team and, therefore, something that the leader will have to create room for at the office and support the team member through.

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

That’s easy. Care. Care about your employees. If you don’t care about them as people — as individuals — you will be a bad leader. That doesn’t mean you sacrifice results and the bottom line, but it does mean that to support your people, you often you have to make short-term decisions that would make your instructor in business school pull his hair out. That’s OK. In the long run, it will pay for itself and more.

And, you can’t fake this. Putting up signs that say “We care about you” while implementing policies that don’t reflect that is a surefire way to have high turnover, low morale, and lousy culture.

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

My company stands out because we actually walk the talk. We teach entrepreneurs to be nimble, make sure they’re meeting market needs and are constantly evaluating their product offerings and customer experiences. So, we try to do the same.

The perfect example of this is when COVID-19 hit Michigan back in March. We saw it coming throughout February, realized that there would be zero coordinated national response, and planned accordingly. So, in the first two weeks of March, we were able to take all of our services virtual, move our own administration to remote environments seamlessly, and begin to assess what our clients (aka Detroit’s small businesses) would need. Over the weekend of March 14, we talked with them about the impending shutdown and discussed the impact on their already-weak cash positions. By Tuesday, March 17, we announced a grant relief program, started taking applications by March 17, and had money going out the door within two weeks. Over the next few months or so, we supported 700 small businesses with $1.2 million in grant support to tide them over until the state and federal authorities were able to respond.

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

We are ALWAYS working on new things. The most important one is around rebuilding our main street businesses in an inclusive and equitable way. COVID-19 has absolutely devastated small businesses across the country, with at least 20 percent of them saying they’ve closed for good. A recent NY Fed report placed the number of Black-owned business closures at closer to 40 percent. So, how do we rebuild and make sure that BIPOC and women-owned businesses get access to support in a time when resources are scarce?

Over the past decade, we’ve built out the nation’s most inclusive and diverse pipeline and pathway for small business support. We’ve identified and removed barriers for thousands of entrepreneurs as they’ve moved from ideation to launch to growth, and we do it for businesses regardless of whether they’re selling medical devices, donuts, haircuts, gourmet dinners, environmental consulting or custom-designed jeans. We’ve become the nation’s leading authority on equitable small business support, and we’re getting asked by people from Honolulu to Providence to help them set up similar ecosystems.

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.)

Let’s be clear, because I know that some bottom line-focused leaders question why we need all of this diversity stuff in the first place. Well, it’s simple. Diverse teams produce better financial results. There’s ample data that proves this out. This McKinsey study, for example, found that “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” So, if you like a better bottom line, you need more diverse teams.

  1. Why? Well, for a start, diverse teams make better decisions faster. You’ve likely sat in a meeting flipping through your Instagram feed while two senior “decision makers” (who were both white males) thought their way to an idea you knew was destined to fail or they butted heads and egos while putting off a decision until the next regularly scheduled meeting. According to this study by Cloverpop, “inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87 percent of the time,” and “teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions 2 times faster with 1/2 the meetings.” Who couldn’t use a world with fewer meetings!
  2. Also, diverse teams are vastly more likely to better understand your customers. This helps you design products and services that have a more solid product/market fit — a key component for success. The presence of more women in R&D (research and development) teams, “is positively related to radical innovation,” and more diverse leadership teams “are more likely to introduce new product innovations than are those with homogeneous ‘top teams.’” Innovative products + better product/market fit = more revenue.
  3. Diverse teams can keep you out of trouble. You know that old saying that any publicity is good publicity? Cancel Culture has cancelled that saying. The last thing your company wants to do is run a racially insensitive ad like the infamous Pepsi commercial where Kendall Jenner cures racism with a soft drink. Clearly, they needed some BIPOC representation in that process. JWT India posted draft Ford Figo ads that featured famous people driving around with scantily clad women bound and gagged in the trunk of one of their cars. I’m guessing no women were involved in making that decision.
  4. Talent. Everyone is talking about the global war for talent. The number one request I get from businesses is, “Can you help me find talent?” Before COVID-19, the competition for talent was fierce, and with WFH (Work From Home), it’s ramped up even more. And, talent IS diverse and WANTS to be around similar diversity. Top performers are too savvy to be fooled by an inspirational poster or an annual event. If your leadership is all male and your team is homogeneous, you’re going to struggle to attract top talent.
  5. Finally, having a diverse team and treating it well leads to less turnover, which saves your company money. According to Korn Ferry, a global organizational consultancy, a whopping 84 percent of the 700 respondents to their executive survey in 2015 said “a lack of attention on diversity and inclusion contributes to employee turnover.” If you’re worried about “white flight” in a diversifying workplace, you can stop. This UC Berkeley study of 800 firms found “no consistent evidence that diversity itself increases turnover.” Rather, the study’s authors found that employees from groups in the minority in a workplace were more likely to leave the less represented their group was.

Bottom line? If you care about the bottom line, you need an intentional strategy for being more inclusive at every level of your organization.

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

Public service remains core to my daily life. I’ve helped found a giving circle at a local community foundation. I’ve served on numerous public boards and authorities like the Regional Transit Authority for Southeast Michigan and the City of Detroit’s Commission for Sustainability. And I’ve contributed thousands of hours to nonprofit boards and political issue campaigns to improve public health outcomes, protect the environment, and secure voting rights and legal protections for all Americans.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

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

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?

As cheesy as it sounds, I’d like to thank my mother, Sally Schwartz. After my parents split up, she busted her butt to be a great single mother. She worked incredibly hard and still never missed a basketball game. She helped with homework and was always there to inspire my dreams and support my goals.

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 🙂

I love to read biographies and history. But Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt are no longer with us. So, I’ll pick Michelle Obama. I recently read Becoming, and she would be a fascinating person to share a meal with. She has been a part of some of the most transformative events in recent history, yet she still seems incredibly in touch with what makes people human.


Ned Staebler of TechTown Detroit: “Here Is 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.

Michelle Knight of Brandmerry: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Michelle Knight of Brandmerry: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Establish a morning routine that contributes to your resilient mindset no matter what life or business throws your way. Find a morning routine that works for you and the season you are currently in. I created one last year that includes movement, meditation, mindful writing, and nourishment. I don’t set a time limit for each and it varies daily depending on my needs. My goal is to simply show up for myself in these four areas every morning. There’s no order or rule book to follow besides taking this time for myself and my self-care.

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 Michelle Knight, Personal Brand Coach, Marketing Strategist and the founder of Brandmerry.com. She is also a mother, wife, world traveler and storyteller. Michelle works with female entrepreneurs to create an authentic, captivating and money-making brand through the power of story. Michelle supports women at various stages of their business who share one common goal — creating an authentic brand that allows them to show up as they are, build a loyal community and experience time, financial and location freedom as a result of their work.

In just 9 months, Michelle launched her freedom-based business and left her 9 to 5, while raising a new baby. Just one year into her coaching business, Michelle created a 6-figure business and thriving community of women ready to share their story.

Now she travels full-time with her family around the US and Europe and spends her time supporting women to achieve time, financial and location freedom.

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?

When I was younger, I was a hardcore perfectionist. I focused on excelling in school so I could get out into the world and spread my wings. What I found though, is that a life of perfection wasn’t leading me towards the life I wanted to live. Upon graduation, I turned down a scholarship to Loyola University Chicago and moved away from friends and family to California to join a performing arts group. I spent a year traveling through Europe teaching music to children. That’s when my love of traveling and wanting more out of life began. Despite this life-altering interlude, I left the group after about two years and went the way I was always told was best, to get my college degree.

My life turned completely upside down when my brother and best friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2008. For one year I watched my brother fight for his life. During this time I had a horrible realization that I was wasting mine. When he passed away, I needed a change and decided the best way to honor his life was to fully live my own.

After marrying my husband — who was also my brother’s best friend — and becoming a mom, I quickly realized that I no longer wanted to juggle working a 9 to 5 and raising my son. I started my own business and left my 9 to 5 within just nine months. Over the past four years, I’ve been able to create a thriving online business supporting thousands of women. My business has provided me and my family the financial and location freedom to retire my husband and travel the world.

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 think one of my favorite experiences was learning to share my own story in a way that felt really good to me, but also could benefit my business. My first year in business I actually did a livestream with my son Cal because I had no other option. I had a commitment to my followers on social media and knew I had to go live, but Cal was fussy and didn’t want to go down for his nap no matter what I tried. I’m sure all the mothers reading this can relate to that feeling! So I put him in a carrier on my back and showed up for my livestream with him in tow. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my business. I was able to crack jokes about it and it really ended up being such a positive shift for my business. I realized so many women wanted to see another woman show up as her authentic self — that you can have a successful business while being messy and grappling with the daily obligations of being a mom. That was a turning point for me, when I realized that sharing my story was a way I could expand on that message. The lesson I learned: always show up as your true self, know who you are, be authentic and build connections through the power of your story!

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

I help women entrepreneurs create authentic, captivating and money-making brands through the power of story — both their own story and the story of their ideal customer. My clients share one common goal: to create an authentic brand that allows them to show up as they are, build a loyal community and experience time, financial and location freedom as a result of their work.

My approach to running a business stands out to my clients because I travel full-time with my family in our RV and truly live a life of freedom. Embracing motherhood is also a big part of my brand story. In order to avoid working myself into the ground, I have simple and streamlined systems in place to run my business and I value simplicity above everything else. I find this philosophy ends up attracting my ideal clients because they want and value the same things.

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?

Hands down my husband Ben is the person who is most responsible for the success of my business. He has always been so supportive of me every single step of the way. When I started my business and was only about 5 months in, I was still carrying on my 9 to 5 job as well. The original plan was to wait a full year before leaving my stable job, to make sure we had a financial cushion in place. But one night we were at one of our favorite restaurants eating dinner and he said to me, “What if you left your job sooner? You could leave your job tomorrow and I’d have full faith in you that you would make your business successful.” That moment showed me just how much he believes in me. And it was at a time when I was really worried about failing and letting people down. Having his support gave me the motivation that I needed to take action, show up and persevere. Three months later I officially left my job and went all in for my business.

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

I believe resilience is the ability and drive to keep going. The actual definition of it is to bounce back quickly, but I don’t believe that’s the case. I think resiliency is to keep moving forward. To just keep going, even if you’re faced with grief, hardship, or any sort of challenge. You choose to keep moving forward instead of stopping. Resilience in my mind does not have a time limit, it’s the daily actions that you’re taking. Resilient people look at hardships and challenges and say, How can I move forward through this? How can I do so with intention? How can I use these lessons to grow? When it comes to grief, I know personally that you cannot bounce back right away. But by showing up every day, learning to process your feelings and adapt, especially if you lost a loved one who was an integral part of your life, the courage to keep going is the core of resiliency.

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

Two people: my parents. I chose them because they both lost their son — my brother — to childhood cancer. Until I became a mother I had no idea what that meant to lose a piece of yourself like that. Yet despite having gone through that process, and still grieving 11 years later, they’ve decided to show up by helping other people. Not only do they show up every single day at their respective jobs, but they also created a nonprofit organization called CJ’s Journey in his honor. The organization helps other young adults and children with childhood cancer. For me, that’s the highest level of resiliency — taking your grief and sadness and turning it into something beautiful to help others.

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?

People have definitely implied that the decision I’ve made — to run my own business and travel the world in an RV with my family — is not the “right” choice. An example is when I was graduating from high school and I got a scholarship to Loyola University and I decided to give it up to move to California and teach music. I got pushback from a lot of people in my life — teachers and counselors — telling me I wasn’t making the best decision for my future. This happened again when my husband and I decided to sell our house and buy our RV. I got a few comments about how hard it would be, how we wouldn’t be able to do it. I learned that when people tell you something is impossible, it’s really their own doubts and insecurities coming to the surface and being projected on you.

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

Yes, I think losing my brother, especially since we were so close, was by far the most difficult setback of my life. When I lost him I was in a really dark place. I was not caring for my body, making poor choices. I had a choice to continue to grieve and stay in this low place, or I could take my grief and turn it into something beautiful. I took what I had in front of me — the opportunity to live my life — and do something amazing with that. I remember in an interview I was doing for a news station shortly after he passed away I said, “I feel like the best way to honor someone’s life is to fully live your own.” To this day I live my life in his honor. This of course took a lot of work on my part, changing my mindset about life and my ideas about relationships. It really took daily action to get to the place I’m at today.

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

As I’ve already mentioned, I consider myself to be a “recovering perfectionist.” Growing up I was in theater, which if you’re not familiar with, is a very cutthroat scene to be involved in, especially as a teenager. One of the theaters in my hometown called the MUNY, has a chorus of kids and teens. For 6 years I did not get in and I went every single year to audition. Every year I’d continue to take dance and vocal lessons to get better, and then in my 6th year of trying out I made it into the program and stayed in it for another 4 years. This is one of my favorite stories to tell because as a kid I could have so easily just given up, but I knew that all I had to do was keep improving and one day it would happen. And it did!

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. Establish a morning routine that contributes to your resilient mindset no matter what life or business throws your way. Find a morning routine that works for you and the season you are currently in. I created one last year that includes movement, meditation, mindful writing, and nourishment. I don’t set a time limit for each and it varies daily depending on my needs. My goal is to simply show up for myself in these four areas every morning. There’s no order or rule book to follow besides taking this time for myself and my self-care.
  2. Work through your money beliefs. Monitor yourself daily — How do you think and talk about money? Identify the beliefs you are holding on to, work through them, and release them. You can find support, but at the end of the day, no one can do the work besides you. One that I had to specifically let go of: I’m bad with money because I have debt and student loans from a theater degree I didn’t end up finishing. I had this idea that I make bad decisions with money, and it was always in the back of my mind. I had to work through that and set a new truth for myself. I also had to make myself realize that I was worthy of making money. I think that’s another big one that many people have but don’t like to admit.
  3. Be consistent in your messaging that you are putting out into the world and what you are receiving back. Do you find yourself saying “I don’t have enough time”? If the answer is yes, then more likely than not, you need to be more careful in how you choose to use your time. If you are consistently hearing negative messages about money or your potential, you will start to doubt yourself and mirror those beliefs until they become your own. Control both what you are saying and what you are hearing.
  4. Write your goals every day. Mindset isn’t just working through emotional blocks, but dreaming big and going for the things you want. Writing your goals for the day can always be added to your morning routine.
  5. Schedule time to care for your mind. Take time to be alone with your thoughts and assess how you’re feeling and how you’ve been reacting in situations. This can be done in several different ways — journaling, having a conversation with yourself, meditation. But the point of this is to constantly check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What are you holding on to that you need to let go of?

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 movement is to help women uncover and share their story. I believe that as women we need to own the things that have happened to us, as well as the things that have happened as a result of our actions, and not allow that to dictate what’s to come in our future. There’s something about uncovering the things in our past we may have kept hidden, owning them as our story, and then choosing to write a different ending. I believe when women do that it creates a ripple effect for more women to stand up, speak up, own their voice and know their worth.

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 🙂

Oprah! I grew up coming home from school and watching Oprah’s show every single day. The biggest thing for me was seeing the impact that a single person can have in the lives of so many people in such a positive way. She uses her fame to make the world a better place and has also overcome so much adversity in her own life.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: www.brandmerry.com

Instagram: http://instagram.com/michelleknightco

Facebook: http://facebook.com/brandmerrycoaching

I’d love for you to also check out my previous interview on upgrading and re-energizing your brand here.

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


Michelle Knight of Brandmerry: 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.

Victoria Roos Olsson of FranklinCovey: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote

Victoria Roos Olsson of FranklinCovey: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Constructive feedback can be difficult in any setting, but giving it remotely is even more difficult. We speak about “blind spots”, as when we are not aware of a behavior or the impact our behavior has on others. Working remotely increases the risk of blind spots. So as a leader (or anyone giving constructive feedback), you need to take extra care to help the person discover a possible blind spot.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Roos Olsson, a senior leadership consultant at FranklinCovey. She is an expert in leadership development and has trained, developed and coached managers around the world for the past 20 years. She is an expert facilitator of several FranklinCovey offerings, and served on the development team for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 4 Essential Roles of Leadership.

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

I was fortunate enough to find my passion in my career early on: leadership development. My career with FranklinCovey has given me the opportunity to live and work in 10 different countries around the world. Originally from Sweden, I now live in Atlanta with my husband, two teenage daughters and our dog, Tiger. Apart from developing leaders I love to write (co-authored the WSJ best-seller, “Everyone Deserves a Great Manager,” I am a podcast host (Roos&Shine), a yoga instructor and running coach. I tend to be very busy and having lots of things going on, so I’m a constant case study, trying to practice what I preach.

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

I’m ambitious and my intense career has reflected that. One recent and very important turning point for me was a few years back. I was in the midst of a hectic career and keeping up with all of my roles when it became clear to me that one of my daughters (then in her pre-teens) really needed me more than ever. I decided to resign from my high profile (and demanding!) job and instead work as a freelancer to be able to work from home. It was interesting for me to see that apart from helping my daughter, this break gave me new insights and eventually grew my career even further. When things calmed down a little at home, I gave myself a 100-day learning challenge. For 100 days I aimed to learn as many and different things as possible. Everything from reading new kinds of books, to learning how to edit a podcast, listening to people who were different from me, to actually starting to write my own book. The power of taking a break, of spending your time differently, and learning new things is enormous. To me, it actually meant taking my career to a new level and it gave me different opportunities I hadn’t even dreamt about.

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

One of my first jobs out of college was as an Operational Trainer for Hilton in Brussels. The language spoken at the hotel was French, which meant that all my workshops were held in French. I remember being extremely nervous about my very first session (an employee introduction day) and having practiced for hours and hours to get all the French expressions right. However, during that very first workshop one of the participants had an attack and started to hyperventilate. She was given a brown paper bag to breathe in and I did my best to try to calm her down to slow her aggregated breathing. I leaned in and kept repeating for her to breathe slowly, (at least that’s what I thought I said) but I noticed that she looked even more panicked when I kept repeating to her what I thought was a calming instruction. I stopped and reviewed the word I was using. In French, the word for breathing (respire) is similar to sweating. So, I was basically telling her to sweat less. My learning? Keep practicing whatever skill you think you’ve got!

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

I truly believe managing our energy is one of the most important leadership competencies for the future. In the past we have focused on the individual contributor when it comes to time and energy management. But to really make a difference, it’s the leader that needs to create and keep a culture that promotes healthy time management and sustainable energy. It’s suggested that 40 percent of the jobs as we know them today will be replaced by AI or totally transformed within the next 15 years. Our competitive advantage as human beings is our ability to empathize, to be creative, and to innovate. I always ask leaders if they are great at doing these things when they are tired, overworked and low on energy. The answer is always “NO.” So if you want a creative, innovate, empathic workforce, you also need to invest in their time and energy. And by investing, I mean rewarding. As the leader, ask yourself if you are rewarding the people who are working themselves to exhaustion or those who keep a great level of energy and plan ahead!

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

The first time I managed a remote team was 20 years ago. I wonder if we even used the term “remote teams” back then? I remember the relief I experienced when I got a new role and my team and I were all in the same building.

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 main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each? Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

A key to any successful communication is our ability to decode messages by reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. The actual words mean as little as 8 percent when we try to evaluate what someone is telling us. So, now that we are managing our teams remotely, we are increasing the risk for miscommunication drastically. So, the key to success is to “stay on camera folks!” It makes all the difference.

During my leadership workshops I always encourage participants to keep their videos on. I spend time sharing the “why” and how much it matters to the engagement, communication, and understanding. Having said that, last week I was doing just that, encouraging a small group of leaders to be on camera. I felt I did a great job explaining the “why” when eventually all of them connected on camera. After a while, I realized that the one person who had been the most reluctant being on camera had an elderly relative that he was taking care of, who frequently walked past in the background. I realized it was not a lack of engagement that was stopping this participant from joining via video, but that we were intruding on his privacy. I felt extremely guilty and it served as a reminder to not only share your own “why,” but listen carefully to the “whys” of others, as well.

My advice to leaders is to discuss the utilization of the camera with your team members on a 1-on-1 basis. Take time to listen and truly understand the underlying reasons for why someone on your team might be reluctant to come on video.

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?

Constructive feedback can be difficult in any setting, but giving it remotely is even more difficult. We speak about “blind spots”, as when we are not aware of a behavior or the impact our behavior has on others. Working remotely increases the risk of blind spots. So as a leader (or anyone giving constructive feedback), you need to take extra care to help the person discover a possible blind spot.

Here are a few simple steps to follow:

  1. Share your intention (“I would like to talk about the client event that you hosted yesterday and give you some feedback”).
  2. Start by asking your employee how they felt it went (“How did you think the event went? What did you think of your performance? What were your key insights from yesterday’s event?”). By asking for their perspective first, you get a hint of any blind spots. Your employee might be able to tell you exactly what worked and what didn’t and what they will do differently next time. Your job will be much easier. Or, they will not be aware. You then need to be much more specific in steps 3 and 4.
  3. Share specific observations of behaviors. I always recommend you write them down in advance. If you can’t write it down, you are not specific enough.
  4. Describe the impact this behavior had on you, on others, or on the result. Don’t make it about emotions, keep it factual.
  5. Together, agree on actions to be taken.

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

Yes. Don’t do it. Always talk about it first in person. You can always follow up with an email as a summary, including agreed upon actions. Better yet, ask your employee to do so.

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?

Not only have many started to work remote, but we are also doing so in times of uncertainty. As leaders, we find ourselves in the same situation as our teams. With so much uncertainty, many leaders fall back to relying on the communication, not wanting to say “the wrong thing”, and as a result they communicate less, when they should indeed communicate more. Communication, communication, communication!

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?

Did you have a healthy and empowering work culture before you started working remotely? If yes, continue what you did, but do more of it. Not less. Create space to connect. Connection is one of the 5 Energy Drivers and key to a healthy and empowering work culture. At the same time, many organizations are suffering from “zoom fatigue”, so challenge the idea that everyone must be in every meeting (including yourself). I have a hard time imagining that we will ever get back to the way we used to work pre-COVID. I do think actual human connection is critical and the successful leader will create space for meaningful connections.

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. 🙂

There are two things I feel extremely passionate about. One of them is leadership. If you do it right, you can really make a positive difference. Leadership can be fun, exciting and rewarding. It can also be hard, frustrating and exhausting. I would love for all the leaders in the world to get the development needed to do their job well. Just like we would not let anyone be a doctor without a medical degree or a let someone without a law exam practice law, we should not leave leaders all alone trying to figure it out without support. Great leaders can make a great difference, truly impacting the people in their circle and beyond. And many are fortunate enough to get paid doing so!

The other movement I would love to inspire is all about… movement! There is so much research showing the positive effects of movement. Not only the physical wellbeing, but the mental wellbeing is truly affected by the amount of movement we fit into our life. As a yoga instructor and running coach I try to constantly incorporate movement into my workshops. I’ve had audiences with 100s of leaders standing up together doing squats. It’s brilliant if you can fit in a visit to the gym on a regular basis, but even better if you can get movement into every day, throughout the day.

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

“With people, fast is slow and slow is fast” by Dr. Stephen R. Covey is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I find that whenever I go for the “quick fixes” it often comes back in the shape of a bigger challenge. To truly stop, invest our time to listen, to understand, helps us to quicker get to the root of the cause and solve the real challenge. Once. This is true in both professional as well as personal settings. It’s true for ourselves as well. To stop, pause and reflect before we go for it, makes all the difference.


Victoria Roos Olsson of FranklinCovey: 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.

Heather Denniston: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

DO HARD STUFF — Wim Hoff holds twenty-six world records for cold exposure. He sits on glaciers in his underpants or immerses himself in bodies of water fed by icebergs. Why does he do this? Because he knows there are dozens of documented benefits to challenging our internal thermostat. Exercising our personal temperature gauge boosts immunity, increases mental clarity, blasts fat, and might even fight cancer. Cold exposure is just one example of doing hard stuff to build resilience. When we do hard things, we mount confidence and amplify mental fortitude when unexpected challenges arise.

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 Heather Denniston DC CCWP NASM.

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams. Her proprietary Wellness Amplifier Method helps bridge the connection between personal wellbeing and professional success for high-performers looking to optimize effectiveness, productivity, and professional advancement. Her engaging and practical consulting style is refreshing and impactful. Her results-oriented curriculum is transformative.

As a keynote speaker, she has presented on resilience, stress management, burnout, trust in the workplace, and tactical wellness for professional success. She has spoken to mid and large-size companies, including multiple engagements with Microsoft.

As a writer, she has penned for several publications, authored The Three Day Reset, and was a contributor for 1 Habit For A Thriving home Office.

Through publishing, presenting, and consulting, Dr. Denniston ignites passion and inspires first steps for those looking for profound change and optimization.

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 had dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Shortly into my studies, I realized that instead of swimming with dolphins, I would likely spend my years looking through a microscope. While deciding on a new trajectory, I was injured doing a physically laborious summer job. My sister took me to a chiropractor for the first time.

Dr. Right was a gentle soul. With his magic hands, he eliminated my knee pain in minutes. By the time the appointment concluded, he had sealed my fate. I became a chiropractor.

After twenty years of private practice, I was led to shift into something new. I sold my practice and launched my consulting company, WELLFITandFED.

WELLFITandFED was the response to a calling to ignite passion and inspire first steps in high-performers ready to harness their personal wellness to live, work, and play optimally. Through customized presentations, small group workshops, and 1:1 coaching, the Wellness Amplifier Method curriculum delivers results in personal and professional productivity, passion, and advancement.

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?

This story may only be interesting to me, but I do find myself sharing the lesson I gleaned with many of my clients.

I was attending a nutrition and fitness event, and I stayed an extra day to participate in an entrepreneurial conference add-on. The speaker was mediocre at best, but I took one nugget that grew into a non-negotiable twenty-year business practice.

Here is what the mediocre speaker said. (Paraphrased)

For business owners, entrepreneurs, or just general go-getters, there is one thing that staunches our ability to create and develop dreams into reality more than anything else. It is the concept of “pressure and noise.”

His bottom line was that if we do not elevate ourselves out of the day to day in a regular and meaningful way, we grossly limit our potential and contribution to the world.

After that event, I immediately scheduled a one-day personal offsite — a self-imposed retreat with equal focus on past reflection and visioning. This time away also necessarily included brain nurturing investments like meditation, walks, and other contemplative practices.

Over the years, one day grew into two, and now these retreats are a minimum of four days. They are silent for the most part, deeply reflective, and pull forth ideas and solutions in a way that is impossible when ensconced in our typical day-to-day “pressure and noise.” Prioritizing two solo retreats a year bettered my business dramatically.

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

After twenty years in chiropractic practice, I noticed something; people genuinely wanted to be well. They truly wanted to lose weight, get fit, become mindful, and be filled with passion and purpose.

But often, after a few weeks’ commitment, they would speak of derailment and failure. They didn’t know why they kept ending up back at the starting line. I discovered something; these patients were missing vital foundational blocks necessary to build wellness success. WELLFITandFED was created to provide the missing links and practices for long-term success in being and staying well.

Years later, I noticed something else; clients realized the most significant benefit when we bridged the connection between personal wellbeing and professional success. By sharing the foundational pillars to create lifelong wellness with entrepreneurs and executives, they and their teams see powerful shifts in productivity, effectiveness, promotability, and overall career satisfaction.

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?

He stood at the very front of the stage. He articulated clearly and loudly, “Every wellness decision you make today, tomorrow, and forever, is a slow painful suicide through poor choices, or one step toward a healthier, more expansive, and memorable life. Your choice.” James Chestnut is a chiropractor who developed a wellness certification program for chiropractors (CCWP). He is deeply respected in the profession as a researcher and teacher, and to this day is the most impactful instructor from whom I have had the pleasure of learning.

Dr. Chestnut speaks not of nutrition, but mindful fueling; not of exercise, but functional fitness. Finally, he speaks passionately about attending to the brain and mind as two entities with specific and independent needs. His instruction on true wellness has transformed the lives of thousands of practitioners personally and professionally.

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 the ability to fully recover, preserve perspective, and assign meaning in times of chaos and adversity. Put succinctly; resilience is the shortest distance between getting kicked in the teeth and dusting off. There are common traits held by highly resilient people. Resilient people combine wisdom with perspective. They hold their curious nature in one hand and courage in the other. They maintain space for self-compassion while still forging forward both in motion and bravery. And finally, resilient people have optimism. The hope and inner-knowing that nothing lasts forever.

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

There are so many worthy options to consider in response to this question. Holocaust survivors, enslaved peoples, and those who pioneered great world movements are just a few. But one group kept coming to mind every time — chronic condition sufferers. People who get out of bed in the morning and have no idea how they will make it through the day. People who hold down jobs, put on a brave face, tend to their families, and go on with life even though they are in severe daily discomfort.

I have had the opportunity to connect with many patients and clients with chronic conditions — migraines, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, arthritis, pelvic floor dysfunction, Fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disorders. And many other people with a layered and baffling undiagnosable tangle of symptoms.

These brave and resilient people continue to seek answers when doors have been closed. They visit doctor after doctor and navigate periods of complete discouragement and despair. They move with ongoing hope and optimism that they will find a solution, or at least some relief.

These humans, whose struggles are often silent and unseen, are a living embodiment of the traits of resilience.

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?

“Can’t you just be a nurse or something?” The ski lift continued up the hill as silence fell between my mother and me. I had just told her my dream of becoming a chiropractic doctor, and she had looked at me in shocked surprise and said the words above.

I know becoming and being a nurse is no easy task. But in my mother’s mind, she meant, “aim lower” and, “don’t think so much of yourself.” Before we disembarked the lift, with the cold air whipping at our faces, I had heard all the reasons attending chiropractic school was not going to work.

In that moment, I realized that I was going to be careful about who I let speak into my life. I realized that people, particularly people close to you, can have trepidation regarding how your life choices affect them. They may have limiting beliefs on your perceived abilities or what they deem as “possible.”

I discovered that when someone says, “that’s impossible,” often the statement is saying more about them than me. I graduated as a Doctor of Chiropractic three years and four months later.

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?

Dr. Sherman was a savvy dentist who owned the clinic across the hall from mine. One day he caught me coming out of my office looking like I had both seen a ghost and been hit by a train. “What on earth is the matter?” he asked. I burst into tears. I had just had three of four staff quit in two days. I was devastated and in a complete state of panic.

He reached up and put his hand on my shoulder. (I am kind of tall.) He said, “Heather, you may not want to hear this, but too bad. You are the engine of this practice. Your staff are the tires. Tires are replaceable. I could tell from the beginning you had hired thin-treaded, unreliable tires. Next time get yourself some all-seasons.”

He walked out without waiting for a response. I remained, confused about tires and engines. In the candidate interview the next week, it became clear. I needed to hire with a line of sight to all weather and seasons. I needed to find a team with staying power and grit, staff who filled my gaps with their strengths, and were vested and determined to see the practice succeed. From that point forward, anytime I expanded my team, I regarded his sage and simple words. “Get yourself some all-seasons!”

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

My father collapsed outside of a Portland hotel when I was 27. He was a quiet, hard-working man. Not one to complain. Certainly not of the visual disturbances he was suffering, or the incontinence, or the imbalance. After an MRI was performed, it was discovered that my father collapsed because of a GBM.

Glioblastoma Multiform: The Shark of Brain Cancer

He died six months later, almost to the day, just like the doctor said he would. The tumor overtook his mental functions quickly. That was a blessing. Losing a parent is one of life’s cruelest dealings.

The experience became more poignant when several years later my sisters and I stood in the very same hospital listening to a surgeon say, “Your mother has BRAIN cancer.” (Oligodendroglioma: Stage-4.)

Although it was not the same “shark” that destroyed my dad’s brain, statistics suggested that this particular type of tumor didn’t extend life much beyond five years. (She lived an additional 20.)

Here is the great thing about having two parents with brain cancer. (It took me a while to be able to say that.)

These diagnoses occurred despite my belief that there was no possible way I could have TWO parents with stage-4 brain cancers.

Essentially, my parents’ dual diagnoses negated my pre-conceived notions on life’s possibilities.

And, if I had to lift the framework of possibilities I assigned to negative consequences in life, I concurrently had to accept raising the limiting framework from the side of opportunity.

Misfortunes, as I painfully found out, can be limitless, but I now believe that opportunities and blessings can also be infinite. In the face of adversity, this new belief system allows me to more easily call up hope, optimism, and courage.

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.) SWIM UPSTREAM — During the COVID outbreak, it was published that those most susceptible to the virus had two or more comorbidities. Those who most typically succumbed to the virus were cardiovascularly impaired, obese, diabetic or had a history of cancer. The CDC collaborated that those who were healthy had little to no risk of mortality; in fact, they had more than a 99 percent survival rate.

Here is what those statistics tells us about resilience. Resilience isn’t determined by your response when you collide with a crisis. Resilience is determined by the choices you make the weeks, months, and years before.

How you fuel yourself, what kind of movement you engage in, and the health of your closest relationships, decidedly predict the degree to which you will demonstrate resilience in adverse situations.

So, if we are going to build our resilience muscle, we have to swim upstream and attend to critical factors that determine wellness long before the crises hits.

2.) GET OUT OF “PLAY-DEBT” — We no longer value playfulness as a commodity. Often, we see play as a waste of time and unproductive. However, in all its forms, play can open up creative channels, release stress, and build stores of energy. Playfulness allows us to practice solving challenges and feel accomplished. Those who are resilient understand the adverse effects of a deficit in the play-bank. In my experience, naturally resilient people balance work with play in a way that facilitates facing adversity with more energy and optimism than those who don’t value a good game of tag.

3.) EMBRACE A GROWTH MINDSET — Carol Dweck, the author of Growth Mindset, shares how having a fixed mindset is devastatingly limiting both professionally and personally. She discusses how those with a growth mindset can take feedback and are open to taking risks, even when failure is a probability. They seek out inspiration and know that continuous growth is always possible. When we work on having a growth mindset, we let go of self-limiting beliefs, practice self-compassion, and seek to continuously learn from our failings. Shifting to a growth mindset, by definition, builds our capacity to be resilient.

4.) CURIOSITY — Several years ago, I had a less than fantastic response to a program for women I launched. Instead of spending an excessive amount of time wallowing, I got curious. Why did it not go the way I hoped? What was it about the program that did not resonate with the audience? How can I learn from these results and do it better next time? Like kids exploring an old abandoned barn or a back wood, curiosity shifts us to a creative, problem-solving, and energizing part of the brain. The more we practice curiosity, the more swiftly we recover from any adverse situation.

5.) DRAFT WITH FAITH — Many years ago, I entered an inline skating marathon. At the start, the gun went off. Within a few glides, I felt something touching the small of my back. I looked behind me. A whole line of skaters, like beads on a necklace, were stacked behind me. I quickly realized they were “drafting” off me. Because I had trained alone, I had no idea this was common practice. Later in the race, one skater told me to go to the back of the draft line and that he would take over “pulling” the line.

From the back of the line, tucked in behind the last skater, a miracle happened. I felt like I was fifty pounds lighter and twice as strong. I barely had to exert effort to go at high speed. Faith is the “pull” skater on a long draft line. When adversity hits and we are depleted, faith, whatever that means to the individual, can “pull” while we build up our energy reserves.

BONUS:

DO HARD STUFF — Wim Hoff holds twenty-six world records for cold exposure. He sits on glaciers in his underpants or immerses himself in bodies of water fed by icebergs. Why does he do this? Because he knows there are dozens of documented benefits to challenging our internal thermostat. Exercising our personal temperature gauge boosts immunity, increases mental clarity, blasts fat, and might even fight cancer. Cold exposure is just one example of doing hard stuff to build resilience. When we do hard things, we mount confidence and amplify mental fortitude when unexpected challenges arise.

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. 🙂

When I consult with clients, my objective is to bridge the connection between personal wellbeing and professional success. Each client who flips that switch improves decision-making, impact, energy, productivity and stress. They come to know that the richness of their lives is dependent on the hundreds of daily health-optimizing or health-depleting decisions they make.

If I could foster a movement, it would be to inspire passion and ignite first steps toward total body and mind optimization. There would be greater value put not on preventing disease, but on inspiring health.

Success of this movement would look like every person and child possessing an in-depth knowledge that food is our armor, movement our shield, and mindfulness our secret weapon.

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 🙂

Brene Brown. I don’t want to sit down with someone just because they are famous or have been a significant contributor; I want to sit with someone who has a giant mind, a gracious heart, and a wild wit. From a distance, it seems Brene might fit that bill.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

INSTAGRAM — https://www.instagram.com/wellfitandfed/

FACEBOOK — https://www.wellfitandfed.com/

LINKED IN — https://www.linkedin.com/in/heatherdenniston/

YOUTUBE — https://www.youtube.com/user/WELLFITANDFED

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


Heather Denniston: 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.

Ed Henigin of Data Foundry: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Ed Henigin of Data Foundry: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health. We all know the feeling of being reminded how important our health is when we are compromised. It’s easy to take health for granted when you are healthy. But health is not something that just happens by accident. Resilient people have a pool of physical capacity that they can draw upon.

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 Edward Henigin, CTO of Data Foundry.

After graduating from Bradley University in 1994 with a B.A. in Physics, Edward heeded the call to move to Texas and become Data Foundry’s first employee. He has played an essential role in the company’s growth from an ISP to the colocation provider serving enterprise companies that it is today.

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

I grew up in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. Hawaii is a great place to grow up, I spent a lot of my time outdoors with my friends playing and exploring. I left for college, Bradley University in Peoria Illinois, where I got a physics degree. I only realized in my senior year that I really should have gone for a computer science degree, considering how much I enjoyed doing things with computers. At 11, I taught myself how to program in BASIC by typing in code from a cartoonishly large “Big Book of BASIC Programs,” and over the years I have done a variety of coding.

I was fortunate that my college years, 1990–1994, coincided with the beginning of the explosion of the Internet. After graduating and realizing that a physics degree didn’t set me up for any great jobs, I signed up to work for an Internet friend who was starting, with his parents, an internet service provider in Texas named Texas.Net. The rest, as they say, is history.

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

Data Foundry is the secondary evolution of Texas.Net. We still provide Internet access to a group of customers. Around 2001, our core Internet routers got really bogged down and stopped passing traffic. I was the lead network engineer at the time. Our most important customers were all down because of our router issue. At first, I felt panicked and I didn’t know where to start to solve the problem. I realized that I was on my own and had to figure out a solution to this problem. I needed to act on it regardless of what others felt. My approach to the problem and solution was testing all ports to isolate the bad traffic impacting the router. I wrote custom scripts to navigate and find what caused the issue in the first place, so it wouldn’t happen again. My takeaway was that sometimes you need to ignore the pain of a situation and just put one foot in front of the other in a logical way to walk yourself out of that pain, and to get to a place that is actually better than before.

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

From day one, our owners (the Yokubaitis family) have beat the drum of quality, quality, quality. Consistent quality for our customers is our approach. We’ve never tried to undercut our competitors because we don’t need to. Our customers are nationally recognized names, due to confidentiality agreements, I cannot name. But you’d know their logos if you saw them.

One of the things that speak to our quality is our customers themselves. We had a Fortune 100 opportunity to call up a Fortune 10 customer as a reference, turning a major deal in our favor. We won that deal because of our authentic commitment to quality.

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

I’m profoundly grateful for the support that Jonah, Ron, and Carolyn Yokubaitis have given me over the last 26 years.

I met Jonah Yokubaitis over the Internet in 1993. We shared an interest in the nascent Linux operating system, and all the fun things that people were learning how to do together once they are digitally connected. When I graduated from college in 1994, I learned that Jonah was starting an Internet provider in Texas with his parents, Ron and Carolyn, and they could use some employees. I signed up and headed off to Texas. I was excited to actually get paid to help connect people to the Internet, and they were willing to take a chance on me given that my primary qualifying trait was that I really wanted the job.

Over the years, the Yokubaitis family has continued their unwavering support for me, to the point where I’m now a senior executive at one of their companies. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for their belief in me.

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 the ability to continue your mission despite suffering misfortune.

It’s about having excess capacity and contingency plans to overcome setbacks and continue the mission. When your full capacity is exhausted, there is no further ability to get back on track.

A key example is financial resilience. If you bet all your funding on your project having zero problems, then you won’t have any funding to deal with a problem that unexpectedly happens.

I read a quote which has stuck with me: “Fear is that which you feel in between confronting something new and mastering it.” Resilient people are either open to and capable of learning quickly or have had life experiences which they can draw on to master new situations. Having an excess pool of experience beyond what’s strictly necessary for the mission allows you to respond to more unexpected circumstances.

A key criterion for selection into a team should always be whether a candidate personally cares about the mission. That personal connection to the goal will drive motivation and there will be resilience naturally. Resilient people have reserves they can draw on when the path forward becomes more difficult than originally planned.

Ultimate resilience is bigger than any single mission. Sometimes the wise choice is to redefine or even abandon individual goals so as not to sacrifice the long term for the short term. It’s possible for a goal that is worthwhile when envisioned to become not worthwhile once circumstances change, and you should walk away to save yourself for the next worthwhile goal. Resilient people have agency and are able to change their direction when the original direction is untenable.

That’s what resilience means to me.

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

Elon Musk is a public figure who has been able to persevere through some profound setbacks. I read a story about the first three failed launches of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket between 2006 and 2008. He was able to secure enough funding to keep the program going until the fourth launch which finally succeeded and set the company on a path to success.

