Josh Benveniste of AerialSphere: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Identify and understand your target audience. To me, this is one of the most important pieces of building a strong brand, yet sometimes gets overlooked or not focused on enough. Understanding your audience goes a lot deeper than just feeling like you know a group since you fit in it yourself, or you personally know some people that fit. Knowing your target market inside and out is what can separate your brand from succeeding or falling flat — for example, don’t settle on whether your target customer simply drinks coffee, know what temp they like their coffee, what blend, what they put in it, and what days and times they typically drink it.

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

Josh Benveniste is Vice President of Marketing at AerialSphere, a market leader in data-enabled 360-degree aerial imagery. Prior to AerialSphere, Josh was CMO & Co-Founder of the popular babysitting app ZipSit. Josh has over 20 years of experience in bringing technology products to market to a diverse group of 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 would have to say it is a combination of 2 different things — first, as I got older, I always wanted to have my own desk with my name on it, and to be doing cool & fun “stuff” — that is, after my dreams of being a professional baseball player faded away! Secondly, I have always been incredibly observant — always taking note of people, places, messaging, advertising, etc. I think the combination of these two things are exactly what led me down my marketing career path. Being observant has really helped me understand how to better connect with all kinds of different people and how to create marketing to sell products to them. Also, being able to do cool “stuff” from my desk has been a really nice bonus.

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?

Our marketing team was working on getting some graphics ready for a tradeshow and our product photography hadn’t been completed yet, so our graphic designer decided to use one of our competitor’s products as a placeholder. Unfortunately, one of the product shots didn’t get swapped out and everything went to the printer and we had a big surprise waiting for us when we were unpacking graphics at the tradeshow. Fortunately, it wasn’t one of our primary graphics, and we were able to do some creative sharpie work on the logo and moved a plant in front of area with the product on it. Because it wasn’t in a high traffic area, nobody noticed, and we could just chalk it up as a valuable lesson. When it comes to marketing, there are so many areas for mistakes that can prove costly — it is so important to take the extra time to make sure every detail is absolutely perfect. Sure, mistakes happen, but if you and your team make a concerted effort to be as detail oriented as possible, you can eliminate most mistakes.

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

Our product really speaks for itself when people are able to experience it firsthand — it is truly an exhilarating experience when you are able to hover above the earth in a 360-degree panorama with the ability to pan, tilt and zoom to get whatever perspective you want. However, since it is a new technology, which comes with its own set of acronyms and tech jargon, our challenge came in the messaging and how we get people to really understand what our product is and how it can benefit companies. What really stands out now is the combination of the messaging and the story we have put together, the amazing product, as well as the brand that we have been committed to building. I think the most powerful story lies in when I first started at AerialSphere and was demonstrating the product to people and observed lots of oohs and ahhs, but kept getting similar questions — how do you make money with this, or who would use it? It was immediately apparent that one of our biggest hurdles would be how to brand the company and product, and how to create messaging that would quickly and concisely explain what it is we do and how it benefits its users.

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

We are — not only is our core product exciting, but how we are working on making it available to our customers is also very exciting. To date, most customers have leveraged our technology through our API, which requires some development resources. That is fine for some larger companies, but since our product is useful to essentially anybody that uses maps, there are lots of small businesses and individuals that don’t have the resources to leverage our API, or know what an API is for that matter. We have been working on our XP360 SaaS web application that brings the power of our immersive aerial experiences into anybody’s hands, allowing them to add data to our 360-degree panoramas and then share them or embed them in their website. We are building tools to make the process as seamless and user-friendly as possible, which will give everyone the ability to turbocharge their maps with a new level of interactivity. We are also experimenting with Virtual Reality and have some preliminary applications that allow people to experience the built world with real imagery in a 3D environment.

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 definitely want to start out by saying that even though there is a strong distinction between these two types of marketing, they really are joined at the hip, and to achieve success, they need to be used in conjunction with each other to achieve a perfect harmony.

I like to describe brand marketing as “feeling” based marketing. Brand marketing really sets the tone and lays a foundation for making consumers comfortable with your company, building on intangible attributes such as values and beliefs. Many people associate brand marketing with simply making a name, logo or slogan visible to end users, however, it is actually a lot more complex than that. Brand marketing is what gets your target market to choose you over your competition.

Product marketing is more “factual” marketing, focusing on tangible things such as core features and benefits of your product or service. This marketing sets out “what” the product offers and “why” you should buy it. It involves understanding your target customers and developing messaging that appeals to them and paints a picture of why your product is better than the competition.

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?

As I mentioned earlier, brand marketing is really about making consumers comfortable and building a special bond between them and your company, your products or your services. You really need to have a trustworthy and convincing brand that works alongside your other marketing efforts to experience sustainable success. Most products and services have competition, and in many cases, you are competing along similar feature and benefit sets, this is where your brand marketing really comes in to play. It really helps you distinguish yourself from your competitors — it is an emotional promise and connection that you make with your customers that goes above and beyond a list of what your product does or delivers.

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. Identify and understand your target audience. To me, this is one of the most important pieces of building a strong brand, yet sometimes gets overlooked or not focused on enough. Understanding your audience goes a lot deeper than just feeling like you know a group since you fit in it yourself, or you personally know some people that fit. Knowing your target market inside and out is what can separate your brand from succeeding or falling flat — for example, don’t settle on whether your target customer simply drinks coffee, know what temp they like their coffee, what blend, what they put in it, and what days and times they typically drink it.
  2. Be real. Yes, you want to design your brand around resonating with those that you are trying to reach, but what happens if you design your brand to be something you aren’t? Your customers will figure you out really, really, quick. Honesty is always the best policy when creating your brand — the second a customer feels manipulated, or gets a negative impression from a broken promise, they will be gone, and will spread the word to others. For example, you see lots of companies using terms like: “we care”, or “our customers are our #1 priority.” Imagine what having a less than spectacular customer support experience with one of those companies would do to your brand perception of them.
  3. Be flexible with change. It is ok to tweak, change or completely rebrand, especially if you feel like it is really important to change your company’s perception in the marketplace. If you are making drastic changes, be sensible and don’t frighten anybody, take your time and think through everything. Take Uber for example, they have been in business since 2010 and have already had 4 or so brand and logo refreshes in 10 short years.
  4. Consistent visual identity. This is another thing that is pretty easy to do, but many seem to miss on. Make sure that every customer touchpoint utilizes the correct colors, fonts, logos, and imagery that you have established with your brand. This helps build credibility and trustworthiness and will help make your customers stay loyal to you. If you were able to win your customer base over with a soft brand composed of sans-serif fonts and muted colors, don’t spring something edgy with vibrant colors and wild fonts on them out of nowhere.
  5. Customer service is paramount. No matter what you do, great customer service will always win, even when you have a product or service issue — because don’t worry, it will happen. This is one of the easier ways to create a loyal following of satisfied customers that will become some of your best brand champions. I bet you have had a bad experience with a product or service, and had the company rectify it to your liking — and then you turned around and told someone how great the company was to work with (even though you originally had a negative experience). This is a great way to easily turn a negative into a positive.

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?

Nordstrom (Department Store). I have always been impressed with the loyal following they have built no matter the city I have lived in. They have been around forever, and I feel like their brand hasn’t wavered much at all. To me, this is the most impressive feat — creating a consistent and sustainable brand for a long period of time without having to drastically change anything. I think one of biggest reasons behind their brand success is their exemplary customer service. Whether you are in buying a pair of socks or a suit, their staff always treats you like you are one of their most recognized and valuable shoppers, it is an amazing experience that makes you want to come back. You also have complete piece of mind knowing that if you buy something that doesn’t work out, they will take it back and not hassle you. What does that do? It makes peace of mind synonymous with their brand, so shoppers always feel comfortable with their purchase. This can be replicated through amazing customer service — once you have made a customer feel comfortable with your brand, you have someone that will evangelize your brand to others and will always be willing to purchase from you in 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?

Success in your brand marketing can definitely be attributed to your sales success, however, it can be a bit misleading. For example, you could launch a product, have a ton of early sales and think that your brand marketing was successful, but if you haven’t built a sustainable, successful, and legitimate brand, it is possible that your sales will tail off as your customers discover you can’t stand behind the brand that you convey & become dissatisfied. The key to really understanding your brand success outside of “sales metrics” is to really get to know your customers (or anybody that has been exposed to your brand), through customer service, focus groups, surveys, engagement metrics, etc. A few five-minute conversations with satisfied, or dissatisfied customers can be more valuable in gauging your brand success then pouring through a bunch of sales data or metrics for days or weeks.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

In this day and age, a huge component of omnichannel strategy is to deliver consistent messaging and brand identity to your masses through social media. For our brand specific efforts, we use social media to test and deliver messaging, gain visibility, establish our visual identity and have an open line of communication between us and our current/prospective customers. It is a quick and cost-effective channel to deliver engaging content and sell our products. It also helps us understand our target market and develop defined personas through engagement with our different channels.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Since I have spent a majority of my career in “startups” this is something that I have been very cognizant of — it is easy to lose sight and get off track, or completely burn out on what you are doing. Here are some tips that I always follow:

  1. Plan. I like to have plans in place, both short term (30/60/90 day) and long term (6-month, 1 year, 3 year), with clearly defined goals — and stick to them. Plans will change, they always do, but it can really help you focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Without plans in place, it is easy to lose focus and get caught up in minutia that really does not deserve lots of time. It may seem important now, but it could prove to be distracting and you could easily lose course. Be weary of those shiny objects — do not necessarily ignore them, you don’t want to leave any stones unturned, but always make sure to try to stick to you plan.
  2. Celebrate and Enjoy. Always take time to smell the roses — yes, business these days move at a frantic pace, but you still need to come up for air and assess and enjoy things along the way. Always take time to celebrate your victories, whether they are big or small, no matter how busy you are or if they aren’t part of your ultimate goal. I have found that embracing all the positives really help for when the difficult times arise — fresh “positives” are always helpful to combat the bumps in the road.
  3. Don’t be afraid of defeat. Embrace your losses — learn from them and turn them into positives that will help you the next time around. Yes, business landscapes always changing, but a lot of lessons will hold true during your entire career, especially when it comes to marketing and branding.
  4. Set distraction reminders. This may sound a bit silly, but if you know you are in for a long day, week or month where you are going to be laser focused on a project, set some reminders beforehand to allow yourself to come up for fresh air. Even if it is for 5 minutes to flip through a magazine, read an article online, call a friend, or look at some new product you have had your eye on. This allows your brain to recalibrate and can even help provide some inspiration on what you are currently working on.

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 is obviously nothing new, but it would revolve around the promotion of a greater work/life balance. I think one thing that we have all realized over the last 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, is people can still be productive if they aren’t sitting in an office all day. This isn’t all on the company either, I know many people that don’t feel they need balance, even if it is available to them, and they work themselves to the bone with diminishing rates of productivity and success the longer they are at it. If there are things that need to get done, most people can find a way to make things happen, whether they are in an office, at home, or even on a golf course; we have all kinds of technology that keeps us connected with people and information 24/7. This isn’t a completely one size fits all kind of thing, but I have seen lots of people thrive in their careers when they were able to strike a great balance — their productivity went up, they achieved more success, and they were generally happier. The less your employees are down, overworked, or burned out, the better it is for them and those around them, and ultimately the entire company. And to take it one step further, all of the happiness, positivity and success has a trickle-down effect outside of the company and to our society as a whole.

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

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The origins of this quote are highly contested, but it is something that has resonated with me since the first time I heard it — most likely because my parents took this approach with raising me. I am also lucky to have worked with some amazing people throughout my career that have gone the extra mile in teaching me valuable skills and lessons that I still use to this day. I always try to follow this with others if they are willing to learn — it is always easier and more rewarding to spend the extra time teaching someone how to do something and then see them do it on their own without asking for help.

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. 🙂

Larry David. Not only is he incredibly entertaining and funny, but he has also accomplished amazing things from the other side of the camera with two of my all-time favorite shows — Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hit me up Larry!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benveniste/

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


Josh Benveniste of AerialSphere: 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.

Moe Vela of TransparentBusiness: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

My experience as a manager has taught me that constructive feedback, whether in-person, video conference or in email form, is best presented by expressing appreciation for what the employee does well and I find the most effective way to deliver constructive criticism is in a bullet format. It’s clear, concise and organized and I have found that it is better received by the recipient in that format. I have to fight the urge. and encourage others to do the same, to avoid rambling and flowery language so that there is no confusion as to the core message.

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

Moe is the Chief Transparency Officer at TransparentBusiness. He is an experienced executive manager and leader with proven success at the epicenter of where business, law, finance and politics meet. He has proven management, budget/finance, marketing, communications, public affairs, strategic planning, project management, start-up and many other skills. Moe is a charismatic motivational speaker with a global network. He is a visionary and creative thought leader, and a Diversity and Inclusion expert.

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 proudly born and raised to a pioneer family in south Texas along the Mexico border. I am so blessed to be the son of the late former County Judge, the nephew of the late U.S. Federal Judge and the cousin of the current U.S. Congressman from my home area. We were raised in an idyllic Latino upbringing that celebrated our heritage and cultural traditions while understanding that education was the foundation upon which to build and enjoy a productive, contributory and fulfilling life. I am the product of public schools through my undergraduate degree from the University of Texas and I attended St. Mary’s University School of Law as legacy.

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

In 1993, over coffee and in passing, I mentioned to a friend that I would love to move to Washington DC to serve in the newly-elected Clinton Administration. I had only visited DC once in my youth. Much to much surprise, she took me seriously and I was appointed at a political appointee at the Department of Agriculture in March of 1993. After serving there for two years, this time over cocktails, one of my dear friends mentioned that her Aunt worked at the White House and that Vice President Gore’s office was searching for a “lawyer-type” to come work in the CFO’s office for 6 months. I had just enough cocktails in me to blurt out “I’m a lawyer-type and I would love to work in the White House.” Two weeks later, I embarked on a journey that would alter the course of my career and my life. I was selected to work in Vice President Gore’s office for six months. At the end of my tenure, I was summoned to the West Wing of the White House and Vice President Gore asked me to become his CFO and Senior Advisor on LGBTQ and Latino Affairs. The next 5 years were incredible as I traveled the country on Air Force Two and developed skills and met people I never dreamed I would ever meet.

My career took many fascinating twists and turns in my post-White House journey.

Fast forward to 2008 when I was confident that I had been completely cured of the “political bug” and I had become a successful real estate executive in Denver, CO. It turned out that when I received a call from then Vice President-elect Joe Biden, it was impossible for me to turn down the opportunity to serve my nation a second time as his Director of Management and his Senior Advisor.

I made a small bit of American history and broke down a few barriers and doors for Latinos and my LGBT community as I became the first Hispanic-American and the first LGBTQ-American to serve twice in the White House in a senior executive role.

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

The funniest mistake I made occurred in my first White House tenure with Vice President Gore. I was asked to accompany him on a trip to my home area in south Texas on Air Force Two. In route on the subway train that very early morning, I felt a breeze when we were underground that did not feel “normal.” I quickly realized a couple of stops later that my suit pants were torn from the zipper all the way up my backside to the beltline. Tears came to my eyes, but it would be a cold day in hell before I would cancel my first trip on Air Force Two and get the chance to see my family waiting on the tarmac as I arrived with the Vice President of the United States.

It was one of the greatest lessons of my life. I learned that when the going gets tough, the tough get going! I ran to my office in the White House, locked the door, and I proceeded to staple my pants with over 100 staples. I must admit, there is nothing quite like the feeling of sitting in the White House in your underwear. I learned that I was resilient. I learned that I am a survivor. I learned that humility is a powerful characteristic. As I boarded the staff van to Andrews Air Force Base, I shared my story with all my colleagues so I learned that shared vulnerability is the most powerful tool in connecting with our fellow human beings.

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

I would advice other business leaders to consistently make your employees know they are “seen” and they are “heard.” You can do this by being innovative and creative in the type of training, activities, policies and programs you offer and provide them.

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 been involved with the concept of remote management since my first tenure in the White House. As we prepared for the turn of the century in 2000, and in the normal course of business in the White House in the form of emergency preparedness and the continuity of government, I was part of the working group that enacted the policies that would be in place if an emergency of any type occurred. I was exposed to remote workforce management at that point in my career after doing substantial research in preparation and have been studying it and managing remote workers since then in my various entrepreneurial and employment endeavors.

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?

From my research and as a result of my working with hundreds of businesses around the world as the Chief Transparency Officer and Board Member of TransparentBusiness, I have discovered that the five main challenges regarding managing a remote team are as follows:

This pandemic has caused millions of employers, managers and workers around the globe to move to a remote workforce model. Traditional workforce settings are no longer safe or struggle to be in compliance with recommended health guidelines.

Employers/Owners know that productivity is key to the success of their business. They greatly fear that productivity will suffer immensely in a remote workforce model. It’s the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality they fear. Simply put, employers and managers recognize that if they can’t see their employees as they walk by their office or run into them in a breakroom or gather with them at meetings in a conference room, they have lost the ability to ensure their productivity and accountability. The tendency as a result of this fear, regrettably, is for managers and employers to become “micromanagers.” The irony is that micromanaging is a surefire way to decrease productivity.

Employers and Managers fear an adverse impact on their operational efficiencies as a result of a remote workforce model. With a disbursed workforce, the inclination is to expect that intra-workforce communication, workforce collaboration, time management and budget management will all suffer and result in higher costs and inferior customer service and satisfaction.

Most employers and managers fear that a remote workforce model will ultimately be the demise of their business or company. The perceived loss of “control” gives most managers and employers heartburn at the thought of a remote workforce setting. The notion that there is some superpower and preventative nature to an in-person model versus remote work has kept many companies from even attempting to implement remote workforce options until the pandemic took away the voluntary aspect of the decision.

Many employers and managers have strongly held and pre-conceived beliefs that a remote workforce setting is inherently too disruptive and filled with too many distractions for it to be contributory to the success of their business. Whether it be childcare, social media, hobbies or the comforts of home, the pre-pandemic notion was that a remote worker could not focus at the requisite levels to contribute to the company’s on-going success.

A tremendous concern of many managers and employers as it relates to remote workforce management was that the corporate culture and workforce cohesion they worked so hard to establish in their traditional office setting would be completely demolished and destroyed in a remote workforce model. Collaboration would suffer, creativity would be impeded and communication would be lax. All resulting, in their minds, in fractured, unstable and unpredictable workforce with long-term damage to work product, transparency and accountability.

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

The following fundamental steps and efforts can go a long way to addressing, mitigating and eliminating all of the challenges mentioned above:

Technology is our best friend when moving, voluntarily or involuntarily, to a remote workforce model. It is almost as if technology was preparing for this crisis moment. Employers and managers should use the technological tools and solutions that exist and are readily available in the marketplace. For example, there are many videoconferencing platforms to choose from in the market, i.e. Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, WhatsApp and so many more. File sharing software and workforce collaboration software such as Slack and others will address many concerns as well. And remote workforce management and coordination software like TransparentBusiness, Time Doctor and several others will ensure transparency and accountability without invading an employee’s privacy or autonomy.

Communication is key and essential in a remote workforce model. Today’s Gen Z and Millennials are inclined to text as their primary form of remote or virtual communication, but employers and managers must emphasize the power of video conferencing and reintroduce the importance of actual phone conversations over texts that are subject to misinterpretation and miscommunication. Video conferencing is key to success in a remote workforce model because the ability to see one another provides the opportunity to feel that necessary connectivity with one another. The ability to see one another’s eyes and hear our voices are the foundation upon which to build trust. Through the power of video conferencing, the workforce can read body language no differently than when in a traditional office setting or meeting.

Mitigation of the challenges and risks mentioned above is key to alleviating the concerns and fears. One of the most powerful mitigating efforts should come in the form of training. Employers and managers should themselves engage in training on how to better manage remote workforces, but it is essential to offer training for your workforce on how to adjust to working from home, how to transition to this “new normal,” how to create a remote work environment that fosters communication and collaboration and any other innovative training modules that will empower all parties.

Do NOT micromanage or overmanage. You must demonstrate to your workforce that you trust them through your actions, policies and communications. This will foster loyalty in return.

This is the chance to be creative and innovative by hosting company-wide virtual lunches, happy hours, game nights, birthday celebrations, workforce milestones and achievements. This will send a clear signal to your workforce that the lack of physical proximity does not in any way impact that you “see them”, “appreciate them” and “hear them.”

Consistently and clearly make it clear to your workforce that you understand their challenges in this “new normal.” One of many ways to demonstrate to your workforce that you care is to add counseling services to their benefit package in the form of ways to avoid burnout, coping with the anxiety, loneliness and isolationism that can result in a remote workforce setting and tips on how to enjoy this new enhanced work/life balance.

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?

Video conferencing can be equally as effective in delivering honest feedback and avoiding misinterpretation and miscommunication. Facial expressions and body language can be just as apparent, visible and effective in a video conference as they are in-person. Emotion can be expressed and felt just as effectively in a video conference as in-person. It’s important that employers and managers dispel the myths and pre-conceived notions about remote workforce models — if they focus on the positive and the benefits of this “new normal” then their workforce will view it as a positive experience as well. This will create an environment where the employer will benefit by saving on the average of $11,000 per part-time employee per year, productivity has been proven to go up and efficiencies remain strong. All while employees get to experience a dramatically enhanced work/life balance by getting 2–3 hours of their day back for not having to commute to and from work. The environment wins due to about 17% less carbon emissions that results from the reduction in commuter traffic, the economy wins and a remote workforce model opens up the doors of opportunity to marginalized workers such as single Moms, people with disabilities and those socio-economically disadvantaged.

Whether in-person or through a video conference, the key to delivering constructive criticism is most effective when balanced with what attributes and contributions you appreciate and affirm of the employee. This will serve to offset any harshness or adverse impact the constructive criticism may have.

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

My experience as a manager has taught me that constructive feedback, whether in-person, video conference or in email form, is best presented by expressing appreciation for what the employee does well and I find the most effective way to deliver constructive criticism is in a bullet format. It’s clear, concise and organized and I have found that it is better received by the recipient in that format. I have to fight the urge. and encourage others to do the same, to avoid rambling and flowery language so that there is no confusion as to the core message.

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

Working remotely is our “new normal” and it will be a part of our workforce model for decades to come. Many major corporations and global tech companies have already announced that they will remain, either partially or fully, in a remote workforce model for many months to come and even post-pandemic. Both employers and employees are experiencing the myriad of benefits from this model and are quickly recognize that their fears and reticence were unfounded and erroneous. Productivity is up, efficiencies are stable or improved, workforce happiness is at all-time highs, absenteeism is at all-time lows in addition to all the benefits to all parties and stakeholders as I mentioned above. Remote workforce is here to stay. I predict that employers will have to offer the option to work remotely as a part of an employee benefit package in order to attract the greatest talent.

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?

Answered above

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 the global human family should build on our commonalities and celebrate our differences, rather than allow our differences to divide us. I would love to create a virtual exchange on the internet where people from all faiths, cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic strata can openly share the positive and good things occurring in their lives. This would create a spirit of goodness, kindness and celebrate our shared humanity. I am a firm believer that we connect with one another as human beings when we are authentic and vulnerable so I would want to use that platform for peoples from around the globe can share their plight, challenges, as well as, their aspirations and dreams — -a “best practices” for life platform, if you will. For we all dream, aspire, fear, hope, grieve and love — -let’s share our stories so that we can be inspired, evolve and grow together as a human family.

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

True freedom and peace comes to one’s soul only when we authentically live our truth — —


Moe Vela of TransparentBusiness: 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.

Maria Rapetskaya of Undefined Creative: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a…

Maria Rapetskaya of Undefined Creative: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

In transitioning to remote work, time management can become an issue. For someone not used to working from home, distractions pose a challenge — whether they’re unavoidable like home-schooled kids, or compulsive, like reading the internet. Expecting everyone to manage their time well immediately is unrealistic. As managers, we have to help set expectations and even “personalize” deadlines for those struggling the most. For example, my senior artist is great at managing his schedule, so I review his work at my convenience. However, we have one exceptionally talented freelancer who just can’t meet deadlines if left to his own devices. For him I set daily or even hourly goals, removing the opportunity for him to fall too far behind. If I am too busy review his progress, I’ll line up tasks he can work in the meantime it to keep him moving along at a steady pace.

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

Maria Rapetskaya is the Founder & Creative Director of Undefined Creative (UC), a creative production company that specializes in motion graphics and animation. Working with big brands, networks and agencies, UC creates premium-grade content for broadcast television, digital marketing, social media and live events. Most recently, the company helped the NHL bring back the hockey season by providing over 1,000 animations to play during all post-season games on multiple arena screens in Toronto and Edmonton.

Along with her leadership role, Maria remains hands-on in both design and production, doing what she truly loves on a daily basis. She’s a near-native New Yorker, who lives in Brooklyn, but escapes often with nearly 70 countries under her belt. Maria is dedicated to pro-bono work and volunteering. She speaks and writes about creative entrepreneurship, and mentors young creatives.

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

I was born in Leningrad, USSR and turned eleven as my mom and I arrived in Brooklyn. Soon after, we witnessed the collapse of the Eastern block. Overnight, my hometown became history and I was now from “St. Petersburg, Russia” and I learned that nothing is permanent. Along with the experience of immigration, this made me very adaptable to change, influencing my approach to my life and my career.

I wanted to be a professional creative, majoring in animation on a whim. This meant hundreds of hours spent drawing and shooting on 16mm film. Fortunately I took an interest in computers and as a college junior I landed my first freelance gig doing web graphics. I gladly accepted, went home to set up an internet connection… and went online for the first time to see what this “web” and its graphics were like!

When I graduated in 1998, web design was hot, but that path didn’t thrill me. I turned down my first job offer as a well-paid web designer in Atlanta for a temp-to-perm gig at a small design studio outside of NYC that paid a pittance. On day two I was asked if I know Adobe AfterEffects. Of course I said “yes” and then proceeded to learn it that afternoon. Whatever I created was well received, cementing my role at the company and uncovering my passion for motion graphics design.

I learned a lot, but the environment was toxic and within months I moved on to a post-production company. When I got tired of the daily grind, I went freelance. The projects and pay were better, but the unspoken assumption was that creative people “live to create” and thus don’t mind 14-hour days.

There were only two options left: change careers or go on my own. My then-partner was also a designer, and together we became entrepreneurs. With zero business education, we somehow managed to sustain a company for five years, at which point our personal relationship imploded, and so did our partnership.

Ironically, this is when my career took off. Starting from scratch forced me to reflect and rethink my approach to running a company. Undefined Creative (UC) was born in March 2010. My professional relationships blossomed into great projects and I found ways of paying forward the success I enjoy. Or course, there were challenges, taking UC through multiple transformations. Fortunately my comfort with change makes it easy to let go of what isn’t working and adapt to a new direction.

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

I was preparing a talk on the topic of entrepreneurship and personal relationships. I decided to share my “client relationship tree” to illustrate the importance of building connections. I expected interesting links, but through this exercise I saw how all of UC’s clients actually trace back to just two people. Through referrals that led to projects or by creating an opportunity to meet others who made referrals — and in many cases, both — these two individuals helped me build my entire business! In turn, many clients “grew” new branches of this tree, as they switched jobs and made further introductions. Even those clients who found us “cold” did so on basis of portfolio work that inevitably traced back to those initial two people.

I had always put emphasis on positive interaction, and still looking back on the trajectory of my success from a bird’s eye view was eye-opening. Everything is personal relationships. Our ability to collaborate, to be dependable, personable and honest, these things supersede all, even our talent.

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

I was about 23, at my post-production position, and I got an email with specs for the print portion of a project. It was a forward, and the information was illegible — some questionable shorthand, maybe a few words that got deleted along the way. I rarely got direct emails from clients, so I replied, thinking I was writing back to my boss, with this funny (and profanity-laden) note regarding this jumble of words… and got back a scorching reply from the client side’s top exec advising my boss of the appropriate punishment for my impropriety.

So I walked over to my boss’s office and stood next to him as he read, with my head down, trying to neither laugh or cry. Ours was a very laid back creative environment full of sarcastic native New Yorkers, so from the point of view of our internal culture, I didn’t do anything inappropriate. Of course I apologized, but it was obviously just a dumb rookie mistake. We both had a good chuckle and he emailed them back to say I’ve been properly reprimanded. Needless to say, I’ve been extremely careful to check who’s on the email chain ever since.

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

Honest communication, fair pay and empathy. This last one goes a long way. No one is intrinsically “your” employee. Each team is made up of living, breathing people with personal lives, challenges, interests and goals. We do not own our employees and we must respect their boundaries.

I remember how frustrating it was when someone else made assumptions of how much overtime in included in my day rate and how late I was willing to stay on a Friday night. My policy is no overtime without consent and extra pay. I go out of my way to accommodate people’s schedules, especially this year with the pandemic upending personal lives. Nothing good comes from a team that’s struggling and unhappy. My approach to meeting client expectations is conveying to my team that happy clients are our common goal. It’s never a top-down decision and it’s not about just me. If the clients are happy, the work keeps coming and we are all gainfully employed. Everyone wins.

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?

From co-founding my first company in 2005, I worked remotely. The decision was driven primarily by necessity. We couldn’t afford rent or major equipment. Everyone was still delivering media on tape and a deck could cost upwards of $30K. I had to convince clients that FTP was the future and digital delivery was way better! Yet, we were reluctant to be transparent about our lack of office space. By 2010 perceptions were slowly changing. Undefined was conceived as a remote-only company and openly so from the start. Our team has ranged in size and somehow our full-timers were always local. Our freelance team however has ranged from Florida to Japan.

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

The most important thing is trust and many managers, especially owner-managers, have a hard time with this. This idea that standing over people’s heads makes them productive is common, but it’s outdated and untrue. Not everyone will succeed in a remote environment, but we have to start with an “innocent until proved guilty” attitude. When we assume that our hires are trustworthy adults, we give them the necessary room to behave as such. If the underlying vibe in our interaction is that of mistrust, it’s likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I transitioned from being an on-site freelancer to being my own boss, I told my clients I could no longer work from their office. Some were very skeptical. Not being trusted was unpleasant to deal with and didn’t make for a positive experience. Eventually, I simply stopped working with those clients, not because I had actually let them down, but because I grew tired of a lack of trust.

In transitioning to remote work, time management can become an issue. For someone not used to working from home, distractions pose a challenge — whether they’re unavoidable like home-schooled kids, or compulsive, like reading the internet. Expecting everyone to manage their time well immediately is unrealistic. As managers, we have to help set expectations and even “personalize” deadlines for those struggling the most. For example, my senior artist is great at managing his schedule, so I review his work at my convenience. However, we have one exceptionally talented freelancer who just can’t meet deadlines if left to his own devices. For him I set daily or even hourly goals, removing the opportunity for him to fall too far behind. If I am too busy review his progress, I’ll line up tasks he can work in the meantime it to keep him moving along at a steady pace.

The real degree of competency becomes obvious. It’s harder to hide our shortcomings in a remote environment. Anyone who was already struggling in the office will likely struggle more. It’s much easier to spot other people’s problem areas, and it’s easier to spot our own. Working remotely, without the ability to turn my head to ask my coworker a question, I quickly learned that I needed to improve my technical knowledge in every way, from computer maintenance to understanding video compression. Before, I could pop my head into an editor’s room and get an answer on the spot. But now, a question emailed to a friend could go unanswered long after my deadline has passed.

Finding the right amount of independence to give employees can be challenging. I suggest evaluating this at the individual level. Some people will always need more hand-holding and it may take some trial and error to figure out who they are and just how much they need. As per my earlier point, this is not the same as not trusting people to do a good job and put in honest effort. It’s simply recognizing who needs more guidance to succeed. Then, there’s no guarantee that someone who prefers to work independently is actually capable of doing so. We’ve hired artists who were convinced they work well on their own, but what they delivered proved otherwise. I have stopped hiring artists if they resist additional direction and oversight as unnecessary, while this self-assessment doesn’t align with reality.

Personally I find that attention to detail becomes more critical in a remote environment. It’s very noticeable for us now, because for years we were dealing with “traditional” companies. Now literally all of our clients are also remote. After hours of Zoom calls and dozens of emails, even the most attentive of us can lose focus. Despite efficient project management, there’s a danger of important changes and feedback drowning in the noise. Our own quality control process is two sets of eyes reviewing everything that goes out, or at leas one person reviewing twice with some span of time between. Still, we had an incident this summer where we and our client all missed a spelling error. I’m now creating a formal checklist of everything that needs to be confirmed before we deliver and revisiting the process by which our internal notes are shared.

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

A manager’s number one job is to communicate effectively and I can’t stress this enough. Remote offices force us to become better communicators and this means not just getting better at pointing out flaws, but actively seeking out ways to improve. Remote work demands a certain degree of self-reliance, but we must keep creating opportunities for learning. For example, a lack of competency that is amplified by working remotely could be addressed with additional training. If someone turns in sloppier work, they could be distracted by a temporary personal situation or maybe their time in meetings tripled since going remote. The manager’s job is to help them diagnose the cause and work together to find a solution. My lead designer is currently working on a custom schedule because of childcare needs. It’s not a full day, but instead of being stressed, scattered and way less efficient as the result, he works less hours that are far more focused and productive.

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?

Something I personally struggle with is tone. I tend to be direct and speak quickly, which gives my voice a firmness. This sounds efficient or confident to some, and bossy or even intimidating to others. In person I can easily compensate for this with warm expressions and a laid back vibe, but that’s impossible to do remotely. Video calls just make me over-question everything (Am I looking in the right spot? Is it OK to fix my hair? No one is smiling or nodding, is this not going well or are they just also hating this video thing?…) and I wind up uncomfortable and less natural.

It’s helpful to understand how your employees respond to criticism. Without visual cues, we have to pay more attention to “verbal” attitudes: getting defensive, shutting down, avoiding interaction following a conversation or failing to respond as timely. If approaching someone who is sensitive to criticism, I try to do so when I feel relaxed and unhurried. A challenging conversation smack in the middle of a stressful day will not produce good results. I prepare by setting my motivation: to be kind and respectful, to remember their feelings, to remain objective, etc. to help me remain composed. I recall their past responses to avoid whatever didn’t work.

It helps to approach this as an exercise in self-improvement and cultivate the right attitude. Having to adjust our behavior on a day when we are not at our personal best can feel like an imposition on freedom to behave like ourselves, catering to the whims of others who need to learn to x, y, z… insert your personal rant here. This just makes us feel entitled to dole out our comments as well deserved and increases the likelihood of coming across as unnecessarily harsh and insensitive.

Finally, we ourselves have to solicit and listen to feedback. Asking for a constructive evaluation from our peers or even our employees can be very helpful. And we have to observe how we react to criticism — there’s a lot to learn there.

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

Go ahead and write it when the issue is fresh in mind. Just don’t hit send! Reread it later (even 20–30 minutes will make a difference) and edit yourself. Consider how this will read to the recipient. Is there anything that’s not objectively true? Are you making accusations? Is there any personal bias towards this person making its way into your choice of words? This one is particularly hard to answer honestly: how would you feel and react if you got this feedback?

The bulk of your feedback should be fact-based. It’s fine to offer a personal opinion, but it should be stated simply and avoid negativity. For example, reminding someone that the client requested a particular change that wasn’t addressed is one thing. Personally disliking the way it was addressed, and using harsh language to describe your reasons, is another. In such a case, I would acknowledge that the change was made with a thank you. Then I would offer my thoughts on how it can be improved, paying attention to my choice of words. “I think this design can benefit from brighter colors.” is better than “This is awfully drab and looks depressing.”

Some people will respond poorly to criticism, no matter how well-phrased or carefully cushioned. That’s why I believe it’s important to pay attention to our own motivation and intention. If we exert genuine effort to be kind and thoughtful in our feedback, and someone still responds poorly, all we can do is remain patient, professional and kind. It helps me tremendously to recall how early in my own career I responded to criticism with consternation. Usually it had little to do with how the feedback was presented. It came from my lack of confidence and inability to deal with being criticized in general.

Finally, if the issues raised persist over time, at some point we must evaluate if this is the right place and position for this person.

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?

The biggest obstacle in my opinion is resistance to change and evolution. Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t assume that a remote company functions identical to a traditional one. Instead, welcome the learning curve. Workflows will have to adapt, particularly in project management. Communication may have to improve. Be flexible and open! If there’s room for creativity, novel ways of working will emerge. Remote setups can significantly improve both productivity and team satisfaction, if we don’t stifle ideas.

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?

Find a way to recreate the water cooler. Here, we can spend most of our morning kick-off call chatting about weekend plans or recent events. This can happen on very busy day when we really need to get to work, but if interaction is happening organically, I let it. Twenty “lost” minutes are far less harmful than someone feeling slighted, unappreciated or cut off. This doesn’t need to become the norm, but we must remember that a remote environment removes a lot of opportunity for interaction. So encourage it when it happens. Slack too helps us create a culture of interaction with the ability to direct message each other in private.

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. 🙂

Time is our most valuable and useful resource — so find a way to volunteer. The world needs doers who put their time where their mouth is for good causes. I’m a huge fan of professional volunteering since it lets me put I do best into the service of others. If you are reading this, chances are you have a skill that a non-profit organization needs to further their cause. Of course, some prefer to leave our work at the office and volunteer in capacity that has nothing to do with their career. Just find a way contribute to the world you want to live in. There’s endless benefit in helping without renumeration, self-interest or praise.

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

Be careful what you wish for” is one of my most favorite quotes. It forces me to evaluate my goals and desires from multiple angles. We often operate under the assumption that happiness awaits us, if only we accomplish this thing, attain that position, get this project, get away from this person, etc. The list is endless and often reaching one goal immediately creates another set of wishes or problems.

This quote is my reminder that nothing I aspire to will be problem-free and that I need to consider the potential side effects of my decisions. This way, I’m not blindsided when I accomplish my goal. I can better prepare for what achieving it will really be like. It also encourages me to be more mindful of my wishes are in general. Is anxiety over landing a project worthwhile when the satisfaction of landing it will be finite and likely problematic in its own way? Am I overestimating how much happiness something can bring me or in my expectations of what I will gain from an accomplishment? And if I don’t get what I wished for, it reminds me that it was never going to bring me lasting fulfillment anyway!

Thank you for these great insights!


Maria Rapetskaya of Undefined Creative: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tim Waldenback of Zutobi: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Embrace feedback. Even if you think you know what users want in your app, embrace feedback to build it into something great. At Zutobi, we’ve used feedback obtained by thousands of users to add features that we had not even thought of, such as more modular courses and changes in the gamification system.

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 Waldenback.

Tim Waldenback is the co-founder of Zutobi Drivers Ed, a gamified e-learning platform focused on online drivers education available in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, and Sweden. Before starting Zutobi, Tim co-founded another e-learning company focused on language learning.

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’ve been heavily involved in e-learning for the past 7 years or so. I’ve long been an advocate that online education can and should be much more informative and fun than traditional in-class education. I strongly feel that one of the major issues with e-learning up until recent years has been that many of the large education companies have treated online as just another platform to present their material on, rather than use the platform to transform the experience into the next level. From the start, these experiences have led me to push Zutobi into becoming a transformative online drivers education experience that you just can’t get in a classroom.

Something a bit more personal that most people find interesting is that I co-founded Zutobi with my brothers David Waldenback, Leo Waldenback, Lucas Waldenback, and Joel Waldenback. It’s uncommon to create a company with family members, but our different competences have fit together very well. Plus, we can get straight-to-the-point during discussions the way only family members can.

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

It was when one of my co-founders, Leo Waldenback, saw a story about teen driver fatalities that the idea took root. We realized that a huge chunk of road accidents are due to driver errors, meaning they could have been avoided if the driver(s) had been properly educated on how to behave on the roads.

At that point in time, we did not yet have our minds set on creating a company, but the incident led us into discussing innovative ways to educate drivers. The more research we did, the more we understood how driver’s education as a niche is stuck in the early 2000’s. Sure, there are many companies selling courses online. But, we could not find a single company selling gamified courses that actually tried to take advantage of the benefits of online education — such as gamification, individually adapted courses for each student, instant feedback, videos, and much more.

We quickly realised that we could re-define drivers education just like Duolingo has re-defined language learning.

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 we first launched the app we didn’t have the initial traffic and traction that we expected, and acquiring new users was harder than we thought. This was a very trying time, but we got the drive to continue from our firm belief that our core product was far superior to our competitors — we just had to continue tweaking the product to satisfy our users even more and keep trying to get more users to try it. Eventually it worked.

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

Things are going really well. While COVID-19 negatively impacted our growth for 2020 due to the extensive lockdowns in place, we’ve still seen a huge influx of users during the past year or so.

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

One of the funniest mistakes to look back at, which was not fun at all at the time, is when I spent 6–8 hours to earn 4 cents… and got us temporarily banned from displaying Google Ads in the process.

It was back in 2018 and we were trying out a new system of displaying ads in the app. To check that each ad displayed correctly and in the proper place, I had to check the individual chapters in each of our courses — which I did by spending all night on my phone going through our courses. When I had finished my arduous task, I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning from a call from one of my co-founders who was furious because Google had banned us from displaying ads. Apparently, Google believed we were intentionally watching ads in our own app to make money… and they had banned us and frozen the payment of all 4 cents of ad-revenue that I had collected throughout the night. Luckily enough, the ban lasted just 30 days.

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

It’s pretty clear to us what makes Zutobi stand out. Our app is gamified to make it fun and easy to study, and our courses are split into bite-sized chapters that work for the mobile environment. For some reason, the drivers education category of apps and websites had been stuck with boring courses and layouts for a very long time — which we have successfully changed.

We began to notice how our app stood out through reviews early on, but the defining moment was when a School for Children With Special Needs in Oregon contacted us to help them set up their in-person classes using Zutobi. They had tested several alternatives and found that our gamified courses with bite-sized lessons worked best for their teens. That was proof to us that we had created something that truly worked.

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

I think the most important aspect of starting a company and not “burning out” is to do something you really enjoy. You’re likely to spend a huge number of hours on your product, so you have to enjoy doing it.

The second tip to avoid burning out is to avoid being a perfectionist. Get your product out there as soon as possible, even if it has flaws. Let the market decide if your product is good, and then make all the necessary changes once you can see what works and what doesn’t work. We’ve spent countless hours on features we thought would be instant hits with our users, when in truth it appears no one really cared about these features except us. Don’t make the mistake of getting into what we at Zutobi refer to as “developer hell”, which is when you develop features for the sake of development.

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

The most important people are without a doubt my co-founders. Due to all the uncertainty in a startup, I can recommend to everyone that you do it together with people you trust who bring energy into the project.

I’d like to especially mention David Waldenback, who has been relentlessly pushing for us to expand into new markets and focus on taking advantage of our momentum. Without David, our company would be considerably smaller and focused on just a few solid markets. He has proven to be right on most, if not all, of the defining choices when it comes to expansion, business model, and company culture.

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?

Since we launched in June 2018, we’ve had roughly 3 million downloads on iOS and Android, of which the majority of our downloads have come in the last year. Each month, we have around 200,000 users taking the driving courses in our apps or on our website (which we launched just this summer). The three main steps that worked to build a large community within our niche, and that other entrepreneurs can follow, are:

  1. Find the key users. Find your key users early on in your journey so you don’t waste time, resources, and money on promoting your product to the wrong users.
  2. Promote organic growth. An amazing aspect of accumulating a large user-base is that you will eventually begin to grow organically. If the product is good enough, users will eventually let their friends know, and so on. Make your users feel ‘wow’ and they will recommend it to others — word-of-mouth is especially important if your target market is teens or young adults.
  3. Build something unique. For people to rally around a product, your product has to be better than the competition. At Zutobi, we implemented an idea of gamification inspired by games into a niche that was far lacking in innovative ideas. Find something about your idea that makes it “pop”.

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

Our goal has always been to provide proper drivers education to as many people as possible, so we decided early on that Zutobi would not lock people out from quality courses, regardless of their monetary situation. Instead, we implemented a freemium model which allows us to provide a number of benefits to the users that are able to pay, while our non-premium users have ads displayed in their courses.

A few years in, it’s clear to us we made the right decision. By using the freemium model, Zutobi has been rocketed into a leader in the field of drivers education in several of our key markets, something I do not believe would have been possible if we had locked our courses behind a pay-wall.

Obviously, the freemium type of approach is difficult early on for a start-up as it relies on scale to make it profitable, but we were fortunate enough to quickly gather a large user-base that permitted us to continue on with the freemium model. Hopefully, we can continue with it in the future 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. Build the right team The most important aspect is no doubt to build a great team that you can work with. Look for people with skills that complement yours — the first few people that join your company will create the culture and potential success.
  2. Embrace feedback. Even if you think you know what users want in your app, embrace feedback to build it into something great. At Zutobi, we’ve used feedback obtained by thousands of users to add features that we had not even thought of, such as more modular courses and changes in the gamification system.
  3. Become experts in your field. The best way to make sure you succeed in your field is to become an expert or leader in your field and work from there. If you don’t, your app or SaaS will likely end up just copying others instead of being a market-leader. I’ve personally spent an absurd amount of hours learning driving theory to make sure our courses are spot-on.
  4. Don’t give up. Your product won’t be perfect in the beginning, and it’s possible people won’t even use it at first. But use that initial period to tweak the product into something better — and you may end up with a smash hit.
  5. Find the niche that works for you. Don’t enter a new market just because it seems people are earning money. For each success, there are hundreds of failures. Get into something that you can do well, and get into it early before there is lots of competition. You’re likely to spend thousands of hours on your company, so make sure it’s based on a solid idea.

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. 🙂

Well, I am rather unknown personally but the Zutobi platform has a huge reach, especially in the United States. I would probably create a movement to expand on the idea of driver safety, and try to change the fundamentals of the driver education system. As it is now, new drivers have a tendency to learn the bare minimum to get a license, but not enough to become a truly safe driver. It’s human to put in the least amount of effort possible, so the change would have to be in creating a more robust testing process that forces new drivers to learn more than just the essentials in order to pass.

By changing the approach to how we educate new drivers and adding an emphasis on safe driving practices to the driving test, thousands of lives could be saved each year in the United States alone.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me as a guest writer on the Zutobi blog or other social media.

Website: https://zutobi.com/us

Blog: https://zutobi.com/us/driver-guides

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

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

Thank you for the opportunity!


Tim Waldenback of Zutobi: 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.

Author Jo Gifford: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Building effective collaboration — Creating an environment to create innovative, collaborative ideas can be tricky when managing a remote team. However, setting the space for focused co-working, leading with strong communication, and holding and guiding space goes a long way to create an effective and enjoyable environment.

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

Jo Gifford is an author, podcaster, content creator, project manager and team member for multiple global agile teams. She helps founders and CEO’s develop content that creates change.

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 have been using content to create change for a very long time.

As a Senior Designer and Design Manager, I created, executed and managed concepts to sell products, ideas and lifestyles.

As a writer, I have written for some of the best known lifestyle brands and names to create communities, encourage sales, and establish identities.

As a blogger I have been part of movements to incite healthy eating, fitness and wellbeing, and been a voice for women with postnatal depression and chronic illness, women entrepreneurs building a business around families, and a vocal advocate for working to our unique brilliance and strengths.

As a project manager and content development lead I have designed and created conversations for cybersecurity, Fintech, fashion, the AI industry, and leadership development organisations.

Content gives us a voice.

It invites conversations, sparks movements and communities, builds platforms, facilitates missions, and creates change.

I am an author, podcaster, writer, project manager, creative thinker and prolific human connector.

I believe that human connection in teams is so important, all the more so when working remotely.

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

Managing remote teams has been part of my remit for many years. One of my favourite moments was hosting a remote team call having just returned from a morning rave — I was still dressed in my dance gear and covered in glitter. It certainly broke the ice!

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?

Working remotely invites all kinds of funny situations to occur. One of my favourite moments was my Bengal cat making himself known during a livestream, throwing objects off a shelf to land (painfully!) on my head! It certainly shows that we are all human, and I learned to embrace whatever happens and roll with it. Being “professional” goes way beyond looking professional, which isn’t always possible when working from home.

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

I think it’s crucial to make time for human connection and conversation in a team. It makes it easier for team members to articulate what they may need to thrive, and it also builds camaraderie and a sense of belonging and enjoyment. Allow space for the human-ness to exist alongside the work chats and tasks. In challenging times, we need “water cooler” talk and a supportive environment all the more.

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 managed remote teams for agile projects for about 10 years.

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

1. Building effective collaboration
Creating an environment to create innovative, collaborative ideas can be tricky when managing a remote team. However, setting the space for focused co-working, leading with strong communication, and holding and guiding space goes a long way to create an effective and enjoyable environment.

Using apps like Mural.co helps to make collaboration real-time, visual, and fun.

2. Managing Overwhelm
Overwhelm can really quickly escalate with a barrage of messages, emails, and project communications.
Setting clear parameters for the team to communicate with concise information helps everyone stay focused, concise in their communication, and goes a long way to reducing fatigue and overwhelm.

A fun and effective way to do this is to invite responses to a concise check-in, whilst also inviting a personal, creative response. For example, checking in with an end of the day round-up in Slack using clear, concise terms, and a random fact about you.

3. Setting the Pace of work
When teams are working remotely, it is crucial to set expectations around the pace of work and communications on progress. Ensure that all team members are clear on the expectation (for examples, stand-ups are at 9.30 am daily, and report back in by 4pm with your end of day update), and include humor and personality in the ask for updates — after all, it doesn’t need to feel like a chore to do the work we love!

4. Creating space for and embracing different personalities
Allow space for different ways of processing and sharing information on a remote call. Some team members may be able to share concise updates easily, some may need to verbally process or take longer to share what they need to in order to feel heard. If time is tight, it can be tempting to rush people along, but holding space for a thinking environment can yield greater ease and productivity.

5.The Motivation Challenge
Staying motivated when working remotely is really important. Encourage your team to make space for self care, creative time, and exercise. After all, the best talent is worth keeping, so help them to stay well, excited and inspired by creating a culture that actively encourages time out.

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?

Giving constructive criticism remotely can be difficult. Where possible, invite your team member to a short meeting or call. Share with them several examples of things they have done that are going really well, that you are pleased with, and the company values. Set the space with clarity but also compassion to give feedback, and make sure your team member has the opportunity to ask questions and discuss your comments with you.

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

Where possible, jump onto a call with any team member rather than sending an email where constructive feedback is needed. However, where that’s not possible, ensure you feed back positive traits and behaviour alongside areas that need improvement.

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

A potential obstacle is feeling isolated, and missing out on the office camaraderie.
Offer some real-time co-working sessions on Zoom for those who need connection, or make space in the diary for team members to have a coffee chat in the day to keep the team spirit and connection up.

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?

Creating a culture that actively encourages time off, exercise, creative pursuits and articulating what you need to thrive will help to build an empowering work environment. Make space for your team to chat about their out of work pursuits and hobbies, and encourage them to try new things and to stay active and well, especially during lockdown or 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 would love to create a love bomb movement, where every day you send a love bomb message to someone to allow them to feel seen and heard and loved, and you receive one back

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

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” Brené Brown

This quote reminds me that we are all human, we will all fail over and over again, and we are all doing our best with what we have.

Thank you for these great insights!


Author Jo Gifford: 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.

Nick Platt of ‘LO:LA’: “Be open to things not going as planned; Eventually you will see light at…

Nick Platt of ‘LO:LA’: “Be open to things not going as planned; Eventually you will see light at the end of the tunnel”

Trust the process. It might feel like one step forward then two steps back at times but embrace the process. Be open to things not going as planned. Eventually you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

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 Nick Platt.

As the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of LO:LA, Nick Platt is carrying out a lifelong ambition to not only re-imagine advertising creative that resonates but is also “Made with Love.” With a career spanning two continents and three decades, Nick Platt creates magic in the moments that matter.

Prior to founding LO:LA Nick was Executive Creative Director at RAPP, responsible for all creative output produced in the agency’s Los Angeles office, including creative campaigns for clients such as Toyota, Nescafe, Bank of America, Flemings, Roy’s, and Mattel as well as pro bono work for the Special Olympics and Stand Up to Cancer, among many others. His particular focus was on delivering creative solutions that are simple, relevant and original. He also worked in that role for the past 14 years, 6 years of which he spent in RAPP’s London office, where he was responsible for managing accounts including NSPCC, Apple, Sony, Barclays Bank, and CRUK. During his 30 years of experience in advertising and direct marketing, he has worked at a range of prominent agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Proximity, and TBWAGGT, among others. He has won numerous industry awards, including the Grand Prix at the New York Festivals, Gold at the ECHOs, D&AD, John Caples, DMAs and London International Advertising Awards.

Nick is proudly a big agency ex-pat determined to prove that independent creative shops can be nimble, fast and cost-efficient without sacrificing quality. He’s making outstanding advertising available.

Can you share your story about ‘grit and success’? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

After 30 years at large, global ad agencies, I decided to open LO:LA in 2017. LO:LA stands for London:Los Angeles. We bring big agency and in-house experience matched with the flexibility, attention and “outside the box” thinking of an independent shop. We are a modern, creative agency and specialize in helping B2C and B2B businesses engage, evolve, and most importantly THRIVE.

Our mission is to ensure our clients always have access to quality creative for their budget. We always want to make good ideas accessible and experiences meaningful. This is our noble purpose. Through it, I thought it would attract the right people to the business, both clients and staff, and in turn it would foster a strong culture. Looking back now, perhaps that thinking of only good people would want to be a part of this was a bit naïve. So, there we were, with the business barely started, busy trying to attract new clients and projects and produce work that lived up to our noble mission. But it became clear other forces were at work that were undermining us and putting the agency in a bad light with partners, vendors and clients alike. This created a “do or die’’ situation where our reputation and very existence were at stake. It was a time when I felt very alone and at a loss for what to do.

It was only the action of stopping and going back to the purpose of the business that I could see a way through, becoming disciplined and doubling down on our mission, rejecting anything that couldn’t be held up to our highest standards. Success after this epiphany did not happen overnight and the road was very bumpy, but it was the true north we needed to guide us to a better place and lay the foundation for all business moving forward.

Earlier this year when COVID-19 hit and changed business as we know it, we stuck to our mission of making good ideas accessible and experiences meaningful. We did not lose focus, but rather made the necessary shifts and pivots to go where our services were needed (and valued). We are not out of the woods yet, nor are any of us I suppose, but it gives me the focus and energy to keep going, move forward. This firm belief in the purpose of a brand and how it behaves has a fundamental part in one’s success. For LO:LA, it is what guides all that we now do and the mindset we expect from everyone we work with and for. Being ardent about its implementation has meant we are now attracting the right people, no longer a romantic thought but a DNA for our perspective, attitude and mutual success.

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

Grit is something that I learned early on. As a boy, I was involved in a bad car accident, which left me in a coma with a fractured skull and while in hospital I contracted meningitis. My recovery was difficult. After the coma I had to learn to walk all over again as well as lost the hearing in my right ear due to the meningitis. The world had fundamentally changed for me. I was faced with the prospect of succumbing to my situation or to fight and try to get back to how I was before. Grit and determination are, in my mind, the key factors that made the difference. My recovery wasn’t quick, it wasn’t pretty, and it had many setbacks. But focusing on what I wanted and making sure that nothing stopped that goal from becoming real made the outcome all the more attainable. The idea of simplifying what you want to achieve and discarding anything that gets in the way are rules that I recommend to any leader as they are faced with tough times.

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

To me, grit involves passion. And passion is infectious. But it’s what you do with that passion. I often say “do” is greater than “say”, for it’s your actions that show more clearly than anything that’s intended. When you concentrate on your talents and strengths, and match that with your passion, people will hanker to be a part of that. I believe by buckling down, going back to why I opened LO:LA, and focusing on what we do best has been the key to our success thus far. And we have really just embarked on a path to some amazing things. Like I tell my team and our clients, what we get to do every day…it beats working for a living!

When in doubt, I always turn back to the work being produced. It’s the product that people want, and you can control everything else out of your hands. We use the phrase, ‘made with love’ as our contract of quality with our clients, if it’s felt it’s not made with love, we have an opportunity to get things back on track, an unwritten rule we live by.

