Stephanie Beebe of Mayflower Wallpaper: 5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host

Treat all initial contact with potential guests like a first date. What brings you to the area? How many guests are in your party? How are you looking to relax for your holiday? When you have a clear understanding of who your guests are and what they are hoping for, you are in a better position to prepare and accommodate. The opening dialogue also allows you to say we cannot host a wedding, or it sounds like you are wanting modern and we lean towards rustic. An auspicious beginning to a holiday is built upon communication of expectations.

Many people dream of becoming an Airbnb host but don’t know where to start. In this series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host” we are interviewing successful Airbnb hosts who share lessons from their experience about how to run a very successful Airbnb property. As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Beebe.

Stephanie Beebe is a former Brooklynite (New Yorker) living in the farm coast of Rhode Island with her British business partner and husband, Jonathan, their three-year old daughter and three twenty-something year old stepsons. Together they design jubilant wallpaper at Mayflower Wallpaper with the occasional help from their dog, Liberty and their cat Bam-Bam. In the summer months they host Airbnb guests in their converted barn or in their open floor plan cottage both located on 4 acres by the Sakonnet River. https://mayflowerwallpaper.com)

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

For the last twenty years, until recently, I lived in New York City. I arrived when I was 18 to study psychology at Marymount Manhattan College on the Upper East Side. After graduation, I wanted to take a break before continuing on for my masters. I’m still on that break. The city has a beautiful way of diverting plans and reshaping goals. I wanted to have fun and be free without the confines of classes and term papers. I became immersed in the restaurant industry. I ran the door at Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50, served cocktails at John Fraser’s Compass and waited tables at John McDonald’s Chinatown Brasserie before becoming the general manager at Alex Stupak’s Empellon Taqueria. As it turns out, psychology was the perfect major for my restaurant career, a healthy backdrop to the wealth of personalities I met during my tenure. I lived in restaurants, never cooked. Instead of vacations, I would gather months of time, load up my car and take a road trip around America, air the city out of my lungs while secretly looking for another home that sang to me. Coastal destinations were my favorite.

What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?

Before my first stay in an Airbnb, I traveled solo, I stayed in hotels. I liked room service. In 2016, I booked my first Airbnb stay in Tiverton, RI with my family. We wanted to be together without the separation of hotel rooms. The house that I live in now, is the first house I rented on Airbnb. The man I rented it from, is now my husband and business partner. I became an Airbnb host by first becoming an Airbnb guest (paid in full, he cheekily never gave me a refund). After I left the restaurant industry and New York City I needed to find an outlet for my type A managerial skills. I missed the hospitality of a busy season. I missed meeting new people, opening the door to my creation and feeling them experience the wow. I didn’t know how to cook, but I did know how to host.

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

We launched our summer season with a family reunion spanning three generations. Five adults, four kids and three well-behaved dogs. They came together annually to ensure their kids knew their cousins, built and continued relationships despite distance. They were our guests for two lively weeks, and they came brimming with amusements. They hired a dog trainer to teach the dogs our property boundaries, they set up a stage and put on a play, they sailed across the Sakonnet River and sometimes slept beneath the stars. They kept us updated on their jaunts, invited us for morning coffees and supplied us with local recommendations. They enjoyed every inch of the house, grounds and beach, teaching us about the town’s history from their daily excursions. Their vacation and enthusiasm influenced our Airbnb guide for the remainder of the season.

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?

On the early afternoon after a ten day stay of a family of seven, we came over to the house for a quick walk through before the cleaners arrived. We routinely check the garden and interior for any belongings left behind. It was roughly two hours after the guest check out time. Jonathan headed to the outdoor shower and found more than a pair of sandals. He scared the last guest and the last guest scared him. It was incredibly awkward for both men. From the shower snafu, we’ve learned to check in with the guest before they check out. A courtesy call is a nice way to say thank you, safe travels and we hope to see you again (fully dressed).

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?

I find the most common mistakes center around what it feels like to be a guest in someone else’s home. The pendulum swings too hard in either direction. On one side: the canvas is blank, the space lacks life and imagination. Artwork, music, lighting, literature. The host has provided the bare basics. They have lost their opportunity to surprise, comfort and indulge. On the other side of the same coin, you find intimate mementos, themed kitsch, overwhelming interference. The host has lost the thread, the fantasy of being a guest in an Airbnb home is envisioning the home as your own.

What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?