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’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by people in my career who don’t think that way. A big example for me is the decision made by our owners to build a brand-new data center in Austin, TX in 2009. Prior to that decision, we had been operating out of existing data centers that we had bought out of the 2000 telecom bust. We envisioned opening a data center with four times the capacity of our existing site in Austin, on a campus that could repeat that scale five times over. We were planning a $50 million+ dollar speculative build. At the time we had never considered a price that high.

Once our owners had committed to the project, the prospect of executing it was daunting. It felt almost impossible. As one of the people expected to pull it off, it was scary to consider what we had to do and what was riding on it. We overcame the fear by talking extensively with the experts around us to learn how everything worked. We built relationships, learned from experts, and spent an enormous amount of time just paying attention and staying involved in the process from beginning to end. Ultimately, we opened our first solely owned purpose-built colocation data center in July 2011, which is a major milestone for Data Foundry.

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 first daughter was born in 2005 and there were complications which required an emergency C-section. Due to the complications she was put into neonatal intensive care (NICU) for three days to monitor her and administer IV antibiotics. My wife and I were in shock due to the difficult labor, fear for our newborn daughter, followed by her being abruptly whisked out of our arms. The doctors didn’t quite know what was going on and were falling back on a “better safe than sorry” approach to care. My wife was exhausted and on pain medication, and I had limited time to understand and take action within an institution in which I had little ability to navigate.

As with new parents we had specific plans from the very beginning as to what we wanted to provide from day one with our daughter, and the potential separation of her in NICU was stressful. Our kind OB/GYN prescribed hospital stay for my wife due to the C-section, so we turned the hospital room into a hotel for the two of us. Through this we were able to accomplish and maintain our vision for what we wanted, and with the help of the nurses and the neonatologist we were able to work through the associated stress. In one conversation, I asked the neonatologist what was going to happen with our daughter. She said that whenever the parents were around and attentive, the outcomes were typically very good.

After three days they declared our daughter free of any issues and released us. We left the hospital with a healthy baby and a healing mommy.

Excess resources contributed to our success at every step. Caring doctors stepped in to help us. Our insurance and our financial stability allowed us to afford staying in the hospital room for extra time, to be close to NICU and our daughter. My job afforded me the flexibility of taking time off. If we had been much closer to the edge in any of these ways, it would have been much more difficult to walk out that quickly with our daughter in our arms, healthy in a way that was personally important to us.

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

I had a variety of life experiences that I think helped with my perspective as an adult. When I was two years old, we moved to Brazil for two years. I have few conscious memories of that time, but one thing I took away is that the world is big and there are a wide variety of people out there, and we should respect their perspectives as being meaningful to them.

When I was five, we moved to Hawaii. There is no dominant ethnicity in Hawaii, everyone is a minority. It is a true mixing pot, where bits and pieces of different cultures are sampled and mashed-up into a new tapestry. I internalized non-judgement and an openness which I continue to carry to this day. In times of stress, I try to be careful about which beliefs I cling to which might leave me fragile or vulnerable. I’m often able to “go with the flow,” like “a leaf on a stream,” which enables me to learn from others, be adaptable and find solutions.

In high school I ran track and cross country. Challenging myself physically, I learned that I had depths of energy that I could draw on even when going through discomfort. I wasn’t an especially good runner, it’s not that I could run far or fast. What I learned, though, was that I could feel tired, I could feel winded or worn out, but nevertheless my body could keep going if I only asked it to. My mind would play tricks on me, telling me I simply couldn’t push any harder or continue any longer, but in actuality it could. I don’t think I’m a special person in this way, I think this is true for everyone. Our brains naturally want us to be lazy, to have a life of ease, to not over-exert ourselves, and our brains whisper lies about our limits. I learned that I could set aside those sneaky lies and keep pushing and that my limits were beyond what I would have thought.

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.

Since my view of resilience is that it centers around excess capacity, the way to create resilience is to create excess capacity.

My five steps for anyone looking to become more resilient:

1. Live within your financial means.

To be truly resilient is to live within your means, so that you have excess capacity to deal with unexpected occurrences.

2. Cultivate meaningful relationships and friendships in life.

A clear professional example of this is networking to find a job. Losing your job can be a painful shock, and that shock can be mitigated if your network of professional friends can help you find new opportunities.

3. Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health.

Physical health is a foundation for mental and emotional health. We all know the feeling of being reminded how important our health is when we are compromised. It’s easy to take health for granted when you are healthy. But health is not something that just happens by accident. Resilient people have a pool of physical capacity that they can draw upon.

4. Learn how to function under stress and create a game plan to mitigate it.

Stress tolerance is like a muscle: you need to expose yourself to stress to learn how to deal with it. Too low of an exposure doesn’t do any good, and too high can be harmful. You have to take your opportunities for appropriately stressful situations and embrace them.

5. Avoid junk food and eat healthier options for better energy and focus.

My advice is to not drink calories, avoid food that you find difficult to limit (especially fried food and desserts), find an enjoyable exercise routine that you can stick with, and get good sleep. Over the years my routines have waxed and waned, but I always have had my best excess pool of physical and mental capacity when I’m fit and eating the right food to fuel my body.

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 nuclear energy could be a huge benefit for mankind. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t trust it and public support is lacking. I think it is a misunderstood and underestimated technology that deserves a fresh look. It can provide sustainable green energy, benefiting current and future generations.

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 very much admire Bill Gates for his thoughtful work on trying to help the people of Earth to live healthy and productive lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

-facebook.com/datafoundry

-linkedin.com/datafoundry

-instagram.com/datafoundry

-twitter.com/datafoundry

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


Ed Henigin of Data Foundry: 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.

Dagmar Spichale: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Reach out when the going gets tough: Is it imperative to create a network of like minded people and reach out when we get stuck. This applies to asking for actual advice to just stating “I’m having a tough week”. The power of someone being compassionate is hugely valuable. There are times when I put out something like “I am stuck on XYZ”, and immediately my people chime in with stories about how they are faced with similar challenges, or solutions they have already discovered because they were in the same position a few days ago. This immediately makes me feel like I am not the only one who’s stuck with this problem, and opens up new channels and ways for finding a solution.

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 Dagmar Spichale.

Dagmar is the founder of her namesake brand of luxurious yet urban women’s dresses that can be found at www.dagmarspichale.com. Born and raised in Germany and now living in the US, Dagmar has built a career and a business in apparel production management before arriving at design. She has worked extensively with both manufacturers and designers in Europe, Asia, and the US.

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 was born and raised in East Germany. It was the 80’s, I was a teenager, and I wanted nothing more than to study fashion design. But I wasn’t allowed to (more on that later…) so I chose a major in Textile and Clothing Engineering which covered the manufacturing side of apparel production. The Berlin Wall was brought down by the people in November of 1989, and in January of 1990 I moved to a small town in West Germany and stayed with an aunt of mine. As exhilarating as these times were, it was also a bit scary to start all over in a culture that was familiar and foreign at the same time, and so I thought I had better continue on the path I had begun instead of switching to design school at this point. A few years later, I finished college with a degree in Production Management and started the journey of trying to find my place in the industry that took me from one job to the next, and the next, without ever feeling like I had arrived. I was very inspired by people who were passionate about their jobs, and I wanted the same for myself. In 1998 I moved to the US. Soon after, during a brief stint in Hong Kong, I started Prodway, LLC, where I worked with smaller-to-medium sized high-end designers based in the US and managed their apparel production in Asia. It was my first wildly successful enterprise. And then I hit a wall.

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

The most powerful story of my journey came with a mighty reminder of the truth behind the saying “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.”

My first company, Prodway, LLC came about through a rejection: I arrived in Hong Kong with the name and telephone number of a small business owner who I was told was in search of a production manager. Instead, to my surprise, she told me the position wasn’t right for me! I was not going to let that discourage me but set out on my own instead and created Prodway.

After returning to the US I enrolled in the 5-months business planning program at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Francisco to learn all the ins and outs of running a small business. I really applied myself and started being successful while still enrolled in the program! The business grew fast. I enjoyed the lifestyle that came with it. This could have been huge — had I only liked what I did. Instead I was miserable as never before because my heart wasn’t in it.

It was mind boggling. Here I was, on my way to being hugely successful, and it meant nothing to me. Deep down I was still the designer that I always wanted to be. Yet I felt stuck because I believed that it was somehow too late to start over again. I took two big lessons away from the experience. First, success is not a straight line, and there are no rules about how one’s career “should” unfold. Second, if you have a strong calling you must follow your heart because at the end of the day you will never find peace of mind if you chose not to. I eventually took the plunge and fully embraced these lessons, and accepted that in order to be happy I must create and work as a designer. I went back to school for a design degree and founded my namesake brand, DAGMAR SPICHALE, and I have never looked back.

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

First and foremost I am a problem solver. That alone gives me a different angle. I have always felt that clothes need more than to fulfil the need to be either practical OR pretty. Often, day clothes are just practical and special occasion clothes are just pretty; or, day clothes are pretty but not practical. It might be a bit far fetched but the maxim coined by architect Louis Sullivan — Form Follows Function — has always made sense to me. We can do both — beauty as well as everyday function, and we deserve both. In addition, in my designs, I put as much effort and consideration into sustainability as I put into the design details. Sustainability can look good and must look good to become ingrained in everyday fashion. Only if sustainability becomes mainstream will it effect the impact necessary to create meaningful change within the industry.

This really clicked on a trip to Mexico. With around 95 degrees and a relative humidity of 65% on average I needed my wardrobe to function big time: natural fabrics, breezy designs, comfortable cuts. But I didn’t want the dresses to look “natural” and “comfortable”. I wanted them to look stunning! I figured, if something worked under the weather conditions in Mexico, it would work back home as well! And so the vision for my work was born: whenever I design something, I ask myself: Can I wear this every day, and will I be able to wear this in an exaggerated version of the environment I am planning to wear it in?

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 overwhelmed with gratitude to think about everyone who has helped me, inspired me, and influenced me along the way, and there are so many amazing people that come to mind. And yet, the one I am going to name inspires some reluctance. I would not be true to myself if I did not pay the tribute he deserves though: my ex-husband, Tevya. He always encouraged me to follow my dreams. He made me realize that there is no set path I have to follow. He believed in my abilities and talent, and he pushed me to go beyond what I thought I could be. While our marriage did not last, back then he was my oak — supportive and encouraging, and pitching in when needed: watching the kids or taking them out of the house so I could finish a project, giving business advice, being my soundboard, and helping with my business plans.

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 according to Merriam-Webster is “a person’s ability to bounce back after a jarring setback.” It is the art of getting back up after having been brought down, and letting life flow through us. We are resilient when we can let mistakes and failure wash over us and maybe knock us down for a moment, but ultimately emerging on the other end. It means keeping the big goals in focus and finding the gift in our supposed failures. I feel that recently the definition of resilience has shifted from pure powering through our setbacks towards allowing our feelings of pain in the face of failure and rejection, and letting them pass through us. There is an amazing amount of power in allowing our feelings and working through them instead of against them. Resilient people don’t take their setbacks personally. They strive to find the message within and use those in determining a solution. They have a mindset of “Oh, so this didn’t work. Lesson learned, thank you. Let’s find out what does work then!”

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

My long-time friend Stephanie comes to mind. After she went through a difficult divorce she rebuilt her life for herself and her daughter. Then out of the blue she received a cancer diagnosis, and went through surgery and chemotherapy. During that time, she created a new business, an enterprise that helps and empowers other women. I have not heard her complain or take a victim stance once. She moved through every phase of the ordeal with so much grace. She has always remained positive, inspiring, her usual funny, and strong. I am in awe of her!

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

When I was 17, and dreaming of becoming a fashion designer, a teacher asked me to make an impossible choice. It was the mid 80’s and the ruling party in communist East Germany where I grew up controlled everything, including college admissions. My teacher point-blank declared that if I wanted to go to art school and be a designer I would have to join the communist party. That was so far out of the question — everything about the reigning political system went against every single thing I believed. I declined, and the teacher burst into a rant of how he would make sure I would never reach my goal. That moment felt very heavy and I remember thinking that from that day on my focus would be to one day leave this country. It never came to that though as fortunately, just a few years later the Berlin Wall was brought down. It took quite a few years and a detour into the field of production management, but in 2014 I graduated from California College of the Arts with a degree in fashion design — one of my happiest and proudest moments ever!

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

In the early 2000’s I was trying to find my place in the field of production management. I had just returned from living in Hong Kong where I had created my first company, Prodway, LLC, a production management agency for the apparel industry. Right out the gate I was successful. I attended the business planning program at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Francisco and won “Best Business Plan”. I was profitable from the get-go — even before I finished the program! Then I hit a wall: I was miserable. I did not enjoy what I was doing. And I was devastated: I had spent so much time in this career. I was successful and yet I felt like such a failure. I was stuck in the story that I should have made up my mind about what I wanted to do before I set out, and that I should finish what I started (a very German belief, by the way). It took me 2 years to come to terms with my feelings and make the decision to close the business. At that point, I didn’t dare to dream about what I would do next for fear of making another mistake in my choice. Eventually, I started by casually taking some art classes. Next, I signed up for an informational tour at California College of the Arts (CCA). The friendly admin officer encouraged me to submit my portfolio. She said that way they could advise me on where I needed to put in more work should I ever decide to apply. I became curious about how my skills and the quality of my work would be judged at CCA and I handed in my portfolio. I was surprised beyond belief when instead of a letter laying out the classes I needed to take, I received a congratulatory note that I had been accepted into CCA!

I felt like I had arrived, and I have never looked back. I know now without the shadow of a doubt this is the path I must follow. On my journey I have seen many facets of the fashion industry including many aspects that fill me with sadness and a passion to change them. From the moment I decided to follow my calling to be a designer I knew I would have to carve out my place in the fashion industry rather than fit in, and push for change as much as I can. I feel the strength and excitement that only comes with doing what we absolutely love!

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

Growing up my teachers would tell me I was never going to graduate from college. They decided for me that as a woman, I would get out of school before I was 20 years old, get married, have children, and become a homemaker. In their mind there was no need that I should even be admitted to high school. This way of thinking and control is as shocking to me now as it seems foreign — looking at what I have become I almost find it hard to believe that I grew up in a system that supported such oppression of women. I now hold two college degrees but back in the 80’s I had to become resourceful to get where I wanted to be. At the time, I was 14 years old and a little young to maneuver this challenge on my own. Fortunately my parents stepped in and provided a powerful lesson in modeling resiliency by encouraging me to stay strong and not give up, by brainstorming alternate ways, calling on connections, and ultimately helping me find my way to a solution. Together, we discovered and decided on an educational path that combined the preparation for college that high school provided with a vocational training. This enabled me to later apply for college as much as it gave me a glimpse into the inner workings of apparel manufacturing.

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.

  • Keep the big picture in mind: The road towards the launch of my clothing design business has not been a straight one. Many times the path was a different one than what I thought it would be. In these moments I remind myself of my WHY, and of the vision I have. I am a visual person and love creating moodboards for my dreams and visions. If I feel like I have come up against a road block I can just glance over and take a deep breath. Knowing why I am doing what I am doing, and where I am headed puts setbacks in perspective.
  • Meditate: Meditation is helpful in turning my mind back onto the big picture, but it is also and possibly even more so a helpful front-loading tool. Meditation will bring underlying issues to the surface when they are still manageable. It also helps to get out of my mind and separate an obstacle from myself and lets me not take setbacks personally. For example, I sometimes notice seemingly random anxiety but am not sure what it’s about. Taking the time to meditate shows me where the issue really lies so I can resolve it and focus my energy on working down my to-do list rather than wasting it on feeling anxious.
  • Reach out when the going gets tough: Is it imperative to create a network of like minded people and reach out when we get stuck. This applies to asking for actual advice to just stating “I’m having a tough week”. The power of someone being compassionate is hugely valuable. There are times when I put out something like “I am stuck on XYZ”, and immediately my people chime in with stories about how they are faced with similar challenges, or solutions they have already discovered because they were in the same position a few days ago. This immediately makes me feel like I am not the only one who’s stuck with this problem, and opens up new channels and ways for finding a solution.
  • Dismantle your stories: talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself: Never underestimate the destructive power of our own stories, or the power of learning to recognize and disable them. Our stories have a knack for showing up right when we’ve hit an obstacle so they’re usually a double whammy. I’ve developed a surefire detector for those stories: Every time a thought pops up in my head that starts with “I should…” an alarm goes off in the back of my head. “I should already be done with this project.” “I should have known the answer to that.” “I should have started sooner.” Those are examples of rules I never wrote, contracts I never signed. When I face those stories and tell them “Those are not the rules I live by” I am actively choosing to strengthen my resilience.
  • Don’t let setbacks get to you: look for the gift within and surrender to the message: This one is often overlooked as we have been conditioned to simply put those pesky failures behind us. Every setback has a message that we need to hear though, and we will be stronger and more resilient if we learn to find those messages and listen. Had I not felt so miserable in my previous business I don’t know if I would have had the courage to start over. I do know this was the best thing that ever happened to me, though, because I now love what I do every day! The message I needed to hear and let in was: You need to follow your heart, and ignore the voices that try to tell you you can’t switch careers and start over.

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

I would love to inspire the movement of consumers demanding from manufacturers to take their products back at the end of their lifecycle for recycling. That would require manufacturers to consider recycling from the very beginning of creating their products and encourage them to choose materials that are conducive to recycling.

A movement like this would really disrupt the world of Fast Fashion. My hope would be that it would cause manufacturers to rethink the use of blends in fabrics. A single-material fabric is much easier to recycle than a blend. Creating this movement would involve a lot of educating consumers about the difficulty to recycle clothing articles. But in the long run, hundreds of thousands of pounds of textiles would be saved from ending up in landfills every year. And putting that much effort in recycling would not just create many new jobs, but an entire new industry! It excites me to think about the possibilities, and I believe we have reached a turning point where we not just have the opportunity but the responsibility to create this kind of change.

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

I would love to have lunch with Arianna Huffington. I admire her dedication to seeing people thrive as a whole, and her angle of mindfulness to do so. I love her disrupting views on fashion, her refusal to give in to the pressure to wear something new every time she steps into the limelight, and her pointing out that it is important to wear the items we love repeatedly, because that’s what a well made garment deserves, and because we don’t have the time to fuss over our wardrobes for stretches of time daily. I love for her to see vulnerability for what it is: strength, and to encourage and support it every day in people.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.facebook.com/DAGMARSPICHALE

https://www.instagram.com/dagmarspichale/?hl=en

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

Thank you!


Dagmar Spichale: 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.

Jay El-Kaake of Fera.ai: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Invest in yourself — With more knowledge, more training or more power you are going to be able to stand ahead when things are tough. Don’t wait until things are hard to better yourself. Do it in advance.

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 Jay El-Kaake, founder & CEO of Fera.ai, an app for Shopify stores that lets merchants gather, show and grow their reviews, customer photos and other social proof content. Previous to that he started the most popular eCommerce loyalty software in the world called Smile.io. Combined, nearly 100,000 eCommerce merchants worldwide have used software that Jay founded.

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’ve always had a soft spot for helping retailers sell better. My family came to Canada as refugees from Lebanon, and my dad started retail stores right away. As a kid, I remember going to work with him and loving to help him make his store better. Alas, his retail stores never survived, and I always felt I could have done more to help.

At the age of 10, I discovered programming and became obsessed with building things. When I found out I could build software to sell things online I was in love. This turned into helping other struggling retailers out there so they didn’t have to suffer as my father had.

As a young adult I followed my dream and studied software engineering at the University of Waterloo. While there, I created Smile.io. A few years later, I stepped down as CEO to complete my MBA at the Ivey School of Business and started work on my new idea to battle the world of ‘fake news’ and decreasing consumer trust in companies.

That idea has now become Fera.ai — an app for eCommerce merchants that lets them easily collect, showcase, learn from and grow their reviews, customer photos, customer videos, and other social proof content. Fera.ai works for Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento and a few other eCommerce platforms.

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?

When we were scaling the company, I wanted to bring in someone new to lead the business side of the operations. I had always believed that the best people to hire should check 3 main boxes:

  1. Hard-working
  2. Smart
  3. Eager to learn

The reasoning behind this is because we can always train for the rest of the skills, but you can’t train for character traits. Following this hiring philosophy had worked out for the company really well so far.

I found someone who seemed good (or so I thought) and we were accepted into the Y Combinator program as a cherry on top. The person I had chosen to hire checked the boxes, but a few red flags came up that I had ignored. He was banned from the Shopify office before due to malpractice and I felt his business practices were a bit sketchy, but who was I to know? I was just an engineer after all. I also justified my decision because all the proper legal documents were in place. I wasn’t worried.

A few months passed and problems started to arise. This person stopped answering messages for days on end and started performing extremely poorly. He was paid very well and it was becoming embarrassing to my team, clients and partners. I reviewed the legal documents and after several warnings given to the person, I decided to give them a very generous severance package (way more than the contracts had required). I thought all my bases were covered and our company could move on.

This is when I learned that I missed a very valuable checkbox when hiring: INTEGRITY.

After terminating the employee he exploded. He sent emails to anyone he could reach and lied about several things. He attempted to defame the company to punish us for letting him go. Not only that, but he destroyed company property and even caused several of our largest clients to cancel their accounts. He cost us millions in value, which for a startup is a big deal!

It took me nearly a year of heartache and pain to finally clean up that mess. I learned that this former employee didn’t care about his reputation in the eCommerce industry. He didn’t care about the contracts he signed. He didn’t care about the other people’s jobs he was jeopardizing. All he wanted was revenge and he knew he could damage the company.

The lesson I learned is you must test for someone’s INTEGRITY during the interview as well as check your other boxes.

You need to be able to answer this question: When sh*t hits the fan — how will they react? Unfortunately in a startup environment disaster scenarios happen all the time — it’s necessary to move fast and iterate for innovation. When that happens, hire the people you count on to stand by your side.

Now we always check for 4 things:

  1. Hard-working
  2. Smart
  3. Willing to learn
  4. Has integrity.

When this person tried to sink the company out of anger, the other employees offered to take pay cuts to help offset the losses. That’s integrity. I’ll forever remember their kindness.

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

Innovation.

After 15 years in eCommerce, I’ve built up a good sense of what is going to grow and what isn’t. I’ve seen eCommerce titans rise and I’ve seen them fall. What always happens is one company comes up with an innovative idea, then 100 other offshore companies copy the idea and offer it for 10x cheaper. How do North American companies compete? By coming up with the next big thing, rinsing and repeating. Offshore companies can copy your software but they can’t copy your brain and your team’s culture.

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?

One person? Oh man that’d be a hard thing to single out. One person that comes to mind with respect to my story above is the VC Aaron Michel at 1984.

I think back to the Y Combinator days when my former #2 — my trusted confidant — betrayed me, my investors and my employees by doing his best to try to sink the company. At the time, we were planning an equity raise and to hire more people, but this person made it so we could no longer do that.

I was utterly heart-broken. I couldn’t eat or sleep for weeks. I dragged myself out of bed and tried my hardest to figure out the next steps. I felt like I had failed. I knew we still had a good business and that this person was wrong, but how could I miss such an obvious hiring factor? How did I let him talk me into thinking that being banned from the Shopify office was not a big deal? I was near tears. Even thinking of it today I get teary-eyed.

A few weeks later, I met Aaron from the VC firm called 1984. He had connected with me through a friend’s company whom he had invested in recently and asked to chat. 1984 was interested in investing, but in our call I was upfront and honest with him about what had happened.

Even after knowing we weren’t raising capital he and his partners continued to talk to me and help me see that it was not all that bad.

His theory was simple and he said, “All great companies go through a minimum of one event that may have killed the company.” His perspective was that we’d already gotten over that hump and we were still thriving, so I should be happy. The worst was over and we had won — so the future outlook was positive and I should focus on that. His perspective was mind-blowing at the time and made me feel so much better!

Perhaps the universe has a way of bringing amazing people to your doorstep when you need it the most.

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 the ability to weather the inevitable storms that every business faces. You must be flexible, willing to change, willing to fail and most importantly willing to keep going after you’ve failed.

Entrepreneurship is a guessing game at best. Even the smartest people in the world would agree: you can’t predict the future 100%. As long as that is true you need to be able to proceed when things don’t go as planned or else you’ll eventually be bogged down by all your baggage.

An example of resilience is evident through silicon valley startups. I’ve come to the realization that startups in the California valley are no more intelligent nor hard working than any other startups in the rest of the USA or Canada. The difference is that they are extremely well funded. They are able to go completely in the wrong direction for 6 months, see markets (like BTC) crash and lose all their clients, then keep going for another year with a totally new idea. CASH gives them the ability to pivot and weather economic ups and downs. This cushion of cash helps them to be resilient, and boy do they have a lot of it.

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

A recent example is O2 Canada. I worked out of the same office building as their small team before and watched them hustle day after day. There were countless situations where their leaders Peter and Rich jumped through hoops to keep their vision alive.

Then, when things were looking bleak… COVID hit! But guess what O2 Canada makes? Masks.

In business you’re always just working hard to get lucky someday. Yes they did get a bit lucky in a very unfortunate situation, but they worked very hard along the way to get there.

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?

About 10 years ago, back, when I was starting Smile.io, my co-founder Mike (who took over as CEO when I left) pitched that eCommerce was going to be bigger than retail by 2025. That fact was important to our strategy since we planned to focus on becoming the leader in the eCommerce loyalty software.

We were laughed out of the room by some investors…”How could shopping in real life be worse than digital life?”

We were disheartened, but our spirits were lifted later we landed OMERS Ventures as an investor, who was also an early investor in Shopify (SHOP). Guess who’s laughing now?

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?

Leaving my first company was a really hard decision, and it was super depressing to think about where I was in my life at that time. I had sunk everything I had into my first company and even dropped out of my last semester of engineering school to do it.

I was a broke college drop out with very little to show for it… Kanye made it seem so much cooler than it actually was.

It took about 3 years to get back on my feet. One year to finish graduate school and two years to pay off my debts. I worked relentlessly and was ready to give it another shot with Fera.

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

I had the privilege of being friends with someone named Mike Mcdonald who held the title for the youngest person in the world to win a world-series championship poker tournament at the young age of 18. He won $1M at the European Poker Tour in 2008.

Mike had accumulated funds to enter into these tournaments by playing online poker games. He knew his odds and he would play them. Before long Mike was entering into tournaments that would cost up to $100,000 as a buy-in. People would fly from all around the world to play in the tournaments and they were expected to last multiple weeks sometimes. He was playing a few tournaments per month.

One day Mike recently came back from a tournament trip where he was kicked out within the first hour. It was broadcasted on national television to millions of viewers and was expected to go on for a week. I met up with Mike and asked, “How does it feel to lose a $100k buy-in tournament in the first hour?”

His answer was priceless. “I don’t know, well I guess it feels nice since I have the rest of the week to relax,” he said. Mike knew his odds and he knew that he can’t win them all. He knew that he just had to play a large number of games and look at the big picture.

Mike has since won $12M more playing his odds. Good job Mike.

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. Hire for integrity.

Your ship is not always going to be smooth sailing. The environments change — maybe not now — but definitely at some point. Chaos will ensue, and when it does, who can you count on to move gracefully?

People with poor integrity will be quick to kick you when you’re down and this will greatly weaken your resilience.

2. Get comfortable with your failures.

We all make mistakes and things don’t go according to plan. Being resilient requires you to be able to admit your mistakes so you can power on. Most people don’t do nearly enough of that.

3. Practice persistence.

Resilience is about weathering small failures along a route of mastery. This takes a lot of time and you need to get good at not getting distracted by the next new and shiny thing. This is way easier said than done. As long as you are following your market patterns and data, you’re going in the right direction then your persistence will pay off.

Persistence is resilience’s best friend.

4. Invest in yourself.

With more knowledge, more training or more power you are going to be able to stand ahead when things are tough. Don’t wait until things are hard to better yourself. Do it in advance.

5. Hire a pessimist.

A good CFO will watch your spending habits and will offset your optimism with pessimism. Walt — our CFO at Fera.ai — has already done that for a few times and I’ve been grateful for it. I wouldn’t consider him a pessimist but he’s certainly more realistic than I am.

Innovators are optimists by nature and it’s good to have someone who can offset your crazy thinking with some backup cash for tougher times. You’ll thank him/her later.

Thanks Walt.

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. 🙂

War just seems like a massive waste of resources for humanity. There are still people in the world dying of hunger and somehow some countries still think it’s a good idea to put all their funding into military spend… just does not make any sense to me!

Imagine if governments invested in equipment for agriculture, clean water, and basic education for people around the world in addition to STEAM programs where applicable. Perhaps higher education levels, abundance of food and the strengthening of struggling economies would allow humanity to be in a better position overall.

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 sit with Simon Sinek and hear his take on what COVID and mass work-from-home society is going to do to leadership. How will leaders change in the COVID world?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.twitter.com/jayelkaake

www.linkedin.com/jayelkaake

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


Jay El-Kaake of Fera.ai: 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.

PepsiCo VP Nicole Portwood: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Listen to your fans. As I mentioned before, after making our mistake with mislabeling the “Upper Peninsula,” our fans were the first ones to call us out while also having our back at the same time! We listened, made no excuses, and worked hard to make it up to them. Your fans will tell you when you’re getting it right, and when you’re letting them down.

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

Nicole Portwood joined PepsiCo in September 2018 as vice president of marketing, Mountain Dew, leading 360° brand marketing strategy across the trademark. In this role, she continues to further hone the fan-centric marketing model developed over years of experience and put to the test in the spirits category. Nicole joined PepsiCo from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, where she led brand marketing as CMO for 9 years based in Austin, TX. Nicole was recognized as AdAge’s Marketer of the Year 2017. Prior to her role at Tito’s, she lived in New York and worked on the agency side for brands such as Jack Daniels, Grey Goose, and Bombay Sapphire. She is a recovering restaurant owner, having created and then sold Spartan Pizza, a thriving shop on Austin’s 6th Street. Nicole studied theatre and philosophy at Southern Methodist University. She and her husband have two children and live in the beautiful River Towns area of Westchester, NY.

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

First, I’ll tell you I had no idea this career path existed before I realized I was on it. I grew up creative and driven, balancing a love for the arts with a fierce need for intellectual stimulation. I went on to study Theatre and Philosophy in college and moved to New York to “make it” on Broadway, but realized after a relatively short period of time that a career in the arts just wasn’t for me. I started voicing radio commercials, then selling them, then writing full-blown marketing plans for small, family-owned businesses. That’s when I got hooked. I absolutely fell in love with the consumer perspective and leveraging fundamental human motivation to solve business problems. I worked on the agency side for iconic spirits brands, then helped to develop the ground-up marketing function for a small, Texas-based vodka brand that has grown into an international icon in its own right. In that time, I continued my love affair with the consumer, or fan as I like to call them, and realized the incredible power brand love has to drive business. That focus is what led me to Mtn Dew. There is no brand like it, no fandom so fierce, a truly entrenched cult brand, and in it I saw an opportunity to continue to focus on the people that make a brand what it is in culture.

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?

Hmm, I don’t think I have any that are “funny”…

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

In 2019, MTN DEW released the DEWnited States collection — a limited-edition bottle series representing all of the things that make the 50 states so great. Out of sheer human error, we posted an image of the U.S. with a region of northern Michigan mislabeled as Wisconsin. The @UpperPeninsula Twitter account quickly responded, calling out our mistake. Numerous media outlets caught wind of the error — spurring coverage on a national scale.

We jumped into action, making it our mission make it up to residents by launching a custom “Upper Peninsula” label — highlighting the things residents love most about the area. To unveil the new bottle, MTN DEW took things a step further by hosting a few special events right in the U.P. area — giving us a chance to build relationships with locals.

I love to tell this story because it’s an example of our commitment to our fans, with the agility and resources to see it through!

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

We are working on a few new and interactive projects to specifically engage with fans online that I can give you some insight into:

  • Dew Nation HQ: We wanted to reward our fans with a two-way conversation, a place for them to share their fandom with others, so we created the DEW Nation HQ®, which is a free membership platform for our diehard DEW® fans to connect with the rest of DEW Nation, share their passion for DEW®, and stay in the know with all the latest and greatest that DEW® has to offer.
  • Dew eStore: Our fans are so passionate about the product that we created an official store — the one-stop-shop for DEW® gear you can’t find anywhere else. All the Dew gear you never knew you needed with exclusive collaborations and limited flavor exclusives.

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 relationship-building. This is where you tell stories and drive emotional connection with people. This is the narrative that makes people feel something when they interact with your brand and what sets it apart amongst a sea of competitors.

Product marketing is about driving the immediate need, the sale. This is where you appeal to the rational, attribute-based decision making that connects a product to its occasion and competitive set.

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?

Long term value. Brand is what creates an emotional connection with people. In the moment of choice, brand relationships evoke feelings that drive purchase preference. Those relationships also give you pricing power because of the trust and consistency you deliver time and time again. Over the long run, it’s how a brand makes you feel that ultimately delivers total value.

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. Listen to your fans. As I mentioned before, after making our mistake with mislabeling the “Upper Peninsula,” our fans were the first ones to call us out while also having our back at the same time! We listened, made no excuses, and worked hard to make it up to them. Your fans will tell you when you’re getting it right, and when you’re letting them down.
  2. Prioritize internal rigor. Don’t outsource your brand identity to agencies. They are invaluable partners, but your internal teams need to have a visceral understanding of what a brand is, what it needs, and how to grow. Those informed positions are what feed our briefs, our campaign ideas, and ultimately what aggregate to become a brand as it lives in people’s minds
  3. Stay true to your core / don’t try to be all things to all people. Innovate vertically rather than trying to stretch the brand too far. Don’t get me wrong — push boundaries, yes. But always do it from the center, from the validated truth of the brand DNA.
  4. Consistency, consistency, consistency. One of the challenges with shifting leadership of brands, which is a basic truth in today’s workforce, is that every person wants to put their stamp on the business. And that’s awesome — it leads to breakthroughs across innovation, communication styles, and cultural impact. But we all must be mindful of how swings in positioning impact people’s perception of a brand. When you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. So again, push boundaries and blaze new trails, but beat the same drum on your march, even when the internal teams have gotten sick of it and long for something fresh. Otherwise, the message has no time to land with the wider world. Let your fans guide you in that endeavor — their love is based in large part on a clear understanding of what your brand means in their lives.
  5. Test but trust. I am a believer in testing, but also believe it needs to be one of many inputs in decision-making. Marketers have the jobs we have so that we can leverage our experience, our insight, and our understanding of the nuance of our business and the marketplace to move things forward. Our fans cannot always articulate what they want, but they provide real clues if you listen and fill in the blanks. I am often reminded of that questionably attributed quote of Henry Ford’s, “If I’d asked the people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.” There is truth and folly in taking that at face value. On the surface, it makes it sound like you should not listen to consumers when you are trying to innovate over the horizon. Yes, it’s true that the populous in that day would not likely have asked explicitly for motor vehicles, never having experienced that possibility. But it’s also true that there existed a ton of consumer-driven clues about how business and innovation could solve problems, even if they could not point to it specifically. So, the point here is, test, but trust your instincts, read between the lines, listen to that voice in your head that is pointing to the unseen solution that is just over the next rise, ready to delight.

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 is the long game. Ultimately, the end goal is the same — to drive sales and value for the organization. But these are very different levers with different horizons for impact and I think it’s that second goal that is more dependent on the success of brand building. Value comes in the form of revenue, yes. But it also comes to life across many other aspects of business that have a more broad-reaching effect. Things like pricing power, advantaged negotiating position, competitive advantage, positive perception, partnership opportunities, agency relationships, talent acquisition and retention, and so many others.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Ultimately, social is what allows us to have two-way conversations with people at scale. We are able to interact with our fans and customers on a more personal level than ever before. I believe we are perceived as the brand we are because of our social interactions. There’s a human aspect to it that’s inescapable, and I think fans really love that. They know there is a person on the other end of the keyboard, engaging, personifying the brand and speaking through that lens.

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

Be the master of your own time. This is so hard to do, especially in a large organization where so much depends on interconnectivity between functions and the aligning of multiple agendas. A few things to remember:

  • Set a routine and stick to it
  • Time for family is sacred
  • Set a good example, especially for the more junior people on 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. 🙂

I’m passionate about the idea around step changing recycling capability in communities around the country. In my role, I have a seat at the table to influence decisions that can have an impact in developing robust, single-stream waste management systems with sophisticated sorting and cleaning abilities. Current recycling systems in the US rely on consumer participation and can be confusing and not widely available enough to ensure full participation. We have to take that on at a macro level and create the infrastructure that shoulders the burden, rather than asking consumers to be recycling wizards when they have so many other concerns in their daily lives. PepsiCo is also working to drive towards a circular economy pledging $65 million globally in partnership initiatives to boost recycling rates and waste collection between 2018 and early 2020. I truly believe this type of collaboration is the only way for us to get to a true closed cycle of use with our resources. And the added benefit of job growth in a sector focused on sustainability would be a boon to communities as well.

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

“Follow your joy. But not in a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ kind of way.” This sentiment is pretty ubiquitous these days, but it came to me from my mom, a trailblazer in the world of data architecture. The advice was all about how you should move through a career, and I’ve lived by that mantra throughout mine. So often, in the early days of our career, we chart a course to get to some ultimate goal that, from where we sit at the time, looks like the best thing ever. But as we gain new experiences, we explore the depth and breadth of a discipline, and we take on new challenges that open our eyes to a broader range of possibilities. It’s so important that we continue our inner dialogue to really understand what drives joy and fulfillment in our own lives. The answers are sometimes in conflict with our original planned path. But when you follow your joy and your curiosity, you will ultimately live a more fulfilled life. Your work will be better, your relationships will be stronger, and your impact will be greater.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicoleaportwood

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicole-portwood-915bb013a/

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


PepsiCo VP Nicole Portwood: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Martin Bysh of Huboo

The vast majority of independent retailers will go online. It might sound surprising to hear, but there are thousands of retailers still to make a move into eCommerce. Covid-19 has provided the catalyst for a mass shift into multi-channel commerce over the next five years.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Bysh, co-founder of Huboo.

Martin Bysh is an experienced entrepreneur and technologist. He began his career as a computer games programmer for 20 years, launching his first game at the age of 16 (a European number 2 Gallop chart hit). He followed this hit with many more including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Viz, before launching one of the UK’s first online dating sites in 2001.

Moving to the B2B space, in 2012 he founded the fastest agile market research platform in the world, beating Google Consumer Surveys to market and eclipsing it on speed. Martin stayed on as CTO and president when he sold the company to a PE-backed market research tech group in Jan 2016.

In the Fintech space, Martin co-founded Charity Checkout, an online payment and fundraising platform which, competing with Virgin Money Giving, services 2500 UK charities, and today remains on its board.

Martin is a frequent public speaker in the tech and fundraising space, and brings more than 20 years in development, 30 years in technology, and 20 years in B2B sales and entrepreneurship to Huboo.​

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

It was my friendship with our CTO Paul Dodd that led us to Huboo. We met on a Saturday morning while trying to encourage our children to play football. They hated it but we became firm friends.

I’d been working in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space for ten years; Paul had been working in global logistics efficiency at P&G for 20 years. Both of us needed a new challenge, so we began to chat about how we could potentially combine our experience and build something new.

In fact, we found that we were the perfect team to solve a multi-disciplinary problem such as eCommerce fulfillment. A lot of logistics providers lacked the software expertise to optimize what they were doing. And no software provider in the space had Paul’s grasp of the potential for operational innovation. So, we decided to join forces and put our minds to building a more productive warehouse, one that could operate to maximum efficiency while also giving employees more meaningful roles.

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

Not so long ago I found myself in a taxi being pursued across Copenhagen by a venture capital investor on a bicycle. He wanted to give us more money that we were willing to accept and was trying to stop us from getting away!

It was a bizarre moment, but an example of a potential investor showing a refreshing strength of conviction at a very early stage. However, this was a seed round, and we anticipated going to Series A relatively soon after, so we really didn’t want to give away too much equity at that stage, however great the potential investor. This is a useful lesson for other founders — to think carefully about the longer-term implications of these early funding decisions, no matter how enthusiastic or persistent your potential investors.

Tell us about the funniest mistake you made when starting out, and what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I’ve started out on many different business ventures over the years, and I’ve made some mistakes several times over before truly understanding the lesson. The biggest one is recognizing when you’re gravitating towards what you know, rather than what’s actually the right solution.

For example, when a founder with a sales background is struggling to gain traction, they naturally assume that more leads is the answer, whereas a product person in the same position might well conclude that they need to add more features.

When we were marketing the first dating site that I founded, we were entirely focused on products. As the market around us was growing more and more competitive and user acquisition should have been key, we just kept on prioritizing new features. We ended up with the most amazing match matching service, but with far too few people using it!

Are you working on any new exciting projects now?

We’re taking Huboo into Germany, which is very exciting. This will be the first step in our European expansion plans, and as well as opening us to the German market will be a huge opportunity for UK clients to increase their sales in Europe.

And while Huboo is my exclusive focus when it comes to my day-to-day work, I also sit on the board of Enthuse, a company I helped found 10 years ago, which enables charities to improve how they secure donations and is currently doing fantastic work helping third sector organizations stay afloat through the pandemic.

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

One tip that I think applies to everyone — irrespective of the industry — is to try and avoid spending your entire working life on Zoom. Many people have been forced onto video conferencing platforms because of the pandemic, and they’re now using them for all interactions, without recognizing that it is often a far more intense and draining experience than a face-to-face conversation.