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

(share a story of an example for each)

Be authentic to your brand.

So many times, I have seen success prevail when you go back to the fundamentals of your business, getting everyone on the same page and demonstrating the grit to see that through will make all the difference.

Trust your gut.

When times are tough, you will get advice from everyone, solicited and unsolicited. It may be well-meaning, but often those giving the advice never have a full understanding of the whole situation. You do. Therefore, trust your gut even if it says do nothing listen to it.

Never give up.

Giving up will always be a 100% guarantee to lose. Even if the temptation is strong and when things look their darkest- push on and stick to your mission. Then revel in the work and see what happens!

The only way out, is through.

Just as giving up is not the answer, there is no other way than to go but through. It might be tough and stressful but it’s the only way to get to where you want to go. And often there is a reason why or lesson to be learned by doing so.

Trust the process.

It might feel like one step forward then two steps back at times but embrace the process. Be open to things not going as planned. Eventually you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

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?

Ian Haworth was my creative mentor and leader for many years in London, I also reported to him when I came out to Los Angeles. Ian was always there with encouragement when things got tough. There was one time when I was involved in running the day-to-day of the London agency’s creative department and where we had a long and successful relationship with a large utility company. Over time the relationship had started to fade, and a review was called. I led the creative response for this review, and unfortunately, we failed to retain the client. Needless to say, I was quite distraught. But Ian had a tremendous ability to see the bigger picture, to not get caught up in the obvious moment of regret, but rather to keep our eyes on our vision, the future. He showed me to accept the situation for what it was, learn from it, and then focus on were the agency was going and the type of work we wanted to create. He clearly saw that what the client wanted and what we wanted no longer aligned.

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

I always try to share my perspective and experience with those I feel people will most benefit. Recently I have been helping a great group of people called Upcomers, an incubator to help young people looking to get into the creative business. Although someone trying to get their first job in the business might not feel their situation is the same as mine, I find there are always parallels that can connect, and how having this same focus can benefit them as much as it has me.

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

We have recently started working with a SaaS startup that specifically helps independent, small businesses thrive by introducing tried and true operational processes. A great company (and founder) with a real purpose, solutions built from real-world experience. We are building out their brand voice and then applying to their website, sales materials, and marketing content. I feel what they have to offer can really help any budding entrepreneur that needs the guidance and support to turn their dream into a thriving business.

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

My advice is simple: stay the course and be disciplined, accept (and learn from) the bad as well as the good and remain focused on what you want and why you want it!


Nick Platt of ‘LO:LA’: “Be open to things not going as planned; Eventually you will see light at… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dr. Nathaan Demers of ‘Grit Digital Health’: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness…

Dr. Nathaan Demers of ‘Grit Digital Health’: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

Growth Mindset: As stated above, we need to dispel the myth of magical friendship. We can all contribute to this by simply sharing the vulnerable moments in our lives where we felt lonely and the actions we took to overcome it. This can help in two ways: 1). Sharing that forming social connections takes time and effort. You get out what you put in. 2). Forming friendships is not a “fixed quality” — meaning one is either a social butterfly or not.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Nathaan Demers.

Dr. Nathaan Demers is a clinical psychologist with experience in a variety of settings as a clinician, including adolescent and college populations. In addition to his clinical work, he has implemented a variety of programs at the state/regional level and completed his dissertation on the construct of “maturity.” Nathaan has unique expertise with behavioral health promotion and suicide prevention on campus and is the VP & Director of Clinical Programs with Grit Digital Health, the team who developed YOU at College.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

Growing up in a multiracial household, as an active traveler, and passionate athlete, I have always been interested and passionate about people, behaviors, and cultures. This curiosity led me to an enriching career as a clinical psychologist, with a few twists and turns along the way. My curiosity for psychology was confirmed at my first class at Middlebury College at 8:30am Monday morning when an incredibly vibrant and passionate professor, Laura Basili, Ph.D. entered the room and exclaimed, “Welcome to Psyc101, the course that changed my life.” Well, as you can guess, I followed suit. I thereafter declared psychology as my major and undertook a handful of internships within the field, the most formative at Montana Academy, one of the nation’s premier therapeutic boarding schools for adolescents.

After graduation, I sought my doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology. During my training I worked in a variety of settings including community mental health, inpatient Neu/Burn ICU’s, integrated care, and college counseling. I also wrote my dissertation on the construct of maturity and how we can bolster this attribute in students to ensure they have the tools they need to cope. While primarily focused on developing my clinical skills, an opportunity to assistant coach the Middlebury Men’s Soccer team led me to ask many systemic questions within the field of behavioral health — specifically focusing on ways to serve underrepresented adolescent and young adult populations outside the confines of traditional 1:1 therapy. This led me to undertake a postdoc with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education — Behavioral Health Program, where I worked to implement systems of behavioral healthcare in rural and underserved areas of the U.S. and American Territories in the Pacific.

From there, in 2016 I was lucky enough to join the team at Grit Digital Health, with the shared mission of developing digital prevention-based technologies to improve the mental health and wellbeing of countless individuals. It was a no brainer — I am lucky to utilize my clinical skills and systemic knowledge of the field on a daily basis.

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

I would be lying if I said I could pick just one. I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of incredible individuals, striving to be their best selves despite incredibly difficult life circumstances. These experiences continue to reinforce the incredibly resilient nature of humans when provided the right supports. One experience that does stand out was working on the inpatient intensive care unit at the closest hospital to the location of the Aurora Theatre Shooting. The response from emergency responders, medical staff, support people, family members, and even strangers was unlike anything I had imagined. While equal parts total chaos and intentionality in supporting those injured, supporting the psychological recovery of this trauma both in the immediate aftermath and longer term was equally a highlight of my career and one of the most difficult professional challenges I have experienced. While not without sleepless nights, the experience again shed light on the incredible resilience of individuals and exceptional power of interconnected support networks.

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

I led an 8-day canoe trip down the Smith River in Montana for a group of adolescents in behavioral health treatment. The Smith River is an incredibly scenic and remote part of the country. Once you are on the river, you’re on it until you are done with no cell service, road crossings or anything between. On day two of the trip, two of our adolescents hit a rock, flipped their canoe and due to a lack of fastening, lost ALL of our stoves, cookware, and several days worth of food. As a trip leader of ten adolescents in varying points in their recovery process, I had the incredibly important role of helping our group remain calm while also devising a plan. First and foremost, remaining composed, logical, and transparent were essential to managing our groups running minds. Do we push ourselves and our bodies the rest of the way, or stay the course and get creative with the supplies at hand? After an hour of deliberation with my co-leads, we decided to stay the course to avoid rushing and risking additional accidents. We comprised a plan of rationing our food, using our one fishing rod to supplement (of which we only had moderate luck), and making cookware from what we had (the highlight — homemade utensils from branches and one student even using his broken glasses quite creatively as a spoon). Again, I was reminded of the incredible resilience of individuals, being able to overcome countless obstacles and life circumstances when working alongside one another and leaning into, rather than rejecting support. There were countless laughs around all aspects of the situation.

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

We have a handful of really exciting projects at present. If I had to pick one, Nod our app to combat the issue of loneliness is the most exciting. As highlighted by this series, loneliness reached epidemic levels prior to the pandemic and has only been exacerbated in light of it. And a little known fact, Gen Z is the loneliness living generation, contrary to what many individuals might think. It’s been attributed as a major factor to many students’ decisions to drop out, having significant implications both to their respective institutions, as well as their overall health and future success in accruing debt without achieving a degree. We began this work back in 2018 in partnership with Hopelab — a nonprofit social innovation lab based in San Francisco — by kicking off a 18 month research spring focused on the topic of loneliness. We interviewed over 100 students and 50 experts in the process and gained invaluable insights to the experience of students now-a-days, and thus how to intervene. We quickly learned that loneliness was at epidemic levels back in 2018 and obviously the needs have only been exacerbated in light of COVID. For example, we know that over 80% of students report increased loneliness since the start of COVID, with another 63% saying it’s difficult to stay connected. We have launched a handful of college campuses nationwide, have interest from 10’s of others, and are also looking into expanding into the highschool audience within the coming year. We are also really proud to have just published a peer reviewed article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health highlighting Nod’s initial efficacy in reducing loneliness and depression for college students, while also supporting improved sleep quality, social support, and intention to return to campus. In addition, we were a finalist for Fast Company’s Best Apps for Social Good in 2020, speaking to the importance of our student centered research and co-design, melding research and science to develop a successful intervention. With this foundation, we are excited to be able to expand this to have greater reach and impact on this significant challenge pressing colleges across the nation.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

As a clinical psychologist, I have spent the majority of my career working with adolescent and young adult populations. But more specifically, rather than focusing my career on what’s wrong and trying to fix it (i.e. waiting until a student presents to therapy for symptoms of anxiety, depression, or loneliness), I’ve focused my career on how we can prevent these symptoms from developing in the first place. As I mentioned, I completed my dissertation on the construct of maturity, specifically assessing a tool which can measure the construct to screen and provide students missing skills early in adolescence to avoid the development of subsequent challenges. This mindset has been persistent throughout the last five years of my career focusing on how to bolster student grit and resilience to foster greater self-awareness, mental health, well-being, and subsequent success. As a member of the joint Hopelab and Grit Digital Health team, I joined our team’s 18 month research sprint gaining a comprehensive understanding of the experience of loneliness of today’s college students, both from a research and design perspective. I’m not sure there are too many teams out there who have taken as deep of a dive as we have. The insights we gained in that process were invaluable in subsequently developing Nod, but also are major contributions to the higher ed space having been asked to speak at a number of national conferences on the topic.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

We are less resilient when not connected. Research consistently highlights that social connection is correlated with increased happiness, positive emotions, stronger immune system functioning, academic and economic success, and longevity. On the flip side, experiencing loneliness places individuals at greater risk for anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, substance use and abuse, decreased immune system functioning, drop out, and suicidal ideation.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

As highlighted in the above response, loneliness impacts individuals in just about every aspect of their lives, from mental and physical health, to overall career success, and everything between. When individuals experience loneliness, they are not able to be their best selves, thus greatly impacting their ability to bring their best to society leading to lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, overall less resilience and connected communities.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Like all human behaviors and psychological phenomena, the root causes are extremely multifaceted. But here are three factors which contribute to the issue of loneliness amongst adolescent and young adult populations today:

The Myth of Magical Friendship: In undertaking our 18 month research process where we spoke with over 100 students, our joint Hopelab and Grit Digital Health team found a handful of themes related to loneliness. One of the most significant — many students have a belief that friendships are simply supposed to happen, seemingly magically. After all, as the saying goes “college is the best four years of your life”, right? This myth is reinforced in the media and even prospective college materials — depicting students stepping foot on campus their first year and finding their best friends for life alongside their academic passions and a meaningful career path. We know this is not the case of everyone, and in face is rarely the case for anyone. Interestingly, many students acknowledge that maintaining familial relationships takes time and energy when growing independent and going to college, same with romantic relationships which take self-reflection and conscious effort. However, when it comes to friendships many reported that it “would feel weird to try.” The reality is, building and deepening social connections takes time and effort just like any other relationship. Culturally, we need to alter this narrative to ensure adolescents and young adults know that with time and effort, they can achieve the friendships they want and desire, but the fact is, it takes time and effort.

In-Person Connections: A student who graduated high school in 2015 has had 50% less in-person social interaction than a teenager who graduated high school in 2000. When I had to find a phone number or figure out what time a movie was playing, I called and spoke with an operator or the ticket office. If I wanted to hang out with friends, the only option to do so was catch them in the neighborhood or get a ride to the mall. And if I wanted to talk to a romantic interest, I had to either call their house phone or knock on the front door and explain why to Katie’s dad why I wanted to see her. Now, digital natives have their support networks at their fingertips, supposably streamlining the ability to connect; however, this removes many of the human touches of these interactions. These many experiences that were built into everyday life provide countless opportunities to practice our social skills, develop resilience, and our sense of selves in relation to others. As technology has thwarted the need for many of these interactions, digital-natives simply have less practice making it difficult when thrown into a new environment, which often happens when one goes to college.

HOW we use technology: While some use of technology is directly associated with higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression, the reality is that technology also provides many protective factors and can builds resilience when productively utilized. One example on the harmful side is the act of “social snacking”, which is the idea of turning to an app like Facebook or Snapchat to scroll through and like people’s posts when feeling lonely as opposed to calling and actually connecting. This can lead to feelings of discontentment and disconnection in young people. However, turning to technology for video call or to send a personal message to a friend when feeling lonely can be a lifeline, fostering feelings of connection and building resilience in vulnerable times.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

Growth Mindset: As stated above, we need to dispel the myth of magical friendship. We can all contribute to this by simply sharing the vulnerable moments in our lives where we felt lonely and the actions we took to overcome it. This can help in two ways: 1). Sharing that forming social connections takes time and effort. You get out what you put in. 2). Forming friendships is not a “fixed quality” — meaning one is either a social butterfly or not. Yes, some individuals are more introverted vs. extroverted, but regardless of where one lies on this continuum, putting in conscious effort can lead to results. This can foster a “grown mindset” — the understanding that with time and effort one can improve their social connections. We can also find ways for students to share their experiences of overcoming loneliness, as afterall, students want to hear from other students, not an old psychologist who went to college a decade ago.

Tools to Try: In order to support students in forming meaningful social connections, we need to provide support environments, tools, and experiences that feel safe to do so. We know that putting a handful of students in the same room is not going to help a lonely student (and is not possible in light of COVID). And furthermore, this can exacerbate feelings of loneliness as one is surrounded by people by still not able to connect. Thus, providing tools and environments that allow students to try out “friending” skills is essential. A major part of our app, Nod, does just that — it provides students will skills and mini-missions where they can practice the building blocks of friendships whether that be active listening, self-disclosure, or inviting/initiating. Students also have the option to practice these virtually or IRL (in real life) should they be on campus. Providing these ideas is essential as the overall goal of making friends is often too daunting of a task as a whole.

Self-Compassion: We have to help students have self-compassionate when they do experience setbacks, which are inevitable. Bumps in any social relationships are impossible to avoid and ensuring students have the tools and resilience to persist through these setbacks is essential. For example, Nod includes reflections based in cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based self-compassion that can assist a student following a set-back, ensuring they applaud themselves for trying and harnessing their motivation to persist.

Focus Attention Towards Others: Research indicates that when an individual is feeling lonely (or experiencing symptoms of depression), they are more likely to be overly self-critical in social interactions. The result, many interactions that don’t get to a deeper level as they have a hard time opening up in fear of rejection. The remedy, providing tips, tools, and stories of other students overcoming this barrier and exercises/tools to try. As an example, Nod is filled with testimonials from students regarding their experience and how they overcame this aspect of their experience.

Listen!: The reality is, many college administrators did not grow up as digital natives. Thus, it is essential that we take the time to genuinely develop an understanding and empathy for the challenges that students experience when it comes to forming meaningful social connections in today’s world. This is essential both pre, during, and post COVID. Student needs are ever evolving and if we do not listen and co-design interventions with students, our interventions will never connect.

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. 🙂

As we all know, there are an incredible amount of inequities in the world — social justice, health, economic, etc. — all of which are interconnected. As a clinician, I firmly believe in the biopsychosocial model, which is just a fancy way of saying that our biology, psychology, and social spheres all contribute to our well-being and ability to succeed. Accordingly, I one day aspire to start a program, app, or movement that helps users donate and build their savings at the same time. I have not gone beyond the simple idea of it, but here’s the idea. When making a decision to spend a few dollars on a purchase that we don’t actually need, whether it be an ice cream after dinner, eating out, or a new shirt that one does not really need — instead take the cost of that item and put half the dollars in savings, and donate the other to a cause of your choice. We all make small decisions like this everyday that could have a HUGE impact both in terms of working to prevent social inequities, connecting us to a greater sense of purpose, while also increasing personal financial security.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

As a passionate soccer player, I would love the opportunity to meet Didier Drogba, one of the world’s most iconic players of all time. While he was an idol through my playing days, he was even more so off the field as a crusader of charitable causes. Growing up in the Ivory Coast, he has impacted countless lives through incredible acts to decrease poverty and provide education within his country. He donated his entire signing bonus from Chelsea FC (which also convinced the club to do the same) to build a much needed hospital in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He has been called “a man who has taken on the responsibility of rebuilding his entire country” being a leader in ending Ivory Coast’s civil war in dramatic fashion, calling upon his country for peace after qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in a live interview. This quote sums it all up, “I have won many trophies in my time, but nothing will ever top helping win the battle for peace in my country. I am so proud because today in the Cote D’Ivoire we do not need a piece of silverware to celebrate.” Meeting someone who has seen so many aspects of life — from growing up in a war-torn nation, to being one of the most successful footballers in the world, all the while never forgetting the humanity we all share and working to help those he can. I’d be confident the conversation would be riveting on so many levels.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Nathaan Demers — LinkedIn

@Doc_Demers — Twitter

@Doc_Demers — Instagram


Dr. Nathaan Demers of ‘Grit Digital Health’: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ryan Pitylak of ZenBusiness: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Building a brand is often an oversight for companies, especially startups or small businesses. This might be because a business is solving a problem, but doesn’t entirely focus on why they even need to solve it. Your product marketing is a touchpoint for users, but it doesn’t usually appeal to the emotional connection they’ll have with you. Your brand is your path towards that emotional connection, and is the difference between a purchase and a loyal customer.

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

Ryan is the CMO & Founder at ZenBusiness PBC. He is responsible for building and promoting the ZenBusiness brand to the new wave of independent workers and entrepreneurs so they can start, manage, and grow their new businesses and pursue their dreams. Ryan is the former CEO of Unique Influence, a performance digital advertising agency that was acquired by MDC Partners (NASDAQ: MDCA). Following the acquisition, Ryan served as the Head of Performance Digital at advertising agency Media Assembly where he managed a team of 100+ people across strategy, search, social, programmatic, and creative. Ryan has over 20 years of experience in the digital marketing space and is passionate about leading innovation for the industry. As speaker and contributor, he strives to get marketers to think more strategically while also taking a data-driven approach to advertising.

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

The entrepreneurial spirit came alive in me at a young age. I started my first company at the age of 13, and as a result of that I have always seen the world through the lens of entrepreneurship. As I started to get into marketing more specifically, there was a point in my career where I oversaw marketing for ProfitFuel (now known as Yodle), where I helped about 10,000 small businesses customers get noticed on Google. That’s where I became super passionate about helping people build their businesses. The experience of being a part of their journey every step of the way toward making their businesses more successful was extremely fulfilling for me. That led me to start my own digital media agency, Unique Influence, to help brands increase their presence online, which I ran for seven years and was then later acquired by MDC Partners. After two years working under their umbrella, Ross Buhrdorf, who I worked with during my time at HomeAway.com, presented me with an opportunity to help people start their businesses from the ground up with ZenBusiness. Co-running a business that works to help entrepreneurs be successful has always appealed to me. As an entrepreneur myself, I know how difficult it is to start a business then run and grow it, so I always had a soft spot in my heart to help first-time business owners pursue their dreams and gain economic mobility. At ZenBusinses I’m able to do just that.

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 had a wedding client at Unique Influence that had a wedding tablescape that kept getting rejected by Facebook’s automated content approval algorithms for being sexually suggestive, despite there being no suggestive imagery or people in the actual ad. The Facebook account management team kept putting in manual overrides, but it just kept getting rejected over and over again! It was annoying because it was their best ad but we also couldn’t really get around the issue. Lesson learned: be careful with what you design!

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

Our company started off as a small business, so we are very empathetic to our users. Since the beginning, we hit several snags, had to pivot several times, and even had to change our name. It was all a valuable lesson and further made us realize how important it was to have a platform that offers what we are offering.

We pride ourselves on our high standard of customer service. Our CS team is readily available for our customers, which is important because we are here to make their lives easier. Having to wait for hours or days to get a response only complicates things. We continually survey and interview our customers, and build our platform based on those findings. The customer is the center of everything we do.

We are also a Public Benefit Corporation. This was an important step to take because we knew we wanted to be a business that does good. We also knew that just acting a certain way wasn’t enough — we had to live and breath our mission. We provide hands-on help with business formations, publish and share helpful resources, participate in small business loan programs, and award grants to female-founded businesses and other underserved markets.

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

We have ZenBusiness Money, which will launch to the public in early 2021. This is an invoicing and payments app, which makes the process of sending an invoice faster and easier. This means users can also get paid faster, which is very important for a small business owner. In the future, we plan on expanding the app even further based on customer feedback.

We are building out our website product. Users can make a custom website on our site, and we are scaling up its customization and editing features. Based on our own data, business owners who have a website make up to $15,000 more per year than those who don’t. It’s highly recommended to those who are spreading the word about their business. We make that easy by offering it directly through our platform.

We are also in the beginning stages of creating ZenBusinessU, which will be a virtual guidebook filled with resources for small business owners. It’ll cover the fundamentals for starting, running, and growing a business with tailored content led by experts in their fields.

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 the identity of the business. It’s the core of everything they do. It should be a northern light for their decisions, both internally and externally. It’s a business’ “why” for doing everything they do.

Product marketing is focused on getting you business in front of your customers. It’s the channels you choose and the targeting to get on their radar. It’s all about education and communication. Whether customers are familiar or not with your product, product marketing is the way to change and/or improve that.

At ZenBusiness, our brand is the reason why we became a PBC. We had a mission to live by, and took another step to do that.

We strongly focus on product marketing here. Our team consists of amazing product marketers, who focus on all stages of the funnel.

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 is often an oversight for companies, especially startups or small businesses. This might be because a business is solving a problem, but doesn’t entirely focus on why they even need to solve it. Your product marketing is a touchpoint for users, but it doesn’t usually appeal to the emotional connection they’ll have with you. Your brand is your path towards that emotional connection, and is the difference between a purchase and a loyal customer.

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. Walk the walk
  2. Have a strong mission and never forget it
  3. Make your team brand ambassadors
  4. Don’t just identify the problem your product solves, but why people have it
  5. Know your customer and take a walk in their shoes

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?

Innovative brands like Tesla, Amazon and Venmo are ones that have left an indelible impact on the world. Their innovations met customer demand and changed the way people live their lives. Brands that do that are the ones that make the most impact. At ZenBusiness, we’re hoping to impact the world by being the go-to source entrepreneurs use to launch and grow their business and brand.

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?

A tangible measure for a brand can be in customer loyalty and LTV. Brand equity can be measured when a customer interacts with you, continues to purchase from you, and spreads the word on your company.Brands can often hold prominence in the awareness side of a business. Any metrics that show familiarity can be a measure of how your brand is perceived.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is a host for community efforts. Companies that use social media just for advertising or posting links are missing the mark. This is the place where you have the opportunity to interact directly with your customers.

Brands like Wendy’s are doing a really great job because they speak directly with people on the platform, and offer some very entertaining posts. They actually sound like there’s a human behind their posts, which is what brands should do. Since your brand is your company’s identity, this is a space to show your personality off. Are you funny? Are you an activist? Are you intellectual? This is where you can showcase that identity beyond just telling people that’s who you are.

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

Marketing is an ever-changing industry and burnout can exist because we are constantly needing to keep up with the trends. Technology requires constant learning and for us to be on top of things. My advice is to divide up your time and know when it’s time to learn and when it’s time to execute. Even as a CMO, I seek out new resources so I know I am keeping up with what’s needed for myself and my company.

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

The U.S. is in the middle of a micro business renaissance accelerated by the pandemic. 2 million Americans have started freelancing in the past 12 months due to the pandemic. According to Upwork, 60% say no amount of money would convince them to take a traditional job again. As more people realize they want to follow their dreams of entrepreneurship, our mission is to be the catalyst that helps them pursue their dreams — making the transition from side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship. If we do that — take customers’ dreams and make them come alive — I think that will bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people.

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

One life lesson quote of my own that I often live by is “Think of your brand as a collection of promises you’ve made: to your customers, to the employees in your company, to yourself. It’s your job to make sure those promises are kept.” This is relevant to me because it represents the career path I’ve taken in helping businesses (our customers) achieve success. As a founder who also manages a team, I always fall back on this thought to ensure I’m living up to the promises I’ve made to my employees.

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. 🙂

One person I would like to have lunch or breakfast with is Daniel Kahneman. He’s notable for his work in behavioral economics and is the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanpitylak/

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


Ryan Pitylak of ZenBusiness: 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.

Liza Suloti of SHADOW: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Authenticity and transparency will always take you further as a brand. Finding opportunities — whether through a brand’s voice, lifting up people in the organization or inviting people in so that it becomes more than just a brand to people — builds trust and believability. Working with Sun Bum for several years has set the new standard of authenticity and transparency for us, as they truly live as the rad organization that they share with their community.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Liza Suloti, a Partner at SHADOW.

At the onset of her career, Liza immersed herself in the fashion, beauty, lifestyle and retail industries, building a name for herself, channeling her passions and beginning to shape her future as a brand marketer for some of the industry’s biggest names.

In 2007, Brad Zeifman and Lisette Sand-Freedman founded SHADOW, a leading integrated marketing and public relations agency. Liza joined SHADOW in 2008 and helped establish the foundation of the company and lay the groundwork for the agency’s distinctive vision and steadfast goals. She was named a Partner in 2012.

Liza developed SHADOW’s Broadcast and Media Training Divisions and has spearheaded SHADOW’s Beauty Division, growing its client roster tremendously with clients activating within media relations, influencer marketing, creative and event production. She has continued to shape the vision and culture of SHADOW through her leadership, example and day-to-day contributions as well as her role in business development. Much of SHADOW’s growth can be attributed to her creative and forward-thinking approach, passion and executional skill. It is in part because of Liza that SHADOW’s core values of fostering creativity and encouraging employees to strive for more and be better than great in the workplace, are at the heart of everything the agency does, and clients continue to see SHADOW as true strategic partners.

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

I was an English Major at Boston University and always dreamt of becoming a writer. One of my dear friends was a fellow New Yorker and English Major at BU, and a few months after graduating we met up for a drink. At the time, she was working for Brad Zeifman, my now Partner at SHADOW and one of the smartest, most dynamic people I know. She told me how she thought I would love Public Relations because of the opportunity it offers you to write, work with the journalists and outlets you admire while also storytelling for brands and people — a combination of all the things I am passionate about.

Brad was leaving Rubenstein PR and looking for a new assistant at Susan Blond, Inc. where he was joining as Vice President. Thanks to my friend’s good word, I met with Brad the next day and nailed the interview with the exception of my answer to his last interview question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Thinking about how I would measure success in the next 5 years, naturally I said, “in Chanel.” It symbolized success to me — that I was nailing it so much at work that I’d be able to afford the coveted Chanel extra-long necklace or their divine tweed jacket. He thought it was the worst answer he’d ever heard, and I almost didn’t get my shot.

Luckily, the other people in the room thought it was unlike any interview answer they’d ever heard and urged Brad to take a chance on me. That was a pivotal turning point in my life, not just for my career. Working with Brad has shaped my life in many ways and helped me see the opportunities ahead that allowed me to tap into my talents in all areas of what we do and find success along the way.

To this day, what I continue to love about my work is not just that I’m surrounded by people I adore and proud of what we’ve built at SHADOW, but I’m also still challenged and inspired every day. I also love that I’m never without an opportunity to tap into my experience, expertise and passions. Every hour brings something new: strategic planning with creative approaches, media training or shooting a broadcast segment, chatting with editors and brainstorming story ideas — it’s a gift to be able to feel that fulfilled and challenged.

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?

Like most people that have probably answered this question, we can all agree no mistake ever feels funny at the time… But the biggest mistake I made when I was first starting out was with a beauty brand I represented at the time, led by a personality that was both my best friend and yet the biggest bully. I was too young to know better and tolerated behavior I would never as a grown woman. I marketed this person in the vision they cast for themselves, all well knowing I was just perpetuating the behavior.

It taught me some of the lessons I call upon today, some of which are my signature strengths, like navigating challenging personalities with ease, remaining calm under pressure and separating myself from a work situation emotionally to ensure I make decisions from a place of clarity.

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

Great marketers are hard to find. It takes a uniquely gifted person to be able to possess all of a great marketers’ traits and skills, from a critical mind to a creative spirit, from a thoughtful storyteller to an influential writer, from a cultural expert to a forward-thinking trend visionary.

Our SHADOWs are just that good. They’re definitely our secret sauce. Our creative, integrated approaches and agency structure are what set us apart from other agencies. Our client roster and results speak for themselves. But all of that wouldn’t exist without the amazing minds and talents we have to bring it all to life. If you don’t have the talent to be able to execute it, it’s just a great idea on paper.

At SHADOW, we are known for building up talent and in turn, seeing the business opportunity there. Our executive team has been built from the ground up with SHADOWs that started their career with us and have expressed areas they are passionate about, which we in turn have used to create successful Divisions. Event Production, Creative, Beauty, CPG and Influencer Marketing are all Divisions that didn’t exist when we started in 2007, but together we have grown them and become a robust partner for our clients who can take a truly integrated approach to everything we do.

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

Warren Buffet said, “One way to double your worth is to hone your communication skills. If you can’t communicate it’s like winking in the dark, nothing happens. You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you’ve got to be able to transmit it.”

Communication can truly be a key to success. At the heart of people’s confidence and ability to get what they want is having the right tools to be an effective communicator. Through my work in Media Training, I have had the pleasure to work with so many different people. What I have found is that they all have the same fears and barriers to success that hold them back. It always comes back to confidence. Knowing we can provide people with the skills to get what they want in life is amazing. It’s also part of the reason we have been so passionate about creating certified communicators at SHADOW, from our executive team to the agency as a whole, so they can become masters in using their voice internally and externally. Especially in today’s digitally focused world, it’s so imperative that people can find the right words to communicate in such a way that helps them achieve their goals.

Our Beauty Division has been another area of passion for me. When we focused on growing the division, I knew that it was a thriving category with tremendous growth but that there was so much untapped opportunity there. I also saw that it is a deep and meaningful category with uniquely talented and creative people that can impact people’s lives and the way they feel about themselves. Growing the Division from a few accounts to becoming the agency of record for Keys Soulcare, a skincare line by Alicia Keys, and amplifying a brand that represents where beauty is going — community first, clean, tapping into an idea of soulcare needed now more than ever before — is deeply meaningful and another example of how at SHADOW you can tap into all of your interests and talents at once. Having the ability to be strategic, thoughtful marketers but also to be soulful in how we position the brand with an icon like Alicia at the helm, all while being challenged intellectually by the e.l.f. Cosmetics team, who helps us elevate every way that we plan, think and ideate, has been incredible. It’s an example of a true partnership.

Finally, I believe that in every crisis there is an opportunity, and while we are living through the most challenging time in our lives, it has also been a very proud moment for me to see how our SHADOWs have stayed connected, persevered and grown. We have all flipped everything upside down to find entirely new ways of working, and the ideas that have resulted have blown me away. There is an ongoing commitment to being better than we have ever been and to continue to wow our clients and be an incredible partner for them.

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?

For me, brand marketing leads to a reason to believe in a brand. Product marketing and advertising lead to a reason to buy. Brand loyalty comes from a reason to believe, not just to buy. The reason to buy will always follow.

Brand marketing gives the halo of building trust and affinity, and once you’ve built that, you can then market the product. If you try and skip that crucial piece, it won’t lead to long-term brand growth or achieving goals as it relates to brand positioning and shaping perception.

Product marketing can be exciting because there’s nothing more fun than that energy around the “gotta have it” feeling. There’s a lot of room for creativity anchored around a product or category as opposed to the breadth of a brand. That lives in the now. It is possible to live in the now while also contributing to the halo effect of a brand, and that is when you’ve really done your job.

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 aren’t made overnight, they’re built with care, with ideas laid brick by brick. Building a brand requires a holistic exercise in making an idea a reality, but once that reality is born, amplifying it through marketing channels starts to pave the way for its role in culture, marketplace and people’s lives.

You’ll never break through and become culturally relevant with just a product, but even if you’re so much more than that, people must know about it and feel your impact.

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. Identify core values from the onset. Every form of communication should ladder up and be an expression of those core values. Whether it’s e.l.f. Cosmetics’ “For Every Eye, Lip and Face” or aerie’s #AerieREAL, a brand that has a clear and distinct set of values helps build trust with its consumers.

2. Authenticity and transparency will always take you further as a brand. Finding opportunities — whether through a brand’s voice, lifting up people in the organization or inviting people in so that it becomes more than just a brand to people — builds trust and believability. Working with Sun Bum for several years has set the new standard of authenticity and transparency for us, as they truly live as the rad organization that they share with their community.

3. Don’t shy away from what’s happening in the world, embrace it. SHADOW has been at the forefront of being part of the cultural conversation this year and encouraging our clients to do the same. Now more than ever, it’s important to use your platform for positive, meaningful impact.

4. Be a source for joy, inspiration and connection, not just a source for a transaction. Consumers are looking to brands to do more than sell to them, and that’s when the relationship can either start and end or become a meaningful journey. Keys Soulcare has been at the forefront of this approach in beauty, as the brand launched with content, community and conversation months before it even introduced product — a truly unique launch strategy for a beauty brand.

5. Be consistent. When a brand stays true to their voice and lifestyle, it builds trust and makes every opportunity to engage with the brand feel believable. Moroccanoil has always exemplified this in how they show up. You can innately spot the brand visually and through its content.

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?

When I think about meaningful brands, I often think back to 2014 and the headline of a press release we were drafting at the time for our long-standing client, Aerie. Writing the words “challenging supermodel standards,” I could feel in my gut that we were about to do something special. Boy did we. Six years later, #AerieREAL has grown from a no retouching campaign into a movement focused on body positivity and empowerment and many other brands have since followed suit. Aerie has challenged traditional standards and the fashion industry all while continuing to evolve and build brand loyalty.

Through its marketing, product offering, authentic messages and the way the brand carries itself, Aerie has truly built a powerful community. What continues to impress me most about Aerie is the way the brand has stayed true to their pledge to honor the idea of REAL, both in how they show up and how they contribute to society. It is with this kind of dedication that a brand goes beyond product and becomes something more. I am blown away daily by how my partner Lisette Sand-Freedman and her team lead the charge with that business and AEO Inc. as a whole.

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?

There is no such thing as a find and replace approach to measuring success. At SHADOW, we believe that at the beginning of every relationship, specific objectives should be set to ensure that everything is working towards achieving them. Some are data driven, others are more subjective.

We utilize traditional measurement in the form of press and social impressions, reach and share of voice, but we also look at the shift in perception — breaking through in outlets a brand has always wanted to be featured in, reaching new audiences, community response and engagement and so much more. There are also tools to measure awareness, which is a halo term for one of the steps that gets you to sales and conversion. As marketers, there are many steps we have to take to get to that ultimate consumer action, whether it’s a product sale, follow on social media, email sign up, event attendance or one of the many other ways to engage with a brand.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media plays a tremendous role as it’s both a community meeting place as well as a direct conversation between brands and users.

While it’s one of the many tools we use to communicate, it also offers a key opportunity to test and learn. Identifying what’s successful on social media, which evolves constantly, can help inform bigger ideas.

We are also always ensuring that our marketing and communication efforts are aligned with the social media landscape through real-time listening and engaging. We encourage our clients to align their social strategy with our efforts to ensure the brand’s channels and therefore influencer and editor audiences are experiencing uniform messaging.

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

Step away. I firmly believe you refuel yourself when you step away. How you step away is up to you. For me, time with my family fuels my soul. It can also mean going for a walk on the streets of New York or reading and listening to music. There has to be time to do that. If you don’t refuel yourself, it’s impossible to continue to be creative and see outside the bubble of what you’re working on. Being a marketer or business leader means always having eyes and ears open to what’s happening in the world, which in turn inform ideas and decisions. When you’re energized from the balance of work and your own version of refueling, you can think more clearly and can both be present while also seeing the path ahead.

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

If I could inspire a movement, it would be one that empowered people to be more generous with complimenting others. I find that a compliment holds a lot of power, and you don’t always realize how badly someone needs one or how much you could even use one yourself. That simple act can shift someone’s mood and change their day. It can be something they continue to think about, feel a boost in confidence from and even make decisions around. A thoughtful compliment can have a greater impact than just that one moment.

I bet if you think back on some of the ideas you’ve pursued, decisions you’ve made or talents you’ve identified in yourself, you could link it back to someone generously complimenting you.

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

“Love is Life” is something I say in my personal life all the time, because I truly believe it is. It so simply resets priorities and helps you visualize goals. Deeper into my career, I found tremendous joy and fulfillment in pursuing the paths that I loved — brands I loved, partners I loved, visions I shared, creative expression I adored. By simply recognizing that love will drive you towards the right decisions, it can inspire and energize you to work harder than ever before.

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 love to share a meal with Amal Clooney to talk all things global affairs, style, beauty secrets (HOW is her hair always that gorgeous??), juggling two kids with a career and like, George.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@LizaSuloti @Weareshadow

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


Liza Suloti of SHADOW: 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.

Stephanie Melodia of Bloom: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your

Stephanie Melodia of Bloom: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Take into consideration the latest trends for relatability. Sure, you are a leader; not a follower, but pay attention to the direction of trends and how they are reflecting the current sentiment of the marketplace — how the wider economic and political landscape is translating creatively via branding.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Stephanie Melodia, Founder & CEO of Bloom, a UK-based marketing agency dedicated to supporting early-stage, high-growth businesses, including the UK’s Top 5 startups. She has been named as one of the UK’s Top 20 Most Influential Female Founders by Startups Magazine and her agency’s work has been featured in the likes of The Independent and Startups.co.uk.

True to her mission in supporting entrepreneurship, Stephanie also scouts for Ada Ventures, hosts the founder interview podcast, Time to Bloom, and presents biannual event series, Bloom Presents.

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’ve been creative for as long as I can remember. I learnt to draw before anything else, and was always known as “the arty one” at school. Completely lost in terms of career direction in my teenage years, I decided to continue down the path of creativity and went to art school, where I eventually specialised in fashion illustration.

It wasn’t until the age of 22 when I got my first “proper job” at a gorgeous boutique creative agency in Clerkenwell, London, that my eyes were opened up to the whole world of business. There were so many things I was previously naive to; I perfectly remember visiting Coca-Cola’s head offices during my first week and that just blew my mind. Coke have offices?! What? Crazy times… It was this discovery that awakened my hunger to learn, to work, to take in as much as I could — and more. Within 3 months, I was promoted to Account Manager and a year or so later my role evolved again to have more of a sales and marketing function.

From there, I moved into advertising and then transitioned in-house for a big tech firm, before setting up my own company, Bloom.

Whilst I’ve always been creative and loved art, I knew I needed something more stimulating and that matched my energy — marketing was the answer.

I never knew what marketing was or how it worked until my early 20s, now I run a marketing agency.

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?

Just posting stuff on Twitter and calling it social media marketing?! I think so many things would make me cringe looking back at my earlier years. A good sign of progress, but I like to look forwards 🙂

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?

Oh my god, yes!!! The tipping point was this year! I’d say around late spring/summertime, I started seeing certain things that had never happened before, that was sooooo exciting. For example, people were Googling my name to find the company website. People were reaching out to us as inbound leads. We were getting invited to huge pitches coming up against big competitors! People started sending in their CVs for jobs. People started commenting in offline conversations about all the things they were seeing online about us. And I was incredibly grateful to be named one of the UK’s Most Influential Female Founders. 2020 has been a good year for us at Bloom at least!

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

Absolutely, we don’t work on anything that we don’t find exciting or gets us fired up! It’s also a default of working in the high-growth tech space; all the entrepreneurs are building innovative solutions that help so many different aspects of our lives; from travel to jewellery, from finances to careers.

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

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I’m not religious but this quote nails it.

Also focus on the things you love and proactively create the space for this; set yourself up for success to do what you do best. Everything is on an energy spectrum; there are things that drain you and things that lift your spirits; shift your daily activities to the latter.

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?

As Schmidt from New Girl puts it: “Advertising is a dog drinking beer… I am in marketing, the backbone of capitalism. Without it, you’d be dead in two days.”

On a slightly more serious note (!), I think the best explanation lies in ‘The Long & Short of it’ study by Les Binet and Peter Field, which indicates companies need both short-term sales activations for cash injections, and long-term brand building for overall growth via customer loyalty and even advocacy.

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?

Absolutely, and I’ll use the classic sales & marketing funnel to do this:

For those unfamiliar, the standard marketing funnel includes a high number of potential customers at the top — the biggest section. This is the Awareness layer — people who have heard of you at least vaguely in some way. Then as we move down “the leaky funnel” and progress to interest and consideration, people start dropping off. Most marketers believe these “leaks” should be minimized, personally I see these leaks as a positive, as you’re weeding out your irrelevant customers, so to say, and getting closer to your ideal client (especially where early-stage startups are concerned who are still figuring out their target audience).

Then we finally reach the point of conversion — this is the sale or the download. But there’s more. Beyond the funnel is loyalty and advocacy. This is achieved via both rational and emotional responses to your business; the latter emotional response lies in branding.

This is a longer process but totally worth it, as brand has been conclusively proven to be the single best factor in campaign effectiveness, customer loyalty, and overall longer-term growth.

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

Such a meaty topic, I love this one! Rebranding is a really exciting time for a company, and possible reasons to do this may include:

  • Modernizing the brand after the existing or previous one has become a little outdated;
  • Marking a pivotal time in the company’s story (e.g. most, if not all, our clients, go through a rebrand when working with us, as they’ve secured investment and it’s time to level up), or;
  • Reflecting a big change in the company such as an international expansion or company acquisition, for example

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

Yes, definitely. A few initial downsides of rebranding that spring to mind include not achieving enough internal buy-in to effectively execute it (brand needs to seep through every part of the business, so it’s vital to have everyone bought into the new vision), rebranding for rebranding’s sake, doing it too often, or risking alienating core customers in a bid to chase after new ones.

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.

First thing’s first: get crystal clear on both your business vision and your target customer. These will lay the basic foundations for your new branding.

Secondly, depending on how long you’ve been around, consider your current perception in the marketplace and what your biggest “claims to fame” are.

For the UK’s Top 5 Startup, rectech firm Tempo, they were shaking up a previously faceless and painful recruitment experience but putting the control back in the employers’ and the candidates’ hands. We brought this to life via a bright and colourful new brand design with a constantly interchanging logo representing the individuality of people on the platform. (Led by our partner and incredible brand consultant, Steven Mzar).

Take into consideration the latest trends for relatability. Sure, you are a leader; not a follower, but pay attention to the direction of trends and how they are reflecting the current sentiment of the marketplace — how the wider economic and political landscape is translating creatively via branding.

The next point to consider is the history of the business as well as the people within it. I talked about lack of internal buy-in before, which can be so detrimental after investing a lot of time and money in a shiny new brand, so it’s imperative to get everyone on board and work as collaboratively as possible.

Finally, whilst prudent to take the new branding into testing for market feedback, it’s important to allow this to inform your decision-making; not be totally led by this.

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?

Amazon is a big, obvious example with the clever A -> Z device. More recently, I read about the MasterClass rebrand, which I love. As creators of a whole new category, “edutainment,” it stands to reason their branding would be equally innovative. I love the Frame branding too, created by a music agency called The Xreative Corporation. There are so many, I’d love to get stuck into months of reviewing to give a definitive answer!

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

Wow, big question. The most amount of good to the most amount of people lies in our next generations, so shaking up the education system and empowering teachers to help raise our future population I believe to be imperative.

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

“You’re gonna die.” — Gary Vaynerchuk

A good reminder to not take life for granted, or too seriously, and to truly appreciate the immense awesomeness of being alive right now. (The chance of being born is 1 in 102,685,000 — that’s 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes!)

This is relevant to my life in so many ways — whether it comes to taking risks, saying yes to things, or reminding myself to have fun sometimes!

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram for fun stuff, LinkedIn for business 🙂

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Stephanie Melodia of Bloom: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Monika Kozlowska: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Challenge yourself and do what makes you feel uncomfortable — over and over again. They say growth happens outside of your comfort zone and I think that’s. If you choose to put yourself in situations that are somehow scary, you won’t have a choice but to become more resilient.

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 Monika Kozlowska.

Monika Kozlowska is an International Fulfilment and Business coach, helping women who are sick and tired of ticking the boxes to find the courage to create a life and business they love. Four years ago, Monika was living life by the book, working in marketing and following society’s expectations of a woman her age. She had everything on paper, but she was unhappy and unfulfilled and decided to discover why her life at the time wasn’t making her happy. That’s what led her to pursue a coaching qualification. Now, as an ICF accredited transformational coach and NLP practitioner, Monika uses her tools and experience to empower unfulfilled women to get clear on who they are and what they truly want, believe they deserve better and take action towards building the life and business they desire.

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

Of course, I am excited to be here! I always knew I wanted to create a happy life for myself — I just didn’t know exactly what it would involve or how to make it work. I was born in Poland and ever since I came across Sex and the City show on TV, I knew I wanted to leave the country and create my future abroad. Then my high school English teacher told me that “English just isn’t my thing”and it took a lot for me to not believe her. I moved to London regardless and went through a lot of different roles. I was a waitress turned receptionist turned personal assistant turned executive assistant turned chief of staff. By my mid-twenties, I had achieved the perfect life on paper — handsome boyfriend, fancy holidays, great job and prosecco brunches. A lot of people assumed I was happy, but I was falling apart emotionally.I remember feeling very defeated. Eventually, I had a breakdown and decided to start over. I broke up with my boyfriend, left my job and started searching for answers (well before that happened I probably had a month of sitting on the floor of my apartment eating nutella with a spoon!) That’s what got me into personal development. That’s how I realised the life I was living could have been perfect for somebody else — it just wasn’t perfect for me, because it wasn’t aligned with my values, needs and who I really was — the authentic me, not the one the society expected me to be. This is how I discovered there is no one size fits all formula to fulfilment and realised how all my jobs in the past had one thing in common that I enjoyed the most — serving others. If I could serve others by helping them create more fulfilled lives…I would be so much happier. That’s how I became a coach and I never looked back.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns though — I had to really work on myself to make it a success.

I had people tell me I looked too young and had a strange accent. I had to overcome my fear of public speaking, juggle a lot to pay the bills and put a lot of my personal life on hold. And at the point when things were finally starting to go well earlier this year,I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The diagnosis made me realize I focused so much on helping others find fulfilment, I forgot about myself — all I did at the time was work. I loved it, but it was mostly just that. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt very alone. I made a decision to focus on my own fulfilment after the surgery — that’s how I met my now boyfriend and I am the happiest I have ever been — still helping women around the world create fulfilled life, but also expecting my first child with the man of my dreams in real life (not on paper!)!

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 cancer diagnosis earlier this year changed my priorities for the better. Here’s what I learned:

1) It is good to remember we don’t have forever.

Cancer made me realise the time to do things and create a fulfilling life is NOW — not later. “One day” may never come.

2) Instead of thinking ‘why is this happening to me’ I chose to think ‘what is the universe trying to do FOR me?’ Looking back I seriously think it was about me finally taking a step back and realizing I have my own life and happiness to take care of as well — not just my clients’.

3) Choosing yourself doesn’t mean not choosing your business

I spent years thinking I can’t have both. I am now in the best relationship of my life and the happiest I have ever been — and my business is doing better than ever.

4) No matter how bad things seem,you can always choose to use your own story to empower others.

There is not a week when I don’t receive a message on social media from somebody who’s just been diagnosed with cancer. It means the world to me that I can use my own example to help others on their journeys.

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

As a coach,I am my clients’ personal cheerleader until they become their own champions.

I mark their big days in my calendar — the days when they are supposed to take action to change their life — so I am always there to support and follow up. It is my own personal choice, I am fully aware it is unlikely anyone would ever ask me to do that, but those people are taking massive, scary steps and I want to be there for them and celebrate their progress!

One of my clients in the United States realized in our initial session that she was really missing connection in her life. I was there for her when she wanted to call a man she’s been thinking about for years and tell him she wants to give it a go.I was also the first one she called right after she made the phone call (and mind you, I am based in the UK; she is in the US!)

Fast forward seven months, she visited the UK (and yes, she came to spend time with THE man). We met for the first time in person and she said she wouldn’t have taken the trip if it wasn’t for me. The best thing is, she is so happy and now has the courage to do pretty much anything. I am so proud of her and so grateful I got to be part of her journey!

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 mum is the best person in the world. She’s always believed in me even on days when I didn’t believe in myself. I still speak to her everyday and I hope that never stops. My father was never particularly interested in being a dad and she managed to raise both me and my older brother just by herself. Somehow, she managed to keep this amazing enthusiasm and child-like curiosity that I love about her so much. She chose us every time. Everything she did was always for me and my brother. She also supported me even when everyone else was against what I wanted to do. Every time I locked myself in a disabled toilet because I had an anxiety attack or couldn’t understand what someone just asked me to do (language barrier!),she was there for me and always happy to listen and tell me things were going to be ok. When I found coaching and told her how much I wanted it despite 90% of my family thinking “coaching equals bullshitting people for money,” she supported me and encouraged me to go after what I wanted. She was the first person I called when I signed my first client and after I had my first date with my current partner. She will always be the person that inspires me everyday and I hope that when I am a mum, I will take after her and build a relationship with my child like the one she’s built with 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 adapt to disruption and bounce back stronger when things take a turn for the worse. Resilient people choose not to give up. We all fail, make mistakes, go through struggles and heart breaks. Some people may choose to believe it is life telling them they can’t have something, whilst resilient people choose to use those curveballs as fuel to keep going.

Resilient people also love to prove people wrong. They care more about what they think they are capable of than what others think is possible for them — and it feels good when they achieve their goal despite so many people doubting them at the start.

Lastly, resilient people believe everything happens for a reason and happens for them — to help them grow, become stronger, or inspire others. They may not see it straight away, but they know and trust there will be benefits that will come from the hard times that will simply make them a better, stronger version of themselves.

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

Author, poet and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay is incredibly resilient. He was adopted by a British family as a baby after his Ethiopian mother was forced to put him into care. He was renamed Norman, yet at the age of 12, he was taken to the children’s home and told by his parents they will never see, write or visit him again. He was left on his own without any understanding of what he’s done wrong and why they have done this to him. They had been telling him for 12 years that they will be his mum and dad forever and that his birth mother didn’t want him. And then, just like that they left him and said they will never see him again, without any explanation. Lemn immediately comes to mind when I think of resilience because I know our limiting beliefs that hold us back later in life are actually created when we are very young — then we go through life believing they are true. Experience like Lemn’s shows how easy it is to start thinking — and then believing — things like:

  • I am not lovable (if I were, my birth mum and my adopted parents wouldn’t have left me)
  • There is something wrong with me (surely, otherwise my mum and dad wouldn’t have disappeared)
  • I don’t deserve love / family / happiness

I have no doubt life was not easy for Lemn, but I love how he managed to turn his pain into power and now he shares his story to empower others through his work. He experienced and worked through a lot of really hard stuff — then bounced back stronger than ever, ready to help the world around him. I think he is an excellent example 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?

Of course — I’ve had plenty of those moments! I remember a lot of people telling me I would not be able to make my coaching business an international one as English is not my first language. Plus, there is no way someone older than me would ever want to work with me because I looked so young. That was hard to take because deep down, I believed those things were true. I did have a funny accent with an American twang and I looked younger than a lot of successful coaches I knew, but I didn’t let it stop me. I really wanted to prove them (and myself!) wrong. Fast forward to today, most of my clients are older than me and I am proud to say I have worked with clients from 12 different countries already — sounds pretty international to me!

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

My greatest setback was probably when one of my most serious, longest relationships came to an end. In my head, we were going to be together forever and all of a sudden, I had to admit that I was wrong. I felt so lost. He was my best friend. I genuinely did not know what to do with myself and I did not know who I was without him either. He was everything to me at the time and frankly, I didn’t really like who I was and I was too scared to find out. Looking back,I am so grateful for this experience. It gave me the courage to find out who I was, what I wanted and what was important to me. This experience led me to personal development, which led to my coaching qualification, which allowed me to start my business. I would not be here helping women create more fulfilled lives if we hadn’t ended our relationship. More importantly, I wouldn’t love myself the way I love myself now if I didn’t go through this breakup.

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

My English teacher at school in Poland inadvertently contributed to my resilience by telling me that “English just wasn’t my thing.”. I was born and raised in Warsaw and I knew I was not the best student in my class, but discouraging me like that was a punch in the gut., Can you imagine how different my life could have been if I chose to believe her?

It was not easy to take, but it gave me fuel and determination to study more. I remember spending all my money on additional English classes and here I am, living in London, talking to my partner in English, coaching women in English to the point I sometimes talk to my mum in English because I struggle finding a Polish equivalent. Teachers play important roles in their students’ lives (and aren’t we told at school that they know better, too?) and saying one disempowering sentence can have a massive effect on a child’s future.

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) Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, why would anyone else? Whatever it is that’s making you doubt yourself, make time to work through it. Get whatever help you may need and don’t stop until you get yourself to a stage where you believe you CAN and that you DESERVE IT, too.

2) Celebrate your resilience. Write down all the situations in your life that have already made you more resilient. What happened and how did you grow from that experience that then made you stronger?. You may think you know it in your head, but trust me, once you put it down on paper in front of you, you will see it in a bright new light.

3) Learn the art of reframing. Remember the list of events that made you more resilient? You chose to look at those events this way. If you CHOOSE TO assume every hardship will make you grow and you will eventually bounce back stronger, you will be able to almost see the benefits of every curveball life throws at you…and you will become more resilient quicker.

4) Take mental breaks. Get clear on what actually relaxes your mind and make sure you practice it. Whether it is meditation, yoga or a long walk, it is important to give yourself self-care, love, understanding and peace when life gets tough, so make sure you know what works for you.

5) Challenge yourself and do what makes you feel uncomfortable — over and over again. They say growth happens outside of your comfort zone and I think that’s. If you choose to put yourself in situations that are somehow scary, you won’t have a choice but to become more resilient.

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. 🙂

Having fulfilment and courage ‘lunch and learn’ sessions in companies that would allow people to discover what fulfilment means to them — what their values are, what they want, what’s important to them, what their energizing and draining strengths are, and then help them find the courage to go after what they want. We are not the same and different things will make different people happy and fulfilled — the issue is, we don’t take time to figure out who we are and what we want and I would really like to change that so that we can all live life intentionally.

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 🙂

Definitely Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister!

There is SO much about her I love, but I remember her saying, “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”

And I couldn’t agree more with that!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: https://facebook.com/monika.kozlowska.165

Instagram: @monika_fulfilmentcoach

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

Pleasure is all mine, thank you for having me!


Monika Kozlowska: 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.

Ross Goldberg of Kevin/Ross Public Relations: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved…

Ross Goldberg of Kevin/Ross Public Relations: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Brand development needs to begin with a fundamental Brand Strategy. This strategy should personify why your business exists beyond making money. It defines what it is that sets you apart from the competition and how you want to be perceived by your customers. Organizations need to ask themselves, “What kind of company do we want to be?” and “What do we want to be known for?” There are two ways to answer these questions. One is in a very pragmatic, business sense. For that, the answers could be: one that is profitable; one that has a balance sheet that attracts investors; one that grows x percent per year in revenue and/or profitability; one that consistently has a strong cash position; one that is positioned for merger or acquisition; etc. The other answer would focus on qualities that are far less tangible: a company that is respected throughout its industry; a company whose customers feel comfortable recommending to others; a company that treats its employees with respect and dignity;

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

Ross K. Goldberg has more than four decades of public relations and marketing communications experience, the last half of which as founder and president of Kevin/Ross Public Relations (kevinross.net). His agency has represented clients from a broad spectrum of interests including health care (hospitals, health plans and medical groups), higher education, nonprofit foundations, venture capital, trade associations and many others. His work has included image management; media relations; corporate communications; employee communications; crisis communications; and the writing of award-winning annual reports, op-ed pieces and direct-response marketing materials. Ross also has extensive experience in media training, merger communications and corporate identity/branding.