Each room of a well-appointed home anticipates the guest. Visual allure: beautify the walls with art, an eye-catching statement piece or a mantel of treasures from travel. Soften the edges: space for everyone to sit together for meals, games and television, inside and outside. Simplify the questionable variables: leave instructions and manuals on how to use appliances, local highlights of the area and interesting quirks that set your home apart.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Airbnb experience? In your opinion, what makes you different from the rest?

Jonathan studied art at the Chelsea School of Art in London. He believes everyone is an artist. He is continually renewed and inspired by our home, the garden and the beach. We leave dozens of canvases, pads, rollers, paints, chalk, pencils and brushes for our guests. We encourage them through these offerings to energize their artistry. We leave washable paints for our younger guests and encourage them to dig in, be messy. We hide sculptures in the Greek Ruin in the garden (transplanted here from a play at Brown University in 1987) and in the stone-wall encircling the property. We want our guests to play.

I find immeasurable solace in gardening. To that end, I leave the tools of the trade: pruners, loppers, gloves and watering cans. We grow an array of vegetables and fruits, available to all of our guests. Our garden is home to dozens of tree varieties, shrubs and flowers. Taking care of nature is a peaceful and mindful activity. I believe it centers and nourishes. I hope our guests enjoy the experience and the taste of a blueberry or tomato plucked from the vine. It is a delectable moment, and cherished memory.

We offer more than a beautiful view in a bucolic setting. We take care to set the stage for leisure and recreation, a balance of the two. A guest need never leave our property.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host”? Please share a story or example for each.

Treat all initial contact with potential guests like a first date. What brings you to the area? How many guests are in your party? How are you looking to relax for your holiday? When you have a clear understanding of who your guests are and what they are hoping for, you are in a better position to prepare and accommodate. The opening dialogue also allows you to say we cannot host a wedding, or it sounds like you are wanting modern and we lean towards rustic. An auspicious beginning to a holiday is built upon communication of expectations.

Whenever possible, be the touchstone for your guest (or employ a dedicated manager as their point of contact). We welcome our guests upon their arrival. It’s nice to meet one another, ask of their journey and share a laugh. We leave the doors unlocked, have a batch of brownies waiting on the counter (with a list of ingredients, in case of allergens) and a bottle of rosé in the refrigerator. We wish them a resplendent stay and leave them at the front door to explore their Airbnb.

There is an entire population of potential guests that love a fabulous holiday. Dogs. Fur babies and their humans want an Airbnb vacation together. We have a 100 lb. Bernese Mountain/Husky pup and when we look to rent, it can be limited and difficult. We welcome dogs and all of our renters have at least one. We ask our guests to bring dog bedding, clean waste and leash if they are unresponsive to voice command. We supply additional throws to protect couches for television snuggles, poo bags, food bowls and of course, treats. With a few minor adjustments, dogs can be accommodated.

Foster occasions for play, areas for activities and space to scatter. We imagine how our guests would like to take advantage of their holiday stay. We supply guests with the diversions for rainy days: puzzles, giant Jenga, indoor ping pong. Provide outdoor interest: volleyball net, canoe, sunfish. Offer various means of music; we have a record player in the dining room, a piano in the library, an Alexa in the kitchen and a cd player in the living room. Present guests with a variety of entertainment options. No matter the age, the best kinds of toys are other people’s toys.

Reviews offer growth potential, guests leave honest feedback, and you should take it personally, in the best way. You want happy guests. A former guest reveals what made them happy, what would have made them happier, this is your opportunity to elevate your Airbnb. Our first year, guests raved about the private beach, the coastal view and the original wooden beams of our converted barn. They wished there were more amenities in the kitchen and better amenities in the bathroom. We listened and the following summer season we went big. A kitchen fit for an epicurean, sumptuous bedding, decadent toiletries. Deliberate refinements equal expansive rewards.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

Before arrival, the host communicates a welcome, how to enter the space and best way to reach them for additional questions. Upon arrival, all that I need to immediately settle in is ready and waiting (keys, WIFI, entryway lights, water/coffee/tea). The kitchen is well-equipped, bathroom stocked, and the bedroom is luxurious. I love personal touches: handwritten cards, a local treat, umbrellas just in case. Beyond the mood setters, my perfect vacation experience involves time to explore my surroundings, unrushed mornings and a new adventure — typically a long hike — everyday.

Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When a guest leaves, it doesn’t always mean that our interaction ends. We have guests that return every year, they feel as we do, this is their home, this is their slice of paradise. We have guests that leave a token of their happy time in a watercolor or crystals by the koi pond to bring us joy. Our success is measured by the length of their departure, they linger because they’re content, they’ve fulfilled a desire to relax or to connect, they are grateful to us and us to them. I believe becoming the best host you can be, listening, wondering and being patient brings out the shine in people. We try and behave with the same vigor and graciousness in the world.