A day of Zoom meetings, constantly staring into someone’s eyes via a video screen, is exhausting. It’s incredibly difficult to relax into these conversations, so I’d encourage any business professional to limit their amount of Zoom time and, if they aren’t able to meet face-to-face, to mix up their interactions with traditional phone calls where they can at least put their feet up while chatting!

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are today?

I’m incredibly grateful to my wife and children for tolerating my business obsession. From a professional perspective, I couldn’t have made it here without the business partners I’ve collaborated with along the way.

Every business I’ve set up has been co-founded and every partner has been exceptional. Setting up a business can be a terrifying and lonely experience, so I’d always advocate for co-founding. It’s not just about having two heads to tackle difficult problems; I think it’s much more rewarding when there’s someone alongside you with whom to share the successes.

How have you used your success to improve the world?

I’ve always tried to give people jobs they enjoy, value and can thrive in — I believe this ought to be the primary responsibility of every entrepreneur.

Huboo is a good example. Right now, our industry is fixated on automation, without any consideration for the human consequences. At Huboo, our first priority was to take the human element of fulfillment and optimize what people were doing — enabling them to prove their worth and create sustainable, pleasurable, productive roles, rather than instantly choosing the path of automation and job elimination.

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

Across the whole of the business world we’re moving towards greater use of machines, AI and automation, often at the expense of people’s livelihoods and, ultimately, social cohesion. We need an effective movement pushing in the other direction and exploring ways to mitigate the negative consequences.

I believe that people value and benefit from work, as long as it’s work that they find fulfilling. Given that we’re a long way from figuring out a welfare approach that adequately compensates for mass tech-driven unemployment, we need a movement that prioritizes future job creation for everyone, irrespective of background or skillset.

Can you share five examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

  1. The vast majority of independent retailers will go online. It might sound surprising to hear, but there are thousands of retailers still to make a move into eCommerce. Covid-19 has provided the catalyst for a mass shift into multi-channel commerce over the next five years.
  2. The composition of global supply chains will change significantly — again, this has been triggered by Covid-19. The pandemic has forced retailers to rethink where they’re sourcing their products from and consider new ways of mitigating disruption and creating more robust models so that they aren’t over-exposed when future challenges occur.
  3. We’ll see more retail manufacturing moving back in-house. Where once it made commercial sense for retailers to shift manufacturing to China and benefit from lower labor costs, the reality is that many of these manufacturing processes are now largely automated, using machines that are readily available in the UK.
  4. We’re already seeing more and more high street stores reconfigured as showrooms. Over the next five years, we’re going to see the growth of showroom chains that cater for the huge number of retail manufacturers whose items don’t necessitate stores of their own.
  5. Finally, retail fulfillment is going to become even more complex as customers continue to demand faster delivery times. Some retailers will centralize distribution, which could be a challenge if they attempt to go it alone; others may double-down on local fulfillment. This could work well for perishables or consumables, but it’s unlikely to suit brands that need to tap into a wider market in order to turn a profit.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/company/huboo-technologies-limited/

https://twitter.com/huboofulfilment

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


The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Martin Bysh of Huboo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jim Belosic of SendCutSend: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Have a good product! Nothing else matters if the end product isn’t amazing. We include (for free) many extra steps when manufacturing to guarantee the best quality possible. We want to wow the customer every single time.

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

Reno, Nevada native Jim Belosic is CEO of SendCutSend, a high-tech, rapid-manufacturing company specializing in the precision cutting of a variety of metals and aerospace materials. An avid hobbyist and maker, Belosic often found himself in need of specialized parts in small quantities to create his passion projects. Frustrated by vendors only willing to supply large and costly orders, he saw an opportunity to create an online-based solution in a niche market. After investing $2.5 million in cutting-edge equipment and software development, Belosic created SendCutSend as a service for tinkerers, hobbyists, and small manufacturers throughout the country to create and deliver products in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Prior to creating SendCutSend, Belosic was the co-founder and CEO of Pancake Laboratories, a software company based in Reno, Nevada best known for its flagship product, ShortStack.com — allowing businesses to build lead-generating social media contests, promotional campaigns, and landing pages. With his entrepreneurial spirit, Belosic is continually seeking innovative ways to create experiences for his customers that are smarter and more effective than what is already offered.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Ever since I was little, I enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked and then putting them back together, including computers. Eventually, I taught myself some basic software programming to make some of my more complicated projects come to life. This love of software led me to start a small marketing software company called Pancake Laboratories that focused on helping small businesses reach their marketing goals. Then while I was creating my passion projects on the side, I had the idea to create a solution for hobbyists to create a rapid-manufacturing company that specializes in the precision cutting of metals.

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

I’ve always been a maker with a passion for building tangible products. I oftentimes found myself in need of specialized parts usually requiring the use of outside vendors. In my experience, the local vendors had certain capabilities and equipment, but oftentimes were very old school, and would take weeks to get me a laser cutting quote, let alone get the parts made. Frustrated, I decided to create a company that blended modern software and customer service with automated manufacturing technologies to simplify the process for a laser cutting online quote and production. From there, SendCutSend was born, and with it, the power for tinkerers, hobbyists, and small manufacturers throughout the country to create and deliver products to their customers without the habitual hassles of working with a laser cutting service.

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

We faced a huge learning curve! The team behind SendCutSend are software developers and problem solvers through and through, but our team didn’t have any manufacturing experience. We had to figure out how to get quality products quickly to our customers, so speed was a big challenge at first. At one point we were worried that what we wanted to do wasn’t possible. However, I think our lack of experience allowed us to overcome some challenges that people in our industry said were impossible. If we had more experience, we wouldn’t have tried in the first place so being naive was a benefit, as we were able to approach challenges totally different than what is common in the industry.

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

We’re constantly looking at ways to remove barriers preventing students, makers and hobbyists from accessing high tech manufacturing equipment at an affordable cost. Our company gives anyone who has access to a computer, to multi-million dollar laser cutting equipment. In turn, our hope is to eliminate DIY headaches that often happen when using consumer-grade equipment and manufacturing techniques by instead reducing the cost of high-tech, high-precision laser cut metal parts in low quantities.

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

As expected, no one really took a bunch of software guys with absolutely zero manufacturing experience seriously. But, our team has a passion. So, naturally, we ignored the nay-sayers and set out to use our knowledge and past experience as problem solvers who are adept at complex computer code to create functions that worked for us.

We tackled an ambitious software and process improvement project that allows our customers to track their custom cut metal order at every step of the process. It also provides valuable real-time manufacturing data back to our in-house engineering team. The project was designed from the ground up to help everyone who needs a hand full of parts, fast, the opportunity to receive them without paying a fortune. To do this, we’re automating the traditional laser cutting process as much as possible, keeping efficiencies up and prices down. The end goal is to eliminate the need to request a quote, call someone to place an order, or drive across the state to get laser cut metal parts made.

The lesson here is to listen to yourself, if you have a good idea and a track record to prove you can do the work, go for it!

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

SendCutSend truly stands out by empowering makers, hobbyists, and tinkerers to create what they love and turn their passion into a career. For example, one of our customers is a full time manufacturing engineer named Logan Teale, he started making pocket tools and custom utility knives for fun. As a one-man operation, and as sales increased, Teale relied on our laser cutting service to make the blank cuts (and one-off customized pieces) that are the backbone of his tools. After operating for only one and a half years, he has sold more than 2,000 tools and utility blades through his Etsy Shop Teale Designs.

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

My biggest advice to avoid burnout is to simply find your passion and turn that into a career. If you love what you’re doing, the problem-solving aspect of any business is a lot more fun and exciting. Another thing I love to focus on is fresh challenges! Even if you’re staying in the same career field, new challenges help keep the excitement alive by working towards a new goal or tackling a new challenge each year.

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?

One of my good friends and SendCutSend’s Chief Technology Officer is Jacob Graham, he is someone that I’ve worked with for years and greatly admire. I like to say he’s the brains of the operation whereas I am the creative side but we’re able to both bring our unique strengths to the table. Jake can bring a difficult project to life and is talented at doing the heavy lifting with software engineering.

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

We don’t disclose customer numbers or app users, but I can say that we’ve made over three million parts for customers in the last couple of years. The app is very, very busy.

  1. Have a good product! Nothing else matters if the end product isn’t amazing. We include (for free) many extra steps when manufacturing to guarantee the best quality possible. We want to wow the customer every single time.
  2. Provide outstanding customer service. We are still our own customers, so we understand our customers. You have to understand what your customer’s challenges are so that you can help them succeed.
  3. Be FAST. People are spoiled with Amazon prime, so if you are selling anything online, you need to get it into your customer’s hands as fast as possible. Our instant quoting system and free two-day shipping allow us to do just that.

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

Our monetization model is eCommerce, we manufacture custom parts that you can’t get anywhere else. We take raw material and process it using very high-tech equipment and machinery in order to add value. With a significant difference between a low-cost “hobby grade” machine and one designed for industrial use, not many makers can have a multi-million dollar laser in their garage.

We monetize the community by being here when they need us. We don’t offer a subscription model, but we are an “on-demand” service and many customers order from us on a daily basis. The quick-turn market of online ordering metal fabrications is changing the way that makers and hobbyists are able to create.

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

  1. Have a good product. The best app in the world doesn’t make up for bad service or products.
  2. It needs to be fast. Nowadays everyone is in comparison to Amazon, focus on getting products in customers’ hands as fast as you can. This is true for pure software apps too — if an app is slow running, that’s a poor user experience
  3. Wow the customer, underpromise and overdeliver.
  4. It needs to be secure and reliable. One hack can cause everything to come crashing down.
  5. You should be your own customer. Use your own app/service/product every day. Eat your own dog food.

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

I would love to see a cultural shift away from a college education being the end-all-be-all. There are so many people that go deep into debt for an education that they may not be able to use. I wish it was more socially acceptable to go to a trade school or through hands-on-learning while on the job. I want my kids to know that they should try a bunch of jobs so that they can find something they love. If you decide on a career that requires college, then enroll and get that degree. But you might find a career (like marketing or sales) that takes talent and experience, without all the debt and takes less time than a traditional college education.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Visit our website at SendCutSend.com and follow us on Instagram @sendcutsend.


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

Sas Ponnapalli of Beam Health: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Find people who share the same hustle & grit and train them for the role you need, they will always perform better than the person with years of experience

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sas Ponnapalli, CEO & Co-founder of Beam Health.

Sas is the only second-time founder in the telehealth space, building Beam from the ground up. Virtual healthcare isn’t just a fad for Sas; it’s a passion. Sas proposed a telemedicine mobile app as his final project while in college. It wasn’t funded. Relentless, Sas went on to found PlushCare, a vertically integrated telemedicine practice valued at over $100M. After learning how to scale a singular clinic, Sas decided to bring telehealth to the masses via Beam.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My name is Sas Ponnapalli, CEO & co-founder of Beam Health. I previously served as the founding CTO of Plushcare, a vertically integrated telehealth company now valued over 100M. At PlushCare, I saw the increasing impact of telemedicine on low-income & underserved communities.

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

As telemedicine started to pick up steam in the mid 2010’s, the trend has been to create specialty-specific telemedicine practices (mental health, urgent care, women’s health, etc). This resulted in a crowded space of companies competing to hire a limited supply by using venture capital.

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

When I started Beam, I bootstrapped the company by selling some of my stock in PlushCare. Within the first year, I burned through most of it, with only 30 days of runway left. I had a half working MVP, no revenue, and had to move into my parents’ house to make ends meet and optimize the little runway I had. I had to let my only engineer go, and took on all the coding myself. I had to learn the frameworks/languages I’ve never used before.

I probably would have given up a lot earlier had it not been for my experience at PlushCare, where we had to work at the back of a dentist’s office for a year during tough times. I also keep telling myself that every founder goes through this process of doubt, and every successful entrepreneur has thought about giving up.

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

We currently have over 1200 customers and 38,000 successful provider-patient interactions on the platform. We’ve been growing rapidly, successfully acquiring customers from companies with 40–100x our funding. In the last year, we’ve also built a world-class team of engineers & operations associates. We’re also closing in on a few large enterprise agreements we expect to close Q1 of 2021.

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

I thought I wouldn’t need to raise money. That I would create a product and customers would just come. This made me focus on product development for nearly 18 months before speaking to our first outside investors.

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

We’re the only telemedicine company that offers a fully integrated suite of digital health features including; co-pay collection, rapid deployment where clinics can create an account and launch in 90 seconds, easy patient workflow, a custom Beam waiting room to educate and promote services to patients as they wait for your providers, custom EHR integrations, custom admin accounts so office managers/staff can chat directly with patients, screenshare capabilities, and group sessions. The Beam user experience is redefining healthcare technology. Doctors can create a Beam account in 90 seconds and require no training to use the platform. Patients of all ages love Beam because no software or app download is required!

Beam is faster, more reliable & just flat out cooler than other telemedicine companies. Older telemedicine platforms typically suffer from poor customer service and scalability issues. Beam offers more reliability, more features, more flexibility, more custom branding, more marketing services and a customer account management team that is dedicated to your success. With healthcare specific features like custom EHR integrations, medical assistant chat, patient marketing and 90 second provider onboarding, Beam isn’t just in a different league; we’re playing a different sport.

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

Make sure you get 8 hours of sleep, set some time to prioritize non-business tasks, whether with a significant other or working out, etc.

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 had a lot of great mentors at my last startup, PlushCare, where I was given the opportunity to run, manage & lead a high performing team when I was 23. I definitely owe Ryan & James (The other PC founders) for giving me that opportunity.

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

We currently have over 1200 customers and 38,000 successful provider-patient interactions on the platform. We have a product without a single line of outsourced code, and offer every customer direct access to the C-suite. We also build features our customers want, and actively reach out to build and prioritize these features.

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

We have 3 pricing options: Pilot/ Lite/Pro with specific features for each plan. The idea is to make the barriers for telemedicine as low as possible, without requiring an upfront commitment or investment for the provider side. As we collect more customers on our network, we want to leverage this network to further reduce costs on our customers.

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

  1. Build a great product or hire someone who can build a great product
  2. Understand your industry & customer acquisition process
  3. Make sure you call your customers constantly and are close to their feedback
  4. Create a process for everything that’s measurable & quantifiable
  5. Find people who share the same hustle & grit and train them for the role you need, they will always perform better than the person with years of experience

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 want healthcare to be democratized. Every patient no matter where they live should have access to high quality care.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/company/beam-health-group/

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


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

Adam von Gootkin of Highclere Castle Gin: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Educate your team on the philosophy of the business — People often say that the customer comes first but there are no customers if you don’t have an exceptional team. Your team is the engine of a brand. The team makes sure the product or service is correct, the team markets the product, the team sells the product, the team is the steward of the brand. If the company philosophy is truly built on trust and authenticity that will reflect in the way each member of the team approaches the day, how they communicate, their strategies and how they execute them.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Adam von Gootkin, Co-Founder & CEO of Highclere Castle Gin.

A lifelong entrepreneur, Adam von Gootkin’s pedigree in the spirits industry dates back to his family’s distillery in the 1800s, while his lineage as a risk-taker can be traced directly to his great grandfather’s Prohibition-era speakeasy on the Connecticut River. An entrepreneur is, by definition, a risk-taker.

Over a century later, Adam has more than a decade in the spirits industry and brought his family’s legacy into the next generation by co-founding Onyx Spirits Co., an award-winning craft distillery offering America’s first ultra-premium moonshine and New England’s first whiskey. In 2015, his nationally released book Living Proof: Onyx Moonshine’s Journey to Revive the American Spirit, chronicled his unique approach to traditional business principles.

After successfully building Connecticut’s first distillery in over 100 years, Adam’s next venture would take him from the Connecticut coast to the rolling grasslands of the English countryside and to one of the most famous homes in the world. Partnering with the Godson to Queen Elizabeth II, the 8th Earl & Countess of Carnarvon, the owners of Highclere Castle (known to millions of fans around the world as the home in the award-winning tv-series and motion picture, Downton Abbey). In 2017, Adam co-founded the Highclere Castle Cigars Company, produced with world-renowned cigar blender Nicholas Melillo in Nicaragua. The cigar went on to win many awards, with the brand rapidly expanding throughout the US, UK and mainland Europe.

Highclere Castle Spirits joined the budding empire the following year, in keeping with Adam’s vision to create a global portfolio of hyper-authentic prestige brands with deep roots. In 2019, the award-winning Highclere Gin became the first of a super-premium line of spirits made from the oats and botanicals grown on Highclere Castle Estate, specifically, lavender planted by the Bishops of Winchester in the 9th century. The exceptionally smooth London Dry Gin has been released throughout the U.S. and the U.K., with a global expansion planned for 2020 and has won 10 gold awards with many more expected. Adam has been featured on Bloomberg, Forbes, Fortune, NBC, and many other leading media platforms. Adam’s vision is to continue building an ultra-luxury global portfolio of distinctly authentic brands rooted in the uniqueness of their terrior and provenance; a celebration of history, authenticity, and irreplaceable pedigree.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I realized in my mid-20’s that the vast majority of liquor brands in the market are created in marketing board rooms. They have very little authentic story or as a wonderful mentor in the liquor business once taught me, a “reason to be”. This epiphany led me to restore my family’s legacy in the business and we built the first distillery in Connecticut in a very long time. The momentum around our philosophy was clear in creating a successful regional product and queued us up nicely to search for an opportunity to apply what we’d learned to a global brand. It took 2 years because the challenge was finding a brand with global legs that also had a deep level of heritage, pedigree, and authenticity yet also lent itself to using ingredients from the brands home. I believe all brands must have a physical home, a terroir, ultimately a direct link to the soul that manifests the brand. This is the foundation for our creation of a trusted, believable, beloved, spirit brand; Highclere Castle Gin.

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?

After a year of development on the Highclere Castle Gin recipe we were finally ready for the big reveal. We booked one of NYC’s swankiest hotels and had VIP’s, media, connoisseurs and influencers along with my partners, Lord & Lady Carnarvon, flying in from all around the world for a sneak-peek taste of our gin. We had several interviews scheduled with national press journalists back to back that evening. Because our glass bottle was not quite finished, we only had 1 prototype bottle for the event. The gin itself had arrived in an ugly industrial plastic jug that was hardly befitting of such a prestigious brand — a typical way for distilleries to send pre-production samples. Thankfully, the gin arrived just in time, literally the day of the event due to customs hold ups. Typically, at a premium spirit event launch the media and VIP’s would expect to see mountains of your bottles displayed on the bar and all over the lounge. Alas, we had just one bottle that wasn’t even printed correctly. In a frantic fit of brainstorming, I had an idea that I still appreciate to this day. I thought since we only have 1 bottle, let’s make that bottle the centerpiece of the entire event. We quickly rented an impressive glass museum display case — the type you might see in the Met, displaying a bust of Cleopatra from 2000 years ago. We drilled a hole in the bottom of the bottle to light it internally, creating a vibrant purple glow. My creative director warned me that while drilling, there was a 25% chance the bottle would crack and shatter. It did not. We were left with a stunning, glowing bottle fully lit inside and out, resting on a pedestal of black velvet cloth inside the museum case placed in the middle of the grand foyer to our party. It became a sensational talking point as people elbowed each other to get as close to the bottle as possible and take a photo. A pile of our bottles all over the bar would never have attracted this much attention from our guests.

The lesson learned here is a reminder that rarity sometimes is the key to standing out. Even when the finest of items are spread all about like a breakfast buffet that perhaps it can lose its magic. That day we were indeed accidentally exclusive.

The other lesson is having an amazing creative team that doesn’t buckle under pressure and applies execution with vigor.

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

Millions of people around the world recognize Highclere Castle as “the real Downton Abbey”. What’s so impressive about the castle is that its played host to so many of the world’s most famous and interesting people through the centuries. Lord and Lady Carnarvon continue to uphold the standards of quality still today. The very botanicals we use in our gin are grown in exquisitely manicured gardens behind the castle. These botanicals include oranges from the Victorian Era orangery and even lavender, planted by the Bishops of Winchester in the 9th century! What makes Highclere Castle Gin truly stand out is a commitment to true excellence in distilling the finest gin ever made. A decadent balance of historic botanicals distilled in England’s oldest gin distillery and representing the finest parties & entertainment that ever there has been. That is the true “spirit” of Highclere. History, heritage, pedigree, quality and most importantly authenticity. I believe this commitment to truth and beauty are why we have just won our 14th double & triple gold international award. I believe we will be the most awarded gin in the world by next year.

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

Yes, many exciting projects are in the works but sadly all top secret! I can tell you they will involve employing people and continuing to create as Howard Carter said to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon upon discovering King Tutankhamun’s tomb, “Wonderful Things!”

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?

We were forced during the Covid-19 quarantine and hospitality industry shutdown to ponder this very question. To put it simply, I would call brand marketing, strategy, and product marketing, tactics. In our case, our branding is a rather complex story involving history and many moving parts. Highclere is a global brand, one of the most famous homes in the world. Our challenge was to distill (no pun intended) out the core essence of a vast story into messaging and imagery that would cause a consumer to burn a minimal amount of calories when attempting to “get” our brand. I think this is rather well expressed on our new simple and exceedingly clean website, and trickles down into our PR messaging, point of sale materials and everything else tactical that we do in the streets. Our brand is born from a castle, renowned for its parties, acclaimed for its taste. Everything circles around these three pillars. In other words, Highclere Castle Gin is prestigious, is fun, and is being validated by experts as the best tasting gin in the world…now go buy a bottle!

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?

Brands are what people buy with their emotion and their spirit. Without branding, you’re just a tool easily replaced by other similar tools. To entrench yourself in an industry, you must appeal more to the experience of the consumer, to the real solution to their problem on an almost psychological level. If this is achieved successfully, competition will come and go, global challenges may face us but your brand will still exist because its in demand by consumers on an almost metaphysical plane. Building a brand successfully increases the inherent value of a business as not only are you solving some sort of real-world problem but you’re guiding consumers on an emotional experience that is very real and won’t easily be forgotten — and those are the brands that change the world.

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. Educate your team on the philosophy of the business — People often say that the customer comes first but there are no customers if you don’t have an exceptional team. Your team is the engine of a brand. The team makes sure the product or service is correct, the team markets the product, the team sells the product, the team is the steward of the brand. If the company philosophy is truly built on trust and authenticity that will reflect in the way each member of the team approaches the day, how they communicate, their strategies and how they execute them. This permeates all aspects of the business and trickles forward to the end customer. Truth starts at home.
  2. Obsess over the customer — It’s easy for a business to get lost in the sauce regarding continued product development or improvement. Evolving sales tactics, marketing innovation etc. For a brand to be successful, ultimately consumers need to want it, love it, understand it and even need it. Nothing makes me happier than spending time with a customer. I’ve seen so many companies spend time obsessing over shareholder reports, trying to manipulate their stock price or getting lost in frivolous activities. Listen to the customers, speak with them, be with them and just do that.
  3. Never ever sacrifice integrity — reputation is all we have in life. It’s the true legacy of a brand. Company management sets the tone for integrity. This commitment to truth in a brands purpose should never be sacrificed even though sometimes short-term opportunities might tease us off the path. This is about having a long-term view of success. No individual, company or brand can truly succeed long term without integrity. This is palpable to the end consumer and creates brand loyalty.
  4. Responsible Entrepreneurship — This is the name of the last chapter of my book, “Living Proof”. We live in a world today where fast food companies readily serve us poison. Food producers pump our bread, eggs and meats full of god knows what. Companies sell us clothes made in entirely unsustainable methods, using potentially dangerous chemicals and sometimes produced in immoral ways. We live in a culture of “canned fruit” where so many things are designed to look real and taste sweet but metaphorically it’s just corn syrup. During product or service development for a brand, I know it costs more and takes time to create something that is truly authentic and real. We spent 3 years developing our gin recipe and custom bottle design. We easily could have purchased bulk gin, slapped a castle on a stock bottle and sold some bottles to unaware Downton Abbey fans. For us the product is a commitment to the consumer. A promise they are getting the absolute best quality gin on the market. I urge all entrepreneurs and existing companies to make responsible entrepreneurship a core part of their reason for being. Commerce should leave the world a better place than we found it.

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?

A few years back, while on the journey of creating Highclere Castle Gin, I partnered with a very good friend, Nicholas Melillo. He is a world-renowned cigar blender who developed a masterpiece with us in the Highclere Castle Cigar brand. He has gone on to make his company, Foundation Cigar Co., the epitome of believable and beloved. One of the reasons I wanted to partner with Nick was his commitment to integrity and truth and love of history & perfection. Foundation has an incredible and diverse line of award-winning cigars. Each of them hand made in Nicaragua. In fact, Nick spends most of his time in the fields with the farmers and in the factories with the hand rollers. When he is not there, he is with customers almost always. Traveling wherever he needs to be to engage retailers, host events and talk & smoke with customers. Nick is one of those rocks of a person that you don’t encounter everyday in life. That is completely reflected in the DNA of his cigar company, which he could not have more aptly named, Foundation.

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?

Advertising is a tax you pay for not being creative. In most forms of advertising, you can’t truly measure effectiveness. Sometimes, yes on a strictly sales data level but have you truly converted a customer forever? The success of a brand-building campaign is offering the customer multiple layers of experiencing the brand taking them deeper, deeper, and deeper.

For example, with Highclere Castle Gin, your first experience with us might be seeing one of our cocktails on a restaurant menu or perhaps seeing a bottle on the shelf. Does the delicate color purple catch your eye or maybe its some of our simply curated point of sale material? Intrigued, the back of the bottle has a slightly more detailed note written by Lord and Lady Carnarvon, maybe this might inspire someone to visit our website, engage in our social media, read about Highclere’s history and maybe someday even visit the castle. The point is brands should take customers on a thoughtful journey. Done correctly, success in this campaign is measured by one thing we treasure most of all- REPEAT SALES! You’ve captured the customer. Love and support them and they will love and support your brand.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is a massive component of our branding and marketing efforts. We have grown our following to over 130,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. As mentioned above, social media allows customers to take that next level of depth into the brand. Meet the people behind it, see and feel the elements first hand that make it magical and unique. We manage our social carefully and thoughtfully. Our Instagram has allowed us to partner with the most amazing and influential bartenders and mixologists from around the world — who create some incredible cocktails for us as well as photoshoots.

During the Covid-19 quarantine, we launched, “Cocktails at the Castle”, a virtual cocktail party at the castle hosted by Lord and Lady Carnarvon. Thinking of our customers and fans stuck at home in scary and dark times, we wanted to bring them beauty, a bit of laughter and cheer to delight them with a unique experience. It was amazing for me to see the hundreds of thousands of people that tuned in. Many of them dressed their very best from the comfort of their couch. We didn’t just bring them into our world, we became a part of their journey, helping them elevate their moment even just for an instant and thus their connection to our brand is that much deeper and more real.

Readers can watch these videos on our Facebook @HighClereCastleGin.

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

Spend time with your family. Try not to internalize every single piece of the business — which can be so hard to do sometimes. I find running and meditation has an immediate and daily effect on me that allows me to perform. And surround yourself with amazing people and a fantastic team, who are always there and willing to step up and exceed expectations, especially in challenging times.

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 return to the philosophy that I mentioned above called Responsible Entrepreneurship. I’d love to see such an overwhelming movement for the responsible creation of products and services keeping the customer and their health & happiness first along with sustainable production. It would make me so happy to see this movement garner the most profits, the most buzz and just be the fashionable way of doing busines. There are certainly businesses with a commitment to this approach and I applaud them. My dream would be to see a movement where this is in fact a majority of how companies are run. We implement this philosophy with Highclere Castle Gin. Even Highclere Castle’s farming operations are sustainable and Lord Carnarvon has a real commitment to preservation and responsible farming at Highclere.

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

To use a bit of very old poetry, I would use my family crest motto.

“The miser delights in the hoarding of pelf,

For he has not the soul to enjoy it himself.

The bounty of providence is new every day,

As we journey through life, let us live by the way.”

It serves as a reminder that we can’t take money to our grave. While it is a critical tool in life and must be managed prudently and carefully, it’s just as important to leave the world a better place that we’ve found it. To have the soul to truly enjoy and savor the fruits of our hard work and make people smile along the way.

It speaks to the abundance all around us, and that all we need do is reach out and embrace it. And that life is a journey not a destination — so find your principles, stick to your integrity, and above all stay consistent each and every day.

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

I would say Anthony Hopkins. Having worked with celebrities over the years in various ways, I don’t get excited or intimidated by most folks but there is something about his gravitas, his approach to his art, love of painting & music that fascinates me. He strikes me as a real creator, a true artist. Some years back discovered a symphony he wrote turned to life by Andre Rieu that completely impressed me. I think it would be a lot of fun to have a cup of tea with him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.facebook.com/HighclereCastleGin

www.instagram.com/HighclereCastleGin

www.instragram.com/AdamvonGootkin

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


Adam von Gootkin of Highclere Castle Gin: 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.

Gaurang Torvekar of Indorse: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Be community-minded: Build a tribe — this is key for us and is the lifeblood of our growing community. We have been able to cultivate and sustain a community because of our obsessive and laser-focused care for engaging with the community, understanding their pain-points, and responding to their ideas and suggestions. Communities grow and evolve, and you have to listen to your tribe to ensure you have lasting loyalty and engagement.

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

Gaurang Torvekar is the Co-Founder and CEO of Indorse, a Coding Assessment Platform. He has been working in the HR Tech space from the last 3+ years, and this is his second company in the area. He spends his time between Singapore and London.

Gaurang has more than ten years of experience in the industry, having worked mainly as a Software Developer and an Entrepreneur throughout his career. As a developer, he has worked on several technologies, including Java, Python, Javascript, Solidity (Ethereum). As an entrepreneur, he has worked on innovative ideas across the spectrum of the Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and the HR Tech space.

In his current role, he focuses mainly on product development while leading a team of world-class software developers.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

We started Indorse because we believed that we could build a world where the only thing that mattered was your skills! One of the inspirations for the idea was the plight of the refugees during the Syria crisis and the fact that as highly educated refugees, they were forced into jobs that didn’t accurately reflect their skillsets.

The backbone of Indorse is the Ethereum blockchain technology. It enables us to make sure that the votes given by our experts cannot be tampered with, we can maintain transparency, and it also helps us incentivize our community of experts.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company?

My background is within software development, machine learning, blockchain, and HRTech. My first business was based on developing diplomas and certificates on the blockchain (Ethereum), and at the time, I thought, ‘how can I take this a step further’; ‘how can we democratize people’s professional profiles?’ — and blockchain was the best way to do this.

For Indorse, it has always been about skills — we started this adventure because we wanted to create a genuinely meritocratic-based system where everyone could shine based on their skills and qualifications. The platform is built on blockchain because of the ability to keep assessments anonymous and inherently fair.

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

We initially raised a crowd-funding round through Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2017, and this worked exceptionally well for us for the first year. Given the skyrocketing value of Bitcoin, we quickly expanded the team. While it allowed for exceptional growth, it was short-lived. When the market crashed in 2018/2019, what is now called the ‘Crypto Winter,’ the value of our assets significantly diminished. We were forced to lay-off a number of members of our team, which I found genuinely heartbreaking.

Because of Bitcoin’s volatility, one day, we had a ten-year runway, and the next, it dropped to 2 years. It was a tough lesson to learn, but as I look back on the experience now, it helped shape me as a leader and has impacted how we run the business. It was a trying experience, but that’s the nature of running a startup — learning and growing from a series of challenges and triumphs.

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

It’s incredibly important to keep on going and iterating on the product.

What started as a B2C journey, we have pivoted to B2B application and built a successful SaaS business. Making this pivot early on, after the first six months of starting Indorse, ended up being the most prudent decision for the company.

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

The thing that makes us stand out is our community of expert software developers and engineers spread across the world. We have developers everywhere — from the USA to Australia and across Africa. We’ve built a truly global platform — and I’m incredibly proud of this.

More importantly, we reward and support our community for their time and expertise. Each expert is paid for conducting code reviews on the platform, and they have the potential to receive up to $1500 each month, which is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for their time and help in making an impact.

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

Across the Indorse platform, including our new product Metamorph, we have more than 45K developers and community members.

Having a decentralized community also gives us a global reach. Since we started the platform, it has comprised people from multiple continents (US, UK, Asia), and we were able to scale quickly and reach incredible candidates who may have been inaccessible if we were running on a different platform.

The community would not have been as strong as it is now if we had built the network on different technological foundations. Blockchain was the only way to achieve this level of success quickly and at scale. Ultimately, using cutting-edge technology has been critical to expanding the indorse community.

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

  1. Build a great team: You can’t build a company or product in a silo. Make sure to prioritize hiring and retention. This is critical for long-term success.
  2. Provide something valuable and exciting: This will take time and research, but ultimately all great products and services were simply ideas that were iterated and developed and finessed. Find the market niche and go after it full force!
  3. Understand your personas: One of the pillars of an exceptional business is understanding who and where your target segment congregates online and in real life. Refining, researching, and updating your buyer personas regularly is keen on building your product and your offering.
  4. Be community-minded: Build a tribe — this is key for us and is the lifeblood of our growing community. We have been able to cultivate and sustain a community because of our obsessive and laser-focused care for engaging with the community, understanding their pain-points, and responding to their ideas and suggestions. Communities grow and evolve, and you have to listen to your tribe to ensure you have lasting loyalty and engagement.

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. 🙂

We’re focusing on building and driving hackathons all over the world. We find that these are incredible tools to help bring senior leaders and decision-makers from across the business, technology, and public sectors. The hackathon will be a global, online initiative intended to create open-source solutions addressing the health, social and economic challenges posed by the post-COVID-19 era. The event will feature hundreds of teams internationally building in the distributed ledger technology (DLT) sector, with over 200 industry experts slated to support the participants. Gibraltar Finance has been announced as an official partner of the upcoming Post-COVID Hackathon, with additional partners including


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

David Politis of BetterCloud: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

The most important thing to do, in my view, is to obsess over your customer. Constantly ask them for feedback and really listen to them. Watch them use your product and gain a clear understanding of their problems. In that way, you become one with them. And then perhaps most importantly, continually strive to delight them.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Politis, founder and CEO of BetterCloud, the first provider of SaaSOps solutions to manage and secure the digital workplace. With 300+ employees in Atlanta, New York City, and San Francisco, BetterCloud has raised $187 million to date from investors including Warburg Pincus, Bain Capital Ventures, Accel, Greycroft Partners, and Flybridge Capital Partners.

David’s entire career has been dedicated to improving the modern workplace through innovative, next-generation cloud (SaaS) technology. Before founding BetterCloud, David was an executive at Cloud Sherpas (acquired by Accenture [NYSE: ACN]), a leader in cloud advisory and technology services. Prior to Cloud Sherpas, David was the founding employee and general manager of Vocalocity (acquired by Vonage [NYSE: VG]), which he grew into one of the top providers of cloud PBX technology. These companies have served thousands of businesses — of all sizes and across multiple industries — around the world.

David is a long-time contributor to TechCrunch, Mashable, VentureBeat, and Forbes, where he writes about topics like enterprise cloud technology, cloud computing, and entrepreneurship. He has been featured in The New York Times, the BBC, CIO, Fortune, and more. He is the author of two books, The IT Leader’s Guide to SaaSOps (Volumes 1 and 2).

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to share my story with your readers. My professional career began in 2004 at a SaaS company called Vocalocity, where we built one of the first cloud PBXs. This was in the days before SaaS and Cloud were even terms people were using. Six years or so later, I moved on to a company called Cloud Sherpas — one of the first and ultimately most successful cloud consulting companies — as one of their first employees. In the 18 months, I was there, the company grew from 10 people to over 100. It was there that I got the idea for BetterCloud.

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

While I was at Cloud Sherpas, Enterprises, in particular, early adopters were starting to push their productivity and collaboration suites to the cloud. I realized then there was a huge opportunity ahead in this space. As more and more companies adopted cloud and SaaS, it became clear that a whole new set of tools to manage and secure those environments was needed. So I started BetterCloud in 2011 with the vision of providing a platform to deal with the new challenges of managing and securing SaaS environments.

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

As I mentioned, we got our start in the early days of SaaS and Cloud. The upside was that the market was clear for the taking as there were no incumbents to go up against. The downside was that, again, it was very early. There was no Slack, no Zoom, no Office 365. This meant we had to educate the market from zero. We had to help IT professionals understand this new paradigm of best-in-breed SaaS environments and the challenges they were going to run into. We had to evangelize on our own with no help from other companies, analysts, etc.

But without question, my toughest challenge was in early 2017. At that time, we’d spent nearly two years undergoing a risky rebuild. Our team worked countless hours and we invested $25 million into transforming our business from one that managed G-Suite apps for business users into a company that could manage and secure any SaaS application for IT. But after putting all of that time, effort and money into this initiative, we ran into a problem. No one was buying our new and improved product.

This was a really bad situation in many ways. We had bet the company on this new product and strategy. We were frustrated because we spent a lot of time with customers researching what they wanted to see us deliver, what kinds of problems they needed us to solve with this new platform and we felt like we delivered exactly that. We were also getting to a point where we needed to raise more money if we wanted to scale the business. I knew that without clear traction, we wouldn’t be able to raise money from top investors. Every investor I spoke with said: “come back with proof.” Honestly, it was two of the worst quarters of my career.

That’s when I decided to start meeting personally with as many of our customers as possible. I took all of that feedback. I then met with our sales and customer success teams and asked them to give me every possible reason why a client wouldn’t buy this new platform. We took on each of these reasons one by one and worked through all of them — whether it was that our pricing was too complicated or we needed an integration to a specific SaaS application or we needed to make the app more user-friendly. It didn’t matter — we took them all on and came up with smart solutions for each.

As we headed into the fall of 2017, sales picked up. We signed multiple million-dollar contracts and had a record fourth quarter, and exceeded our initial expectations.

Ultimately, I see the time when I reached out to our customers as the most decisive action that led to our turnaround. Their feedback was priceless, and I’m eternally grateful to them for sharing it with us. I’ll never forget the role they played in helping us get back on the right track.

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

These have certainly been challenging times for everyone involved, but we’re used to working hard for what we want. As I mentioned previously, we were first to market in an industry that barely even existed. We persisted, we evangelized, we educated the market. And I believe our work has paid off. Today, we have thousands of customers across 60+ countries that rely on our solution to automate processes and policies across a company’s SaaS application portfolio. We have a team of 300 people and we’ve raised $187M in funding from some of the best investors in the world, including Warburg Pincus, Accel, Bain Capital, Greycroft and others.

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

I think the funniest mistake I made was when we moved into our first office. We were obviously tiny, just getting started, and we had to be very careful with how we spent money. We looked all over to find the cheapest office space we could. We found exactly that, probably the lowest per square foot price in a two-mile radius. There was no carpet and the paint was chipping off all the walls — needless to say, it was just not in great shape. I told the team this was the space and if we wanted to make it look better, we would have to do the work ourselves. We laid the carpet, we painted the walls, we did it all ourselves. It was good team building, but it wasn’t the best use of the team’s time — not to mention for all the years we were in that space, there were nails sticking out from the floor that we’d trip on. I’m not sure how many combined hours the team worked on the office space, but that time would have been better spent writing code or marketing our product. It was a good example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. It’s just important to look at the bigger picture and think about how you can enable your team to have more time and focus to do their jobs, how you can remove obstacles and distractions.

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

There are so many things I am proud of. It’s hard to single out one, but if I had to choose, it would be the customer experience we deliver. Nearly nine years ago, at our first-ever all-hands meeting, I told the company — which was six people at the time — that the way we treat our customers would be the one thing that would set us apart from anyone else in the industry. We’ve lived up to that every day for the past nine years. One of our four company values is “Strive to Delight,” and it’s rooted in the idea that we’re going to deliver an experience to our customers that is above and beyond what they expect.

There are a bunch of examples of companies that provide amazing customer service and customer experience. There are companies like Zappos, where customer service is their differentiator. There are companies like Disney that are entirely built around customer experience, and many more. But almost any example you can think of is that of a consumer company. It is very rare for an enterprise technology company, let alone one that serves IT professionals, to be so focused and invested in the experience and support they provide to their customers.

There are so many stories about ways we stand out in this area, but probably my favorite was when we implemented a program we called “proactive support.” The idea, which originated from our head of technical support at the time, was that we would monitor our application for error messages, push those to support agents and have those agents proactively reach out to customers to alert and solve the issue they were experiencing. We did all of that without the customer having to open a ticket. We did something completely opposite of best practice — we didn’t deflect tickets, instead, we proactively created and solved them.

Our team has continued to raise the bar, every month, every quarter and every year. We’ve been running at a 99 percent CSAT score for almost six years straight. Our team responds to in-app chats in less than eight seconds. We have created a culture of delight that I couldn’t be prouder of.

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

In my opinion, the way to avoid burnout is to avoid trying to take on everything yourself. That’s hard, I know, especially at the beginning, but here are the ways you can achieve that.

First, surround yourself with a great team, a team you can trust. It’s probably the hardest thing about building a company, but when you finally build that team, they can step in for you, they can have your back, you can lean on them. You have to be ok delegating and trusting them to take work off of your plate, though.

Second, be transparent. Share the good, the bad, and the ugly with those around you. Especially the latter two, the things that are most stressing you out. It’s important to have others around who are aware of these matters. In many cases, they can help you and provide solutions. I can’t stress it enough: be transparent.

Lastly, blend your personal and professional life where it makes sense. Be as transparent with your family as you are with your team. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have a support system around me: my wife, my parents, my kids. They’re all involved in one way or another.