Immediately prior to founding Kevin/Ross in 1999, Ross was senior vice president of communications and marketing for CareAmerica Health Plans (1995–1998). Before joining CareAmerica he served for a combined 14 years as vice president of corporate communications for the $3.5 billion UniHealth America and for its forerunner, the HealthWest Foundation. Ross’ career in public relations began in 1976 when he worked for five years for the publicly traded Hyatt Corporation.

Ross holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge and a master’s degree in communications from Pepperdine University. He is past chairman of the board of trustees of Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, and is a founding executive board member of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (of the American Hospital Association). Ross is also a founding board member and past president of both the “Trailblazers” community support group at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage and the Journalism Alumni Association at CSUN. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the New West Symphony in Southern California.

Ross is a frequent writer and speaker on topics about which he is passionate, including “restoring public trust in health care.” He has been published in dozens of well-known outlets including the Los Angeles Times, the Journal for Values Based Leadership, the Los Angeles Business Journal, Health Affairs, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Modern Healthcare, the Pacific Coast Business Times and many others. He is also author of the book “I Only Know What I Know” (ionlyknow.com).

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

As a journalism major and editor of my college daily newspaper, my original ambition was to be a sports columnists. But then I read a great quote that said that the problem with being a sportswriter is that you have to take sports seriously because it is your livelihood and the livelihood of those you cover. That was my “aha” moment. I didn’t want to give up being a passionate fan, so I turned my attention to where else I could use whatever writing skills I had and that opened the door to public relations.

My first “real” job out of college was working for the Hyatt Corporation, and that’s where I learned the good and the bad of corporate life. It was also a time when the line between public relations and other communications disciplines was becoming muddied and the term “marketing communications” began to emerge. I went back to college at night and earned a master’s degree in communications which included the study of public relations, advertising and marketing.

I ended up spending more than two decades in the corporate world, eventually heading corporate communications for a $3.5 billion not-for-profit company. In 1999 I launched the second chapter in my career by starting my own public relations agency, and that’s where I’ve been for the past 22 years. Over those years I have also had the good fortune to serve as chairman of the board of a local hospital, serve on the board of directors of both a museum and a symphony orchestra, and teach public relations at the same university and in the same classroom where I studied. I’ve also authored the book I Only Know What I Know. It’s been a wild ride and mostly (but not always) a fun journey. And I’m not done yet.

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?

The funniest mistake I made was writing “seduced” instead of “sedated” when writing an article for a hospital’s newsletter. Fortunately it was caught at the very last minute before going to print … but not before it caused some good laughter around the office. But the most important lesson I learned was also very early in my career when I spoke by phone with a reporter and quickly discovered that I was unprepared to answer the questions he was asking. It was both embarrassing and harmful, and I never let it happen again. I now always remember the words of John Wooden: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

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

I tell people that we are proud not only of our work product but of our work ethic. Normally when agencies are speaking with prospective clients, they provide a list of references who can be called. But we all know that those references have been hand selected to be “the best of the best.” So when we are pitching business, I tell the prospective client to call any one of our clients that they wish. No holds barred. To a one, they are shocked by that offer and tell me that they’ve never encountered it before. I don’t know how many of these prospects have actually taken us up on it through the years, but the very offer itself helps not only to differentiate us but speaks to how strongly I feel about the integrity of who we are and what we do.

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

We are very fortunate in the fact that the majority of our clients are healthcare or healthcare-related. As a result, much of what we do is focused on helping people (in addition obviously to helping our clients), whether it be adopting healthier lifestyles or getting the care they need when they need it most. Through the years many of our marketing communication efforts have been focused around reminding expecting mothers about the importance of prenatal care, or clearly articulating the warning signs of heart attack or stroke, or inviting people to health fairs for free screenings or prompting seniors on the importance of getting their flu shots and visiting their doctor regularly. Over the past two years we’ve: worked with a hospital in Oregon on the opening of the community’s first and much-needed immediate care center; worked with a medical center in downtown Los Angeles in breaking ground on a new patient tower that will provide increased access to the community’s underserved population; worked with a senior health plan in Texas in reminding their members about the importance of medication adherence; and helped tell the heartwarming story about the power of organ and tissue donation by promoting the Donate Life float at each year’s Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. While in truth I stumbled into healthcare as a specialty field of PR, I have come to appreciate the importance of what we do and the fact that we are surrounded by people with good hearts who are trying very hard to do the right thing.

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?

Product marketers operate under the assumption that the best product usually wins. They emphasize the product’s features and benefits, sometimes in large and often expensive media campaigns that highlight superiority. These campaigns often include technical content that offers concrete details on what a product does and spells out how it can solve a consumer’s need. Brand marketers, on the other hand, view themselves in the storytelling business. They set out to create high-level experiences that tell stories to engage prospects’ emotions, swaying them over to support the brand. They may create an entire marketing campaign that builds interest by inviting customers along for a sensory experience. Some people have described the difference as “facts vs. feelings,” which isn’t a bad way to look at it. What an increasing number of companies are discovering is that there is a place for both and that every company, marketplace and industry is different. In an ideal world, these two factions work in perfect harmony to provide customers a choice in how they want to learn about, experience and access a company’s products or 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?

In business, things aren’t always as they appear; and some line items that seem on the surface to be superfluous may actually be the very expenditures that need feeding as they can mean short-term success and long-term staying power. Brand building is just such an example, especially in the uncertain times in which we live. The ability to manage perception and influence decisions has allowed many a company to rise above the crowd and actually keep their doors open despite what is going on around them. Yet there is often a misguided gravitational pull that makes marketing, advertising and public relations among the first disciplines to be cut in a financial downturn. This is one of the biggest mistakes a business can make.

It is in fragile times such as we face today that consumers become even more selective on what to spend and where to spend it. When bank accounts and job security are taking a shellacking at astonishing speed, people are not inclined to gamble on the unknown or jump to the latest carnival barker. They want products, services and businesses they can trust. A solid branding program marinates in trust and can help companies position themselves in just such a way. If companies don’t think they have the money for marketing or branding, they should think again. At a time when the pandemic is tearing at the very fabric of the nation’s economy, marketing communications provides the needle and thread that can enable a company to keep its name prominent and positive.

It is easy, and perhaps even tempting, to remain in the shallow end of the pool until normalcy returns to our country. But nobody knows for sure when that will be or what the new “normal” will look like when we wipe the slate clean. The companies that emerge from this current crisis stronger and better positioned will be those whose brand remains strong, whose values remain true and whose reputation remains unpolluted.

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. Brand development needs to begin with a fundamental Brand Strategy. This strategy should personify why your business exists beyond making money. It defines what it is that sets you apart from the competition and how you want to be perceived by your customers. Organizations need to ask themselves, “What kind of company do we want to be?” and “What do we want to be known for?” There are two ways to answer these questions. One is in a very pragmatic, business sense. For that, the answers could be: one that is profitable; one that has a balance sheet that attracts investors; one that grows x percent per year in revenue and/or profitability; one that consistently has a strong cash position; one that is positioned for merger or acquisition; etc. The other answer would focus on qualities that are far less tangible: a company that is respected throughout its industry; a company whose customers feel comfortable recommending to others; a company that treats its employees with respect and dignity; etc. These two directional answers are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Years ago we took on an assignment with a pulmonology group in Southern California who wanted to go from relying exclusively on attracting patients through physician referral to marketing directly to consumers. Their name was Consultants for Lung Disease. We rebranded them into the Institute for Better Breathing where they could offer services for allergy, asthma, sleep disorders, etc. We created a new logo and all new collaterals, launched radio ads and even redesigned their lobby and offices. Most important, we worked hard to get all employees to understand the new direction and the expanded role they would each play as company ambassadors. But all of this was possible only because the company was first able to decide upon a brand strategy.
  2. An effective brand strategy needs to be rooted in integrity. The challenge with integrity is you can’t just flip a switch and have it As the CEO of a Fortune 500 company once told me “You can’t wake up one morning and say today I am going to have integrity.” You either have it or you don’t. I believe integrity needs to be driven by the actions of the CEO, and then it cascades from him/her to every employee and every decision that is made. We recently worked with a company in Nevada whose values are gratitude, compassion and trust. They then demonstrate that in how they treat their employees, how they treat their customers and what role they play as a good corporate citizen (such as supporting a local food bank during this pandemic). So companies need to ask themselves: What do we believe in? What is the CEO willing to lead by example every day? How are we prepared to make every employee accountable to live those values? Most important, companies can’t just have a causal relationship with integrity. They must understand that they cannot do anything that does not uphold their core values — even if it means walking away from business opportunities or not hiring someone whose resume looks good but whose values are questionable. Otherwise, these are simply empty words and will be quickly exposed as such.
  3. Company leadership needs to remember that branding starts on the inside. We work with a lot of physician groups so let me focus on those for a minute as an example. Physicians, their partners and their staff must be fully invested in believing in the brand and delivering on it all of the time. It must be valued, cherished, and protected. It must become such a part of the texture of a physician’s practice that both employees and patients become ambassadors for that practice or medical group. Others who join that practice must understand and live out the brand, too. The same goes for nurses and office staff, all of whom are a critical part of the entire patient experience before, during, and after the direct patient engagement. All of the dollars, efforts and well-intensions efforts that go into building and promoting a brand will be wasted unless branding starts and continues to be nurtured from the inside.
  4. Successful brand strategies find a way to differentiate. There are dozens of hotels on the Las Vegas strip, yet (under normal times) most seem to thrive with high occupancy rates and no shortage of casino crowds. That’s because each has found a way to differentiate itself and carve out a niche. That differentiation speaks to their brand position. A number of years ago we were working with a large group of independent insurance brokers, and I told them that to many of their customers they themselves are as much a commodity as the insurance they are selling. But if they looked more carefully at their portfolio of products, they would find that each one has found a way to differentiate itself and become attractive and relevant for the potential buyer. The brokers needed to do the same. As antiseptic or uncomfortable as it may feel, they needed to view themselves as a product. What makes you different? What makes you special? What is your unique selling proposition? I told them that the answer had to be more than providing “outstanding customer service” because what broker wouldn’t make that claim? Finding that differentiating quality for any organization can be a journey of self-discovery and is central to establishing a brand. As part of a brand strategy, companies (or individuals) should ask themselves three basic questions: what do I do well, what do my customers value and what attributes or characteristics can I “own” over time? They should view those answers as three linked circles. When they find the area where those three circles overlap, they will have found their brand.
  5. In developing a brand, it is important to remember something that sounds obvious but is too often taken for granted: words matter. When we were involved in rebranding the American Occupational Therapy Association, we found that words were central to their branding challenge and the hurdles they were facing. The OT profession had long been saddled with the misconception that occupational therapy was job-related (which it isn’t). In drilling down, it was clear that their problem was exacerbated by their slogan “skills for the job of living.” So in rebranding the organization we not only removed “jobs” from their tagline but decided to focus the messaging on the outcome of OT, rather than the process. As a result, their new tag became “living life to its fullest” as that is what we wanted people to think about whenever they heard occupational therapy. It is what OT would allow people to do … and thus fulfill their wants … and thus provide an inherent value in their lives. More than just a tagline, the AOTA brand now focuses more on the outcome than the process; and that is a mantra increasingly shared by the more than 100,000 therapist in the United States.

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

We really need to start with a common understanding of what is a brand, or perhaps more specially, how we define a brand at Kevin/Ross. To us, in what may be contrary to some misguided beliefs, a brand is not a logo, corporate colors or a slogan. Nor is it a clever ad, regardless of how long its shelf life or reach. These are all simply executions of the brand. A brand is strategic at the highest level. It is who you are, what you do well, how you differentiate, what your customers want, who you hire and what visceral promise are you making. It is an expectation, an experience and ultimately how you bond emotionally with people. Think Disney, Apple and Starbucks. They have compelling brands that really have nothing to do with the color of their logo (although, over time, those have become well-known). They know that customer decisions are made on promises that transcend products, and promises are rooted in human emotions. These companies, and others, have found a way to draw upon those human emotions and, as a result, they don’t just have satisfied customers, they have loyal customers. There is a big difference. As Chip Bell, author and consultant in customer loyalty and service innovation once explained “Loyal customers don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you too.”

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?

People have debated for years whether or not there is a foolproof, universally accepted way to measure the success and value of what we do. Certainly direct response advertising can be measured by sales, new customers or how often the cash register rings. Measuring public relations has always been far more intangible which has always been a thorn in the side of those of us in that profession. The good news is that the effectiveness of a brand building campaigns is easier to measure because we have the power of data on our side. Today we are not only able to measure the overall success of our brand building campaigns, but we can do so on an increasingly granular level. But that is only true if before the campaign launches you take the time — and have company wide agreement — on the campaign’s specific goals and benchmarks so you can measure and analyze data within that context. And the more detailed you get in terms of goals and benchmarks, the better. Is it increased brand recall? Increased traffic to your website? Reach new audiences that might be interested in your product? Once you know the desired outcome, it becomes a lot easier to analyze data relative to reach, chatter, media-earned value, social media engagement, share of voice, brand knowledge and even lead or sales generations. There is a multitude of brand tracking software and survey instruments available to help marketers in this effort.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is great news for brand marketers and the best part is, both big and small brands can benefit. That’s why business and consumer marketers almost unanimously believe that social media is crucial to building a brand. It provides a platform consumers can use to express their loyalty to their favorite brands and products and, by doing so, actually helps promote the product itself. When done correctly, social media tells consumers that their brand is active and focused on thriving communication with consumers. Historically the most successful brands are those which have been able to break through in culture to the point where they generate “cultural relevance.” Traditionally, cultural innovation has flowed from the margins of society — fringe groups, social movements, and even artistic circles that challenged and often disrupted mainstream norms and conventions. Companies and the mass media helped to bring these new ideas to the mass market. But social media has changed everything as it brings together communities that once were geographically isolated, greatly increasing the pace of cultural influence. Having said all of this, also keep in mind that social media has the potential, as we’ve seen in recent years, to influence society in negative ways as well. Anyone can (for the most part) post anything. They can rally a crowd for good or bad. They can spread love or spread hate. They can present facts or falsehoods. In short, social media is a town without a sheriff and, as such, must be assessed and used wisely.

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

I am not a physician, but having spent so much of my career working with hospitals, doctors and health plans I believe I’ve had the most difficult job in healthcare. You think it’s difficult diagnosing an illness? Try explaining on the evening news why so many of our fellow Americans wake up each morning without health insurance. Or how about taking a shellacking for the sea of medical errors that the media reports … or discussing long waits in hospital emergency departments … or trying to translate the alphabet soup of HMOs, PPOs, HSAs, ACOs and the like? Public Relations, marketing and branding are not easy professions we’ve chosen and regardless of what specialty niche you may have carved out for yourself, there are likely times that you feel as if you are living inside a pinball machine. Burnout is natural and there is no pill you can take to prevent its onslaught. Making matters worse is that with so many people working from home these days, there is no real separation between home and work. It’s too easy to get back on your computer in evenings and on weekends. Sometimes that is unavoidable, but if it becomes the norm that’s not good. It’s a cliché to talk about work-life balance but that’s really the key. You need have the discipline to shut off, relax, spend time with family and find things that bring you pleasure. Maybe it’s playing a sport or volunteering or listening to music or gardening. Whatever it is, find it. Do it. Keep your priorities straight and never forget what really matters in life.

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

I don’t know how much influence I have, but I appreciate the sentiment. I am troubled by what a divided country we live in these days. There have always been differences of opinion, which is healthy, but in the past we were rivals, not enemies. The temperature is too hot. The emotions are too high. And the trigger is too quickly pulled, both literally and figuratively. My movement would be one that returns us to civility and the common understanding that we all want nothing more than to live out our lives in peace, health and happiness.

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

There are “life lesson” quotes and there are “business lesson” quotes. As business quotes go, I always remember what a professor in my graduate program told me. He said that in our profession “It is not enough to be right; you must also seem to be right.” That’s a reminder that when it comes to communications and branding, we are dealing with public perception. It’s nice and ideal when perception and reality match — but when they don’t, perception usually wins the day. My two favorite life lesson quotes both come from the Broadway musical “The Music Man.” The first is to “Never let the demands of tomorrow interfere with the pleasures and excitements of today.” The second is a great reminder for anyone of any age, but it becomes particularly poignant the older one gets and looks back on life’s decisions, opportunities and choices. It’s a caution that “If you pile up enough tomorrows, you’ll find you’ve collected nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.” Combined, those two quotes send the same strong message … and it’s a message I’ve tried to drill into our 25-year-old son throughout his life.

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. 🙂

The person I would have most wanted to have met would have been Robert Kennedy who challenged us, who always believed that we can do better, who summoned the best of our character and who reminded us that “happiness comes not from the goods we have but from the good we can do together.” Because that is no longer possible, my answer would be Vin Scully. While Woody Allen and Mel Brooks might keep me in stiches, Vin Scully has not only witnessed so much over his 92 years, but he is the consummate storyteller so spending time with him would be mesmerizing.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

facebook.com/kevinrosspr


Ross Goldberg of Kevin/Ross Public Relations: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Antonia Hock of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can…

Antonia Hock of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Coach: — If you routinely find that you are struggling to move through challenges or find yourself in negative self-talk, I would recommend finding someone you admire for their resiliency and spending time with them. How did they become resilient? What do they do that helps them build confidence? How do they stay positive and move forward? Often sharing experiences and talking with someone about these skills can help them become a bigger part of your own personal arsenal. I also think moving towards a positive action-orientation can be accelerated by surrounding yourself with people who exhibit these traits. If you want to be resilient, surround yourself with people who are also resilient.

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 Antonia Hock.

Antonia Hock is the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center where she leads a dynamic advisory business focused on innovating the Customer Experience (CX) and Talent Experience (TX) for clients worldwide.

Antonia is a sought-after, author, thought leader and frequent global keynote featured speaker. She is considered a global expert on organizational transformation and building experience-based brands, creating a culture of customer-centricity, empowering employees and issues around diversity in the workforce, and innovating experiences for the future.

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 came to terms early in my career that I was by nature driven towards chaos, turnarounds, new ideas, start-ups — anything that was a “build” vs. a stable, run-rate business that needed only incremental improvement to thrive. When I came out of college, I joined an early stage dot com and that fed my desire to build and create. It also allowed me to tap into my entrepreneurial spirit while simultaneously allowing me to experience the heavy lifting and long hours required to build a business.

I also love working with big brands that have resources and an appetite for being market-makers through innovation and calculated risk. This led me to work for fast-moving progressive companies like Microsoft, HP, and Siemens where I earned a reputation as a maverick: the one you call when you have a big challenge with high stakes attached. I also learned some important lessons about the value of culture, wellness, and genuine care in the workplace. Those are underserved areas that can break a business apart and destroy even the best financial performances.

After years of building successful business units centered on transformative technology, I was presented with the opportunity to work for The-Ritz-Carlton — but with the new twist of taking that legendary service, culture, and wellness focus to market as a methodology that can be implemented in Fortune 500 companies to drive business results. Much of what we do focuses on changing the lives of employees and customers with a strong focus on care, empowerment, and a personalized approach to connection.

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

I was a young high-performing, high-potential manager, and I was invited to a very important meeting with 20 senior executives who were 95% men. The meeting room was small, with a boardroom table that fit only 10 seats, and 15 seats around the outside perimeter of the table. I arrived early to the meeting, and out of respect for the seniority of others in the meeting, I took a seat on the perimeter. After the meeting was over, I was called into my skip level boss’ office where I was told that I might not make it as a leader in the business because I could not claim my rightful place at the table. In this culture, my seat choice was signaling to all the other executives that I was deferential and not bold, aggressive or confident. I thought I was being thoughtful, but that was a wake-up call for how my actions would always signal my self-concept and my ambition. I am forever grateful to those male leaders in this situation who took the time to teach me that lesson early in my career because it jolted me from the patriarchal way I was raised, and I never made that mistake again.

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

The Ritz-Carlton has always been focused on values and culture that put the wellness of our employees and our guests front and center in all that we do. We have been living by values of empowerment, genuine care, personalized attention, and creating indelible memories for over 30 years. Whether we are caring for each other or caring for a guest, these values allow us to create an environment that is focused on wellbeing — emotional, physical, and mental — and that is life-changing for all. This is at the center of why we are sought after experts in designing and implementing culture that supports happy employees who in turn create very special experiences for customers and guests. In a world where wellness is not a corporate focus for most, we stand out as a business model that drives exceptional financial performance by investing in a culture of wellness and empowerment.

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 an exceptional female leader early in my career who showed me that her road to success did not require her to change her personal narrative. She had a complicated family life and a complicated upbringing, and instead of hiding that from all of us, she invited us all into her world. We all came together for a team meeting where we all stayed the weekend at her home sleeping on the floors and sharing the bathroom, and we came out of that weekend much more connected to each other. She gave me the confidence that I could be my full self and not compromise my identity to succeed. She also gave me some of my most meaningful performance reviews where she invested in the coaching and insights to help me raise my game. She modeled how a selfless leader behaves, and it changed my trajectory.

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 in the same category of traits as courage and grit. For me, resilience is the ability to thrive and survive when the world is imploding around you, the circumstances are poor, you have already experienced set-backs, and many other people would be paralyzed to move forward — or move at all. Resilient people thrive on overcoming adversity by laying out plans and acting with speed and confidence. They don’t feel sorry for themselves or exhibit a victim mind-set. They don’t blame external factors and make excuses. Resilient people tap into an internal well of optimism, a problem-solving toolbox, and a practical, pragmatic outlook that enables them to take actions in the face of doubt, poor-odds, stress and emotional challenges.

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

When I think of resilience, I immediately think of Beck Weathers from the ill-fated Mount Everest summit attempt in 1996 that is covered in John Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. After weeks of grueling climbing under the most extreme conditions in the world and summitting, his climbing group faced terrible circumstances and weather conditions that killed many over a period of days. They were a fragmented group of climbers that were spread across the mountain on the decent. Beck Weathers, who was snow-blind and spent the night at 27,000 ft alone and exposed, then descended the mountain further before being left for dead by group of climbers based on their assessment of his condition. We knew he was near death in those conditions, and he knew that he had been left to die. His choice was to find the internal fortitude to get up and walk down the mountain or die trying. Beck is the ultimate example of resilience for me: Finding a way to tap into your inner well of strength under terrible circumstances. He found the determination and commitment to moving forward when most others could not. That’s the pinnacle 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?

As a junior in high school, like so many teenagers, I was ready to consider my college path. At this time, I was attending a public high school in Indiana with good general academics and a large vocational program designed to cater to students with a variety of post-high school plans. I worked very hard throughout high school, and I was an excellent student with strong testing scores, extra-curricular activities, sports, and civic engagement. I had always dreamed of going to a school that would challenge me, and I had quietly set my heart on an Ivy League school. I thought for sure that everyone in my life would help me dream this big dream and encourage me to “go for it”. What I encountered was much different. Instead of unwavering support, I had just the opposite reaction from almost everyone in my life. I received comments like: “You aren’t smart enough”, “You aren’t Ivy League material.”, “Why would a girl want to get an expensive education just to be a wife and pop out kids.”, “Go to a state school and find a husband — it will be cheaper.”, “You don’t have the right pedigree. Only private school kids get in.”, “Your public education will doom you to fail at that level.”, “Your academic skills aren’t even close to good enough.”, “That dream is too big for you.” “You are too sensitive and shy to handle that type of school.” I was confronted with negative feedback across the board, everywhere I looked. But in my heart, I knew that I was going for it no matter what. Scroll forward — and on the back of my own hard work, two devoted alumni interviewers, and some grit — I found myself as a freshman at Dartmouth College. The net lesson I learned as a 17-year-old is that you must believe in your own power, you must do the work required, and never let circumstances or obstacles keep you from being resilient! The calvary is not coming.

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 so fortunate to cross paths with a visionary young leader when I was ready to make my leap to be a first-time people leader. He was a superstar and considered to be one of the strongest upwardly mobile in the company. He was hiring for a sales leader to turn around a train wreck of a business. I was a young lone contributor with no formal people leadership credentials, but I competed the heck out of that interview cycle, and he decided to endorse me for the role. The other leaders in the interview process, for good reason, thought I was a high risk candidate especially with the work required to overhaul the human capital, transform the customer experience, rebalance the P&L, and deliver operational excellence with 10 months to go in the fiscal year. But he put his superstar reputation on the line to hire me, and I got the job.

As I first time leader, this was a daunting task, and it was bumpy. The learning curve was steep, and this was not a hand-holding culture, so I had to figure it out on my own. I struggled to make headway, and I came up short over and over. I was ridiculed and publicly doubted in staff meetings. People joked about my ability and betted on how long I would last. Every day, I walked into that job with hard work to be done and virtually no support. I had a C-level leader tell my boss that I would never make it, that I was a poor hire, and he should know better. I would destroy his career with my eminent failure. But he hung in there with me, and I found my sea legs. At the end of the 10 months, I moved a $200M P&L from last place in the US to #2 in the US, and I overhauled everything that was asked of me. The biggest trait that I drew on was my resilience. I never bought into the haters, and I never doubted I could crack the code. I got tougher and tougher over that year — more and more determined every day. And I had a toolkit of great business experience that I drew upon to deliver exceptional results.

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

I have always been a passionate equestrian, and as a young girl, my love of horses extended to every kind of horse — rescues, wild, young, old, Western, English, Hunter/Jumper. You name it; I wanted to ride it. With this attitude always comes risk. I was 10 years old, and I was riding in an indoor arena on 3-year old Saddlebred that had only been under saddle for a short period of time. Something spooked him, and he wildly bucked me off. My foot got caught in the stirrup and I was dragged around the arena at top speed. I finally got free, and then I got kicked in the stomach and stepped on by a 2,000lb animal. By the time I got up, I was bloody, dirty, shocked, and crying. My father caught the equally traumatized horse and tied him up. Then he came over to me and told me I had 30 seconds to cry, collect myself, and then I was going to get back on that horse and ride him. If I didn’t, the horse would never respect me, I would be fearful of riding later, and I would doubt my skill down the road. I was horrified that my dad would ask that of me, and I wanted to be left to cry and go home. But he was right. I got back on and rode that horse, and we both felt better afterward. That day, my horse and my father taught me an important lesson about bring resilient. How you handle adversity in those moments will create patterns of resiliency and confidence that will be long-lasting. I also learned that I could do more under tough circumstances than I thought, and that created confidence. The confidence to act is also a gift.

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.

When I discuss building resiliency, I like to take people through my CARVE principle:

Coach:

If you routinely find that you are struggling to move through challenges or find yourself in negative self-talk, I would recommend finding someone you admire for their resiliency and spending time with them. How did they become resilient? What do they do that helps them build confidence? How do they stay positive and move forward? Often sharing experiences and talking with someone about these skills can help them become a bigger part of your own personal arsenal. I also think moving towards a positive action-orientation can be accelerated by surrounding yourself with people who exhibit these traits. If you want to be resilient, surround yourself with people who are also resilient.

Activity:

Pick an activity where you know you will struggle, and then commit to that effort. This might be a new sport, a new language, or a new craft. I like this approach because you are working on your resiliency in a safe environment, but the skills can apply across your entire life. Set a goal, and then put a plan in place to work towards that goal. When you experience a set-back, practice the positive mindset, action plan, act with speed and confidence, and keep going! When I was learning to deadlift, I was the absolute worst in the gym. I couldn’t lift even the lightest weight off the floor. I couldn’t make my body adapt to the movement. My form was terrible. I was so frustrated with myself. So I watched videos, practiced in front of the mirror over and over, sought out others to watch and correct my form, and I never gave up. In the end, I was able to conquer the skill — but the road wasn’t easy, and I drew on my resiliency to get me through.

Resources:

Having a resource pool is an important feature of resiliency. We all need to build up our resources, skills, and network of people who can help us solve problems, provide support, or guidance. Resilient people know when and how to apply skills or reach through to others who can be useful and meaningful in challenging circumstances. Actively cultivating this environment for yourself will help accelerate your success!

Visualize:

I really love the concepts used in sports psychology for building resilience. Athletes face setbacks all the time, and often they have to respond immediately, so this is a great area to study that model. One technique I really like is to visualize yourself being resilient. Pick a challenging real-world scenario and sit quietly and step yourself through every step you would take to overcome the challenge. How would you act? What tools would you use? When you accomplish your goal at the end of the visualization, how would you feel? Secondly, I would recommend that you reflect on scenarios from the past where you may not have acted decisively, where you felt paralyzed, unsure, or maybe you chose to do nothing, and the outcome was not positive. Spend some time thinking about how someone you perceive as resilient would have handled the same scenarios. What would you do today? Often building resilience is about focusing on self-awareness, expanding your problem-solving skills, and building confidence to act.

Engagement:

When you experience a set-back in your life, and you feel a sense of fear or paralysis, I recommend practicing three immediate steps. First, you should stay engaged, so the moment to act doesn’t pass. Then quickly: 1.) Find something positive in your mind that relates to this set-back. What have you done before that you could draw on? What skill could you apply? The goal is to build your confidence and find some positivity to bring focus. 2.) Make an immediate mental plan that is tactical — what can you do right now to start moving in a different direction? I find some action, big or small, unsticks a scenario before it becomes overwhelming in your mind. Do something! 3.) Think about one or two things you will do in the near term to solve, improve, or change the situation, and make a deadline to act. This ensures that you will keep moving forward. Building resilience is also about perseverance! Sometimes, it’s just about working a plan one-step at a time. You don’t have to solve it all, but resilient people keep moving!

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. 🙂

Investing in young adults has the potential to create such change and momentum for all of us and the world we live in. I see so many teenagers and young adults struggling with tough circumstances, difficult home challenges, and social and economic adversity. The infrastructure to help make change is so limited for this group of young people. I would like to see more programs like YearUp that are exclusively focused on opportunities and support for young adults. Giving this group real life skills, career support, mentors, and hope that the future can and will be different makes a real difference to an entire generation. I would love to see more major corporations come out in support of this program, and I would love to see more people give their time, skills, and leadership in the service of our young adults. https://www.yearup.org/

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 connect with Kim Ng. I admire the drive, commitment, and patience that she has exhibited throughout her career, and I’d love to congratulate her on her new GM role!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/antonia-hock/

https://www.instagram.com/antoniahock/

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


Antonia Hock of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jacqueline Snyder of The Product Boss: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become…

Jacqueline Snyder of The Product Boss: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Find your passion. — It is hard to be resilient when you don’t believe in what you are doing. Sometimes when tested, especially under tremendous pressure, it allows us to reflect on our current situation and forces change. It’s a cliche, but life is too short to do something you don’t care about. Find your passion or find passion in what you do, and no matter what happens, you will be able to flex, bend, and adapt.

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 fashion designer and product startup expert Jacqueline Snyder. Jacqueline and her business partner, Minna Khounlo-Sithep, are the combined force behind The Product Boss coaching platform and podcast. They have grown a community of high-achieving product-based small business owners and have helped them scale their physical product businesses through masterminds, group coaching and digital courses designed specifically for product-based business owners ranging from start-up conception to multi-million dollar companies. Together their goal is to change the landscape of product entrepreneurship by connecting women around the world through a blend of real-life business tactics, creative strategy and modern leadership.

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?

Minna and I have been entrepreneurs since our early 20’s and have each owned multiple businesses.

I am a fashion designer and business strategist. I am the founder and CEO of Designer Consulting Co-Op. I have over 13 years of coaching over 2,000 start-up fashion apparel and accessory brands, and even launched my brand of accessories, Cuffs Couture, in 2008.

My business partner Minna Khounlo-Sithep has over 15 years of entrepreneurial experience. She has her MBA and is the owner of Lil’ Labels, where she sells waterproof daycare labels. Lil’ Labels currently sells on multiple platforms, including Amazon, Walmart, and Jet. Minna is an Amazon expert and has helped many fellow business owners start and grow on Amazon.

We met online and started a business before we ever met in person. But our origin story is not what you would expect. While stuck in LA traffic and listening to my favorite business podcast, I began contemplating how I would liquidate inventory of an accessory brand of mine that had many successful years before fizzling out. The podcast host mentioned Minna’s name and stated that Minna, a successful business owner that sold her products on Amazon, could potentially be an Amazon expert and teach others what she knew IF she ever wanted to be a business coach. I reached out to Minna the next day after searching for her on Facebook, and we set up a virtual coffee date.

Entrepreneurship is lonely, and we quickly realized we spoke the same “love language,” which was business (specifically product-based business) and began talking every day. We supported each other as we both navigated running our companies and juggling our families as we are both mothers.

We realized a considerable gap in the market through the hours of business-related conversations we would have. As avid podcast listeners, we found ourselves listening to service-based business podcasts and tried to convert their advice and relate it to product-based businesses. We had each other to learn from, but what about everyone else? In a sea of service-based business podcasts, we decided we would create The Product Boss Podcast.

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

We attended an in-person business retreat back in 2019. We signed up for the event because a leader in our industry would be there as the keynote speaker, and we would get direct access to her by attending. We did not anticipate the incredible group of fellow online business owners that would be there and ultimately changed our business course, and thereby our lives. Not only did we meet the keynote speaker a year later, but we would also be one of her “student success stories” and featured on her website and podcast.

But at that event, we figured out three things that would change the course of our business. We realized that our business could grow to a multi-million dollar company, a number we had never considered before. We decided to build our first online course explicitly geared to helping product-based business owners grow their revenue, and we met and hired the marketing team that would help our company scale quickly.

So our most significant takeaway is that if you put yourself out there, take risks, and try new things, unexpected, marvelous things will happen.

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

The Product Boss Stands out because there are very few coaches, courses, and podcasts created explicitly for small product-based business owners and the struggles they face as they grow from solopreneur to CEO.

A story that stands out is a recent one…about six weeks after the global shutdown in March, we received and a message from Jessica, a candle maker, and couples counselor. Jessica’s counseling business had to shut down due to the pandemic, and she needed to find a way to continue contributing to her family financially. Jessica had a small side hustle candle business, and when she had to close her practice, she decided to lean into her candle company. Jessica was a podcast listener and started to implement what we taught on the podcast and became a student in one of our digital courses. In about six weeks, Jessica made four figures a week by selling her candles online and wrote to us to thank us for helping her and her family survive and thrive during the pandemic. We realized the impact we were genuinely making by supporting business owners, like Jessica, especially in a year like 2020.

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 grateful for Minna and I know she’s grateful for me after all we’ve been through. Now that is not to take away from all of the beautiful, incredibly smart, and talented people that have helped us get here. But finding each other, being a part of this partnership, is genuinely rooted from a place of uplifting and supporting one another, and our dreams have transformed us both. We model what we hope to teach. Women supporting women. Allowing them to exist in whichever way works best for them, but always supporting each other and lifting each other.

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?

If it is fragile and you put just a little bit of pressure on it, it breaks. But something resilient can bend, flex, and adapt even when there is immense pressure.

But even something resilient can eventually break. And as business owners, especially in a year like 2020, we need to take the idea or resilience a bit further. We are personally working on and teaching our community the characteristics of becoming antifragile. Nassim Nicholas Taleb inspires this in his book, Antifragile. It is the idea that even when you break when there are obstacles, failures, mistakes, and stressors, you take what you learn to make you and your business stronger.

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

Can I say the 25,000+ Product Bosses in our community? It is hard to name just one because the resilience we have seen in our community as a whole has been awe-inspiring.

We work with thousands of small business owners globally that were deeply impacted when the pandemic changed everything. Many of them were already struggling to grow their businesses, and when the world shut down, so did the retail stores, tradeshows, contractors, suppliers, and markets. The pandemic wiped out their plans, and they would need to make new plans that they had no idea how to execute or if they would work.

But our advice to them was to be resilient, even be so bold to be antifragile. Business owners would need to adapt, try something new, and keep going. And they did! Jessica is just one of many examples of the the business owner success stories we’ve seen come out of these hardships. Not only did she survive, but really is truly thriving.

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?

As children of the ’80s, we grew up believing women could do anything….but while people said those things, there were very few women in our lives modeling that for us. My mother told me she could not follow her dreams of going to art school or having a business because she chose to raise her children. It was an either-or for her. Minna’s mother had to work, so her grandmother raised her and her sisters. It was an either-or for her as well. We did not have many examples of women who worked or ran businesses that could be career-focused and mothers. We wanted to have it all.

We are trying to model for our own families, children, and community that we can be mothers who volunteer at our kids’ schools, run two successful companies, and cultivate our relationships with our husbands, all while practicing self-care. But we are throwing away the concept of “having it all.”

What does that even mean? Having it all means we are comparing to someone else’s “all.” Instead, we are discovering what is possible for each of us, individually, when it comes to balancing relationships, self-care, children, and business. It is messy and imperfect. Somedays, we will feel like we are winning at business, and sometimes we will be the mom of the year. But we also allow those days to feel like we are dropping the ball on all of it. But we get back up, we learn, we adapt, and we keep going.

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?

Hello, 2020. We all had such huge plans and expectations for 2020. And three months in, all of it changed. This was going to be the first year we hit our first seven figures in revenue. We had our ideal team, our strategy, and our course launch plan ready to go. And then, during our first launch of the year, the world shut down. Suddenly our course seemed irrelevant, our strategies for a world that no longer existed. We panicked. What would we do?

So we did what we knew best, we leaned into our community. We showed up for our community every day, encouraging them to keep going. We came up with creative and alternative ways to keep selling their products and transition to working from home. We knew that the best way to get in front of their customers was to show up on video using social media. We built a brand new course called The Survival Kit Course Bundle, which helped product-based business owners get their businesses online, even without a website. We created a course in four weeks and launched it with the tools we thought would help other businesses survive.

We didn’t know if it would work, but we knew we had to do something to help. And as the year went on, that would be our driving force. Show up for our community, support them in education, and use our platform to shine a light on them.

We stayed focused as we remained adaptable and flexible and kept showing up. At the beginning of Q4 2020, we hit our seven-figure goal. But the craziest part was that while we were proud of hitting a revenue goal, we could have never imagined the impact our community would have on us. Their stories of resilience and antifragility helped us realize a greater purpose. Now we knew our platform could reach an even bigger audience than we ever thought possible before.

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

I moved so many times as a child that I attended seven different elementary schools! As a kid, making new friends over and over again is quite daunting, especially as you get older. I would say that my ability to adapt to new environments and new people helped me learn resilience. I wouldn’t say I liked it when I was a kid, but now I realize that having to adapt constantly truly made me stronger.

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.

Step 1: Find your passion.

It is hard to be resilient when you don’t believe in what you are doing. Sometimes when tested, especially under tremendous pressure, it allows us to reflect on our current situation and forces change. It’s a cliche, but life is too short to do something you don’t care about. Find your passion or find passion in what you do, and no matter what happens, you will be able to flex, bend, and adapt.

Step 2: Practice the “What Ifs.”

We all have fears, founded and unfounded, reasonable and unreasonable, but they are fears nonetheless. When you start to go down the road of confronting, your fears ask yourself, “what if?” And then answer that with a solution. For example…

What if my retail store shuts down?

Answer: I will get my business online.

What if no one finds me online?

Answer: I will ask my friends and family to share.

And you keep answering your “what if” questions until you face your fears and realize you have options.

Step 3: Create Opportunities

Step 2 helps you face fears and start to come up with ideas for options. Step 3 is to create opportunities for yourself. We tell our business owners that being scrappy and creative will set them apart. Being a business owner is already such a courageous feat that they have all the skills they need to create new options and new opportunities for themselves. They started a business from scratch and they can do this, too!

Step 4: Try and Try again

As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The same goes for life and business; it is all one big experiment — perseverance, trial, and error. If you keep at it, you will find the thing that works!

Step 5: Be like Silly Putty.

Business and life can change quickly. But if you are like Silly Putty, you can bend, stretch, and transform as needed. Silly Putty can even be pulled apart and snap. But you can always put it back together. Believe in your ability to create endless options and opportunities, and know you have the ability to execute them all.

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 say that the 2020 setback we had in March led us to create a movement! We founded the Shop 1 in 5™ Pledge. It’s a commitment to make 1 in 5 of your purchases from a small business, online or “offline.” It’s a way to make an impact together where (and when) it matters most.

We wanted to make it easy to discover small product-based businesses to buy from, especially this gift-giving holiday season! So we created a directory of small product-based companies from our community that you can shop right now. The Small Biz Shopping Directory will help you commit to your pledge as you commit to purchasing 1 in 5 of your purchases from a small business. This directory is full of almost 600 online shops with everything from toys, bath and body, home, and jewelry. Imagine a holiday gift market all bundled up and delivered to you to shop from and share about easily. Shop 1 in 5 of your gifts right here. You may get ALL of your holiday shopping done!

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 meal with Oprah Winfrey. Why? Because she is the ultimate embodiment of antifragility and perseverance. As a woman, she has led the way for so many other women and she has shown us what is possible. And with her influence and fame, she has always used it for the good of others. She shines her light on others helping to lift up as many people as possible. But what I really want to know is what does she say to herself or do when she is feeling down? How does Oprah pick herself back up to keep forging through?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please follow us @TheProductBoss if you want support to grow your business and want to discover small businesses to shop from, plus you can take the Shop 1 in 5 Pledge by following us at @Shop1in5. They can also check out specifics on our new programs at TheProductBoss.com.


Jacqueline Snyder of The Product Boss: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tre’elle Tolbert of Tag It Brand It: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Invest in content creators. These are your graphic designers, web developers, content writers, photographers, videographers, musicians and producers, anyone with the ability to breathe life into a vision. We cannot drop the ball on this. Content creation conveys visual communication. Investing in a creative team means you have tools that paint a picture of building trust. No matter if your company admits how great they are at what they do, you have to showcase it. What better way to do so than visuals. At Tag It Brand It, we can assist in that department. We know that there is power in what we see. First impressions are lasting impressions, so let’s get it right the first time.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Tre’elle Tolbert.

Tre’elle is the founder of Tag It Brand It, a digital marketing and branding company. She is also a United States Navy Veteran, who has served seven years as an Interior Communications Electrician Second Class. After serving, she went on to college to receive her Bachelors in Science in Psychology, from Regent University and her Masters of Science in Digital Audience Strategies from Arizona State University.

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

Thank you for having me. Wow, where do I begin? I was always a person who loved all things creative. I was the kid that grew up as an introvert. I would lock myself in my room to write in my journal lyrics or poetry. I’d play my instruments, and draw from time to time. It was a hobby of mine that turned into a passion. I remember enrolling in my final course to complete my bachelors degree, when I reached out to a mentor of mine to help me with my next endeavor. Originally, I wanted to become a clinical counselor with the idea that I’d help teenage children. When I spoke with my mentor, she highlighted that I expressed more love about music and graphics than I did following my counseling career path. My mentor suggested other majors and colleges for me to consider. I found one that offered everything I’d need to make my hobby come to life. That was my lightbulb moment. That was the fire I needed to connect the dots to becoming Tag It Brand It.

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 funniest marketing mistakes I’ve made was ordering my first set of business cards. I was focused on designing something that was pleasing to the eye and represented my brand well. Well, I bought a lot of premium business cards. You know the ones that shine and have a bit of texture, on trifecta paper. It was nice and thick. I received them and began dishing them out. Well, I started receiving DMs on Instagram of potential leads who we’re giving me a call but were unable to get in touch with me. It’s because I printed the wrong phone number on my card. I was off by one digit. Needless to say, I had to reorder them.

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

What makes my company stand out is that we are a one-stop shop to branding with the grace to extract vision from thought to reality. Marketing is the cherry on top. When I present my clients with their products, their responses mean the world to me. Just recently, I was working directly with the founder and CEO of an organization for branding and marketing services. The CEO and I really hit it off well during our consultation. It was filled with great ideas that reached for the stars and ambitious. He was very abstract and didn’t want anything normal but he’d rather have art that becomes a conversation piece.

When I presented the logo, He was blown away! He said he didn’t think I could top that because it was perfect. This is music to my ears. He was in tears and so was I. When I presented the video promo, he told me that he watched it over and over for hours. I’m two for two. When I revealed to him his organization website, I never felt an emotion like that before. He was extremely pleased and excited. It was so good, the CEOs wife reached out to me and told me her husband’s response to it all. That’s what makes Tag It Brand It stand out. We are invested to make our clients succeed. If they win, so do we. We care. We care about the product, where it’s going, who’s going to see it, because it all matters. We get the opportunity to be a part of someone else’s narrative.

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

We are currently working on a project for a non-profit organization “DSMD INC”. Don’t Shoot My Dad (DSMD) is on a mission to break the stigma that all black and brown men are immediately viewed as a threat to life in most confrontations, altercations, and interactions with law enforcement and the general public. They provide a forum for the black community to spread awareness of the importance of black dads in America, and why they shouldn’t be continuously devalued. This project will help raise awareness to a powerful movement that gives back to the community by supporting and educating minority entrepreneurs and can help change lives.

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?

One of the biggest differences I find between brand marketing and product marketing is that brand marketing markets the brand story, while the product is simply a tool that helps tell the story. The brand story can be found in the brand’s mission that explains its very existence. In that story, everything matters, colors, typography, packaging, tone, but most importantly, the users perspective of it all. When we focus on branding, I consider a well known company like Nike.

Nike mission is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Their entire brand marketing is simple with a check and a slogan, “Just Do It.” When Nike markets their brand, they do it by telling a story. You will find purpose in articles that will inspire the everyday human to get out and get active. Oh yeah, they happen to sell products such as shoes, athletic apparel, and equipment.

When we see a Nike product, we associate it with their story. When we make a purchase with Nike, we are saying yes to the story, we are saying yes, that we believe in the product, we believe in the brand, and we can associate ourselves with that story.

We don’t buy products, we buy stories and emotions. That’s what a product does. When marketing a product, we market the story, and the product is the main character. This is why you will find products for Nike on athletes of different ages, shapes, color, sex, and nationality, which showcase their diversity in sports.

Think about it. When you purchase food from your favorite restaurant, you are purchasing the product but also the experience it releases when you eat. You are purchasing the satisfaction that caters to your taste buds. When you are purchasing a product, you are purchasing a page in the story of the brand’s vision.

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 say this all the time, you can have a great product but a terrible user experience. The product is only half the work, but the presentation is equally as important. I’ve been in business for a couple of years now, and over time, I learned that many great visionaries do not have a branding plan. I’ve seen products without a plan or a plan without a certain concept. My job now takes on the responsibility to take what is given and create a story.

Once again, branding is storytelling. It is the Christmas spirit vs the gift that one receives. Think about it, the gift is the cherry on top of a successful Christmas story. However, Christmas carols gives us all an audible connection to the season. Decorations such as trees and ornaments cater to our sight. Eggnog and desserts cater to our taste. The colors of red, white, and green are the color pallets for Christmas, and the list goes on. This is all the key to branding. I expressed in that example brand colors and emotions, which are experienced through our senses.

Investing resources and energy into building a brand is what will separate you from any other in your arena. There are many people who offer the same exact services, the difference is the branding experience. In my very first webinar, I express to my viewers that your users define the brand. So, you are investing to cater to the clients and customers you are hoping to receive.

Now, we step into marketing. Marketing allows us to get the right product, in front of the right audience, at the right time. I learned that in a Google Ad course. Branding is a great investment, but once you have something that is beautiful and ready for the world to see, we have to ask ourselves, who would want to see it? This is when we dive into your target market. This is when we play on our demographics and psychographics. This is when we go back to our story and asks who would be touched and moved by it. This is when you think about how your product is priced and ask who can afford it. This is what marketing does. It helps us ask the right questions, so that we can deliver the right message (product) in front of the right user.

Marketing is the spreading or the expanding of your brand message. My motto for Tag It Brand It is to “Plant, Create, and Expand.” That mottos sums planning, branding, and marketing. We plant the ideas of our clients, we hear their stories and passions. We then create an image and experience through content creations such as logos, flyers, websites, ect. Once we have this beautiful product and the appropriate channels, we then take marketing using ads, SEOs, keywords, and other strategies to deliver the right gift to the right chimney.

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.

5 strategies a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand is to first, remember the why. Why does this brand exist? You have to ask yourself these questions, or make sure your team knows the why. The why is the fire needed to keep the fire hot. Want to translate that energy to a source like our brand so that it can be felt. We want to establish a brand that answers some questions or be the solution for what users need or are searching for, and that fire will be the light and guide to capture leads.

2. Share your knowledge and expertise with your audience. This can be done through content such as infographics, free courses, webinars, training, how-tos, guides, blogs, events etc. You want to let the people know that your brand knows what it is talking about. If your brand has a product, then it can showcase how the product works. I think of those infomercials I watched growing up as a kid. I remember one brand in particular, “Oxy-clean” and the spokesman Billy Mays. I remember there would be spills of red wine on a sample carpet, and that one squeeze from a bottle would clean up the stain right away. It made me believe that it was a trusted brand.

Give the people an inside scoop. You don’t have to tell everything. Just enough to get some type of call to action. That could be a subscription, subscriber, follower, customer, or an advocate.

3. Listen to your audience. Remember that people are just that, people who have feelings and emotions. We are not robots, so I believe that brands should engage with their users/audience if they can. Ask questions, read comments, do surveys, get creative. You would want to make sure that your users are happy and satisfied because they’re the ones who define your brand.

4. As a brand you should also research. Trends change all the time and market research will help gather information about consumers needs and preferences, and will allow your company to do strategic planning to present a new product or service. This is listening beyond your audience but listening to potential customers in the world.

5. Invest in content creators. These are your graphic designers, web developers, content writers, photographers, videographers, musicians and producers, anyone with the ability to breathe life into a vision. We cannot drop the ball on this. Content creation conveys visual communication. Investing in a creative team means you have tools that paint a picture of building trust. No matter if your company admits how great they are at what they do, you have to showcase it. What better way to do so than visuals. At Tag It Brand It, we can assist in that department. We know that there is power in what we see. First impressions are lasting impressions, so let’s get it right the first time.

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 company that impresses me when it comes to a believable and beloved brand is Hippeas Snacks. It’s an organic chickpea snack and apparently they’re totally delicious. I say apparently because I’ve never had them but I believe they’re delicious because of what I see on Instagram. I began following Hippeas in grad school when I was looking for a brand to analyze. Hippeas was one brand that has a beautiful Instagram account that pops. It’s clean, bright, their content is above and beyond. It tells a story. Hippeas places their logo and brand color, on everything. Even if it has nothing to do with a snack, their logo, brand colors, or the positive vibes are felt.

Right now they have about 78k followers, but when I scroll through, I see the magic of Hippeas playing on models who are hippy”ish”. That’s a play on words. You’ll see this puff Cheetos looking snack, next to organic food which shows that they can compete with the same nutrients as plants and such. But you’ll get a random photo of nail polish that has the same brand colors of their snack bags and it works somehow.

This is a brand that makes me happy when I view it. It makes me want to buy it if I ever see it on the shelf of a grocery store. Oh, and did I mention that their logo has a smile on it. It’s brilliant!

One can replicate that by marketing outside the box. It’s risky but it is a risk that pays off when you properly tell a brand story. Hippeas maintains brand consistency. Their colors, font, images, lighting, captions, all read Hippeas. Other companies should take note, you can stick your logo on anything, but like Hippeas snacks does, we must tell the story, even if it causes tension to trends.

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?

A sale is the conversions that companies want and can be measured at the completion of checkout in store and online. However, when you are building a brand, there are measurements that you can take that measure everything else in between the conversion. These measurements can be in the form of likes, loves, reposts, comments, on a particular post, video, or content. This is especially true for social media marketing, and why it is important to understand your audience’s insights. We can measure the reach, engagement, calculate the engagement rate, and observe how long videos were viewed. We can analyze website page visits and the list goes on. When you think about measuring a campaign, this gives us the steps your audience are taking to get to call to action.

If you are measuring your brand success on a website, you have tools such as Google Analytics that will help you break down your audience’s behavior. It will tell you the who, what, when, where of a user, without giving you personal information, just behaviors. If I view that many people land on my website, make it to my shop page, but my bounce rate is high, it will allow me to go back to see why that is. You may find that there is no checkout button, or there is a related item that pops up that makes people leave and so on.

You could measure your campaigns by using a campaign tracking tool for custom URLs that will measure your campaign’s source, medium, name, term, and content.

A successful brand building campaign can lead to a successful conversion in sales.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is literally another ecosystem to engage with your audience and find new opportunities to gain new followers, friends, and even clients. I use social media to create a great first impression of what my clients will see when they visit my website. I use Instagram as a portfolio and a place where I can insert tips to be seen as a trusted brand. On Facebook, I highlight my clients and what moves they are making. This gives me different content to post on different outlets. Once again, first impressions are lasting impressions. If you make a great impression on social media, you may get that click to get to the next stage of the funnel.

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

I would tell marketers and other business leaders to prioritize rest. Rest is so important to recalibrate and regroup and I know this is easier said than done. Rest allows you to have a clear mind to make clear decisions. I also believe that you need to have a creative way to express your frustrations. I tend to workout, play musical instruments, or surround myself around people who I love dearly, like my family. If you are fortunate enough to have a team, mentors, or a group that you are a part of, use them and don’t be afraid to ask for help. My company is just me for now, I’m still developing and growing, and can say that I’ve experienced burnout. I’d want to give up many times because I was unable to find the balance between work and school. I was tired and couldn’t do everything. So, I had to find other ways to unplug and recharge. Lastly, ask for help.

Having a community of creatives and fellow marketers and mentors allow me to be surrounded by wise counsel that will hold me accountable. Be honest with yourself, listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to rest or ask for help.

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 could literally spend the rest of my life expressing to others why it is important to capture your vision and find your purpose in the world. I would host events, conferences, classes, and bring a team of other professionals to help me reach my target to spark a fire in children, especially in high school who are thinking about going into business for him or herself. I believe we need more small business owners, entrepreneurs, and innovators and a team of high school students can really change the trajectory of the way we see our future leaders of America. So, I would start a movement that gets people to look deep within themselves by asking the right questions. Questions like what is something that you find yourself going back to over and over again.

I think of myself. All that I offer on Tag It Brand It, is literally all that I am. I wanted to ignore it as a child because my influencers such as school teachers would tell me that being an artist isn’t the best way to go when you are smart. Others saw in me their vision, and I had my own. I left high school to join the military because I had too many people who saw what was best for me and my future. Yet everything in my path led me right back to what I have always loved. Music, art, and serving people. If you can help a child find their voice and passion, and teach them the opportunities they can have when they take a chance on themselves, man oh man! We’ll really see a shift in the way we do things.

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

“Mind your business, Mind your brand.” I came up with this quote when I was struggling with my company. I knew I had something special to offer but I wasn’t sure how it could be packaged. It was hard to find where I would fit in in this market. I didn’t know how to make a pricelist and determine my worth. I was told to look at my competitors to get an understanding but that made me feel unqualified. I realized that confidence comes from within and I needed it to be activated. Therefore, I remained true to who I am and what I am as a person and a brand.

Mind your business means we should attend to our own affairs. My business is my affair that I needed to cultivate and steward properly. Focusing on myself as the brand, I needed to be certain about who I am and leave being a perfectionist out the window.

I began changing my image from what I’ve seen from my competitors and show more of myself. I didn’t want to hide behind my brand. So, I had to crawl out from under the rock I was in. I wanted to be front and center without using a photo but in my designs, attention to detail, forms, and user experiences. If you attend your business, you won’t worry about what others are doing.. Everything you are reflects a piece of you.

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

Hands down, I’d choose Tyler Perry. I think we’d really hit it off. I’m sure there is so much more to him than what we see on TV and Social Media. It’ll be dope to see the humane side of him in that type of setting. I’m sure we’d laugh a ton. I ultimately would want the opportunity to soak in any wisdom and knowledge that he’d be willing to share.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Tag It Brand It on Instagram and Facebook. You can also find me on social media @iamtreelle on Facebook and Instagram

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


Tre’elle Tolbert of Tag It Brand It: 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.