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. 🙂

Everyone must impart a gift of their busines prowess. Pro-bono. Be at someone’s service, allocate time to teach, freely proffer information, unabashed and unceremoniously. In the restaurant industry, it is called staging, to learn and be exposed to a chef and their coaching. Welcome an apprentice, welcome the novice. With wallpaper design, we allot complimentary swatches. If what you do cannot be taught, permit samples, educate through your product. Distributed knowledge is treasury, sustenance and it should be shared.

How can our readers further follow you on social media?

On Instagram @ mayflower_wallpaper

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


Stephanie Beebe of Mayflower Wallpaper: 5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Mo Cheema’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

I believe having an address is a basic human right because it allows us to gain access to all types of services. It would allow anyone to order food online while quarantining at home in their pajamas, but more importantly, an address infrastructure would allow first responders to arrive at the correct patient’s door to render emergency services. There are dozens of stories of first responders not being able to find the right address in time, which could have saved someone’s life. Sometimes seconds can make a difference between life and death. On a brighter note, an address infrastructure has a tremendous social and economic value as well. According to a Forbes article in 2016, more than 75% of the world does not have a reliable address. This means billions of people play a much smaller part in our global economy currently than they would if they had a reliable address. Imagine what this could mean for our global GDP.

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 Mo Cheema, Vice President of Marketing Operations at Strategic Innovations, LLC. Mo had a highly influential career at UPS, where he spearheaded several new product and business concepts, developed a strategically aligned product road-map to streamline the global last mile delivery for drivers, as well as routinely engaged with senior level executives to influence investment decisions.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

What brought me to this career path was someone taking a chance on me. When I was enrolled at Montclair State University as an MBA student, I attended a career fair where I met the man who would go on to become my very first manager at United Parcel Service (UPS). It was totally by chance that I stopped by the UPS desk at the career fair and sparked up a conversation with him. We chatted about Business Analysis and Business Analytics; and he asked me which one I was more interested in. If I had responded with Business Analytics, I probably wouldn’t have been where I am today. You see, he was the Group Manager of a Business Analysis team and that’s what he was there to recruit for. One wrong answer and my life would have been very different. I had taken a Business Analysis course, so we sort of got into an on-the-spot interview and he told me later that he knew right away he wanted to bring me on board as an intern. So about six months later, I kicked off my internship with UPS and the rest is history.

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

After I was able to successfully get my foot in the door with UPS, I wanted to achieve more. I kept asking for roles and projects that would challenge me and help me learn more. I continued to outgrow my roles, but I still wanted more. I wanted to be at the forefront of innovation and new product development, so I started doing the job I wanted. I participated in internal hackathons, designed new prototypes, and assembled likeminded teams to pitch new business concepts to the management committee at UPS. It wasn’t long before I was noticed. It was after a Shark Tank like internal pitch competition that I was offered a position to analyze new product concepts. It was the job I had always wanted to do, and I ended up being in that role because I didn’t let my job title hold me back. This story should offer a perspective to those that are perhaps unhappy in their current roles. I’m not telling them not to do their jobs, but rather, find time to do what doesn’t feel like work to you.

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

I’m a strong believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. It is the sum of the individual experiences that make us who we are, and we shouldn’t try to change anything about that. If I want something, I work hard at it, but if I’m still not able to achieve it, I try not to stress over it. I do, however, mindfully take the time to process it and learn from it. Once I’ve extracted the lessons to be learned, I move on. What comes naturally has its own way of fitting into our life.

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

My big idea that might change the world is to build an address infrastructure that’s reliable, scalable, and shareable. An address should bring you to a precise and accurate location, it should be available for anyone living anywhere across the globe, and it should be easy enough to provide to anyone. We associate our address with our identity, our memories, and it is how we become part of a community. Think about all the spontaneous conversations you have had with people after you found out they were from the same hometown as you, which allowed you two to bond. You were both part of the same community. It enabled you two to connect and chat and make a meaningful connection, which as social animals, is a necessity for all of us.

How do you think this will change the world?

I believe having an address is a basic human right because it allows us to gain access to all types of services. It would allow anyone to order food online while quarantining at home in their pajamas, but more importantly, an address infrastructure would allow first responders to arrive at the correct patient’s door to render emergency services. There are dozens of stories of first responders not being able to find the right address in time, which could have saved someone’s life. Sometimes seconds can make a difference between life and death. On a brighter note, an address infrastructure has a tremendous social and economic value as well. According to a Forbes article in 2016, more than 75% of the world does not have a reliable address. This means billions of people play a much smaller part in our global economy currently than they would if they had a reliable address. Imagine what this could mean for our global GDP.