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?

Running businesses runs in my family. My father has always had his own businesses, doing work all over the world from New York (Harlem, South Bronx) to emerging markets (China, Nigeria, Russia, and Turkey). Throughout all of that, he would travel with me, bcc: me on all his emails, and encourage me to learn by osmosis. Exposure to his hustle, intuition, leadership, and follow-through shaped the way I do business.

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

As I mentioned previously, we have thousands of customers across the globe. This is a result of being laser-focused on our customers’ needs. And this goes beyond our product. This is about building a community where IT pros can connect with their peers to learn about their day-to-day challenges, best practices, etc.

In the beginning days of BetterCloud, we put up a company blog, much like many young companies do. But readers wanted more. So we responded by creating a daily newsletter focused on what we today call G Suite — which is the solution we supported at that time. As we started expanding beyond G Suite, and our customer base continued to grow, we realized we needed a much bigger property, we needed to cover a broader set of topics. That’s when we launched the BetterCloud Monitor, a comprehensive site and daily newsletter where anyone in the industry — not just customers — could stay up to date on the latest industry research, resources and articles. Needless to say, it was a hit. We now have 50K+ subscribers to the BetterCloud Monitor and its respective newsletter.

Around that same time, roughly 2016, we launched a live Slack community called BetterIT. We wanted to provide the best IT resources possible, and Slack’s real-time format would provide a great forum for answering questions on the fly, hosting AMAs, etc. We started with a core group of power users who gave us valuable feedback and direction, and the community has since grown to over 4,500 members.

To sum it up, our forums have proven invaluable to our community. A prime example was at the onset of pandemic. We were able to quickly respond by organizing thousands of IT professionals via BetterIT to help IT execs navigate this new normal. There is a lot more detail, but hopefully, this gives you a sense of how dedicated we are to helping our customers and the IT industry at large.

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

Today, we offer three different product suites: BetterCloud Manage, BetterCloud Secure or BetterCloud Manage + Secure. Those offerings are aligned to our most common use cases and come with support for a set number of integrations. Customers pay a “per user / per month” price for the solution. Additionally, we offer add-on modules to enhance the experience, such as professional services, additional integration support, and enhanced API capabilities, to name a few.

All investments that we make into our various community initiatives are available for free to both BetterCloud customers and non-BetterCloud customers. We are committed to driving awareness and adoption of SaaSOps as a standard practice for IT professionals and acknowledge that any efforts to monetize our community would slow down our objectives in this area.

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

1. The most important thing to do, in my view, is to obsess over your customer. Constantly ask them for feedback and really listen to them. Watch them use your product and gain a clear understanding of their problems. In that way, you become one with them. And then perhaps most importantly, continually strive to delight them.

2. Look to “improve the machine” every day. That means striving for progress, not perfection. Focus on evolution, not revolution. Until you’ve got enough data and operating history to see a clear picture, you don’t even know what you don’t know. So, if you try to design perfection, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll miss the mark.

3. “Don’t do it for the ‘gram (Instagram).” By that I mean, saying you’re crushing it all the time doesn’t somehow make you successful. A top-tier venture capitalist once said, “If a CEO says everything’s perfect, they’re either lying or they’re disconnected from what’s happening at their company.” Be open about the challenges you’re facing. You’d be surprised where help can come from. Everyone is dealing with the same issues. Nobody knows what they’re doing. It’s okay.

4. Always remember that your team is everything. Be honest about your weaknesses and your shortcomings. Delegate the tasks that you can’t handle on your own. Find people to fill the gaps in your knowledge and your abilities. Give them a real sense of ownership over solving these problems.

5. Enjoy the journey. This is all about the journey, not the destination. You don’t know what the future holds, so if you’re expecting a particular outcome, you’ll probably fail. Too many twists and turns lie ahead. You’ll grow every single day. You’ll make friends for life. You’ll have the most rewarding wins at the most unexpected times. Stick with it.

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. 🙂

A movement that would empower people from all walks of life, from any and all backgrounds, to start businesses. People need mentorship, they need financial support, they need certain skills, and sometimes they just need that extra push. I strongly believe that the best solutions are those that are developed by people who have first-hand knowledge of the problem they’re solving. To truly solve a lot of the challenges around the world, faced by different communities, we need to empower people in those communities to start businesses and organizations that can solve those problems.


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

Michal Pisarek of Orchestry: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Understand the Technology, Deeply — this is critical, as it can be the difference between obsolescence and success. If you don’t understand the technology you are working with or building upon, this can create a disparity between where your product is headed and where the underlying technology is roadmapped. It can also make your product repetitive, if you are developing a product that matches the planned functionality of the technology you build upon.

As a part of my series on “5 Things you Need to Know to Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michal Pisarek, CEO and Co-Founder of Orchestry (www.orchestry.com).

Michal Pisarek is the serial entrepreneur behind multi-award-winning businesses and products, such as BONZAI Intranet and Dynamic Owl Consulting, which were acquired in 2018. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Orchestry, the Work Made Simple platform for Microsoft 365. As a 6-time Microsoft MVP, Michal is an international speaker and Microsoft 365 thought leader with a long history of successfully working with Fortune 500 companies to deliver the maximum return on their Microsoft 365 investment

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After moving to Canada, I became an independent consultant. In that space for a couple of years, I decided to start Dynamic Owl Consulting, as I felt there was an opportunity to offer great business-based consulting around SharePoint at that time.

After work with organizations, primarily on Intranet and Digital Workspace initiatives, we made the decision to pivot Dynamic Owl into more of a product-based company, as an intranet-in-a-box platform for SharePoint and Office 365, named Bonzai Intranet. We got to the market fairly early when a lot of intranet projects were very costly and very cumbersome from a technical perspective. Also, from an implementation perspective, organizations ran these large and long technology projects that provided them with little value. Given this, we dedicated ourselves to productizing both the product and the project with Bonzai.

Most recently, Orchestry started more as a research project. I was trying to understand what was happening currently in Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) market. I interviewed nearly 80 companies asking about their successes and their challenges with the Microsoft 365 platform. From there we uncovered four tangible use cases that organizations were facing regardless of size, vertical or location. This sparked the solution for consistently solving those problems to make work simple in Microsoft 365 using Orchestry.

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

The ‘aha moment’ came from speaking with dozens of organizations using Microsoft 365, discovering they were all facing the same challenges and suffering from the same issues. This led us to the understanding that if we could solve these four core problems for customers, we would have a successful product:

  • Determine ‘what to use when’ for which purpose for users in Microsoft 365.
  • Resolve ‘bottlenecked governance’ issues by enabling controlled self-service.
  • Eliminate ‘costly customizations’ with pre-built Workspace Templates.
  • Remove the ‘too many tools’ dilemma with a business-first solution.

Overall, these four main challenges or opportunities have driven the vision of the platform we built to make work simple in Microsoft 365.

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

The biggest challenge with any startup is finding the right people to work with. It is a harmful misnomer that every successful start-up is just made up of just one person. It is actually a team of individuals. Making sure that each member of this team has the same vision is critically important.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is partnering with individuals that didn’t have the same vision and the same values. This innately brings to light various conflicts and tension in the relationship.

I never really consider giving up, as I’ve always believed in the vision of what I am doing and why I am doing it. But also, building and growing a team that is amazing to work with, it drives you to keep going because you never want to let that team down.

If you are an entrepreneur and you think about giving up all the time, then you are in the wrong role. You should save yourself the time and heartache and go get a job. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice and requires an unwavering dedication; you have to be a little bit crazy — you can’t afford to be rethinking it all the time.

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

You want to think things happen overnight, but the reality is it is just month after month and day after day of constantly working.

Entrepreneurship is not a marathon. The best analogy for entrepreneurship is high-intensity interval training. You will have moments of a lot of stress and work where you will push yourself to the edge. You push so hard you are almost at the breaking point, then lift your foot off the gas for moments of recovery when things calm down a bit, before your next push or sprint again.

This is why it is really important when starting a company that you make sure you believe in what you do and surround yourself with the right people because its never easy but can be incredibly rewarding.

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

Well, there is a funny one about Dynamic Owl, our first consulting company. I was trying to register our company, but we couldn’t come up with a name. So I was looking online for an idea, and came across an article that said every great company name as a verb and either an animal or a thing included. So, I had a stuffed owl toy in the room and I thought owls were wise and smart, so that seemed like a good start. Then I thought ‘dynamic’ was a good name for what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, so the name came to be Dynamic Owl Consulting.

It was meant to be a temporary name to get the business registered. But before we worked with a branding and marketing company to come up with a ‘real company name’, we received feedback that people seemed to like the name so it ended up sticking.

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

In building Orchestry, we were lucky enough to create a new category of product, putting us in a category of one. This is the feedback we are getting from showing the product to industry experts and Microsoft MVPs, saying, “Wow, there is nothing else like this on the market. I can’t believe it can do all this, and so quickly”.

Not only that, but also we have built the product for a wide range of users, which is fairly rare from a technology perspective. And, from the user experience and functionality perspective, we have tried to make Orchestry equally as refined and simple for every role, whether that be the End User, IT Administrator, Developer or Power User.

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

On tips, I have many from many years of learning how not to ‘burn out’:

  1. High Intensity Intervals: As I mentioned before, entrepreneurship is really most like high intensity interval training. You have to really drive hard to push yourself to those breaking points, but also recognize there also has to be periods of rest.
  2. It’s All About the People: Make sure you surround yourself with the right people. I think you have to actually personally like the people you spend your time working with, not just work with them.
  3. Stay Healthy & Sane: Look after your health and sanity, exercise regularly and do things like meditation. Most importantly you need to have time to unplug each day, whether that be walking your dog, being with your baby/kids or personally, I cook — that is my place of solace.
  4. Keep Doing, Not Stressing: Don’t spend time thinking about all that needs to be done. There will always be more to be done. If you keep thinking about all of it, you will drive yourself crazy. There is always more that can be done and always more to do, you just have to do the best that you can every day.
  5. Avoid the Entrepreneur Hype: Don’t read a lot of the crap on the internet about being a successful entrepreneur, because most of it is useless crap. And yes, I see the irony in saying this during an interview on entrepreneurship and start-ups. I still believe this to be true.
  6. Just Be Nice: Be nice to people. It isn’t hard to do and people will remember you for it. Right now as I call/email people all the time, people I’ve barely met to introduce Orchestry. I hear many say, “Oh yes, I remember meeting you, you were really nice. I’d be happy to chat with you.” Business shouldn’t be a win-lose situation, it should be a win-win situation. There is plenty to go around. Be humble and nice to absolutely everyone. It will serve you well, always.

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?

Denise Ching, my wife. I couldn’t do anything without Denise. She balances me out. Denise is good at all the things I am bad at. She keeps me balanced being very honest, open and supportive. She has also been a co-founder, including Orchestry, in every single successful venture we have undertaken. She is what makes me successful.

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

Orchestry doesn’t disclosed numbers as we work many enterprise organizations and we have different agreements regarding NDAs, etc. but we have been overwhelmed with enthusiasm, partnerships and feedback that has kept us growing.

The steps we have taken to build our community for Orchestry are many of the same that we took previously with our other successful companies, including:

  • Thought Leadership/Education/Training — we drive value directly into the Microsoft 365 community through constantly creating assets to share knowledge and learnings.
  • Re-entering a Familiar Community — we are re-entering a community we are familiar with and who are familiar with us, helping us lean into our existing relationships.
  • Product Quality — we know the proof isn’t in the concept but the product working exactly as you say it will work, which builds trust and integrity in a community.
  • Continuous Innovation — we stay current and continuously look for ways to improve, which is baked into the fabric of the tech community and in our company.

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

Our monetization model is simple, a paid Enterprise Subscription Model, that most enterprise organizations pay annually.

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

  1. Know the Market — this is foundational for success. With Orchestry, we have been in the Microsoft 365/Office 365 market for well over a decade. But, when we looked at what we want to do next, we didn’t pretend to know what the market needed or wanted today, which is why this entire company started with a research project to interview organizations about their successes and challenges using Microsoft 365.
  2. Understand the Technology, Deeply — this is critical, as it can be the difference between obsolescence and success. If you don’t understand the technology you are working with or building upon, this can create a disparity between where your product is headed and where the underlying technology is roadmapped. It can also make your product repetitive, if you are developing a product that matches the planned functionality of the technology you build upon. We have seen this time and time again in our industry, where Microsoft releases new features/functions and when it matches an exact product offering on the market, that product and company become obsolete.
  3. Marketing is Essential — this should be a business commandment. Too many product companies, especially technology companies focus all their time, money and effort on building the product, leaving no funds for marketing. This means that no one knows about the product you have built, and believe me people don’t just come knocking because you built something. We learned with our first ventures, that marketing is equally important, if not more important than the product itself. Great marketing is how you actually succeed in the market. When people know you exist and they like what you have built, that’s good marketing.
  4. User Experience — another common issue we’ve seen startups face is they spend so much time thinking about function, they forget there are actual people that will be using the product. Without putting user experience into part of the product planning, you aren’t likely to create something a user will actually like using. We learned this through many iterations of our previous products, so that is just baked into how we think about, plan and develop a new product; the user experience is always at the forefront.
  5. Constant Feedback/Innovation Loop — this one is key for long-term success. You can only build the best product you can with the knowledge you have available in the moment you are building it. After which, you learn more by seeing users actually interact with the product, actively soliciting product feedback and continuously exploring R&D possibilities. In doing so, we are consistently learning, improving, testing and iterating on the next version.

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. 🙂

Since my passion is cooking and food, I think I’d want to start a movement or not-for-profit organization that taught kids/students about the basics of food and nutrition through cooking with them and teaching them to cook for themselves.

These days so many people rely on takeout and processed food to feed themselves and it isn’t good. Food is how you feel, how you perform and how well your brain functions. You need good food to feed innovation and future entrepreneurs and that should start with teaching them how to cook and feed themselves.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This is good because we like Tweeting. You can follow me and Orchestry on Twitter:

We also the like connecting and posting on LinkedIn:


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

Casey Zeman of EasyWebinar: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Survey your market. Ask your audience or a market if this would help. What are their biggest pain points? If it is something that you need, chances are it is something that others need.

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

Casey Zeman, is the founder and CEO of the popular webinar platform, EasyWebinar, a software that does both live and automated webinars. Having had more than 14k customers come through his courses and software, he’s figured out what works and what doesn’t in the way of webinars, live broadcasts and video for engagement, and how to sell better and engage stronger with your audience and customers.

On average, his top clients are generating $10,000 to $20,000 a day ($300,000 to $600,00 per month in recurring revenue). His super-power is providing sales and scalability systems to business owners so they can work less while creating more impact and making more money.

He has consulted such companies as Harper Collins, Estee Lauder, and Dell on video marketing strategies and lead nurture funnels using webinars. Having built his own multi-million dollar software/info product business through the power of live video and webinars, he’s passionate about bringing these same strategies to your business.

Casey is the best selling author of “Build Your Audience with Live Video” and the creator of the TribeMinded system which combines the smart art of automation and engagement to build a scalable business.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have been doing online lead generation and selling products and software online since 2011. Before then I was in the mortgage industry. That business started to dwindle when the recession hit. I basically went from a job making $250k a year one year, to $15k the next year. At that time, I almost went into foreclosure twice. So I started down the path of learning about lead generation online to revamp my business. That journey taught me about online marketing. Before real estate, I was an actor. I always loved being creative, but never enjoyed the starving artist thing. With that in mind, when the market crashed it was a blessing in disguise. I was forced to discover my next thing.

That thing became online marketing, but with an emphasis on video. I love video because it bridges the gap of impersonality on the web. That is the very reason I went into the direction of creating a live stream and video marketing automation tool in the first place: EasyWebinar

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

I started off as a YouTube consultant back in the day after immersing myself in it for 6 months. I started consulting and running campaigns for Estee Lauder, Dell and Harper Collins. Six months later I launched my first online course called YouTube Revealed. It was an awesome course, but I couldn’t for the life of me sell it. Until one day I had the idea of sending people from a video posted on YouTube to a webinar where I did a free workshop promoting my program at the end. That was my Eureka moment.

I started looking at webinars. And of course, that is when everything changed. I remember my very first webinar. It was a purely free, no pitch webinar. I just provided as much good information as I could. It was my first one. I remember I was so nervous. It was all about being an online marketing consultant. How I landed clients, how I created video proposals, how I priced my services. I was just simply sharing as much as I could about the results and wins and loses that I had gone through as a consultant.

I had about 65 people on live and I remember that I was just TERRIBLE.

I was stumbling over my words, I used my wifi to run it and just felt like no one was listening. But by the end…I had a TON of my viewers send out praises and gratitude for the information I shared.

At that moment I knew that I sucked at making webinars but that it was ok… because even when I was bad, I could still sell because of the know, like and trust I was building with my audience.

So I started doing webinars all the time: free webinars 100% of the time that gave free content away but also that offered access into my course. That was the other “aha moment”.

My first dollar online came by way of selling my course from a webinar. During that time from 2011–2012, I built an email list up to 14,000 and made $245,000 selling my online course.

What did I do with the money I started making? I paid off my debt first. I started to fix up my house. I took my wife on a vacation. I paid my affiliates and jv partners.

I finally took a breath… when we are in it, we don’t stop to think we finally did it. We actually start to see how we can improve. Optimize our lifestyle and marketing. Continue to make mistakes and test, test, test. That is the name of the game when creating something of your own. Not being afraid to lose. To fight. And that’s when I started to build software.

Never in my life would I have thought I’d have SaaS platforms. But that is what I did. While I was making money in webinars, I reinvested in software. I created EasyWebinar.

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

We had a hard time getting things off the ground when the software was first being built. I made every mistake in the book while building it. It was a new experience for me. I didn’t understand the idea of design and UI/UX or wireframing… and as such it cost me a lot of money without a lot of potential return. The software in the first year was also very buggy. So I had to create partnerships with my developers at the time to make sure the money didn’t run out.

The way we made it through was I was still working as a course creator and doing joint venture webinars while I was trying to get the webinar software off the ground. In 2014 we worked our best at just getting people results with our software. Then at the beginning of 2015, we did an affiliate launch which helped us to generate 7 figures that year. However, a big influx of customers proved to be another headache. We were a WordPress software so when we started getting more and more people using our software on their WordPress sites, we were having to help them with server problems and oftentimes we were the ones blamed for out-of-date WordPress sites, etc.

That is when we decided to start moving to hosting our own platform and move away from WordPress. We also decided after that launch to make our platform recurring yearly. Before then the pricing was lifetime access pricing. And so we basically started over recruiting more customers in 2016 on a yearly recurring pricing model.

We in fact decided to take on fewer affiliates and stabilize our own ability to generate revenue without the need of support. So we went from 75% affiliate support to only 10% the next year. We made less gross revenue but we did make more net profit.

Again we have made every mistake in the book while building the software. I wish I would have started with SaaS recurring at the time of its inception because we have been playing catch up throughout the years. In fact, we didn’t go full monthly recurring payment model until the beginning of 2018.

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

Things are really good now. As mentioned before, we have gone through a lot of changes over the years. I’ve made every mistake in the book with software coming from a non-SaaS background… but even as such, we have always been able to pivot and innovate and stay very customer-centric.

We are a completely virtual team. It took a lot of time to get our team organization right, and of course, it’s something we are consistently trying to improve. We have a good rhythm right now and we have some strong revenue goals and growth goals in place.

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

I remember in the beginning I got a cease and desist letter from a competitor and I literally almost shut my business down completely around that. I let it influence my speed of launch and releases because I got paranoid. The take away was basically don’t slow your speed down for anything. There are always going to be hurdles or roadblocks. The good news is that if you didn’t have roadblocks it wouldn’t be as worth it.

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

Back in the day, we were a WordPress plugin that only did automated webinars and now we’ve evolved so much. We are a full SaaS platform that does both live and evergreen/automated webinars, and we are used by some of the top creators in the world.

And what’s interesting is that in that time since the inception of ‘EasyWebinar Plugin’ in like 2013, the mission to give back more time and freedom while also allowing our customers to scale their impact and revenue has continued to hold strong.

You see, most tech replaces human connection… and the world has seen the effects of it. We are more connected ‘digitally’ but we’ve lost our deeper human connection. Dare I say, our human to human unity. Especially in a world right now that feels separate, we want to help to bridge more human to human connection across the globe.

My goal is to be a tool that does it’s part to use education and conversations to establish stronger relationships which ultimately are the keys to sales and marketing. A tool that leverages automation but engaged automation.

A tool that can help to ‘change people’s lives’ as April Perry said about our system. Giving them back their valuable time while creating successful sales and nurture experiences all via webinars and EasyWebinar.

As we work towards the future we want the word ‘Easy’ to not just be in our name but be the resounding theme in everything we do. From Easy to set up to Easy to generate more customers/clients.

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

I would say play the long game and look at the numbers. Once you get metrics of “I need x trials to get x customers, and if I add in x customers in every month and we are losing on average x, we will be able to add in new customer growth by 20% month over month.” Find a rhythm with your growth. Try to save the money you make, but also spend smart on a team that can do the things you CAN’T do.

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

I would say that my wife’s belief in my abilities to create something out of nothing would be the biggest thing, but I would also say that my friend Chris Farell was my inspiration for going into online marketing and leaving the world of mortgages. And for that, I am forever grateful. I was fortunate to get exposed to a business that has been very good to me for almost 8 years.

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

Currently, we have about 2000 or so active monthly recurring customers. We have had over 14k customers use our software, many who took lifetime access when we had those plans. Something else we are still ‘palm to face’-ing many years later. However, hey, it got us familiar with what to do and what not to do.

In order to build such a large community, we have stayed mostly customer focused and have gotten good referrals. Three of the main steps are:

1. Always help the customer to achieve results. It helps in spades with your branding.
2. Leverage partnerships to their fullest.
3. Paid ads to webinars have been very good to us, definitely something to implement.

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

Right now we are a monthly and recurring rev product with a 14-day trial. We feel it’s the best way after trying a bunch of things.

You see, EasyWebinar started out as a WordPress plugin where we licensed the tool for a lifetime price. We built a business model similar to what Optimize Press (a WP plugin as well) did early on. In 2013, we had a one site license at $97, we had a 10 site license at $247, and a lifetime license at $347. In 2014, we got rid of the one site license and focused on the other two and started to offer live through YouTube Live.

In 2015, we changed our pricing to get rid of the 10 site license to then only have an unlimited webinar personal license at $397 or a commercial license at $477, and at the end of that year, we changed our prices again to $497 for personal and $577 for commercial.

In 2016, we started to make the switch to a yearly recurring product along with changing the product to our own hosted version. We still offered the plugin, but we wanted to simplify the way people could use webinars. Our prices were $497 per year for the personal license and $577 per year for the commercial license.

Then in 2017 we added our own live stream engine (a proprietary tool that does high definition live streaming with no latency). We still offered the YouTube Live stream hosting as well, but our new tool was something we had wanted to add for a while because when YouTube Live hosted the live streams, it would create a 15–20 second delay and it was often not 100% HD for screen sharing.

In 2018 we made the change to offer monthly and yearly and that is where we are currently at, with 3 pricing tiers: Standard, Pro and Enterprise. We do also have other courses and coaching programs that we can look at as expansion revenue as well.

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

  1. Create a product that solves a problem. Can something that takes 12 hours to do be done in like 15 minutes with a software?
  2. Create an MVP. Money loves speed, so do product launches. Get it out there early and create expectations about where it will go from there.
  3. Survey your market. Ask your audience or a market if this would help. What are their biggest pain points? If it is something that you need, chances are it is something that others need.
  4. Price it low and grow from there. You need user experience and case studies so you can even start free beta and get users and case studies that way.
  5. Hire a dev team on Upwork…. or other platforms. Hiring locally is often the best way to go, but can be more money. Someone creative and who can communicate is key! Hire slow and qualify your team. Start by first doing a one-off project instead of a retainer to test their work ethic and abilities. Give them a deadline and see what they can achieve in that deadline. Maybe it would be the framework to start. Or maybe you pay for MVP, give them 30 days to create it and pay them x for it. Test their work. Fire fast if something isn’t working out.

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. 🙂

We are definitely in a scary and trying time right now. I remember being crushed during the recession of 2008 and at that time I vowed to always have a recession-proof business. Now in this case, a pandemic proof business.

I see the reality of things when my entrepreneur friends are faced with a sudden stop of their business. For example, one of my caterer friends lost all of his parties booked for the next few months.

We are also so lucky that we can work remotely. I would start a movement all about empowering people to build their own recession and Pandemic proof businesses.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Instagram at http://instagram.com/caseyzeman or go to EasyWebinar.com and watch one of my 2 streaming workshops.

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


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

Jeremy Duvall of 7Factor Software: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Develop the right audience. Make sure you’re selling to people who want your thing. Build something that they want. Don’t try and build something just because you think it’s a good idea. Listen to the devil’s advocate. Go find people who will purposely attempt to throw wrenches into your ideas and your plans.

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

Jeremy Duvall is the founder of 7Factor Software, a custom DevOps and cloud-based systems and software company that builds from the beginning for stability, security, and scalability for large, tech-savvy corporations and growth-stage startups with high growth potential.

Jeremy is a software craftsman with more than a decade of experience building and advising others on how to build rugged, performant, and beautiful software in nearly every industry. Jeremy founded 7Factor in 2017 with a commitment to build a smart, flexible, human-centric team of experienced software architects, engineers, and developers who obsess about quality and will give clients honest, expert advice.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up on a farm in a small, North Georgia town. When I was very young, my mother died in a car accident. I was in the car too but survived. After that, my sister and I were raised by our father and grandmothers. Dad was a very hard worker. He drove a truck, sometimes for a week at a time, while keeping the farm going too. He did whatever it took to keep us fed and get us through school.

So there was tragedy and struggle in my childhood, but also this idyllic setting in the North Georgia mountains, living on the farm. I spent many afternoons climbing in the fruit trees and dispatching imaginary foes.

I was a good student and in my senior year enrolled as a post-secondary options student at Young Harris College. I spent that year taking calculus and physics classes. When I graduated, I stayed on at Young Harris to complete my associate’s degree. During that time, I was mentored by Dr. Bob Nichols and Dr. Kenneth Fox, who both encouraged me to apply to Georgia Tech’s program in computer science, one of the top computer science programs in the country.

After graduating, I was lucky enough to get a job at Danger, Inc., creator of the T-Mobile Sidekick, a phone that was a sensation at the time, although most people have since forgotten it. It’s one of the most important mobile phones that was ever developed. So much of what we did was later emulated by the big names in smartphones today. Developer programs, APIs… all that infrastructure that builds an ecosystem around a smartphone: Danger did that first.

After Danger, Inc. was acquired by Microsoft, I worked for Microsoft for a while, then did my rounds at a few startups and consulting firms before founding 7Factor in 2017.

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

When I started my career, quality software engineering was not something that many consulting firms cared about. Most were obsessed with speed and revenue, with little concern for the costs of badly written code. I wanted to focus more on software engineering as an art and a competency that needs to be practiced and perfected. I wanted to advance the body of computer science through consulting.

There were a few boutique firms that cared about that, such as Pivotal and ThoughtWorks, and I could’ve gone to work for one of them. But I wanted to put my own spin on this idea. I wanted to connect the art of software engineering to the business value.

Many of the other firms that care about quality are more focused on being gearheads and talking about very esoteric and often overengineered architectures, whereas a lot of what you do when you’re consulting is building software for humans. You’re creating software that is to be used by an executive or internal staff, or it’s used by a consumer. It’s not just about building the most highly available architecture. It’s about building architectures that are usable by humans.

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

The academic challenges at Georgia Tech were like nothing I had ever experienced before, and initially I vastly underestimated the work it would require for me to succeed. I did very poorly my first year, was put on academic probation, and, after three semesters, I was removed from the program. I’d failed out of one of the most prestigious engineering universities in the country. I was devastated.

I went home, got a job at the local Ingles grocery store, and spent some time sorting out my life. I thought a lot about how hard my dad had worked to get me to Georgia Tech in the first place. He had never given up on me, and I realized that I wasn’t ready to give up either.

I sent a letter to all of my former professors, outlining to them my plan for graduating successfully, and I reapplied to Georgia Tech through the academic appeals process. It worked; I was readmitted to the program and came back with a new focus and drive.

My first semester back, I had a 4.0 while taking five computer science courses. I was given the opportunity to work on some very interesting projects in research labs. That included a project in Dr. Keith Edwards’ prestigious Pixi Lab, work for which I won the President’s Undergraduate Research Award.

More recently, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the drive and perseverance I developed during that time helped me pivot my company to make up for some initial losses in revenue while finding a way that we could apply our skills to combat the disease.

We’ve just released WellEntry, a health-screening SaaS solution that helps organizations screen their employees, students, teachers, customers, and guests for symptoms of disease. It’s the next natural evolution of 7Factor as a company. We’re planning to create more solutions for the healthcare IT market and evolve those platforms, while continuing to provide DevOps services for companies.

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

Things are going pretty well. 7Factor went from zero to 21 people in three years. We have solid revenue and zero debt. I founded the company on a bonus check from a previous company.

We have a good culture. That’s one of the big reasons why people stay and why we’re successful. It’s not a toxic culture here, like you can find at so many companies. We have a human-centric culture, a culture of quality and grace. (I recently wrote about that on Medium.)

As far as grit and resilience, I think those words often come up in the context of a hustle culture, and I’m actually not a fan of that. Ours is not a hustle culture.

To the extent we succeed on grit, it’s the grit of the entire team that matters. When you pivot to thinking like that, you really don’t have to have as much grit, resilience, or hustle individually, because your whole team is invested in doing this together. That makes it a lot easier.

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

It wasn’t very funny at the time, but I can laugh at myself now. When I started out, I expected that clients would all pay their bills on-time. If you walk into Walmart and get a shirt, you don’t tell them, “Hey, I’ll pay you later,” then walk out of the store with your shirt. If you try that, you’re going to get tackled by a cop and maybe banned from Walmart for life.

In the early days of 7Factor, we had done a lot of work for a startup, but they weren’t paying their bills. We hadn’t done our due diligence on their finances, and I guess I just naively assumed that, if they said they could pay for our work, then they could.

It worked out OK in the end. We had a month or two of reserves to cover payroll, and just as things were getting tight, a big check from Delta Airlines arrived on time. Eventually, the startup paid their bill. We never worked with them again, and I learned to look a little closer at a potential new client’s ability to pay. “Trust but verify” became a key mantra for us after that.

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

I think what makes our company stand out is kind candor. A lot of consulting companies will talk about how they’ll shoot straight with you, but none of them actually do that, especially if the sale is on the line. They’re going to do everything they can to keep that revenue in the door. While I don’t blame them, it doesn’t help anybody, and it doesn’t produce a relationship that has longevity.

If you come to 7Factor wanting us to build something that we don’t think is going to serve your goals, we’re going to tell you so. We’re going to push back and have a discussion with you. It will be a respectful conversation, but an honest one.

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

Don’t lower your rates. Don’t undercut your pricing. You have to make sure that you’re communicating the value of who you are and what you’re bringing to the table. People will gladly pay top dollar for value that is actually being added to their companies.

I am extraordinarily anti-commoditization, because I believe it brings my craft down to a level where people don’t care about how hard I and my team have worked to develop our ability to write good software. It is something that requires sharp, smart, motivated, problem-solving people, and the only way to get that is to pay them well.

How do you not burn out? Hire good people. Don’t try to do it by yourself. Find other people to help you, and don’t try and do it on your own. Otherwise, you will burn out for sure. I’m very proud of the team that we’ve built. Trusting them and giving them the latitude they need is what’s going to keep this company going.

We also prevent burnout by building load-balanced teams: providing and facilitating a framework where people can take time off and know that someone else on their team is able and empowered to take care of the work while they’re gone. It’s all about sustainability, and the way you avoid burnout is by creating an environment that doesn’t encourage it.

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?

Several of the people who I worked with on the Sidekick back at Danger, Inc. Legendary engineers like Cid Halloway and Mike Bouche and Sean Curran, Godfrey Imudia, Allison Bellach, Joe George. All of those people are significantly responsible for my upbringing, culturally, into software engineering.

Danger’s talent included folks that contributed to the Linux kernel. They were incredibly, incredibly smart, way smarter than me, and I was just lucky to be able to work for them. Most of them have gone on to work at companies like Netflix, founding members, people who legitimately are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met in my life.

When I went to work for Danger, I was just a random kid coming out of Georgia Tech, and they’re like, “Hey, let’s try and teach this dude how to develop good software.” Even more than helping me grow as a developer, they taught me how to be part of a good culture, how to operate on a team, how to take care of the people to your left and to your right. They taught me how to create a culture you could enjoy.

It really helped me drive toward a culture that I’m proud of here at 7Factor, a culture that cares about people and doesn’t focus on just numbers and goals. If 7Factor becomes a $100 million company, fantastic, but I really don’t care. It’s about the culture that we provide, and it’s about the people who work here. It’s not about the revenue numbers I post.

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

A lot of our work is as a services company providing DevOps and cloud-based solutions to major corporations and promising start-ups. But the COVID-19 pandemic recently inspired us to launch our own SaaS solution, a health-screening platform called WellEntry. We built it in close consultation with Aveanna Healthcare, the nation’s largest provider of pediatric home care services. They’re implementing it for all 30,000 of their home care providers and are offering it to some of their customers as well.

We’re now selling the service directly to schools, healthcare and hospice providers, food processing plants, factories, office buildings, military installations, government buildings, hotels and restaurants… anyone who wants to screen people as they enter their buildings, facilities, or sites of remote service.

A lot of people view selling software as a numbers game. If I fire 100 arrows at that bale of hay right there, 10 of them will hit. So, in order to get to 30 sales, I need to find 300 leads. It’s very easy to fall into that statistical way of selling. What I’ve learned from providing software services is that that statistical approach is a great way to acquire new customers, and it’s a hot garbage way to keep and build a community of users that actually care about what you built for them. I approach selling software from a services perspective, a relationships perspective.

And sure, if you’re Uber or you’re Airbnb, your market is just so incredibly large, and the ideas make so much sense that you’re naturally going to grow into astronomical subscriber numbers. So if you have an idea that is an obvious win, it really all boils down to price.

But for a lot of software, it comes down to relationships. I know people hate to say that because this sort of meritocracy that we live in wants you to think that the best product always wins, but that’s actually not the case. There is hot garbage software out there that people have bought because they know a guy.

Part of the way that we’ve approached our sales is, one, we don’t have a piece of hot garbage. We have a great system that was designed to solve a problem for a specific company — Aveanna Healthcare — and that we’ve been able to expand into other markets. We’ve approached it from a services perspective in that, when you purchase our product, you get an experience.

With WellEntry, we’ve said, “Let’s build a community of users that care about what we’re doing,” which is one of the reasons why WellEntry is doing particularly well in healthcare organizations. Healthcare workers are heroes, and they’re wonderful people. Some of these people took an oath to do no harm. So, for them to get behind something, they have to be convinced that it is a good solution to the problem.

So, again, if you have an idea that is a no-brainer, like Uber, just go sell it and make tons of money because it’s easy. Use that whole numbers game and make a billion dollars. But if you’re developing something for a niche market or for a group of people who are a little bit more difficult to convince, you have to build a community of people and supporters that make sense for what you’re offering. You can’t just go at it as a numbers game.

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

We took a per active user approach on this, then calculated our costs per screening. WellEntry leans heavily on Amazon Web Services, so we figured out our monthly costs to run the solution. That part is easy enough. It’s more complicated to factor in the costs of the humans who built and maintain it, the people who sell and support it. There are a lot of unknowns there. But we put a lot of work into figuring out what WellEntry was going to cost us to run and based our active user fee on that.

We also charge a one-time setup fee, and that’s important to me. It’s there to cover the costs of my trainer and director of operations, the time they put into getting our customers up and running on the platform. I don’t think anyone should be shy about charging a setup fee, especially if it’s not a simple, SaaS solution that you just sign up for online, or an app that you just download and sign up through that.

If you have any kind of white glove service around onboarding — if it’s B2B and not B2C — you’ve got to charge for training and ramping up. When you work with a corporation, they’re going to be looking for a much tighter onboarding process. Don’t be shy to charge implementation fees or consulting fees to help them get their people into your system.

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

Develop the right audience. Make sure you’re selling to people who want your thing. Build something that they want. Don’t try and build something just because you think it’s a good idea. Listen to the devil’s advocate. Go find people who will purposely attempt to throw wrenches into your ideas and your plans.

In the case of WellEntry, we had the benefit of a close working relationship with Aveanna, who had already been a services client of ours. They wanted this solution, and they told us exactly what they needed in it. Because we had a good relationship with them, we could also run our ideas by them. We could rely on them to tell us when our ideas weren’t going to work or weren’t going to serve a real need.

Take calculated risks. You need to be willing to take risks, but a gut feeling isn’t enough. Do you have only a 50% chance of success? Or is it 80% because, as with WellEntry, you already have a relationship with a $2 billion healthcare company that says they want your solution? We took a risk with WellEntry and spent a lot of money developing it in the midst of a global pandemic, but we also knew that a very important existing customer was telling us they would use it, that it would help them keep their caregivers and patients safe. It was obviously a risk worth taking.

Develop a compelling and competitive cost model. Be willing to change when you recognize the market isn’t responding to it, but also know your rock-bottom values. What’s the minimum amount that you’re willing to go to market against without going out of business?

This goes back to what I said earlier about considering all our costs for WellEntry and calculating the per screening fee based on that. We add a fair mark-up for our profit, of course, but our fees are fair without undervaluing our work. It’s a quality solution at a reasonable price.

Don’t skimp on the engineering talent. Make sure you hire people who know what they’re doing. At 7Factor, we’re often brought in to do what I call “unicorn rescues.” That’s what happens when a startup has a good idea for a SaaS solution, but they hire a cheap, outsourced development agency to build it for them. At some point, they realize that the software is so bad that it’s going to sink their good idea. That’s when some of them come to us to either fix their code or rebuild it right from scratch. They end up spending more to get to a viable product than they would have if they’d started with good engineers from the beginning.

In the case of WellEntry, I was using my own team of engineers, so I knew I had the best teams available. I wouldn’t have hired them if they weren’t, and if my talented engineers somehow underperformed, then that would be all on me for not leading them effectively.

Build good stuff, then keep making it better. Honestly, seriously: build good solutions and build them well. Don’t over-engineer something to solve every possible problem, but take the time to plan your product well then commit the resources necessary to build it right. Then listen to your customers and figure out how to make it better.

We’re still early in that process with WellEntry. I’m proud of what we built in our version 1, but we’re just now starting to get that customer feedback. We’re testing our theories of what we believed people wanted and needed, and we’re deciding on our next development priorities based on that.

If you’re not listening to your customers, you’re asking your competition to come in and take them from you. You have to be able to build something that people want, then be able to evolve it in a way that makes sense.

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

I would start an anti-commoditization movement. I’m trying to do that right now, as a matter of fact. Software shouldn’t be treated as a commodity, and the people who engineer it shouldn’t be either.

I want business owners to care about the quality of the software they use. I want them to not think of software engineering as a bunch of people in a dark room with headphones on, turning wrenches. I want, instead, for them to think of software engineers as living, breathing, smart humans who can contribute a lot to your ideas and your vision. I want people to start hiring developers and rewarding developers who care more about the quality of their solutions than the speed with which they get them out the door.

To the CEO of any large company: I challenge you to walk onto the floor with your engineering team. Find a random developer. I don’t care who it is. Don’t pick a lead, because those people want to impress you. Pick a random person on the floor. Sit down and ask them to pair with you the whole day. You don’t have to say a word. You don’t have to know anything about what they’re doing. Ask them to explain to you what they’re doing, and you’ll get a better understanding of the type of work that these people do.

Humanizing those engineers, I think, will do a lot of good for a lot of people. It will make them start thinking less about the output and more about the people creating it.

That’s my movement: Humans are people. Treat them as such.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Jeremy Duvall on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jduv2683/

7Factor on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/7factor-software/

7Factor on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/7factor_software/

WellEntry on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/wellentry/

WellEntry on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/wellentry

WellEntry on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/EntryWell

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


Jeremy Duvall of 7Factor Software: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ross Lipson of Dutchie: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App, SaaS, or Software…

Ross Lipson of Dutchie: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App, SaaS, or Software Business

Shoot for the moon — Set your big picture goal astronomically high. This will make sure there is always room for improvement and there’s always room for growth. We always want to leave room for growth and opportunity.

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

Ross Lipson is CEO and Co-Founder at Dutchie, the world’s largest and fastest-growing online cannabis marketplace. He has over a decade of experience in advanced and equitable delivery services for a variety of industries, such as online food ordering, which has led to two successful exits, including GrubCanada.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started my career over a decade ago when I moved to Toronto, Ontario and launched GrubCanada, the nation’s first online food ordering service in 2008. The business quickly started to scale across the country, becoming a recognized household name. I sold the company in 2012 to Just-Eat, one of the world’s largest online food ordering services at the time. In 2017, I co-founded and launched Dutchie with my brother, Zach. Today, Dutchie is the largest and fastest-growing eCommerce and online ordering solution for the cannabis industry.

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

My ”Aha Moment” came when cannabis was first legalized in Oregon. Every dispensary had a full parking lot and a line out the door. That was the moment that I knew there was a need for an online ordering solution. There was literally no way for a consumer to know what the dispensary had in stock, nor the ability to learn about the cannabis products or actually order them, before getting to the store.