Christopher Lane of Airfield Supply Co: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Christopher Lane of Airfield Supply Co: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Go to Therapy. I don’t just say this because both of my parents are psychologists, but it’s a fact that the key to re-energizing your brand is laying it all out there — the good and the bad — and trying to map your way to a better world. The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? You have to understand your role in the world. Brands are facilitators of experiences and not the end of the conversation. Brands that break through know they have to play that role, they seek to understand their problems, and they build a robust plan to address them.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Christopher Lane.

Chris Lane is the Chief Marketing Officer of Airfield Supply Company, the largest single-site dispensary in California. In this role, Chris is responsible for brand and growth strategy across retail and product businesses. With a background in creative strategy and brand building, Chris focuses on building consumer empathy in brands and driving simultaneous top and bottom funnel growth. Previously, Chris was the Global Head of Brand at Fiverr, also leading agency practices and teams at Method, Bite, WPP, and Edelman.

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 studied painting in college so it’s clear that I have ended up on a far different path than I anticipated. But I also studied strategic communications, so have worked in different agencies around brand strategy and activation for about a decade. I began consulting for Airfield over six years ago, and helped it rebrand from the South Bay Healing Center to Airfield Supply Co. when it transitioned from being a medical dispensary to a recreational outlet in 2015. I came on full time in late 2019 to help Airfield take its next step in expansion and then the pandemic hit and we scaled our business dramatically toward delivery and most of what we had previously planned either was put on hold or has changed entirely. None of this is what I imagined when I enrolled in art school, that’s for sure.

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 count how many embarrassing spelling mistakes I’ve made over the years. As a very visual-first person, I’ve always had less than stellar spelling skills, but hadn’t yet embarrassed myself as badly as the time I suggested that we “flush out” rather than “flesh out” an idea while working on a pitch deck for a big consumer company. The senior on the team left a polite, but epically stinging, comment in the document that I’ll probably never forget. I now pass a less burning version of that along to younger colleagues when the need arises.

The lesson: It’s pretty hard to have a great idea if you can’t spell it.

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

Yes. Shortly after the first time I watched Simon Sinek’s now famous TED talk on the concept of the Golden Circle. It blew my mind how simply he translated so much of what I did but in more effective and repeatable ways. I had been working in agencies for a bit of time and using a lot of different methodologies around how to build ideas, but that video basically set up my approach for building brands ever since. I started to be able to cut through the clutter more effectively and everything just started falling into place with my work. Ideas made more sense. Action plans had a clearer map to success. In the years since, I’ve developed an expanded version of the concept that incorporates other elements to even further drive results.

I suppose the key takeaway is that surface level ideas don’t usually translate into major success. Find deeper meaning and ways to translate that into everything you do using whatever method you love.

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

We are! We have several exciting updates on the horizon that I can’t tell you about. (Sorry.) What I can say is that we are working across the California cannabis space to make changes that will impact customers, brands, and the environment. With an industry as new as legal cannabis, the possibilities for innovation are tremendous. We’re not only a new industry, we’re a young industry, with most of our business leaders still in their 40s — if that old — and we all have young children and a new generation to look out for.

We want to ensure that our industry is a leader in smart Earth-first choices that promote longevity and sustainability and make life better for all of us. Because there are so few dispensaries in California — we have less than 700 and could accommodate more than 4,000 — we find ourselves at Airfield in an unexpectedly pivotal position in the industry. Fortunately, we are devoted to using our terrible powers for good, and this positioning allows us to lead.

We’re concerned about excess packaging, which is an unintentional side effect of child-resistance laws; we’re concerned about living lightly, which is why we largely employ Teslas for delivery; and we’re concerned about our customer’s health, which is why we have planned a big fundraising effort around healthcare for the first quarter of next year. We’re a long way from the traditional pot shop that used to serve our community. Being about community is where our focus is.

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

Our lives are stressful and marketing can be quite fast-paced and even a little cutthroat. I have to remind myself that it’s supposed to be fun. This is a creative role and you can’t access your full powers if you’re stressed out. I build creative “down” time into my weekly schedule. I try to keep my Fridays, for example, as a free-form day that’s largely unscheduled and free of meetings. That doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally spend a Friday jumping from meeting to meeting. That sometimes happens, but when things are working as they should be, I have big blocks of time built into at least one day a week when I have time to think, plan, steal a peek at other people’s ideas, and dream.

The pandemic has also given us all a chance to look at our work-a-day styles. My wife and I are lucky to have two healthy active toddlers and life at home is loud and messy and lovely — but it’s not always conducive to work. Instead of renting a space, I often work at a picnic table at a local outdoor shopping center. It’s near the water, the light is gorgeous, there are plenty of trees, and I pack a bag filled with my necessary multiple daily iced teas and protein bars. Things we used to take for granted, such as what a workplace looks like, are being reinvented.

For me, the most refreshing way to stay creatively engaged and energized is to stay focused two steps ahead and looking to such Big Ideas as: How do we do good business and be kind to the Earth and our bodies? How do we serve our customers where they want to be? Now that we can welcome visitors back to the dispensary, how do we keep the retail experience fresh and interesting for them so that they want to spend time with us? How do we replicate online the browsing experience of a boutique retail outlet offline?

Plus, we have the added challenge of being in cannabis which, as a Schedule 1 substance, has its own fun list of challenges unknown to any other industry. Nothing in this space has just one answer and the answers are changing all the time. That is exciting to me.

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?

Back to my obsession with Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, I define this as the difference between the Why and the What. Brand development and marketing is about why you exist, while product marketing is about the outcome of that existence, the what, as it manifests itself in goods or services.

Anyone can sell something, but few organizations have articulated their fundamental reason for being. Brand is that being, and how you then bring it to the world. Products are simply the outcomes of your values with which consumers can interact. We always focus on the former and let the latter speak for itself.

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

Investing in developing your brand story and perspective is about creating something more than a transactional relationship with the world. Consumers don’t develop emotional loyalty with products in nearly the same way they do with ideas — that’s just how the human brain works. Defining your reason for being enables consumers to align with you and form a community around shared beliefs and values.

If you don’t do that you are always vulnerable to transactional relationships. Brands that change lives are always working at much deeper levels to create their worlds. It’s the most fun and really, the most authentic part of marketing as you are not selling, you are building for others. A brand’s job is to make the world better, and that’s about manifesting values.

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

There are many good and bad reasons to rebrand. Sometimes it’s because a company was created and has changed, or perhaps didn’t build the right brand from the start. Other times, however, it’s because you have discovered something profound in your development that needs to be reflected in a more comprehensive way. I always say there is no such thing as a “rebrand,” but rather, it’s a revolution of an old idea. The world doesn’t forget who you were, but it can be excited to learn more about who you have become — and what’s new in that.

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

There can be downsides if you either jump into it too quickly or don’t do a deep enough dive into it once you make the decision to act. But the biggest thing to understand for any brand or rebrand is that you have to be all in. A half-developed or re-developed brand is just paint, just decoration. True branding is building a house — and supporting the family that lives within it.

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.

Go to Therapy. I don’t just say this because both of my parents are psychologists, but it’s a fact that the key to re-energizing your brand is laying it all out there — the good and the bad — and trying to map your way to a better world. The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? You have to understand your role in the world. Brands are facilitators of experiences and not the end of the conversation. Brands that break through know they have to play that role, they seek to understand their problems, and they build a robust plan to address them.

Good ideas are not usually surface level. I always wait for that vulnerable moment to come up before I feel like we really have something. Whether that is from a conversation with the client or a tear-your-hair-out moment while putting a concept together, you have to find that bottom in order to look up at the answer.

Every single successful new business or campaign pitch I did for a decade on the agency side began with a long hard look in the brand mirror. I specifically remember once working on a pitch for one of the top consumer electronics companies in the world and being at the edge of chaos two days before the pitch.

We had assembled a global team in Asia for the meeting and ended up working for 30 hours straight because we didn’t feel like we had cracked it. Time was ticking down. Finally, instead of just one idea, we laid out all of the ideas and looked at what we liked and didn’t like about how they presented the brand, and the concerns we had with introducing them.

We used that learning to build a new brief and the resulting strategy was both authentic and grounded in a truth that we had to discover to build. We still lost the pitch — a reminder there are a lot of unmade great ideas out there!

Learn Your Why. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my strong feeling is that branding is about why you exist and not what you sell. Your first step in reinvigorating a brand is learning your why because it then sets you up to build an authentic strategy and creative approach, enabling you to create content that speaks authentically to and engage with consumers.

I’ll never forget a particular offsite where my team spent two days locked in a room battling over a company’s why. The meeting included every stakeholder from the company — brand, product, finance, customer experience, etc. — with everyone laying out what they thought the why was as we tried to plan a major year of growth ahead.

Of course, the why should have been decided years before, but that’s irrelevant. My colleagues and I spent days coming to an alignment on the soul of the company, creating a place for the world to connect with it. That was one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done and it allowed us the freedom to build a strategy and brand that was capable of changing the world.

Develop Your Persona. Because brands are living things, you can’t stop at why, you have to think about how your brand exists in the world. What does it like or dislike, what would it think about current events, who are its friends and enemies. You have to develop out every moment in order to make that come to life.

When working with the New York Times in 2014 on the launch of their NYT Now news app, we had a chance to do some really fun personal development work that sparked an awesome creative execution in partnership with the client. The app was a lower-priced subscription news platform designed to engage consumers with a curated collection of stories. The mapping of the app’s brand values to consumer experiences unlocked some thinking for us about how we could bring readers their news in a fresh way during their morning commutes.

The resulting activation was an immersive launch at transit points across the country that featured six-foot-tall iPhone kiosks displaying the NYT Now app alongside stylish coffee carts that offered free on-demand espresso drinks. The pitch was: “Learn what’s happening in the world faster than we can pour you a cup of coffee.” That literally stopped potential readers in their tracks at key locations as we showed them that what had once taken hours to consume — the morning news — was suddenly as quick as making an espresso. NYT Now brought subscribers their morning info as fast as they could scroll through Instagram on the train, making users better prepared for their day. That was all about persona mapping and figuring out where the brand brought value to its users.

Every Magic Moment. At Airfield, we are constantly looking at ways to bring our brand ethos into every version of the consumer experience. To accomplish this, we continually map our “magic moments” and iterate on how we translate our brand values of “Elevated, Cultivated, and Ready For Take-Off” into them for the betterment of the consumer. When the pandemic started, it diminished our in-store traffic dramatically, prompting quick thinking about how we could expand online ordering and delivery — two areas we had invested in but not yet truly scaled. The question was: How to build those so that they reflected the same quality of experience as shopping in our boutique brick-and-mortar location. In other words: If Airfield were a car, what kind of vehicle would it be?

We had already made the decision to go with something sustainable, so adding six Tesla sedans to our delivery fleet was a natural fit. We additionally made it easier for our customers to purchase from us online, implementing a new contactless one-click prepayment system that makes buying cannabis remarkably like buying a product from Amazon and allows customers to have an entirely safe and remote at-home journey from purchase to delivery. We realized that we can’t replace the in-store experience that you get from interacting with an experienced budtender who is able to make recommendations, but we can improve it, so we worked with our partners at Salesforce to expand our proprietary “virtual budtender” system that supports customers in making choices and trying new products nearly as well as a human in our dispensary might.

All of these efforts, and the forthcoming even more exciting ones we are working on but I can’t discuss yet — are all based on knowing your magic moments and bringing your brand through them.

Plan (and Crush) Your Lightning Strike. Once you are ready, find the thing that can memorably introduce or reintroduce your brand to as many people in the target world as possible. Often this takes the form of campaigns and using dollars to drive penetration, but don’t also forget how you can show up and make impacts as well. Go all in. Start your new world off right.

At Fiverr, we spent a lot of effort to educate people about what the brand had become — a high-end freelancer engagement platform — not just what it had been when it launched, when it was focused on low-cost services. To create a dramatic “flip the switch” moment, we decided to execute a massive experiential activation at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity — the global center of the creative community.

We built a live, viewable “fishbowl” production studio and, using only Fiverr freelancers, created a complete global creative campaign from scratch in just five days — right in the middle of the festival! You literally couldn’t miss it, wonder what was happening, and when you learned what it was and saw the quality of the work coming out — the message was indelible.

With that, we struck to the heart of an audience and made major waves that lasted far beyond the effort itself in the form of other projects that further raised the brand value dramatically. I love doing that.

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?

Less a “makeover” per se and more of a moment in time captured, I love what Peloton has done over the last few years to transform the at-home fitness market. Pre-COVID, group fitness was a rage in part through the success of SoulCycle, Barry’s, and other boutique fitness experiences. Peloton found a way to message around the emotional benefit of personal fitness and cut through the noise of the class craze. They didn’t do it perfectly (I’m sure most of us remember the ghastly husband-pleasing holiday campaign that was quite the flashpoint) but even with that, they took their punches and rolled it into brand growth.

They stuck to their why of enabling anyone to engage in self-care, and when the pandemic blew up, in doing the right thing at the right time. A lot of the creative has been done by Mekanism, a great creative agency I worked with during my time at Fiverr, and I love seeing how their agency values of authenticity and emotional soul came to life in that brand work. Really fun stuff to watch from afar, and from a bike!

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. 🙂

At the risk of sounding cliché and offering an expected answer, I can truthfully say that, from my perspective, federally legalizing cannabis would bring the most good not only for the entrepreneurial opportunities it could create across the country by opening up state lines and enabling the creativity and growth of the industry, but also for the potential good it could do for so many people. Right now, we still need to expend a large amount of effort around education or reeducation of cannabis uses because of our limited legal ability to engage across brand channels with widespread audiences. With federal legalization, we would have the ability to more easily explain the benefits across such a wide swathe of uses while also opening up jobs and careers for individuals and revenue for cities, counties, states, and the country. It’s a no-brainer to positively impact the world.

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

“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.” — Simon Sinek

I am a firm believer that life is best spent experimenting and learning. Professionally or personally, pushing the boundaries is what makes every day exciting. That’s exactly why I made the leap into cannabis marketing. I wanted to see what this exciting new industry, with its equal mix of opportunities and challenges, could be. In the cannabis industry, we are literally building the plane while we fly it, and that makes every day an adventure.

How can our readers follow you online?

We have an amazing Instagram presence of which I’m super proud, @airfieldsupply.

My personal Instagram @TheChrisLane is mostly friends and family — observational randomness — but always happy to connect! LinkedIn, too.


Christopher Lane of Airfield Supply Co: 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.

Denis Devigne of VidDay.com: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

The first thing you can do is think back to loved ones you haven’t spoken to or seen in a while. How can you surprise them? How can you share something that will light up their heart and emotions to remind them that you haven’t forgotten about them? Our suggestion, of course, is a surprise VidDay video gift.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Denis Devigne, the President & Co-founder of VidDay.com.

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Denis was a real globetrotter. The more people he met, the more he realized the value of relationships and experiences over possessions. He turned those ideals into a business: VidDay.

Denis has given families and friends that are away from one another an easy way to celebrate special occasions. His company’s goal? To make a billion people smile, with a collaborative, sustainable, and eco-friendly gifting solution that gives back to the world with every video.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

Sardinia is home to some of the oldest living people on Earth. Why? Apparently, it’s all down to social connections.

I was on the road for some time before starting VidDay. As I travelled, I noticed that families and friends that lived together, celebrated together, and commiserate together, were happiest. Social connections and bonds is what keeps us happy, healthy and hopeful.

Back home, I felt this was missing. We move away, lose touch, become lonely, more often than before. I wanted to create a solution that let us continue to live our lives, but without losing these valuable connections.

I thought: “How can I connect people who are apart, to celebrate special occasions with their loved ones?” And that’s how VidDay was born.

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

I remember receiving my first reaction video, sitting in my little room in Winnipeg, and hearing from a customer in Australia.

I had helped this woman rally her family and friends for a 40th anniversary video for her parents. There were over 100 people who contributed, the video went on for more than an hour! It was incredible.

Unbeknownst to her parents, she had captured them watching the video. They were literally laughing and crying with tears of joy, overwhelmed by the gift. She later sent this to me as a thank you, telling me that “watching her parents’ reaction almost had her in tears”.

This moment stuck with me, and is what keeps me going. We’ve gone from inspiring moments like this, to building classrooms, planting trees, and supporting underserved communities with much needed belongings.

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

When I first started VidDay, I got a little over eager with the app. It was way too early in the business, but I outsourced the development to a team of developers overseas. Very trusting of me.

I quickly realized how fast a team of developers can run up a bill. You’ll never get things right the first time. Building any app isn’t a one-off project — it’s a living, breathing organism that needs constant updates and involves many iterations.

It’s exciting to start a new business, but going alone without doing proper research can be a costly learning experience.

Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

No one comes to the table with everything they need to build a successful startup. What I’ve found is that the most successful people are the ones who have a team of reliable partners, who all believe in the business.

It might have been a costly lesson, but it was a lesson nonetheless. I learned not to be afraid of taking risks and trying something new. At the time, my lack of understanding didn’t stop me. Instead, it made me feel like anything was possible.

It was a blessing in disguise! Especially as it led to me meeting my co-founder and first team member, Jeff Laxson. Together, we went back to the drawing board and tried a few more different approaches, which led us to our third team member and co-founder, Kyle Sierens!

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

We’re thrilled to have delivered our millionth smile, and are working towards our goal of making a billion people smile.

Our next big project is our pledge to donate 1000 free videos to volunteer organizations, charities, and individual do-gooders. We’re focusing on those that are still striving to help their communities during COVID, despite social distancing setbacks.

We’ve seen some inspiring videos from various organizations. It’s heart-warming to know that we are helping bring people together during this time, and enabling organisations to keep doing good.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

Before the pandemic, we were already focused on uniting family and friends that were apart. Our mission has only become more prominent this year as the problem has escalated.

People that have had weddings, birthdays and other celebrations cancelled, are finding solace using VidDay.

Since March, our company has helped hundreds of thousands of people across 150 countries, stay connected, and celebrate digitally and safely.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US, but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

It comes down to mental health. Having people in your life to plan events and create special moments with, allows us to feel like we are a part of something bigger.

We are social beings — so being around each other is healthy and what we need. That’s why we’ve received millions of videos and photos and what’s common in all of the media is the smiles, joy, excitement, and raw human emotion. We see it in the individual clips and then a culmination of all that energy in the reaction clips. Tears of joy, bouts of laughter.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Being part of a community used to be a given. We stayed in small towns, clustered in small groups. We joined neighbourhood groups, lived in multi-generational houses, stayed in one job for life.

Things have changed. We have the ability to explore the world, meet new people, experience new cultures. But loneliness can be a side effect. There’s been a shift in the role stability plays in our lives.

But why not combine the best of both worlds? We can’t join the local book club, but we can join one online. We may not be able to have the same neighbours for decades on end, but we can create group chats.

We might not be able to celebrate every birthday together, but we can send video messages! This ‘face-to-face’ connects us, and reminds us that there is something bigger than us.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Without these digital tools, we’d be in a tougher position. Now it’s normal to leave a new job, role, or even industry every few years, meaning it’s difficult to maintain in person relationships. Add in the remote working effect of the pandemic, and it can be a challenge to stay connected with work colleagues, alongside friends and family. But being able to use social media or video messaging to have more face time with loved ones makes all the difference.

Now we’re able to pick and choose when we want social time with our family. This can sometimes lead to an imbalance, and some loneliness, but that’s when making the most of technology comes in handy. Speaking of family, we cannot forget the decline in nuclear family households. Multiple generations often lived under one roof — and in some cultures, this is still the case. But there’s been a shift to independent living, and it’s no bad thing.

And it’s not that we are socializing less, it’s that we are socialising differently. A coffee date has turned into a call. A birthday party has turned into a VidDay video.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

The first thing you can do is think back to loved ones you haven’t spoken to or seen in a while. How can you surprise them? How can you share something that will light up their heart and emotions to remind them that you haven’t forgotten about them? Our suggestion, of course, is a surprise VidDay video gift.

Second, we can get involved in your communities. Volunteer once a week with a charity.

Not being able to get on a plane doesn’t mean you are unable to connect with others. Can’t experience a new language or food? Look online! Can’t meet up with friends in a different country? Organize a VidDay celebration, or a group call.

Though winter is coming in the northern hemisphere, don’t forget the value of being outdoors. Wrap up and go for a walk. The ‘awe walk’ phenomenon is upon us, so take a moment to literally, smell the roses.

Finally, if you can’t find a community or existing group to join online, make one. Though it’s tough to be the one initiating a chat, group or online celebration, doing this favour for your loved ones and having social time is a double whammy for combating loneliness. Starting VidDay helped me connect to people, and feel good about the work I was doing. Find a project that makes you feel the same way.

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

A movement we’d like to see is bringing easy to use technology to elderly people who may not be tech savvy. With Covid separating us from our senior citizens more than ever, it’s time to find solutions that help us show them they are not forgotten or alone. Plus by staying connected to them, we can make sure we don’t lose their wisdom before it’s too late. I’d call this movement — maybe it could be a podcast — “Talks for Wisdom.”

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to grab a bite with W. Brett Wilson, a Dragon’s Den co-star who is a father, as well as Canadian ‘prairie-boy’! His accomplishments and philanthropy work is inspiring.

He’s also got a wealth of life experience that gives him pretty unique insights into success, and how to prioritize health, and relationships with friends and family.

Four years ago I actually met Mr. Wilson briefly for a photo at one of his speaking engagements. I gave him my elevator pitch for VidDay, and I’d love the chance to tell him about our success. Our values have been inspired by his approach of re-evaluating our definition of success.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn, or follow VidDay! We’re also on Instagram at @viddaygift, Facebook at @ViddayGift, YouTube and Twitter at @ViddayGift.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Denis Devigne of VidDay.com: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Toby Hecht’s Big Idea That May Change The World In The Next Few Years

Business knowledge, like any kind of knowledge, is the capability to produce an intended outcome in a given set of circumstances.
When circumstances change during an industrial revolution because new tools are invented; i.e. computers and the internet, and businesspeople who invent how to use them in new ways that are strategic and competitive, the new standards for value they produce makes the traditional or old business knowledge invented before their appearance, obsolete.

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 Toby Hecht.

Toby Hecht is founder and CEO of The Aji Network, a company that has championed businesspeoples’ ability to produce incomes between $400,000 — $4 million for more than 35 years.

Toby’s work is aimed exclusively at enabling businesspeople to compete successfully, or to double their productivity, value and incomes, in The Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR#4) using computers and the internet strategically and competitively to earn and save enough money to live a good life throughout their entire lives, including 25+ years of old age in retirement.

He is the author of: Aji, an IR#4 Business Philosophy, a book about how businesspeople use Aji to earn a living or become rich in IR#4.

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

My intention to learn or invent a way to double my productivity, value and income began when I started working in my twenties. I was serious about living a life that I considered to be meaningful, worthwhile, satisfying and enjoyable. To me, that included getting married, having children and earning a living to support them so I could take care of their practical concerns in addition to having a career.

When I got married in the “Love, honor and cherish…’til death do us part” tradition, I knew I was promising to treat my wife, Linda, with great affection, hold her in high regard and take care of her concerns as if they were my own until death do us part, and I meant what I said.

I felt privileged to be trusted by her, and later our two children, even though Linda worked just as much as I did. I found it deeply meaningful to work together in order to have the opportunity to earn a living, so we could afford housing, food, medical care, transportation, play, education, etc.

We both accepted that we would not receive a pension and would have to earn and save enough money to avoid running out of it during the 25+ years that we’d be too old to work…and we didn’t have a clue how to solve the problem.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out, for example, that if we needed $100k annually, we’d need at least $2.5 million — adjusted for inflation, which at our age was about double that amount, or $5 million — in order to retire at age 60 for 25+ years and avoid becoming a “parent tax” on our children, which we were determined to avoid after seeing the resentment it produced.

Even though we were deeply shaken by the financial numbers we calculated, it did not occur to us to ignore or decline to accept them.

In our view, it is an adult’s most important duty to accept practical realities and obligations in order to take care of his or her spouse and children, even if they change and become more challenging because of an industrial revolution.

The problem was that neither I, nor anyone else, could make enough money earning what I now call a “normal IR#3 income,” or one that was normal before personal computers were first sold in the 1980’s, which began The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or IR#4.

I realized I needed to learn how to use my computer and the internet to produce an entirely new “normal” standard for productivity, value and income that could double them reliably and predictably.

So, I did.

When my customers and friends realized how well we were doing in our second business, which was the first retail computer store in Silicon Valley that grew to become the #1 chain of retail computer stores in the country, according to our vendors, e.g. IBM, Apple, HP, DEC, etc., they asked me how I did it. I discovered I enjoyed teaching my new business philosophy, which I called “Aji.”

“Aji” is a completely new way of thinking and acting that isn’t difficult to learn. It enables businesspeople, and entire businesses, to double their productivity, value and incomes reliably and predictably by using their computers and the internet strategically and competitively, instead of with task orientation, common sense and determination.

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

One day someone recommended a high school biology textbook about the nervous system and cognition, The Tree of Knowledge by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. I dillydallied. The title was meaningless to me. It didn’t sound relevant or useful.

Weeks went by until we went on a holiday with some friends to a place I didn’t really want to visit. When they went off for the day I stayed back, went up to the roof, sat on a lounge chair and began to read the book.

The book is 10 chapters long. By the third chapter my life began to change, and I couldn’t put the book down. My entire understanding of how I knew what I thought I knew disintegrated because even though the book’s claims were completely new to me, and almost unbelievable, they matched my experience exactly.

The book explained why trying to use our common sense with computers was 100% wrong and why those who kept trying couldn’t fulfill their financial, career or business intentions. It explained why Rene Descartes was wrong when he claimed observing and thinking about life, or our computers and the internet, was all we needed to do in order to know what was real!

At the same time the book revealed that no amount of looking at a computer, learning their operations from books and videos, working with one to complete tasks or thinking about them will ever reveal how to use them strategically or competitively, or how to make them the best money-making machines every invented, it also showed how to begin to think about them much more effectively.

I realized that businesspeople needed something like The Tree of Knowledge that went so deeply into how the world works that it transformed how they understood human beings, the tools they use and how to make money in a new way.

They needed new orientations, intentions and business skills that could only be learned and that couldn’t be figured out, or invented, using common sense and determination.

They needed something like Aji to explain an entirely new set of descriptions, meanings, relevance, value and purposes for their computers that made a new kind of sense and it couldn’t be common. It had to “make sense” to businesspeople but in an entirely new way.

Life, computers, the internet and how to make money with them in the most rapidly changing competitive situations in our history, just isn’t obvious, objective, perceivable with our senses or permanent as Rene Descartes claimed. This is why businesspeople have such a difficult time understanding value, leadership, trust, dignity, power, strategy and competition, and why they are important for making money or doubling one’s income.

Aji’s new strategic and competitive capabilities are linguistic, rather than Cartesian, a la The Tree of Knowledge. That’s why they make so much sense to businesspeople and why they are able to double their productivity, value and incomes so quickly.

In other words, I built Aji for speed or rapid change, increasing complexity and intense competition so businesspeople, and entire businesses, could “win” in IR#4, instead of failing every day to earn and save enough money to avoid running out of it during 25+ years of old age.

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

There are five:

  1. The most important, practical, dignified and enjoyable purpose of work for an adult is to earn a living, or become rich, to take care of their spouse and children.
    This makes the work we do to fulfill our financial, career and business intentions deeply meaningful, totally worthwhile, completely satisfying and enjoyable.
    What isn’t important, useful, dignified or meaningful for an adult in my view? Organizing their life around their comfort and convenience, being casual about keeping their marriage vows and commitments to children, being a “parent tax” on one’s children, and pretending to be “fine” when nothing could be farther from the truth.
  2. Business, and life, is a game of power. The people and businesses with the most power win, which means they fulfill their financial, career and business intentions to earn a living, or become rich.
    “Power” is the capability to produce outcomes whose value (importance, utility and worth) is superior to one’s competitors.
    This compels buyers to accept offers quickly and increases their willingness to pay a premium.
  3. The marketplace is organized around help that is fresh, new, highly valued and scarce relative to demand, not hard work, common sense, determination, busyness, etc.
    The four offers, goods and services that people call help are:
    – Making it possible, or improving the likelihood, for people to fulfill their intentions
    -Lowering the cost to fulfill their intentions; e.g. the time, energy, money and lost opportunities
    – Improving the importance, utility and worth of the outcomes they can produce
    – Producing an outcome for someone
  4. Dignity with one’s household finances is necessary to live a good life.
    “Dignity” is the social assessments about businesspeople’s “integrity” and “value.”
    It’s based on businesspeople’s trustworthiness, value, authority and leadership in the marketplace, and includes assessments about how they speak and act with their spouse and children, and whether they have the financial integrity to earn and save enough money to avoid becoming a financial drain on their children or society.
  5. Technology refers to practices invented and used by human beings, and not their tools.In other words, computers and the internet are not, and have never been, a technology. Calling them a technology is marketing hype. It’s nonsense that misleads and disables businesspeople.
    They are tools, or artifacts, with no more intention to help human beings than a rock. Thinking otherwise makes it impossible for businesspeople to use their computers strategically and competitively enough to double their productivity, value and incomes, as they need to do in order to take care of their family.
    The technology businesspeople need to know about is the strategic and competitive practices they need to design and execute in order to use their computers to fulfill their intentions, or to produce competitive outcomes, that Aji enables.

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

I invented a completely new business philosophy, or orientation, set of intentions and new business skills. I named it “Aji.”

It changes the world because it enables businesspeople, and entire businesses, to use their computers and the internet — strategically and competitively instead of with task orientation, common sense and determination, which is no longer competitive — to double their productivity, value and incomes so they can earn and save enough money to avoid running out of it with their spouse during 25+ years of unemployment, retirement or old age.

Here’s another way to look at it:

If every regular businessperson in the industrial world learned how to use Aji and doubled their productivity, value and incomes, it would change the marketplace and the entire world as we know it.

It would put an end to all sorts of resignation and despair about businesspeople’s futures or old age with their spouse and children.

How do you think this will change the world?

This is simple if you accept these two philosophical claims:

  1. The most important, practical and dignified purpose of work for an adult is to earn a living, or become rich, to take care of their spouse and children.
  2. Practicality dictates that businesspeople must earn and save enough money to survive (or afford their immediate expenses for food, housing, transportation and medical care, etc.), adapt to life’s always changing circumstances (including how they age), and live a good life that is deeply meaningful, totally worthwhile, completely satisfying and enjoyable.

Millions of businesspeople go to work every day knowing that they are not able to save enough money to avoid running out of it long before they die — and they are very worried about it.

This produces households living in resignation and despair about the future (even if they don’t use these names to describe their moods and narratives). It produces spouses and children who resent and disrespect one another, rather than admire, respect and appreciate the care with which they’ve been treated.

When businesspeople learn Aji, and see for themselves how they can use it, they become enthusiastic and passionate for their future and their despair gradually disappears. And, when they open new conversations with their spouse about how they intend to double their productivity, value and incomes so that they can begin to save enough money to avoid running out of it — this changes their world in a good way and the world around them.

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

Yes. And this has been troubling me for decades…

Two “classes” of businesspeople are forming in front of everyone and they are producing completely different futures for their spouse, children and themselves.

The first class starts out happy and gradually falls into suffering and despair. It is huge in terms of numbers, distrustful, entitled, political and casual about their lives, marriages, parenting and household finances. They enjoy comfort, convenience and entertainment (distraction from financial realities)…until it becomes real for them that they are in financial trouble and are too old to recover.

Then, failing to earn and save enough money to avoid running out of it becomes their #1 regret.

The second class starts out worried and gradually becomes happier as their incomes and savings for old age grows. They are a much smaller but growing group of businesspeople. They get happier as their income and savings increases, and as their debts diminish.

Both classes of businesspeople start out living in the same types of homes and neighborhoods but are on completely different paths into the future. They look the same, at first, but they don’t sound the same at all.

The happy group spends all their money without worrying about the consequences they are producing for their spouse, children, society or themselves, and gradually loses their dignity with themselves, their family and society. Financial pressures eventually squeeze them out of their homes.

The worried group talks about their concerns, situations, capabilities and strategies for living a good life, doubles their incomes, gradually becomes happier and more dignified, and eventually upgrades to nicer neighborhoods where they find more serious people with whom they can be friends.

This is not going to work out well for businesspeople who are casual, nonchalant and disinterested with their marriage vows, parenting commitments, household finances and dignity with their spouse, children and society.

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

After we learned that Apple was cancelling their pensions for their employees’ retirements, my wife and I spent a few months calculating how much we really needed to earn and save to live a good life together with our children and their future families.

We were in shock. We made our calculations over many months in as many different ways as we possibly could in order to find a lower number, but nothing worked.

Our choice at the time was clear, either we accept the new financial realities produced in IR#4 by businesspeople using their computers and the internet while we were young and able, or we ignored the financial truths we calculated and would find ourselves out of money in our old age.

Both of us had family members who ran out of money and did not want to end up like that with our children; e.g. love with resentment and disrespect, and without respect, appreciation or admiration.

We didn’t know what to do so we went to our accountant and asked her for advice. I’ll never forget the conversation. She said, simply, “To start out, and before you have children, save 20% of your pretax income.” I remember saying, “You mean in after-tax dollars?” She smiled and nodded, yes. I said, “But that’s at least 50% of our after-tax income!” She smiled, again.

So, that’s what we began doing that month and that was my incentive — or tipping point — to find a new way, or a new business philosophy (Aji), that would enable me to double my productivity, value and income.

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

There are two things that come to mind.

The first depends on how quickly businesspeople will get tired of the despair that is triggered when facing a future without enough money to take care of their spouse and the chronic financial stresses they are triggering for their family and themselves.

The second is our ability to communicate our offer to businesspeople so that it is easy, seductive and compelling to accept.

My “idea” exists in a context of concerns and commitments to people’s future, or their ability to live a good and dignified life because they are able to afford the goods and services everyone needs to survive and adapt.

Aji is not difficult to learn. It takes only about 20 minutes to learn The Aji Source Fundamental Strategy and 100 days to learn enough tactical, strategic and competitive knowledge to begin to increase productivity, value and incomes. And, after those 100 days, businesspeople can see for themselves how Aji works and are happy to say so.

Now that Aji has just moved 100% online, we’ve unlocked the potential to scale easily for the first time in our history.

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

  1. Business knowledge, like any kind of knowledge, is the capability to produce an intended outcome in a given set of circumstances.
    When circumstances change during an industrial revolution because new tools are invented; i.e. computers and the internet, and businesspeople who invent how to use them in new ways that are strategic and competitive, the new standards for value they produce makes the traditional or old business knowledge invented before their appearance, obsolete.
    Let me be clear, old business knowledge invented before computers and the internet isn’t obsolete and uncompetitive by mistake. It doesn’t just happen. It’s made obsolete on purpose by businesspeople who quit using it because they create or learn a much more powerful set of orientations, intentions and business skills such as Aji.
  2. Real money is not currency and can’t be made with hard work.
    If money is currency, then the only way to “make money” when we go to work is to use a printing press.
    Real money is help we offer others with the intention to produce an exchange, or transaction, that increases our capabilities to fulfill our intentions; e.g. such as feeding our family or saving for old age.
    This means that in order to make money with computers and the internet, businesspeople need to learn how to use them to design “helpful” offers, which includes their goods and services, to customers, employers, employees, vendors and colleagues, that they want badly enough to give something in exchange such as currency, returning a favor or gift, bartering or trading.
    When businesspeople learn how to do this, they transform their computers into the best money-making tool ever invented, by far!
  3. The marketplace is organized around competing offers of “help” to: 1. Take care of their human, financial and career concerns 2. Cope with and adapt to new situations, or new sets of threats, obligations and opportunities 3. Increase their capabilities to fulfill intentions 4. Design and execute new strategies, or ways to get things done.
    It isn’t organized around hard work, busyness, determination, common sense, getting the job done or thinking outside the box. Therefore, the way to earn a living, or become rich, is to produce steady streams of fresh, new offers for customers, employers, employees, colleagues and vendors whose “value” is superior to one’s local and global competitors.
  4. Human beings are animals who are capable of telling themselves, and others, false stories about reality and their lives. We are capable of pretending to colleagues that we are “fine” in a terrible financial situation when nothing could be farther from the truth.
    This is weak, uncompetitive, undignified and causes enormous pain and suffering. It ends marriages and ruins relationships with children.
    I was fooled for many years by businesspeople who declined my offers to help them double their productivity, value and income, and who pretended they are their spouse were “fine” with their financial situation. They pretended to their children that they were dignified adults who knew what they were doing.
    The consequences when the truth comes out, as it must, are predictably harsh, brutal and tragic.
    They forsook, or abandoned, their marriage vows to take care of their spouse in favor of their comfort, convenience and entertainment in the moment, rather than earn and save enough money to take care of their spouse and children when 25+ years of old age is included. So, it’s no surprise divorce rates are at record highs for baby boomers and they are the most disliked generation in history by their children.
    They didn’t teach their children how to think or act effectively with a marriage, household finances or work in the marketplace, so they grow up “lost” and not knowing how to be an adult in IR#4.
    They lose their dignity as soon as their spouse, children, friends, colleagues and vendors discover they didn’t save enough and don’t have any more money.
  5. “Earning a living” had a VERY different meaning in IR#3 than it does now in IR#4.
    It’s amazing how the exact same words can have such a completely different meaning after an industrial revolution!
    Before 1980, when businesspeople retired with pensions that included lifetime healthcare, driving aimlessly through one’s career until retirement age “worked.” It was practical and caused no harm.
    In IR#4, businesspeople find themselves responsible for funding their own 25+ year retirement and face a future in which they and their spouse are likely to live until they are 90 years old. Ignoring this new financial reality is undignified for an adult and leads to resentment and despair with one’s family, rather than respect, admiration and gratitude.
    No one chooses industrial revolutions. But, it is always dignified adults who accept the circumstances in which they find themselves gracefully, and who care enough about their spouse and children, to learn or invent how to cope with their situations meaningfully, satisfactorily and enjoyably.

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

I’m afraid I don’t think this way. I’m a business philosopher and not a psychologist.

What I can offer that might be helpful is this: there is no habit or mindset that will work when people’s underlying orientation, or way of being, their intentions to produce outcomes and their business skills are “wrong” for the tools and competitive situations they have to deal with.

When businesspeople first begin to work with me and learn Aji, they are all working as hard as they can already. They literally don’t know what more to do. The idea of even more hard work, determination and busyness just isn’t possible and they all know it.

So, what I offer are three new ideas:

  1. A new orientation to their work that is serious, strategic and competitive, instead of casual, task oriented and commonsensical.
  2. A new set of intentions to produce outcomes that includes doubling their productivity, value and incomes so that they are able to earn and save enough money to avoid running out of it with their spouse until they are at least 90 years old.
  3. A new set of business skills to fulfill their intentions, which is used strategically and competitively to produce steady streams of fresh, new goods and services that compel others to accept their offers quickly and increase their willingness to pay a premium.

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 🙂

Aji just became a fully virtual company, and is now very easy to scale.

Aji’s markets appear to be growing. Our biggest market — and there are millions of them — is individuals who, along with their spouses, are already worried about not being able to earn and save enough money to avoid running out of it during their old age or becoming a “parent tax” on their children, in-laws and grandchildren.

To my knowledge, Aji is the only new business philosophy that has ever been invented specifically to enable businesspeople, and entire businesses, to double their productivity, value and incomes by learning how to use their computers and the internet strategically and competitively, instead of with task orientation, common sense and determination.

The results businesspeople produce when they learn how to use Aji are reliable and predictable. Once businesspeople learn how to use Aji for about 100 days, they can see this for themselves and are happy to say so.

For a very long time I have believed that Aji would be extremely valuable (lucrative) and complementary to a business school’s or business education company because it would give them the first business education designed pointedly to exploit new strategic and competitive capabilities that businesspeople, and entire businesses and business schools, do not know.

Aji would be an enormous competitive advantage because it’s my job to make it look deceptively simple. It can’t be reverse engineered, or figured out, without years of background in linguistics, philosophy, strategy, business and competition.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow The Aji Network on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on our work, events and more.

Please also follow my LinkedIn, where I post regularly on topics related to business strategy, finance, leadership and how to live a good life.

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


Toby Hecht’s Big Idea That May Change The World In The Next Few Years was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Joel Sietsema of Marantz: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your…

Joel Sietsema of Marantz: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Make a better product and be confident in raising your suggested retail prices. Price is absolutely an indicator of performance, and if your product can back it up, why shouldn’t you receive the requisite value for your offering? This is an obvious way to upgrade a brand, but is often one of the last actions brand leaders take. I’ve witnessed many brands achieve success by raising prices after each successive launch, so long as they are creating incremental consumer value in the new version.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Joel Sietsema.

Joel Sietsema is the President of high-end audio brands Marantz and Classé at Sound United. As a lifelong technology enthusiast, Joel joined Sound United in 2013 as the Director of New Business Development, where he led new initiatives in brand and product development and consumer insights. Since then, Joel has held various roles at Sound United, including the SVP of Brand Management for Sound United brands and Director of Brand Management for Definitive Technology. In these roles, Joel established and led all brand strategy and positioning development, go-to-market planning and marketing strategy development for 7 premium consumer durable brands. Prior to joining Sound United, Joel held a variety of merchandising roles at Best Buy and Magnolia (2005–2013), including the Senior Merchant for audio categories. There, he achieved double-digit revenue growth in a declining category by focusing on new brand introductions, high-growth category development and long-term promotional planning. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Michigan, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Minnesota.

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?

Growing up in Minnesota, I developed a neighborhood reputation as a ‘techy-kid’ who could fix VCRs, TVs, A/V Systems, etc. I was always interested in the intersection of technology with music and movies. Like a lot of young kids growing up, I found myself frequently dropping by a Best Buy store to shop for CDs or to check out car audio systems.

Years later, I was fortunate to work in a few roles managing luxury audio at Magnolia, a Best Buy Co. subsidiary. Being simultaneously and constantly surrounded by dozens of luxury brands, I found it fascinating how each brand uniquely appealed to their consumer, and how the best brands could command meaningfully higher willingness-to-pay than more functional ones. It boils down to precise communications, relevant brand expression, and fanatical product quality. I ultimately aspired to create that level of brand affinity, and am fortunate to now be able to do so for high-end audio brands Marantz and Classé Audio at Sound United.

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 anticipating my first week as a Merchant Analyst at Best Buy to be smooth, but it was far from it. On my first day, my new boss was busy relocating to Minneapolis, and was unavailable to speak in our weekly business review meeting. When the Director running the meeting called on our business unit, he scoured the room for a leader who could speak to the business results. We all sat silently until he stopped his gaze on me. “Joel, can you take us through your results for the week and what you’re expecting for the rest of the month?” I thought, he had to be asking a different Joel in the room. Nope, in the first hour of my first day on the job, the Director wanted me to own my business. Unrealistic, maybe… but an embarrassing moment, nonetheless. Two good personal branding lessons: 1) Always be prepared for the job above you, and 2) Own your results, good or bad. The world needs more people who are okay being held accountable.

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 always tried to maintain a balanced perspective on any success I’ve had, but I do vividly remember a moment early in my career when I felt that I was on the right track. As a business analyst, I’d often arrive to work early in the morning, and leave after most had gone home. After several consecutive mornings arriving before anyone, the President of Best Buy stopped by my desk to chat me up and find out what I was working on so diligently. He then invited me into his office to discuss my career path. It sounds old-fashioned, but any career-minded person needs to put in the hours. Great work requires great effort.

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

I’m extremely energized by some early product concepts that we’re working on for Marantz that I believe will make streaming music more gratifying. As a music lover, I frequently pivot from passive music listening while I work, to more intentional music enjoyment at night or on weekends. I have eight different digital music services that I’ll listen to on my Mac or iPhone, but I take much more listening pleasure from the two dozen ‘staple’ records I have in my collection. There’s something about streaming music that has become too transactional for me and for many consumers today, and I’m excited to see that evolve.

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

Get out and away from your devices, if only for an hour! So much fresh inspiration can come from a visit to a high-end boutique, a fun restaurant, or even a random walk outdoors. A fresh dose of inspiration or new perspective can quell any semblance of 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?

Brand marketing is about expressing the story and value proposition of your brand and the underlying reasons for your existence (i.e., Why should I buy into your brand?), whereas product marketing is focused on communicating product features and benefits in a compelling way (i.e., Why should I buy this product vs. others?). Branding is an ‘always on’ ingredient to creating brand loyalists, whereas product marketing is critical to driving tactical purchase intent.

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 is creating an identity with your consumer. You can’t be everything to everyone — it takes consistency of expression, emphasis of differentiators, and repetition of the benefits you offer.

Without a solidly built brand image, advertising efforts are, at best, less productive because consumer messaging is built on a brand that lacks substance and credibility. General marketing and advertising efforts drive awareness and consideration, and so are necessary no matter how well-constructed the brand identity is in the market.

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

Like homes, cars, and even people, brands need constant love, and sometimes that means rebranding. Here are at least four reasons to consider rebranding:

1) a brand is losing or has lost touch with its future consumers (versus brand diehards)

2) a brand is stagnant or in decline (i.e., competition is beating you)

3) a brand has been leapfrogged by new technology, and is at a crossroads for where to go next

4) a brand needs to shed historical baggage

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

Rebranding should be done judiciously, and really only when necessary. I don’t know if there are companies that should avoid rebranding altogether, but I’d advise any brand that enjoys a premium positioning versus their core competition to be especially careful. It’s natural for any brand leader entering a new company to want to put their mark on the business, but understand and appreciate your hard-earned brand equities before rebranding.

Rebranding introduces myriad risks to well-established and global brands that must be thoroughly considered. Rebranding can isolate your brand’s advocates unnecessarily if you don’t respect what created your business or reputation in the first place. For example, the Marantz brand was founded in 1953, and we have passionate fans in every corner of the world. With that in mind, we’ve been very careful on making updates to our brand identity including what retains value as is, what is important to evolve, and what is lower-risk to shed.

Marketers can also underestimate how much effort, planning, and expense goes into rebranding. Many people think rebranding can be done over the weekend and is really just updating your website, social media platforms, business cards, and office signage. But there’s a ton to consider, especially for global brands — namely key customers and existing distribution relationships, roll-out timing and speed, key business cycles, regional translations, regional perceptions, product life cycles, and more.

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. Make a better product and be confident in raising your suggested retail prices. Price is absolutely an indicator of performance, and if your product can back it up, why shouldn’t you receive the requisite value for your offering? This is an obvious way to upgrade a brand, but is often one of the last actions brand leaders take. I’ve witnessed many brands achieve success by raising prices after each successive launch, so long as they are creating incremental consumer value in the new version.
  2. Edit your messaging to emphasize your value. Oftentimes, marketers become paranoid about what features their competitors are offering. As a result, they are constantly expanding their communication points to ensure they compete, but they end up ultimately adding more noise for their customers to find their way through. Don’t be everything to everyone; just land your single value proposition. If you aren’t sure what that is, find the key weaknesses in your competition’s offering and singularly focus on how to be the best at that one thing. Whether important or not, it will raise consumer awareness of the issue, thereby passing along incremental value to your brand. It may be a bit cliche to use Apple as an example, but it’s smart how they are focusing on consumer security with their devices and platforms as this has been a lower priority for other mobile and home device makers. This was not a primary feature in the last few years, but the brand is now highlighting the importance of security.
  3. Reduce your assortment. A brand with a broad assortment covering every price point and use case is a brand with low confidence. Consumers want to buy from confident brands, not paranoid ones. Paring down your assortment feels uncomfortable at first, but if your brand has any consumer loyalty, you’ll be just fine. When I worked for Best Buy, we strategically reduced the number of brands we merchandised by over 40 percent. This decision made a more cohesive and complete shopping experience, focused on the strongest brands in our assortment, and ultimately improved our conversion rates.
  4. Identify and invest in like-minded brand partnerships. So many companies are looking for partners outside of their industry; it’s an easy way to bring new consumers into your funnel, and it also helps to quickly frame your brand values for these new customers who are familiar with your partner brand but perhaps not yours. For example, Marantz recently partnered with Vinyl Me Please, a direct-to-consumer record subscription company, to create a special edition demo record. They are fanatical about their high-quality pressings, the amazing stories behind all forms of music, and the true enjoyment of listening. We share these values.
  5. Do fewer things, better. I see it so frequently: brands fall down in the first 10 percent or the last 10 percent of the product experience. Unfortunately, the beginning and the end are usually all that a consumer remembers and values. Brands can command more value by reducing the quantity of initiatives by 20 percent, and instead invest that time in the adjacent experiences that surround your core offering. For example, Marantz amplifiers have been trusted and well-reviewed for decades. We’ve made it a higher priority to invest in constantly improving our amplifiers over other areas like presentation of our product packaging. Now, as we modernize and launch a new era for the brand, we are making new investments in the presentation, the feel and usability of the remote control or our mobile apps, the intuitiveness and presentation of our online shopping experience, and the availability of our customer service experts. Marantz is more committed than ever to be a complete luxury experience that just happens to make legendary amplifiers.

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?

Delta Airlines has done an amazing job in my view. It wasn’t long ago that Delta was considered a miserable flying experience suffering from poor customer service, poor on-time departure records, unpleasant food & beverage offerings, poor booking and baggage claim experiences, and more. I admire how Delta has updated their brand identity while meaningfully upgrading their product offering. This is ultimately the most important update a brand can make before considering identity updates. Marketers and brand leaders need to determine what the core issue is before making changes — is it a brand expression issue, a product/service offering issue, or the combination.

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 worry greatly about how engaged people are with their devices these days versus with one another. This has been especially exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Human beings need REAL social engagement to be effective in life, and being inside our devices all day makes for transactional, shallow relationships. I’d love to see more social movement around the necessary human experiences, and I find that music is an outlet for people at times like this, which inspires me every day at Marantz.

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

How you do anything is how you do everything.” This quote inspires me on a daily basis, both personally and professionally. It speaks to going the extra mile, to try a little harder, and to get the details right.

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn! You can also follow Marantz on Instagram and Twitter at @MarantzOfficial, and on Facebook and YouTube at @MarantzAmerica.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Joel Sietsema of Marantz: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nick Platt of ‘LO:LA’: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Be authentic to your brand. So many times, I have seen success prevail when you go back to the fundamentals of your business, getting everyone on the same page and demonstrating the grit to see that through will make all the difference.

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 Nick Platt.

As the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of LO:LA, Nick Platt is carrying out a lifelong ambition to not only re-imagine advertising creative that resonates but is also “Made with Love.” With a career spanning two continents and three decades, Nick Platt creates magic in the moments that matter.

Prior to founding LO:LA Nick was Executive Creative Director at RAPP, responsible for all creative output produced in the agency’s Los Angeles office, including creative campaigns for clients such as Toyota, Nescafe, Bank of America, Flemings, Roy’s, and Mattel as well as pro bono work for the Special Olympics and Stand Up to Cancer, among many others. His particular focus was on delivering creative solutions that are simple, relevant and original. He also worked in that role for the past 14 years, 6 years of which he spent in RAPP’s London office, where he was responsible for managing accounts including NSPCC, Apple, Sony, Barclays Bank, and CRUK. During his 30 years of experience in advertising and direct marketing, he has worked at a range of prominent agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Proximity, and TBWAGGT, among others. He has won numerous industry awards, including the Grand Prix at the New York Festivals, Gold at the ECHOs, D&AD, John Caples, DMAs and London International Advertising Awards.

Nick is proudly a big agency ex-pat determined to prove that independent creative shops can be nimble, fast and cost-efficient without sacrificing quality. He’s making outstanding advertising available.

Thank you for joining us Nick. Can you share your story about ‘grit and success’? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

After 30 years at large, global ad agencies, I decided to open LO:LA in 2017. LO:LA stands for London:Los Angeles. We bring big agency and in-house experience matched with the flexibility, attention and “outside the box” thinking of an independent shop. We are a modern, creative agency and specialize in helping B2C and B2B businesses engage, evolve, and most importantly THRIVE.

Our mission is to ensure our clients always have access to quality creative for their budget. We always want to make good ideas accessible and experiences meaningful. This is our noble purpose. Through it, I thought it would attract the right people to the business, both clients and staff, and in turn it would foster a strong culture. Looking back now, perhaps that thinking of only good people would want to be a part of this was a bit naïve. So, there we were, with the business barely started, busy trying to attract new clients and projects and produce work that lived up to our noble mission. But it became clear other forces were at work that were undermining us and putting the agency in a bad light with partners, vendors and clients alike. This created a “do or die’’ situation where our reputation and very existence were at stake. It was a time when I felt very alone and at a loss for what to do.

It was only the action of stopping and going back to the purpose of the business that I could see a way through, becoming disciplined and doubling down on our mission, rejecting anything that couldn’t be held up to our highest standards. Success after this epiphany did not happen overnight and the road was very bumpy, but it was the true north we needed to guide us to a better place and lay the foundation for all business moving forward.

Earlier this year when COVID-19 hit and changed business as we know it, we stuck to our mission of making good ideas accessible and experiences meaningful. We did not lose focus, but rather made the necessary shifts and pivots to go where our services were needed (and valued). We are not out of the woods yet, nor are any of us I suppose, but it gives me the focus and energy to keep going, move forward. This firm belief in the purpose of a brand and how it behaves has a fundamental part in one’s success. For LO:LA, it is what guides all that we now do and the mindset we expect from everyone we work with and for. Being ardent about its implementation has meant we are now attracting the right people, no longer a romantic thought but a DNA for our perspective, attitude and mutual success.

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

Grit is something that I learned early on. As a boy, I was involved in a bad car accident, which left me in a coma with a fractured skull and while in hospital I contracted meningitis. My recovery was difficult. After the coma I had to learn to walk all over again as well as lost the hearing in my right ear due to the meningitis. The world had fundamentally changed for me. I was faced with the prospect of succumbing to my situation or to fight and try to get back to how I was before. Grit and determination are, in my mind, the key factors that made the difference. My recovery wasn’t quick, it wasn’t pretty, and it had many setbacks. But focusing on what I wanted and making sure that nothing stopped that goal from becoming real made the outcome all the more attainable. The idea of simplifying what you want to achieve and discarding anything that gets in the way are rules that I recommend to any leader as they are faced with tough times.

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

To me, grit involves passion. And passion is infectious. But it’s what you do with that passion. I often say “do” is greater than “say”, for it’s your actions that show more clearly than anything that’s intended. When you concentrate on your talents and strengths, and match that with your passion, people will hanker to be a part of that. I believe by buckling down, going back to why I opened LO:LA, and focusing on what we do best has been the key to our success thus far. And we have really just embarked on a path to some amazing things. Like I tell my team and our clients, what we get to do every day…it beats working for a living!

When in doubt, I always turn back to the work being produced. It’s the product that people want, and you can control everything else out of your hands. We use the phrase, ‘made with love’ as our contract of quality with our clients, if it’s felt it’s not made with love, we have an opportunity to get things back on track, an unwritten rule we live by.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop grit? (Share a story of an example for each)

  • Be authentic to your brand.

So many times, I have seen success prevail when you go back to the fundamentals of your business, getting everyone on the same page and demonstrating the grit to see that through will make all the difference.

  • Trust your gut.

When times are tough, you will get advice from everyone, solicited and unsolicited. It may be well-meaning, but often those giving the advice never have a full understanding of the whole situation. You do. Therefore, trust your gut even if it says do nothing listen to it.

  • Never give up.

Giving up will always be a 100% guarantee to lose. Even if the temptation is strong and when things look their darkest- push on and stick to your mission. Then revel in the work and see what happens!

  • The only way out, is through.

Just as giving up is not the answer, there is no other way than to go but through. It might be tough and stressful but it’s the only way to get to where you want to go. And often there is a reason why or lesson to be learned by doing so.

  • Trust the process.

It might feel like one step forward then two steps back at times, but embrace the process. Be open to things not going as planned. Eventually you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

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?