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

A cannabis business is very difficult to scale because every state operates differently from a regulatory standpoint. You’re constantly having to retweak the product and process and the configurations you’ve built in for dispensaries. For every two steps forward, you take one step back. It is natural for a founder to consider giving up at least once, but I have trained myself to let negative mindsets go in one ear and out the other. It’s important to remain relentless in your pursuit.

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

Today, Dutchie processes 10% of all legal cannabis sales worldwide, processing over 75,000 orders a day and our software powers more than 25% of dispensaries across North America. The pandemic has changed the cannabis industry and has increased the need for retailers and customers to adapt to new ways of purchasing cannabis.

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

The mindset I had coming into the industry was my biggest mistake. There was a perceived “green rush” and I thought by just being in it that we would be successful. But the truth is that it’s one of the most nuanced industries out there. The whole experience has been like running a marathon in quicksand, and also in sandals. The biggest and most important lesson learned from that is to be humble, and don’t let your excitement outsmart you.

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

Dutchie is very client-focused. We understand the needs and wants of our clients and their consumers. We know that without the dispensaries, we would not be here so we take the time to get to know our clients and establish a solid relationship with them. It’s really important to us to not only hear but feel what they’re going through so we could holistically solve their problems.

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

Focus on what you do best and try to stick to that. Most cannabis companies see many voids in the industry and jump to trying to solve them. It’s better to try to perfect or solve one piece of the industry, instead of solving a multitude of problems. Pace yourself and stay focused.

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 brother Zach, my Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder has always been the person to play devil’s advocate for my ideas. There’s no better person to help you look at things from both sides than a sibling, right? The closest people in your life are mirrors and they show you a reflection of yourself. Although it hurts sometimes, they are there to help you improve, in my case, both as a person and in business.

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

We serve over 1,300 dispensaries across 25 states plus Canada, power over 25% of the retailers in North America and process approximately 75,000 orders a day — all numbers which continue to grow. The main steps needed are to really aim to provide value for our clients and customers. Focus on the relationship that you have with your client and don’t just hear the customer, but feel the customer and understand firsthand with them what they’re trying to solve.

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

We charge dispensaries a flat rate per month to use our software. This has been the best option for our clients, so we have not considered other options.

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

1. Stay focused on your mission

It is easy to see others’ success and want to jump headfirst into the newest trend or the easiest route. Decide what your core offering or product is and stick to it. Don’t try and do too many things. Once we start spinning too many plates, we’re bound to drop some.

2. Don’t get stuck in the boardroom

I think the meeting is the death of the startup. I think we spend a lot of time in bloated meetings and having meetings just to have meetings. It may feel like we’re being productive, but in a sense, we tend to talk in circles.

3. Manage your team

At Dutchie, every other month, we do an anonymous happiness survey where we allow our employees to have that feedback loop back to us and really explain how they feel. And it’s amazing the information that we get out of that. Fortunately, our team is very responsive to it. It’s really important to make changes based on what the employees’ needs and thoughts are. There’s no company that’s better than their team and it’s important to make sure that they’re optimized and successful because at the end of the day, that’s what makes a company successful.

4. Be aggressive

If you really believe in your goal and feel that you have a realistic shot, then give it all you have. We believe that Dutchie can be the largest online cannabis ordering platform in the world. In the first three years, we’ve hired over 100 employees and raised $53 million to date. With that being our goal, we’re going to give it all we got and go for it as fast and as aggressively as possible.

5. Shoot for the moon

Set your big picture goal astronomically high. This will make sure there is always room for improvement and there’s always room for growth. We always want to leave room for growth and opportunity.

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. 🙂

One movement that I would like to see is dealing with the impacts of the failed war on drugs and overly incarcerating people, particularly communities of color. What I’ve really enjoyed about the cannabis community is that it really is a community first. Providing a leg up and equal opportunity to those who deserve it the most is something that I’d like to see and I think our industry prioritizes.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Company Website: https://www.dutchie.com/

Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/getdutchie/

Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/getdutchie

Company Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wearedutchie/

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


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

Tim Donaghy of Contract Logix: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Never lose sight of where you came from or what you have learned along the way. This is a great ‘gut feel’ gauge when you need to make decisions without all the facts or data — which you will surely do.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Donaghy, CTO, Contract Logix.

Tim Donaghy has been with Contract Logix since 2006 and was on the founding team during the initial product concept phase. As the CTO, Tim leads all Product and Technology direction for the company. He has crafted the vision for what has become an industry-leading SaaS platform.

Tim is a well-known industry expert, speaker, and author in the field of contract lifecycle management. Prior to Contract Logix, Tim held senior marketing, product management, sales, and technology leadership roles at Intellisoft Group and Contour Design; and in the U.S Navy where he served on nuclear submarines.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Yes, absolutely. Let’s see, well, I joined the U.S. Navy out of school and was an electronics technician on nuclear submarines. So, very different from the norm. While serving in the Navy, I got engaged in technical requirements and learning which set me on my current path and the roles I’ve had throughout my career. After the Navy, I decided to pursue technology and leverage my skill set to the fullest extent possible. I joined a computer hardware company where I helped design, market and sell into key segments such as the Apple and ergonomic peripheral markets. I learned a lot throughout those experiences.

It was during this time that I found my passion for learning how to develop and code websites and hardware drivers for the products we were selling. I mainly dabbled in these technologies but became very proficient in HTML and JavaScript and other coding technologies. It was truly an invaluable experience. Later, as I gained experience and confidence in various roles within sales, marketing, and technology, I decided to move to a small, software company that developed and sold medical credentialing software. This is actually where the idea for Contract Logix was born.

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

Well, I’m not sure it was an aha moment per se, but I’ll start where I left off on the last question. I was hired to help design and develop a focused healthcare solution for credentialing and physician contracting. Basically, the solution would be a module or add-on to our other product offerings. I worked with one of our large Medicare healthcare solution providers to ensure we met their business and use cases around the functions of medical and payer and provider contracting. This is when it all started to click!

During these discussions and developing the solution, it became evident that the data architecture of the information stored and managed was critical. Contracts can have a lot of relationships and data around risk and compliance that is critical information for businesses — and not just healthcare businesses — to rely on for important decisions. The focus was around this flexibility and the reporting and management of this information — including the documents or contracts themselves. From this moment, we decided that it was strategically crucial to reconsider releasing this as a module and really make it its own product and eventually, a new company.

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

My story isn’t all that different than many individuals starting or working in smaller, start-up organizations. I think ultimately, there are challenging times when faced with adversity that ends up shaping who you are as a company and an individual.

Each facet of business has different sets of challenges. In my case, I always tried my absolute best to take a very positive and optimistic approach and worked hard learning all I could whenever I felt like I was overwhelmed or tired or felt like giving up. I am very driven by nature. I love learning as much as possible, and I believe this has been the difference-maker for me. If I was not passionate about the learning or the markets or solutions, the outcome might have been very different.

When I reflect back on specific challenges, whether it was financial pressures, various sales and marketing related issues and perhaps even technology issues, I’ve always buckled down, worked hard, learned all I could about the circumstance and kept my head high. I’ve always remained positive — even when times were challenging, and don’t let myself have a give-up mentality.

In the early days, there were times where we had so few people and the workloads were off the charts for me and others. We didn’t have a truly competitive solution yet and we weren’t really making enough to keep the doors open, so to speak. On top of it, the market was new and evolving quickly, so it took much more effort to get to a viable product than originally anticipated because the finish line kept moving. I’ve had other experiences with starts and stops during development which can make it difficult to gain any real traction. It’s in those moments though, that you have to make real decisions that impact everyone around you in the business and the can be tough. You sometimes have to go with your gut and use the information and facts you have to do the best you possibly can. I feel like most times we made the right decision, but certainly it took courage, drive and a whole lot of coffee!

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

Things are going well today. The landscape of contract lifecycle management (CLM) is vastly different than even just a few years ago. It’s an extremely competitive market. As a company, we have different people, new technologies and different customer use cases, and each of those have different perspectives. It has been really rewarding and great to have been part of all this growth throughout the years. We’ve certainly had to adapt and embrace change, but our willingness to take on these new challenges is what I think sets us apart. Great people make all the difference in my mind in terms of having a resilient culture.

From my perspective, it has taken a lot of analysis and resiliency over the years to really be successful — both individually and as an organization. The CLM market continues evolving at a rapid pace so it can be challenging to stay on top of the latest trends. Resilient is one of our Guiding Principles as an organization because we believe it is a real requirement in who we are.

Recently, we’ve seen tremendous — actually skyrocketing — growth in the usage of our products, especially over the last 4 months. So many companies are needing to evolve, even transform, their business models to succeed in this new operating environment where everyone is remote. There’s been rapid acceleration in digital transformation and our solutions are a big part of making that possible for our customers.

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

In the early days we would always inadvertently call the solution a contact management system rather than a contract management system which always raised some questions or eyebrows during customer demos or presentations. It was a good branding lesson. I also remember one time being called the “OxiClean” commercial guy when demonstrating our software because I was really enthusiastic and into the presentation. The customer and I had a good laugh because they purposely waited until the end to tell me. I learned to try to balance my enthusiasm a bit more, but never thought it was a mistake or bad thing.

I tend to embrace making mistakes. It was instilled very early on in my career that to excel and grow, you must make and learn from your mistakes. I’ve tried my best to reflect and learn from them whether it’s from an internal or outside perspective.

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

Contract Logix is a standout company and I’m truly passionate about our organization and technology. I think what makes us unique is our combination of people and our technology and products. All of us have a passion for data and analytics. In fact, we call ourselves Logicians.

Over the past few years, we have built an incredibly powerful CLM platform. That platform uses a data-centric approach and we believe data is our customers’ most valuable contract asset. This data can be leveraged to eliminate risk and compliance issues and really helps deliver value to our customers. Data is also critical to establishing and benchmarking KPIs which is increasingly important to our customers, especially as they look to optimize processes and do more with less in today’s new normal. These are just a few examples of why we believe our data-driven approach is standout and why I believe so much in the company and our goals.

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

That’s a tough question. My biggest recommendation is to reflect and reflect some more. Learn as much as you can from your mistakes and interactions with other people. Over my career, I’ve learned that the more you learn through these processes, the more this will fuel your passion and reduce burn-out because the work will be more enjoyable and you will be more on your game. Often, the other issue I see is that burn-out might come from individuals that don’t every so often take a step back to look at the bigger picture. It’s important to ask yourself, what have you accomplished and where are the opportunities for improvement? I think that approach has worked well for me.

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?

Yes, I agree completely. I believe that one of my roles is to provide similar opportunities to my employees that I’ve been afforded to throughout my career. This is crucial for them and me. I love mentoring and coaching and being a part of this process. Our people and culture are very important, and it requires dedication and time to really ensure each of our personnel’s career goals are met.

Throughout my career, I’ve had multiple mentors, from the current CEO of Contract Logix to other executives and even outside resources. Without a doubt, they have made a lasting impact on me and have helped my career every step of the way. I’m grateful to each of them for different reasons and learnings. More recently, Rick Ralston, Contract Logix’s CEO, has really given me perspective on how to look at and structure the business from a design standpoint as well as instilling company culture and so much more. He really has helped cement a lot of valuable and real-world/life experience, which continues to make me better and inspire me to grow.

With that said, I try to learn from everyone around me. Sometimes you learn things from places you don’t always expect. I’ve learned that lesson countless times throughout my career and life.

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

We’ve been very fortunate at Contract Logix to build a successful and thriving installed base of customers in a wide array of industries like healthcare, pharma & biotech, energy, financial services and more. We have several hundred brands using our products, from small businesses to Fortune 500 organizations. And within those customers, we have thousands of legal, procurement, finance, IT and sales professionals using our software to digitize, automate and streamline the way they manage millions of legal agreements.

When I think about how we’ve built that community, there are three big reasons that come to mind.

  1. We’ve built a secure platform that meets our customers’ use cases but keeps things relatively simple.
  2. We’ve welcomed our customers’ feedback as learning opportunities and work very hard to get them adopting and getting value from the software as quickly as feasible.
  3. We’ve helped our customers unlock the value of the data in their contracts to provide insights and visibility into their legal agreements and ultimately business.

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

As a software subscription, we keep our model simple and monetize using just a couple of factors such as the edition of the platform and the number of users.

We made the decision to leverage this model for several reasons including market factors and adoption. With the availability of cloud and subscription models becoming more and more common, the price per user model made sense for us and was more widely accepted by our market. It’s easy to compare and understand. Historically we had leveraged licensing and other feature-based pricing models. As we embraced changes in the market, we adopted a much simpler approach based on historical success and/or failures.

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

Create a customer-driven culture that onboards customers quickly to drive adoption and stickiness. Measure success through customer usage metrics.

Historically in our market, driving adoption can be a challenge. With our platform, customers are changing and maturing into a new, but foreign, process or technology. They are digitally transforming their contracts but in turn, really changing the entire ecosystem and nature of managing their contracts and the processes their people use.

During this initial phase, getting customers quickly using the product and gaining real value from it is key to long term success. End users tend to be more engaged throughout the process and this is incredibly apparent when tracking usage metrics for customers. On average, we find that the quicker a customer is up and running, the longer the life of the customer.

Measuring usage metrics is critical because it gives you a wealth of insight into where the platform might be more or less successful. When we initially started tracking usage, we were able to quickly identify areas that were not being used or used much less frequently than we anticipated. It was a very enlightening experience that let us course-correct on occasion.

Small iterative development cycles and releases that meet customer expectations and solves their problem(s). Measure success through customer feedback.

Great technology improves your customer’s life by solving a real-world business problem, which adds tremendous value. The closer you can get to or understand the real problem and solution, the more your customers will be delighted. Keep the dev cycles short and as small as will be accepted by your customers too. This allows you to be more agile and the process to be measurable throughout the lifecycle. Don’t leave things to chance and know the outcomes by capturing your customer feedback as quickly as feasible. This will allow you to learn and adapt quicker by applying the knowledge you have learned from your customers.

Focus on delivering differentiable/demonstrable value in your technology and/or services models.

This is an area that can be challenging in a crowded market, but to be successful and viewed as a leader, you have to choose what you want to be known for. From developing your solution, to marketing, to selling and ultimately delivering, it’s critical that you differentiate the value you bring to the table and that it is realized and understood by your customers. The more you can really target and drill into what is truly differentiable and not “me too,” the greater success you will have. This applies in all facets of your business. It doesn’t matter if its development or sales or some other function. The more you can demonstrate this to your customers the easier and faster the sales process will be. Lastly, this can take on many different forms. As an example, you can differentiate to a specific vertical market with the value you add, or perhaps you have leading technology or something else. Think it through and this will make a big difference.

Try a lot of ideas and approaches to win, lose (measure) and learn. Use outside perspectives to gain knowledge for gleaning opportunities for improvement. Rinse and repeat.

This one came out of a lot of trial and error over the years. I think it’s why I believe it’s important from my perspective. The reality is you’ve heard the fail fast concept. While I agree with this concept, I probably always overthought it just a bit. I think you try a bunch of approaches that are of quality. For the sake of time, they don’t have to be A+ work but strive for high quality to begin with so maybe an A- or B+, as an example. Then you measure the success of the item to understand how you have won or lost for that specific thing. The key is to measure it one way or another. The more you do this, the faster you can adapt and learn. Eventually, you will get to this point where many more things are working rather than failing. You will also have this amazing memory bank of concepts and ideas that have or have not worked that lets you continue evolving and altering your course with each growth phase or circumstance.

The second part of this I’ve had to learn over and over, which coincidentally took an outside perspective for me to understand. It’s important to gain feedback and outside perspective and even seek it out when possible. This will transform your abilities using fresh perspectives which will, in the long run, let you learn from others that give you real insights and feedback. It might not always be easy to hear, but it will almost certainly make a difference, especially when considering they have made mistakes and learned too! You might save yourself a lot of headaches by simply listening.

Never lose sight of where you came from or what you have learned along the way. This is a great ‘gut feel’ gauge when you need to make decisions without all the facts or data — which you will surely do.

I noted earlier about having this amazing memory bank of concepts and ideas, and in principle, this is the same concept. In fact, you can draw from your memory bank to help you make decisions along the way.

In my career, there are not many days that go by where a decision doesn’t need to be made but you simply don’t have all of the data you want to make it. I’ve learned that it’s okay to trust your gut and that while it’s always best to leverage the facts and all of the possible data you can to make your decisions, sometimes it’s just not possible for a variety of reasons. I try to use my experience as a simple gauge. I reflect and apply past knowledge to each situation. I’ve learned that even when I have the data, you still have choices and decisions to make.

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. 🙂

This is a very challenging question, especially with everything going on in the world today. Frankly, there are so many things I would love to see happen that I could go on and on here. Maybe the best way for me to answer this one is to think about how it relates to our business.

We serve verticals like healthcare, pharma/biotech, non-profits, community organizations, charities and others. My belief is that all contracts have unnecessary risks hidden in them and that those risks can be exposed and eliminated with software like ours. At the end of the day, I want to ensure these organizations focus their time and resources on the really important and impactful work they are doing in the world and not have to worry about the consequences of contractual risk. That would be rewarding. The impact of this would hopefully trickle downstream and help people in the community. Maybe, as an example, testing is faster, or premiums don’t skyrocket or they can make funding go further. I don’t know the impact, but I know this matters and really can make a difference, especially when you include the security of this information and how it relates to not just the organizations, but the people they employ and serve.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

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


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

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Digital Tool To Help People With A Stutter” With Mallory…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Digital Tool To Help People With A Stutter” With Mallory Stempfley of Speechagain

Although stuttering has not been represented in the media until recently, there are over 70 million people worldwide who stutter! Out of these 70 million, we’ve found that 80% are not receiving any kind of speech therapy due to lack of resources, financial difficulties, or time constraints. Our digital stuttering tool is affordable, accessible, and can be used anytime, anywhere. This provides a great deal of people who stutter a way to receive speech training, which was not available previously.

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 Mallory Stempfley.

Mallory is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and the first United States-based employee of Speechagain. Being with the company since the start, she has held many responsibilities including marketing, sales, customer service, business development, etc. Mallory’s passion is empowering others and Speechagain has allowed her to do just that on a broad scale. She believes in the growth of digital health and is excited to modernize the speech therapy world! When she’s not working, she is a certified yoga instructor for both pediatrics and adults (not sure if we need the last line but thought I would add something a little lighter in case you wanted that as well).

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

Thanks so much for having me! This specific career path came about in an interesting way. During graduate school, while getting my degree in Speech-Language Pathology, I was fortunate enough to have an incredible professor who taught the stuttering course, igniting my passion for speech therapy and stuttering. Around this same time, I was also assigned an internship at the Ohio Virtual Academy, providing teletherapy to students (before it was the “new norm”). These two experiences of stuttering combined with teletherapy led me on my path to Speechagain, a digital tool for people who stutter.

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

There have definitely been many interesting stories working for a start-up! One of the best stories occurred when I was hired, as I was the first United State-based employee. With me being the only native English speaker, I “starred” in all the Speechagain videos during my second week working for the company. This experience was terrifying but also incredibly fun to be part of something bigger than myself and really collaborate with the team from the start.

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

Sure! In short, Speechagain is a digital tool for people who stutter and for speech-language pathologists to use with their own clients who stutter. Our technology uses voice recognition and artificial intelligence to provide instant, personalized feedback for the users. We’re also very proud that our training tool is patented! Our mission is to empower those who stutter to be their most confident selves!

How do you think this might change the world?

Although stuttering has not been represented in the media until recently, there are over 70 million people worldwide who stutter! Out of these 70 million, we’ve found that 80% are not receiving any kind of speech therapy due to lack of resources, financial difficulties, or time constraints. Our digital stuttering tool is affordable, accessible, and can be used anytime, anywhere. This provides a lot of people who stutter a way to receive speech training, which was not available previously.

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

As a speech-language pathologist myself, one of the questions people ask me is if I’m okay with Speechagain essentially “taking my job” from me. My answer to this is that a personal approach is always needed for stuttering. Stuttering involves training your voice, but there are also many more secondary and emotional components that go into speech therapy. For this reason, we always provide our users the option to supplement the program with a Speechagain therapist, meeting with them virtually to discuss techniques, social situations, and personal goals. The “human connection” is always needed in some degree.

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

Our program was originally founded over 20 years ago in Germany, by Dr. Alexander Wolff von Gudenberg. Dr. Gudenberg is a person who stutters himself and the founder of the Kassel Stuttering Institute, the leading stuttering institute in Europe. After seeing the incredible success of the program in Europe, it was brought to the U.S. in 2018 through the German Accelerator Program.

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

As a start-up, we have an incredible and hard-working team! Our biggest obstacle at the moment is simply getting the word out to both people who stutter and speech therapists. We were fortunate enough to air our first commercial in the New York state area this summer, which was amazing exposure. We hope to use this as a launching pad to connect with more members of the speech and stuttering community!

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

As mentioned before, we were very excited to launch our first commercial campaign this past summer! The commercial starred Harrison Craig, the winner of The Voice Australia and a person who stutters himself. We also remain active and supportive in the stuttering community, hosting virtual Roundtable Discussions with inspirational speakers who share their stories, offer personal advice, and answer any questions the viewers have. Our future goal is to create an Ambassador Program with speech pathology students in universities and colleges, collaborating with young professionals.

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?

Absolutely! I’m incredibly grateful for our CEO, Johanna Joch. To begin, she’s the one that brought Speechagain to the U.S. through the German Accelerator Program. She’s been an incredible leader and I can’t thank her enough for taking a chance on a young speech therapist from Ohio to join an NYC start-up company. Not only is she a teammate, but also an incredible friend. Her and I have been together from the start of Speechagain and have seen incredible ups and downs in both our company and our personal lives. I would not be where I am today without her, and neither would Speechagain.

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

It’s amazing to work for Speechagain because our mission is to empower others! As a speech therapist, my goal has always been to help people find their voice, but Speechagain has allowed me to help so many people on a broader scale than I ever would have imagined. Getting to talk to users who now feel confident to attend job interviews, go on dates, and even ask their boss for a promotion is incredible!

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

  1. You wear many hats in a start-up company. Coming from graduate school as a speech pathologist, I had no idea what the start-up world was like. I quickly realized that my job not only entailed speech therapy but also marketing, customer service, business development, PR, the list goes on and on. There are days where this is difficult, but the experience is priceless.
  2. The workday is not 9–5. When I first began working for Speechagain, I was also working full-time in a special education high school, providing speech therapy to the students there. My days consisted of starting at the school at 7:30 am, working until 2:00 pm, and then running to the Speechagain office from 3:00–8:00. The idea of a workday being 9–5 does not exist in the start-up world.
  3. Connections are everything. During college, I had a friend tell me “it’s not about the grades you make, it’s about the hands you shake”. This quote infuriated me at the time, as my grades did matter to apply for graduate school. I now completely understand what they meant though. It’s important to remember that networking is everything and befriending everyone is only a plus!
  4. American and German cultures are different. After joining an all-German team, the cultural differences were quickly evident! Americans beat around the bush and love to make small talk. Germans are direct and get right down to business. Our team now has a great mix, as I’ve learned to be more direct through my German coworkers, and they have learned to make “small talk” about the weather and the weekend (very important things here in America).
  5. Ask for what you want. I’ve learned this by being part of a very small team. It’s important to establish yourself from the start and make your role clear. When I began working for Speechagain, I was mainly in charge of customer service, as I was a native-English speaker. I love to connect with clients, but I knew this was not my long-term goal. I’ve learned to be upfront and clear about where I see myself going professionally and ask what the steps are to get there. If you never ask, the answer will always be no.

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’s a great question! Speechagain has begun a movement on social media titled “Yes, I Stutter”. The goal is for people who stutter to share an accomplishment, showcasing that their stutter has not held them back from living their dreams! Some submissions we’ve had include “Yes, I stutter, and I read my wedding vows”, and “Yes, I stutter, and I landed my dream job”. I love this movement not only in the stuttering world, but also for any individual who has been told that a personal characteristic will hold them back. No matter what gender, race, and/or sexuality you identify as, you can still live your dreams!

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

I recently heard the quote “Life does not have to be busy and stressful to be successful” and it really resonated with me. When I first moved to NYC, I was of course inspired by the hustle, but at times the hustle is a dark and lonely place. Yes, I still work long hours and probably could put my phone down more often, but it’s important for me to remember that I don’t have to feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel to feel “successful.” We must enjoy life as well!

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 😊

Let me introduce you to Josh. He is a 27-year-old student with a severe stutter. When you meet him, you can see and hear his symptoms: the blockages and interruptions occurring in every sentence. This makes daily situations especially hard and even painful for him.

Stuttering exist regardless of language, geography, or ethnicity. In many countries, stuttering still carries a huge stigma. It is not uncommon for people to associate stuttering with a lack of intelligence. But people like Josh are just like you and me. They know exactly what they want to say. And now imagine you want to tell your friends something important, but you are unable to get the words out of your mouth. That’s life for 85 million.

Until now, 85% are not in therapy here in the U.S. That means: A lot of people suffer and have no access to an evidence-based therapy method. Here comes Speechagain: It is the world’s first digital speech therapy for people who stutter. We offer a patented training tool using speech recognition and AI that is available anywhere, anytime on any device.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow us on all channels of social media, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube by searching @Speechagain.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Digital Tool To Help People With A Stutter” With Mallory… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

JinJa Birkenbeuel of Birk Creative: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

JinJa Birkenbeuel of Birk Creative: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Survey your customers. Ask them how they feel about your brand or products. What has been their experience? Would they like to see something change? Know that your customers are usually right and check your ego when you get feedback. If a customer is willing to talk, be grateful that they are taking precious time to engage with you at all.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview JinJa Birkenbeuel, CEO of Birk Creative, a brand agency, designs visual identities and multichannel strategies to scale brands and assist with their adaptability inh the market. With more than 20 years of experience, Birkenbeuel and her team work with established brands including Facebook, Advocate Health Care and Google.

Birkenbeuel is also a digital coach and partner for the world’s largest tech companies. She is the founder of The Honest Field Guide™ podcast, where she hosts discussions dedicated to winning in business with Grammy Award winners, successful entrepreneurs, sports team owners, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, and inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2007, she founded Birkdigital, a book publishing company. Utah Carol, a country band Birkenbeuel formed with her husband in 1997, has released three albums, including one that was featured in an award-winning Sundance Festival film.

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 developed an interest in graphic design when I was a student at Whitney Young High School. I took an art class and chose lettering as my final project. I re-created the logo on a perfume bottle and understood that someone would have had to design the packaging. I went on to college, stumbled into the university’s art building, and felt at home. It was magnificent. I was the university’s first graduating Black art student, and I’m saddened to think of all the individual opportunities previously lost and Black student promises unfulfilled. I’ll be happy when we are finally past this first racial era in America’s history. It’s been forever since Jackie Robinson broke the color line.

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 was working at a museum in Chicago and created a visual identity for one of its dinosaur exhibits. I found the cutest clip art image from a vintage art book to help represent the dinosaur and even designed a semi-custom type font to accompany the graphic. When I made my presentation, the department head humiliated me in front of the group by explaining that my artwork showed an anatomically incorrect rendition of the dinosaur. She asked me where I got the image and told me to make sure I did my research the next time because the museum’s paleontologist had rejected my work. I will always remember that episode because, even though I was professionally humiliated, I learned a lesson about conducting prior research, especially as it relates to science, that I subscribe to in my agency work today. The irony is that the identity I eventually created was approved by the museum director and became the brand standard for the museum and all of its subsequent creative applications that still run today.

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?

In 2013, I was asked to conduct a creative audit for a new female leader of a retail organization. Some aspects of my implementation ideas for her company were new to me, yet I realized it was an amazing learning opportunity to discover innovative communication solutions. I was confident my recommendations would be effective, but I had to figure out how to execute them. I had hedged my bet because I knew I could remarket my firm’s services and build a new business vertical on the results of the assignment. The lesson for me was to say “yes,” to learn as I go, to invest money in learning, to overdeliver a winning solution even if at a loss, and to work at the highest level of integrity even as I bleed money in the process. Easy, right? My investment and my bet paid off. The next year, I landed a significant contract with Google. It was the beginning of a business pivot for my agency.

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

Yes, my launch of Journey of Gratitude Books at http://www.journeyofgratitude.org.

It’s my pro bono project where I source a woman-owned creative business, become the business’s “design agency of record,” and produce a beautifully designed and printed marketing book that fully represents women’s creative products and ideas. My agency, Birk Creative, subsidizes the experience. Everyone is in so much pain right now, and small businesses are dying due to owners’ fear and loss of revenue. I had to do something! I had to help. I realized that the best thing I can do, the most important thing outside of volunteering at a food bank, is to dedicate my thought leadership and expertise to help other fellow business owners.

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

Wow, I’m wondering the same thing myself. These times are abnormal for business owners, especially those like me — mothers with school-aged children and no in-person schooling. I’m trying to just hang on for now and slow down in decision making, purchase only for vital or physical comfort needs, trying yoga, and listening to music. I’m saying “no” to business inquiries without an adequate budget or a commitment to online technologies. If I can spare a moment alone, I take longer showers, light candles, and read at least one page a night of a book on printed paper. I’m not going to exaggerate when I say these are times of infinite struggle if you have any type of business.

In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Think about how you feel when you see a brand you like. Do you feel a sense of comfort when you’re in front of the brand on an Instagram profile or in the news? Does it relax or energize you? Does it make you smile? What imagery comes to mind? For this exercise, you have to take notice of how your body is reacting, to stop and think, because the brand experience normally happens in a second. It’s better understood as a brand sensation than a conscious perception. That’s branding. Products help build a brand’s feeling. Consider that most famous brand Nike. Nike sells a multitude of expensive products and has a strong aspirational brand; Nike’s products and brand strengthen each other in a circular process. As with Nike, a successful brand generally informs successful product marketing.

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

Your audience, whether direct customers or visitors, has to be engaged. Humanizing your brand with attractive characteristics encourages your audience to pay attention. Using your voice, sharing your ideas, placing your face (or your employees or influencers) in front of the buyer is how you will build credibility and trust. Customers of successful brands like to have “conversations” with their preferred brands. They like to exchange their ideas and their money — spending is part of the conversation. Small business owners often have difficulty being the face of their brand. They’re so busy in the business that they don’t look up. But the most successful businesses are led by confident people who want to share what they know and can find the path to a personal conversation with their customers.

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

A few examples are when a company adds new product lines, changes strategy, pivots to a new business model, scales, or shrinks. Adding new service lines might cause you to refine your brand. Also, consider that a brand doesn’t have to be forever; it can evolve. Unless you’re a legacy brand — McDonald’s, General Motors, Coca-Cola — you can reframe your visual identity, which is part of branding. If you’re moving your business from brick-and-mortar to online, your visual identity probably should be updated to be most effective. Convening a meeting or study group to understand if your brand is still alive and delivering on its promise to its customers can lead to changes.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies you would advise to not have a brand “makeover”? Why?

If the rebranding is not based on strategy and purpose, or the owner of the brand feels bored with the business, don’t do it. It will fail. If you don’t have enough budget or time to dedicate yourself and your team to a brand audit to discover what worked and what didn’t, or what is worth saving and what isn’t, don’t do it. It will fail. You might be surprised to discover how committed some of your customers are to your brand. Making them part of the process can insulate your brand from an adverse reaction. If rebranding is your intention, be sure to survey your customers to determine the nature of their brand allegiance and help them participate in the process. If your customers have a stake in your brand and you change it without warning, it can feel to them like a personal attack.

OK, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share five strategies a company can use to upgrade and re-energize its brand and image? Please tell us a story or give an example for each.

1) Conduct a Google search for your company name and see what you find. Does it align with your vision of who you are as a company? If it does not, create content at scale and populate it on as many online platforms as possible.

2) Survey your customers. Ask them how they feel about your brand or products. What has been their experience? Would they like to see something change? Know that your customers are usually right and check your ego when you get feedback. If a customer is willing to talk, be grateful that they are taking precious time to engage with you at all.

3) Survey your employees or consultants. Do they understand what you stand for and what services you deliver to customers? How are they representing your brand on their own social media? Are they proud to share the work they are doing? Can they repeat your brand promise to a potential customer if you aren’t there?

4) Audit all social media channels. Is there a consistent look, feel and vibe for your brand across all channels? If not, consider hiring a social media content or brand strategist to boost your content.

5) Write articles. Start writing an article a week about a relevant topic to your business. Insightful articles show your industry expertise and passion for your work.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job with a brand “makeover”? What specifically impresses you? What can another brand do to replicate that?

Microsoft. It used to be invisible, a backend solution. Now, the company has activated its top visionary leaders to create an incredible amount of content and place it all over social media. Microsoft used to be a faceless “we have no choice” technology company. It has, over the last few years, perhaps since its acquisition of LinkedIn, effectively humanized the Microsoft brand by activating Melinda Gates and other top leaders to speak, write, share anecdotes, write books and more. Learn that lesson.

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

I want American working women to join together, all ethnicities, and decide that they are going to help each other find jobs, launch businesses, get capital, land deals, and ensure equal pay across all industries. I want women to have financial independence. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to get women to work together in an intentional way at scale. Think underground railroad, but for all women. We need to free ourselves.

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

“Seize the day.” My mother used to tell me if I overanalyzed things, wonderful opportunities would pass me up. This is one of my guiding principles: to consider relevant opportunities momentarily, but to say yes, and go. There have been times when I’ve taken too long to answer, and I’ve lost my shot. Most of the time I tap into my energy and run with things. I really hope my energy lasts over the long haul of this pandemic!

How can our readers follow you online? I love Instagram as a primary marketing tool because it presents my agency brands and visual aesthetic. @birkcreative and @honestfieldguide. Thank you so much.


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

Steven Ridzyowski: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand…

Steven Ridzyowski: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

It is important to build a brand because you want that loyal following fanbase on your Instagram page, the Facebook interactions, and a big social following. This is what will help you thrive.

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

Steven Ridzyowski has been a leader in the eCommerce/digital media buying space for over ten years. Ridzyowski takes pride in being self-taught in all aspects of his career. It’s probably why he is such a driven entrepreneur today! He started out of high school, deciding to never go to college and learning advertising blogs with Google AdSense and taking on what would soon become his career and passion.

After a couple of years doing that, Ridzyowski was introduced to affiliate marketing. During that time (2008–2010), cellphones and ringtones were becoming popular, and Ridzyowski became an affiliate in the ringtone niche for a few years. Little did he know, he was paying “influencers” on YouTube to have links for ringtone offers in the music video description, before “influencers” became the sensation they are now.

As he grew and became a successful affiliate marketer, he worked alongside many advertisers and colleagues. Ridzyowski then went on to create his own white label skincare brand, which became one of his pivotal successes.

Between the moment of changing from affiliate marketing to owning and running digital media buying for his own skincare brand, he started to follow trends, learning the ins and outs of digital marketing, spending over $30m in paid digital ads across the entirety of his career. Ridzyowski mastered different advertising platforms, generating income across many businesses in various niches and verticals.

Today, Steven Ridzyowski is focused heavily on e-commerce and marketing, especially with his new agency, which offers a turnkey solution for e-Commerce. Ridzyowski has mastered everything from product research, to product trends, to marketing in all kinds of niches. In the past three years, he has created converting funnels to growing multiple 6 to 7-figure stores with his agency. He has helped hundreds of companies, both large and small, reach their full potential and created an online presence for them. Ridzyowski is also a member of the Forbes Business Council and the Young Entrepreneur Council.

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

I have always wanted to work for myself and have my own business. After doing affiliate marketing, I ventured into eCommerce and it stuck with me.

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?

One of my earliest mistakes was in advertising for Facebook. I had my CPC bid too high compared to what my budget was. I overspent my budget and got a lot of bulk traffic. So, it is really important to keep an eye on your bids, your budget, and increase your CPC bids slowly.

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?

My tipping point was venturing into eCommerce, and my ability to follow trends and capitalize on those trends. Once I realized I was able to do that successfully, I knew I was going to continue this business.

I learned the ability to follow trends. If you are not able to follow trends and are always trying to create a new product, you won’t have success. Basically, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

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

My newest project is building my turnkey eCommerce brand where we build Shopify stores for people and we do the marketing for them.

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

Definitely be able to follow trends and constantly try to do something different to avoid the burnout. Don’t be repetitive on the same thing because you have to be able to adapt. You don’t want to keep pounding yourself on the same thing if it’s not working. If it’s not working, switch to something new and come back to it. Being so focused on the one thing when you could be doing something else will burn you out.

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

I believe they are kind of the same because once you have a product and you are marketing it, you can then turn that into a brand. The branding has a more loyal following. However, when you are marketing a product, you are building it up and once it becomes a brand you have that loyal fanbase.

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?

It is important to build a brand because you want that loyal following fanbase on your Instagram page, Facebook interactions, and a big social following. This is what will help you thrive.

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

One of the reasons for rebranding could be they had a product that worked but the name didn’t quite fit the product and didn’t adapt well to the marketing, so you change the brand.

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

Me personally, I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who wants to do a brand makeover. I feel it can only benefit at times because it is a new name, a new face, on the same product you already have data for.

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.

One strategy could be rebranding their logo. Maybe a new logo is needed because the old one doesn’t fit their brand anymore.

Another one could be a different social media handle. Maybe the old one wasn’t fitting their brand.

Another rebranding could be the store-page or the webpage. Maybe the colors, the text, and the description don’t adjust to the market you are advertising to.

A shorter or catchier domain name for your brand. Maybe the previous domain name didn’t function well with what you are marketing to your customers.

And finally get your brand out there, maybe do some publications of your rebranding create some social media content and get it shared.

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

I think one of the biggest is probably Toys R Us. From the brink of bankruptcy and then realizing at the last minute how important it is to have online sales in a time where Year over Year online sales have been growing exponentially. They now realize how important it is to have an online presence. I believe if they continue at that pace and start gaining an online market to their current customer base they will become as successful as they were in the past.

For one to replicate this they would have to have a successful brick and mortar store and when they start to notice a decline in sales they need to address the cause of it asap and if they realize it’s because they have no online sales than they need to adapt to that create an online shopping place, set up social media campaigns and much more to get people to purchase from them online from a worldwide perspective and not just local.

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

I would inspire a movement to support local small businesses. Maybe something like “Support a Slice.” People would be supporting a local business and getting a slice of pizza.

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

“Not giving up.” Just constantly staying focused on what you feel inside is the best route for you. Not giving up on any of my failures or getting denied on applications for loans.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow Me On Instagram @stevenridzyowski
Like Me On Facebook Steven Ridzyowski
Network With Me on LinkedIn


Steven Ridzyowski: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Shannon Gabor of Clever Creative: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Shannon Gabor of Clever Creative: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Interview key stakeholders in your company to ensure your brand is in alignment — There is incredible intelligence and understanding of a brand’s business or product from its key contributors. But often that information is not shared or hasn’t been uncovered due to competing priorities or the lack of time to pause and do this high value work for the betterment of the team and growth.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Shannon Gabor, Founder of Clever Creative.

Shannon is the entrepreneurial spirit behind female-owned and operated Clever Creative. Driven by curiosity and a desire to make work that supports brands, their big vision and bold ideas, she oversees the new business strategy as well as the direction and growth of her team, capitalizing on her knowledge of what industry experts and audiences are drawn to. With over two decades of experience building brands, Shannon got her start working in entertainment promotions for Burger King and 7-Eleven before joining Mattel on global packaging design and worldwide licensing. Advocating for the human connection in branding, Shannon has taken Clever from a backyard office to an award-winning and full-service branding agency that’s proudly supporting iconic brands like Warner Bros., Tastemade, Starbucks and Netflix by finding new and exciting ways to champion unexpected results that delight

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?

Throughout my career, I have been discovering how to connect the dots between creativity and business. As a Fine Art major / Communications minor at USC, I recognized the push and pull of my left and right brain. While developing myself as a creative for the first ten years of my career: agency side and brand side; it was during my 5-year mark at Mattel post a 6-month assignment in their Hong Kong offices that I needed more. It simply was not enough to ‘just be’ creative as I found myself drawn to the conference rooms where strategic marketing and sales conversations were taking place.

It was then, 2005, that I realized I needed to move on, leave stability, and a paycheck for the unknown. Clever Creative was born. Building my own agency and pulling up new chairs to the table, defining a set of values and a mission that meant something deeper, employing young, diverse talents and hiring the person not the resume. Becoming an entrepreneur fulfilled many roles for me and continues to as I grow and develop inside my own company.

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?

The funniest brand mistake I made was in a creative campaign pitch for Monster High to our client Mattel. It was not a property I was as familiar with in their portfolio and I kept using the wrong main character name when presenting our tentpole campaign activation creative. I could feel the room energy was off but no one corrected me. It was not until we finished, that the head of brand marketing pulled me aside and told me. I was so embarrassed and at the same time knew that the work was strong regardless, but the lesson learned: know your clients’ brands inside and out. Take the time to practice and ensure that you are getting the details of every project right.

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?

For Clever, it was 2008, during the recession. What became evident to us as an agency was that our size worked to our advantage. As brands and businesses were impacted by the economy and scaling down, Clever was growing. It became a testament to our size and choice to remain small. We began connecting the dots to why our size was not just a value for client budgets but also was supportive of the way we worked, all minds on deck, one-agency team mindset and high-value for brands.

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

We are working on a new hemp-based CBD recovery line of products and have had the opportunity to build the brand with our client from scratch. It is exciting to be a brand agency working in the cannabis, hemp, CBD categories. As a creative agency, we have seen our clients from these spaces be more open to sustainable packaging, investing in the mission, vision and values of their company and in producing content that is emotive and educational.

I believe that the branding we are doing in this pioneering industry is powerful. Working in collaboration with our clients who are innovating solutions for alternative wellness is incredible. And seeing their commitment to not only branding their products but also making the investment to ensure their company, brand and culture is aligned.

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

Set intentions to do the things that bring you joy outside of your marketing mind. As creative marketers in the brand space, we typically cannot turn off as branding is all around us. But it is so important to really reset and reframe, focusing on a hobby or learning a new skill. I often turn to those hobbies to allow me to turn off and find joy in doing things with my hands and no technology. Drawing, crafting and cooking have been good ways for me to avoid burnout.

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?

In a nutshell, product marketing is the goal of emphasizing features and benefits while brand marketing is the goal of taking on consumers for a sensory, storytelling journey. Historically, global brands have operated from a product-marketing perspective because they had the budgets for traditional media (TV, radio placement). However today, brands have the ability to create customer experiences online and through social media. Branding is useful in shaping the company’s name and identity. Marketing is useful in promoting products and services.

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?

Think of the investment of building a brand to create the face that consumers will recognize and the handshake when you are not in the aisle to introduce yourself. Branding was once defined as the logo and slogan, today branding is far more complex. It serves as the means to building customer loyalty, motivating buyers, delivering clarity of offering, building credibility and emotionally connecting with the human side of a buyer.

It is important to the future efforts of the company in order to be able to create brand recognition in the market, boost value, acquire new customers, attract talent and employee pride/satisfaction, build trust and support marketing initiatives.

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

When a company seeks to target a new consumer, expand their offering and differentiate from the growing competition. Other reasons include when a brand is outdated or when they need to overcome a bad reputation. Taking on a rebranding journey requires a commitment to process and is a declaration to the company’s commitment for new growth.

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

The downsides of rebranding can vary from creating confusion, losing loyal customers, cost investment to the company and requiring a large effort of time and research to ensure it is done properly.

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.

Conduct a brand wellness checkup

Interview key stakeholders in your company to ensure your brand is in alignment

  • There is incredible intelligence and understanding of a brand’s business or product from its key contributors. But often that information is not shared or hasn’t been uncovered due to competing priorities or the lack of time to pause and do this high-value work for the betterment of the team and growth.

Evaluate your mission, vision and values

  • Working with startups like TIDL, Careste and Hello Again we know the value that doing this work fosters. It is equally important how you communicate and enroll in your company as it is to build consumer connections.

Be open to looking at your brand’s visual system amongst your competitors to see if it is as strong as it was when you created it

Dust off the brand book and ask your teams which pages are most valuable

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?

Dunkin Donuts in 2019 did a phenomenal job in their brand makeover. It was both strategic and creative, leveraging years of customers referring to the brand as Dunkin’, dropping the word donuts as it was obvious what loyal customers meant. The timing was in sync with the brand’s desire to be known for more than just donuts and the rebrand offered the position for the brand to expand their menu offering in a smart and innovative manner. The packaging design was crafted with the boldness of the new simplified brand name and it just worked. It brought a playfulness to the brand, made it feel more valuable and more competitive to the other global coffee companies.

I was impressed by the playfulness of the rebranding design, specifically the packaging system and the honoring of the core colors that have been part of the brand since it launched. Growing up in NY and NJ I have always had a soft spot for the brand and when I moved out to CA, it was something I missed. Luckily now there are some opening in my area so I can get a cup of nostalgia when I miss my family.

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. 🙂

Encourage brands to redesign their packaging to lessen waste, be more sustainable and solve for mobility and ease of opening for all.

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

“As knowledge increases, wonder deepens” — Charles Morgan

I have always been grateful for a career that allows me to be a lifelong learner. Someone who can never stop being curious and approaches every project as a gift to fully immerse myself in the understanding of the product or company. As I gain insight, information and intelligence on the journey, my wonder grows and that is where my creative mind plugs in.

How can our readers follow you online?

@clevercreative on Instagram

@shannongabor on Instagram

Clevercreative.com

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


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

Leanne Sherred of Expressable: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Find every opportunity to encourage social engagement among your remote team. Sure, this can be virtual happy hours and weekly scheduled “catch up” times. However, it can also be as simple as publicly celebrating wins, acknowledging employees who’ve gone above and beyond, and keeping open lines of communication. One simple thing we do at Expressable is create separate Slack channels based on key topics for our employees. These are places that our therapists and employees can ask for help, give feedback on our product, and share helpful tips and information.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP.

Leanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP is President and Founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy company that envisions a modern, affordable, and convenient way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. Leanne spent her career working in a variety of speech therapy settings before starting Expressable, including pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Today she calls Austin, Texas home, but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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”?

Before starting Expressable, I spent my career practicing speech therapy in a number of in-person settings. However, overtime I became frustrated by the traditional speech therapy model of care. While I love helping children and families reach their communication goals, there were so many obstacles that detracted me — and many of my fellow speech therapists — from providing quality services.

For one, many families I was serving were routinely being issued denials by their insurance companies for speech therapy. What’s worse, paying the exorbitant out-of-pocket costs of private therapy is unattainable for many families, and watching them make personal and financial sacrifices was particularly heartbreaking. While well-funded schools may offer quality speech therapy on site, many lack the staff and resources to provide adequate services tailored to the needs of each child.

By providing online speech therapy, we’re able to reach more people, lower the point of access, and break down geographic barriers. Best of all, teletherapy makes it easy for parents and caregivers to attend sessions alongside their child, at a time most convenient for their family, so they can stay in sync with their therapist and promote communication-building skills at home to improve outcomes.

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

I think watching the rapid acceleration ox f telehealth has been one of the most surprising and satisfying parts of my career.

I’ve always been a passionate proponent of telehealth and teletherapy as a great equalizer. The ability to break down financial barriers and geographic limitations, while still maintaining quality of care, has the power to reshape the healthcare system. While the adoption of telehealth has been on an upwards trajectory for many years, I’m excited to see more permanent behavioral changes taking place that I believe will continue long after COVID-19 has stabilized.

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?

Obviously, at Expressable we’re huge believers and proponents of the efficacy of telehealth. We’ve found that children are extremely engaged and receptive to online learning, and are able to establish strong relationships with their therapist through this medium. However, in terms of funny mistakes, I quickly learned to be a bit more conservative in trusting some of my young clients with the “draw” feature on Zoom. Oh… you can only imagine!

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

I think the first step to addressing employee burnout is acknowledging that it actually exists. It’s a problem, and it’s one that’s only been exacerbated by employees assuming new roles as full-time teachers, nannies, and caretakers, in addition to added financial pressures and emotional burdens brought on by the pandemic.

It’s too easy for CEOs and leaders to adopt the mindset that an employee’s input is somehow correlated to their output, meaning, the more late-night emails and calls and keyboard strokes will equate to increased productivity. This simply isn’t true. In fact, I’d contend it’s quite the opposite.

There’s a lot of obvious things we can do to prevent burnout and maintain work-life balance — appropriately managing workloads, checking in regularly, leading by example. However, in my opinion the best thing leaders can do is to create a culture of caring, one where employees aren’t apprehensive to speak up, be honest, and share their concerns. We all get to our breaking point from time to time. What’s important is that we foster a culture and community that addresses these issues — not through the lip service of empty corporate promises — but with real, tangible, and measurable actions.

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?

As an online speech therapy provider, Expressable’s team is fully remote. We’ve been this way since our company was founded a year and half ago. I currently manage a team of 30 employees and speech therapists in multiple states across the country. We’re not a speech therapy “marketplace” — everyone who works for Expressable is a fully employed member of the team.

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

I don’t think managing a remote team is any more challenging than an in-person team. The challenges may simply be a little bit different.

  • Company Culture: Sometimes — but not always — company culture can happen more organically in an office setting. Brushing shoulders with your colleagues daily can build trust, camaraderie, and friendship with little input or concerted effort from management. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing in the long-run. I think the pandemic is exposing companies that have built their culture on stilts rather than solid foundations. Building a strong company culture should be one of every leader’s main priorities; it requires time and investment, and must be cultivated and maintained indefinitely. I think many leaders are being forced to reexamine their culture during this time, which will ultimately benefit their employees and their company.
  • Productivity: I know that many companies who’ve recently transitioned to remote work have found it challenging to manage employee workloads and productivity. Personally, I think this is more perception than reality. The myth that forcing people to sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day will lead to greater levels of productivity is just that — a myth. Sometimes people need a break at 3:00pm; some people are most effective working in the evening after dinner. This flexibility should be encouraged. While the knee-jerk response can be to provide more oversight, more accountability, and more discipline, this is ultimately counterproductive. Remote work gives employees more latitude in choosing how they spend their time, and people ultimately excel when they are given trust and the freedom of responsibility. If you’ve hired the right people and invested in culture, remote work should amplify your business, not detract from it.
  • Communication: If the appropriate tools and technology are not in place, remote communication can suffer. It’s no longer as easy as popping your head into your boss’s office, or chatting around the proverbial watercooler. Fostering open lines of communication is critical to preventing employees from feeling isolated.
  • Work-Life Balance: As mentioned previously, if employees’ workloads aren’t managed correctly, the challenge of maintaining work-life balance can often be exasperated at home. It seems counterintuitive at first, but I’m sure we’ve all felt this. There’s a sense of finality to shutting your laptop, leaving the office, and commuting home. When we’re working from home all day, the hours start to blur together, and this clear demarcation isn’t apparent. Therefore, it’s incumbent on managers to be even more hyper-aware of their employees’ workloads, and consistently support them in taking personal time, prioritizing their health, and spending time with their family.
  • Isolation: A persistent lack of socialization and interactivity can be difficult for some individuals, especially extraverts. It goes without saying that these feelings have been heightened in the time of COVID-19, where social interactions are limited not just in the workplace, but among family and friends as well. While there’s no magic elixir here, the solution revolves around addressing many of the issues listed previously, including company culture, open lines of communication, and finding new creative opportunities to engage employees in fun and meaningful ways.

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

As a remote-only company, we’ve learned to address many of these challenges. Here’s a few ways we do that:

  • I believe the simplest and most effective ways to navigate these challenges boils down to hiring the right people. Expressable is a mission-focused company founded on a vision for lowering the access point to speech therapy care. I’m looking for employees who don’t simply want a job, but are motivated by a strong desire for creating a new and better model of care that improves the lives of our clients. This should be the goal of any CEO or hiring manager. For some this is intuitive, for others this requires more structured questions that go beyond qualifications and touches upon their vision for reshaping an industry. I strongly believe that when you hire qualified, passionate, and trustworthy people, that nagging concern of employee output and productivity will naturally dissipate.
  • Secondly, every leader touts an “open virtual door” policy, but very few execute that promise. The worst thing you can do is pay lip service to such an important and foundational aspect of good management. If you say it, mean it, whether that knock on the door is coming from a potential investor or an intern.
  • Third, find every opportunity to encourage social engagement among your remote team. Sure, this can be virtual happy hours and weekly scheduled “catch up” times. However, it can also be as simple as publicly celebrating wins, acknowledging employees who’ve gone above and beyond, and keeping open lines of communication. One simple thing we do at Expressable is create separate Slack channels based on key topics for our employees. These are places that our therapists and employees can ask for help, give feedback on our product, and share helpful tips and information.
  • Fourth, rely less on meetings. This can often be a natural byproduct of remote work, and one of its greatest advantages. Of course this is dependent on having the tools and technologies in place (like Google docs, Slack, Figma, etc), but more importantly, it’s a mindset shift. Teams should get in the habit of more asynchronous communication, and learn to accept the reality that responses and feedback may not always be received immediately. This doesn’t mean productivity suffers. It means that everyone’s voice gets heard — not just the loudest person in the room — which ultimately leads to more effective collaboration.
  • Finally, you can’t fix what you don’t know. I’d encourage leaders to regularly release internal surveys and questionnaires to gauge how much their employees feel engaged, supported, and satisfied. However, only do this if every response, good and bad, is examined through a microscope and addressed expediently. It shows that you’re listening, that you care, and that the management team is committed to building a fulfilling and trusting environment.

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 sounds simple, but just be honest. I’ve found that employees are open and receptive to constructive criticism. What they don’t appreciate is having to “interpret” meaning from some sort of sugar-coated or construed message.

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 whether in-person, on a video call, or by phone, my advice for feedback would be the same.

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?

Enjoy it! Working home has so many advantages — no more long commutes, less time wasted in meetings, and less internal office politics. I personally love the comfort and convenience of working from home with my doggo nestled between my feet.

I’d say try to replicate the best parts of the office experience virtually. Keep your Tuesday happy hours on the books; video chat people instead of calling them so you can have a face-to-face conversation; share pictures of how you’ve decorated your home workspace. Sure, virtual work will never be the exact same as office work, but there are many ways to continue having fun and enjoyable shared experiences with your colleagues.

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 more important than ever to emphasize the importance of company culture and your willingness to support your employees. If instilling a strong company culture wasn’t a prime concern pre-COVID, I’d say now is a good time to reevaluate your priorities. With a remote team, you can’t “fake” culture — it takes considerable effort to build one that’s encouraging, fun, rewarding, and fulfilling. The values your company lives by are the exact same, only the physical location where those values are exemplified has changed.

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. 🙂

Mass recognition and acceptance that pineapple is in fact a suitable pizza topping.

More specifically, I think it would be an acceptance of change. COVID-19 will permanently shift how and where business is conducted for the foreseeable future. We’re already seeing some of the largest companies in the world extending work from home indefinitely for their employees. For many, this charge is hard and it will take a considerable period of adjustment. But within change lies opportunity.

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

“Short cuts make long delays.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Thank you for these great insights!


Leanne Sherred of Expressable: 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.

Kate Obert: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

SIGHT: this is the easiest within branding, for obvious reasons, but think through this. Match all of your aesthetics to your brand essence: colors, texture, shapes, and so on. The key here is to be creative on the delivery of your product, and of course, make sure it’s Instagrammable! Think about how people will be unboxing your product on Instagram Stories or having it in their flat lay.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kate Obert.

Kate Obert is a fashion stylist turned Chief Brand Officer who empowers 6–7 figure entrepreneurs to create a beautiful life you don’t need a vacation from through high end branding. She is fierce when it comes to mapping out the vision, strategizing and connecting the dots to curtate a full-sensory brand experience with ease. She services luxury personal brands & multi-brands to elevate the brand perception to stand out in their market & become industry leaders. To learn more, visit her website, www.kateobert.com.

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

I always knew I wanted to have my own business but for a while, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. The more I focused on what can I do, the more frustrated I became because I couldn’t figure it out. I then started working on my own personal development, focusing on making myself better and that’s when everything changed. I learned what a personal brand was and that I could take the knowledge I have and turn that into a business. I realized that all of the things I am an expert at fell under the umbrella of branding. I also saw so much misinformation about what a brand was and how to build one, plus a lack of creativity within the brand’s experience, or lack thereof. All of my expertise and interests have been gifted to me for a reason, and the more I leaned into that and built my brand around tying all of these together, the more successful I’ve become and have truly been able to stand out! Now, I do just that for my clients.

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?

Mistakes are what makes our story interesting, right? Who is ever interested in a perfect story? Most of my mistakes (or lessons) lie within a lack of believing in myself and my value. When I first started out, I didn’t realize that what came easy to me doesn’t come easy to everyone. My prices were incredibly low, I spent $300+ on a logo that isn’t even relevant anymore and I tried to emulate other coaches because that’s what I thought prospective clients would want. All of these “mistakes” were major lessons! I’m glad my prices were low because it allowed me more opportunity to figure out the type of people I do and don’t want to work with. I also learned that great design, even luxury, doesn’t always mean expensive, it means thoughtful, quality and attention to detail. The most important lesson I learned was that the more I brought myself into my brand, the more successful I became. Your brand is just your reputation — it’s all of you, and people want to see the imperfections. Share the journey, especially the lows (bonus points if you share the lows while you’re currently experiencing them vs waiting until the happy ending). Building an authentic brand is showing all of you.

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?

Consistency builds momentum. The more you focus on showing up daily and bringing value to others, the more success you’ll see. Whenever I start focusing too much on monetary success, like hitting goals, vs bringing value to others, I get stuck. Success doesn’t always mean money. Success can mean having more time to spend with my family by hiring an OBM or realizing that I’m doing exactly what I dreamt of doing when just a year ago, I was asking myself if what I wanted to do was even possible. My tipping point was when I realized (and it’s still a daily practice) that when I’m focused on delivering amazing results to my clients and providing a lot of helpful value to my audience, potential clients come out of nowhere! The more value I give, the more success I receive. It might not seem like things are working for a while (especially when you’re carving your own path and have to educate people on what you do and why it’s important), but momentum is building the more consistent you are.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? Absolutely! One of my clients is a Fashion House with multiple brands — three company brands and two subbrands. It has been so much fun working on all of them simultaneously and coming up with fresh, new ideas that make all of the brands the luxury in their market. With all six brands, we are working on creating full-sensory client and brand experiences, which requires a high level of creativity! Aside from of course my client benefiting, my entire audience will also benefit because I share how-to’s along the way — tips and tricks that they, too, can implement within their own branding strategy.

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

Take some time off. Most of the time, our great ideas come from not working in the traditional sense. Marketing is in our blood… it’s how we think… so when you’re out at a nice restaurant enjoying the environment and your company or you’re at a music festival, you’re going to get new, creative ideas that you’ll implement in your work. Fresh, creative ideas come to those who are in a high vibrational state, so close your laptop and go have fun! Great ideas come from living life!

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

Branding is your reputation — it’s the audience’s perception of your brand. Advertising is the tool you use to share your message. Branding is all about how you and/or your product is making someone feel. Determine your brand essence (adjectives and emotions you want people to feel when they come in contact with your brand) and your brand’s core values then make sure that every single touch point within your brand matches those feelings. Advertising is one of those touch points as it’s the vehicle to deliver your brand’s message. It’s important to take note of everything tangible and intangible in the advertising campaign to make sure it’s on brand; things like the type of actors, their clothes, the colors, props, locations, and so on — every single detail says something about your brand and every single detail conveys its own feeling.

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

Your brand is your reputation. Everyone and every product has a brand, so it’s more of a matter of if you’re curating it. The brand is how someone decides whether or not to work with you or buy your product, and their decision happens very quickly (within seconds!). We all have short attention spans and there are so many similar products out there, what sets you apart is your branding. Even though your visual brand is the first thing people see, your foundation is the most important because it directs every decision within the brand. It’s important to invest resources and energy into building your brand because your PR and marketing dollars won’t go as far if your brand is inconsistent or confusing.

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

Rebrands are my specialty! In the beginning of building your business, it’s not necessary (I would even advise against this) to spend a lot of money on a brand strategy. It’s important to go through, what I like to call, an experimentation phase. Your brand will most likely change at least a little bit from when you launch. It’s important to give yourself room to evolve to customer needs. After you’ve bootstrapped your branding, gotten social proof and proof of concept, and ready to take your brand to the next level, a rebrand is in store! There are so many reasons to rebrand but here are some of the top ones: you’re restructuring your brand and/or adding new products and not quite sure how to make it all cohesive; your brand name no longer reflects your brand vision; you’re failing to differentiate yourself from the competition; you’re pivoting industries; your brand isn’t clear, it’s confusing; your business model or strategy has changed; you feel disconnected from your brand; you’re undergoing a merger or acquisition; your business has changed leadership; or you need to disassociate your brand from a negative image.

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

Of course with anything, there are cons but I believe they’re cons because of the way they’re executed. Any company is able do a “Brand Makeover,” because companies are allowed to (and should) grow and evolve. The most important part of a rebrand is understanding its purpose. A bad example of a rebrand is what Gap did in 2010. Gap was facing a decline in sales after the 2008 financial crash and the board decided they needed a rebrand. Not only did they launch their rebrand during the busiest season (Christmas) but all they did was change their logo. Everything else within their brand was the same. They weren’t introducing a new line of clothes, they didn’t redo the visuals of their stores, they weren’t switching new leadership, and they never even explained to their customers the reason for their rebrand, they just launched a new logo and it seemed random. Rebrands need a new direction and to be executed well, the audience (especially these days) needs transparency!

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.

The 5 strategies to upgrade and re-energize your brand and image actually fall under the same umbrella: creating a full-sensory client and brand experience. After you’ve determined the foundational elements of your brand, how can you use those to stand out?

1. SIGHT: this is the easiest within branding, for obvious reasons, but think through this. Match all of your aesthetics to your brand essence: colors, texture, shapes, and so on. The key here is to be creative on the delivery of your product, and of course, make sure it’s Instagrammable! Think about how people will be unboxing your product on Instagram Stories or having it in their flat lay.

2. TOUCH: how can you add different textures? Sensory experiences create stronger bonds between the customer and the brand. Add a branded notecard with extra value that will help them create an experience with your product or service.

3. SOUND: create a Spotify playlist (add it to that notecard mentioned above); or connect yourself to a type of music that is representative of your brand and play that within your social media like Instagram Stories, etc. 4. TASTE: let’s talk within personal brands, what is your favorite drink or coffee? Tie that into your social media by sharing your lifestyle (which also builds know, like & trust). Perhaps you love vanilla lattes and you share a picture of your latte on Instagram Stories. Your audience will start to associate you with vanilla lattes and when they go to the coffee shop and see that on the menu, they’ll think of you — these are called your silent ambassadors. You want people to think of you in seemingly random situations. You can also send a Starbucks gift card (cueing the vanilla lattes) or your favorite candy that you talk about all the time on Instagram in your client welcome gifts. Another way is to create a sense of taste through storytelling. 5. SCENT: this is my favorite! I believe that scent is the most underrated marketing tool ever! Scent is connected to the memory part of our brain and what you want people to do is remember your brand! I’m a big proponent for creating a proprietary scent. As always, match those scents to your brand essence and you can sell that separately within your brand or spritz it on the package that they get in the mail. If you speak on stages or within Masterminds, any place that you’re providing value, spritz your scent in the air. People always appreciate a nice smelling environment and it’s strategic because you want people to remember the experience they had with you when they smell something similarly elsewhere.

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?

Gucci has been one of my favorite brands to watch due to their incredibly successful rebrand in 2015 after the change in leadership with new CEO, Marco Bizzarri, and Creative Director, Alessandro Michele. Gucci is now one of the hottest brands in the luxury market by utilizing social media and influencers and capitalizing on being eclectic, inclusive, and culture-oriented. I saw an article once that described them as a digitally-focused luxury fashion house of the future — wow, what a compliment! They are seen as industry leaders and are very creative! The thing I love about Gucci is they’re not afraid to try new things. They understand culture, even to the point of creating culture, and take risks. I could go on and on about this rebrand and I encourage you to research it yourself but the biggest takeaway I see that you can incorporate within your brand is to take creative risks. Know who you are, know what your brand stands for and think outside of the box. Not everything Gucci does is seen as a home run to everyone but they have such a cult following now because they are so true to their brand that even if at first glance, you wouldn’t wear something, once you find out it’s Gucci, your entire perception changes! People fall in love with brands because they relate to the personality. You can replicate this concept within your own brand, as well!

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 mission in life is to help others live a life they don’t need a vacation from! Life is too short to live for weekends and two weeks of PTO a year. I’m here to help others build brands that they love and that will help them make the impact they were meant to make in this world! I truly believe that when we are living our purpose, we’re happier people.

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

“Instead of saying ‘I can’t,’ start asking ‘how can I?’ Instead of saying ‘I wish,’ start asking ‘how resourceful can I be to attain that as well?’ Instead of saying, ‘I can’t afford that,’ start asking ‘how can I afford that?’ Successful people just ask better questions.”

Mindset and perception is everything. This quote is a reminder that everything is available to me, I am exactly where I’m meant to be and it’s about learning the lessons at this level that will allow me the opportunity to get to the next level. It’s also about having a positive outlook — we can do anything we put our mind to. What we focus on, we create more of.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m most active on Instagram — www.instagram.com/kate.obert , and I have a Facebook Group called “ Branding School with Kate Obert .” And of course, if you’re curious about how to work with me, you can also check out my website: www.kateobert.com

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Kate Obert: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nelia Kovbasa of GTM Plus: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team

Minimize and standardize channels for online communication with the team. It’s better to set standards for the company. Everyone should be available there within the agreed working hours.

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

Nelia Kovbasa is the CEO and Co-founder of GTM Plus, and the Co-Founder of Startup School University Edition. She is a get-things-done person with a passion for diversity and leveraging technology to make life digitally better.

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”?

From the first day of my professional career, I have been heavily involved in the world of startups, investors, and innovations. Five years ago, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with young and talented innovators that had bright ideas to change our future.

Starting as a Project Manager in Startup Depot, I helped tech startups to organize their work over product management and business development. In the following years I worked as a Managing Director of the coworking space for startups and as Head of Project Management Office in an IT company. During this time I developed myself further in the field of Management, Operations and Business Development. Although I greatly enjoyed my time working on these projects, I realized that I was ready for a new career challenge and therefore I founded my own company GTM Plus in 2017. This company provides assistance to startups and small businesses to transform their ideas into impactful software and augment their development capabilities with outsourced web and mobile development teams.

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

After being with the company for only three months, I had planned a meeting with an important investor together with my chief. However, only one hour before the meeting my chief called in sick and he was unable to join the meeting. Without any preparation, it was up to me to lead this meeting, pitch our company, and obtain funding from the investor. As a result, I improvised, adapted, and succeeded.

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

My funniest mistake was during a job interview for an internship position. I was sitting in the hallway and waiting for the interview to start. I felt stressful and to relax a bit I decided to talk with the man who was sitting next to me who was probably also waiting for a job interview.

After asking him if he also applied for the internship position, he told me that he was the co-owner of this company. You can imagine how awkward it was, but this mistake taught me to check the names and photos of the higher management of a company when I am trying to partner up with them. Your knowledge about their business can impress people, but lack of knowledge can be quite harmful indeed.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

In my opinion, these are some of the best ways to keep talent within your company:

  • Offer possibilities and promote self improvement of your employees by offering them training programs to help them reach their full potential.
  • Work hard to create a proper work-life balance for your staff.
  • Create a supportive and flexible working environment.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

In GTM Plus we have a lot of experience in working with remote employees because we are building dedicated teams for individual startups and small businesses. Therefore, we understand the importance of synchronizing large and multiple teams to effectively work together.

Here are 5 tips that work for me and my remote teams:

1) Minimize and standardize channels for online communication with the team. It’s better to set standards for the company. Everyone should be available there within the agreed working hours.

2) If you have flexible hours for work in the office, for remote teams it’s better to have the standard working time for everyone in a team, so people won’t disturb each other in an inappropriate time. Having all people that work on a specific project online at the same time for a few hours is way more effective than having all these hours spread out over the entire week.

3) Daily synch-ups. They are very helpful because everyone commits to what he/she will do today and directly receive feedback. In addition, it’s a nice way to socially start of your working day together with your colleagues.

4) One-to-one. It’s very hard to know the mood, challenges, and working issues of everyone while working in the office. This is even harder for remote work. That’s why one-to-one meetings online are even more important in this case.

5) Follow-ups after all meetings. Sometimes people are distracted during online calls, so follow-ups are a good solution to remind about the outcomes of the meeting.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”.

  1. Planning and sticking to a strategy is a must. A team needs to know what the final goal of the project is and how to reach this goal. Make sure to create an effective teamwork strategy.
  2. First people, then technologies. Simple fact — open communication and relationships are everything for a manager.
  3. You can’t buy motivation. When an employee isn’t interested in the work or project, this will result in a less productive working environment, no matter the skill level of the employee.
  4. Time is money. The thing managers keep in mind forever: every decision, delay, mistake costs time, and there is a price to pay for these things.
  5. As a manager, you always need to balance the interests of your client and your team. This can be a hard task, as these interests can be conflicting in many cases. However, I believe that a manager needs to stand fully behind his team so the employees know that their manager is there to support them.

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

The best thing any CEO or founder can do to support their employees is to establish a mission and communicate a vision that engages everyone. Every employee should feel that he/she is an important part of the project, that the project will not work without him/her.

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 focus on healthcare and ecological industry startups. First of all, it also involves my technical and business operation expertise. Secondly, it solves two main and most important problems nowadays. Thirdly, these industries will always be relevant.

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

My top one life lesson is “Nothing is impossible, because your limitation — it’s only your imagination”. I always try to do more than I could expect from me. Sometimes it’s a failure, but sometimes it’s a great success. But it’s worth the risk, isn’t it?

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Website: http://gtm-plus.com/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nelia-kovbasa/

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


Nelia Kovbasa of GTM Plus: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Matt Secrist of BKA Content: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Clear Communication — When you talk to someone face to face, you not only hear the words that are spoken but also read the facial expressions, tone and pitch of voice, expressed emotion, and body language in order to fully understand what’s being said and the context behind it. In a remote setting, you rely much more on written and verbal communication to process information.

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

Matt Secrist is the COO and Co-Founder of BKA Content, an online content writing service. Matt has worked in the digital marketing industry for over a decade, providing high quality writing and editing services to small businesses, marketing agencies and enterprise companies. Matt is an avid NBA basketball fan, dedicated husband and father, and has a love for the outdoors.

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 graduated from college back in 2009 with a finance degree. At the time, the economy was in shambles and my job prospects were low. I moved in with my brother that summer to save some money while looking for a “real” job.

While there, he introduced me to something he had been dabbling in over the summer called SEO, or search engine optimization. He had been creating websites around high-volume keywords and then writing original content to put on his site and other sites to link back to it. He had a full-time marketing job, so this was just something he was doing on the side to create some additional, passive income.

I joined him that summer and we spent a lot of time creating sites, writing content, and learning more about the ins and outs of digital marketing. We had fun doing it and saw some success, but neither of us thought at the time it would turn into much more.

That fall I moved out to continue looking for a job in the finance field. As a goodbye present, my brother made a one-page website where other people doing SEO for their own sites could order one, five or ten written articles from me. I had a knack for writing, and my brother saw that there was a lack of other places online to order quality, English-written content. He figured I might get few projects here and there to help me get by until I found a full-time position.

Fast forward a few months and I was so busy writing from the orders I was getting on that one-page site that I called him and told him we were on to something and I needed him to quit his salaried marketing position and come help me turn this into something real. He trusted me, quit his job and the rest is history.

We are going on 11 years of business this year, and we have turned our little operation into one of the premier content writing services on the web with hundreds of high-quality writers, dedicated account management and custom ordering/delivery.

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

One of the most interesting stories that has happened to me personally is the first award our company ever won. About 5 years into business, I realized that in order to win business awards you actually had to apply for them. Imagine that!

Armed with this new information, I went and applied for a few business awards that our company qualified for. Almost cheekily, I applied for a “Fastest Growing Business in Utah”, award. To my utter surprise, our application was accepted, and we had been told we were in the top 100 that year.

To accept the award, you had to buy a table at the awards ceremony where they’d have a fancy lunch and you’d hear from the state governor or some other professional speaker. Thinking this might be the only time we’d ever win something like this, we splurged on a table and invited our entire team of 10 to go.

At the ceremony, but before it started, we took wagers on where on the list of the top 100 fastest growing businesses we would land. Some had us near the top 50 and I secretly scoffed at the notion. Still believing it might have been a fluke we had even been accepted, I think I guessed somewhere in the 80s (still thinking that was high).

For the reveal, the awards ceremony started at 100 and worked their way down to the fastest growing company. Right when it started, I crossed my fingers that we weren’t number 100. 100 came and went, and we passed the first test. I let out a sigh of relief, feeling we were probably in the 90s somewhere.

The 90s came and went and we weren’t named. I couldn’t believe it. Then came the 80s. Still no BKA Content. We started getting excited. Then came the 70s and 60s. We got to the 50s, and we still weren’t named. We had to be somewhere in the top 50! I couldn’t believe it. My heart was beating out of my chest, incredulous at what was happening.

Then they got to the 40s, 30s and 20s and still no mention of us… At this point, I started to get really worried. This had to be wrong. We were still a small company that primarily worked remotely. We didn’t wear suits to work, make million-dollar deals or rub shoulders with other big companies that won awards. We just were hard workers that focused on culture, honesty and improving our little operation day after day. There’s no way we were in the top 20. There had to be a mistake.

I started to feel incredibly anxious that there had been a mix-up with another company — or worse, that we weren’t going to be listed at all. I was imagining the concerned, embarrassed faces of my entire team when the presenters got to number one and we still hadn’t been named. Were we so pathetic that we got wrongfully invited to this event and it was all my fault?

As I was sitting there sweating profusely from guilt and anxiety, they started the count into the top 20. 19,18, 17,16… When they hit 16, suddenly I saw our company name pop up on the huge screen on the stage. A huge wave of relief came over me, immediately replaced by intense excitement. We cheered and hugged each other, not believing we had actually made it into the top 20 fastest growing companies in the state.

It was one of the biggest emotional rollercoasters I’ve ever experienced during a 30-minute period, but also one of the most rewarding. Long story short, sometimes you can get so focused on fixing what’s wrong in your company that you forget to appreciate what’s going right. It’s as important to celebrate the wins as it is to learn from the failures. Not only that, but you are also probably doing better than you think you are.

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

When we first started exhibiting at a certain digital marketing tradeshow circuit, I once worked my way into a rooftop party in downtown Chicago held for an elite group of conference attendees. Most of the people invited were influential business leaders from Fortune 500 companies, so I figured this would be a great chance to network with companies I hadn’t had access to previously.

I got introduced to a big wig at a large enterprise company who, when he found out my company did content writing, wanted to know more about the types of companies we service. Naively thinking that enterprise companies only want to know if a vendor has done work for other large enterprise companies, I spouted off 5 to 10 of the biggest companies we’d worked with in the past to try and impress him.

I finished my pitch, feeling great about the repertoire of companies I had just listed. He paused for a second and then said something to the effect of, “Oh, I was looking for a company that had experience working with small businesses that could help service my clients”. Before I could tell him that most of the companies we worked with were, in fact, small businesses, he had moved on to the next contact on his list.

I learned then and there that asking questions and listening first to understand what people are looking for is the only way to really help them.

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

In my experience, burnout is usually the result of poor training and a lack of planning. If employees are frequently subjected to burnout, chances are they are blind to red flags that could’ve helped them avoid it in the first place.

If your employees are experiencing burnout, avoid the urge to immediately point out any mistakes they may have made. First, work closely with that team member to understand the entirety of the issue. If you can approach burnout as their advocate instead of their boss, they will respond better to feedback.

Once you’ve worked side by side with your team, you have a better understanding of their pain points and more credibility to teach them. Train them to look at things proactively and how to think outside of the box to avoid issues, rather than taking shortcuts and having to deal with problems later. Give them context, examples, tips and tricks.

One last thing to be careful of in using this approach is to not just do the work for them. Rather, take the extra time to teach them how to do it, why it matters, ask them to complete the task on their own, and then give constructive feedback as to what they did right and what they can do better.

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 have 11 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?

In my experience, the five main challenges regarding managing a remote team are as follows:

  1. Personal Relationships — In an office, you rub shoulders with your coworkers every single day. In a remote environment, you could go weeks (or even months) without seeing anyone in person.
  2. Consistent Accountability — Impromptu department meetings and updates can happen regularly in a physical office. In a remote setting, meetings don’t happen organically and have to be carefully planned out in advance.
  3. Clear Communication — When you talk to someone face to face, you not only hear the words that are spoken but also read the facial expressions, tone and pitch of voice, expressed emotion, and body language in order to fully understand what’s being said and the context behind it. In a remote setting, you rely much more on written and verbal communication to process information.
  4. Project Transparency — In-house teams can talk frequently about where they are in a project and next steps to move the process along. Remote teams rely much more on central information hubs to automate the transfer of tasks and deadlines and keep the project moving along.
  5. Company Culture — The way you decorate your office space, the layout of the rooms themselves and the way you interact with people in the hallways say a lot about your company culture. In a remote setting, you don’t have control over decorations, layouts or hallway interactions. Culture opportunities have to be planned out in advance or they rarely happen at all.

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

Here are the ways we have tackled each of these challenges:

1. Personal Relationships

Establishing meaningful personal relationships is not only a job perk, but a necessary component of mental and emotional health in the workplace. While friendship cannot be planned, interaction can be. Making it a daily/weekly goal or “to-do” to reach out to someone on your team and to compliment them or ask them questions about their life is a worthwhile endeavor.

Not only that, video makes a world of difference! Switch to a “video calls only” policy to give people a glimpse of each other’s personal lives. Even seeing your office space, wall decorations, and your facial expressions during a call can help someone to feel like they know you better.

Last, set up periodical “getting to know you” activities in your meetings. Giving different team members an opportunity to present something forces people to get out of their comfort zones and share a little more about themselves.

2. Consistent Accountability

While you likely already had some accountability meetings set up for your departments while working in the office, its important to note that it doesn’t always translate over directly to a remote setting.

In remote work settings, meetings ALWAYS need to be set in advance and you’ll find that routine becomes your greatest ally. When meetings don’t happen regularly when working remotely, they usually stop happening at all.

Each department has its own needs and metrics to consider. Create a recurring meeting schedule for each department considering collaboration needs, goal reporting and team morale. Department heads need meeting agendas to follow to keep them short (long virtual meetings can be even worse than long in-person meetings!), and always follow up after the meeting with an email outlining assigned tasks so you can report on them at the beginning of the next meeting.

A good rule of thumb is at least one weekly department meeting to build off of work completed the previous week and to set short-term goals for the coming week. Try to avoid anything bi-weekly, or anything that switches days each week in order to keep things simple for attendees.

3. Clear Communication

I may be biased (since I own a writing company), but clear written communication becomes a core component when managing remote teams. If you rely mostly on verbal communication in the workplace, you’re going to run into issues.

Crafting effective emails is an art. That being said, it’s something that every business professional can and should master. While you will still need the verbal communication skills to motivate and connect with people on calls, you’ll need great written communication skills to clearly outline goals, tasks, assignments and next steps.

Make it a goal to never have a call that you don’t write a follow up “recap” email for. This gives people a clear roadmap to follow and gives you a paper trail of accountability.

4. Project Transparency

When working remotely, the cloud is your friend! Utilize paid software to help you manage tasks and milestones or take advantage of free tools like Google Docs and Sheets to create your own collaborative workspaces.

For us, utilizing an “assignment board” using Google sheets has been a great way to complete projects without having to issue out assignments for every task. Where we work with hundreds of writers and editors all across the country, it allows us to set up teams and parameters without managing each person directly. When given the right parameters, people tend to govern themselves.

If you’ve been relying on in-person interaction to move your projects along up to this point, then allow remote work to force you into the 21st century of online company organization. You will be grateful you did.

5. Company Culture

I’m a fervent believer that company culture should drive everything that you do. Without core values and a positive work environment, people can quickly get jaded by what they do for “work”. Enter company culture. But how do you do this remotely?

The first thing to realize is that culture in a remote setting has to be planned out. Team initiatives, incentives, parties and hangouts have to be planned with remote restrictions in mind. While this may seem like a tall task, creative companies are quickly adapting.

There are all kinds of creative teambuilding games that can be played over Zoom, team goals you can set, puzzles you can solve and movies you can make — all from your chair in your home office.

The key is to set milestones for bigger initiatives and incentives, but to also create more frequent, lighthearted settings for employees to engage in. For us, a weekly team hangout with small challenges, games and positive/funny messages has been enough to recreate a level of bonding and camaraderie without being physically together.

While creating meetings for “fun” may seem like an oxymoron, it absolutely works if done correctly.

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

I think the theory behind effectively giving honest feedback is the same, the only real difference with remote working situations is in the tools you use to do that.

First, no one likes surprises. Not only do they not like them, they typically don’t respond well to them either. Always set up a specific time in the future to talk to them about the feedback. Typically, writing an email to set up the call and explain some of the basics of what you’ll go over is the best way to get them ready for it. That way, they’ll go into the call already thinking about things they could’ve done better.

Next, use video conferencing for the actual call. Being able to see you in person can bring back a lot of the nuance lost from physical meetings. Have some meeting notes that you follow to keep things on point and address each item you want to cover.

Last, summarize your call in a recap email. This email should be positive, but also to the point. Use bullet points to cover each important item that was covered. This gives you a paper trail of communication that you can both refer to if there are issues again in the future.

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

This might sound odd, but use more exclamation points! You laugh, but it works.

In reality, when you’re only working with words you do have to use a combination of grammar rules, sentence structure, punctuation and vocabulary to clearly explain feedback while also setting the stage for the tone and voice of the delivery. It is not an easy task!

You’ll want to be careful that you’re not so “to the point” that you come across as a jerk, but not so flowery that you confuse them with what you’re actually trying to say. Start with an introductory sentence or two that asks them how they’ve been or tells them a little bit about what you’ve been working on to set the stage that you are peers.

Next, address the situation as a whole and give them context as to why it matters and why you wanted to reach out. If you can convey that this is to help them and make it easier for them to do their job, you come across as a support instead of a taskmaster.

When giving constructive feedback, always touch on the things they did right as well as what can be improved. Nobody wants to hear about all their faults and nothing more. Knowing you did something right gives you hope you can do other things right as well. Build off of what they’ve done well to show you have confidence in them.

Last, ask them a question that requires a response. Getting a response from them will tell you a lot about how the information in your email was received. If they are very short and to the point, they probably didn’t take it well. If they respond positively to your feedback, you know you’ve done your job well.