Ian Haworth was my creative mentor and leader for many years in London, I also reported to him when I came out to Los Angeles. Ian was always there with encouragement when things got tough. There was one time when I was involved in running the day-to-day of the London agency’s creative department and where we had a long and successful relationship with a large utility company. Over time the relationship had started to fade, and a review was called. I led the creative response for this review, and unfortunately, we failed to retain the client. Needless to say, I was quite distraught. But Ian had a tremendous ability to see the bigger picture, to not get caught up in the obvious moment of regret, but rather to keep our eyes on our vision, the future. He showed me to accept the situation for what it was, learn from it, and then focus on were the agency was going and the type of work we wanted to create. He clearly saw that what the client wanted and what we wanted no longer aligned.

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

I always try to share my perspective and experience with those I feel people will most benefit. Recently I have been helping a great group of people called Upcomers, an incubator to help young people looking to get into the creative business. Although someone trying to get their first job in the business might not feel their situation is the same as mine, I find there are always parallels that can connect, and how having this same focus can benefit them as much as it has me.

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

We have recently started working with a SaaS startup that specifically helps independent, small businesses thrive by introducing tried and true operational processes. A great company (and founder) with a real purpose, solutions built from real-world experience. We are building out their brand voice and then applying to their website, sales materials, and marketing content. I feel what they have to offer can really help any budding entrepreneur that needs the guidance and support to turn their dream into a thriving business.

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

My advice is simple: stay the course and be disciplined, accept (and learn from) the bad as well as the good and remain focused on what you want and why you want it!


Nick Platt of ‘LO:LA’: 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.

Alex Rollins of Media Bridge: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize…

Alex Rollins of Media Bridge: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Find and draw inspiration from things that inspire you from brands you admire that have NOTHING to do with what you do; don’t just look at your competition.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Alex Rollins.

Alex Rollins is the Creative Director of Media Bridge Advertising®. He started at the agency as an intern, primarily working in content creation and graphic design, which eventually led to launching the video production department and earning a seat on the leadership team. When he’s not at Media Bridge, he’s a songwriter and a musician, most prominently recognized as the frontman of the pop band Denny. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two rabbits.

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’ve always felt like I don’t fit in anywhere, and it took me a long time to realize that was actually an asset, not a flaw. Since that revelation, I’ve never felt like I had a specific career path and don’t plan on ever having one. I love film, I love design, I like being myself and I like making good sh-t with good people.

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?

Not specifically a branding mistake, but a mistake nonetheless: I trusted autofocus. Six hours of interview footage all *slightly* out of focus (and by “slightly,” I mean focused-on-the-wall-twenty-feet-behind-the-subject-and-they-paid-upfront out of focus). And the edit was a quick turn that the client needed in about 72 hours. I stayed up for three days and hand-sharpened every second of that footage to salvage the project. The kicker? They decided their responses weren’t right and decided to reshoot. I learned quickly that no matter how aesthetically interesting or visually stunning your work is, if you’re not first and foremost focused on what you’re saying, you’re already losing.

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?

That 10,001st hour of creating things. I was on a production in Jackson, Wyoming in 2018, and had just had a marathon shoot day up in the Teton pass. We were out in the beautiful fields of eastern Idaho and near Lake Jenny, and there I was pinching myself that I get to be paid to capture the natural beauty of a place like the Tetons! We were at dinner with the crew and some locals, when I realized that I hadn’t been fretting over “Did I get the shot?” or “Did today’s interview fit into the brand story we’re trying to communicate?” I was truly confident in my capabilities, and that’s more of an indicator of success to me than any other possible metric.

Practice breeds confidence, and confidence makes you better at what you practice. The cycle works.

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

We’re working on a few projects right now where we’re creating new categories. The idea of inventing a new category from scratch is exciting, especially considering the breadth of people some of these organizations and companies will reach.

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

Turn your notifications off once in a while. Find people who challenge the way you think/operate and become friends with them. Read a lot, especially books that have nothing to do with marketing or your career.

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)?

Branding is identity. Advertising is how you communicate that identity.

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?

You need some sort of bedrock or objective truth to ground your vision in and build trust on. Building a brand creates a common language for you, your employees, consumers, etc., to speak within. Strong branding can increase a consumers ability to trust in what you’re saying and reduces the possibility for messaging chaos. I like to avoid chaos.

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

I’ve found that when the conversation around a rebrand starts, it usually opens a Pandora’s Box of other conversations. What you project outwardly is likely an image of what’s going on internally. A thorough, thoughtful rebrand not only refreshes external expression, but can also energize and bring clarity to an organization internally. A rebrand is also an opportunity to show the public that you’re willing to adapt, change and apply lessons you’ve learned about your brand over time. When a brand has a negative image, a rebrand is also the perfect opportunity to address that negativity head on, make necessary changes and be better moving forward.

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

Any company that’s not 100% bought into the rebrand shouldn’t. Confusion, miscommunication and chaos (which I don’t like) run rampant when an organization isn’t aligned. You have to be ready to jump ALL in.

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) Find and draw inspiration from things that inspire you from brands you admire that have NOTHING to do with what you do; don’t just look at your competition. 2) Find what makes your company tick, do a deep dive into your mission and vision (like a really deep dive), consult with your team and give them carte blanche when it comes to feedback. 3) Fully embrace your new identity and voice. Don’t just swap a logo and move on, do the heavy lifting on social media, on your website, in meetings, and even the way you think about your organization. 4) Work with people who take the time to understand (or help you define) your goals, your mission and who you are.

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?

Warner Brothers. None of the iconic WB heritage was lost, but simplified, clarified and modernized. The new look pays homage to the past while not jumping head first into the flat, san serif trends of the ’10s. It was so on-point that when I first saw it, it just felt natural. I almost didn’t realize they’d totally rebranded. It doesn’t pander or try to be something it’s not.

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. 🙂

Make Election Day a mandatory, paid holiday. If Congress won’t do it, the People should lead by example.

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

Someone I look up to and admire dearly once said, “The wisest person in the room usually says the least.”

Listening is the best way to learn new ideas and challenge your own thinking.

How can our readers follow you online?

@mediabridgeadvertising

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.


Alex Rollins of Media Bridge: 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.

Geoff Donegan of ‘Tank’: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your…

Geoff Donegan of ‘Tank’: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Stay relevant. The very best brands understand where their market, their customers and culture is headed. Understand what will move your customers in the future and design a brand that can meet them where they are going to be, not just where they are today.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Geoff Donegan.

Geoff brings a decade of international design experience to Tank, having worked in agencies in London, Amsterdam and Boston. With a particular aptitude for interactive design, Geoff has an astute sensitivity to a client’s business needs and applies sound design thinking and logic across multiple platforms to satisfy those needs. Before joining Tank in 2010 Geoff was Head of Design at Tangent One in London where he led design initiatives across multiple platforms for numerous high-profile clients such as the UK Labor Party and The Royal Institute of British Architects. Geoff also worked for Lateral, the UKs most awarded digital Agency, where he worked on initiatives for global brands such as Levi’s and Amnesty International. Geoff’s vision and creative drive has influenced the team to always challenge the expected and overdeliver for this longtime Tank client. Lastly, he is credited for revolutionizing the Tank/FedEx design experience approach, a feat accomplished by immersing himself into groundbreaking research and innovative insights and magnifying these into salient customer experiences.

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

I’m really a graphic designer by trade. I’ve known I wanted to be a graphic designer long before I knew what a graphic designer was. My earliest memory of this was drawing band posters when I was in second grade. I could barely write but I was drawing big, graphic letterforms. That followed on through the rest of my childhood and teenage years as I became interested in music, graffiti, skateboarding — all things with a strong graphic culture. It wasn’t so much a career choice for me but rather a logical progression.

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?

Honestly, every designer probably has a story about how they designed a logo that looked like something it shouldn’t have… and I’m sure I’ve had a couple of those.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of high-profile typos. Even a couple when I’ve spoken at conferences. I normally make a joke about it being intentional which is never really that funny, but people are always really polite and laugh anyway.

I guess I’ve learned that a typo can be forgiven if the work is really good, but a typo is normally seen as indicative of a bigger problem if the work is sloppy 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?

The tipping point for me was when I learned to listen. Design, whether it’s branding or digital feels like a very personal pursuit when you’re starting out. You’re creating something from scratch, so it was hard to hear from a client that the solution you’re giving them wasn’t hitting the mark. But once I learned to listen and really understand what people wanted, even when they couldn’t express it very clearly, it elevated my work. Ultimately, it made me a better designer, a better presenter and a better storyteller. You need to be a good storyteller — you can have the best idea in the world but if you can’t convince your client it’s the best idea, it’ll never see the light of day.

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

At Tank Design, we’re very lucky. We get to work with brands and organizations across a pretty broad spectrum of industries. We seek out projects that will have a positive impact on the world. We’re working with organizations in education, shipping and logistics, tech, biotech, mobile telematics, in a single week, we’re likely working on anything from adult education, to revolutionary electric vehicle technology, to future financial tech. It’s really exciting. Of late, we’ve worked on a COVID tracking app, we rebranded the Community Music Center of Boston — a non-profit organization working to provide equitable access to music education and the arts.

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

I always think you have to find magic in the problem. At first glance, the problems you’re trying to solve may not seem so exciting but there’s always something exciting in there. For example, maybe the scale or impact of the project is really exciting. Or maybe it’s an industry you’re less familiar with. There’s always something exciting or interesting in there — you just have to remind yourself to look.

For designers, it’s really important to keep your field of inspiration and influence really broad and varied. That keeps your work fresh and keeps you inspired.

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, brand marketing can feel very nebulous if you’re not organized. Consumers expect brands to be authentic and to have conviction. At the same time, brands are operating on fast-moving, dynamic channels. Brands really have to know who they are in order to act and react quickly and authentically. At Tank, we spend a lot of time helping brands develop the tools they need to communicate quickly, effectively and authentically — style guides, templates, messaging frameworks etc.

Product marketing is often a little more specific. It’s likely more benefit-focused and designed to give consumers the information they need to make a purchasing decision. Brand marketing is more about giving people something they can believe in or rely on.

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?

Having a strong brand allows you to build resonance in a consumer’s mind. Brand resonance ensures that when a consumer thinks of the product or service you provide, they think of your brand first. In very basic terms, most people don’t think they want to drink a cola, they think they want a Coke. Or, when most people think they need a new phone, they don’t think phone, they think iPhone. That’s brand resonance and it’s the most potent form of marketing there is.

That type of association or recognition isn’t built overnight or with a single interaction. It’s built over time, through multiple consistent interactions. That’s why branding is so important. It gives you the tools to be authentic and consistent and to build that resonance.

The other power of branding is to create meaningful first impressions. You may have the most revolutionary, impactful product or service but if that’s not coming across in your presentation, it will get overlooked.

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

• Business has changed direction or strategy

• Marketplace or competitive landscape has evolved

• Current branding isn’t dynamic enough or flexible enough to meet an organization’s needs

• The business has grown significantly, and the current brand system doesn’t reflect the business accurately or give the business the tools they need to engage with the world.

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

There aren’t really any downsides to rebranding. However, a poorly executed rebrand is always a problem. There are lots of ways a rebrand can fail to deliver. If a rebrand is poorly researched or if it doesn’t give the organization the tools it needs to be the brand it needs to be, it would be a costly waste of time and may even hurt brand sentiment.

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.

Focus on who you really are. The most effective brands are authentic. It’s a lot easier to make a brand impression that is truly authentic and consistent if it represents who you really are as an organization. Tom’s is a good example of this, they’re conscious enough of the communities they’re profiting from that they’ve built it into their business strategy to give back to those communities.

Develop the right tools. No matter how good your brand is, it won’t make connections if your marketers and communicators don’t have the tools they need to deliver on-brand communications and experiences. If your brand isn’t coming through in the words in your communications, focus on a messaging platform. If your brand is falling flat visually, focus on the design tools and templates you need to deliver amazing visual communications.

Know where you stand. It’s really important to understand brand sentiment. You have to know what people think of your brand in order to know how to improve it. Engage in brand research or speak directly to your customers to understand how your brand is being perceived. It will either validate that you’re as amazing as you hoped you were, or it will give you the insights you need to know where to focus your energy to change negative sentiment.

Build advocacy from within. Your employees are your culture. They’re responsible for your communications and they’re also the ones who are likely communicating directly with customers. Start by making sure your brand is something they can believe in. Not only will you have an energized, more satisfied workforce, it will also likely have a really positive impact on your customer experience.

Stay relevant. The very best brands understand where their market, their customers and culture is headed. Understand what will move your customers in the future and design a brand that can meet them where they are going to be, not just where they are today.

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 hate to toot our own horn here but Tank rebranded Vistaprint. As a brand, the company was ready to shift away from their CMYK printer roots to better represent their integrated business offering and the company’s mission of providing simple, direct, customized service.
The result was a simple yet dynamic identity system that spoke to their position as the leader in personalization and customization. What impressed me about the team at Vistaprint was their recognition of how their market was changing and their commitment to getting ahead of that change.

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. 🙂

Thankfully, this issue is currently getting real attention, but I would ensure we stamp out institutional racism and anything that marginalizes black people, people of color or the LGBTQ+ communities. There’s still a great deal of work to be done.

I think the world is a contentious place at the moment. I would encourage people to act with aloe, not ego.

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 sure who said this first, but I recently heard it attributed to Jim Lovell: “There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.”

I think, in life, I’ve learned that you have to show up with the intention of making things happen.

How can our readers follow you online?

If you want to see pictures of my kids and videos of me skateboarding badly, you can follow me on Instagram @geoffdonegan.
But more importantly, follow @tank_design for fresh insights from my talented colleagues and to see some of our work. Check us out on LinkedIn, Facebook and at www.tankdesign.com too.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Thanks.


Geoff Donegan of ‘Tank’: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Amy Morin of Verywell: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Establish healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Look for coping skills that are good for you over the long-term (ones that will help regulate your emotions now without wreaking havoc on your health, relationships, or tasks in the long-term). Keep in mind that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you so you need to find what helps you deal with your emotions best.Experiment with various coping skills to find out what works for you; deep breathing, exercising, meditating, reading, coloring, and spending time in nature are just a few of the strategies that could help.

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 Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief, Verywell.

Amy Morin, LCSW has worked at Verywell since 2012. Prior to becoming the editor-in-chief, she served as writer and a medical review board member.

She began working as a psychotherapist in 2002. As a licensed clinical social worker, she helped children, teens, and adults build the mental strength they needed to reach their greatest potential.

Amy is an international bestselling author. Her books, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do are translated into more than 40 languages. Her fourth book, 13 Things Strong Kids Do, goes on sale in 2021.

She’s also the host of the Mentally Strong People podcast, where she introduces listeners to mental strength building strategies that can help them think, feel, and do their best in life.

She frequently delivers keynote speeches on mental strength. Some of the organizations who have hired her to speak include Google, Microsoft, The National Nuclear Security Administration, The American Academy of Pediatrics, Under Armour, and Johnson & Johnson.

Amy has been quoted or mentioned in many major online and print publications, including Time, Fast Company, Forbes, US News & World Report, Oprah.com, Men’s Health, and Money. She’s also appeared on-camera for interviews with Inside Edition, Good Day New York, Inc., CNBC, Fox Business, and Good Morning America.

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

I’m a psychotherapist who became an “accidental author.”

About a year into my work as a therapist, my mom passed away unexpectedly. And it inspired me to learn even more about mental strength.

As I studied the people in my therapy office, I noticed that some people went through tough times and grew stronger. Other people went through tough times and felt stuck. What separated these people wasn’t necessarily what they did, it was more about what they didn’t do.

I’m glad I learned that because three years to the day after my mom passed away, my 26-year-old husband died of a heart attack.

And I had to rebuild my life without the two most important people in it.

A few years later, I wrote the list of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do when my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a letter to myself to avoid those unhealthy habits that could keep me stuck.

I posted it online hoping it would help someone else. The article went viral — 50 million people read it. And I landed a book deal.

Since then, I’ve written three more books, created the Mentally Strong People podcast, and began working as the Editor-in-Chief at Verywell Mind.

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 was giving a talk a few years ago and someone in the audience came up to me after and said, “I can’t wait to tell everyone in my class I got to meet you in person. Your book is on our recommended reading list for students.” I asked her where she went to college and she named the school that had rejected me.

Just a few years earlier they turned me down for grad school. Now, my book was on their recommended reading list.

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

Verywell Mind, where I serve as Editor-in-Chief, offers the most reliable information on the internet for health and well-being. The content gives useful, realistic advice.

I was giving a talk a few years ago for a group of parents in Chicago. During the question and answer period, a parent stood up and said, “My 4-year-old recently started using baby talk again. My wife was really concerned about it. We searched online and found an article you’d written for Verywell and it was just what we needed to know. Your strategies worked.”

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 mom was always very supportive of me. When I was young, I hated school. But she always wrote me really encouraging notes in my lunchbox every day. Those notes (some of which I still have) still serve as great reminders to do hard things and to not believe everything I think.

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 refers to our ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

I talk more about mental strength than resilience. Mental strength can also be a key component to getting through tough times, it’s not something that should be reserved for hardship. Big mental muscles can help you when life is going well, also.

You might think of resilience as a defensive strategy; it helps you get back up after you’ve been pushed down. Mental strength is more like an offensive strategy. It might prevent you from getting knocked down in the first place.

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

I know a lot of mentally strong people but one of the most recent people I interviewed for my podcast is Ally Brooke. She’s a musician who was in the music group 5th Harmony. She has endured a fair amount of setbacks and tough times, but she makes it known that she’s determined to turn her struggles into opportunities to grow stronger.

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?

Last year I met a fitness trainer who is known for getting celebrities in shape fast — like when they have to look good for a movie. He had helped several men get 6-pack abs in 28 days. I wanted to know if a woman could do it too. A lot of people told me it wasn’t possible. But by the 28th day, I had 6 pack abs. It was a lot of hard work but it was possible. Even when we shared the before and after photos, however, some people questioned us. But, we didn’t alter the pictures at all. It was all real.

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?

When I was working as a therapist, I felt myself starting to get a little burned out. Around the same time the company I worked for had some part-time openings in their medical review department. I applied for the job hoping I could balance seeing patients with doing more behind-the-scenes work. I got turned down for the position.

So I started doing more freelance writing and within a few months I was able to cut back on my therapy hours and became a part-time writer. That eventually led to my viral article and a book deal.

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

All the tough times in my life have certainly helped me be more resilient. I used to be afraid of public speaking for example. But, once I gave the eulogy at my husband’s funeral, I was able to put public speaking fears into proper perspective. It’s not really all that bad to talk in front of a group of people under good circumstances.

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.

Here are five ways someone can become mentally stronger:

  1. Label your emotions. Putting a name to your feelings decreases their intensity. So whether you’re feeling sad, anxious, angry, or scared, acknowledge it — at least to yourself.
  2. Establish healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Look for coping skills that are good for you over the long-term (ones that will help regulate your emotions now without wreaking havoc on your health, relationships, or tasks in the long-term). Keep in mind that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you so you need to find what helps you deal with your emotions best.Experiment with various coping skills to find out what works for you; deep breathing, exercising, meditating, reading, coloring, and spending time in nature are just a few of the strategies that could help.
  3. Identify and replace unhealthy thought patterns. The way you think affects how you feel and how you behave. Thinking things like, “I can’t stand this,” or “I’m such an idiot,” robs you of mental strength.Respond to unproductive and irrational thoughts with something more helpful. So instead of saying, “I’m going to mess this up,” remind yourself, “This is my chance to shine and I’m going to do my best.” Changing those conversations you have with yourself can be the most instrumental thing you could do to change your life.
  4. Take positive action. The best way to train your brain to think differently is by changing your behavior. Do hard things — and keep doing them even when you think you can’t. You’ll prove to yourself that you’re stronger than you think. Establish healthy daily habits as well. Practice gratitude, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and eat a healthy diet so your brain and your body can be at their best.
  5. Give up the bad habits that rob you of mental muscle. All the good habits in the world won’t be effective if you’re performing them right alongside your unhealthy habits. It’s like eating donuts while you’re running on a treadmill. Pay attention to your bad habits that rob you of mental strength (we all have them). Whether you feel sorry for yourself or you resent other people’s success, it only takes one or two to keep you stuck in life.

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

I’d love to see people just do just one random act of kindness every day. Kindness can be contagious and I think it would spread far and wide.

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 appreciate Mel Robbins’ work. She is humble, authentic and brave in her books and on social media. I would love to talk to her about mental strength.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@amymorinauthor on Instagram and Twitter. Don’t forget to give @verywell a follow too!

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


Amy Morin of Verywell: 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.

Maria Vorivich of GoodQues: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Worship insights! — Every company decision should start and stop with the target audience. Brands that are consumer-obsessed are the brands that are the most trusted and believable. REI is a great example of this sort of brand; REI closes during the biggest retail holiday of the year — Black Friday — because they know that their community of consumers will be more loyal as a result of the gesture.

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

Maria Vorovich is an award-winning leader in bringing empathy to brands in a way that builds their business for a purpose-driven world. She commits to the effective power of more human business as leader and cofounder of GoodQues, a research studio specializing in empathetic data. Throughout her career Maria has launched, built and repositioned companies for success — overseeing strategy for brands such as Covergirl, Marriott, Kiehl’s, McCormick, MAC and more. Maria’s role is that of a data-powered, consumer-centric growth agent, challenging convention and pushing CEOs, CMOs and founders to think differently. The practice of empathy across her career has improved cultural relevance and leveraged unorthodox insight for effective strategy — earning EFFIES, Cannes Lions and Clio Awards along the way)

Having lived, studied and worked in Belarus, Italy and India, Maria is a globetrotter, culture enthusiast and trend-spotter. To help circulate the culture of creativity in New York City, she invests in the arts; on rare weekends you can find her as a docent at the New Museum.

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

The journey started in 1996 when my family escaped from Belarus to America. As poor refugees in a new country, my parents put a lot of emphasis on “serious” education. To their dismay I skewed heavily to the arts — testing into art school and painting murals on my childhood bedroom walls. Fast forward to college when I begged my parents to go into an arts program and they told me, “Over our dead-immigrant bodies” — ha!

Marketing, advertising, branding — this was the closest thing to art school that I could negotiate with them: a promise of a “serious” degree in business with potential for creative thinking.

Most people who follow my educational track begin their career on the agency side, but I was lucky enough to start on the brand side at 3.1 Phillip Lim. At the time, Phillip Lim was still a little-known designer and a small business owner. Joining a smaller team gave me brand ownership and helped me to fall in love with the practice of brand development. It’s a very different experience from that of an agency. Agencies are structured in a way that most people work on multiple brands and there is a wider gap between brand stewardship and brand ownership. At 3.1 Phillip Lim we lived and breathed the brand all day, every day.

Years later, when I joined the agency world, I was armed with first hand experience; having helped to grow a brand from its starting foundation to a globally renowned name. This experience was formative and gave me a very different perspective when I moved over to the agency side and eventually, 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?

I’ve made and learned from so many mistakes!

One story I still laugh about happened when I interned at Prada many, many moons ago. I was an intern in the Marketing and Advertising department. The brand was hosting a big event at the flagship store where big-whig journalists were in attendance.

At one point in the night, I saddled up next to legendary model and creative director Grace Coddington and struck up a conversation. The truth is that as an intern I was oblivious to famous faces and didn’t realize she was the Creative Director at Vogue. I just saw her as a friendly woman with beautiful hair who could save me from standing alone in a corner.

Anyway, she asked me something along the lines of, “How is Prada doing?” and within earshot of a Prada executive, I started blabbing about the state of the American economy and my concern for luxury brands and the health of their business. Needless to say: not the right conversation to have with a journalist. The next day, the same executive who overheard me gave me a very stern talking-to.

Brand perception, brand positioning and managing a brand’s reputation at every touchpoint (even in casual conversation) — all of these concepts suddenly started to make sense after the infamous “Grace-Vogue” incident.

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

We are on a mission to revolutionize the orthodoxy of market research. Cindy Gallop calls herself “the Michael Bay of business” because she “blows shit up”. We consider ourselves “the Michael Bay of market research.”

GoodQues will never conduct a staid focus group behind a two-way mirror; doesn’t it always feel like an interrogation? We will never be mechanical in our survey designs and we will never subject our respondents to a clinical survey interface. We believe the creativity that goes into research design directly correlates to the insights you get on the other side. By breaking the orthodoxy of research methods, we can uncover what is unspoken in order to shift business decisions small and large, across all organizational departments.

We apply our empathetic design to qualitative, quantitative and even machine learning methodologies.

I know for a fact this approach stands out; beyond the positive response from our clients and the positive changes we effect with this new approach, it’s clear that the world of research methodology needs disruption. We’re definitely presenting new solutions to an established market.

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

We have so many projects in motion — from our Tech clients to our CPG clients, our goal is to make business decisions more human through data. The goal is to merge the gap between brands and consumers. The more brands can understand what people want and need, the better they can serve their customers.

As we are predominantly a research studio, our work delivers intellectual property to our clients that is entirely propriety, so while we can’t reveal exact projects or findings — we know our breed of empathetic research is helping them to perceive their customers and people very differently.

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 and product marketing stem from different business goals.

Brand marketing is best for long-term equity-building which can solidify competitive differentiation and consumer loyalty. Product marketing is best for short-term sales and conversion goals. However, for the untrained marketer — this will sound like a lot of jargon. The best way to explain is to give an analogy…

Let’s imagine Kim Kardashian, the queen of branding herself. Kim is tirelessly brand marketing; from the clothes Kim wears to the people she surrounds herself with, Kim is solidifying her reputation with every decision. Make no mistake, even the parties that Kim attends are scrutinized for brand equity fit. Most brands are not people, but the brand marketing behavior is the same. From the events a brand sponsors to the kind of influencers a brand partners with — every step is an opportunity to build the brand’s reputation. Whether it is Kim Kardashian or a brand, both are building a desired perception, something they want to be “known for” because this will help them in the long-term.

Now, imagine Kim was preparing to release a new line of lipsticks and wanted to drive sales. In this case, Kim needs to engage in product marketing. Kim would promote the release of the lipsticks on her owned channels, perhaps tapping into her famous friends to tout the lipstick and she may create content to show how beautiful the lipstick looks on lips. In other words, she would employ a suite of tactics to make sure people see the lipstick and buy the lipstick. Again, the same logic can be applied to brands. When a brand releases a new product, they need to make sure people know about it and make it easy for people to buy.

The case in point about brand and product marketing: it’s very difficult to do one without the other. Just ask yourself, if Kim’s brand wasn’t as strong as it is, would anyone care about her new lipstick?

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?

A lot of people, particularly new entrepreneurs, believe that a product will speak for itself, especially if it is a great quality product. However, there are two truths that your readers must understand:

  1. Consumers make most of their buying decisions emotionally NOT rationally. A Harvard researcher once found that 95% of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously (How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, 2003). Brand marketing is a way to tap into the subconscious and appeal to emotion.
  2. We are living in the age of infinite choice. Consumers have access to an unlimited array of products at any time of day or night — right from their pocket on a mobile device! Differentiating based on product attributes alone is virtually impossible. Think about this: soap is made from three key ingredients that include oil, lye and water. Yet, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of soap brands. That’s the power of brand. Brand marketing drives product differentiation in consumers’ minds.

Simply put: building a brand is your secret weapon to sales. In a recent GoodQues study we found that a majority of people are willing to spend up to 20% more on brands that they feel are truly listening to them and their needs. Empathy does in fact lead to profit.

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. Worship insights! — Every company decision should start and stop with the target audience. Brands that are consumer-obsessed are the brands that are the most trusted and believable. REI is a great example of this sort of brand; REI closes during the biggest retail holiday of the year — Black Friday — because they know that their community of consumers will be more loyal as a result of the gesture.
  2. Connect every day! — Simply put: people change. What you learned six months ago may not apply six months later. The practice of extracting insights needs to be baked in into day-to-day business operations. One of our clients, Amika, is very good at this. Amika leans on their social media to engage consumers in a two-way dialogue as opposed to most brands who use social media as a megaphone.
  3. Be empathetic! — Empathy means thinking about what your brand and company can do for people. I’ve been in too many meetings focused on “disrupting” people. Do you ever want to be “disrupted”? No, it isn’t a very good feeling. Be a brand that people want to seek out and “disruption” will disappear from your consumer vocabulary. It’s ok to disrupt business models, not people.
  4. Embrace repetition! — Did you know that it takes approximately 10 exposures for a message to resonate? It’s a frequently referenced statistic in marketing, but the truth is that brand people are still people and that means they get bored. As a result, brand messages, campaigns and collateral are often so different that they give consumers whiplash.
  5. Have some fun! — Geico is a brand that has absolutely nailed the idea of a repetitive message that is still exciting. I’m certain that as you’re reading this, you are reciting their infamous tagline and visualizing the Geico Gecko. The goal isn’t always to be funny, but to take risk and color outside the box (as long as the box is still recognizable).

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?

Despite recent controversy around Red Bull leadership, their 30 plus years of brand stewardship have been impressive. The drink was introduced in 1987 and is sold in over 167 countries today. What you think about the actual beverage is irrelevant because it’s an undeniably salient, resonant brand. Red Bull was one of the first companies to extrapolate that its brand could extend to experiential marketing. From Redbull Flugtag to the Felix Baumgartner Stratos experiment, Redbull gifted us unforgettable cultural moments all centered around levitation (i.e., “RedBull gives you wings!”)

To replicate some of RedBull’s success marketers need courage and conviction. Marketers need to create touchpoints that make the heart soar even if there isn’t always an instant correlation to the bottom line. This directly reflects the principles of how people make emotional buying decisions in a world of infinite choice.

Today, Red Bull is entering a new phase of brand building where they need to navigate diversity and practice empathy. We will see what their future holds.

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?

There isn’t one way to measure success for a brand building campaign. In fact, we’ve staked our model on the need to evolve past limited thinking prioritizing dry, detached sales data.

Measuring brand equity is the art of quantifying emotion; this presents an arena where marketers and analysts can be very creative, looking for indicators that suggest that people care about a brand and that they find the brand to be meaningful to their lives. Key performance indicators can range from self-reported feelings to social media conversation to metaphorical exercises and more.

At GoodQues we use and create a bevy of methods to measure brand building success. One of our methodologies borrows techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to extract subconscious emotions about brands. Another methodology utilizes AI to map brand personality traits against core audience values in order to find overlapping similarities. We encourage companies to ask questions and dive deeper in order to drive new methodologies and answers.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is just another brand touchpoint — but the catch is that social media is a living, breathing thing. Unlike a website or a television commercial which are static, there’s a flurry of movement and energy on social media. Communities of people rally around a brand to follow, like, comment and create. Brands need to treat social media accordingly with content that has elasticity to stretch and bend. It’s a daunting task but it is also exciting. The kind of stories that can be told in social media can’t be told anywhere else. The amount of empathy that lives here is immense.

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

Learn the enormous power of no.

One magical word that can give you the focus to prioritize what’s important and to protect your team from being overworked. Women have been enculturated to find it especially difficult to say no, especially if they think someone’s feelings might be at stake. No is freedom and protection. No frees you from menial tasks and no can protect you from feelings of inadequacy when “doing it all” is too much.

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

I’d like to encourage a movement that makes listening cool, maybe for the first time in our speech-focused society.

Listening has become wildly unpopular. From our classrooms to our companies, people are hell-bent on being heard but they don’t stop to hear others. We are rewarded for “speaking up” and “voicing opinions” and while communication is an essential skillset, talking is only half the recipe. As a culture, we seem to have lost our ability and proclivity to listen to each other.

In the same way that meditation has picked up in culture, we need to treat listening as a practice and use techniques to train our attention and awareness. I hope to see the “Headspace” of listening trending in my app downloads one day!

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

When I was a little girl, my grandpa was my best friend. He was a tall, lanky man with a crooked nose and a kind smile. If I close my eyes, I can hear him creaking to meet me, seen from the height of a six-year-old. He told me lots of stories and idioms and made me laugh until my stomach ached. Out of all the knowledge he imparted, there’s one “life lesson quote” that still stands out to me. I think about it often when I’m faced with daunting business challenges. Roughly translated from Russian to English, he used to say, “There’s nothing in this world that can’t be done better”.

It sounds simple, but the statement is loaded with meaning. I believe my grandpa was saying that life is iterative. And that everything is a work in progress. The statement celebrates creative thinking in the face of any problem large or small. The quote gives me hope: no matter how dire a situation may be, I know there is always room for change and there is always room for “better.”

This one little quote has given me courage to question the status quo and to challenge practices that were “always done this way.” The life lesson that helped to birth our company, GoodQues! Asking how things can be done better is fundamentally a good question.

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’m a big fan of Simon Sinek. His TED Talk on the “Power of Why” inspires me to this day. Recently, he’s also been talking about the meaning of empathy in business and how important it is to listen. Selfishly, I feel that my core values align with his — and I would love to brainstorm with him over a meal on how we can make the world a better place.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please follow me on Medium and on LinkedIn.

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


Maria Vorivich of GoodQues: 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.

Keane and Shaun Veran of OURA: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Give behind-the-scenes access. People want to buy from a brand that is authentic and real. They want to support actual faces not giant corporations. The best way to do this is by giving them a peek into how you operate (manufacturing products, work environments, exclusive news on product releases, etc.). When you give customers access to content that would otherwise be unavailable to the public, it helps to build trust and excitement, in addition to tapping into the notion of exclusivity.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Keane & Shaun Veran. The two brothers are co-founders of OURA, the rapidly growing social enterprise that fuses advanced technologies into their products while giving back to charities like Make-a-Wish and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times.

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

Keane: Of course! We are so excited to have this discussion. Our story starts with my cancer diagnosis at the age of ten. As I started undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy, all my support came from my community. Family, friends, the hospital staff and countless charities fueled me with hope, strength and the determination to overcome my battle with leukemia.

Once I became a cancer survivor in 2017, Shaun and I launched OURA with the intent to give back. One problem we faced when I was undergoing treatment was the lack of protection against bacteria, as any bacterial infection could have deadly effects on someone who is immunosuppressed. Like many cancer patients, I lost my hair and wore hats to cover up, but I realized how easily hats accumulated bacteria after constant use. This realization led to the creation of OURA’s first product — a multifunctional, self-sterilizing hat that would stay clean. As a brand that focuses on healthier living, antimicrobial properties became a fundamental requirement in all our products.

As we continued to grow our brand, we had the opportunity to expand our line of products from hats to aprons, face masks and much more, all while providing support to various philanthropies.

Shaun: Our family’s experience with cancer was the catalyst for all of this. It may have started with the diagnosis, but our experience with these amazing charitable organizations really motivated us to continue giving back to these communities.

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?

Keane: I think we have made plenty of mistakes along the way. We started OURA while I was still in college with no knowledge of how to run a business whatsoever. Honestly, those early days were all about just getting our products out and hoping for the best.

Shaun: Haha! Those days were challenging since we thought you could just put up a website, make a Facebook page, and people would line up to get products. We quickly realized that creating a brand was a lot more involved than that.

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

Keane: I believe there are multiple areas that make our company stand out. When referencing the creation of OURA, our story is closely intertwined with my own personal experience with cancer as well as our dedication to giving back to charities like Make-A-Wish and Camp Ronald McDonald. Our goal as a brand is to help sick kids feel supported and inspired the way I did during my personal experience with childhood cancer organizations.

There is a Japanese legend, if a thousand origami cranes are folded, a wish can be granted. In honor of this belief, we launched Ouragami (or OURA for short) to continue spreading the magic of wish granting. Since our launch date, we have been fortunate enough to grant several wishes to kids that have allowed them to experience hope, strength and joy through their own manner.

When talking about our products, we approach functionality from a scientific and technical perspective. We do this to ensure we are introducing the most protective and efficient products to our customers. We dive deep and source for the best components like medical grade fabrics and combine them with the best technologies, which are then validated through additional rigorous testing.

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

Keane: We are constantly looking to innovate and create products that allow people to live cleaner, safer and healthier lives. Right now, we are working on some exciting new collaborations and projects including some new pieces for the wardrobe.

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?

Shaun: I would define brand marketing as creating an identity for your business. It mixes your story, mission, values and vision into one personality, identity and voice. If your brand were a person, what would it look like? How would it sound when speaking? Where would it shop? The more specific the answers to these questions, the easier all the other marketing will become. Once you have this nailed down, it should become ubiquitous throughout every piece of content that is created from your emails and website to social media.

In comparison, product marketing is much more straightforward. You have a product that you can push with its benefits, features, story or simply just price. The messaging here is all focused on what the customer gets rather than the identity of the brand.

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?

Shaun: Well, branding should come before you even begin marketing and advertising. Everyone on the team needs to be solid on key questions — Who are we helping? What do we do? Why do we do it? What do we stand for?

Once these questions can be answered with clarity, then you can build all of the marketing and advertising pieces around it to execute successful campaigns. When you focus on branding first, all of your marketing materials slowly build up awareness together helping you avoid disjointed and divided advertising efforts. Then, once customers experience your products or services it solidifies that brand message.

Keane: I totally agree. One of the most compelling reasons for me is that building a brand allows you to foster greater trust with your customers. You can build a relationship with them as you consistently deliver products that meet (or hopefully exceed) their expectations.

By creating a strong brand identity, you have the luxury of being able to convert customers to try new products or create a wider base of support since they are already familiar with the standards that you have previously set.

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.

Keane: I believe that the main goal is to really push for authenticity and transparency in everything that you do. These qualities can be difficult to convey but they are so important when looking to build and reinforce trust in customers. While strategies will differ for each company, these are key strategies we have relied on:

Give behind-the-scenes access. People want to buy from a brand that is authentic and real. They want to support actual faces not giant corporations. The best way to do this is by giving them a peek into how you operate (manufacturing products, work environments, exclusive news on product releases, etc.). When you give customers access to content that would otherwise be unavailable to the public, it helps to build trust and excitement, in addition to tapping into the notion of exclusivity.

Show off your team. When customers see the faces of your staff, it allows them to associate a face with the brand and sets up authority figures in your space. A video from the CEO, a manager or associate will add to the authenticity of your brand and the voice you have as a company. A great example is Anson Belts. They host a weekly giveaway that is hosted by their co-founder, bolstering feelings of familiarity and trust with their customers.

Focus on storytelling. No one likes being sold to 24/7. Your messaging and content shouldn’t be that way either. Give people complete stories with a beginning, middle and an end. You can do this by sharing stories about how your products have helped customers, the process of your products being made or how their purchases help to create good in the world. No matter what you do, the goal should always be to tell a story that connects consumers to your brand.

Be technical but concise. If you have a great product, be specific and talk about why it’s unique and what differentiates it from other brands. You want to have a balance that proves your product is superior. Use language that allows the customer to understand the features and specifications, without giving them an overly complicated explanation, to ensure clarity about your product’s unique differentiators. Apple excels at selling its products with concise, sophisticated language in specific presentations that inform and educate customers about how their products work.

Don’t be afraid of tough questions. They will come up. The best way to address them is to be honest and share the “why” behind your actions. Doing this can quickly turn a skeptical customer into a loyal brand ambassador.

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?

Shaun: For me, the company that immediately comes to mind is Tesla. They tackled a problem viewed as insurmountable and are now a household name around the world. I think that Elon Musk had a lot to do with that. He shows how much authority a strong leader can truly give a brand.

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?

Shaun: It is much more difficult to determine the success of a branding campaign. These answers will not come immediately like they do for metrics like clickthrough or conversion rates. Instead, we utilize measurements like the lifetime value of the customer or the return visits to our website or social media channels. These metrics can provide more insight into how your customers view your products and your brand as a whole. Earned media sentiment is another strong indicator of success.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Keane: Social media is a necessity. As a brand, you need to go wherever the people are and today, they are on social media. For some companies, it may be a small part of their overall marketing strategy, while for others it will be their primary channel. No matter what, it is important to foster a community on these platforms so that people can utilize these channels to not only get in touch with your team, but to openly share their brand experiences with their own followers — helping your brand reach new potential leads.

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

Keane: Discuss your ideas with others. I think it is so crucial to brainstorm with others if things are not performing at the level you want. For me, talking with colleagues energizes my thought process, especially when I have new ideas I’d like to run by them. I live for those magical moments where everyone is excitedly talking over one another and sharing their ideas until you end up finding solutions to problems that were once thought unsolvable.

Shaun: I totally agree that collaboration is incredibly important. However, sometimes you just need to get away from it all and take a break. Taking time for yourself can reset your mind so you come back with new perspectives to the problems that you are facing.

I think that everyone is a little different, so what works for one may not for another. What is important is that you recognize that burnout is happening so that you can take steps to prevent 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. 🙂

Keane: While we are hyper-focused on creating an impact for children who are fighting cancer, I would love nothing more than to inspire people to find ways to give back to causes that are dear to them as well.

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

Shaun: As a growing startup, I think for us that would be “Fail fast. Fail often.” Failure is one of the best teachers in life. It pushes you to challenge yourself over and over again, cultivating a tenacious character.

The best way to test your ideas is to just go out and do it. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work. What matters is that you learn from your mistakes, adjust your strategy and try again until you get it right.

Don’t be afraid of failure, be afraid of complacency.

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. 🙂

Shaun: I would love the opportunity to chat with Melinda Gates. She has been a powerful advocate giving back to underserved communities and it would be amazing to learn more about how she has been able to impact so many lives around the globe with the programs that she instituted.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Your readers can find us on

Instagram @ouragami

Twitter @ouragami_


Keane and Shaun Veran of OURA: 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.

Anthony J Colciaghi of FCA: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Anthony J. Colciaghi of FCA: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Set expectations for success at kick-off and revisit them regularly. Working remotely requires a greater emphasis on defining goals. Be sure to always have the project’s goals and success metrics stated clearly and prominently on every weekly meeting’s agenda.

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

Principal Anthony (Tony) Colciaghi is the managing principal of the firm’s Philadelphia office, and he leads FCA’s Legal Workplace Practice and Corporate Studio. Throughout his 35-year career, including some 30 years at FCA, Tony has managed and designed over five million square feet of office space. Anthony is a hands-on principal and a trusted advisor to his clients, with whom he has consistently formed long-term relationships.

Throughout his career, Tony has led teams nationwide that have delivered transformative design. He was principal-in-charge of the workplace interiors for GlaxoSmithKline’s new office in the Philadelphia Navy Yard that dramatically transformed the multinational company’s business and culture. Some of his most recent projects have been for EisnerAmper with their new offices in San Francisco and New York, as well as offices for Fox Rothschild in Chicago, Ballard Spahr in Salt Lake City, and is leading the project for McCarter & English’s new Newark office.

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 have always been very curious about how things are designed and work — a building, interior space, materials, furniture, machinery. That led me to study architecture at Temple in Philadelphia and Rome. From there my first job out of college was for a sole practitioner in New York City where I worked on commercial interiors and renovations. My second job led me back to Philadelphia where I have been with my current firm, FCA, for 33 years. Architecture and how things work are just in my bones — walking the streets always looking up at the details and even in my off-hours, I play architect renovating and maintaining my 100+ year old Victorian home. I am generally happier when there’s a construction project in my life — obsessed with the details and delighted with the outcome.

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

My most interesting story is really more of a most interesting project full of great stories — as a recent college grad I was Staff Architect on a Horace Trumbauer historic renovation project. It’s a beautiful Beaux Arts building in Philadelphia that was stripped of its detail and grandeur during “modernizations” in the 60s and 70s. FCA was charged to restore it to its former beauty. I found myself working as an architect, historian, archaeologist, and detective. It was so exciting. And such a complex and significant building — I was in architecture heaven: digging through drawings on linen; opening spaces not seen by a human for decades; working with artisans and craftsmen to restore and recreate ornamentation and detail in stone, bronze, iron, plaster, and glass. It was an amazing experience. My kids even know it as one of dad’s projects — I have a photo of them when they were young in front of some of the bronze work. And 30 years later, the building still looks beautiful!

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?

Yes — I missed a digit on a paint specification once. And when I showed up on the project site, I wondered who picked that door color! Lesson learned: always make time to double-check your work and documents.

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

One: Be a good listener. On any given day, a third of your employees can be dealing with a significant personal issue that can affect their performance. Recognizing this or checking-in with your staff regularly, like catch ups over coffee and asking about how they are doing is key to helping uncover, understand, and open a door to talking and possibly asking for help.

Two: Engage and mentor your staff. Ask what else your company can do to make work more enjoyable (every office and culture are different); have mid-year check-ins with all staff; try to offer varied work experience for hands-on work — especially for junior staff; offer mentoring programs and on-site experiences.

Three: Learn from your work. Have debriefs at the end of projects and take time to understand your lessons learned.

Four: Always play as a team. A good leader can and does fill-in at any level and any moment in time — play as a team, everyone including the leader does whatever it takes.

Five: Be there for your team. Leaders must always provide a safety net or know who to call to get one.

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

My firm has had as many as four locations; and we currently have three. Running our firm primarily out of Philadelphia, I have over 20 years of working with remote project teams. And we routinely have specialty consultants who are often remote. We have been using the tools and technology for this for years, thankfully. The pandemic shifted this (working with our offices, teams, individuals, consultants) to the entire workforce — ours and our consulting partners — to being 100% remote for the first few months. Between our prior experience and our phenomenal IT leader, we almost didn’t miss a beat.

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

  1. Ensuring that you maintain the integrity of your processes to continue delivering your best high quality work.
  2. Needing to find better ways to stay connected when the team, the subconsultants, and the client are all working remotely.
  3. Remaining accessible and approachable as a leader.
  4. Maintaining the community of the office remotely, so that your team is always on task and always on track.
  5. Determining and acquiring the proper tools for digital communication

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

Set expectations for success at kick-off and revisit them regularly. Working remotely requires a greater emphasis on defining goals. Be sure to always have the project’s goals and success metrics stated clearly and prominently on every weekly meeting’s agenda.

Stay connected virtually. Check in weekly, if not daily. Set up regular team video meetings, and have a project group chat to talk with the team regularly. Clear and constant contact is essential to maintain team focus and engagement while working remotely.

Talk and listen to your clients, teams, staff, and partners — make sure to address all questions and issues promptly. Check in one-on-one with each team member. Keep in mind that sometimes team members are not comfortable bringing up concerns in a larger group setting.

Focus on team communication and, as their leader, make sure you are in constant communication with your team. Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate! It’s all about communication. Be constant, be engaged, be clear, and check in frequently.

Invest in the tools to enhance collaboration. Do not be afraid to try different technology platforms to find the best fit. Working remotely demands supporting technology that is tailored to the task at hand. What works well for communication and data sharing might not be the best for innovating, material sharing, etc.

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?

Meeting virtually is important and as close as we can get to meeting face to face in this environment. Insist on cameras on for these meetings. For all of these messages, even when not remote, practice using non-confrontational wording that will get the point across but not in an aggressive way. Rather than, “your numbers are abysmal and you need to improve them”, say, “let’s look at your numbers. We are looking for this, how can we help you get there?”. Using this kind of language can soften the blow and opens the door for conversation and buy-in from your team member.

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

I would use the same wording in an email that I would use in a meeting as in the example above.

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?

First, set up infrastructure. It’s key to invest and train in the remote technology tools. Confirm what your staff needs to perform their roles effectively from home (monitors, task chairs, headsets, etc.). Set-up support workflows with your technology group and be prepared to quickly overnight tech, as needed. Try to limit paper and printing as much as possible (correspondence, accounting (payable/receivable), documents, submittals, proposals, etc.). And if you’re pitching new business remotely, rehearse and make sure you know your technology — for yourself, your team, and your potential client.

Second, focus on process, flexibility, and innovation (It’s remarkable how many business leaders didn’t think employees could effectively do their jobs remotely until experiencing working remotely for themselves during the pandemic.)

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

Over communicate and create as many touchpoints with your team members as possible. Show you care by showing interest and following through with solutions to problems. When we work remotely, we don’t have the advantage of sitting next to others, walking by our associates at their desks and starting a conversation or sitting informally with our cohorts in the breakroom with coffee or lunch. We need to do our best to create these touchpoints virtually — creating casual check-ins and talking about more than just work.

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 what the world needs most right now is kindness.

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

“Less is more where more is no good.” Frank Lloyd Wright

“You have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having.” Frank Llyod Wright

“Quality is not an act, it’s a habit.” Aristotle

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill. There are times when life can be difficult, but power through, you will get to the other side — and the battle will make you stronger.


Anthony J Colciaghi of FCA: 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.

Neil Sahota of UC Irvine: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

As leaders, we are responsible for the inclusion of our employees. Even pandemic aside, many people often feel isolated or “I’m by myself” when working remotely. Humans are social animals. We need to belong to something. With remote work, many people lose that sense of belonging and feel disconnected. That’s not the employee’s problem. This is our problem. Now, many enterprises organize virtual happy hours, birthday celebrations, etc. to create that sense of camaraderie. It is not the same. Even when people are toasting a major project milestone in their homes among their virtual teammates, they often still feel alone. Leaders need to create time where the meeting is not about work but just a chance to connect.

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

Neil Sahota is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) AI Advisor, author of the book Own the A.I. Revolution., and Professor at UC Irvine. He is a business solution advisor to several large companies and sought-after keynote speaker. Over his 20+ year career, Neil has worked with enterprises on the business strategy to create next generation products/solutions powered by emerging technology as well as helping organizations create the culture, community, and ecosystem needed to achieve success such as the U.N.’s AI for Good initiative. Neil also actively pursues social good and volunteers with nonprofits. He is currently helping the Zero Abuse Project prevent child sexual abuse as well as Planet Home to engage youth culture in sustainability initiatives. To really know Neil and his amazing accomplishments, you’ll need to scratch the surface by visiting his website: https://www.neilsahota.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 better. What is your “backstory”?

I’m the living embodiment of the one word every parent hates their child learning: why?

Beyond curiosity, I was born with an insatiable need to understand the value of items and actions. My parents also infused me with a strong desire to help people through community service. This combination defined who I was at a very early age.

Basically, I am the person that wants to solve the big problems, not just the problem at hand. As a result, I pioneered lots of new processes, models, frameworks, and patents. The latter would prove very important. They launched me down the path of artificial intelligence, which was an innovative and unfamiliar industry with a lot of new territory for me to explore. Here, I found an opportunity to help organizations understand how they could use AI as a tool for both commercial and social good. This really crystalized how much people should be the focus of “people, process, technology.” No matter what amazing ideas exist or the strength of the business case, if people don’t buy in, it isn’t going to work. This is my passion: to empower and connect people rather than leave them feeling fearful and excluded.

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

My most interesting story has quite a global journey. It started in Washington D.C. At the request my great friend Stephen Ibaraki, I collaborated with Financial Services Roundtable on how the biggest Financial Services companies in the world could tap into emerging technology to transform their businesses before they got disrupted. After D.C., I left for Milwaukee to take care of some client business. While there, Stephen called me to express his gratitude for the help and told me he had an interesting opportunity. The United Nations (UN) was very interested in having me speak to them about Artificial Intelligence (AI). I had one of those moments, where I took a step back and couldn’t believe this was being offered to me. (Truthfully, I didn’t believe it. I seriously thought Stephen was playing a joke until he forwarded me the invitation from the Secretary General.)

One of the biggest challenges I faced was that most of the world leaders (at that time) thought of AI as “Terminator Time,” meaning, machines would conquer the world and eradicate humanity. So, I decided to focus on shifting this perspective by giving a very uplifting keynote on what AI is and how it is being used for public service and sustainable development goals. My speech was very well received. That night, I was approached by several world leaders and people from the UN leadership, including the Secretary General. The consensus was that my talk opened up their eyes to possibilities, and they wanted to do something while momentum was there.

But the question was what? After many critical discussions, we chose to create AI for Good– an initiative to use AI and emerging technology for the Sustainable Development Goals. Almost five years later, we boast a global ecosystem of partners and volunteers with 116 projects inflight with an unfathomable amount of positive social impact. I would have never guessed anything like this would’ve been possible as part of my career.

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?

Ironically, one funny mistake actually involved virtual teams. This was back in the day when outsourcing work overseas was just in its infancy. We had set up a team in India with the expectation that when we ended for the day, they would pick up the work. When they ended their day, our day was starting so we would carry it forward. It would be a true 24-hour workday– or so we thought.

We had a major issue that needed quick resolution that was handed off to the team in India. We asked them to fix a problem and confirm if they understood what happened. The next morning, the issue was resolved. While the India team said they had fixed it, we still didn’t know what happened. I sent an email asking, “Do you know what caused the problem?” The following day, I got an email back that just said, “Yes.” So, I emailed back, “What happened?” The next day, I got this response, “We fixed the problem.”

Rather than be frustrated, I just burst out laughing. I learned that cultures are different and to be more prescriptive. More importantly, I learned to spend time with remote teams and build relationships with the people. By doing this, we were able to work effectively together because there was a more intuitive understanding on what information and actions people are expecting. It has been a powerful lesson throughout my career as I have essentially worked in a virtual office for almost twenty years!

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

This is a great question because it is such a HUGE problem! Most leaders don’t even realize what’s happening until it is too late. I have two key pieces of advice here. First, slack time is a must-have. Second, make sure people take “me time,” that goes for leaders as well.

To start, slack time is creating open time for employees. Most leaders are obsessed with productivity, and rightfully so since it is a major metric for us leaders. Yet, the problem is we end up slicing things up so that every second (and more so) is allocated for an employee. This is a huge problem that goes beyond the inefficiencies built into multi-tasking. If employees don’t have any free time, how will they ever innovate? Studies have shown that good employees with a few small pockets of open time at work will use this time to figure out how to do their jobs better. I’ve seen companies from innovative startups to Global Fortune 500 companies try to fill up every iota of time, but they wind up burning their employees out.

Next, everyone needs “me time.” Most organizations will pile on more and more work until the employee reaches a breaking point. The usual consensus is that the employee should help define the limits on workload. We should never let our employees reach a level of (near) breaking point though. This is how we lose great people. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure employees have sufficient downtime. After one of my peers left the company, I was asked to absorb their team of five employees. In getting to know them, I had a one-on-one with one of my new direct reports who was a good worker but not much promise in advancing within the company. During our first meeting, they told me how proud they were of never having used any vacation days in the last twelve years. I was mortified. In a calm, professional manner, I explained that this was not acceptable. If they didn’t use vacation time, I would note this in their performance review and reduce their score. They were shocked.

After a little back and forth, this employee requested two weeks of vacation time to take their family to Europe. I happily approved. When they came back, I got an immediate call from this direct report. They thanked me. They didn’t realize how tired and jaded they actually were. Their vacation was not just refreshing but helped them reconnect with their family and truly relax. After returning from vacation, this employee was even more productive and earned rave reviews from clients and teammates. Fourteen months later, this employee, who people thought didn’t have an opportunity for advancing in the company, received a promotion. This is why, as leaders, we must ensure employees get that “me time.”

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 over twenty years of experience in managing remote teams. This is not just people working in different countries but also people even working locally with no strong need for them to be in an office. I have managed direct reports, contractors, consultants, vendors, and even client employees remotely. Perhaps the most complex, I actively managed a team of people in thirteen different countries for five months on a very critical, time-sensitive project. How did we even get together for an all-team meeting? I instituted a policy of shared sacrifice, where time of our weekly team meeting rotated each week so that it was in the middle of the night for different people each week.