While email communication has its challenges, one advantage you do have through written communication, though, is that you can read through it multiple times and revise it before actually sending it off.

One expert tip is to never send off an email with constructive feedback without walking away from your first draft and coming back to it later to read again with fresh eyes. Go through a couple of rounds of revisions, and even have another trusted person read over it first before sending it to see if your message is being interpreted the way you intended it.

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?

Yes! Establish strategic times for consistent communication. We recently went back to full-time remote work during the pandemic as well, and realized that the first thing we took for granted while working in an office is how much communication and interaction comes naturally just because of your physical proximity to someone else.

In a remote setting, those chance encounters don’t happen. If you don’t establish set communication channels (and times) for each department and those teams to be able to talk, it usually doesn’t happen. As time goes by, morale will suffer.

Make sure you consider each department and create a meeting schedule for each that caters to the job demands first, but also takes into account the personalities within that department. Some people do need outlets for additional communication, while others prefer to work more on their own.

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?

Always turn on video for calls. Nothing is less personal than talking to a computer screen that has your own documents showing on it. Making everyone turn on their cameras will likely be a bit painful at first, but people will get over it quickly.

Once you’ve established this as a norm, it will do wonders for the connectivity of your team. Being able to say you “saw” someone recently is so much more meaningful than knowing that you wrote them a message or heard them on a call.

Next, plan time to get together either online or out of office (pandemic-willing) to do meaningful activities. For our company, we’ve established a weekly virtual “team hangout” where we can chit chat and do team-building activities together.

We usually establish some team culture goals that have included everything from team exercise goals to discussing influential books, sharing favorite songs and playing bingo together.

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

I’ve suggested this in the past, but I truly believe one of the most freeing things in today’s world is to disconnect from the internet when you’re around the people you love. Get off your phones/apps/tablets/social media apps and be present. There’s a time and place for the internet and social media, and it’s not when you’re spending time in-person with someone else.

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

J.R.R Tolkien — “Short cuts make long delays.”

Aside from the fact that I love a good LOTR movie marathon, I feel like this quote has been relevant in nearly every aspect of my life. There is no adequate substitute for hard work, nor greater teacher than failure. Taking ‘short cuts’ robs you of life greatest lessons and rewards.

Thank you for these great insights!


Matt Secrist of BKA Content: 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.

Tim Vanderham of NCR: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

I don’t think anybody goes through their career without making mistakes or experiencing failures. You’ve got to fail, and fail fast, if you are going to succeed. For me, I think the one misstep that sticks out was not early in my career, but in the middle stages. It was around a new project that was a combination of hardware and software and I made the mistake. Having a background so tied to software, I ignored some of the hardware challenges of the project because I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone.

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

Tim Vanderham is Chief Technology Officer of NCR Corporation, leading NCR’s global Software and Technology organization. His teams include software innovation and software engineering, with more than 3,000 engineers building NCR’s current and next-generation products and solutions.

Since joining NCR in July 2018, Tim has increased overall development excellence within the NCR Software and Technology organization through improved processes and modernization of technology used to deliver capabilities to clients. Tim and his team are driving NCR and our customers toward cloud-enabled and cloud-delivered offerings, while innovation teams keep NCR on the cutting-edge of emerging technologies including data analytics, machine learning and distributed ledger technology.

Tim most recently served as CTO of the tax and accounting division of Thomson Reuters, where he was responsible for global technology strategy and product delivery. Before Thomson Reuters, he enjoyed an 18-year career with IBM, starting as an undergraduate co-op and eventually becoming vice president of IBM’s cloud platform services, known in the market as IBM Bluemix. Over his 20 years, Tim has spent time working closely with a range of clients ranging from major enterprises to small and medium businesses. He was an executive sponsor for clients at IBM including Aetna, Lloyds Banking Group, Boeing and others.

Tim has served in roles spanning development, services and support over his tenure at IBM including enterprise software offerings and working internally and with clients to migrate solutions to a cloud-based “as-a-service” model. Specifically, in his Bluemix role, Tim was a leading and driving force behind the modernization and cloud native initiatives within IBM for its Platform as a Service and developer experience cloud offerings. He leveraged this background during his two years at Thomson Reuters to migrate legacy tax and accounting software to a cloud-based set of services and offerings for tax clients globally.

Tim received his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from South Dakota State 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’ and how you got started?

I grew up on a small dairy farm in South Dakota. My parents challenged me to use my brain and not my back. That was what led me to computer programming, at age 14, when picked up my first programming class of visual BASIC and Pascal. I was pretty fortunate to have a high school teacher who invested time and pushed the edge in a small school in South Dakota. So, that’s where it all started. I fell in love with technology; truly became passionate about the building of software. That carried me forward to my engineering degree at South Dakota State University, where I was fortunate to land an internship with IBM after my third semester. From there, I didn’t look back and I’ve been in software ever since.

What was the ‘a-ha moment’ that lead you to think of the idea for your current company, and can you share that story with us?

My ‘a-ha moment’ here at NCR happened in my first week. It was a sudden realization that we were not creating software with our teams to build business value-added services. The big question that jumped out at me was: “How do we build business services that support our banking, our retail and our restaurant customers?”

For me, that was a huge moment to just sit back and say, we shouldn’t be spending dollars where I can use things off the shelf from cloud service providers like Google and Microsoft. Instead, let’s take our domain knowledge around the industries we serve and build business value-added services for our customers. This was a big jumping off point that helped lead us to our transformation from a hardware company to a software- and services-led company and carve out my role within it.

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

Everyone’s career goes through highs and lows. For me, it was the transition from technologist into management. I realized I wanted to get into management and be an executive leader to drive strategy that could help lead companies. I know a lot of people have to go through that transition, but in my first few management jobs, I had to go through the learning process of what it’s like to make hard decisions about personnel; why it is so important to have the hard conversations with people that work for you, largely on my own. I didn’t get directional feedback from my early management teams. They didn’t tell me that maybe my style didn’t align to the organization, and I feel that challenged my growth. I have tried to never repeat that same type of behavior as a leader. An important part of being leader is making sure that those who report to you get the feedback they need to succeed.

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

Things are awesome. I love being here at NCR. I feel so fortunate that I have the privilege to lead 4,000-plus software engineers who build amazing technology that touches consumers at hundreds of millions of touchpoints every day. For me, being a software technology guy at heart, having this type of job, I don’t see it getting any better. One the quotes I always share with my mentees is: “Your perspiration must match your aspiration.” What that means is you’ve got to work hard if you have a big aspiration, like getting to be a CTO of a Fortune 500 company. Growing up on a dairy farm, I’ve been fortunate to understand the perspiration component and I’ve carried that throughout my software career.

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

I don’t think anybody goes through their career without making mistakes or experiencing failures. You’ve got to fail, and fail fast, if you are going to succeed. For me, I think the one misstep that sticks out was not early in my career, but in the middle stages. It was around a new project that was a combination of hardware and software and I made the mistake. Having a background so tied to software, I ignored some of the hardware challenges of the project because I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone.

It ended up costing us several months on delivery time and I think it made me understand that you should probably spend more time where you’re not comfortable to make sure you don’t underestimate from where challenges may come. I have responsibility across all of NCR and I never assume I know where all the challenges are, or where problems might exist. I make sure to dig in and immerse myself as deeply as possible. I’ve learned to ask as many questions as necessary and listen to the voice of the customer to ensure we plan and execute appropriately.

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

I think NCR stands out because we’re at the heart of commerce. We keep commerce running. When you think about what we do across banking, retail and restaurants, it’s truly incredible. When COVID-19 hit, we all went to work and tried to help the world transition from less of a physical one to an even more digital one. We’ve been at the heart of digital transformation for a number of years and COVID-19 just accelerated that.

NCR was able to respond quickly with the solutions we had built and were able to keep commerce running. What I enjoyed the most was helping our customers withstand the massive shift in transactions to a much more digital world. We saw this heavily in the restaurant space, but also within the retail and digital banking spaces, with an uptick in digital interactions.

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

Until you realize what your passion is, it’s hard to be successful in your job or your career. To succeed, it’s all about having a routine that is a bit flexible and lets you still have a little bit of fun. For me, I wake up between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. Some days I work out, or I relax and watch a recap of the news or sports. Other days, I go into the office to get work done. It’s important to have fun outside of work so you don’t burn out. I think that’s something that has helped me thrive throughout my career and I hope I can continue to do it in the future. I think being a good leader involves embedding this type of thinking in the cultural DNA so people feel valued and can come to work every day at their best.

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

There are three things I focus on when I talk about my success. One, which I’ve already mentioned, is my “your perspiration must match your aspiration” mantra. The second is you must focus on the customer, and that’s what got me through some of the challenges I talked about previously. The third I like to rely on is that you have to have a little bit of luck. What I mean here is having some great mentors. For me, that person was Beth Smith. I worked for Beth over a number of years, in several different roles at IBM, and the story I love to tell is how she looked at me one day and challenged me by saying, “I don’t think you’re ready for that next job. I don’t know if I see you in that job.” I asked her to give me a chance and prove myself to her. She helped me along the way and, within 12 months, I was in that job because she helped mentor me and teach me to be the leader I am today. That’s the kind of luck I’m referring to and I believe a critical component of success. It’s recognizing those lucky moments and seizing them.

Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have?

We have thousands of customers across our three business units of banking, retail and hospitality. The great thing about NCR is our customer base ranges from Fortune 500 companies to locally owned businesses. I love how we serve small and medium-sized businesses that might sell juice or be a local bike shop. Across the globe, we do business in 160 countries. Our diverse customer base has empowered us to build software that can serve the vast majority.

We have done much of that by building software and platforms that have open ecosystems. The idea is they can be accessible by someone who uses a vehicle as their place of business, all the way up to the largest banks, the biggest retailers or the world’s biggest restaurant chains, which serve millions of consumers a day. We are able to do what we do because of how sharply we focus on service and supporting our customers in ways that help them thrive.

How do you monetize our customers and have you considered other options and why did you not use those?

Many of our customers want to pay for the value they derive. That is a subscription to our software and that they pay by the click, the order or the transaction. While we’re not all the way there yet on all of our software packages, this is the transition we’re making as an organization.

I think a little bit further insight into where we’re going is around data and data monetization. When you talk about privacy, I’m a big proponent that consumers own their data and, eventually, this will be at the heart of how consumers and merchants or banks monetize this data. Ultimately, consumers will control data monetization by what they allow to be enabled in the ecosystem. I think this question of monetization, of value around software and data, will only continue to heat up in the next two to five years.

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

For me, there are three fundamental tenets. One is you have to understand the customer problem you’re trying to solve. What is the value you’re going to provide to the customer or the consumer in what you’re building? At the end of the day, it should be an outside-in design process and you have to start with the customer problem and the customer solution you’re going to provide. The second area is ensuring you have an open ecosystem when building a software as a service (SaaS) platform or offering. It must be accessible to everybody. Accessibility and an open, collaborative mindset are key, no matter what business you are in. The third thing is you must have support and availability around the platform and around the application. You can’t just build it, offer it and then not support it.

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.

It’s humbling to hear someone refer to me as being a person of great influence. I take great pride in the role I have and I often think about starting a movement. I’m kind of living my dream job right now here at NCR and have the privilege to lead so many incredibly talented engineers. The movement I want to create is to continue to excite all the engineers we have here at NCR, along with future talent at universities we hope to bring here one day.

One of the ways you can think about this movement taking hold is through hackathons. Hackathons bring people together in ways that catalyze amazing ideas. There’s an energy that comes from the event and an excitement that drives innovation. We started a global hackathon here at NCR and the program just completed its second year. This summer, we had more than 2,400 participants from 27 different countries and had 350 submissions after 48 hours of work. Nurturing this kind of energy around a movement like this, to me, is critical to driving NCR and innovation forward.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I use LinkedIn and Twitter. I’m probably the most active on Twitter about what we’re doing day in and day out and what’s happening. I’m @Vanderham on Twitter and my LinkedIn is https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-vanderham-68940b/.


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

Matt Desilet of SquadLocker: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Be kind to yourself and your team — Imposter syndrome is running rampant these days, which is not new. With that, we tack on the new rules of engagement during the pandemic. For many of us, face-to-face Zoom is the best we can do — life inevitably happens. We’re all human, and we have to be kind to ourselves as we work through things. For some, this might truly be a new normal as more work shifts remote. For others, it will be a phase. In any event, there’s no sense in adding extra internal pressure and self-doubt. I make it part of my mission to wrangle up as much joy and positivity as I can and share it with my team.

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

Matt Desilet is Marketing Director at SquadLocker, a company that provides online tools for teams, organizations, and schools to manage custom apparel and equipment purchasing. After his first childhood nickname “Dez” stuck, he never went back. Matt is a growth and engagement strategist experienced in creating digital marketing campaigns, launching new products, and enabling sales + success teams. He is an experienced contributor, manager, and leader on agile marketing teams. Matt likes to focus on delivering data-driven results in a human-centered way. His first startup experience came in the form of gigging and recording with his band full-time. Having a seat on the startup rocket ship gives Matt the same vibe as watching his music take off and get into the hands of thousands of people. To slow things down, he enjoys building and tinkering with guitars at home. A proud Rochestarian, Matt supports the Buffalo Bills, Wegmans, and proper Buffalo chicken wings. Bleu cheese only, Ranch need-not apply.

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

I grew up in Rochester NY, which is an amazing place to be a kid. My “plan A” was to be a rock star. While in high school, I used winter and spring breaks to tour with my band, Almost Tomorrow. Once, some of us were 16, of course. After about three years of gigging and recording, I decided to make a run for college and pursue a degree in political science at Northeastern University. After learning that Poli Sci was not at all what I wanted to do for work, I made my second hard pivot into entrepreneurship and startup life. I got involved with NEU’s venture accelerator, IDEA and joined my first startup as employee #1 in 2013. From there, it was all about chasing those big moments in startup life. Think major funding rounds, IPO’s, and acquisitions. It’s not much different from chasing a record deal or a #1 hit.

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

One of my earlier gigs seemed like an amazing fit. I was psyched to join the company. I thought there was a ton of growth there, and it was sort of a shortlist “dream” landing spot for me. Turns out, I would have three successive family emergencies in my first 40 days there, including deaths. Those situations tested both me and the leadership at that organization. I ended up leaving feeling very down about my abilities and self-worth. Looking back though, I realize that company handled the situation in a way I could never get behind as a leader. “There’s a seat for every ass,” was a common saying of my wife’s grandfather. My ass just didn’t belong in that seat.

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

One of my favorite stories is about an interview I had. I made it passed a phone screen and was interviewing with the marketing leader of a fast-growing Boston education software company. I had tons of HubSpot experience, but no Marketo experience at the time. I did poor research on the subject, and if we’re being honest, I barely thought this would be an issue, even though the JD mentioned Marketo. Sitting down for coffee in this pretty informal interview, the leader asked me about my experience with marketing automation software — and I went on blabbering. When it came time to talk about Marketo, for which I had some boiler plate talk-track about campaigns, I pronounced the platform “Market — to.” As in “I’m marketing to this group.” It got awkward, and she politely said, “Do you mean, Mar-ket-o?” I was pretty sure it was over at that point. Oddly enough, I did get to speak with the co-founders after, but I was humbled by the experience. It was clear I wasn’t ready yet.

So, a tip for newbies — and this is probably the best advice I could give anyone who needs to hear it: “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer — especially in the business world. We’re not ER surgeons.

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

I’ve got a five-bullet wish list for all CEOs:

  • Don’t (make us) sweat the small stuff — We all, marketers especially, suffer from “shiny new object syndrome,” and we have to break that habit. Sometimes the thing keeping CEOs up at night shouldn’t, because it has such a small impact on our objectives and key results.
  • Give employees agency — You did not hire people to tell them exactly what to do and how to do it. You did not hire people because everything in that area is being perfectly managed by the resources that you have. If you’re deadly passionate about this area of the business, insist that you, as CEO, are part of the interview process for the department head. Really “marry” this person and their thought process so you can let go a bit. We need you, the CEO, to think bigger and continue to teach us.
  • Always be teaching — Pretty simple one. As a marketer, I want to download the CEO’s brain like a database and reference it all the time. You’re the catalyst, you’re the beating heart. We need you to always be teaching us so that we live and breathe the mission like you do.
  • Communicate clearly — This one is dead-simple. Say what you mean, when you mean it. No pop-quizzes when we’re trying to grow a business. Don’t make folks read between the lines. It’s just a speed bump.
  • Be human — In every single startup I’ve worked for, there’s one consistent moment that rallies a team: when the CEO shows some humanity and humility around the mission of the company. Serious sacrifices are made. Money, time, and memories are traded for lots of hard work and anxiety. Don’t incite fear when times are tough, but don’t be too scared to show some scars. What’s the point of giving out equity opportunities if you don’t share in the struggle?

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?

To be fully transparent, I’ve been managing fully remote teams since the pandemic so about six months. As a startup veteran though, teams have always been at least partly remote. I’ve never really worked for a company where people couldn’t or didn’t occasionally work from home. So, if you’re using that metric: about five 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?

Relationship-building is tested like never before:

Say you are stepping into a new role and the position is (now) remote, and the team is remote — but they weren’t always that way. It’s really hard to gain understanding and find common ground without a typical social introduction. There’s no weekly coffee or lunch that is so intertwined into the “normal” onboarding process — so new remote managers have to pay extra attention to this one.

Communication, especially around performance can be indirect, insufficient, and sometimes misleading:

You really want to be clear with regards to how things are going, especially when performance isn’t meeting expectations. I’ve had moments in my career where I’ve had to give tough, direct feedback to a 100% remote employee, and if you don’t set yourself up to have those conversations, you end up surprising people. If you’re surprising folks about their performance and there’s no documentation or history to back up your points, that’s wildly unfair to the person receiving that feedback.

Planning at your org can be inflexible — hard to work inside the lines when the lines outside keep moving:

I’ve been in the nightmare scenario where I keep pointing to data, saying; “This is what’s happened, what’s happening,” and people don’t want to believe it. “Make it better!” It can be frustrating when you show a direct relationship to how things outside of your control impact your objectives and key results.

Accountability can be waning or nonexistent:

Sometimes in the remote environment, you end up with a failure of accountability. Who owns this project? Where was that update? There are lots of habits that lean us into dangerous territory here. Anyone trying to project manage through email threads? No thanks.

People are really hard on themselves right now:

I’ve seen so much of this lately. Folks are wildly unsure of themselves. There’s a lot more folks investing in their personal and professional development these days, which is great, but the “watercooler” talk, at least for me, reveals that people feel unprepared right now, and I’m sure that’s valid.

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

Rapport matters. Build or strengthen it:

If you are starting from scratch or starting a new gig where you are managing folks remotely, you need to build relationships. You can’t go out for lunch 1:1’s. You can’t really have drinks after work. So how do you fill those gaps? You can’t jump into “business as usual” and forget about the people you are working with. This pays dividends down the road. Inevitably, unintended things happen on virtual meetings. We should not assume that our lives mirror the lives of our reports or teammates. Whether it’s children screaming in the background or dogs jumping all over the computer (guilty), having rapport with your team makes these virtual moments less awkward. You’ll find yourselves laughing about it and moving on quickly.

Care personally, so you can challenge directly — and ask for direct feedback (Radical Candor callout):

After you have an established relationship, you have to show that you care about the things impacting people’s lives. Support these folks like the human beings they are within the purview of accomplishing company goals, of course. I’m fully swiping this from one of my favorite reads, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. This is an extension of the “building rapport” advice; it’s crucially important to connect the dots between rapport and reporting. In order to effectively manage folks tied to goals and objectives, we have to have some way to evaluate performance against goals. If you take the humanity that would normally exist out of that process, people won’t feel cared for and they will go find other places to work. Once you have that relationship and have shown that you care about a person’s performance and quality of live, you’ve earned the right to challenge them directly on established and agreed upon objectives. Pro tip: Ask this of your direct supervisor and frequent collaborators as well. This direct feedback against the critical objectives of your role will only help you. Speaking of objectives…

Build flexible, scalable plans to meet and exceed your goals:

The plans we make now need to be flexible. Plans need to account for varying levels of success (100% attainment, 90%, 75%, total failure). Missing consistently? Re-forecast! Change the plan to adjust to what’s really happening. Build objectives with realistic wiggle room so that you can see how capable your team is at this time. Our plans must have built-in learning opportunities so you can fix things fast. They also need to scale up. It’s forgivable to be surprised by success, less forgivable to be incapable of capitalizing off of it.

Hold yourself and your team to those plans:

This answers the question “to what end?” Your team just did all this great work building with flex and scalability in mind so that you can look hard at results later.

Be kind to yourself and your team:

Imposter syndrome is running rampant these days, which is not new. With that, we tack on the new rules of engagement during the pandemic. For many of us, face-to-face Zoom is the best we can do — life inevitably happens. We’re all human, and we have to be kind to ourselves as we work through things. For some, this might truly be a new normal as more work shifts remote. For others, it will be a phase. In any event, there’s no sense in adding extra internal pressure and self-doubt. I make it part of my mission to wrangle up as much joy and positivity as I can and share it with my team.

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?

This may not be a popular opinion amongst managers, but I do think you need to earn the right to challenge directly. Establish rapport and make sure your team knows that you care personally so you can challenge directly. Having documentation and record of expectations, performance, etc., can make this a LOT easier for you as well. Surprising people isn’t fun, and I’m of the opinion that pop quizzes ended in high school.

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

Potentially a hot take — if the constructive feedback is foundational, I don’t give that over email… period. If it’s a small thing like — “Hey, this punctuation looks off,” or “Our messaging doesn’t feel aligned with this brand guideline doc, what do you think?” That’s cool. But if someone is really misaligned then I think we need to be at least on the phone, Zoom/video preferred. If it’s way off-hours, I might send an email that sets up a call but putting substantial constructive feedback that provokes reflection and critical thinking in an email has a way of stewing.

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

Try and replicate or maintain the rituals in some way to keep the cadence going. Regular lookbacks and check-ins are important. Cut some fat in terms of meetings — you need time to get stuff done.

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?

This is a good exercise, remote or not. Outline what everyone owns and broadcast that to the larger team or company. It’s crucial that people within and without know who owns what on your team. This exercise lets folks on the team triage when requests come in. Taking these steps also helps guide ownership on project management within the team. Giving your team ownership also gives them agency. Empower your reports to take control of what they can so that their performance is in their hands.

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. 🙂

There are many famous ways to say it, but I’m a big fan of the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. As an extension of that, I’ve always loved Dr. King’s ideology that we should judge people by the content of their character. I think that helps the most people with the smallest number of steps.

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

An indirect leader at a college internship once told me that my kindness would take me very far, and that it can’t be taught, only learned through experience. And I think that’s proven to be correct in my experience.

With that, I am a big fan of the 14th Dalai Lama and many of his teachings. I think kindness and compassion are key elements to happiness. Happiness is the key ingredient to achieving my definition of success. An easy favorite — “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”

Thank you for these great insights!


Matt Desilet of SquadLocker: 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.

Adjani Jensen of Adjani Design: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize…

Adjani Jensen of Adjani Design: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Consistent Quality- Consumers love a good deal. But it’s only a deal when the product has both efficacy and longevity. This sheds a new light on the word deal and expands the term, not limiting it to a monetary qualification. In fashion oftentimes we will look at cost per wear. So- called investment pieces can be reduced to a couple of dollars per wear because of the high quality. Quality also decreases turnover, saving both aggravation and the environment. Quality also builds loyalty. As mentioned, the brands with which you have built a relationship are the brands you will start with when searching for a new product.

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

Adjani Jensen is a Digital Marketing and Brand Specialist. The majority of her career has been spent as a freelancer and independent contractor, allowing her to learn and hone a variety of skills and create a niche for herself. Her new agency, Adjani Design, offers branding, styling, and creative direction, working largely in the fashion and entertainment industry. In addition to her marketing work, she is a fashion lover and spends as much time as she can styling for individuals, runway shows, and editorial spreads. She is a fashion writer and has contributed to publications such as The Garnette Report and hosts an Instagram page dedicated to fashion called @Every_Day_Armour.

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 focus throughout my undergraduate years was squarely on communications, particularly PR. My ultimate goal was to end up in fashion PR. But my career has taken many twists and turns since. I did, however, stay connected to the fashion world, working in and around the industry for years, wading in the waters but never truly taking the plunge. Being a freelancer or independent contractor gave me the freedom to work where and when I could while still having a “day job”. I found that this was not an uncommon practice. On the contrary, most of the individuals I worked with were IC’s themselves, for a variety of reasons. I started noticing certain questions that it seemed everyone was asking. “Have you heard of this or that agency?” “Do I really need an agency?” I,like others,felt I was not “together” enough to be “represented.” Another issue I was hearing was “despite being represented I have no focus.” It was like we were not quite “there.” I felt it was the equivalent of taking my daughter to school in my pajamas. Yes, I’ve shown up. But I’m not in any position to present myself to the world at large. So that led me to ask some more questions, and these I had the power to answer myself. What are the steps I want to take before seeking out a traditional agency? Who am I and what do I want to do with my talent and voice? What can I be learning now that I may not have a chance to later? And the answers coupled with my experience in digital marketing and branding led to a business plan for my agency, Adjani Design.

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?

You get excited when you are starting out. Everyone tries to run before they really know how to walk. So when I was ready to dive in, I dove in. I shot for the stars, literally contacting some of the biggest people in the fashion industry and was unreasonably discouraged when, shock, they didn’t call back wanting to immediately work with me. I knew where I wanted to end up and rushed through the steps to get there. There are no shortcuts. And you need to learn to work through the silence. Rejection is hard enough but being ignored can be devastating.

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

I love the arts. I love fashion. I truly believe in its value to the point that I believe it is worth all of my time and efforts to promote and illuminate art and artists. I feel connected to their stories and want to tell them. And I feel my background is the perfect combination of technical and creative to get those messages across to the world.

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

I have been researching some of the “failings” in the fashion industry, namely sustainability and culture representation. I have been working with a designer who represents fashion from all over the globe and I’m creating a series of articles, possibly even turning them into actionable steps to introduce real change.

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

I think about it in terms of need vs. feeling. When you need a product, price and quality are what matter. When you think of brand marketing, if you have a connection to a brand, that is your starting point. You will look to the brands you like for the products you need. Building that kind of relationship is where brand marketing differs from product marketing.

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?

It’s a relationship. Relationships take time and effort. But the payoff is exponential. If you are taking the time to connect with your customer, you can start to anticipate their needs and create ways you can meet them. The loyalty you receive from that customer is what is going to keep you afloat in hard times, like a global pandemic.

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)Honesty- I think of food labels. I love reading a food label with 4 ingredients, all of which i recognize and can pronounce. You can use all the buzzword labels you want but when the details don’t match, you lose faith.

2)Transparency- This point was inspired by Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index. Public disclosure of business practices is not wholly new but the demand for them by consumers is rising. There is a growing movement surrounding the hashtag WhoMadeMyClothes, showing that the next generation of consumers will be calling companies to account before supporting them with a purchase. Branding has come to include what you are doing behind the advertisements. With so many similar products competing for the same space the “how it was made” is becoming more important than the product itself.

3)Common sense above dollars and cents. Manufacturing in the United States is not a cheap prospect. But by digging a little deeper you can find it not only economically possible but prudent as well. Companies like Indie Source in Los Angeles have processes in place for a fully integrated concept to distribution model. Manufacturing closer to home provides a sustainable option that gives the brand more control not only of the product but of their narrative. Being that involved in your brand is what consumers have come to look for. Accountability builds trust and a loyal customer base.

4)Effective brands make deliberate choices and perfect them. I think of designer Rebecca Minkoff. She started small with an idea for affordable luxury and a very particular aesthetic. Through the years she has doubled-down and has been able to build and expand a very loyal base because she knows why her customers keep coming back to her. In a recent interview Minkoff actually mentioned a misstep in trying to replicate some recent fashion trends that did not match her aesthetic. She very candidly shared that it was a mistake, reiterating the importance of sticking to your mission and staying true to your brand.

5)Consistent Quality- Consumers love a good deal. But it’s only a deal when the product has both efficacy and longevity. This sheds a new light on the word deal and expands the term, not limiting it to a monetary qualification. In fashion oftentimes we will look at cost per wear. So- called investment pieces can be reduced to a couple of dollars per wear because of the high quality. Quality also decreases turnover, saving both aggravation and the environment. Quality also builds loyalty. As mentioned, the brands with which you have built a relationship are the brands you will start with when searching for a new product.

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?

There’s a designer I really admire for the way he has built his new brand: Ben Taverniti, designer for Bureau de Stil. I hear him describe his process and the things that led to the development of his new line and it is all very organic. Sustainability is the movement of the moment but it truly is a better way of doing things. It simply makes sense and this is how Taverniti operates. He has been in the industry for years, seen successes, and where processes can be improved and that is how he built this new brand. It’s very genuine and honest in addition to being a consistently high quality product. Brands can replicate this by doing the research and have a willingness to change. This willingness must be a core component in their business model;everyone needs to be on board!

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

Success in branding is about community, consistent sales, and customer experience. Drawing again from the fashion industry, you are releasing new products every couple of months. This requires an immense amount of loyalty from your customer. You may see a nice dress on a red carpet or magazine and buy it. But isnt it better that you hear the narrative of the collection, who was used as a muse, a commitment to size and ability inclusivity, and now that narrative is demonstrated on the red carpet or magazine. The story behind it builds intrigue and if you are an unrepresented person who sees yourself represented, chances are you will remember this designer and seek them out the next time you need something.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Brands have been built entirely from social media engagement. Arielle Charnas of Something Navy was a very successful blogger with a relatively small but highly engaged following. Because of this influence she was able to start a clothing line that continues to thrive. Direct to consumer retail is a new and very successful frontier that is taking off in large part due to social media. And social media is the optimal place to cultivate your brand, its message, and its aesthetics.

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

Staying honest and true to yourself (and your brand) are keys to maintaining a love for what you are doing. When you believe in your message and your brand it is a lot easier to sell it. Trying to compete with whatever is new and trending is a sure path to burnout. If you have built a loyal base, those are your people. Speak directly to them and keep your focus simple.

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. 🙂

Brands must focus on their workforce as much as they focus on their consumer. I would love to see brands invest in real changes not just hire a consultant to put forth the image of change. Diversity at the higher levels is crucial for this. It’s a movement that is popular now but the turn over in diversity and inclusion officer is huge because brands are not truly willing to change. The optics are more important than the end result.

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

In the words of the late, great John Lewis “You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone-any person or any force- dampen, dim, or diminish your light. Release the need for hate…Hold only love, only peace in your heart.”

It’s a reminder that what I do matters, whether it is just for me or it affects the entire world. When I do something for me the result is my own happiness and well-being. That leaves me inspired and able to help others. And that is important. Sometimes we don’t take care of ourselves as we should but we are a light, as Mr. Lewis says. Every person can effect change. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, dim that light.

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 have always admired Andre Leon Talley. He is a legend in the industry. His insights are invaluable.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website is adjanidesign.com

My business instagram is www.instagram.com/adjanidesign

My fashion instagram is www.instagram.com/every_day_armour

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


Adjani Jensen of Adjani Design: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Patti Reilly: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand…

Author Patti Reilly: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Promotion is key, and that is my second strategy. Brands that promote themselves daily are seen more and are top-of-mind over others, it’s that simple. I see many brands and influencers do this so well and I applaud the work. It does take time, commitment, and creativity, but “brand hustle, builds muscle” and the more you get used to posting or going live, the easier and more fun it becomes.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Patti Reilly, Brand Strategist, Author, & founder of Built for Connection Brand Building Academy.

Over the past 2 decades Patti has made a name for herself as a trusted shopping authority through her 11-year tenure as program host on the wildly popular home shopping network, QVC, as well as her guest appearances on QVCUK, HSN and The Shopping Channel in Canada. Patti’s career involved selling hundreds of products weekly on live tv alongside business owners, inventors, and celebrity guests that include Suze Orman, Jessica Simpson, Kim Kardashian, and Sara Blakely. Her natural ability to help each guest pitch their product to millions of viewers across the country resulted in the overnight success of hundreds of brands. Today, it is her passion to help brands discover their unique Brand DNA so that they can target their message and connect with their ideal customers. Patti currently offers one-on-one coaching and online courses sharing her secrets to selling success. Plus, she recently released her first book, Built for Connection: Brand Strategy Guidebook, that she sums up as “your brand building course in a book”.

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

I have always loved coaching and have been interested in becoming a motivational speaker since my college days. As a Program Host on QVC, I realized early on that both coaching and motivating was a natural part of the on-air selling process. For example, prior to airing, we meet with our Guests to establish “rules of the road” for the live tv presentation. Most of the Guests are product inventors or entrepreneurs who have had little to no tv experience, so while they’re excited about the idea of their product being seen in over 100 million homes across the country, the reality of “live tv” hits them pretty hard. Most product airings average of 8 minutes of airtime. To an inventor who has spent years and years fine-tuning their product, 8 minutes is extremely limiting…and scary. Their instinct is to launch into their story of labor, time, sacrifice, and cost, but that’s not how to connect with a consumer in 8 minutes. It was my job as a host to build a relationship of trust with the guest, by letting them know that I would ask guiding questions that would allow them to naturally highlight the product benefits while weaving their company history throughout the sale. It was a delicate process because at best, I had 15 minutes with a guest before we went live. Gaining trust, respect, and confidence from a virtual stranger in just 15 minutes can be done when you speak from the heart and come from a place of confidence and authority. It was my job as a Host to make every guest and every product shine. And it was my responsibility to the viewer to tap into the benefits and help them quickly see how that product could change their lives. Tapping into each unique product offering and the benefit to the customer was what I trained myself to do. My coaching business allows me to do what I love — connect with people and help them gain clarity and confidence in who they are and what story they want to share with the world. I believe that everyone has a story to tell, and for every story shared, there is an audience. Many businesses make the mistake of casting the net too wide, wasting marketing spend on crickets. Getting clear on your brand identity helps you define your target audience and create content that connects specifically with them. It is very satisfying at the end of the business day to know that what you put out in the world connected and mattered to someone and that your product or service made an impact.

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?

Sure! And only because I can laugh at it now. Back in January, I decided to advertise myself outside of my coaching business as a “Host for Hire”. I missed being on tv and am a natural at sales, so I thought it would be fun. The idea was to recreate the home shopping tv format by creating an entertaining & conversational vibe via our respective locations utilizing split-screen video. I structured the offer specifically to business owners looking to up-level their business exposure with a marketing promo that they could reuse on any of their platforms. The popularity of video promotion is huge with shoppers yet underutilized by most businesses. I thought that my background and expertise alone would be a great incentive and that the idea of creating a micro-infomercial was genius! Lol. But in my defense, having hosted infomercials and being privy to direct response tv margins, I truly felt that I could break new ground at a fraction of the cost. So, I ran advertisements and posted videos on all my social channels, fully expecting a flood of inquiries, and not one single person contacted me. Crickets. Oh, my! Wow. Huge marketing and branding mistakes. Where do I begin? I would say the biggest mistake was assuming it would be a hit without researching to see if there was a need or desire for this type of service. I’ve learned that no response, is a response, and that is something I can and will share with my clients. And maybe we can all share a laugh, too!

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?

My tipping point was about 10 years ago when I was a Program Host on QVC. I was scheduled to host a fashion show with a designer, Jeanne Bice, who sold a collection of novelty sweaters under the label Quacker Factory. To say Jeanne’s clothing was a hit is an understatement. For years, Quacker Factory ranked in the top 3 fashion lines sold on Q. Millions of women loved her whimsical sweaters and t-shirts, but it was definitely Jeanne’s fun-loving attitude and authenticity that created magic every time she was on the air. I met with Jeanne before the show to prep for our upcoming items, which is standard practice, and because I knew Jeanne personally, I stuck around for a few minutes to catch up. We spent a few minutes chit-chatting and just as I stood up to leave the green room, she handed me a bulky navy-blue sweater. Before I could open it up and take a look, she said “Now Patti, I know this isn’t your style, but would you please wear this sweater for our show?”. Okay…now what? I opened the sweater up and heard a noise. A jingle to be exact. It was a navy-blue, acrylic-blend, boxy-cut sweater with cats and bells sewn all over it. And by cats, I mean felt cut-outs of tabby cats, black cats, orange cats and calico cats sewn all over in random cat poses, with actual 3-d balls of yarn and actual bells! Are you seeing this through my eyes yet?? Oh, and it gets better. I couldn’t help but notice the heft to the sweater, and I guess Jeanne noticed me noticing the heft, and that’s when she added “By the way, it lights up! Isn’t it awesome?”. And sure enough, sewn on the inside seam of the sweater was a small pouch that had a battery pack. I flipped the switch. The entire sweater lit up with tiny little bulbs I hadn’t even noticed at first because there was already so much to take in! I nodded yes to Jeanne, confirming that I would indeed wear the sweater, and bolted out of the room directly to the Host Lounge to cry. The tipping point was this- as I sat staring at my reflection in the glamour bulb-framed mirror, hair & makeup tv-ready, threatened to be ruined by the tears brimming in my eyes, I had a realization. It’s not about me. It’s not about whether or not I like the sweater. It’s about the person who would like it and who would enjoy wearing it. I had to see it from her perspective. And that’s when I realized that if I didn’t cover every intricate and loving detail that went into the making of that sweater, that not only would I be just another salesperson, I would be doing her an injustice. And it was actually in that moment and it was that thought that gave me major pause. That’s when everything shifted for me and I was truly able to see every product through the eyes of the customer and sell it from the place of telling their story. Maybe she ran a daycare from her house, and a sweater like this would bring a smile to a child’s face who just one moment before was reluctant to let go of Mom’s hand. Maybe she volunteered at a pet shelter or worked at an elderly care facility. Or, maybe she was just a spunky, fun, and confident woman who got great joy in bringing a smile, or a chuckle, to the people around her. I could wrap my mind and my heart around that. I wore that sweater and we sold it out.

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

I am! I just released a Brand Strategy Guidebook called Built for Connection. It’s basically a business plan and brand strategy course in a book. I read a lot and I sometimes take notes, but I don’t often action the notes because they’re typically scattered and not easily accessible. My goal was to create an organized place where businesses and brand owners could log their mission & vision statements, create Buyer Profiles, build out their short- & long-term business goals, and be guided and prompted along the way to think like the customer the entire process. I’ve never come across something like this before and I’ve found it so helpful for my own business, that I wanted to share it. I also reveal my secret formula for selling success in the book. It’s been very well received and I’m excited to supplement the material with online courses that I’m hosting. I believe that offering learning options for people is important. Some people will prefer the book and working through the various exercises, and others will learn more through a one-on-one coaching session or a webinar. I plan on having all options available to help brands & businesses maximize their impact on the world.

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

Self-promotion for me has been exhausting. I can easily sell for other people and have done so for years, but when it comes to my own services and product promotion, this is where I struggle. I’ve learned that setting and abiding by normal workday time frames is important. Meaning, if I put in 6–8 hours, that’s enough for anyone. I no longer take my laptop to bed! There is so much benefit in literally walking away from something you’ve stared at for hours- whether it means going outside for a walk, doing a few yoga poses, or running out to meet someone for a coffee, when you come back to your project, suddenly you see it with fresh eyes and ideas. It’s awesome! The saying “A person outside of your business sees it differently than you” is so true. Even turning to someone you trust and respect to take a look at what you’re working on can help tremendously. I love hearing other people’s thoughts about my projects. I actually want to see what they see. My advice is to ask for feedback from a trusted source or better yet, from your customers. Being open to feedback can have a huge impact on your marketing strategy, while also saving you tons of time, energy & money.

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?

In the simplest terms, marketing is promotion, while branding is connection and you truly cannot have one without the other if you want to be successful. The branding piece is extremely customer-centric. Your brand is the perception consumers have of your company across all touchpoints. It’s your promise to them of what they can expect from your product or services. It’s your message to the world on how you can improve their lives. Marketing is the process used to deliver your brand message to the marketplace by identifying your target market and the best channels to reach them.

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 recognition around your brand is perhaps the single-most-important thing for any business to focus on. If businesses focus solely on the marketing piece, they risk shifting the power to the consumer to define their brand for them, which is never a good idea. Branding includes brand identity, which is a collection of tangible brand elements. It’s the personality of your business and how you communicate what you offer to the world. It’s everything a customer can see, touch, hold, hear and feel. It’s the overall experience your brand provides. Investing in branding essentially means investing in the emotional engine driving the relationship your brand has with your ideal customer. It is inclusive of your brand voice & supporting visuals, (the marketing piece) but most importantly, it’s the feeling your brand elicits when your customers interact with you..

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

To differentiate yourself from the competition is a huge reason to consider a rebrand. Being in a crowded marketplace myself, I felt that advertising as a Brand Strategist alone wouldn’t cut it. I mean, who cares, right? I saw the advantage in highlighting my experience as an internationally recognized tv shopping host. Given that it’s such a niche industry, few business coaches can compete with the exposure and experience I’ve had working with thousands of products and people. I also think a rebrand should be considered as your business evolves and grows. It’s always a good idea to take a look at your existing logo, colors, and online presence and update to reflect the evolution of your brand, keeping it current.