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

  1. There is no professional and personal life separation. As much as we would like to keep things work related as leaders, it is not really possible in a remote work environment, especially during Covid. The average American works 9.4 hours a day. That number is higher for people who work remotely. When people are spending around 42% of their day (24 hours) working, it’s about work life integration. I had a situation where an employee who worked from home had a horrific tragedy. Their teenage daughter died in a car accident. Even a month later, it was apparent this person was not moving towards “alright.” This is where a leader must move beyond being the “boss” to being an empathetic person. I was genuinely concerned about the personal welfare of my employee and their family. There was no “professional life” and “personal life,” but just life. By offering that support and encouraging professional help, the employee was ultimately able to move on. However, without this support, it probably would not have happened. We forget how much of life is intertwined (or absorbed) by work.
  2. As leaders, we are responsible for the inclusion of our employees. Even pandemic aside, many people often feel isolated or “I’m by myself” when working remotely. Humans are social animals. We need to belong to something. With remote work, many people lose that sense of belonging and feel disconnected. That’s not the employee’s problem. This is our problem. Now, many enterprises organize virtual happy hours, birthday celebrations, etc. to create that sense of camaraderie. It is not the same. Even when people are toasting a major project milestone in their homes among their virtual teammates, they often still feel alone. Leaders need to create time where the meeting is not about work but just a chance to connect. When I was managing a team across thirteen countries, I started an internal channel for them to socialize. To drive this, I set up a weekly ice breaker question asking questions like what is your favorite movie, song, cartoon, or book? This worked wonders as it gave people a chance to open up, socially, without concern about backlash or unprofessionalism.
  3. As leaders, we are responsible for the resilience of our teams. At an office, it is more understandable to separate this out because of the normal, expected support groups. However, as we’ve seen with the two previous challenges, remote employees often lack these channels. Now factor in the added challenges with Covid-19, this problem gets amplified. Resilience is no different than other soft skills we expect like communication, collaboration, etc. So, we need to invest in this employee development. I had a protégé in Asia who was newly minted as a manager. In getting to know their direct reports, my protégé discovered one of them had issues with alcohol to cope with stress. Rather than get involved directly, my protégé said it was not their place to get involved in a remote worker’s life, and this employee was expected to find their own help. Sadly, this employee spiraled downward for the worse until they nearly beat their child to death in a drunken rage. Even though my protégé terminated this employee, these actions had a profound effect on the other employees. Feeling that their personal well-being was not a priority, most of their top 10% performers left the company within three months. The well-being of the child and retaining their best workers might have been better served if there was some investment in building resilience among the employees.
  4. Discipline is a must-have, not a nice-have. Being productive in a virtual office can be a challenge for some people because of the amount of distractions. Alas, some people may prioritize their personal indulgences over work during normal business hours. I had a newly, promoted direct report who was managing their first set of direct reports. For their very first hire, they brought on board a financial analyst to track and chase down the payment of client invoices. Within two months of the hire, I noticed my business unit had an unusually large accounts receivable, and it was concentrated on the portfolio of my recently promoted direct report. Speaking with them, I learned that they were having trouble with the financial analyst they hired. In fact, each time they called the financial analyst, this person either had the television on or was clearly not at home (with the sounds of a bowling alley, movie theater, or bar evident in the background.) I made it explicitly clear to my direct report that inappropriate reasons are not acceptable. Either they resolved this issue, or they would be terminated. The financial analyst was let go.
  5. Leaders must understand that a different modality has different metrics. People do what they’re incentivized to do. A remote workforce needs a different set of metrics to be measured upon as well as rewarded for doing. Too many leaders just try to apply the same in-person metrics and expectations, and they fail miserably. For example, I had an operations colleague that would call an all-hands on deck stand up meeting three times a day to deal with an urgent problem. Their team would congregate at 8AM, 11AM, 2PM, and 5PM every day with the goal of giving updates and requesting specific help from their teammates. These meetings would last 5–7 minutes. They started off being quite effective. However, to reduce costs, the client requested the teams to work from home. Unfortunately, my colleague’s model turned into an albatross. Replicating the exact same process, these standup checkpoints now went to 40 to 50-minute meetings with lots of offline follow up among the participants. These meetings degraded into sessions where the updates were essentially nothing because we were all too busy meeting with other people, and then preparing reports for the stand-up meetings. The main challenge was the informal, in-person updates no longer existed. People became siloed that this model was not effective for remote teams. Rather than adjust, my colleague just replicated what they were doing in person without consideration for the challenges of a remote environment.

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

The old adage “different strokes for different folks” comes into play. Remote work is DIFFERENT. We must shift our style, methods, and engagement as leaders to suit a remote work environment. As we saw from the previous examples, leaders must become empathizers, trust confidants, soft skill developers, resilience builders, and management innovators. Sounds like a lot of work? It is. However, there is no other way to be successful. As our employees must adapt to remote work environments, we must also tailor our leadership and management styles to suit a virtual workforce.

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?

First and foremost, give feedback on video. This gives your employee some body language to take into context. I have had several employees tell me that they appreciated the ability to look at me (via camera) to get a better understanding of what I thought was serious and what was more my ironic sense of humor. Even positive feedback should be done through video so that there is no misconception on the employees’ part on what you are communicating. It also gives us a chance to validate the employee understands what we are saying.

Second, stick to the facts. Be specific and cite examples on any feedback you provide. Keep judgement out as much as possible but focus on how people may have experienced the employee’s performance or lack of. I have found employees take this type of criticism less personally and focus on the actual behavior rather than make excuses.

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

I try to avoid giving feedback by email unless it is something small like “make sure to check your grammar before you hit send.” Most feedback worth giving is worth doing over a call or video conference. This helps reduce misinterpretation or hard feelings by the employee. If it is major feedback, give it quickly by calling your employee. I’ve found that quick constructive, criticism can be incredibly useful to an employee as long as it is done real-time and professionally.

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?

The best advice I can give is to embrace the difference. We know it will be different, but many employees are still shell-shocked when they experience it. By encouraging them to embrace the difference, we are encouraging them to accept the change more readily. In turn, this empowers our employees to find another way to work with their colleagues. I had a superstar employee who worked from a traditional office for nearly ten years. However, after being promoted, they had to suddenly work with teammates around the world. They struggled mightily despite all the training we invested in preparing them for this shift. While they intellectually understood what was going to happen, behavior is much more difficult to change. I assigned two mentors and more frequent coaching sessions with my employee to really drive behavioral change. It took almost three months, but we got the employee where they needed to be.

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

The critical item is to ensure a sense of belonging. If employees start to feel disconnected, the isolation will crush their morale and productivity. However, creating this sense of belonging is TOUGH. Too many leaders think having video conference calls and the occasional virtual happy hour solves the problem. It does not. Our employees need to feel connected to have a healthy and empowering work culture. To do this, we need to crate “social time” (akin to the “Me Time” I spoke about earlier.) Small things can make huge differences. In weekly team meetings, add to the agenda something a little more personal like what’s one thing you learned in the last week. Add in birthdays or work anniversaries. Create moments where people can share and connect over something good that is not directly related to their tasks at hand. These moments of sharing help build connection and make our staff feel like they still belong to something special.

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. 🙂

OMG! I think I have already done this with my collaboration with the UN to create AI for Good. We’ve helped millions of people so far! And we’re continually growing it. Does that count? Or do I need to find another initiative to work on? Hmm… I’d love to hear what the readers think.

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

My favorite (and what I have based my life on) is the quote by Peter Drucker: “You cannot predict the future, but you can create it.”

Benjamin Franklin said the only certainties in life are death and taxes. I think he missed one BIG one: change. Change is always happening, and it is happening faster and faster. Too many people worry about what changes will happen and how they will impact them. That’s why I love Drucker’s quote. We often forget that we can be the driver for change. We can shape the future!

Taking this to heart, 𝗜 𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 “𝗮𝗿𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲” 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗰𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗶𝘀𝗵𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 “𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲” 𝗹𝗶𝗸𝗲:

  • Helping the United Nations create and launch their AI for Global Good initiative
  • Pioneering the current artificial intelligence (AI) and leading the way to the 4th Industrial Revolution
  • Convincing Global Fortune 500 companies to embrace risk and to forge the first-of-a-kind products and grow them into nascent markets and industries

Each one of us can be the driver of change and innovation. Each one of us can be a force for leadership in the virtual office. Each one of us can help our enterprises uber themselves before they get Kodaked! The first step is to embrace what Drucker said. Don’t worry about predicting the future. Just create it!

Thank you for these great insights!


Neil Sahota of UC Irvine: 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.

The Future Is Now: Eran Arden of RESTORE-Skills On How Their Technological Innovation Will Help…

The Future Is Now: Eran Arden of RESTORE-Skills On How Their Technological Innovation Will Help People Live Longer & Healthier

Our goal to help patients find the motivation to practice building and maintaining motor and cognitive skills drives everything we do. These are the skills they need in order to live as independently as possible. We are launching a motion-based, skill-development, multiplayer server, called RESTORE-Together, that allows nursing home patients to play developmental games. They can even play the therapy games together with their loved ones and peers during these challenging times of isolation.

As part of my series about the “The Future Is Now: Exciting Emerging Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eran Arden

Eran Arden is CEO of RESTORE Skills, a new category of on-demand, data-driven, rehabilitation tools for the healthcare demands of the 21st century.

With over 16 years of professional work experience as Chief Executive Officer, founder, visionary, investor, and an expert in international markets, Eran Arden has worked with leading international brands such as Nike, Volkswagen, Unilever, Audi, and P&G. Using his background in marketing and brand digital transformation, Eran is leading the change in the way skill-building and rehabilitation are delivered today with RESTORE Skills, building the first therapy as a service skill-development cloud platform and disrupting a $54B market.

Previously, in 2000, he founded Tribal DDB Tel-Aviv, one Israel’s first interactive agencies, a subsidiary of Worldwide DDB. In 2003, Eran co-founded Grey Interactive, the Israel branch of Grey Worldwide, partnering with Israeli and global clients, leading digital transformation and storytelling for global brands and start-up companies. In 2007 he founded G-Factor, an Israeli Startup Accelerator Program working with more than 30 new ventures and founders.

Eran published his first book in 2006, entitled, “Kadima Taklick,” which illustrates the revolutionary impact of marketing and advertising in the digital age, with a feature on political campaigns.

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 journey has been all about welcoming what I call “surprisingly different opportunities” in life.

As the leader of a digital marketing agency in Tel Aviv, I got to run a startup accelerator. We had 32 startups participate and a few good investments. I was fortunate to work with smart, energized entrepreneurs, who were focused on marketing and advertising technologies. Digital marketing and online transformation were all I knew at the time.

But something changed in me when I met Sarit, an occupational therapist who wanted to gamify therapy, and Shay, a brilliant CTO who partnered with her. I knew that this was what I needed to do.

I decided to help make the world a better place by changing the way therapy is delivered. I invested in their venture and joined the founders’ team as CEO.

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

My name is Eran, which in Hebrew means awake/intrigued/interested. For me, finding interest in everything is my nature. My life is packed with surprisingly different stories.

I was born and grew up in Israel. In Tel Aviv, you either work in a startup, your wife runs a startup, or you will work in a startup soon. Many of my friends lead startups or work in one. I was visiting one at his Tel-Aviv office when I noticed an interesting business card from the mayor of Akron, Ohio — a town I had to Google.

Turns out Akron has a health-tech related accelerator, so I sent an email to the mayor. A couple of weeks later, I met Don Plusquellic, now the former mayor of Akron, in Tel-Aviv. It was an immediate click, and the city invested in our startup, RESTORE-Skills. Don’s team helped us build partnerships with Cleveland Clinic, Akron Hospital, and introduced us to investors in Northeast Ohio.

I relocated to Akron, Ohio with my family. Funny enough Don actually resigned two weeks before our relocation. We live in NJ now, but our headquarters remain in Akron, Ohio.

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

Our goal to help patients find the motivation to practice building and maintaining motor and cognitive skills drives everything we do. These are the skills they need in order to live as independently as possible. We are launching a motion-based, skill-development, multiplayer server, called RESTORE-Together, that allows nursing home patients to play developmental games. They can even play the therapy games together with their loved ones and peers during these challenging times of isolation.

How do you think this might change the world?

The world’s population is aging. We want to help people live longer, healthier and as independent as possible. Data-driven gamified activities, that are motivational and customized to each specific player’s needs and abilities, can help our parents and grandparents today — as well as all of us in the future.

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

The pandemic changed our course of action. We needed to adjust our business plan in order to meet the immediate market needs and help this most vulnerable population.

What we’re seeing is that during the forced COVID-19 isolation, finding the motivation to practice therapy exercises is even more challenging. Residents and therapists alike are tired of the limited therapy exercises they can practice in patient rooms.

With the help of RESTORE-Skills sand RESTORE-Together, we want skilled nursing patients to play therapy-driven skill-building games remotely with their loved ones, connect with other residents for a group activity, and even participate in live, nationwide gaming tournaments — all from the safety of their rooms!

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

We are inspired by the stories and feedback we receive from teams and residents in nursing homes using RESTORE-Skills. We understand that building a new category and changing habits and behavior in a market that does not rapidly innovate is an ambitious task.

We need to build and support a tribe of change agents who want to make each day a better day for our loved ones in nursing homes. We need therapists who understand the benefit of using data-driven activities and are ready to leave behind the decades old therapy cones and range of motion arcs.

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

I have simple point of view here, RESTORE-Skills is not the not the story, we are not the heroes, and the idea is much bigger than the platform or it’s brilliant components. Our marketing and communication strategy is based on sharing the success stories and breakthroughs created by the team members in nursing homes, our partners and most importantly their patients. It is never about us and what we do, and always about the amazing work of the therapy teams taking care of loved ones.

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

I grew up in an interesting family. My grandparents on both sides were Holocaust survivors who came to Israel to build a country, which in itself was practically a startup. My grandma still makes sure that I will remember to never give up, see the positive in every situation and that sense of humor is the most important ingredient in life.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead a team that wakes up every morning to make the world a better place. All that I need to do is make sure that I can coach them along the way and provide them with the resources they need to execute their ideas in the best way possible.

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 find the term “Shared Responsibility” great and problematic at the same time. The quality of our lives is dependent on the responsibilities we own while sharing is what makes us human and drives the core of our existence. But once you mix the two of them together the line blurs.

I wish that in real life, just like in games, we had a positive social/reward platform that can show us the potential of fulfilling our individual responsibilities and then presents the multiplier effect that our responsibilities creates once they are shared with others.

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

In a world that makes it so easy to share our thoughts and words with everyone, I believe that we all need to remember Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “…Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

We own our words and actions. They are our responsibility, and they impact others. Building a company with the goal of making the world a better place is a great way to align my words and actions.

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 🙂

Why would I pitch to VC?…. OK… Let’s give it a try…. Are you sure that your goals are aligned with our company goals? Are you sure that you can help us accelerate our growth? And the last one, if you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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


The Future Is Now: Eran Arden of RESTORE-Skills On How Their Technological Innovation Will Help… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Zohar Halachmi of D-Fend Solutions On How Their Technological Innovation Will…

The Future Is Now: Zohar Halachmi of D-Fend Solutions On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Drone Industry

D-Fend Solutions focuses on an acute threat, the most dangerous drones, so that organizations around the world can maintain full control of drone incidents in complex environments and be prepared for future threats. EnforceAir, our flagship offering, automatically executes radio frequency (RF) cyber-takeovers of rogue drones for safe landings and safe outcomes.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zohar Halachmi, Chairman & CEO, D-Fend Solutions.

Zohar Halachmi is the Chairman and CEO at D-Fend Solutions, which offers the leading cyber-drone takeover solution to help organizations protect against rogue drones. Before co-founding D-Fend Solutions, he was the founder and CEO of multiple mobile and enterprise application start-up companies. He also held VP and C-level positions at global and public telecommunication enterprises. While managing multi-disciplinary large and small-scale organizations, Zohar created fast-growth and profitable businesses, bringing innovative solutions and services to the market. He graduated cum laude with a B.Sc. from the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and M.Sc. from Tel Aviv University, and was a lecturer at both institutions.

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

Like many other people, I have been fascinated to watch how drones are reshaping society in so many ways. Perhaps earlier than some people, I also quickly realized the associated dangers and threats posed by rogue drones, and I understood that a few catastrophic attacks or incidents could undo the progress brought about by authorized drones. I found myself fascinated with becoming a part of this modern new cyber world, which I knew could not be governed by traditional military or societal conventions. They are simply not fitting for powerful technology that is accessible to millions of people around the world.

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

There are many exciting stories, but due to the nature of our business and the types of organizations we have worked with, I cannot share “the most interesting” one.

I have been in some intriguing meetings with our clients, including high-level government agencies across departments, such as military, federal law enforcement and homeland security bodies, as well as major international airports.

I also find it exciting to see our system working in real-time during major events, including once at a stadium that contained over 55,000 people.

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

D-Fend Solutions focuses on an acute threat, the most dangerous drones, so that organizations around the world can maintain full control of drone incidents in complex environments and be prepared for future threats. EnforceAir, our flagship offering, automatically executes radio frequency (RF) cyber-takeovers of rogue drones for safe landings and safe outcomes.

Some counter-drone technologies are good at detecting drones, but cannot mitigate them, and vice versa. Only takeover counter-drone technology provides system operators with complete control of the end-to-end process.

One of the most cutting-edge aspects of our technology is its “Identify: Friend or Foe” (IFF) capabilities. D-Fend Solutions’ system passively and continuously scans and detects unique communication signals used by commercial drones. Once detected, our system extracts the drone identifiers for the IFF process and decodes the telemetry signal to extract the drone position with GPS accuracy. This includes the take-off position near the pilot in real-time. Authorized drones can continue to function without interruption while rogue drones are taken over and landed safely. Continuity is preserved as communications, commerce, transportation and everyday life smoothly proceed.

How do you think this might change the world?

The world is already changing quite quickly. Small, unmanned aerial systems (sUASs), also known as drones, are bringing tangible value and benefits to millions of users around the world and are reshaping the way modern societies function. Drones are transforming operations across various fields and industries. But as drones continue to proliferate, there is a small percentage of bad actors, as well as inexperienced operators, who can cause tremendous damage. The drone threat shut down Gatwick airport in the UK for 33 hours and ended up costing over £50m in 2018. Four Major League Baseball (MLB) games were disrupted in August and September of this year due to unauthorized drones and Air Force One had a close call with a drone back in August while the president was aboard.

By mitigating this threat and helping to avert potential tragedies, counter-drone companies like D-Fend Solutions are supporting today’s drone-powered society.

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

Traditional counter-drone solutions achieved some success in either drone detection or mitigation, but they were unable to offer an end-to-end solution and they came with some side effects. For instance, jamming-based solutions usually lack detection abilities, and they block all drones, including authorized drones in the area. Kinetic solutions are often missing the detection component and can cause collateral damage, either from the projectile or the plummeting drone.

From a cyber perspective, privacy is an important guiding principle for D-Fend Solutions. In addition to safeguarding human lives and property, preserving citizens’ privacy and complying with applicable regulations is paramount. D-Fend Solutions does not analyze or collect drone video data or collect private digital information.

Privacy is a critical issue in modern, digital societies. Counter-drone detection systems are a form of surveillance technology, so they constitute a privacy risk if misused, or if the data they collect is not handled properly. For instance, wide-area camera systems could inadvertently record individuals, or vehicles on the ground, that are not relevant to the counter-drone operation. Additionally, private digital information can be collected from a drone, either at the point of detection and tracking, or during forensic analysis. This issue can get tricky because different countries have their own privacy regulations relating to drones without a universal standard.

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

Way back in 2014, a soccer match between Serbia and Albania was stopped when a drone carrying an Albanian flag appeared inside the stadium and sparked a major brawl.

I think 2018 was a tipping point in terms of counter-drone awareness. The Gatwick airport incident that I mentioned previously was a tremendous illustration of the damage that drones can cause to a business. That same year, two drones detonated explosives in an attempted assassination on Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela. And in the UK, seven members of a gang used drones to fly more than £500,000 worth of drugs into prisons.

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

D-Fend Solutions is currently focused on market education. Some organizations have been misled into thinking that the most important thing in a counter-drone solution is how many different types of drones it can detect and mitigate. This is untrue, as many drones can only fly short distances and cannot carry a heavy payload, so they do not pose much of a threat.

Additionally, many counter-drone solutions excel at either detection or mitigation, but they do not preserve continuity. Jamming-based solutions can affect communication systems in the area and kinetic solutions require stoppages and disruptions to ensure that no one is hurt by the projectile that knocks down the drone, and that collateral damage is minimized.

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

Like many companies, our early years were spent really focusing on developing the technology and getting it deployed quickly. Now, as we make plans to scale-up, expand our global footprint and continue growing, we have begun investing more heavily in marketing. We have built a talented team that is currently refreshing and rebranding our website, changing the company’s aesthetic, building the foundation for robust digital campaigns and creating marketing collateral — all with a focus on lead generation.

Our messaging is centered around four core concepts, all of which facilitate continuity for our clients:

  • Control — the best way to control the drone threat and ensure continuity is to take control of the drone
  • Safety — a safe landing or fend off of the rogue drone is the best possible outcome for safe airspace and continuity
  • Focus — counter-drone measures must focus on the real risk, the most dangerous drones
  • Future — the constantly evolving drone threat requires always staying a drone threat ahead

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

I am very grateful for our investors. Without their belief in D-Fend Solutions’ people and technology, we would not be in the strong position we are in today. The same is true of our earliest customers. Most companies are willing to become the 100th customer, but how many people are willing to take a chance on being the first or second customer of a new technology company? I appreciate their courage and willingness to take a risk — which has paid off for them.

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

I get up every day inspired and filled with energy, because I believe so strongly in the mission of keeping people safe from the drone threat and enabling the new drone society. I truly believe that our technology is already making the world a better place and will have an even more significant impact in the years to come. I am also fulfilled that I am helping to create jobs for intelligent, hardworking and creative people.

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

  1. It is OK to show your fun side — especially earlier in one’s career, people think they must be serious all the time. At D-Fend, we deal with life-or-death security issues. But we also have a very bright young software developer who began bringing rubber ducks into his office at our headquarters. It caught on and now yellow rubber ducks have become a visual theme throughout the HQ buildings. It is possible, and even desirable, to achieve great results and have fun along the way.
  2. Different cultures may have different values — D-Fend is headquartered in Israel, where innovation and out-of-the-box thinking are often valued more than conformity. Yet, we have managed to find great success working with squared-away American military personnel and in an Asian country where the leadership prefers to stick with the original plan. As with all relationships, common goals, empathy and good communication go a long way. And diversity makes things interesting and more fun.
  3. Never stop adapting — like everyone else, I obviously did not know that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic would pose so many problems to businesses worldwide. Suddenly, D-Fend Solutions, like many other businesses, had to transition our entire workforce to work from home (WFH) and support our customers more remotely. By moving strategically and applying various innovations, we have made it work.

Similarly, new drones are constantly being released, which means that the drone threat is always evolving. Adaption is the name of the game.

  1. You are only as good as your people –people are quick to give the CEO credit, but I am fully aware of the importance of every employee in the organization. In fact, I still sit in on all the interviews for positions based out of our headquarters. It is difficult to fix a bad work culture once it sets in. It is better to really invest time and resources in hiring bright, hardworking, collaborative people from the get-go and then empowering them to shine in their roles.
  2. Nothing beats hard work — as I said, new drones are released to the market often and D-Fend Solutions’ engineers have to figure out how to reverse engineer them ASAP. This is a very complex and exhausting process that requires multidisciplinary expertise and long nights. But our teams work long and hard, until they succeed, because they are passionate about the mission.

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

My movement is clear. I want to take the lead on keeping people safe from a potentially dangerous threat while helping to enable the transformative drone wave that is reshaping so many enterprises, and really society.

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

There are two quotes I always use in business talks or presentations: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” — Andy Grove, former CEO, Intel

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin, geologist and biologist

Both quotes hammer home the same critical message: never stop striving and adapting. That philosophy has been a guiding light for me.

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 🙂

Fortunately, D-Fend Solutions has been successful at raising funds and we are often approached by investors. We seek out long-term relationships, because our goal is to build up D-Fend into a large company. The process has been relatively straight-forward: we explain the drone proliferation, detail some of the recent drone incidents that seem to be continually making news, explain the potential ramifications of a major drone incident, highlight our unique technology and then outline the many different business verticals we are targeting.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I would be pleased if people would follow D-Fend Solutions on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I will try to post more on LinkedIn in the coming months.

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

Thank you for interviewing me and giving me a chance to talk about things I am passionate about!


The Future Is Now: Zohar Halachmi of D-Fend Solutions On How Their Technological Innovation Will… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Francois Kress of Feelmore Labs On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake

The Future Is Now: Francois Kress of Feelmore Labs On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Mental Health

Cove is Feelmore Labs’ inaugural product powered by neuroscience. We noticed a gap in the wearable tech space and sought out to create a consumer device that helped people sleep better, reduce stress and ultimately improve resilience to stress. With this in mind, we found a way to activate a pre-existing pathway in the human body, naturally connecting the skin with the part of the brain that regulates stress and emotions.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Francois Kress, the Co-Founder and CEO of Feelmore Labs.

Since 2017, François Kress has been the Co-Founder & CEO of the Apex Neuro Holdings Group, a Series B group of companies developing innovative consumer and clinical neuromodulation technologies. Apex Neuro is backed by Arch Venture Partners, True Ventures and M13 among others.

Mr. Kress has held multiple leadership positions in the luxury industry over the past 25 years, most recently as President & CEO of Carolina Herrera, a global fashion brand headquartered in New York City. Prior to that, Mr. Kress held numerous positions within LVMH (Moet-Hennessy Louis Vuitton), the world leader in luxury as President of Louis Vuitton Thailand from 1998 to 2000, CEO of LVMH Fashion Group Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) from 2000 to 2002, and President of Fendi North America from 2002 to 2004. He then joined the Italian family-owned jewelry company Bulgari as CEO for North and South America from 2004 to 2009, after which he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Prada and Miu Miu USA from 2010to 2012, when he joined The Row, the American luxury brand founded by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as Global President & COO.

Finally, Mr. Kress served as Global President for Stuart Weitzman LLC, a global footwear company acquired by Coach in 2015. Mr. Kress currently serves as a Board Member of TrueFacet, Apex Neuro Holdings, Myndblue and of the Luxury Education Foundation in New York. He also sits on the Advisory Board of Modern Meadow, a leather biofabrication company. François Kress has also served as a member of the Board of Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (KYTH) since 2010 and until the company’s very successful acquisition by Allergan in September 2015.

Mr. Kress received a Master of Science from the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, France and degrees in International Business and Civil Engineering from the Corps des Ponts et Chausseesin Paris, France. Mr. Kress provides an extensive background in branding, global sales, marketing, operational and strategic planning, as well as global executive and leadership expertise.

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

While working for prominent fashion and luxury brands for more than 20 years (LVMH, Bulgari, Prada, among others), I served as a board member for a promising VC-backed biotech company operating in the field of high-end cosmetic prescription injectables.

Having been educated as a scientist (mathematics mostly), this board tenure helped me bridge my experience in luxury with the world of science and technology. It appeared to me that there was a clear need out there for better understanding of customers’ needs and better branding, especially when it came to life sciences and biotechnologies. One thing led to another and building on all the relationships I forged in biopharmaceuticals, I was put in touch with a group of scientists based in Cambridge, MA, who were working on the assumption that you could stimulate targeted cranial nerves by vibrating on various parts of the body. Some preliminary studies coming out of Harvard Medical School and MIT showed great promise. This was the start of what soon became Feelmore Labs, which today, is a NYC- based wellness technology company led by myself and a diverse team of scientists, medical professionals, and business and technology executives.

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

Back in 1996, while working for LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, #1 luxury group in the world), I was sent from Paris to Saipan (CNMI) for nearly a year to build and operate a French department store catering for Japanese tourists. At the time, I had no international experience, my command of the English language was average and I had absolutely no retail experience, nor any knowledge of Asian markets. Imagine being parachuted on a 12-mile long island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no staff or support team locally and building a store, hiring staff from Japan and the Philippines, creating and implementing a marketing plan to create traffic, etc. Retrospectively, this was a huge leap of faith from LVMH for which I am grateful as I learned so much during that assignment. It was a humbling leadership exercise and probably built the foundations for the next 25 years of my career of working outside of my home country and running extremely diverse teams all over the world. Being exposed and challenged early on by a great diversity of people, cultures and situations has made me a much stronger leader.

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

Cove is Feelmore Labs’ inaugural product powered by neuroscience. We noticed a gap in the wearable tech space and sought out to create a consumer device that helped people sleep better, reduce stress and ultimately improve resilience to stress. With this in mind, we found a way to activate a pre-existing pathway in the human body, naturally connecting the skin with the part of the brain that regulates stress and emotions. Our patented technology silently applies gentle vibrations behind the ears that initiate a natural biological pathway between the skin and the brain. By harnessing the skin-brain connection, Cove is able to activate the part of the brain that regulates anxiety, leading to a profound and durable sense of calm. Scientific studies show that consistent daily use of the device in 20-minute increments results in reduced stress and enhanced sleep, ultimately improving resilience to stress. As Cove doesn’t require dedicated time or effort, our goal is for users to seamlessly incorporate it into their daily routines, using it as a resource to find a healthy balance between stress and relaxation. Cove helps you put on peace of mind.

How do you think this might change the world?

We certainly think it will help the world and see this as an important component in the future of self-care. We have scientifically proven that our technology can naturally and safely harness the skin-brain connection to durably improve your ability to manage a critical aspect of your life: your stress response as well as your long-term resilience to stress.

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

Given the extensive rigor of the research and development of our breakthrough technology (over 4 years in the making) I can confidently say that we don’t have any concern at this stage. Large safety trials combined with strong efficacy studies for both stress and sleep, give us great confidence there is no drawback associated with our technology. If anything, I wish we could have brought it to market even sooner.

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

As often when doing research in uncharted territory, we weren’t sure originally of what the mechanism of action would be when Cove vibrates on the skin. Were we going to hit nerves directly? By vibrating on the head could we maybe impact the brain directly through bone conduction? We had many questions. Then, through thorough investigation of existing scientific literature, we realized that the skin is “pre-wired” to differentiate different types of mechanical interaction with the outside world, and that these specific receptors are respectively triggered by very different types of vibrations. This gave us the impetus to design specific signals which proved in thorough brain imaging studies, to modulate the parts of the brain we wanted to reach.

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

As with any new technology, credibility matters a lot. We have gone to great lengths to test our technology on thousands of volunteers, studying the science behind it, and to get prominent scientists and medical doctors in the field from leading institutions to validate all of our work. We also made Cove and its companion app as easy to use and effortless as possible. We believe that adoption will come as our technology produces tangible results AND fits seamlessly into each person’s life.

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

We are focused on creating a brand for the long term, grounded in science and community. This requires educating the consumer about our technology, sharing our scientific proof points and bringing our story to life with impeccable execution — be it press or social media. We are leveraging state-of-the-art marketing tools, content creation alongside thought leadership in the wellness space. We believe that putting out a pristine brand alongside scientific validation is the right marketing mix to success.

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

I attribute my attention to detail and work ethic to my great professors and mentors at Ecole Polytechnique in France. I was educated by some of the most prominent scientists in their fields and will always be grateful for the sense of curiosity and the scientific rigor they instilled in me.

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

I think that leaving traditional fashion behind in order to bring a beautifully-made technology and self-care tool to the world, that’s based on science and which can concretely make life better for so many, answers the question! Everything I learned through my career in such different fields is now converging to bring to life a product which will potentially help millions of people to lead better lives.

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

“Hardware is hard.” It may sound cliché but there’s truth to it. Developing hardware and moreover a wearable takes an orchestrated effort between industrial design, engineering, data, and manufacturing. It takes time, money and great effort to get it right. Add a global pandemic on top of it, and you get the idea!

Everything takes more time than expected. I think we all make plans based on best-case scenarios and tend to underestimate the delays we may encounter. We all make plans and think that they are not so optimistic, but they always are! Our project is no exception. We could have launched sooner but were committed to scientific rigor, safety and exceptional design. This has taken extra time, only extended by a worldwide pandemic.

Everything takes more money than expected. Particularly when you’re bringing a breakthrough technology to market. And it is linked to the timing aspect. My advice to all entrepreneurs out there: yes you need to show a very scalable business plan to investors to get a chance to raise money at a decent valuation, but bear in mind that — with exceptions — most of the time you will come up short. You need the cash runway to stay in the game while you iterate to get the best possible MVP to market.

Hard work pays back but luck matters. There is no doubt that hard work is critical to success but timing and getting lucky with an opportunity make a difference as well. I’ve seen brands do everything right and have the wrong timing and others succeed with far less carefulness , by simply being in the right place at the right time.

Nothing is more important than a great team. I’ve worked with some of the world’s best brands, and by far, the quality of the team has been critical to success. In fashion, the creative director matters enormously but all the people implementing the vision matter just as much. Success is not ensured by an amazing CEO or even the work of a few star employees — but rather it’s about the collective talent and effort behind the brand. This is why it was important in my role to assemble a diverse and multi-disciplinary team that worked well together to bring a singular vision to life. You are only as good as your weakest link.

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

It would be around education. Never stop learning! There is so much to know and so much to understand. I believe that knowledge has been the sole driver of betterment of humanity and that universal access to continuous education is key to keep us going in a virtuous cycle!

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

“I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health” -Voltaire.

Life happiness is all about perspective and the way you analyze situations. I am very realistic by nature which often leads to pessimism. So I consciously make the effort to find the silver lining in everything and it works!

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 🙂

Having the ability to positively impact the human brain using simple, safe and elegant wearables is now possible with the creation of Cove. This is a huge shift from decades of “trackers” to a new generation of effortless devices which have the potential to improve life. You should invest!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram & Twitter: @feel_cove

Facebook: @covedevice


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

The Future Is Now: Matt Karasiewicz of Sentivate On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake…

The Future Is Now: Matt Karasiewicz of Sentivate On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Web

Sentivate is a hybrid web that incorporates the best components of centralized and decentralized internet systems to form a comprehensive solution to address the fundamental flaws in current Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 protocols and platforms. By improving upon the best of both types of systems, we are able to create a hybrid web that can actually meet ever-growing user demands and offer a web experience that is more safe, secure, and scalable.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Karasiewicz, Co-Founder of Sentivate.

Matt Karasiewicz, Co-Founder of Sentivate, is an expert in finance and emerging technologies. He was previously involved with Arity Software, President of KMA Satellite Inc., and Managing Partner at Menrvah. By building Sentivate, Matt aims to support the creation of a new internet that addresses the current web’s scalability issues by drawing from the best of decentralized and centralized systems.

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

Around 2012, I started mining bitcoin while I was in an accounting program at university. This got me interested in financial markets, which led to me making a fundamental change in my life trajectory. I dropped accounting and dove head-first into finance. After graduation, I started working on improving cybersecurity for government networks, and I learned a lot about what the inherent flaws are in the internet today. These problems are what ultimately led me to co-found Sentivate, which seeks to address these issues of security and scalability currently plaguing the world wide web.

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

One ongoing challenge that our team has faced is navigating the gray areas of regulations applied to cryptocurrency projects. Cryptocurrency is still so nascent and continues to evolve, making it difficult for regulators to sort out how to approach decentralized platforms and protocols as opposed to legacy financial institutions. As innovators working on the cutting-edge of new technology, we must anticipate where regulators will be in two, three, and five years while retaining all the core values inherent to decentralization, such as security and privacy.

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

Sentivate is a hybrid web that incorporates the best components of centralized and decentralized internet systems to form a comprehensive solution to address the fundamental flaws in current Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 protocols and platforms. By improving upon the best of both types of systems, we are able to create a hybrid web that can actually meet ever-growing user demands and offer a web experience that is more safe, secure, and scalable.

How do you think this might change the world?

Humanity’s ever-increasing demands will never be met by the current state of the web, which has a bandwidth crisis, outdated protocols, broken DNS, lack of accountability, lack of identity, reactive security as well as outdated domain rules and web categorization. There are currently more than 4.5 billion internet users — a number that grows every day. More and more bandwidth is being sucked up, HTTP continues to experience scalability issues, and DNS is not trustworthy or scalable. Given the entire digital economy is transported over HTTP, any slowing down to HTTP or DNS means a drastically slower global economy. If these issues are not resolved, we risk a massive blow to the economy.

Sentivate solves the Web 2.0 issues that Web 3.0 systems have failed to address by incorporating the best of decentralized and centralized systems into one, comprehensive solution. The world needs an internet that can power the digital economy of the future. Sentivate is that new system.

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

We already live in a “Black Mirror”-like universe with our current internet that is not safe, secure, or scalable. You’re never sure who you are interacting with or if your data is secure. Companies are not being held accountable for vulnerabilities in their systems that hackers can take advantage of to gain access to sensitive information. The protocols powering the world wide web were built so long ago that new protocols are constantly having to be developed on top of the old ones to keep up with growing user needs. This makes for a clunky and inefficient system that costs users and enterprises more than it should. The internet already needs a ground-floor renovation.

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

Working in cybersecurity for government networks helped me to realize how convoluted our current system is and also begin to see how it could be improved. The understanding I gained through that experience is also why Sentivate is an all-encompassing solution rather than just one piece of the solution. It’s not enough to create new protocols alone, or a new browser, or better security. All these components rely on one another, which is why Sentivate includes new protocols to improve efficiency, new domain registry and web ID systems, a new browser for seamless user experience, and VIAT (Sentivate’s native cryptocurrency), which uses a strong consensus mechanism (dynamic Proof-of-Work) to deter 51% attacks and secure the network.

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

I do not think it works to pressure people into adopting new technology. The new technology must be better but also easy for people to transition to without disrupting their current habits and familiar routines. This is why Sentivate allows users to use our Universal Web browser to visit hybrid blockchain-powered applications as well as all their favorite Web 2.0 platforms, so there is no need for people to give up their Facebook and Amazon accounts until something better comes along.

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

We are focused on serving our community of avid users with new DeFi benefits like social liquidity mining. We also are educating the public on the problems plaguing the current web, including the bandwidth crisis, security vulnerabilities and lack of accountability that could put the entire economy at risk if not addressed, so that they understand the need for a better system.

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

I attribute much of my work ethic and values to my mother. She taught me that you can’t get to where you need to be without making mistakes along the way. Intermittent failures build into successes because you can learn lessons from these experiences.

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

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people are working from home than ever before and stretching the bandwidth capacity of the current web system. The digital economy has become increasingly synonymous with the global economy, and as more and more people gain internet access, this system we rely so heavily on for work, commerce, social interaction, entertainment, etc., will be strained to the point of breaking. By bringing Sentivate to the masses, we aim to provide people with an internet system that can be counted on to continue to power jobs, trade, communication, and the economy in a safe, secure, and efficient way.

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

In business, there are a few basic things that I learned can go a long way towards making your work easier:

  1. Know a good lawyer.
  2. Find a good accountant.
  3. Work with people who operate on the same wavelength as you (as much as you want opposing viewpoints, you don’t want every task to turn into a big conflict).
  4. Communication is everything.
  5. You can never do enough research.

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. 🙂

Financialization is already underway and could be described as a kind of fourth industrial revolution. As DeFi matures, more people will be able to participate in the global economy and benefit from the types of financial services that many people have historically been disenfranchised from, including access to loans, investment opportunities, and decentralized asset custody that does not require having a bank account.

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 phrase “fail forward,” because it basically means don’t be afraid to fail. This mantra has been incredibly important to me in launching new enterprises like Sentivate.

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 🙂

Sentivate is a hybrid alternet with a built-in currency that merges the best of decentralized components that legacy blockchain systems, like Ethereum, offer with the best of the centralized web. This combination enables Sentivate to scale to meet the needs of the modern economy while providing users with all the advantages that decentralized systems offer, creating a safe, secure, and scalable Web 3.0. Sentivate’s native cryptocurrency — VIAT — resolves current interoperability issues experienced by users of decentralized applications by eliminating the need to switch between hundreds of currencies to transact in different dapps. VIAT also prevents man-in-the-middle attacks. Additionally, Sentivate’s Universal Web Browser can be used to visit any website or application — whether supported by centralized or decentralized systems — allowing users ultimate flexibility and choice in their internet usage.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Feel free to visit our website: https://sentivate.com/

And follow us on our social channels:

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


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

Paul Vallée of Tehama: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Technical onboarding: Creating a technical environment that allows secure sharing of enterprise data with remote workers is difficult, especially when remote work must happen urgently (like what we saw happen at the outset of the COVID pandemic, or now as we attempt to scale up secure contact tracing capacity).

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

Paul Vallée is the founder and CEO of Tehama and a serial entrepreneur who has spent his career at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies that enable the exchange of work over the Internet.

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?

Absolutely. My career has been defined by a personal vision from the start: to enable anyone to work from anywhere. But I’ll start this story back when I was in my twenties, working with a Canadian satellite communications company called Telesat Mobile. They had a shared satellite control room and server room in the basement, and since I wasn’t certified on the satellite kit, I couldn’t enter unescorted — even though it was my job to manage the dozen enterprise servers within it. So, we figured out how to manage enterprise servers without physically being in front of them by leveraging Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) technology, which permitted me to work on these servers in the basement from the third floor of the building.

I soon realized there’s absolutely no difference between managing a server using TCP/IP from the third floor of the same building, as there is to doing it anywhere in the world. And in 1997 this led me to found Pythian, a data-centric services business with a focus on remote work. We were the first business to apply IPsec Virtual Private Networking technology to secure client/service provider relationships. This breakthrough led to an entire market segment for VPN companies: the extranet. But my remote work journey didn’t stop there. While looking for talent to operate the valuable systems and data infrastructure of Pythian clientele, the pool of candidates with the right experience in our geographic region was small. We needed to hire globally, and soon we had employed hundreds of engineers working from home in 34 countries. Pythian’s remote work tools evolved to become Tehama, a highly differentiated Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) platform that enables companies to create and orchestrate a virtual workforce of any size and scale. In 2019, Tehama spun out of Pythian to become a fully independent company, and I’m currently the CEO and have redoubled my commitment to remote work.

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

My most interesting career story came in the early days of the design phase for Tehama, back in 2007. We wanted to build our virtual desktop on Windows, but the licensing costs for that use case were unbelievably expensive (this problem is resolved now and Tehama runs Windows, don’t worry!) We ended up having to go to our fallback plan — which was Linux — but before going straight to Linux I looked into MacOS. And I soon discovered you couldn’t virtualize anything on MacOS due to licensing restrictions. I called their enterprise sales team and had an extremely frustrating conversation with them. That led me to email Steve Jobs directly using his famously public email address, sjobs@apple.com. I voiced my frustrations and assumed it would go nowhere. But a half hour after I sent it my phone rang. I could not believe who was on the other end:

Paul, it’s Steve.”

“Steve who?”

“Steve Jobs”

We ended up talking for half an hour. We talked about how virtualization is the future and how it would be especially crucial in the enterprise. Although we disagreed on our stances at the end, it was a great and memorable conversation. About six weeks later Apple announced it had changed its licensing strategy, and that they were permitting Macs to be virtualized for the first time ever. I have no illusions that I was responsible for that change, but I must admit, I have wondered. This is no longer part of their strategy today, but it’s a very interesting point in my career history and an experience that I’ll always look back on fondly.

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

This may not be the funniest mistake necessarily, but the biggest mistake I made early on was founding Pythian without a partnership agreement. I founded the organization with a friend 50/50, which set me up for a lot of unnecessary volatility and legal battles. Another organizational mistake I made was bootstrapping Tehama as a part of Pythian, when it could have been a sister company from the start. We ended up having a large and ambitious venture-style business (Tehama) that was bolted onto this large services business (Pythian). They had completely different valuation metrics and business models, but most strikingly, they had completely different pools of capital and investment interest. No venture capitalist would invest in Tehama because it had a $50 million services business attached to it, and no private equity firm would invest in Pythian because it had a venture-stage business unit attached to it. In the end, separating both businesses was an excruciating process. The lesson learned was that first and foremost, every business should have an innovation agenda. Innovation can’t be precisely planned, but you must be extremely organized for when innovation and rapid growth does happen. I also learned that it’s much better to spin out on your own in the startup phase, (with fewer than ten employees). We did it successfully (while fundraising, I should mention), but it was a stressful process that I wish we had started earlier.

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

Due to COVID-19, we’ve proven the viability of enterprises to operate in a fully remote environment. But there are problems that we must anticipate to avoid long-term corporate damage. First, remote workplaces can present difficult challenges for rookies: when a new hire joins a remote workplace it’s very difficult for them to get their bearings, build out their social network within the company, and connect emotionally with the company’s mission. Businesses must anticipate how hard onboarding new hires remotely will be and must put structures in place to help counter those feelings of disconnection. For example, organizations should assign mentors for new hires. The ideal mentor is a peer at the same career stage that joined the company 6–12 months prior.

It’s also great to assign new hires a major task that no one else in the organization has ever done as their first deliverable. This enables them to break away from the rookie persona and become a subject matter expert on something no one else in the organization knows about. A final piece of advice I would give CEOs is that fully remote positions carry increased turnover risk at specific junctures. This is something we noticed in my time at Pythian, when across our remote workforce, the average turnover would consistently spike between a year and 18 months of service. After looking into what was causing this issue, we found a few commonalities. Most of these people were working from home for the first time and appeared to have become disengaged and frustrated with the company. I discovered that you need a certain amount of social contact to buy into a company’s vision and make it through the inevitable tough times, and because this social connection doesn’t happen automatically, we sometimes lost talent around that 12–18-month mark. How we solved that issue was to fly employees all over the world to meet each other at conferences or other meetups. This obviously isn’t possible during a pandemic, but we’re experimenting with other solutions such as making expense accounts for lunches with colleagues, hosting virtual trivia and chess tournaments, and daily drop-in coffee-break meetings. Even if socially distanced or through video, my biggest piece of advice to CEOs to avoid employee burnout is to ensure your employees make social connections with each other beyond work. People thrive when they connect with their company’s mission, enjoy their work, and do it with comrades they admire and appreciate (and that admire and appreciate them back).

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?

There are a few ways for me to answer that question. In 1997, when Pythian was well off the ground and had customers, we delivered services to those customers remotely and our primary client was remote. This was a big deal in 1997. To be a service provider and directly interact with someone you never see in-person was quite groundbreaking. But the real remote magic started in 2003 when we established our footprint in India, which led us to hire and onboard people we’d never met in person. In 2005, we hired our first full-time work-from-home employee in Australia to cover our evening shift. After that, we simply stopped advertising jobs by geographic location and only specified the time zone needed for positions. That led to a rapid expansion of our remote work footprint. So, I’ve been managing teams handling remote work dynamics for the past 22 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?

Technical onboarding: Creating a technical environment that allows secure sharing of enterprise data with remote workers is difficult, especially when remote work must happen urgently (like what we saw happen at the outset of the COVID pandemic, or now as we attempt to scale up secure contact tracing capacity).

Corporate culture: When you onboard a remote team, corporate culture becomes a challenge. You must create cohesiveness without the help of catered lunches, stand-up meetings, on-site events, drinks after work, and so on. Office politics can also become toxic in fully remote teams as the pressures and personalities remain, while social cohesion and friendship is harder to achieve.

Seamless connectivity to outside organizations (clients, customers, partners, etc.): Managing external relationships while working remotely can present challenges, especially when dealing with different work environments and systems.

Ensuring security: Organizations who aren’t prepared to facilitate secure work-from-home environments risk damage to corporate, mission-critical and data-sensitive apps and systems, along with potential IP loss and data breaches.

Employee retention: As I mentioned earlier, remote work can be isolating, and the risk for disengagement at that 12–18-month mark is high — even if employees are more productive working from home.

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

Onboarding: Beyond tech implementations, ensure all new hires have a mentor, and that they have a unique task that enables them to become a subject matter expert on something no one else in the organization has done before.

Corporate culture: Managers should put a bigger emphasis on remote team socialization: think weekly, virtual all-hands meetings, company-sponsored team lunches from home, and socially distanced gatherings (when possible). Overcome toxic politics with constant public communication, permitting anonymity, and radical transparency.

Seamless connectivity to outside organizations (clients, customers, partners, etc.): Organizations must consider which long-term investments are needed to enable hybrid, or even fully remote environments that foster client relationships with ease, such as the cloud and workflow automation tools.

Ensuring security: To secure the remote workforce long-term, businesses must adopt a network and desktop strategy with built-in compliance controls, multi-factor authentication and zero-trust networking isolation to prevent breaches and abuse and reduce risks associated with lost or stolen devices. The enterprise desktop will soon live in the cloud as the cost and compliance advantages are too large to ignore.

Maintaining engagement: Managers must make sure to acknowledge employee wins, while keeping teams connected and motivated to ensure low employee turnover. Measure results not time, and celebrate results generously as remote workers struggle more to feel noticed, admired and appreciated.

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?

One of the promises I make to my team is that unless they’ve heard feedback from me that day stating otherwise, they should go to bed knowing they’re doing a great job. I want everyone’s baseline feeling to be that I really admire them. That creates a foundation of social trust. If you know I admire you, when I do have feedback, it will be received in that context versus a criticism. Make your feedback, criticism and appreciation all routine and normal, so that when feedback comes, they don’t feel threatened — they feel like they have an amazing coach and are receptive to the opportunity to improve.

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

Medium is not as important as the social context in which feedback is delivered. The main reason people struggle with feedback given over email is the lack of body language and eye contact that expresses your baseline respect and admiration for them in real time. You must create a cadence of admiration-based feedback, so that when you can’t meet in person to discuss performance, your admiration for them is still apparent. You also need to normalize feedback so everyone receives and provides feedback all the time. This makes the process of giving and receiving it much less dramatic, and less likely to wound anyone’s pride.

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

A team just getting used to working remotely is at a greater risk for security compromises, because they’re not used to verifying requests received remotely as authorized. To stay safe, newly remote teams need refreshers on how to authenticate a colleague and warning signs for phishing attacks and social engineering attacks.

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?

A combination of a few of the things I’ve noted above: constructive feedback driven by admiration, a conscious prioritization of socially driven culture initiatives, and an onboarding process empowering new remote employees to feel a sense of belonging and purpose within an organization.

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

I’ve been actively engaged in the basic income movement for quite some time. Basic income is a special kind of social policy that eradicates poverty, creates a more just society, and creates capital for entrepreneurs who might not be able to test out their ideas otherwise. I believe that a basic income can be an economic stimulus, simultaneously reduce income inequality, and also has the power to unlock potential entrepreneurship.

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

My father is the first person that comes to mind. His philosophy is that you should treat strangers you meet as if they’re already friends. When you do this, you have a lot more fun, and you end up with a lot of more real friends. I take this attitude into conversations with every new person I meet, and it really works. People can tell whether you like them or not. If you like them, they are more apt to like you back, which makes you like them more. It becomes a virtuous circle. This philosophy has served me well throughout the years and enabled me to build many of my strongest, most valued lifelong relationships personally and professionally.


Paul Vallée of Tehama: 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.

Moa Netto of RAPP: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand…

Moa Netto of RAPP: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Future-proof your legacy: I think DDB recently did a great job leveraging the equity of their founders with a modern graphic approach that combines the two Ds from its initials to form the following B. It’s interesting to see how they brought in some nostalgy by including names of the founders in the logo, and then contrasting that nostalgy with a simple and modern look, that can be explored in multiple visual ways. It’s simple, insightful and authentic to who they are and what they want to be known for. Kudos to our DDB friends.

As a part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing Moa Netto.

Moa, Chief Creative Officer at RAPP US, is an award-winning creative with over 160 awards to his name. When it comes to ideas, he is always looking for the WTF effect to push the creative thinking to the next level. On his website, moa.wtf (yes, that domain extension exists) you can see some of the work created or led by him that has helped push the industry boundaries.

Moa has served as a jury member at some of the most important advertising festivals in the world, including Cannes Lions (2017 and 2013), D&AD (2017), London Festival and Webby Awards, among others. And he concluded the Creative Leadership Cannes Lions Programme from Berlin School.

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?

Of course. When I was a kid, I kept saying I would become a professional soccer player — as most Brazilians do. When I was 15, a big soccer team from Rio, Vasco, invited me to join them. My family didn’t allow me to move to Rio (I’d have to quit studying), so I needed a plan B. Besides soccer, I’ve also liked technology and writing. Since I had to pick one, I decided to graduate in Computer Science, mainly because it was the cool new thing back at the time in Vitória, an island in Brazil where I grew up. Not sure if the audience knows, but in Brazil you have to take a rigorous test to be accepted in public colleges, it was about 2,000 people applying for 30 openings. I took the test, had the 5th best grade and started the course, yay! But It took me only two weeks to figure out it was the wrong decision. Even though I liked math and tech, I couldn’t see myself using mostly my left brain for a living. So, I became really close friends with three other disappointed folks in the class, we spent two weeks missing classes, playing foosball and discussing the future of our lives. By the end of the first month we all quit, and I decided to search for professions where I could exercise my creativity. A friend of mine had just started studying advertising, so I packed up my stuff and moved to Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, to see where my right brain could take me. And here I am, still can’t code, but strongly respect who can.

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?

Couldn’t identify a specific branding mistake, sorry.

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 think it was when I saw my work on Gizmodo US for the first time. Most of my successful projects are like weird experiments. On this one, called Screensavers Race, in order to promote Intel’s Formula One sponsorship, we decided to synchronize 15 screensavers in the office, to turn it into a virtual racetrack. Each screen had a screensaver installed that featured a specific part of the track, with an animation of an F1 car racing through it, in loop. We had 15 people moving their mouses and waiting for my command to stop moving it, so each screensaver would be activated in the exact right time. As screensavers were being activated, you could see a car moving from one computer to the next, shot in an angle that you could see the whole track being formed as the car progressed. We tried to make this work over 50 times, for over a week. By 1:00 a.m. on a Thursday night, we had one perfect take, and we all celebrated like little kids. Weeks later, Gizmodo US wrote an article saying this was the best screensaver ever. It was the first time I realized my work could have a global impact. And that creativity could be all about intentional experimentation.

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

Along with other Omnicom agencies, we’re helping an NGO called Girl Effect to promote the international day of the girl on October 11th and raise funds to keep amplifying the voices of girls in Africa and Asia, empowering them to take control of their destiny so they can thrive in life. It also helps them connect with other girls that face similar cultural challenges, using the power of content and mobile technology to unlock change. Because when a girl unlocks her power to think, feel and act differently, her behavior changes, and that inspires other girls to change too. Please take some time to visit their website, learn about the relevant work they do and, if you can, support it: https://www.girleffect.org/

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

Be active about it. Create boundaries. Hard work has nothing to do with long hours. It’s about making the most of the time you’re working. You need a healthy and happy life to be in the state of mind to come up with your best ideas. For creatives, trust your brain and let it do the hard work. You don’t need to be actively thinking about a brief the whole time to come up with the solution. Read the brief, set the problem, immerse yourself on the product and the sentiments you want to associate with the solution. Then get out, let your brain do the work and create associations until they come to you in the form of an idea. The other thing I’d say is that it’s our job as leaders to prevent and address burnout. We should actively monitor our teams hours and stress levels by looking at the sheets and having frequent conversations with them. And we should also encourage them to speak up and raise a flag when things are not right. Ultimately, we need to develop a culture that doesn’t reward for long hours or weekend work, but for working smarter to perform well, be productive and preserve personal lives.

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?

A brand is the collective result of all interactions you have with a specific product or service. And that includes both your brand marketing and your advertising efforts, along with other marketing components. For me branding is essentially about defining who you are as a brand, how you look, what’s your voice is, what’s your key statement, how you sound, smell — and each of those elements should reflect your core values and what you stand for — ultimately influencing how people feel around your product or service. Advertising, on the other hand, is about active persuasion — where companies actively pay to make people listen about the things that may convince them to buy a product or service. They are both important and interdependent. In summary, branding is working holistically on your identity, while advertising is curating a projection of that identity to persuade consumers to buy.

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 a world that tends to progressively reject interrupting advertising, and as barriers to production and distribution are at its lowest, building a brand is essential to give businesses a sustainable profit margin. In addition to their advertising efforts, it is key that companies build brands by carefully mapping their customer journeys and then making sure every relevant touchpoint is carrying the essence of the brand, while providing a singular experience that is authentic to their DNA.

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

There are a few scenarios in which you should consider a rebranding. If the values that are associated with your brand are no longer relevant. If you’re expanding your products or reaching out to a new audience and need to expand your brand perception to accommodate it. If you’re entering a new market, or repositioning your product. If you’re simply lacking differentiation. If your consumers (not you), are tired of seeing your brand. Or if you just fell in love with Comic Sans and feel that should be the face of your brand. (just kidding, please DON’T DO IT)

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

Rebrands take a lot of effort and money, it is a complex process if you’re doing it properly. And, without a solid purpose, it might not take you where you want: consumers tend to trust what they are familiar with and reject change at first glance. So, if you’re considering a rebrand to achieve short term goals, purely drive sales, get some attention or even leave your personal mark as a CMO, reconsider it. Rebranding needs to be connected to your long-term mission and reflect your core values and be a tangible representation of your most up to date vision. Keep in mind that change for the sake of change can cost the loyalty of your fans in exchange or very little. So do it for the right reasons and follow a proper and comprehensive process to maximize the outcomes of your rebranding.

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.

Future-proof your legacy: I think DDB recently did a great job leveraging the equity of their founders with a modern graphic approach that combines the two Ds from its initials to form the following B. It’s interesting to see how they brought in some nostalgy by including names of the founders in the logo, and then contrasting that nostalgy with a simple and modern look, that can be explored in multiple visual ways. It’s simple, insightful and authentic to who they are and what they want to be known for. Kudos to our DDB friends.

Reinvent your customer’s experience: Domino’s has been doing incredible work when it comes to repositioning the company and evolving its branding. It all started when they dropped the name pizza from their logo to expand their offerings. Then, they recognized the product wasn’t good and completely recreated their pizza. But for me the key moment is repositioning themselves as not only a pizza making company, but also as a delivery company, using technology to keep users connected with the brand in very unexpected ways — from ordering, to making and receiving it. It is a great benchmark for me of how companies can expand their mission and create experiences that totally pay off to their new brand promise.

Own your mistakes: Skol, the Brazilian leading beer brand, created new packages, a new slogan and invited six female artists to recreate some of its sexist posters from the past. The brand had a bit of a history of stereotyping and objectifying women on their campaigns, and finally understood they needed to change and own the errors from the past, adopting a new positioning that embraces and celebrates women. https://youtu.be/gzURGlugjuQ

Embrace individuality: For me this is old but still gold. I love how MIT labs used generative design to create a system that allows people to create their unique version of the logo. It’s like having your own MIT DNA — each logo is uniquely beautiful and the collective of logos is equally impressive. I am a firm believer that personalization at scale, when done right, can be a game changer for the communications industry and this happens to be one of the best examples of that approach, when you consider the world of branding. https://vimeo.com/20250134

Craft, craft, craft: I love the Warner Bros rebranding. The way they reshaped the format of the logo to make it more symmetric. The way they simplified it to work on multiple applications, small or big. The proprietary font they created inspired by the shape of the logo. It’s all so thoughtful. And if you look at both logos, old and new, you’ll clearly see they are very different. But they kind of make you feel the same way, which is quite an achievement for such distinct representations. https://youtu.be/rEOCAQav1jo

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

The most impressive rebranding case I believe I’ve ever seen is the from Havaianas, the now global Brazilian flip flop brand. By the time the company decided to reposition the product as an aspirational fashion item, the brand was associated with very low-class consumers, sales were declining and brand perception was poor. They then hired top notch stylists to create new colors and designs and significantly expanded their product portfolio. They also hired influencers and celebrities to use and promote their new flip flops. Their ads were revamped and looked like colorful and vibrant pieces of art, featuring clever and well humored headlines, which helped support the premium price and build the premium appeal. That was the foundation of the rebranding. Then they kept this new DNA while expanding internationally, carefully adapting their products and colors to the tastes of different countries. The lesson here for me is, if you are serious about your rebranding, define a clear vision that materializes your highest brand aspirations and then adjust all elements of your branding system, no matter how complex this seems, to achieve that vision.

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

Technology has been progressing way too fast. Things like AI and automation are creating a lot of new opportunities that require new skills from all of us. But it is also impacting jobs, especially the ones that require people to perform repetitive tasks.

So, in one hand there is a clear need for more workers that can use AI to generate value (machine learning engineers, natural language processers). In the order hand, there are people who lost their jobs, willing to be trained and reskilled to find new career opportunities. How can we connect those sides in a win/win way?

I’d love to create some sort of fund that can be used to reskill and train people on new careers enabled or powered by AI and automation. Looking for partners for that, if you want to think about a way to build this, just reach out.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” — Albert Einstein.
I did my best work ever when I was enjoying every single piece of it and surrounded by people who felt the same way. If you think about the Screensavers Race, for instance, we could have faked it by editing one of the versions that went wrong into a perfect video. That would have been an intelligent solution — less hours, less effort, similar outcome. Actually, one person from the team suggested we did that. But I told him, where is the fun in that? We really enjoyed spending night after night trying to make this crazy challenge work. And when you watch the video, you get those vibes and it makes it way more authentic. And I believe the same philosophy applies to my short Computer Science experience. There was a lot of intelligence involved in coding. But I found my real fun playing foosball with my friends and figuring out what to do next. And, boy, I never regretted it.

How can our readers follow you online?

www.linkedin.com/in/moacyr

Twitter: @moacyr

Instagram: netto25


Moa Netto of RAPP: 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.

Ray Parsons of Transcepta: 5 Things You Need to Know to Create a Successful SaaS or Software…

Ray Parsons of Transcepta: 5 Things You Need to Know to Create a Successful SaaS or Software Business

First, creating a SaaS platform requires exhaustive focus on the customer. Too many times, I think companies are inwardly focused. It’s imperative that you hire people that have the ability to look ahead. The SaaS space allows for rapid change, and you need help looking around the corners.

As part of our series, “5 Things You Need to Know to Create a Successful SaaS or Software Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Parsons.

As President and CEO and a member of its Board of Directors, Ray Parsons is responsible for the overall success of Transcepta, the leading provider of intelligent e-procurement and accounts payable (AP) automation solutions. He has led technology organizations for over 20 years, including successfully building and selling a software company (Unisolve) to Microsoft. After selling Unisolve in 2001, Ray became the General Manager for Microsoft’s worldwide supply chain management initiative. Ray also served as the General Manager for the Microsoft Business Network, a research effort targeted at identifying ways that companies could simplify their electronic document exchange.

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

I started as a software developer out of school. I had the good fortune to go to work for a well-run, regional ERP software development shop where I learned a lot of practical experiences about how businesses work. Eventually, I worked myself into a position where I was offered a chance to buy a portion of the company, which was called Unisolve. I borrowed everything I could borrow and made the purchase. Over time, I bought a bit more of the company. After 20 years of hard effort, we were thrilled when Microsoft acquired our company.

I worked for Microsoft for a couple of years after the acquisition. It’s a wonderful company, but small business was in my blood. Eventually, I left Microsoft and did some consulting until a friend approached me with the idea that became Transcepta.

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

After Unisolve’s successful acquisition, I was doing general business consultation and board work. Another member of a business roundtable group approached me with the idea for what was to become Transcepta. He had a neat solution to eliminate a lot of the fragility in business-to-business document exchange. We wrote a business plan for it and tested it against the angel investment community. The response was very positive, so we founded Transcepta.

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 is always the case, it took longer than we thought. We managed to get the technology smoothed out and developed a market message that was starting to resonate with our prospects. Unfortunately, our timing was terrible. We were just getting everything figured out when the Great Recession hit in 2008 and companies just stopped purchasing technology. We never really considered quitting because we knew we had an idea that would improve the world. Instead, we raised a debt round and tightened our belt. All the founders went off salary for a year, and I made several bridge loans to the company to keep it going.

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

The hard times forced us to become leaner and more efficient. When you’ve stared into the abyss of failure, it tends to stick with you, so we spend extra time ensuring that our business decisions are well-founded. We’re not afraid of risk, but we want the possibility of a reasonable return for those risks we take. I wouldn’t willingly live through those hard times again, but I’m glad that we did it.

One real benefit is that by reducing our expense profile and taking on short-term debt, we were able to make it through the cash crunch without diluting our ownership.

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

When we started, our theory was that the right approach to the market was from the accounts receivable side. Not wanting to leave things to chance, we retained a market research firm to conduct focus groups to validate our approach. Everything seemed teed up to blast off. We invested significantly in advance of the market rollout, including hiring a number of fulfillment staff to handle the anticipated demand. After pushing really hard for six months, we only had a handful of companies enrolled to use our solution. That really caused a period of reflection within Transcepta.

We started talking deeply with the prospects that were saying “no.” They all told us variations of the same thing: “We actually believe that your solution works and would save us money, but we don’t think that our customers will go for it and we can’t afford to take the risk.” One of our founders suggested that we had the theory of the market backwards and we should pivot to selling to the accounts payable and procurement sides of the house. It turns out he was right, and we’ve been doing that ever since.

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

The procure-to-pay space is a competitive market with many solutions, and most providers deliver a similar message to the market. A significant challenge is to cut through the noise and demonstrate to customers how you’re better. While Transcepta delivers a world-class solution, it is the customer experience that we provide that makes us really stand out. It starts in the sales process where we are extremely open about what we do well and where we’re still climbing. When we get to implementation we are laser-focused on delivering on time with great quality. Finally, we pride ourselves on exceptional ongoing customer support. We have a 99 percent customer retention rate, and that is reflective of the end-to-end experience we work hard to optimize.

Providing this extra level of customer service has been particularly important throughout the pandemic. We’ve received countless messages from customers thanking us for our extra effort through this time of change and uncertainty. To illustrate this, here’s a quote from one of our customers, Charlotte Arnold, VP Operational Accounting for The TJX Companies (parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, etc.): “Without Transcepta, our supplier invoices would be arriving at an empty office. The pandemic has highlighted the acute need for automation, and we’re so thankful that we invested early. We’re saving so much time and keeping our suppliers happy in the process. It’s a win-win.”

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

It’s cliche, but I find that maintaining a good work-life balance is key. There are always opportunities to work hard, but they don’t always have to be taken. In the early years, I worked plenty of 100-plus hour weeks. Now, I try to be more judicious with my time investment.

Secondly, I think that burnout can be a sign that you haven’t built your team to the right level. If every decision ends up on your desk, that’s a great indicator that you either don’t have the right team or your team doesn’t feel empowered. Both are issues that you’ll need to address or you’ll end up hating what you’re doing.

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? Can you share a story?

The gentleman who hired me in my first real job was a stern, but fair taskmaster. He always took the time to explain to me why I needed to do something. That really helped to give me a broader perspective.

There’s one real story that I can recall. I was working with my boss on developing a new accounting system. He left for a couple of weeks of vacation, leaving me with a stack of programs to work on. When he returned, I proudly displayed my work product. He looked at it and quickly told me, “You misspelled ‘accounts receivable’ throughout the system.” After that, he left me to contemplate my failure for a couple of days. I learned that the little things matter as much as the big ones, especially the highly visible ones.

It must have worked out, because I ultimately became partners with that gentleman and we enjoyed a successful exit together.

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?

Our solution is a platform that enables customers to automate their accounts payable and procurement processes. Customers connect, transact, and collaborate with their suppliers on the platform, enabling efficiency and better decision-making for both parties. Currently, we have hundreds of thousands of companies leveraging our platform.

Building our community required:

  1. Providing real value to both customers and suppliers
  2. Delivering innovative software
  3. Viewing customer service as a differentiator

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 tried a number of approaches over the years. Many of our competitors tried to monetize both sides of each transaction. We tried that at first, but we saw how that placed an unnecessary impediment to adoption of the solution. After some analysis, we decided that we were efficient enough that we could make the solution free for suppliers to use. That both lowered a barrier to adoption and better aligned the cost to the primary economic beneficiary: the accounts payable/procurement departments at large 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.

I’ll give you three because these are the learnings that really stand out to me:

  1. First, creating a SaaS platform requires exhaustive focus on the customer. Too many times, I think companies are inwardly focused. It’s imperative that you hire people that have the ability to look ahead. The SaaS space allows for rapid change, and you need help looking around the corners.
  2. Next, take a long-haul view. SaaS companies typically don’t have big upfront fees the way legacy, on-premises solutions do. Therefore, you need to optimize for long-term customer relationships. Build a solution that is sticky and results in high retention rates.
  3. Finally, long-term, sustainable profitability is possible, but it likely won’t happen overnight. Be patient and do what is right for the customer and success will follow.

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’m passionate about the quality of education that we’re providing to our youth. Both of my parents were elementary school educators. We need to get political ideologies out of the classroom and focus on what’s best for the students. There are wonderful, market-based solutions that appear to be doing terrific things for the youth they serve. Everything needs to prioritize the successful learning of our next generation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ray-parsons/

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


Ray Parsons of Transcepta: 5 Things You Need to Know to Create a Successful SaaS or Software… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Maegan Lujan: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand…

Author Maegan Lujan: Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Examine your purpose. Does it align with where you are today culturally? Does it align with your consumer/target audience? If not, then reexamine the core branding pillars and pivot as necessary. The bottom line is that, as people, we evolve. It’s a given that companies must do the same.

Maybe your purpose hasn’t changed, but this is where you start. Dig deep, stir up those emotions, and chart your new path forward. That thought process is why I embarked on my personal branding journey and why you’re reading this: what is my purpose, and am I fulfilling it? I am now!

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Maegan Lujan.

Maegan Lujan is a strategist, storyteller, and thought leader on a mission to motivate and inspire others. Her journey has taken her from high risk to high potential in the boardroom of

Toshiba. Maegan is also referred to as a digital thought-influencer. She brings her corporate expertise to the masses through her book series, A Million Little Clicks, which launches in November 2020.

Maegan’s tenacity has earned her a nomination for the 2020 Women in Business Award from The Orange County Business Journal and recognition as a 2016 Young Influencer and 2019 Woman of Influence by The Cannata Report.

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?

Honestly, my story has a few twists. To keep it short and sweet, what brought me to this career path was growing up in foster care.

Early on, I decided to rise above the upbringing I had before foster care with my mother and be something more. As the years passed and I realized my tenacity was a force to be reckoned with, I decided that I could not only elevate myself to a healthy lifestyle and sense of belonging, but I could help others in similar situations do the same. Big aspirations for a 13-year-old!

Fast forward 15 years and my passion expanded to more than foster youth. I aspired to help other young professionals find their meaning and cultivate growth. Not an easy task for anyone, especially someone with my past and lack of credentials. That reality actually drove me, though. It was my motivation to show others they can defy the odds.

Early on, it started with mentoring people at work, showing them they can reach for the stars. Then it clicked… and now I am helping others become the CEO of their own brands and chart their own paths through my digital community and book series, A Million Little Clicks.

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

As it relates to branding and being an entrepreneur, I’ll share one of the many experiences that drove me to write my book series. I wasn’t planning to author a series on this topic, by the way. It just so happens that I made enough mistakes and spent thousands of painful hours researching that I figured why not empower others (save them the same pain) by sharing what I have learned.

That being said, I’ve been at a large corporation for several years now. You kind of become accustomed to doing things a certain way after a while, and when I set out on my personal branding journey, I did just that, what I was used to pertaining to creative projects, and specifically building my website. I partnered with a great team, and they coded a custom website for me. It took a lot of time, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of money. And as this journey began to take off, I quickly realized that the method I chose wasn’t scaleable for me to keep up with the demands on my growing digital community.

As most people will say, we have meetings to have meetings in the corporate world, and simply put, I didn’t have a seven-figure staff on hand with six months to spare for minor updates. It was just me, before or after corporate hours (which are longer than 9–5s).

So, as my needs evolved, I found tech new tech in the SMB segment that had the design flexibility I needed along with a gib based team that was better suited to work with me knowing that changes needed to be made on short notice, some of them being made by me.

There have definitely been bumps along the way! I had to scrap one website that took nearly a year to build and countless resources to adopt a much more cost-effective platform that met my needs. I still want to slap my past self for that one. But it gets better, this super common platform my new team helped me set up is also clunky and not the most efficient on the customer touchpoints which is an issue for me as a digital leader in marketing. It solved a problem and was much more efficient, don’t get me wrong. But still not the best fit.

Now, three platforms later on the umpteenth version of my website. I could’ve bought a Prius and saved countless hours had I done more research at the beginning. And here we are, I had to get agile and learn new tech on the fly: systems, apps, integrations, you name it. But honestly, it was a great learning lesson and drove me to dig deeper than I ever have.

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?

Yes, when I became intentional about my personal brand and became the CEO of my own brand.

A major tipping point in my career was when I was recognized as a woman influencer by an industry publication. It created a platform for me to share my story and normalize the path to success for my generation and beyond. I think this lesson was twofold for me, as I believed in myself because others saw it, and then others started believing in me because I believed in myself.

I realized that being given this opportunity, it exposed me to further growth and development cycles within my career. Which, in turn, subsequently empowered me to do the same and pay it forward.

I’ve taken what was given to me and turned it into a personal brand that screams success. I steer the narrative around who I have become.

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

As someone with experience showing up digitally and navigating my journey while simultaneously having a corporate brand, I’ve learned quite a few lessons about building a personal brand the right way. The first is that it starts with your vision. You need to find your why and then take ownership of telling your story in the exact way you’d like it to be retold. From there, you step into the role and become the CEO of your own brand to share your story.

I took this advice to heart and became the CEO of my own brand. And by doing that, I built an authentic culture and powerful digital community.

Now, with the successful launch of my personal brand, I’m sharing the best practices I used to help businesses and professionals do the same. It’s all coming together in a new three-book series on personal branding and showing up digitally — A Million Little Clicks. The interactive guides, which will feature insightful tips, tools, and exercises, will be available on Amazon this November.

The first book of the A Million Little Clicks series, titled Brand Vision, provides information on navigating your brand pillars, identity, launch sequence, and more. The second book, titled Brand Story, will focus on building the story behind your personal brand. And the final book, titled Brand Tactics, will detail the tactical steps necessary to bring your brand to life.

Written as a step-by-step guide, each book in the A Million Little Clicks series walks its reader through why a personal brand is essential, how to be the CEO of your own brand, the art of brand storytelling, and more. Plus, it includes more than 100 pages of branding worksheets and tools to help take the reader’s brand to the next level.

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

A principle that has helped me avoid the burnout that I encourage other marketers to embrace is this: Find three hobbies you are passionate about; one to keep you creative, one to keep you healthy, and one to make you money.

Determining your purpose, passion, and expertise while ensuring these are in alignment has helped me maintain balance.

It’s not enough to just be good at something; you have to also possess the zeal to see your vision come to fruition through curiosity. The goal is to match your skillset to your passion.

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?

As someone who has spent most of my corporate career in product marketing, I would say that the two are similar in tactical execution and 100% codependent. In product marketing, you’re leveraging the company brand, which, in my case, is Toshiba. Although I manage a portfolio of products, determining the right product relies solely on the overall brand.

The first set of questions I ask of myself and my team is: will the product be a fit for our brand, portfolio, and channel. To correctly answer that, you must take a step back and dissect your brand. Sure, as an entrepreneur, you’re personally a lot more aligned to your brand on a regular basis than most staff at a Fortune 500 company is, but stick with me here.

Each decision you make, especially larger ones, needs to undergo a litmus test. Does this decision align with my brand vision (purpose, mission, values/principles, positioning)? How can this decision accurately be depicted by my brand story and personality (voice and tone)? Does this decision align with my brand tactics (look and feel)?

From there, you can execute advertising based on your brand. Essentially, your brand is your foundation and MUST be clearly defined. Advertising CANNOT stray from your brand, or you end up wasting valuable resources and losing revenue.

The exception to this is when you are incubating a new segment and working on the edge of innovation. In this case, campaigns are created to segment or position against the larger brand.

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?

Funny, you ask that. In my three-part book series, part one (Brand Vision: Purpose + Strategy) took the longest to write. It is the foundation, after all, and requires a lot of initial investment from you to properly build your brand.

I wish I could downplay this, tell you there is a special webform you can fill out that creates a brand for you, but there simply is not. You must dedicate more energy than you thought was possible over several months/years, and you have to invest countless resources. If you take shortcuts or don’t invest properly, it will end up costing you more time and money in the long run. And pretty much every successful entrepreneur will attest to this.

Is it easy? No. Will it take more than you anticipated? Yes. Will it be worth it? Hell yeah!

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

Oh, that’s a long list. It is humanizing to adapt to the current culture (both internal and external), changes in leadership/ownership, the evolution of the industry climate, changes in technology, failure in GTM strategy or portfolio positioning, etc.

We live in an age where change is happening faster than ever. While it can be the enemy leading to rebranding, it can also be an ally leading you to a much-needed rebrand and fresh start.

Not to downplay a rebrand, because it’s not an easy process, but think of a personal makeover. You don’t want to spend the money, but at the same time, you’re dying for a change to more accurately represent where you are currently.

Just like when you get a new haircut, a fresh brand style can be the catalyst needed to spur alignment, confidence, and success across your business and customer base.

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

Do I have some stories for you! Yes, there are downsides to rebranding, and I can personally attest to some of them.

Let’s just say we did a massive tagline change and rebrand at Toshiba a couple of years ago, and my team was on the front line with changing over assets and distributing new materials to our internal customers.

To begin with, it’s easier to start from scratch than it is to rebrand; you have to take into account all of the old and weave it into the new, more of change management and phased implementation vs a clean launch.

You also need to get everyone on the same page (think vision alignment) with the new direction, look, feel, etc. which may or may not be incredibly challenging.

In the end, it was a much-needed uplift and modernization for Toshiba and has been wildly successful.

If a company considers a “Brand Makeover,” I would advise you to understand the purpose and issue you are trying to solve. Is there a valid reason? If so, then determine whether or not the resources are available to do it right.

Remember, you’re essentially starting from square one (purpose, mission, values/principles, positioning) and must align to ensure success. If none of those foundations have changed, perhaps a look and feel overhaul is the best option versus completely rebranding; branding versus advertising, so to speak.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share five 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.

Yeah, hire me! All jokes aside, though, I’ll build on the last two answers.

1.) Examine your purpose. Does it align with where you are today culturally? Does it align with your consumer/target audience? If not, then reexamine the core branding pillars and pivot as necessary. The bottom line is that, as people, we evolve. It’s a given that companies must do the same.

Maybe your purpose hasn’t changed, but this is where you start. Dig deep, stir up those emotions, and chart your new path forward. That thought process is why I embarked on my personal branding journey and why you’re reading this: what is my purpose, and am I fulfilling it? I am now!

2.) Vision, values, and principles. Are they the same as they were when you started? Think about this two-fold; you and your target consumer/audience. If so, then build upon that and move on to the next pillar. If not, then take some time and reevaluate.

If you’re going to re-energize and essentially reboot, then look at this as a blank canvas. You’ve changed, and more importantly, evolved, so incorporate that into your brand. With each stride, I dig deep into this thought process and get better each time. It’s getting more comfortable in your skin and continuing to evolve.

For example, early on, I didn’t share what drove me to personal branding and sharing my story. My values and principles have not changed, but my vision continues to. I just hope you can continue down a similar path and put the real you out there because that’s the best version and what the world needs.

3.) Positioning. In my experience, this is the most common place where an upgrade is needed. Not because you didn’t do it right the first time, but because the world and society are changing so fast.

In the tech world, it’s constant. Think annual reboots, a new product launch of an existing product that’s more aligned this year with the current climate, so to speak. It can be exhausting, and based on your industry; it may be just that (hopefully it’s not).

So, back to the positioning pillar. Do your SWOT analysis, internalize the results, be honest and intentional, and get to work. Time isn’t our friend, and you have success to harness.

4.) Voice and tone. Have you noticed a change in what you see on social media since you built your brand? How about the news? Industry publications? This is another rapidly evolving space that is hard to keep up with and requires constant evolution.

If your other pillars are still aligned, then this is an easy fix. Do your research. Understand the current voice, tone, and mindset of your target consumer/audience. Then make the pivot. Uplift your digital marketing strategy, incorporate relevant hashtags, current trends, sensitivity, annual marketing calendar days/weeks (national women in business week, etc.).

5.) Lastly, look and feel. This is a subjective brand pillar, but also rapidly changing with the times. Did your color pallet, fonts, etc. become familiar with other brands? Are your competitors cultivating the same emotions from your target consumer/audience?

It’s common to be a pioneer, and two years later, have your competitors mirroring what you’ve done. I could speak for hours on this.

My advice is simple, harness your inner artist and creator. Your emotions for your brand need to shine through like a rainbow after the storm. Change it up. Be original. And most importantly, be raw because your audience will feel it and gravitate towards you.

Curate a masterpiece and make your competitors jealous. Make them break the bank to replicate what you’ve done within their brand, knowing the whole time you paved the way. This is what being an innovator is, and it’s beautiful.

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?

Okay, this example may date me a bit, but it is one that still resonates today. Jack in the Box! Granted, I had a colorful childhood and didn’t get to eat out very often. But, before Jack in the Box brought Jack back in 1994, I don’t recall even knowing they existed.

Insert “Mom, what’s Jack in the Box?” here. Then out of nowhere comes Jack! He’s funny, he’s in your face, he’s making fast food look cool, and he has a relevant message about “why” Jack in the Box.

Specifically, I like that the company accepted they made some poor branding moves leading to decreases in revenue/market share, and it was time to dig deep and make an aggressive change. They redefined their vision, developed a precise strategy, reintroduced America to their story, and tactically executed.

To replicate a similar undertaking, you must be relentless, realistic (honest with yourself), and surgical in how you navigate and execute the brand makeover (all of which I outline in the A Million Little Clicks series). But as Jack in the Box showed us, it’s possible and can even be fun!

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 a firm believer that who you are on paper doesn’t determine your path forward. Instead, you chart your own course.

I’m living proof you can come from all walks of life, feel comfortable in your own skin, do things you’re passionate about, and succeed. No matter where you came from, what obstacles stand in your way, or what the data says about you as a child on paper.

If I could spearhead any movement, it would be to help others learn how to chart their own path. I want to assist them in determining their “why,” finding their passion, and communicating their story, whether it’s brand strategy positioning for companies, portfolios, or business professionals.

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

If you do what you love and love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think it’s a blend of Harvey Mackay and Ray Bradbury that made it onto inspirational posters during the ’90s.

I can still see the specific one hanging on a reseller’s office hallway early on in my career. It really made me think, though. I was just starting and enjoyed what I was doing every day; it challenged me, it educated me, and it exposed me to new things.

Then and there, I vowed to myself to always do what I love. It has required pivots along the way, broken my heart and wallet at times, but I don’t have that misery associated with the 9–5 stigma.

How can our readers follow you online?

Visit my Website and sign up for my weekly email list with essential resources: www.maeganlujan.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maeganlujan

Instagram: http://instagram.com/maeganlujan

Access a free checklist to help you start your personal brand here!

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


Author Maegan Lujan: 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.

The Future Is Now: Mark Beeston of Vioguard On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How

The Future Is Now: Mark Beeston of Vioguard On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Sanitize

Given the current state of the world amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Vioguard products and UV-C technology overall are key to helping businesses ensure the safety of their staff and customers to further enforce health guidelines which will enable a smoother and faster economic recovery. The pandemic has shifted the way we perceive hygiene and safety and will continue to alter how we engage with each other and businesses moving forward. We hope that through the implementation of UV technology, we can help prevent further spread and ultimately lower our odds of a second wave or the spread of other viruses looking ahead.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Beeston. He joined Vioguard in June 2017 as Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Prior to Vioguard, Beeston lead a sales team for Option Care in the post-acute business sector. He spent six years in various sales leadership roles from Regional Sales Director to Director of Strategic Solutions at Hill-Rom Company. Prior to joining Hill-Rom, he served as a Regional Sales Director for the Hospital Products unit for Hospira Worldwide (formerly Abbott Labs). During his 13-year tenure at Hospira/Abbott he filled several diverse roles such as Senior Engineer in new product development, Sales Executive, Contract Marketing and District Sales Manager. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering from Brigham Young University.

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

I started my initial career in biomedial engineering and product development and always wanted to have the experience of working with the end user. Because of this, I chose to cross the bridge over to sales to start off in healthcare. I found it quite rewarding to provide services to healthcare workers across the country. After working with a few different companies doing capital and pharma, Vioguard reached out to see how they could introduce their technology into the healthcare space. I was brought on to take Vioguard products into the healthcare space, which ultimately provided tremendous value in the industry.

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

One day calling on the pharmacy in a large medical center, I noticed a large jar on the counter, much like a pickle jar! I thought it strange and took a little closer look only to find the inside of the jar moving! I pulled back and asked the pharmacist what the heck was in the jar? He chuckled and obviously thought…”rookie” and told me they were maggots! I asked why maggots in a hospital pharmacy and he taught me the procedure of using medical grade maggots to help take care of wound care patients. I thought there are always things to learn within healthcare. One of the reasons I have enjoyed my career.

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

We have the only FDA approved product, the Defender, that uses UV-C technology to disinfect keyboards. We use the same patented technology in our other products like the Cubby and Cubby+, which clean items like phones, keys, tablets or anything that fits in the device. The objects run through a 60 second cycle with UV light hitting the surface area of whatever is inside, reaching 360 degrees and obliterating all pathogens, breaking down the DNA and killing it. Unlike typical disinfectants like wipes and sprays that can take between 2 and 12 minutes to effectively disinfect, Vioguard’s UV technology can do it in under 60 seconds. This will not only eliminate any form of human error but is also a more sustainable way to protect people from harmful viruses like COVID-19.

How do you think this might change the world?

Given the current state of the world amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Vioguard products and UV-C technology overall are key to helping businesses ensure the safety of their staff and customers to further enforce health guidelines which will enable a smoother and faster economic recovery. The pandemic has shifted the way we perceive hygiene and safety and will continue to alter how we engage with each other and businesses moving forward. We hope that through the implementation of UV technology, we can help prevent further spread and ultimately lower our odds of a second wave or the spread of other viruses looking ahead.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in disinfectant wipes and chemicals being used in households and businesses to help combat the spread. Disinfectant wipes are not compostable and are thrown away after just one use. Because of the synthetic fibers, wipes do not break down and represent a large portion of non-biodegradable waste in landfills. By implementing technologies to help combat the spread of pathogens, businesses can drastically help reduce the amount of waste and the negative environmental impact the wipes have.

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

UV-C technology has been used throughout the medical industry as an effective disinfectant method for years. Since Covid-19, we’ve seen an immense uptick in other businesses adopting UV-C technology in industries including hospitality and retail amongst many others. Businesses are under a huge amount of pressure to adopt new ways to ensure they are meeting hygiene guidelines as states attempt to re-open. At Vioguard, we are looking to further educate consumers and businesses about the positive impact of UV-C technology. From environmental impacts to reduced operational costs, UV technology is gaining great traction across the globe and helping combat the spread of pathogens. For example, new devices like UV escalator handrail sanitizers are already being implemented in public places. We will be seeing the adoption of UV light technology more and more as we enter our new normal, especially as the products become accessible to businesses of all sizes.

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

We have a team focusing on connecting with the media and targeting audiences where implementing Vioguard UVC would be most effective. More recently, we’ve begun leveraging broadcast television advertising to help reach our target markets more quickly and efficiently. We also understand that word of mouth is a powerful tool when it comes to gaining publicity and the quality of Vioguard products have been igniting great conversations that have led to many units being sold.

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

My mentor was a senior director at Hospira (Life Sciences company). He steered me in the direction towards management and helping people to reach their professional goals. My mentor was able to communicate and lay things out in a way that really helped me understand, and he made sure I was taking this path for the right reasons. He always told me — “make sure you go in the direction for the right reasons and evaluate those reasons.”

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

At Vioguard, we are eager to continue educating consumers about the pathogens they carry with them on their cell phones constantly. People touch their phones roughly 2,600 times a day, and 40–60% of viruses and bacteria transfer on contact. Because Vioguard kills 99.99% of all bacteria on small items such as cell phones, we have the opportunity to greatly reduce the spread of illness. UVC is a green technology. Cleaning items like disposable chemical wipes have a negative impact on the environment, as thousands end up in landfills every day. We provide a safer, environmentally friendly alternative that will make an impact for generations to come.

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

  • It is important to remember that you will most likely will not end up in the career that you got your degree in. I got my college degree in engineering, while now I am well into a fulfilling career in healthcare/life sciences sales and marketing.
  • Social experience and networking will add more value than yor actual degree. I wish someone had told me to focus a large amount of efforts on networking and building relationships that last.
  • Learn how to think critically and question information — whether it be in a work setting, personal setting or the absorption of information.
  • Listen to advice of all people, prioritize the important information and forget all the rest.
  • It is important to take all information that you hear or read with a grain of salt. We are constantly consuming information from all sources, such as media, social media, news, etc. and it is important to think critically and skeptically and research the information you receive.

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

The world would be a much better place if we treated everyone the way that we ourselves would like to be treated. It is important to treat everyone with respect and compassion no matter the circumstance.

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

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn

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


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

The Future Is Now: William Bain of ‘ScaleOut Software’ On How Their Technological Innovation Will…

The Future Is Now: William Bain of ‘ScaleOut Software’ On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Analyze Data Streams

Our company develops software that helps companies manage fast-changing data so that they can track and immediately analyze it. This helps enhance their ability to react to issues and capture opportunities in real time — before the moment is lost — and it enhances overall situational awareness. For example, it allows a company to keep track of thousands of trucks traversing the country or airline passengers encountering flight delays or health-tracking devices generating telemetry or e-commerce shoppers looking for specific products, and so on. There are countless applications in need of this technology.

To make it possible to track thousands or even a million data sources, we have created a new way of processing data streams using a software concept called “real-time digital twins,” which we have integrated with our in-memory computing technology. Using this new approach to streaming analytics, companies can better and more quickly understand what incoming data is telling them. At the same time, it simplifies the way they develop applications.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. William L. Bain, founder and CEO of ScaleOut Software, which has been developing software products since 2003 designed to enhance operational intelligence within live systems using scalable, in-memory computing technology. Bill earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Rice University. Over a 40-year career focused on parallel computing, he has contributed to advancements at Bell Labs Research, Intel, and Microsoft, and holds several patents in computer architecture and distributed computing. Bill founded and ran three companies prior to ScaleOut Software. The most recent, Valence Research, developed web load-balancing software and was acquired by Microsoft Corporation to enhance the Windows Server operating system. As an investor and member of the screening committee for the Seattle-based Alliance of Angels, Bill is actively involved in entrepreneurship and the angel community.

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

After working for more than a decade at two large high-tech companies, I became increasingly frustrated with the inability to quickly innovate in a large corporate setting so I could make an impact. I also found that my software skills were beginning to atrophy. The advent of the IBM PC (yes, I am that old) breathed new life into my aspirations to design software. I realized that entrepreneurship was the right path for me and decided to start a software company. I am now working on my fourth company and have never looked back.

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

One lunch hour while I was working at a large company, I took a demo flight in a helicopter at a nearby airport. It was so exhilarated by this that I went on to earn a commercial helicopter pilot’s license. I was overjoyed to get to know a group of highly talented flight instructors and professional pilots who exhibited a degree of self-awareness that I often found missing in the high-tech workplace. What I learned from them is that you can’t rely on your past accomplishments or title to conduct a successful flight; you have to prove your competence every time you take the controls. I found that to be a refreshing way to view challenges.

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

Our company develops software that helps companies manage fast-changing data so that they can track and immediately analyze it. This helps enhance their ability to react to issues and capture opportunities in real time — before the moment is lost — and it enhances overall situational awareness. For example, it allows a company to keep track of thousands of trucks traversing the country or airline passengers encountering flight delays or health-tracking devices generating telemetry or e-commerce shoppers looking for specific products, and so on. There are countless applications in need of this technology.

To make it possible to track thousands or even a million data sources, we have created a new way of processing data streams using a software concept called “real-time digital twins,” which we have integrated with our in-memory computing technology. Using this new approach to streaming analytics, companies can better and more quickly understand what incoming data is telling them. At the same time, it simplifies the way they develop applications.

What makes real-time digital twins powerful is that they enable applications to keep track of constantly evolving information about each individual data source among thousands. With this more granular knowledge, applications can better introspect the current situation, possibly incorporating machine learning, and generate better feedback within seconds. In addition, information stored in real-time digital twins can be continuously aggregated and visualized by the in-memory computing platform to spot emerging trends as they occur. So, for example, while a trucking company is providing feedback to drivers to reroute due to weather or highway blockages, it can immediately assess the overall impact on the fleet and determine where it needs to shift resources to manage dynamic issues as they emerge.

How do you think this might change the world?

This new way of analyzing data streams should dramatically improve our ability to respond to challenges we have trouble coping with today. For example, it can analyze thousands of sensors to detect the emergence and spread of a forest fire, and can track the location, condition, and availability of medical devices and supplies to address hospital needs in a pandemic. It can allow airline passengers to reroute themselves while enroute when their connections will be missed. It can help banks better analyze credit card transactions in real time to avoid fraud or help “smart” cities spot water or gas leaks or even emerging terror attacks and understand how they are evolving.

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

As with many computing technologies, real-time digital twins could be used to track people and analyze their behavior in a manner that compromises their privacy. For example, an application might be designed to help commuters find the best use of public transit to get to work while enroute. But this same information could be used to track their whereabouts and daily patterns for others to exploit.

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

A few years ago, our company was engaged by a cable television provider to build a software application that would enable them to track 10 million subscribers and detect how they changed channels so that they could be served relevant ads. When we developed this application using our in-memory computing platform, we found it effective to use the digital twin approach even though we didn’t call it that at the time. Later, when we were building a recommendation system for e-commerce shoppers, this same design pattern emerged again. We realized that the real-time digital twin technique could be widely applied, so we decided to build a cloud-based service that formalizes it and makes it available to our customers.

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

We have just introduced our cloud service and have built several demonstration applications. Once we have proven the power and simplicity of real-time digital twins in production applications, we expect widespread adoption to quickly follow. We are now working with partners to explore potential applications with their end-users.

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

We are using our web site, blog posts, and social media to get the word out about our new cloud service. We also just released an entertaining animated video to showcase the technology. To highlight the value of real-time digital twins during the COVID-19 crisis, we recently developed a demonstration application with a companion mobile app for use in contact tracing within companies to help employees get back to work more quickly and safely. Because of its novel approach to contact tracing and the ability to notify employees within seconds when an outbreak occurs, this application has garnered substantial interest.

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?

There have been a few key people who have greatly helped me in my career, including first manager at Intel, my current business partner and of course, my steadfast and supportive wife. However, let me tell you a brief story about another special person.

When I was running my first startup company, I met a college student from Russia who had been recommended to me to fill a summer job opening. As I got to know him, I realized that he was brilliant, passionate about technology, full of energy, and a pleasure to work with. After a year of working together, we decided to form a new software company as business partners and develop an idea that we worked out on a napkin at lunch one day. A year and a half later, this company was acquired by Microsoft. His leadership potential was quickly recognized by Microsoft’s executives. Within a few years, he became a general manager and created a new version of Windows for high-performance computing. I don’t believe that our company would have been acquired by Microsoft without his unique combination of talent and perseverance. He tragically died in 2012 at age 38, and his loss leaves a huge hole in all of our hearts.

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

I think that while working to generate a return for its investors, the most rewarding achievement of any company is to provide a productive and supportive workplace for its employees, enabling them to support their families and grow in their careers. I am happy to have been able to contribute to this over the past seventeen years as our small company has grown.

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

1. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. It took me several years to discover that my brain was wired to be an entrepreneur. Back when I was getting started, I attended a conference for startups in which a psychologist who had studied this spoke about how some people are much more satisfied building new companies instead of working their way up in established companies.

2. Look for ideas in the confluence of multiple technologies. I have found my best ideas by examining where otherwise unrelated technologies overlap and can benefit by applying the advances in one area to a different one. For example, I used parallel computing techniques from supercomputing to analyze stored data in distributed caches, a technology more akin to databases. Our current product applies the concept of digital twins from a field called Product Lifecycle Management to streaming analytics.

3. To form a company, you need a combination of the right idea, the ability to bring it to market, and the right time in your life. It’s not enough to just have an entrepreneurial way of thinking and an idea. Making the dream a reality requires resources, one of which is the right timing in your life to devote your energies to it. I was lucky to have already worked for more than a decade when I started my first company. It’s important to weigh all of these considerations before taking the leap.

4. Maintain focus combined with agility. In my experience, entrepreneurship requires a subtle combination of focus on achieving a goal while retaining the agility to make course corrections when needed. Because an entrepreneur by nature gravitates towards new opportunities, it’s all too easy to chase them and exhaust precious resources. Driving for success usually requires maintaining a keen focus on executing the plan. While doing so, an entrepreneur must weigh new facts, such as market feedback, as they emerge and make changes to the plan when absolutely needed. Agility actually gives small companies a tactical advantage over larger ones, which often have huge investments in a development plan or product line. Even open source projects can suffer from too much momentum.

5. Cash is king. Although we have all heard this, it’s only when you have been burned by running out of cash does the lesson really take hold. This happened in my second company, which took too long to build a combined hardware/software product in a market that was not quite ready to adopt it. When you start running out of cash, your options quickly become limited.

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

As I sit here choking on the smoke from forest fires in the Pacific Northwest, I am reminded that climate change is indeed an existential crisis. Unlike many other challenges, climate change can’t be fixed quickly and must not be allowed to gain additional momentum. With each passing year, it increasingly threatens the quality of our lives and our children’s future. And yet, it need not be this way. Avoiding climate change is much cheaper than mitigating its effects with the added benefits of many new green jobs on a planet where all species can thrive.

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

I think the golden rule (treat others how you wish to be treated)has served as a valuable guide to daily interactions that should be followed in every setting. In the workplace, it means treating each person with kindness and respect and remaining open to new ideas. I have been in numerous meetings in which I was distressed to see high-level managers berating their subordinates. While we are all human and sometimes have lapses, I feel it’s important that we always strive to maintain a respectful, open-minded attitude with everyone.

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

In-memory computing technology can make a huge difference in helping companies track, analyze, and immediately react to the fast-changing data that is the lifeblood of their businesses. ScaleOut Software’s new cloud service harnesses this technology using a breakthrough software concept, called “real-time digital twins,” which enables companies to simultaneously track a million data sources. This technology will give companies a powerful new tool for extracting value from their streaming data, and it will help them boost situational awareness to a level that was not previously possible. The combined power and simplicity of this software gives it the potential for rapid adoption in numerous vertical markets.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please see our blog at www.scaleoutsoftware.comor follow us on Twitter at @scaleout_inc or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/scaleout-software.

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


The Future Is Now: William Bain of ‘ScaleOut Software’ On How Their Technological Innovation Will… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Will Campbell of Quantasy + Associates On How Their Technological Innovation…

The Future Is Now: Will Campbell of Quantasy + Associates On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Live Events

We are currently working on a new project, called Q3. It is about creating social experiences virtually. As of right now, platforms that provide live streaming services are just live streams — there is really no interactive experience or customization factor. Q3 is reimagining the way people engage digitally. Starting with RSVPs or tickets to then being transported into virtual venues, networking and chatting in an immersive experience that mimics the feeling of being with people in one space. This type of technology is really applicable for all types of industries whether it’s sporting, entertainment, e-commerce and more. Plus it has room for future opportunities, like virtual currencies.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Will Campbell, CEO and Chairman at Quantasy + Associates (Q+A).

He has worked with globally renowned clients including Google, Lionsgate and Wells Fargo along with iconic public figures like Magic Johnson and Kevin Hart throughout his twenty-year career.

Campbell’s unique vision blends advertising, technology, entertainment and culture and has earned the agency numerous industry awards, including a spotlight by Inc. Magazine as one of America’s fastest growing private companies in 2018. Will is a member of the Empowerment Congress 40 Under 40, and more recently, was appointed to the Los Angeles County Small Business Commission where he provides ongoing advice and support to the LA County Board of Supervisors as they shape economic policy to benefit small businesses.

Campbell’s goal is to ensure the that companies and organizations with which Q+A work are proactively pushing culture in the right direction, and never just reacting. His vision for the agency is to consistently innovate by asking new questions to get new answers. His passion for curiosity, dialogue and action has led the growth of the ten-year old agency to more than 50 employees serving as one fully integrated, cultural marketing force.

Outside of the agency, Campbell enjoys traveling with his family and introducing his children to new places and cultural experiences. His creativity extends to his enthusiasm for style and interior design, which are exemplified by his on-point sneaker game and the rich, contemporary aesthetic at the agency’s headquarters in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District.

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

I started my career in entertainment and noticed that pitching for entertainment projects started to tell a broader story about technology and content in addition to artistry, and that this was a business in it of itself. We realized while looking at successful companies, like iTunes, that technology is not necessarily separate from entertainment. I was inspired to create a career that fuses technology, entertainment, and culture together cohesively.

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

I was in the room with Kevin Hart when we were first discussing the creation of his comedy platform. At this time, everyone was trying to create blogs and websites, but since Kevin is an entrepreneur, he knew he wanted to do something different from everyone else and leaned on us to help build it. It was interesting to watch the way he combined his skills as both an entertainer and a businessman. He was ready and willing to take a big swing with zero hesitation. The fact that Laugh Out Loud has since taken off feels rewarding. It’s a great memory to look back on and I feel grateful to be part of the concept and journey.

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

We are currently working on a new project, called Q3. It is about creating social experiences virtually. As of right now, platforms that provide live streaming services are just live streams — there is really no interactive experience or customization factor. Q3 is reimagining the way people engage digitally. Starting with RSVPs or tickets to then being transported into virtual venues, networking and chatting in an immersive experience that mimics the feeling of being with people in one space. This type of technology is really applicable for all types of industries whether it’s sporting, entertainment, e-commerce and more. Plus it has room for future opportunities, like virtual currencies.

How do you think this might change the world?

Due to the fact that Q3 is so customizable, there are so many different experiences available. It’s really about reimagining social events as a whole and utilizing global markets. Prior to COVID-19, there was an increasing demand for live experiences and digital experiences to go along with it. When live events abruptly stopped, the need for digital experience increased even further. In general, our technology will transform regional events to become global markets, allowing people to experience events in real-time, which is more unique than our current state. Would you rather experience something in real-time or read an article about it the next day? I would imagine most people would want to experience in real-time, and this is allowing for that possibility.

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

People have always feared technology as it continues to progress, but when new risks arise they can be smartly managed, and that is what we have consistently done. Our technology is not meant to replace any live experiences, but rather offer a reimagined alternative for those who cannot physically attend, making room for a global audience.

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

I had previously been doing a lot of work for clients that involved the integration of experiential events and live streaming when COVID hit. It forced us to consider how we would further expand and improve the experience for not only audiences but allowing us to become a resource for event creators, producers and those who were severely impacted by the pandemic. The shift in realities between our pre- and post-COVID world inspired me to prioritize the development of Q3 for our clients and agency to create a variety of more customizable, integrated events and experiences.

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

People in the event world are increasingly understanding the importance of taking their events to a global market by creating what is essentially an infinitely sized venue. As more people realize this opportunity and its value, they must pivot and adopt this type of technology in order to create better, thoughtfully crafted experiences for the online community.

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

We’ve gained a lot of visibility with our recent virtual experiences. For example, our CGO Ron Gillyard led our collaboration on a world class event with Kamala Harris featuring some of the world’s hottest DJ’s including DJ Cassidy, D-Nice, Beverly Bond and others. We also partnered with ESSENCE to adjust the annual ESSENCE Festival as the first-ever to be executed virtually. We also just recently announced our new platform True Voice, a mindfulness app which will include virtual group meditations and courses. As more brands begin utilizing our services and technology, we expect to see more excitement build around the potential it holds.

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

My partner Danilo has done so much to help me build the business and grow in my career. Oftentimes he has been the driving force for new campaign ideas or innovative service offerings that have been hugely successful.

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

Our main goal is to push culture in the right direction. If the work we are doing does not accomplish this goal, then we will not touch it. Our experiences will always give added value to the culture we live in, whether it’s through entertainment, entrepreneurship, wellness, or ultimately any industry.

What have your takeaways been from recent interviews? Would you prefer it to go in a different direction or conversation?

The conversations have been good. Recently most of the topics at hand are about my point of view as a Black entrepreneur, and while this is great and important, I’d love to see more coverage about the valuable work and services I do as an entrepreneur. By discussing the impact of the campaigns and what they’re doing to help people would add more value to the fact that I am a Black entrepreneur. Likewise, I think it would be interesting to discuss my entrepreneurial journey and what has been accomplished in terms of acquisition — how rare and successful it has been.

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

Ask new questions to get new answers. This simple reminder has contributed greatly to my personal growth, and it’s a key phrase used at our agency everyday. If we keep asking the same questions, we will never innovate or reimagine where the industry is going.

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

Our team at Quantasy + Associates is uniquely able to bring social experiences to life. We have the best tools and talent that can seamlessly fuse technology, entertainment, advertising and influence to create incredible campaigns, e-commerce experiences, and a customizable virtual venue for a variety of events — from concerts to wellness summits.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@1willcampbell on Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin.

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


The Future Is Now: Will Campbell of Quantasy + Associates On How Their Technological Innovation… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Andrea Tellatin of LedWorks On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Andrea Tellatin of LedWorks On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Use Lighting

The world is changing everyday by itself, but Twinkly can make it more colorful! Jokes aside, the main change Twinkly can bring to the world is how our Computer Vision algorithms can transform any bulb positioned randomly and without any specific logic over a daily object turning the lights into a hypothetical flex screen. Users can project a video or any content anywhere simply by wrapping their Twinkly string lights, mapping it on our App, and seeing the lights come to life. It is simply magic!

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Tellatin, CEO of LedWorks. He oversees the Italian startup whose mission is to bring software innovation to the world of consumer and professional lights. Tellatin is an experienced business professional with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. His strong business development skills include knowledge in Embedded Hardware and Software, Management, Start-ups, Product Development, and Research and Development (R&D).

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

When I was working as a CEO of different technology startup invested by the Venture Capital, I met a visionary person who asked, “Andrea, do you want to change Christmas with me”?

In many years of business, I have never been involved in lighting, so I just answered smiling, “What, do you want help Santa deliver gifts faster?” After listening to him, I understood it was time for me to bring the right people together to bring a new era of emotions and lighting experience to every home. That person is now my friend, partner, and President at LEDworks, Marco Franciosa!

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

Having built more than 6 startups from concepts alone, I could really talk about many unforgettable stories — but I would prefer to mention the two most recent since I have been driving this company that have touched my heart, my mission, and part of Twinkly’s success.

The first was when a customer shared the story of their father’s illness and a picture of his glasses reflecting Twinkly lights on the tree they built together. His face was smiling, and he said, “Thank you for bringing a moment of happiness in his life.” For me, that made every moment and effort I have put in worth it. It was in that moment that I understood we achieved the company’s initial mission and I will keep that picture in mind for my entire life.

The second one was when I receive a call asking if Twinkly can work in space. While I cannot say anything further, our team has a new mission!

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

There are several cutting-edge patented technologies in our products. The main benefit, as it usually is when it comes to technology, is to make difficult tasks easier. Twinkly helps users in creating light emotions by themselves without any specific teaching or external support, shaping them in a very wide range of daily uses.

How do you think this might change the world?

The world is changing everyday by itself, but Twinkly can make it more colorful! Jokes aside, the main change Twinkly can bring to the world is how our Computer Vision algorithms can transform any bulb positioned randomly and without any specific logic over a daily object turning the lights into a hypothetical flex screen. Users can project a video or any content anywhere simply by wrapping their Twinkly string lights, mapping it on our App, and seeing the lights come to life. It is simply magic!

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

As a company, Twinkly’s biggest fear is the Grinch. When the day comes and all Christmas trees will be connected by Twinkly, the temptation to turn them all off on Christmas Day will be irresistible, and we have little time to take the necessary steps to defeat him!

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

In addition to the mapping technology I mentioned earlier, I realized this was the way to go after seeing the amazed and amused expressions of everyone who sees Twinkly in action for the first time. All of the colorful effects that magically spring from a Christmas tree at the touch of a finger are one of those few things that can put everyone in a good mood.

However, Ledworks approached this idea in this market at the right time, with the right team. For many years the Christmas market was dormant, and all the companies involved in this market optimized their power of buying big quantities from China rather than developing innovation. In doing so, these companies become more of an importer than a developer.

Ledworks on the other hand started from a team of tech innovators-none of which had been in this market before. With a fresh set of eyes, the mission was clear and clever. Our team shaped the company over what the people were looking for through innovation. I personally believe this was the real breakthrough.

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

Mostly, time. As all lighting revolutions are unstoppable, like the one from Incandescent to LED. This is the era of Smart Lighting. In a few years this technology will be so popular (and the prices per LED so low) that we can really light up the entire world. We have a 5-year roadmap ready to implement — what is in the market now is just the tip of the iceberg!

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

We have a great marketing team at Ledworks, but fortunately the key part is that the product speaks for itself. If you see a simple video of Twinkly in action, you immediately get the point and say, “OK — I need this!”. Of course, the world is huge, but social networks and other digital channels are helping us to spread the word quickly.

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

When we started this company, we decided to shape it as people see it from outside. We are growing based on specific human profile joining the Twinkly family (we call them Twinklers).

We blurred the lines between the inside and outside, between the boss and the junior staff. The team and the retailers are our power.

I can’t count the number of early adopters who had defective product that still needed improvement. Instead of complaining, they asked to be part of our testing team because they want to be part of this story.

I will never forget when we had been called for the first time to install lights on the main strip of London … and product was not ready for this type of installation. I was naturally hesitant, but an employee said “Andrea we need to be there! Because when we are there our company and our family will change.” Our team worked all day and through the night to develop the installation. Working in the middle of the night while freezing, and it coming together being part of the success. Seems illogic? Maybe yes, but I can tell you this is real and the only help an entrepreneur is looking for is a team that pushes you. You can have mindset, but nothing can happen alone.

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

Our lights are often a way to spread joy. We have participated in various charitable initiatives — and will participate in the future — by donating lights and Christmas trees.

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

Trust your team (and if you don’t, get a new team).

  • Your team are your arms. They must be connected and move with the same pulse. You cannot force a decision or try to convince the people you are right. They must be in tune and you need to trust them. You cannot implement a mission without the trust.

Never start a task if you don’t have the clear picture in mind.

  • Everything has to move like a river. Build a small island in the middle of a current and it will be swept away. Look at the big picture and start to build to be a part of it. Do not start investing in anything that may take away from the big picture.

When you have made a decision don’t look back

  • If you want to be innovative, you can only begin to work with your flair. The market can be tested but cannot be validated until your vision is there. Many people will see it in a different way and if you change your mind every time someone is sharing his vision you will never take off. Falling down is a possibility, but this is the only way to take off.

If you knock your head on the wall, don’t do it again because sometimes it will not fall down and you could have soon a headache

  • Many times, we fail in the execution of a task and simply re-try without ask ourselves if what we did was correct, just repeating the task in a sort of “try again until it happens” way. Often though, we will find out too late that it will never happen in the way we did it from the beginning. We end up paying a much bigger fee by not thinking after the first failure.

Bring your mission at every level of the company

  • If your passion, brand, vision, and goals are also part of your team then everyone will be part of the interest, listening, developing, and understanding. Vice versa, a huge setup investment is needed and the procedure will often suppress the flexibility needed in the start-up phase

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. 🙂

Not to be a fanatic but getting everyone in the world their own Christmas tree — for free if they can’t afford it –would be a dream.

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

An old business teacher always told me, “We are paid to make things happen and not to justify why they didn’t happen.” Not easy to understand and even more difficult to accept. We are humans and we often select the road that requires less effort and without not planning in advance. Anything can happen before reaching your promised delivery and choosing to find a way to cover the mistake is a natural instinct, but being responsible for the result is key. It was not easy for me to switch my way of thinking, but it has been a business success starting point.

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 🙂

Twinkly is a revolutionary LED light string that brings the most advanced technology to the Christmas decorations. It combines bright, colorful RGB LEDs, a Wi-Fi controller and a state-of-the-art smartphone application, ready to perform amazing animations easily and quickly.

Twinkly brings the best effects and animations ever at your fingertips. What one day was only possible in big installations, like the ones that can be found at Christmastime in big shopping malls or amusement parks, now is possible at your own home.

Twinkly offers a wide variety of stunning effects, ready to be played and customized, and full access to the online gallery, where new animations are always available for download.