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

The downside of a rebrand is changing things to the extent that you’re no longer recognizable to your audience. Starting from a “clean slate” so to speak, isn’t a typical option, and I would advise that brands take existing brand assets into account. Subtle changes, introduced over time, are digested more easily by mainstream audiences. I’ve worked with companies on QVC that were hot one minute, then not the next. A couple of them went into hibernation for a year or more and reemerged stronger and better than ever, still thriving today. I can’t imagine what financial toll that took, but I doubt many brands can afford to do that. I would advise against it if you aren’t clear on your strategy. Consumers like consistency. If your presence comes across as incohesive or inconsistent, it leads to consumer confusion and mistrust.

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.

I look at this as being both an external and internal initiative. The very first strategy that I would encourage is to invest time and resources in the Power of Personalization. What can your company do to create a unique and personalized experience for tour customers? The best example I have for this involves a designer dress that I searched high and low for in a specific. I ordered it from a company I’ve done business with before in a size larger than I normally wear, simply because I wanted it and was willing to risk the bigger size. I received it and loved it, but it was too big, so I sent it back. I ended up finding my size on a website I’d never heard of before but took a chance because I knew the quality of the dress was what I expected. When I received the second dress, it came wrapped in two layers of tissue with a branded satin ribbon and a handwritten “thank you” note. I was so impressed I spent more time admiring the thoughtful packaging instead of the dress! First impressions and personalization definitely matter.

Promotion is key, and that is my second strategy. Brands that promote themselves daily are seen more and are top-of-mind over others, it’s that simple. I see many brands and influencers do this so well and I applaud the work. It does take time, commitment, and creativity, but “brand hustle, builds muscle” and the more you get used to posting or going live, the easier and more fun it becomes. I work with my clients on outlining fun topics that they can post about to engage their audience. I also have them practice smiling while they talk and it’s actually one of the toughest exercises anyone can do. (Give it a try!). The practice involves smiling whether they’re home alone talking to themselves, socializing with family, or talking on the phone, or even writing an email. Most people don’t smile while they talk, yet smiles are approachable and obviously more visually appealing on tv or video. It changes how you engage with people and even how you write and respond to texts or emails. I learned to do this from a young age when I first saw Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight. I was fascinated with the beautiful woman on tv smiling while talking for several minutes at a time, lol! I was used to news and somber faces. Mary Hart is one of the reasons I made a lot of friends growing up and was dubbed “Smiley Reilly” and “Chatti Patti”. Thanks, Mary!

Sharing stories is another strategy that connects people and is still underutilized, even though brand storytelling is a mainstream concept. While I do believe that brands should share their story or brand history, I think it’s more important to tell the customer’s story. That’s a strategy I learned as a Host. We live in an instant-gratification society, and if you make someone work hard to give you money or to figure out what you do, they’re going to move on. Tell the story of how their lives will be improved, focus on the things that matter most, and paint the “after” picture for them. We all want to be part of an experience. By “thinking like the customer you are” you understand that we don’t buy logic, we buy hopes and dreams.

The fourth strategy I encourage all brands do immediately is to shop your own brand! It amazes me that most clients I work with have never shopped their own brand. They don’t know what the user experience is like, they’ve never been on the receiving end of a package to their home, from their warehouse. That’s scary. As a business owner, you should know what it’s like to see your brand through the customer lens so that you’re aware of any pain-points or obstacles they may encounter. I understand that many of those areas are staffed by people that are qualified, but it’s still no excuse as a business owner to not check in on the path to purchase. This also opens up an opportunity to see how your business might stand out and do things differently. What can you offer your customers that will make a positive impression after they’ve purchased from you? Most businesses forget about the relationship after the product has shipped. I see so many opportunities to upgrade and differentiate here.

Finally, I would have to say consider bringing in new talent. I recently did that for my business and have been blown away by the ideas that have resulted in explosive engagement from my community that I just wasn’t getting before. My team has pushed me to think differently and to be more visible. I used to predominantly post quotes or quizzes that were business-oriented, but I get more engagement when I post pictures of myself or when I hop on a Facebook Live. People buy from people. And people like people who are like themselves. Don’t be afraid to push yourself or your team to get out there and be the face of the brand! “Live your brand” is a bonus strategy and one I highly recommend.

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

One of my all-time favorites is Instagram. Remember when they first launched and had the vintage camera logo? Lol. While the new “look” caused a polarizing response from the community, I read that the head of design and others within the company said that the colorful logo and look were inspired by the community. I thought they did a great job modernizing the look and evolution of the app giving it broader appeal with an energetic and fun vibe, totally inline for such a social platform.

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 saddens me to see so much disconnect in the world. As human beings, we’re all built for connection, so to inspire people to connect with each other more, my movement would simply be “Smile More”. I realize it sounds small, and I’m sure if I thought about it long and hard I could come up with something more impactful, but to spur a movement that we all have access to and is easy, one that has the potential to turn someone’s day or life around, it would be to smile more. People don’t naturally smile enough, and it creates social separation and can trigger feelings of unworthiness because we feel “unseen”. I have a hard time when I smile at someone and get nothing but a blank stare in response. A smile can lead to connection, and I’m all about connection. Plus, smiles are harmless and free!

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

I’m not quite sure if this is a quote or not, but years ago I read a book called “Law of Attraction” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. I read the phrase “thoughts become things” and it changed the trajectory of my life. I went from being a terrible student who barely graduated high school and wasn’t expected to amount to much, to a young woman confident enough to audition to be a QVC Program Host just by changing the record I played in my mind. I’ve read dozens of books on the topic and I firmly believe that mindset is everything. I use an exercise with my clients that I’ve used in my personal life for years, and that is: list three words that describe you best. My words are bold, fearless, and confident. And I am living my brand daily!

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can connect with me via my website: thepattireilly.com or social channels: @thepattireilly

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Author Patti Reilly: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Lauren Clemett of The Audacious Agency: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Lauren Clemett of The Audacious Agency: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

To me branding sits at the centre of all your communications, marketing and promotional activity. In my experience, branding sits in the middle, with advertising, marketing, publicity, online presence, traffic generation, sales etc circling it. Your brand drives your focus, message, targeting, channel selection, imagery, spend.. which is why I believe it’s vital to invest effort into getting clear on your brand BEFORE you implement those other actions.

With a solid brand, you can go back to your core each time you do something to check if it is going to give you any return on investment.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Lauren Clemett, Co-Founder of The Audacious Agency.

At 8 years old Lauren was told she had ‘word blindness’ and would never be able to read or write properly, yet she went on to become a five-time bestselling author and Neurobranding expert, using her dyslexia to understand how the brain sees brands.

Lauren is now an International Award-Winning Personal Branding Specialist and has over 30 years experience in brand management. She is the author of the best-selling practical guidebook to personal branding, titled “Selling You” and has helped develop brands for hundreds of global entrepreneurs.

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?

As a kid I was told I would never be able to read or write properly. Of course I was dyslexic, but unbeknown to my teacher at the time, it would become my greatest asset. My teacher actually knew me really well and although it seems a horrible thing to say to a child, he knew what he said would be like a red rag to a bull and I would set out to prove him wrong. I threw myself into reading and learning to spell by recalling how words ‘looked’ in my mind.

As a young adult I studied to become a qualified graphic designer, then worked as a production manager in world leading advertising agencies and as brand manager for large corporations, using my ability to retain images of words in my head, to help me recognise when brands were being reproduced correctly.

This skill helped me manage brands and their image in advertising, collateral, marketing etc and enabled me to be a valued member of the team within the agencies I worked for. When I opened my own agency, it helped me brief the creatives and help explain what was needed for the clients as well as manage the brands and ensure they were consistent.

I later studied the science of Neurobranding and I use that knowledge and skill today to help entrepreneurs understand how the brain ‘sees’ and reacts to brands, so they can position their brands as the leader in their space, using all the proven methods to resonate and engage with their audience.

There is something about getting to the core of a brand message and then developing a strategy to clearly communicate the brand story to the right audience, in the right way, in the right time and place, that I totally love doing. It feels like a superpower and I love the challenges it provides and the range of brands I get to work with.

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’m embarrassed to say it was the creation of my own brand!

I started a consultancy called Ultimate Business Propellor and had lots of ‘Top Gun’ style branding, wings and stars, the font was even called Top Gun, but I have zero background in aviation or the military, so there was no authenticity there and as soon as this was pointed out to me I knew it had to change.

How embarrassing for a brand specialist to get their own brand so wrong!

Funny really because it’s what I call ‘ironicide’ — it’s ironic that the thing you do best for others you are worst at for yourself. Like the plumber with the leaky tap. I had created a brand because I thought it was cool and had totally ignored what my audience would want from the brand message and how I was going to share my brand story with the world.

Thankfully I saw the error of my ways, changed the branding and the consultancy won multiple business awards and was very successful. I’ve now merged it with a publicity specialist and we have rebranded ourselves as The Audacious Agency and we LOVE this brand because it’s all about being bold, brave and not being afraid to put yourself out there.

We’ve had great feedback on the brand and has easily emerged as a rebrand for both companies, packaging together and sharing our combined core brand messages, resonating with the right audience for everything we do and all the services we provide.

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

The biggest successes have also been the biggest failures… partnerships.

I have had some really awful ones and some incredibly successful ones. It’s all about selecting the right people to team up with and sharing the load. When you have an awesome business partnership, things get done without you having to bear the entire load. You have someone to challenge you and support you at the same time.

A great business partner not only shines in areas where you struggle, they always have your back, push you out of your comfort zone and only want the best for the business. They should also be a great sounding board and have the ability to laugh, cry and rant in equal measure — and allow you to do the same.

Being in business is tough, and if you are going through a re-structure and rebranding, it can be confronting and challenging to do it alone. Having an awesome business partner to do it with makes all the difference to your level of success — so choose your partners wisely.

I suggest you work together with partners first, reciprocating work, joint venturing or affiliating to ‘test drive’ how you work together. If it’s seamless, easy and successful, then look at partnering. If it is clunky, one-sided (financially or effort) or if you are second guessing yourself, then it’s probably not the right partnership to enter into.

And when you do partner up, put a plan on paper with what you both want in the future and outline rules for the divorce, get an independent accountant and get some good business management systems in place so you can operate smoothly and grow together.

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

At the beginning of 2020 we launched The Audacious Agency which is a self-promotion consultancy, helping people with personal branding, publicity, online presence, winning awards and book marketing.

As part of this we have developed a brand audit, which goes through all of these aspects, highlighting what you are doing well and where the gaps are. This helps business owners uncover where they need to put in more effort and where they can improve.

The biggest assistance it provides is clear strategy and action steps that make sense, don’t overwhelm and get the best results for the investment of time and money when it comes to creating authentic marketing campaigns.

We also know that businesses spend plenty of time creating marketing and content and achieving great things, but they don’t have a strategy for sharing that and repurposing it, so often their amazing deeds go un-noticed.

We basically help business owners and entrepreneurs to be Googleicious!

The Audacious Audit is something that we will use to help us on-board clients, but regardless of if they work with us or not, entrepreneurs and business owners can use the audit to get focused and avoid the overwhelm and waste of time and money which generally happens with SME marketing.

We are hoping it becomes an incredibly useful tool for many global businesses to brand themselves better so they can stand out and shine.

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

There is so much pressure today to be ‘everything for everyone’ and to be constantly creating content, but in reality, we are drowning in information. Burnout occurs when you are being dragged in all directions at once and constantly feel under the pump. How often do you say “Who else wants a piece of me?”.

One of the most overused words is ‘hustle’ and it’s really not good for mental health in business.

My advice to avoid this is to have a workable strategy, and know exactly who your ideal client is and what you want to provide for them. Then limit what you say yes to, so you can ensure you stay on track and invest your time and money into what takes you closer to your goal.

There is so much distraction and loads of stress and pressure to get things done fast and to be ‘perfect’. It takes time to build a brand, so it is vital you remain focused but also reward yourself, be realistic with what you can achieve and set long term goals with shorter-term tasks.

I also find ‘batching’ works well to be more productive and to sustain bursts of focused activity. I have a planner that provides monthly themes, weekly action planners and daily projects. This helps me be clear on the purpose of my activity over the year, while maintaining a ‘to-do’ list that’s manageable.

Then, at the end of each day I do a daily review and ask myself three things:

  • What did I do well today?
  • What didn’t go well and can I put that in perspective?
  • What can I improve on?

I find this helps calm my brain and keeps me realistic about what I can achieve, positive about what I am doing and focused on continual development rather than being stressed about what may or may not be occurring.

When you are marketing other peoples businesses, your own marketing can suffer and you can loose sight of what’s important, so planning your day is vital and making sure you take time to review and consider what’s going right as well as the stuff that’s not working ensures more balance.

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?

To me branding sits at the centre of all your communications, marketing and promotional activity. In my experience, branding sits in the middle, with advertising, marketing, publicity, online presence, traffic generation, sales etc circling it. Your brand drives your focus, message, targeting, channel selection, imagery, spend.. which is why I believe it’s vital to invest effort into getting clear on your brand BEFORE you implement those other actions.

With a solid brand, you can go back to your core each time you do something to check if it is going to give you any return on investment.

In terms of explaining the difference between branding and advertising; Branding is all about recognition and recall. A great brand is instantly noticed and selected, engages emotionally and connects with the ideal audience. Advertising is about a specific benefit, offer or opportunity.

Branding is consistent over time and is more difficult to measure, and when it is measured, it’s about awareness and loyalty. Brand marketing gives people a reason to buy from you.

Advertising is all about specific timeframes and ROI — return on investment, measured in terms of leads, conversions and sales. Product marketing gives people a solution to their needs.

They interact because you want your ideal clients to be loyal customers who keep buying your products/services, experience the entire range of what you have to offer and refer you to others.

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?

In the 1970’s it was estimated that the human brain was exposed to around 500 brand messages a day. Today that’s closer to 5,000. So it’s a no-brainer that it’s getting harder to be seen and heard and having a stand-out brand is an ideal way to get noticed.

There has also been a huge shift to online shopping, where your brand has to do the selling for you because you are not physically there to create a relationship with your clients and sell to them yourself.

Building a brand creates a connection and an experience that can be used to create trust and develop a connection.

Brands connect by creating an emotional response using colours, shapes and imager, to burn an image of themselves into your memory, so that when the need arises, your brand is top of mind.

This is called Reticular Activation. There is a part of your brain that filters what it is exposed to, only bringing to your attention the things you have indicted you are interested in. That is why for example, when you decide you want a particular brand of car, suddenly you see them all around, you notice the adverts and the logos and dealerships pop up everywhere. They were always there, it’s just that your brain had filtered them out until you decided to be interested and now your brain is bringing them to your attention.

This is why it’s so important to invest time and effort into your brand development, knowing how you want your brand to make people feel and the #1 emotion you want to convey, so when they are ready to buy, they instantly notice and choose you.

It’s called Neurobranding and it’s amazing how many hidden messages there are in brands — the arrow in FedEx and Smile of Amazon are a few good examples of this. Clever branding can subconsciously create a physiological reaction in the mind of your ideal client.

Once you know what you want your brand to stand for, you can create marketing, advertising, publicity and promotion that you know will resonate and engage with your ideal clients.

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

If a business has outgrown it’s brand, or has pivoted in direction and the brand is no longer serving the business, then rebranding can be required. Rebranding often occurs when a brand has been originally developed poorly or with no strategy in line with the products or services offered or through a lack of clarity for the goals for the business.

In these instances the audience or selling environment has changed, the business has outgrown the initial brand proposition or there is a misalignment between what the brand promises and what the business actually delivers.

This happens when the business creators underestimate the power of the brand and don’t realise that they should have developed an ‘umbrella brand’ that encompasses not just what they start out to, but what they might potentially do in the future. Suddenly they realise their brand is not working and they need to rebrand.

Rebranding is sometimes presented as a ‘brand refresh’ which shouldn’t be confused with rebranding. Refreshing is more of an updating of an existing brand, possibly because the branding cannot be reproduced well in new technology, or there is a need for different formatting.

A rebrand usually includes a change in name, visual identity and core messaging and is the result of the current brand no longer resonating or properly communicating the brand values and proposition.

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

Dysfunctional branding is the major reason for rebrands and they can be mammoth effort effecting everything from company structure and processes to signage, vehicles, uniforms and marketing so it shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.

Also, be aware of falling into a ‘brand refresh’ trap mentioned above, where most likely, the CEO, designer or agency has gotten bored with the logo and wants to ‘freshen things up’ to appeal to a younger audience. There are many cases where brands have tried this and got it so very wrong — Gap and New Coke are two of the most well known ‘brand refreshers’ that fell flat with their audience,

The human brain likes what it knows, so don’t go freaking out your current audience with some new-fangled branding if it’s not absolutely necessary.

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) Clarity

When you are rebranding, don’t try to help every Mary in the diary. Get 100% clear on what your brand is about, who it’s for and who your tribe is. It’s hard when brands start out and have pressure to make sales that they tend to fall into the trap of saying yes to every opportunity and trying to rebrand to ‘attract a new audience”.

Kumfs shoes, who developed orthotic style comfortable footwear for many years decided they wanted to move away from their ‘oldies’ and target a younger market. Unfortunately this put massive pressure on them to design shoes that looked more elegant and they ended up falling in between the market that loved their brand for comfort and those who wanted looks. Instead of investing in the audience who was loyal and prepared to pay more for quality and comfort, they wasted time competing against mainstream shoe brands and trying to convince younger people to pay more for comfort — which was something they didn’t really want.

With service brands its even more important to get clear on your ‘niche’. When I met the ‘voice of Siri’ in New York she told me that the #1 thing that directed her personal brand was closing doors that she had previously tried to push open, instead saying no to the temptation to try doing everything and focusing exclusively on what she wanted and who she wanted to help. She told me how once she got clear, much larger doors opened up to her with far less effort, because she had decided to focus on her niche.

When you rebrand, get totally clear on where your brand will be in 3 years time and exactly who your ideal client is.

2) Conviction

Brands that stand out, stand up for something. What do you believe in? What is happening right now in your industry that you want to change? A rebrand is an opportunity to share your story and stand out from the crowd.

An Audiologist we worked with saw how the hearing industry was using “free” hearing tests to lure people into the clinics, only to provide a basic test before selling them aids and then not fitting them properly, so the investment in their hearing basically lived in the bed-she draw.

She decided to NEVER offer free tests, and to promote proper hearing tests and refitting of hearing aids, rrelaunching her brand to target this market and within a few months she was fully booked with those who came in with aids they had hardly worn, leaving with hearing support that worked and many of them were in tears of gratefulness. Word spread and she had a very successful clinic.

Part of the rebranding process is shedding the stuff that didn’t work, don’t be afraid to cast off things that no longer serve your industry, your brand or your business and consider what your brand stands for.

3) Recognition

The brain buys with emotion. How do you want to make people feel? What #1 emotion does your brand convey and communicate? How do you want to be known? Rebranding should be 100% focused on how you want to change the way your audience feels about you.

Maya Angelou said “people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. When I stared running workshops, each and every attendee was asked what they felt before and after the event. I used the words they used to describe how they felt in all of my marketing and the common theme of clarity and direction gave me my one-word brand strategy ‘orientation’. Having an emotional centre to your brand enables you to have a consistent message across everything you do.

When we develop brands one exercise we make our clients do is to record. a’day in the life’ of their ideal client, using the self talk, feelings, reactions and words the ideal customer uses. We then ensure these are embedded into the brand’s core message. This is an awesome way to communicate the emotional essence of your brand and if prospective clients feel that your brand knows them almost better than they do, you know they will recognise and recall your brand more strongly.

Consider how you want your new brand to make people feel and how that is different from the feeling your current brand creates and conveys. Think about the #1 thing you want your brand to be recognised for.

4) Reputation

Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room — what words do you want people to use to describe your brand? How do you want them to refer others to your brand? What reputation does the brand have now and what do you want it to be? Rebranding is a great time to shed some old skin and start afresh.

Airbnb changed their tagline from “Feel Ordinary With Us” to “Belong Anywhere. Makes sense doesn’t it. No-one wants to feel ordinary, regardless of the idea that you are staying in someone less home just like an ordinary member of the family. We all want to belong, and to be able to feel at home anywhere, so the brand reputation is changed to being more inclusive and inviting.

Nike famously tried changing their positioning statement from “Just Do it” to “I Can”, and quickly reverted back to the slogan we know and love, proving that change isn’t always a good thing.

Many clients have asked me from the outset if they ned to rebrand and my answer is always the same — we won’t know until we’ve uncovered what your brand stands for and what you want to be known for. Only after a branding process can you decide if the brand you have is saying the right things about what you, your business or the products or services you offer.

Even better, if your brand can create a reputation in the market which becomes generic for your niche you really do have a top brand presence. For example stating you will ‘google’ something or giving the house a quick “hoover” means you have used the genercide of a brand. If your brand reputation can grow to this magnitude, you have captured a space in the market and created a reputation that sticks.

When rebranding, write down your core message, practice it and make it part of your brand culture, so everyone knows what your brand means. Consider the words used to describe your brand and how you want your market to react. Do you have a brand name that could become a generic name and rule the space?

5) Respect

Been around for years? Many business owners fear rebranding and worry that they will lose the trust built up in the old brand if they change.

One of the easiest ways to win respect is to be single minded and clear about what your brand does. An example of this was and office products rebrand we managed, which had been around for many years, but used a name that was confusing. Sharpe Office Supplies.

This wasn’t the Sharp company, who are globally known for office machines, copiers etc, this was a local stationery supplier and they were constantly having to correct people who thought they were the other brand, their staff regularly said “…it’s Sharpe with an ‘e!””. The logo even had the e underlined to try to explain it wasn’t the other brand.

The rebrand process included a move to a new name and contrary to the business owners concerns that they would lose customers, they actually acquired more and have gone on to purchase two other companies and are in the process of branding them Ezi Office Supplies as well.

By including every aspect of the brand promise in the new brand, the staff began delivering the core message with ease, saying ‘thats’ Ezi” when they spoke to customers and making sure the brand delivering in ways that make things more productive for businesses. Now the brand is focused on what they are really good at — making life easier for their clients, rather than wasting time trying to explain who they aren’t.

The other thing that builds respect is being talked about and in business there is no place for modesty. Self promotion and third party endorsement can be a massive assistance when you change a brand, especially if you have been around a while.

Sharing your brand story and why you have rebranded is as good as winning an award or achieving a win. It can help you get media coverage, testimonials and gives you something to talk about on social media. People are genuinely interested in your story, especially if you sell services.

Over the past few years we have had the privilege of helping hundreds of entrepreneurs enter, win and leverage awards. A highlight is the Stevie Awards for Women In business, where we take a group of business women from Australia and New Zealand to New York to collect their awards. The transformation that occurs, when these women realise that an independent panel of judges has deemed them award worthy is incredible.

To see them overcome self doubt and stand on a world stage, giving their acceptance speech is particularly rewarding for us, but the biggest kick we get out of it is when they start levering the awards to get media coverage, sharing their stories and telling the world about their journey.

When you rebrand consider how you will explain the change to your audience, what will intrigue them and have them congratulating you and telling others about you. Also consider the awards you can enter to add layers of credibility and the media channels you want your brand to be featured in.

These should be goals in your branding and marketing strategy, to cut through the noise, clarify your brand message and level up your brand awareness to firmly position your brand as a leader.

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?

MasterCard is a good example of a rebrand getting it right. They have totally simplified their brand identity, in the knowledge that after 50 years, consumers do not need to see the brandname smeared across everything, it’s enough just to see the logo.

They have joined the ranks of Apple and Nike, where much like the bitten apple or swoosh, the distinctive red and yellow circles are enough to recall and recognise their brand without seeing the brand name.

Instagram is another who has successfully rebranded, moving with the times and with consumers needs, desires and demands. No longer a clunky, retro camera, it’s a multicoloured ‘eye’ on the world.

To rebrand like this you need to be simple, focused and clear on what your brand is trying to communicate. Whatever you come up with during a rebrand, see if you can simplify it.

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

Tolerance. I firmly believe the world needs to take a deep breath and have a massive movement towards inclusivity.

We seem to be so easily triggered and incredibly damning of peoples opinions. Unfortunately, when you shut down the ability to engage with the opinions of others, you shut down the ability to learn, grow, understand and gain insight.

Tolerance enables us to speak more openly about what we care about, why we stand for certain things and to voice our concerns so that the world can become a better place.

Tolerance leads to openness and the willingness to accept that we are all different, we all have opinions and that we can change them if we are tolerant and open to understanding each other.

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

Your brand is your expertise — the things you do with ease that others find difficult. That’s why it’s called expert-ease.”

The thing is, many people undervalue the way that their brand makes a difference and how it can provide solutions your ideal clients didn’t even know existed.

I realized early on in my own personal brand development, that I had forgotten about all the things I was good at. Because I knew my area of expertise so well, I could work on autopilot and I undervalued how much of a benefit I was to my clients.

Many professionals, entrepreneurs and consultants have this same problem and they don’t charge enough for their expertise, because they think everyone can do what they can do.

It took me a while to understand this, and once I did it made perfect sense to me that what I had invested years of effort into learning was not going to be given away for free.

Everyone has the most amazing gifts and talents that the world needs, it is vital that we share them and ensure our brands communicate our expertise, so that others can ask for our help and benefit from our knowledge and experience.

How can our readers follow you online?

Join us in the Rocket Launch Your Business Facebook Group for tips, tools and training and check out www.theaudaciousageancy.com

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Lauren Clemett of The Audacious Agency: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Cassie Clouser: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and…

Cassie Clouser: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

See your brand as a living being — Think about your brand as a living being. It’s this living, breathing essence, and it adapts to whatever is going on during the current times with your audience. It is responsive. Tap into your brand right now and take a look at what feels like it’s alive and what feels blocked? What’s missing from your brand?

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Cassie Clouser.

Cassie Clouser is The Brand Mythologist™. She helps companies create inspiring impressions through bold, story-driven branding and graphic design. As a former TEDx speaker and branding lead for TEDxYoungstown, Cassie shows her clients how to weave stories and visuals to create transformative experiences. She has helped numerous brands tap into the hero, the challenges, and the deepest desires through her unique Brand Mythology™ process. The process leverages a rich, multi-sensory perspective to inspire audiences, influence through visual storytelling, and turn on the BRAND HEAT!

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?

Have you ever seen a pianist play one-handed? That was me in the Spring of 2013.

After over-practicing the piano, I developed tendinitis in my right wrist. I couldn’t afford to stop playing. This was my identity and my livelihood as a wife and mother of two daughters.

I kept playing, gigging, and teaching, hoping it would heal. I kept running my little music studio and leading worship for a local church. I kept running myself low — until the other wrist finally followed. There I was with both hands unable to play, and I didn’t know how long it would last. I was injured and burnt out.

From overworking, I developed some other chronic illnesses. From the inability to work, I lost my home, and moved in with family for a few years to heal and rebuild.

Through a year of just focusing on healing my body, I spent a lot of time on mindfulness practices (What would Yoda do?). I realized that my creative spirit can’t be changed, that I can keep creating in so many different ways.

My fire eventually bloomed again. I had the desire to become independent in a way that was healthy for me — a way to still be creative, and to have a lifestyle designed for a healing introvert.

I remembered that I had done some amateur level design work during my music career for advertising my music studio. I remembered how much I loved designing and how much I admired the creative lifestyle of a designer.

It was then I decided to go ALL IN and train in design. Within 2 years, I created a career that not only supported myself, but my whole family. Within 3 years, we were in our own home again, and I had a flexible lifestyle to be able to manage career and family.

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 can’t think of any funny ones, but I can think of a not-so-funny one! (cue creepy music)

I once had a client that had frequent digital product launches. We cranked out product brands super-fast! (That’s the first hint…)

There was one occurrence where we had a brand that looked like a competitor’s brand, and the competitor contacted us about it. Though there was no intentional copying, the visual brand was designed in a common style of the time period. My clients were great about it though, and defended our process, proving we weren’t copying another brand.

It turned out ok, but in the moment, it’s enough to make you want to pee your pants a little. Lesson learned — research your competitors and differentiate intelligently.

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

I’ve had a couple of tipping points.

The first was in my second year of business, when I reached 6-figures as a solopreneur.

One of the things I started doing differently was investing in who I was hanging around. I invested in community and then gave, gave, gave to that community. The takeaway lesson there is to know who your audience is, where they hang out, and then to go there. Build relationships. Show what you or your product does, as opposed to telling. I got a lot of business from reviewing and solving problems with sample design concepts.

The second tipping point was when I burnt out as an hourly design contractor. After that burn out, I stopped looking at myself as a contractor, and started looking at myself as a business with a unique brand and mission. I had spent so much time on other people’s brands as a contractor that I left mine on the back burner.

Once I switched to starting to build my own brand and stopped hiding behind the scenes, I had a tipping point in the other direction. Less time on client work, and more time on focusing on what I was becoming.

Once I focused on creating a potent brand for myself, I started attracting different types of clients. I started attracting brand projects that were my dream projects.

That tipping point of moving from doer to solver meant I took a dip in my business temporarily. But that shift wasn’t about the money — it was about needing to work from a different purpose — from a purpose and brand that I believed in.

Once I finally tapped into my own brand, it was like a good fire in my heart. “Yes, this is who I am, what I do, why I do it, and how I help people. It feels so right.”

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

Yes, I’m working on branding for a couple of startups. One brand is about to revolutionize the personal development industry, and the other is building a social and live streaming platform for indie hip hop artists.

Creating standout brands that look professional and focused is so important for startups right now. We have a flood of new initiatives competing to take advantage of this new frontier for innovation as people are living in a new virtual world. It’s raising the bar on how companies are presenting their brands online.

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

If you’re doing it just for the money, you’re going to burn out. If you’re working to distract yourself from something else, you’re going to burn out. If what you’re doing is not a good fit for your personality, you’re going to burn out. So many people aren’t present with their work. They’re not working for the sake of creating and growing. They’re working just so that they can get to the next thing or to avoid something from the past.

If you’re stuck in the past or always wishing you were in the future, you will drain yourself.

One of the biggest keys to longevity is doing something that you can’t help but do, something that keeps you in flow in the present moment, that is fueled by a greater purpose. Where is that sweet spot where you are fulfilling a vision for yourself and meeting a great desire of others?

If you’re not feeling flow, it’s time to take a look at your mission and adjust the sails if need be.

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

Branding goes beyond space and time. When you’re promoting your brand, you’re not necessarily selling something; you’re raising awareness of an imprint of your company that is a gestalt of transformation stories, values, mission, and experiences. You’re strengthening the audience’s memory of your company.

Product marketing is something that you can pinpoint in space and time. When you advertise a product, you are solving a specific problem with something tangible.

If you take a look at Nike’s recent social media marketing, you’ll see examples of both. You can see photos of tennis player Roger Federer wearing the Nike brand, a story of how he beat his record, and the long-standing Nike tagline #justdoit. It imprints a suggestion of “Nike = beating my best” along with other messages. It creates a memory that reinforces the brand.

Let’s take a look at the same company, now demonstrating product advertising in the same medium. Here is Nike implementing product advertising on their social media:

“Introducing the Nike FE/NOM Flyknit Bra. The first-ever sports bra with Nike Flyknit technology. It’s incredibly supportive and impossibly light.”

“The Bra That Changes Everything” is a product advertisement, solving the specific problem of sports bras being too heavy/constricting in order to keep the ladies in place.

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?

Let’s think about business relationships as a metaphor of dating…

What type of relationship do you want to be in?

Do you want something more like casual dating? Are you in it for the experience and more transactional? Or are you wanting to create something that is long-lasting?

If you want to create long-lasting relationships within your team and customers, you must invest in your brand.

Why? Because when you’re investing in your brand, you’re investing in creating community based on shared values, pain, and desired transformation. When you have team members and customers that fully buy into those shared perspectives and desires, you’re creating longevity and stronger bonds.

What happens when you’re looking for any type of long-term relationship? You learn more about their stories, their values, how they treat you, and how you feel when you’re around them. If your life changes for the good after being around them for a while, and your values match, you’re more likely to form a long-term relationship.

When you’re building a brand, you’re creating fans that will not only buy your stuff but will enthusiastically recommend you and come back as repeat buyers.

Branding efforts may at first seem like a lot of investment, but with the right focus and purpose, it pays off in the long run.

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

Rebranding can mean many things. There’s the rebranding of the soul of the business — it’s mission, it’s values, the team. There’s the part of the branding that is the audience — to whom you’re speaking. Lastly (at least for now), there’s the part of the branding is the visual image and tone of voice.

So why would a company consider rebranding?

An outdated look — In terms of the visual identity of a brand, a company might rebrand if they look really outdated. For example, you look at the brand and say “Oh my goodness, that logo is so 90’s.” (Though, I did dig my wind pants and stellar bangs…)

You might do a visual rebrand when you look like everybody else or when you look like the rest of the competition. In order to differentiate, you might do a rebrand visually.

Your business or values have majorly changed — I would suggest a mission/value/manifesto rebrand if your mission has changed or if your brand doesn’t express your values anymore. With the recent Black Lives Matter movement, you see a lot of brands shifting their values on diversity and how they express those values.

Major audience or world changes — The last part to consider is your audience and what’s going on in the world at the moment. You might consider rebranding if your audience has changed or expanded. If you’re talking to different people, you’re telling different stories. If that change is big enough, you might want to consider rebranding.

You may need to rebrand if the world has evolved in some way that requires you to pivot your brand. For example, right now in 2020, we’re experiencing a pandemic. Many businesses have pivoted in some ways to adjust to selling in a predominantly virtual world, and startups are blooming all over the place!

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

Most certainly, there can be downsides of rebranding.

If you rebrand and don’t prepare your audience, it can be really confusing. Think of a baby that has a dad who has always had a beard, and then all of the sudden, he shaves it off. The baby looks at the dad’s naked face and starts crying. If you’re going to rebrand in a big way, prepare your audience and pace the change slowly.

Another downside of rebranding is that you can lose some customers. If you’re starting to talk to a different audience and communicate different values, you might lose people. Focus on the audience that you want and understand that this may take some time to make the overall shift. Keep in mind that rebranding can also bring in new customers, so weigh that into the equation.

Rebranding is an investment of time, money, and heart. When you work with a brand professional, yes, they will be doing a lot of the work and guiding you along the process, but there will be a lot of work on your end as well. Branding geniuses learn how to model a business’s inner workings. They learn how to map a founder’s heart. Along with the investment can come with some great discoveries that can lead to business owners seeing their businesses in a totally new light.

Who should not rebrand?

Ooh… squirrel! If you’re someone who needs to change it up a lot, and you’re bored, that is not a reason to rebrand. Do not do that. Find a different outlet for change in your life. Buy some really bold, yellow pants. I know a lot of entrepreneurs that thrive on change. They’re multi-passionate and like to switch back and forth between different strengths. When it comes to branding, focus is central.

Long-standing tradition. If you already have a strong sense of your mission and values, and those haven’t changed much, keep those intact, even when doing a visual rebrand.

You’re trying too hard. Some people have put their arms up in the air on what to do in their business, and say, “Oh, I’ll just do a new brand, that will fix it!” They use it as a band aid solution. A new brand will not necessarily fix what’s not working in a business.

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. See your brand as a living being.

Think about your brand as a living being. It’s this living, breathing essence, and it adapts to whatever is going on during the current times with your audience. It is responsive. Tap into your brand right now and take a look at what feels like it’s alive and what feels blocked? What’s missing from your brand?

One of my favorite examples of this concept is a brand I’ve been working on called the Black Women’s Roundtable, which is part of the NCBCP (The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation).

I helped create a partial rebrand for them and focused particularly on their Take It to The Top Entrepreneurship Challenge, which is like a Shark Tank for black women entrepreneurs, sponsored by Coca Cola 5by20 and Verizon. They were missing a strong online presence, as well as they felt their brand wasn’t speaking to all of their audience. They wanted to shift to create a soulful brand that would include bold visuals that would appeal to a younger generation, as well as to the older generations that have long carried the torch.

2. Define your revolution.

Ready to find that inner fight? To do that, you got to figure out what you’re fighting for. What do you want to revolutionize? It’s your big why — it’s the one thing that gets you up in the morning and how that translates into your business. It’s the thing that gets your team excited and how that translates into how they do their work and how they interact with customers. Defining your revolution will help you to resonate with people who have the same desires.

This past year I was appointed branding lead for TEDxYoungstown, which was an amazing honor. I was a speaker in 2018, and then volunteered some design work in 2019, and then got to sit in the core team for 2020.

Branding the 2020 event (which unfortunately has come to a halt because of COVID-19), all came down to story for us. It all came down to the story of the revolution that TED has set out. This revolution that we were looking for was a change in perspective; a revolution of the mind; a revolution of being able to open minds and share new ideas, by sharing ideas of different categories of thoughts and from all around the world. And so, the theme that we chose for 2020 was Eyes Wide Open, which represents the revolution of waking up to new ideas so that people can lead more fulfilling lives.

That’s the story we tapped into when we presented to our team and sponsors. It is the story of the dreams of the innovators of our town. That type of deep level branding gets some major buy-in from the community. That generates major energy and inspires what the visuals will look like. Ideally, even in a logo is the story of the brand.

3. Establish your rallying cry.

I’ve had the honor to work with a great mentor, Kevin Rogers, a great copywriter and founder of Copy Chief. Though I don’t position myself as a copywriter, I hang around a lot of copywriters. And in one of his techniques, he asks, “What’s your Rebel Yell”… What is your rallying cry? What are you fed up with? How is your company different? And what are you going to do about it?

For another client, I’m currently in the process of creating a brand from scratch. Story, name, visuals — everything. At first, you’re dealing with the infinite. You’re dealing with this huge mass of possibility. My client is creating a learning platform that is going to revolutionize the personal development industry. We’ve weaved the rallying cry of our audience as a core part of the brand.

Your rallying cry not only brings the brand to life, it also brings your team and audience to life. This can be so powerful in that we’re connecting on a subconscious and emotional level with our people, which means deeper bonds.

4. Position your customer as the hero.

When you position your customer as the hero, you are empowering another person. And you are giving yourself the power to empower another person. That’s what this is about. Your business is not just for your own success, it’s about giving other people success too. And when you can tap into that, you’re tapping into a whole new level of life for your brand.

What does the hero story of your customer look like? Your hero has their status quo, what their everyday looks like, and what you see as this hidden human potential. We’re looking to fulfill their greatest human potential through our business — our products, services, our brands.

In the hero’s journey there are two worlds. There’s the ordinary world that represents lack of awareness and the extraordinary world that represents the unknown and the path to a new awareness. The hero starts out in his ordinary world, and he hears a call to the new world. The call could be to face a fear; it could be something that they’ve never done before; it could be a metaphorical fantasy world.

Next they meet a guide. That’s you. You’re the guide, not the hero. You show them how to survive the unknown. You help guide them so that they face their fears, gain the elixir or life, become resurrected, and come back to the ordinary world changed, ready to help others with this new knowledge.

This past year, I worked on a brand and website for a speech pathologist and reading specialist. We tapped into the hero’s journey of both the parents of kids with reading difficulties, as well as the kids themselves. We framed how she guides parents through this world of the unknown. Worries of “Oh my goodness, does my child feel they look stupid in class? Will they ever be able to read like they want to? Will they be successful in life? Will I fail my child?”

What if the parents could enter this world and gain knowledge that yes, they COULD do these things that they didn’t think were possible before. My client was the guide who has been into the unknown, and she has the trusted process to bring them through that unknown world.

In the end it wasn’t about the achievement. It was about loving reading again, it was about confidence, loving the experience and how we can help provide that to parents.

5. Hire a branding professional that resonates with your core values.

When you invest money into your brand, it’s going to light a fire under your butt. There’s risk involved. It’s not just you thinking about your brand in a cave somewhere. You’re putting some skin in the game to make this happen. That is going to energize you in a way that puts the pressure on to align and perform.

Hiring a professional is also going to bring you an outside perspective. Sometimes we have a really hard time seeing from the inside. Even as a designer, working my own brand challenged me. You need an outside perspective with fresh eyes to bring clarity. This will also ensure that you’re going through a trusted process in bringing out the very best in your business.

When you’re hiring, don’t just choose the cheapest option. Find someone who resonates with your values, someone who is going to infuse their energy and your energy into the brand. Does your brand designer have good energy? How do you know if they do? For me, good energy is like feeling this light, this inner light that glows in your core. When you know what your “yes” feels like, it’s easier to know when you’re making great choices when it comes to the people that you hire.

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

One of my favorite brand shifts that I’ve seen in the past year is NBC Universals’ “The More You See Her” campaign. For the first time in 30 years, “The More You Know” is narrowing down to the specific theme of women’s empowerment. It focuses features that encourage showing realistic imagery of women in the media, diversity, empowering women business owners, and supporting equal pay. You can see their year-long campaign featured here: https://www.themoreyouseeher.com/

It impresses me that a long-standing tradition chose to do something different. It takes guts. I also strongly resonate with their campaign. We can replicate this by taking a look at what we do the same over and over, and how we can do something different, fueled by our values.

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

I would love to inspire a movement that encourages people to tap into their deepest resources of creativity, know themselves, and express themselves fully in life and business.

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

“I like stories where women save themselves.” — Neil Gaiman

The story of my adult life has been about finding my way of independence as a woman, and deeply appreciating my strengths and capabilities in all of my colors with an open heart. If you’d like to hear more about my personal story of navigating great uncertainty with while supporting a transgender partner transition male to female, watch my TEDx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtFRtFH7lZU

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Facebook here: facebook.com/thebrandmythologist

And check out my portfolio at thebrandmythologist.com


Cassie Clouser: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.