Thanks to our patented technologies, anyone can create amazing decorations and have incredible results in minutes: Twinkly Computer Vision maps tells the app the exact position of each LED bulb, letting you wrap any shape you want and apply amazing effects with pixel-perfect precision.

All this allow us to see the product from a completely different perspective, destroying the pillars of the basic cheap lights and expensive installations. Twinkly has opened a new market and we are part of this smart lighting revolution. No longer a light experience, but a limitless experience with the lights!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/twinkly.smart.decoration/?hl=en

https://facebook.com/twinkly.smart.decoration

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


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

The Future Is Now: Dario Gristina of ‘PleXus Health Science’ On How Their Technological Innovation…

The Future Is Now: Dario Gristina of ‘PleXus Health Science’ On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Sterilize

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. Much like the changes following the 9/11 attacks, and irrespectively of any upcoming vaccines or therapies, I believe that COVID-19 will have a lasting significant impact on the way we work, travel, interact with one another and deeply affect our comfort level within closed environments. Indoor activities will be predicated by social distancing, and all associated cleaning methods and technologies adopted will be key to provide a sense of security and well being to occupants.

From chemical sprays to ionizing foams, there are many products emerging to help sanitize interior spaces and provide a safer environment for its occupants. UVC lighting, both at the 253.7 nanometer wavelength and possibly Far-UVC at 180 nanometers are a great tool in the arsenal to provide efficient and inexpensive sterilization of air and surfaces.

We have filed a couple of patents in this very area aiming at providing both, permanently installed UVC systems in closed spaces ranging from offices to elevator cabs, and portable high powered UVC sterilization units that can provide immediate and thorough environmental sterilization. I believe that knowing that a given restaurant, conference room or doctor’s office for example utilizes periodic UVC sterilization procedures will be a huge help in easing the minds of occupants, now and in the future.

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

Dario is the Chief Executive Officer for PleXus Health Science that developed the high-tech PleXus UVC-650 device that uses UV light to kill bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Commonly used for health care facilities and labs, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is now available to the general public for restaurants, offices, residential use and more.

Dario is a strong business development professional with an AES focused in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from RCA Engineering. With a demonstrated history of working in the renewables and environment industry, he is skilled in Smart Grid, Facility Management (FM), Electrical Wiring, Contract Management, and Renewable Energy.

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

As a young man and a creative dreamer, I found electrical engineering and computer science extremely fascinating. Following graduation, I worked for about a year and a half for a company that manufactured mainframe computer systems back in the mid 80’s. In late 1986, my father was presented an opportunity to start an electrical consulting company that served major commercial real estate landlords in NYC. I immediately joined him in creating one of the very first companies in NYC that mapped out electrical distribution grids of large commercial buildings and delivered drawings and energy calculations in CAD.

That started 34 years of innovative services to the commercial, institutional and residential real estate industry with services ranging from utility metering systems, to high-speed internet communications, electrical construction, Power Over Ethernet lighting control systems and other related services.

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

I started a company in 1997 aimed at providing high-speed internet access to tenants in large commercial buildings. After signing my first deal with a major RE owner in NYC, I proceeded to purchase a high-speed communication line to and from a hub, which I set up with all routing and related computer equipment. Back then, as what I call the “Cowboy Days” of the internet business, finding skilled IT engineers was not an easy task. In fact, as the CEO and CTO, it became clear that it was completely up to me to figure out how to setup a huge Nortel Router and making all IP traffic connections work between the DS3 incoming internet line and the the T1 links to POPs (Points of Presence) in the various buildings. To boot, I had just signed a major bank as a customer who insisted on having the high-speed internet connection up and running by a certain date, or else.

Well, I ended up working for a 48-hour marathon of failures, programming disasters and plenty of expletives later, in a room with no windows, bad lighting and with computer and equipment racks humming relentlessly. I must have been on the phone with just about every tech support person on the Nortell payroll, not to mention the folks at UUNet and Metropolitan Fiber Systems to figure out how to program all these systems and get to keep my prized client. It wasn’t easy, I tell you. However, after verifying high-speed internet connectivity at the desktop computer of the banking President’s office and seeing the smile on his face when websites loaded instantaneously I clearly remember a feeling of pride and accomplishment like never before. After that, I drove home and fell asleep with a smile on my face for a much-deserved nap.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. Much like the changes following the 9/11 attacks, and irrespectively of any upcoming vaccines or therapies, I believe that COVID-19 will have a lasting significant impact on the way we work, travel, interact with one another and deeply affect our comfort level within closed environments. Indoor activities will be predicated by social distancing, and all associated cleaning methods and technologies adopted will be key to provide a sense of security and well being to occupants.

From chemical sprays to ionizing foams, there are many products emerging to help sanitize interior spaces and provide a safer environment for its occupants. UVC lighting, both at the 253.7 nanometer wavelength and possibly Far-UVC at 180 nanometers are a great tool in the arsenal to provide efficient and inexpensive sterilization of air and surfaces.

We have filed a couple of patents in this very area aiming at providing both, permanently installed UVC systems in closed spaces ranging from offices to elevator cabs, and portable high powered UVC sterilization units that can provide immediate and thorough environmental sterilization.

I believe that knowing that a given restaurant, conference room or doctor’s office for example utilizes periodic UVC sterilization procedures will be a huge help in easing the minds of occupants, now and in the future.

How do you think this might change the world?

In addition to other cleaning techniques, UVC lighting can provide highly efficient sterilization of air and surfaces at very competitive pricing. Imagine a world where indoor air constantly scrubbed sanitized. Aside from the COVID-19 risk, the vast majority of communicable diseases are spread through air and surface contamination. I personally think of this every time I go to my doctor’s office or visit someone in a hospital. Widespread UVC lighting adoption could lead to drastically reduced rates of infection ranging from the flu, the common cold, gastrointestinal bugs and all sorts of other pathogens that affect each and everyone of us on a regular basis. Wouldn’t this be good for the world?

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

While recent studies have shown that exposure to Far UVC light is likely not dangerous to humans, more studies are needed. Exposure to UVC light at 253.7nm is not a good idea either, so any UVC light device must be used with care, in conjunction with operating instructions and recommendations.

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

Given my engineering background we began to design systems for permanent installation of UVC light in many types of interior spaces and filed for a patent in this field. However, I also realized that we needed something that could be delivered quickly, cheaply, that could be easily moved from one location to another and be powerful enough to provide speedy results. Our PleXus UVC-650 is the manifestation of that thinking and related efforts.

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

We have just recently begun our marketing campaign and are now engaging in recruiting sales organizations to present our product to the market. There are several vertical market segments and while this is a good thing; we are evaluating which of these markets represents the “low hanging fruit” for our product. To help in the process we are raising some additional capital which will help us create additional products and substantially expand our marketing campaign.

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

We have just engaged a fantastic PR firm, TransMedia Group, that has begun to work diligently on getting our message out, as evidenced by this interview. As far as our marketing strategy, we intend to engage companies that are currently serving the various market segments by providing substantial incentives for the sales and lease of our units. In addition, we intend to recruit independent contractors in selected markets to be able to provide live product demonstrations and help us achieve strong market penetration. We will strive to let PleXus UV become a household name by providing superior products that work, are cheaper than the competition, and are made in the USA.

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?

There are surely many people that over the years have coached and supported me. However, I must say that my father was always my idol with respect to family and business. He always encouraged my creativity and provided me with knowledge, support and love.

I remember one instance when after some personal difficulties and failures my dad visited my booth at the 1998 Telecom Show in NYC. He marveled at the size and expanse of the exposition booth, smiled at me and said: “Glad to see that my larger than life son has returned!” My company went on to win the “Best in Show” award much to my father’s pride. I miss him everyday!

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

One of the things I am fortunate to have been exposed to is an organization called Fountain House. Fountain House is a wonderful non-for-profit organization that helps those that live with mental illnesses.

Because of geographical happenstance (my office was located very near their headquarters), I met a lady named Esther Montanez back in the late 90’s. We became friends while, unbeknownst to me at the time, she was a director of Fountain House and a Commissioner of Human Rights for the NYC Giuliani Administration. Following the 9/11 attacks, Esther reached out to me asking me to help her members that had just created Fountain Gallery and were distraught about the 9/11 event. Fountain Gallery is an extension of Fountain House catering to their members who are also artists. Not sure as to what to do I created an event where these artists could expose and sell their art, recruiting friends and business associates from the NYC real estate industry. The event was a big success and I was glad to be able to organize it and run it for a full decade. The event still goes on every year in NYC and continues to be a tremendous help to Fountain House and its members in alleviating the stigma of mental illness and raising much needed funds for the artists.

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

1. Business is NOT just business. It’s personal.

a. It takes passion and selflessness to create a business. Only someone that has not created a business from an idea can just summarize it as ‘business.”

2. You always need more capital than you think!

a. If you engage with an investor that starts to cut your budgets, run the other way!

3. Banks are NOT your friends.

4. Get a good and honest CFO!

a. I had the unfortunate experience of having a CFO and VP of Finance take a large sum of money from our company — we got it back, thankfully and justice was served.

5. Stay the course!

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

The Alcubierre Warp Drive is a speculative but possibly valid solution to Einstein’s field equations that would allow for FTL (faster than light) travel. I would create a worldwide fund for the brightest, young minds to research and ultimately create a way to travel FTL with a prize for the first individual or team capable of demonstrating a working device.

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

Your Business is like your child. It needs attention, dedication and love. And definitely more than one parent! I could not have gone on in business without my partners, who happen to be my brothers, and many other “caring parents” to the business. Going it alone just does not work.

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

UVC lighting is a great technology that up till now has been used in niche markets with limited applications. With its many benefits we see a huge expansion of this technology with wide application in the coming decade. The creation of a strong brand and associated product line has the potential to reach every interior space, from homes to doctor offices, and become a ubiquitous fixture in our daily lives. Invest now for outsized returns.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: http://plexushealthscience.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PleXus-Health-Science-605479030107316/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/plexus-health-science/

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


The Future Is Now: Dario Gristina of ‘PleXus Health Science’ On How Their Technological Innovation… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Patrick Howie of MediFind On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Patrick Howie of MediFind On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Healthcare

We are using our AI to identify candidate treatments for a disease that have yet to be tried for that disease, dramatically opening up the potential treatment options for any disease. And we’re doing this across thousands of diseases. This may sound unrealistic, but this is exactly what the scientific community is doing to battle COVID-19. While we wait for a vaccine, the scientific community has been exploring the repurposing of hundreds of existing treatments to battle this pandemic. We are using our database and AI to bring that level of effort for every other disease.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Howie, CEO and Founder of MediFind — which he started after watching his brother struggle to navigate the healthcare system to treat his rare cancer. Howie is the former head of Global Analytics at Merck and has held senior leadership positions in multiple healthcare startups. He is also the author of “The Evolution of Revolutions.”

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

“Dude, I’m running out of options, any ideas?”

When I heard that from my brother, my best friend, who was battling a terminal illness, I literally couldn’t breathe. I knew that I had to come up with some ideas. While I was not a doctor, as the head of Global Analytics for one of the largest healthcare companies in the world, I did have access to unparalleled analytic capabilities and an intricate understanding of the world of healthcare. I knew then that my path was to leverage advanced analytics to help patients like my brother with the one thing they wanted most — time.

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

A little over 15 years ago, a board member of the company I was working for forwarded me a recently published article in Science about “Bayesian Truth Serum,” a novel approach to identifying the best decision to make in uncertain situations. Ever since, I have been actively researching the field of decision-making under uncertainty and have developed and implemented tools used by Fortune 500 companies to improve the quality of their investment decisions. Similar to how the study of calligraphy ultimately became important to the development of the original Macintosh, this serendipitous event has become instrumental into helping patients identify experts for their disease and helping patients find second-opinion experts who are likely to provide additional options.

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? Can you share a story about that?

While a ton of people have helped along the way in the creation of MediFind, the one person who I have always been particularly grateful for was my financial aid advisor when I was first admitted as an undergrad to the University of Pennsylvania. As the first person to go to college in my family, getting into Penn was long shot. But when I received the “thick” envelope, I was beyond excited. Then I looked at the “what I owe” section and realized my dreams were shattered. My father was a maintenance worker at the local steel mill and there was no way my family could afford Penn without a lot of help. I talked to the financial aid office to explain my situation, and she found a way to get me grants and loans so I could afford to go to Penn. The more I look back, the more pivotal that one hour with her has been to the rest of my life.

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

I have never been interested in success independent of bringing goodness to the world, which is why I started my career working on environmental issues then migrated to healthcare. I am lucky enough to have found something that I am passionate about, something that I am good at and something that can help millions of people. I truly believe that what we are building at MediFind has the ability to positively influence hundreds of millions of lives over the next decade and I am spending every ounce of energy I have to bring our “goodness” to as many people as I can.

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

Imagine you have been diagnosed with a rare disease, have worked with a pair of experts (both found through MediFind) to understand all of your treatment options (again, found through MediFind). But imagine that none of those treatments worked. This is the scariest situation facing any patient because many lose hope. But what if there is a treatment that has been successful in another disease with similar characteristics to your own, but has not been tried for your disease yet? The truth is that with thousands of treatments there is no way that every candidate treatment has been explored for your disease.

We are using our AI to identify candidate treatments for a disease that have yet to be tried for that disease, dramatically opening up the potential treatment options for any disease. And we’re doing this across thousands of diseases. This may sound unrealistic, but this is exactly what the scientific community is doing to battle COVID-19. While we wait for a vaccine, the scientific community has been exploring the repurposing of hundreds of existing treatments to battle this pandemic. We are using our database and AI to bring that level of effort for every other disease.

How do you think this might change the world?

Too many of those one billion people in the world struggling with rare and serious diseases are running out of options. While scientists are working to develop new treatments for some of those diseases, those treatments take years to develop and are typically too expensive for the vast majority of patients. And many diseases are too small to attract much research at all, meaning there is little hope of a treatment advance anytime soon. Fewer than 5% of rare diseases have an approved treatment. By identifying already available treatments for similar diseases, many of which are already generic, we hope to provide additional affordable treatment options to those people who are running out of options.

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

When we tried our first analysis for my brother’s rare disease, I saw his four-year journey unfold before my eyes, and I realized how much time he had lost trying to find his way through the healthcare system. Despite regaining hope by finding a new option, my efforts were too late to help my brother. However, five years and tens of thousands of hours later, I founded MediFind, a company that gives the 175 million people in the U.S. (and over a billion worldwide) struggling with serious, rare and chronic diseases the one thing I couldn’t give me brother — more time.

I no longer tear up every time I tell the story, but it does feel like I am picking at a wound that refuses to fully heal. My obituary for him started with the cliché of, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” but little did I know then that the real silver lining was the job I have now.

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

We launched our patient platform on the rarest of days, February 29, 2020, which also happened to be Rare Disease Day. Two weeks later, the world shut down and since then, COVID-19 has been the only thing on people’s minds. For us to succeed in this context, patients must become aware that MediFind exists and know that we can help them dramatically shorten their patient journey. This is especially important given the massive reduction in doctor visits and non-Coronavirus testing that has occurred since the pandemic’s outbreak, which is likely to lead to a bolus of patients being diagnosed much later than they otherwise might have been. Widespread adoption of MediFind will come from word of mouth, which can be a little more challenging in the healthcare space, since many patients don’t like to tell others about their health problems. But we are confident that the benefit we provide will rapidly spread as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, and perhaps become even more critical given the widespread delays in care the pandemic has caused.

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

  • That MediFind was going to launch into a pandemic. We are focusing on all 7,000 diseases but the world is focused on only one at the moment.
  • That understanding how Google “sees” you is critical, and that search engine optimization is a science. Ironically, we have had to spend time on features that do not help the patient experience just for Google, because we know that without Google visibility, we will be unlikely to reach (and help) patients.
  • That the employee policy manual should have the fewest policies possible. It seems that the time taken dealing with policies is a squared function of the number of policies you have. And the reality is that most policies actually get in the way of productivity instead of enhancing it.
  • That when you have something good, there are a lot of people and organizations who will try to get a piece of what you are doing without offering anything of real value in return. The good news is that we are clearly on to something.
  • That the hardest thing to do is find the right balance of speed and quality. The faster we get our new products and services out, the faster we can help patients fighting a rare disease right now. But, since we are dealing with health, we must balance that desire to help with making sure the quality of what we provide is extremely high.

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

I think the biggest opportunity we have in healthcare is for patients to demand access to all of their health results (including scans) in a standardized format as soon as the information is created. While we have made great strides in standardizing some of our information, we have a really long way yet to go. The true power of analytics and AI in healthcare will be unleashed once that happens.

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

I grew up in a working-class family where it always felt like other, more powerful people had control over our fate. But the phrase, “If not you, then who? If not now, when?” helped me realize that I had the power to influence the world as opposed to just being pushed along by the seeming vagaries of life. Despite my father only having an eighth-grade education and not having a single family member graduate from college, I used that mantra to become the first person to graduate college in my family. I have always thought, “Why not me?” when I wanted to do something that seemed pretty far-fetched, like getting into an Ivy League college and writing my first book. When the idea for MediFind came to me, it just felt like it was my responsibility to do it now.

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

Our mission is simple: give patients the most precious commodity in the world — time. We do this through our expertise in analytics and healthcare information, and we recognize that most patients don’t want to think of themselves as patients. They are people with a healthcare problem to solve at that moment. Our solutions must recognize that to most patients, healthcare is transactional and must help solve their problem with as little friction as possible. If you have the same vision for healthcare, then let’s talk.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/medifindhealth

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/64873384/

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

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbYmcsLXSFl0EkBdsTZ0nHQ

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

We realize that many organizations are already well-respected and trusted by patients, particularly advocacy organizations. Given our mission of helping as many patients have as much time as possible, we’ve begun to partner directly with these organizations. One innovative approach has been to make our technology portable, via development of an embeddable widget powered by MediFind technology. We’ve started with our Doctor Finder but are exploring other applications as demand dictates (second opinions, clinical trials, recent research). This strategy is low-cost and high impact; it helps advocacy groups solve a problem and helps MediFind reach the front lines of patient care more effectively.

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


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

The Future Is Now: Victor Bornstein of Justpoint On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake…

The Future Is Now: Victor Bornstein of Justpoint On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Healthcare

Training artificial intelligence to understand medical records, medical malpractice claims, and more specifically, identifying when a mistake has occurred. We’re currently using this to detect past mistakes, which is enabling us to bring much-needed transparency and efficiency to the medical malpractice space. And, long term, we will use this technology to detect likely future mistakes as we continue training the models. The reason this is so important for me is that by identifying moments of likely medical mistakes, we can also work to prevent them. Medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s also personal for me — my mother actually suffered a life-threatening medical mistake when I was 7 years old.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Victor Bornstein, CEO and Co-founder of Justpoint, an artificial intelligence company making it possible for people to understand the merit of their medical malpractice claim and find the right experts for their case. Victor saw the opportunity to redesign this industry after experiencing it from both sides: as a child when his mother suffered a life-threatening medical mistake, and from the perspective of hospital systems. He has served as an Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Texas Medical Center Accelerator, and a Fellow at the healthcare venture capital firm Digitalis Ventures.

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

Of course. To be honest, entrepreneurship wasn’t a career path I was seriously considering for myself before 2014. Since I was a kid I loved to build and improve things, and because of an amazing Biology teacher in high school, I decided to focus this ‘building and improving’ mentality on molecular biology. But in 2014, during my PhD, I took a class about how to translate scientific findings into startup ideas with a venture capitalist and I realized that all the things I loved about scientific research were even more present when you build a startup: you are rewarded if you can see years ahead, the best teams are multidisciplinary, there’s a mix of strategy and execution, and you have the privilege of creating and testing hypotheses that can have a great impact if correct. The bonus was that unlike in molecular biology, in software you can very quickly test and iterate over ideas.

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

I moved to the U.S. in 2011 from Brazil and knew no one here. It’s not easy to launch a career in a new place when you don’t have a network. So to offset that, I quickly learned that if you write a very thoughtful cold email explaining why you want to meet that person, a lot of people reply to your message and are happy to connect, help, and give advice. Half of our Seed round investment came from investors I cold emailed, and that’s also how I met my co-founder and CTO (I reached out to more than 200 people until I found him. And — as a side note — some of those I reached out to who weren’t the right fit have now become good friends of mine!). Some of our first employees and advisors were also people I cold emailed. I’m now, unsurprisingly, a big advocate of the cold email. Some extra steps are required to ensure you get to know people thoroughly (when using for hiring or looking for advisors or other partners). But overall, it’s a tool that provides the significant advantage of expanding beyond your existing personal network and reaching the best people, not just the best people you know. In that regard, it can also be a catalyst for a more diverse team, by helping you expand beyond your known circles.

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

Training artificial intelligence to understand medical records, medical malpractice claims, and more specifically, identifying when a mistake has occurred. We’re currently using this to detect past mistakes, which is enabling us to bring much-needed transparency and efficiency to the medical malpractice space. And, long term, we will use this technology to detect likely future mistakes as we continue training the models. The reason this is so important for me is that by identifying moments of likely medical mistakes, we can also work to prevent them. Medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s also personal for me — my mother actually suffered a life-threatening medical mistake when I was 7 years old.

How do you think this might change the world?

Many countries have systems in place to take care of people who have had unfortunate events like medical mistakes happen to them. These events often lead to severe emotional and economic distress, so these support systems are critical. In the U.S., the medical malpractice system should fulfill this very important role, but the way it currently works, it isn’t fulfilling its promise to everyone. It might actually be one of the least respected industries in the U.S., as distrust exists on both sides: patients on one side, and doctors, hospitals, and insurers on the other. Our mission is to change this and make the system fulfill its promise by allowing the plaintiff side to bring valid claims to attorneys, even if perceived to be of low value, and for insurance companies (and the doctors they represent) to more effectively defend against claims without merit.

And of course, in the long term as we work to build a system that can proactively identify likely mistakes and stop them before they happen, we will be saving lives.

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

I could see a Black Mirror episode in which all medical decisions are made by algorithms. If there is bias in those algorithms, that’s pretty scary. However, a more immediate concern I think people would imagine, is the risk that in making the medical malpractice industry more efficient, we would increase the rate at which doctors are sued overall, which could lead to unjust claims against medical professionals, increase malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, impact healthcare costs, and make the profession so risky as to be unappealing. But I want to clarify that our approach to making the medical malpractice industry more efficient is actually contrary to that: our platform helps attorneys on both sides to understand the merits of a case quicker, and we have already seen how it can actually decrease the incidence of frivolous cases.

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

Algorithms that help doctors’ decision making are widely understood to be extremely necessary to mitigate the medical mistakes that are estimated to kill more than COVID-19 every single year. Our breakthrough insight was when we realized that the medical malpractice industry provides us with the ideal insights to train AI models to understand and identify medical mistakes. That was quickly followed by a second insight that the medical malpractice industry also contained so much space for optimization; as we build our AI platform we can create immediate benefits for plaintiffs and attorneys today, while working towards the end goal.

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

Put simply, we need to get the word out. More specifically, reaching patients or their loved ones who are impacted at the time that matters, in the window when a medical malpractice case can be filed (before the statute of limitations kicks in).

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

I know that not everyone is naturally curious about this space — until they are affected by it, and then it’s tough to think about anything else. One of the pillars of our company culture is transparency and this is also reflected in how we interact with patients and how we publicize our platform. Our main approach is to share the insights about trends we’re seeing with the broader public so we can help all sides understand how it currently operates, and the reason we need the medical malpractice system to change. For instance, within the next few weeks, we will make available our artificial intelligence algorithms that allow people to understand how long claims like theirs have taken in the past and how much they have received. This information will be accessible to everyone, at no cost, on our website.

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

It’s difficult to choose only one person since the help of so many people got me where I am today. My mother has always been an inspiration for me through her selfless work towards a better healthcare system and society in Latin America; my wife has been helping me with Justpoint from day zero and is the ideal thought partner; a venture capitalist, Geoff Smith of Digitalis Ventures, who helped me with all of my first career steps in the U.S. as I was finishing my PhD, and Vivek Garipalli, co-founder of Clover Health, who replied to my cold email, was the first investor to believe in us, and helped us build Justpoint. And there might be over 50 others I haven’t mentioned. That’s why it’s so important for me to pay it forward and help others tackling tough challenges.

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

I’ve focused on helping individuals, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I know my success has been dependent on help I’ve received along the way, and I try to pay it forward by mentoring, making connections, and whatever I can do to help increase others’ likelihood of success. I see this as a way I can do my part to help those individuals, but also to improve the world by facilitating the development of ideas I’m inspired by.

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

1. The importance of not listening to every piece of advice I hear. People always have the best intentions when taking the time to share advice, but they are typically extrapolating their experiences to yours without understanding or being aware of the idiosyncrasies of your situation, and then applying a pattern that worked for them in the past into a situation that could be different. This is especially true for early-stage startups. For example: Talking to investors, they often have an idea of what they think will work. If you just talk to one investor, you might be tempted to follow that advice. But if you increase your sample size and talk to 200 investors, like we have, you realize you’ll end up with 200 opinions that go in different directions. What can be tricky is identifying which of those opinions will increase your likelihood of success.

2. In the very beginning, it’s important to know how to motivate your team, especially when people tell you things won’t work. When you’re creating something new, it’s inevitable you’ll come across a few naysayers and even though you know why they are wrong, they might have more weight in the rest of the team than you realized. For example: someone told us it’s impossible to start an insurance company from scratch. That person had considered building a health insurer and chose not to because “it isn’t possible” and shortly after that, we connected with someone who had done just that, Vivek Garipalli, and he ended up as our lead investor.

3. The intensity of the rollercoaster. Going into this endeavor, I was very aware that creating a company from scratch is an emotional rollercoaster. I thought I was ready for it. But especially in the beginning, when you have nothing to show and most people don’t believe in you yet, you feel the highs and lows to an extreme I didn’t anticipate. I realized that knowing you’ll be on the rollercoaster versus actually going through it are very different things. An example: we didn’t have much time to bootstrap before exhausting our personal finances, so we gave ourselves a firm deadline of one year to get funding. We got our first check in the bank just a few weeks before that deadline — so you can imagine the lows, and then highs, surrounding that moment.

4. At what stage to focus on different types of investors. I spent a lot of time reaching out to venture capitalists in the earliest stages of our idea, when it was still being shaped. Now, I know that I should have spent more time talking to founders of companies I admire instead. Especially in the earliest stages, founders are not only more likely to write early-stage checks than other investors, but they also see the potential of your idea that might have to pivot very easily. If they worked on a company that is comparable in some way, they can also help you get there.

5. How to double down on the benefits of remote work and how to mitigate its challenges. From the inception of the company, we were a remote first company. We actually had never met our CTO in person before we signed all the agreements making him a co-founder. As everyone is saying now, remote work has amazing advantages but also some challenges. On the advantages: you can hire people regardless of their location, which broadens the talent pool and can lead to true diversity on the team, and remote work facilitates efficient execution of straightforward tasks. Nevertheless, creative output and communication have to be fostered in a much more intentional manner otherwise they will suffer. Now, we’ve developed a wide array of strategies and systems to solve these challenges. One example of these is forming trouble-shooting teams whose members are from different areas of the company — the perspectives of people with seemingly unrelated skills multiplies ideation and the number of high impact ideas on all sides of the company. The results have been so successful, we decided to become a Work From Anywhere company and I moved to Boulder, Colorado, which means doubling down on the benefits for me. 🙂

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

There are a couple of causes that are dear to me. One of them is fostering access to job opportunities and education in places with less access. I was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Brazil, and was exposed to very different environments: while I had the latest video games growing up, I also played in favelas and junkyards with kids whose parents were struggling financially. From my upbringing, it’s very clear to me that skills and creativity are evenly distributed, even if opportunity is not. With the increasing prevalence of remote work, particularly within the tech sector, there is no reason why more of these opportunities cannot extend beyond hubs like New York and San Francisco, and into communities within and outside of the U.S. that have traditionally had less access.

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

Agua mole, pedra dura, tanto bate, até que fura. It sounds better in Portuguese but translates to: water dripping day by day wears the hardest rock away. A lot of what you achieve in life is about grit. If you spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about a very specific issue and working on it, you’ll be ahead of most people; you’ll see possibilities that others don’t. I believe that philosophy has helped me in finding opportunities, and bringing non-obvious ideas to reality. There are, of course, challenges to this approach as well — by focusing on something so intently, you see things that others don’t, and so others might need more proof before they realize what you envisioned is possible. That makes it even more important to quickly translate theory into practice.

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 🙂

Successful companies often get to make existing industries more efficient, but it’s not often that a company gets to redesign an entire system. Because of the complexity of analyzing medical malpractice claims, this became a system where both plaintiffs and doctors end up unhappy and most sides agree it needs to be redesigned. Currently, it might be easier for an insurer to settle a frivolous claim than to litigate it, but on the other hand, valid claims that are seen as ‘low value’ might never be given a chance because they might not cover the litigation costs of the plaintiff’s attorney. On top of that, when a patient selects an attorney, it’s often done based on which attorney is the best one at marketing in your town, not by the one that is necessarily the best lawyer. The first use case of our AI platform allows patients who suffered medical mistakes to understand the value of their claim in seconds instead of weeks and connects them with the best attorney based on the attorney’s legal, not marketing, skills. The more our AI platform learns, the more we will improve other processes in medical malpractice and beyond. Medical malpractice alone is a $30B dollar/year industry, so there’s a lot of opportunities for the startup that becomes the market-defining company in this space.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn, where I’m most active: Victor Bornstein, PhD. We also share our most meaningful updates on our website, justpoint.com.

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


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

The Future Is Now: Dan Faulkner of Plannuh, On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Dan Faulkner of Plannuh, On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up Marketing

One recent breakthrough is that we’re now able to consistently show our customers how their plans and investment strategies differ from cohorts of other marketers, with statistical significance. Imagine being able to get a data-driven understanding of how your strategy differs from other companies like you and whether those differences are material or not. This gives you a firm footing from which to make decisions, such as whether you missed something other companies are doing or simply affirming that you’re doing the right things. One example is that we proved one of our customers is significantly over-investing in physical events and under-investing in digital advertising compared to companies like them. Without our insights, marketers have had to work on hunches, gut feelings, and small-data personal experiences to make their decisions. In such a data-driven environment, that’s not going to cut it for much longer.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Faulkner, CTO of Plannuh and co-author of “The Next CMO”.

Dan is the CTO of Plannuh, responsible for delivering the world’s first AI-driven marketing leadership platform. Dan has 25 years of experience in product leadership, strategy, and general management. Dan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics, a Masters Degree in Speech and Language Processing, and a Masters Degree in Marketing. Prior to Plannuh, Dan worked at Nuance Communications for 15 years, where he held leadership roles in Research and Strategy, and where he led various lines of business. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children.

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

I have been fortunate to have a wide variety of roles throughout my career. I started out in AI Research, focusing on speech and language technology. After several years in that space, I moved into Product Management and Product Strategy. Having a deep background in core technology was a huge help in that shift because I was working in a high-tech company that delivered AI-based speech and language technologies to some of the largest companies in the world. From there, I was asked to lead some of our mobile business lines, with a particular focus on mobile solutions. The company I worked for at that time — Nuance Communications — was highly acquisitive, and I was fortunate to participate in and lead multiple acquisition integrations, and to experience the operations of diverse companies. This gave me some hard-won experiences in different approaches to technical and business challenges. What I learned over that period was that at its core, AI could solve many business issues. I became intrigued by the opportunity to apply core AI and data-driven approaches to different industry problems. The challenge that Plannuh addresses — optimizing the management of marketing plans, budgets, and outcomes — was an intriguing idea. It’s a universal problem, it’s complex, and there’s a horizontal demand for it. The opportunity to solve that in a flexible yet reliable way was attractive because I feel it can help hundreds of thousands of marketers around the world be more successful and prove the value they are delivering.

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

There have been so many. I am sure I have a recency bias, but one of the most interesting things has been the incredibly positive response our customers have had to our product. We were confident it was useful, of course, but what has been fascinating and fulfilling to see is the visceral response our product has created in our users. There’s a huge demand in the domain we address — the area we call operational marketing excellence, which encompasses marketing strategy, planning, budget management, and ROI — for automation and guidance. Every marketer wants to know how they’re doing compared to companies like them, and because we provide a standard data model onto which we can map any marketing plan and budget, we’re able to give them insights — and confidence — they’ve never had before. What’s inspiring about this is that while we’re growing the company, we’re helping marketers to improve their careers and increase their confidence at the same time as delivering for their employers. I find it fascinating, this practical application of technology to help people do better.

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

One recent breakthrough is that we’re now able to consistently show our customers how their plans and investment strategies differ from cohorts of other marketers, with statistical significance. Imagine being able to get a data-driven understanding of how your strategy differs from other companies like you and whether those differences are material or not. This gives you a firm footing from which to make decisions, such as whether you missed something other companies are doing or simply affirming that you’re doing the right things. One example is that we proved one of our customers is significantly over-investing in physical events and under-investing in digital advertising compared to companies like them. Without our insights, marketers have had to work on hunches, gut feelings, and small-data personal experiences to make their decisions. In such a data-driven environment, that’s not going to cut it for much longer.

How do you think this might change the world?

We can turn marketing from a black-box that lacks quantitative proof into a measurable, scientific process. That can provide huge economic and personal growth for the function of marketing, worldwide.

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

Really very little — we’re automating and enhancing an expensive, manual, error-prone business process, and helping marketers fo their jobs more successfully. By successful, I mean using their capital more efficiently, being more agile, getting better results, and being able to prove the ROI of their efforts.

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

It’s always tempting to imagine one eureka moment with these kinds of innovation, but my experience has been that in the field of AI and data science, you make progress through hard graft and iteration. One of the insights that we have made is that we can synthesize realistic data successfully, meaning we can generate large volumes of realistic plans that allow us to explore the space of possible outcomes fruitfully without needing to see all real-world permutations occur in observed real-world data.

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

In data science, more data is always your friend. The primary need for us right now is market awareness of how we can help companies. That will generate more data, which feeds back into the models and provides richer insights for those customers, creating a virtuous loop.

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

We literally wrote the book on operational marketing excellence, called The Next CMO. The CEO, CMO, and I co-authored the book and it launched in September. The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive and has reaffirmed our conviction that we’re addressing a major, horizontal, global business need.

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?

There are many, many people to whom I’m grateful. My family, and especially my wife, are the foundation. Within my work life, I’m particularly grateful to a good friend and mentor, Steve Chambers, who was the President of Nuance Communications. Steve believed in me and supported my transition from a pure research role into a product management role over 15 years ago. That’s not a trivial change for anyone to make without someone sponsoring it, and taking a risk on you. Without that change, I don’t believe I would have had the exposure to the diverse range of roles, people, businesses, and technologies that have led me to where I am now.

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

I believe in helping people directly at the individual level. One thing I have tried consciously to do over my career is to replicate the best management and mentoring behaviors that I have experienced and pass them on to people I believe in. That means sponsoring opportunities for people to get ahead in their careers sooner than they might have otherwise, spending extra time with them, sharing my experiences, and so on. I try to share my failures openly as well. I think it’s a myth that anyone sails through their career unscathed, and it’s important to let people know they will make mistakes — sometimes costly ones — and that they can overcome them, and indeed come out stronger from them. We all end up with scars.

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

  1. Broaden your experience. I’ve had responsibility for marketing teams, sales targets, research projects, acquisitions, and full business line P&L’s. Early in your career is the perfect time to try different things. This will help you discover where your passion is. It might not be where you initially thought. Once you’ve found it, you will enjoy your work, thrive, and be much better positioned to advance your career and enjoy it. I recently encourage someone with a pure finance background to join to lead our customer success team. She had some trepidation, but she’s doing a fantastic job, and wherever she ends up in her career 15 years from now, having both finance and customer-facing experience is going to help.
  2. Find people you enjoy working with. Work takes up a lot of your life. It’s frequently stressful. If you’re able to, try to work with people you enjoy spending time with. I’ve done this throughout my career, and it makes such a difference to your happiness. By the way — this doesn’t always mean working with your friends. It means working with people who challenge and inspire you, first and foremost.
  3. Be data-driven. Get a baseline understanding of statistics and enough math to make good, data-driven, objective decisions. Importantly, learn when your data is good enough to make decisions with. You might not always like what data tells you, but it cuts through the clutter and grounds decisions.
  4. Focus on your happiness. I know lots of people who have a good career on paper but are not happy. They may not have enough time with their families or for themselves. There really is no point in making yourself unhappy for money. If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that lets you live well, use that privileged position to manage your whole life — home and work.
  5. Be bold. It is tempting to defer to others, to avoid confrontation, to not speak up in case you’re wrong. I have never regretted being honest and bringing forth my honest thoughts. Sometimes it can lead to great unexpected opportunities — I got the opportunity to create a new line of business once — and it will lead people to respect your honesty, rather than wondering if you’re telling them what you think they want you to say.

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 so many things that need to be addressed — access to education at all stages of life, a liveable wage for all, and much more progress to be made on civil rights. I live in the US, where all of these are urgent issues. If I could inspire one movement — and this is perhaps wishful thinking that has nothing to do with the technology I work on — it would be to promote empathy. Every time I take a moment to put myself in someone else’s shoes, whether professionally or in my personal life, I discover a better appreciation for their situation, and feel better positioned to make decisions. It drives me nuts to see people who can’t appreciate a challenge until they’ve personally experienced it.

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

Christopher Hitchens has been an intellectual hero of mine for many years. One theme that he emphasized and which resonates very strongly with me is to, “Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” There really is no substitute for forming your own opinions. It is easy to fall into group-think or to just go along. If you know why you believe what you believe, you may find yourself coming to some unexpected conclusions, and you will find yourself making better decisions, forming better relationships, and enjoying life more. This has been incredibly relevant in my life, from career management, to sticking with innovative ideas in the face of resistance. I just see no downside to it.

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

We are fortunate to have the backing of two great VC’s today — Glasswing in Boston, and Gradient (Google’s early-stage fund). My message to VC’s right now would be that the space for AI-driven automation of Enterprise processes represents a huge opportunity. Obviously, I’d strongly recommend looking at operational marketing excellence 🙂 but we are moving beyond just automation, to intelligent automation. Not just workflows, but insights, benchmarks, and recommendations. Expert systems that operate as coaches. That, to me, is a good investment opportunity.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

@Dan_Faulkner on Twitter

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


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

The Future Is Now: Dan Dickey of Continental Electronics Corporation On How Their Technological…

The Future Is Now: Dan Dickey of Continental Electronics Corporation On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The World

Today, I would say the biggest earth-shattering breakthrough we are working on is nuclear fusion power. For the past three-plus decades, we’ve been working closely with various laboratories around the world to create safe and cheap fusion-powered electric generating plants. In my opinion, this is a viable solution to combatting fossil fuel depletion and global warming.

Nuclear fusion power has been an elusive technology for a variety of reasons. We could be looking at another 20 years or more before we can create a solution that’s viable. However, there are currently a lot of programs around the world working toward this end-goal. Nuclear fusion power is among the most environmentally friendly sources of energy. This could be the Holy Grail for powering our society, economy and the world. Continental Electronics has been working with labs around in the world on fusion power, including the United States, Europe and Asia. Our company is playing a key role in supporting the R&D and technological components of building this solution, and we are excited to see how these efforts will develop in the years to come.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Dickey. He has been the President of Continental Electronics Corporation since 2009. Dickey is a named inventor on multiple patents, and has previously held design engineering and management positions at Harris Corp. and ADC Telecommunications. He has published papers through one of the world’s largest technical professional organizations, IEEE, and has co-authored a book on broadcast engineering published by the National Association of Broadcasters. Dickey holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Missouri.

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

I grew up in a rural area and my high school had a graduating class of only about 40. One time we had a college professor visit to discuss the rudimentary elements of how computers do arithmetic. I remember speaking up during this presentation and said that I thought we could build this ourselves. The college professor expressed doubt, saying he didn’t think we had the capability. Well, this ignited my motivation to prove him wrong. A few friends and I started the process of building one of these computation units and then took it to the regional science fair, where we received a ribbon for our accomplishments. After this experience, I became interested in exploring electrical engineering and computing as a career path and never looked back. If this hadn’t happened, I would have likely ended up pursuing agriculture and farming.

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

One of the most interesting aspects of my career is the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet seasoned technology innovators and leaders. From Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, to Ireland and South Africa — I’ve had the opportunity to meet many highly sophisticated and intelligent people. Travelling the world and learning from people like this has really shaped my career. I now have lifelong friends in many countries, and it’s all because we have a shared understanding of the technology we work with every day. Partnering with our various clients across the globe has been another interesting and rewarding part of my career. I’ve especially enjoyed the great conversations I’ve had at places like, for example, the cafeteria at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. I really relish the time I spend where I can speak with so many interesting people and hear their insights.

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

Over the course of Continental Electronics’ nearly 75-year history, we’ve worked on a lot of significant systems and products that have impacted billions of people around the world. In the 1950s, we built many radio transmitters for Voice of America and Radio Europe. Before the Berlin Wall came down at the end of the Cold War, shortwave radio broadcasting waves was used to transmit critical information from the West across the Iron Curtain. Continental Electronics’ role in this history was significant for our company, the technology sector, and indeed the world. It revolutionized long distance wireless communication and is still used to this day.

Today, I would say the biggest earth-shattering breakthrough we are working on is nuclear fusion power. For the past three-plus decades, we’ve been working closely with various laboratories around the world to create safe and cheap fusion-powered electric generating plants. In my opinion, this is a viable solution to combatting fossil fuel depletion and global warming.

How do you think this might change the world?

Nuclear fusion power has been an elusive technology for a variety of reasons. We could be looking at another 20 years or more before we can create a solution that’s viable. However, there are currently a lot of programs around the world working toward this end-goal. Nuclear fusion power is among the most environmentally friendly sources of energy. This could be the Holy Grail for powering our society, economy and the world. Continental Electronics has been working with labs around in the world on fusion power, including the United States, Europe and Asia. Our company is playing a key role in supporting the R&D and technological components of building this solution, and we are excited to see how these efforts will develop in the years to come.

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

From my point of view, there aren’t many potential drawbacks to abundant, cheap, carbon free electrical power. The main challenge is that the technology isn’t complete yet. There are still unsolved technical challenges in developing a mainstream solution. It’s going to take more research and cooperation among companies like Continental Electronics, government laboratories and policy makers to make this available for public use, but Continental Electronics is confident that our technology will help pave way for this solution.

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

Since our company’s origin, we’ve maintained relationships with nearly all of the world-renown energy research laboratories. Just in the United States we have eight to 10 national laboratories focused on this, such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Fermi Laboratory in Chicago. We also work with laboratories overseas, including labs in Japan, India, Korea, France and more. Since we have strong relations with these global labs, they know to reach out to us if they have a problem we can help solve. Continental Electronics’ reputation as a leader in high power radio energy sources is how we began to work in the nuclear fusion power space.

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

The biggest challenge right now with this technology is finding a way to contain the high temperature plasma created through electromagnetic heating. The process works a bit like a microwave oven and involves heating atoms until they fuse together, creating very high energy and temperatures — hotter than the sun. Trying to essentially contain the sun in a bottle for a long period of time is especially difficult. The solution will lie in developing materials and innovative magnetic structures that prevent the extreme temperatures from touching and melting the container. However, if the container did melt there is no real danger because the system would not be able to sustain the reaction. Unlike traditional fission nuclear power generation, fusion is self-limiting. It does not “run-away.”

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

I believe clean, abundant and low cost nuclear power is the ultimate answer to many of the ecological challenges the world faces. This type of energy won’t limit how much we can grow our societies or economies, and the opportunities for development are exponential. Today’s world is energy limited — not resources or raw materials — but energy itself. The possibilities for us are endless when we have access to cheap, abundant energy. When we do develop a viable, mainstream solution, that’s how it will be marketed for public consumption.

For now, I think we need to engage more on social media with the message that fusion nuclear power is safe and becoming more technically viable. We have already seen some of this in the past year, but there needs to be more efforts there in my opinion. We need more students in K12inspired to take up STEM studies so they can continue the contributions to this important work.

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?

There have been many people who have impacted my career throughout the years; however, one person of significance to note is Continental Electronics’ founder, J.O. Weldon. When I first started working at the company, J.O. had an office down the hall and would work a few days a week. During this time, I had the opportunity to sit with him and learn about the company’s history and technology it developed over the years. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago, but I still cherish the lessons learned and time spent with him as it shaped me into the person I am today.

Another person who really impacted my childhood was my aunt Ina-Carol O’Neal, who was a first grade teacher at my school. She was one of my first mentors, and I’m grateful for all she did. She is still my cheerleader even today. She got me interested in reading very early, which is something I wish more kids could be drawn to today. Being in a technical field, it’s critical to know how to read, write, comprehend and explain information. Developing communication skills early on helped me excel in my academic studies and my career.

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

Through my role at Continental Electronics, I’ve overseen many research and develop programs that benefit so many lives around the world. Our work with NASA is really impactful, as our radio communication technology makes possible the many missions to the Moon, Mars and worlds beyond. Just in October, our equipment helped guide NASA’s Osiris-Rex space probe to collect materials from the surface of an asteroid named Bennu that was located 200 million miles from Earth. Not many know of Continental Electronics’ critical role in NASA’s space missions, but we are very proud of what we do in helping further space exploration.

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

1. Know when to listen and when to speak up: Understanding how to read other people and know when to listen or speak up is a very difficult skill to learn. It’s something I’m still working on to this day. Being able to identify the difference between the two will help you excel in the workplace.

2. Cultivate & maintain relationships: It doesn’t matter what your job title is or what industry you work in — relationships are important. From your co-workers to your bosses, clients and vendors, cultivating and maintaining relationships is a critical aspect of being successful in your career.

3. Pursue life-long learning: No matter how long you’ve been working, there’s always something new to learn or additional skill to pick up. It’s critical to lookout for educational opportunities to stay sharp, pursue new challenges and not become stagnant in your current work.

4. Don’t fear failure: It’s a fact that everyone fails at one time or another in their career. Big or small, failures present an opportunity for you to learn, grow and achieve something you never thought possible. Failures are more important than successes, as they truly challenge you and become pivotal moments in your career.

5. Always innovate: One of the greatest parts about working at a company like Continental Electronics is that there’s always room to innovate technologies and processes. Just because something works well now, doesn’t mean there’s not an opportunity to innovate to make it even better.

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

The fields of science and engineering were born during the Age of Enlightenment, and the movement has continued to grow and progress. These communities can solve a lot of the problems we face today. Knowledge gathering, research and learning are the tools within STEM that will help improve lives and further society. We need more young people to be instilled with a passion for science and technical knowledge.

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

A quote I reference all the time is, “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.” In other words, if you’re working on a hard problem, the first thing you need to do is get the initial problem solved. Once you solve that problem, then you can figure out a way to solve it even better. Too many people try to find the best way to solve a problem before solving it themselves in the first place.

I’ve seen too many people not follow this process, and then end up spending their whole careers trying to find a better way to solve a problem that they never solved initially. This happens in engineering all the time. It is similar to the saying, “perfection is the enemy of good enough,” you can keep refining something, aiming for perfection, and never end up actually delivering anything. You find yourself in a constant state of making it better, but never finish it.

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

There are technologies that need investment, coaching and nurturing that are based on principles of physics that haven’t changed since the beginning of time. Many people in VC are looking for the next big, cool thing that no one has thought of. But I think it is equally important that those in the VC industry also look at companies like Continental Electronics whose technology is rooted in physical sciences that are timeless and don’t change. Our technology has just as much impact as Google and Twitter in terms of the impact of our lives. Often, VCs ignore technologies and companies like ours because we’ve been around for a long time and use well understood physical phenomena, but we have not found all the possible ways electromagnetic systems can benefit humanity. However, this is the technology that shapes our current society, and this is the technology that will continue to innovate and transform how we live and communicate in the future.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow me on LinkedIn. If you want to learn more about Continental Electronics or stay up-to-date on all we are doing, you can follow us on LinkedIn too.

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


The Future Is Now: Dan Dickey of Continental Electronics Corporation On How Their Technological… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Alexander Hudek of Kira Systems On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake

The Future Is Now: Alexander Hudek of Kira Systems On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Make Contracts

Kira is AI-powered contract review software that enables teams to truly know what’s in their contracts and documents. It comes with 1,000+ pre-built machine learning models for the most common contract review tasks such as due diligence, deal points tracking, commercial contract analysis, lease abstraction, ISDA schedule reviews, and more. Our customers can also build their own machine learning models with a capability called Quick Study.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Hudek, CTO and Co-Founder of Kira Systems. He leads the company’s products, technology and research departments. He holds a Ph.D and M.Math degrees in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto in Physics and Computer Science. Alexander’s past research in the field of bioinformatics focused on finding similarities between DNA sequences. He was heavily involved with the human genome project. He has also worked in the areas of proof systems and database query compilation.

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

I’ve always been interested in computer science. In undergrad I took courses in algorithms for planning and logic, machine learning and AI, numerical computing, and other topics. My interest in machine learning grew more specifically during my PhD at the University of Waterloo. There, I used machine learning methods to study DNA. Afterwards, I dove more deeply into formal logics as part of my postdoctoral research. Logic and reasoning is in some ways the “other side” of the coin in approaches to AI and I felt it important to know more about it.

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

When we were building the first version of our no-code machine learning platform, Quick Study, we had it running on servers that I built myself and they were running in my father’s basement. There was one point where we were showing an early prototype of the system to a prospect from an enormous office tower in New York. Sitting there in suits, my co-founder and I were hoping against hope that the servers and internet would stay up, as my father’s internet had a habit of going down frequently. They held out, and that day ended up being hugely important to our future success. This sort of “built in a garage” thing happens in movies, but for us it was ironically real.

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

Kira is AI-powered contract review software that enables teams to truly know what’s in their contracts and documents. It comes with 1,000+ pre-built machine learning models for the most common contract review tasks such as due diligence, deal points tracking, commercial contract analysis, lease abstraction, ISDA schedule reviews, and more. Our customers can also build their own machine learning models with a capability called Quick Study.

In September 2020, we took Kira to the next level of contract analysis technology by launching Answers & Insights. This new capability goes beyond identifying and extracting provisions, clauses, and data points, and labels them based on the meaning behind the text. This provides decision-makers in firms and organizations with the answers to their most pressing questions. Questions like: “Is LIBOR or Eurocurrency referenced in the agreement?”, “Are there environmental indemnifications in the lease?”, or “Does the lease require the tenant to obtain business interruption insurance?” Decision-makers in firms and organizations will gain a deeper understanding of what their data means, helping them make faster, smarter decisions or recommendations for their businesses and clients.

Even better, Answers & Insights is built into our Quick Study platform, letting anyone teach the system to answer new questions without the need to know how to program or have deep machine learning knowledge. It does all this while protecting the data you use to teach the systems using the strongest privacy preservation techniques in the industry.

How do you think this might change the world?

80% of data is unstructured and even though contract analysis technology transforms the way businesses extract information from within documents, this only scratches the surface. With Answers & Insights, users can quickly answer questions across their entire set of contracts. This will allow businesses to react far more quickly than they do now, and understand all their contractual relationships in a way that is unthinkable today.

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

While we were doing research on how lawyers work, we realized that if we mimic the process by which humans work to answer questions, it makes the problem more tractable. In particular, lawyers first find parts of documents that are relevant to a given question, then subsequently interpret these parts. This breakdown was key to creating practical technology that can do this automatically.

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

We have an in-house marketing and PR team that works together to create integrated strategies to amplify brand awareness. When Answers & Insights was launched, they focused on media outreach to promote the new capability, organized panel discussions during a well known legal conference, and also organized a product webinar that included key insights from customers who took part in our early access program.

Also, in conjunction with the launch, we published a research study on a timely topic in debtor- creditor relationships in this time of economic crisis: the use of so-called “trap doors” in negative covenants that some borrowers have used to shield assets from creditors. The research for this study entailed using Kira’s machine learning based software to analyze 156 publicly-available credit agreements, and as part of the research we applied Kira’s new Answers & Insights’ capabilities. The study was shared with customers so that they could better understand how this capability can be leveraged for specific case studies. In addition, our PR team secured coverage for the study in The Wall Street Journal.

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

My coach Michal Berman has completely changed how I approach management, and has been invaluable in helping me grow to be an effective leader. I wish I had sought out an executive coach sooner. I think many people underestimate how much quicker they can learn from those with experience. You can “learn on the job” but it is generally much slower, less effective, and less complete than being intentional about learning. This rings true from my academic experience as well. There is a point in learning where you realize that previously you felt confident only because you were so ignorant of the topic that you didn’t even know what you didn’t know. A coach can help fast track you to learn these “unknown unknowns.”

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

Contracts govern many relationships in the public sphere, including those between governments and the people who serve them. Local and regional governments often have contracts in place with the labor unions that represent groups of employees, like police, teachers, and transportation workers. Those contracts govern many aspects of how public policy is implemented. Recent events — including the killings of Michael Brown and George Floyd — have brought increased attention to the role police union contracts have played in the longstanding issues of systemic racism, discrimination and police brutality. As a society, we really need to do better here.

To that end, we donated our technology to support Campaign Zero, a police reform platform developed with contributions from activists, protestors, and researchers. Their end goal is to provide people with the information and tools they need to end police violence. Campaign Zero has worked (with Kira’s help) to generate data transparency on over 600 police union contracts and Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights (LEOBRs). Our experience has been that data drives higher quality decisions, and we are optimistic that this data will help improve policing. Legal tech has a role to play in social justice. It empowers us with data, which can be used to inform police reform conversations and enable better policy-making.

We look forward to enabling many more people — including advocates and activists, policymakers, academics, and journalists — in this important work. Please reach out if we can help.

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

1. There are scientifically validated management techniques. I should have learned these far earlier than I did. After reading many different success stories and articles on how to manage a startup, I had noticed that people often use their success as justification for the techniques they use being effective. However, success doesn’t mean everything you do is good. Amusingly, different successful people sometimes cite opposing techniques as being effective. By focusing on scientifically validated techniques, you can cut through the noise. I strongly recommend the book “Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager” by Latham on this topic.

2. Managing technology and creative people is no different than managing anyone else. There is a strong narrative that you need to manage “creative” people differently. There is a lot wrong with this narrative, including the very idea that there are classes of “uncreative” people. In reality, things like milestones, goals, clear roles and responsibilities are important in any work domain. People are more similar than they are different.

3. Use boring technology. Businesses do need unique differentiators, but the majority of what they do is the same. It’s tempting to innovate everywhere, but this will end up creating more technical debt and risk than necessary. Be innovative where it matters, but use boring, tried and tested technology everywhere else.

4. As a founder, everything is ultimately your responsibility. Even if you have co-founders and split the work, you can’t just absolve yourself of the things you aren’t directly responsible for. High impact companies have teams that work well together, and it has to start at the top. For example, some technology leaders feel sales isn’t their problem. It is, and in fact you yourself need to learn to sell, both externally and internally.

5. Storytelling and communication are key to having people work towards one goal. Learn this early and always practice. Simple techniques like repeating a message are unreasonably effective. If you only say something once, don’t bother saying it at all. No one will listen.

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

One of the biggest threats to society today is how information technology is reshaping how and what content we consume. From creating media bubbles via recommendation systems that do not reflect reality, to making false or misleading information easier to access and consume by making it free and bite sized, technology has inadvertently divided us.

I don’t have a solution right now, but if I could inspire any movement, it would be one to restore objectivity and balance to our information systems. We need to realize the original dream of bringing the world together, rather than dividing it with hate and misinformation. Our world is only “post truth” because we choose it to be, and make ignorance the easiest path.

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

I admit to not being good at memorizing quotes, but one that captures much of my life philosophy is the following: “There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.” — Hippocrates. Science is a way of thinking, approaching problems, and discovering knowledge, and has been my approach to everything in life. Of course I can’t create experiments for everything, but at least I know that if I haven’t demonstrated something through science, it’s just my opinion, it’s not necessarily truth.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on Linkedin or Twitter.

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


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