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?

Earlier I said that an address should be shareable, but I know that this could have unforeseen consequences because scammers are always trying to steal Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for nefarious purposes. What people should think about is, how can we tokenize every address so that we can share it with anyone, without letting them see or read it? So, although sharing an address but also keeping it confidential may sound contradictory, it is not. Token based address authentication could allow a user to request someone’s address (i.e. to render a service), receive verification from the owner of the address, and proceed to gaining time-based access to the address, which would expire after the service has been rendered. This technique works very well in access control technologies where someone only has access to a door for certain period and then that access expires after they are done. I think this technique could be adopted in the address field as well.

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

There’s a tradition at UPS that every holiday season, corporate employees volunteer to go out and help deliver packages during crunch time. I went on a similar ride-along, as a driver helper, during the busy holiday season to get a taste for the kinds of situations drivers deal with on their routes. What stood out to me more than anything else was how much confusion was caused by barely visible or missing addresses. They were faded, obscured, too small, missing or otherwise not visible at night. It was the winter solstice, the sun had set at 4 p.m., and we were only halfway finished with our route. We were going to have to deliver the rest of the packages in the dark. When drivers are not able to find the correct address, they must take the package back to the hub. This causes a package to be delayed. A customer can either go pick it up themselves or have the driver attempt to deliver it again on another day. That’s when I thought there had to be a better way to mark addresses but as I started doing my research, I learned that the opportunity was much bigger than I had imagined. So, I started working with Strategic Innovations to bring eLiT to the market. It is essentially a back-lit LED address light box with large, digitally printed house numbers that can be easily seen and read. It has a dusk to dawn timer, so it automatically turns on at night, and when the driver comes to make a delivery, it begins to flash on and off to grab their attention. It even helps the delivery drivers to find an address by routing them to the precise location of the device.

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

I think devices like the eLiT need to become part of the Zoning Ordinance. An address that’s visible day or night allows local governments to serve their residents better. Since 75% of the emergency calls take place at night, it is imperative that first responders be able to find addresses at night. As a safety precaution, homeowners must be required to install a device like eLiT that makes it easy for addresses to be seen at night and also allows appropriate parties to be routed to the address efficiently.

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

  1. Don’t burn the candle from both sides. You may get extra light, but the candle will burn out a lot faster. I have a bad habit of overworking myself after I find something exciting. I work on projects overnight and I forget to eat or exercise. I am still working to put a lid on it, but I wish someone had told me right from the start that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
  2. Take care of your mental health. Your mental health is the most important part because a sound mind can accomplish a lot more.
  3. Touch it once. Any task you touch, make sure you only touch it once and get it done. It’s okay if you get it done in small chunks over time, but the quality of the end product will be so much better because, regardless of what some people might say, the brain is not meant to multitask.
  4. When you speak truth to power, make sure you have a plan. Nobody likes to hear the truth especially when they’re in a position of power, so if you’re going to tell someone higher up they’re not doing a good job, make sure you do it very strategically.
  5. Bring your whole self to everything you do. I used to compartmentalize my personal and business life, but I learned over time that’s pointless. In today’s digital world when everyone’s working from home, the two are more intertwined than ever.

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

The key to success is comfort with boredom. I know it sounds strange but to be the best you must practice the same task again and again, and that’s boring. Once you get comfortable with the boredom of repetition, you become the master at that specific task over time. If you want to be successful then get comfortable with executing boring tasks again and again, but every so often bring your head up and make sure you’re navigating in the right direction. Be sure you’re still working towards the goal you had set in mind when you started.

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

Think about the world’s largest enterprise company that comes to mind for you and imagine if you had the opportunity to be the very first investor in that company knowing that it would one day take off like a rocket ship. Would you not invest with everything you had? Now, think about the eLiT device which is on a mission to revolutionize the address infrastructure for the world, knowing that it is going to enable 75% of the world to receive access to services easily. How much are you willing to invest now that the opportunity is right in front of you?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Anyone is welcome to follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mocheema4/


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

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Let’s enable everyone to see at night” With Larry Stack of…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Let’s enable everyone to see at night” With Larry Stack of Photonis Defense

Our big idea is to enable everyone to see at night. Historically, only the military had the technology to do that. Sure, there are cheap versions of night vision goggles, but their nothing like what the military has. The government has used night vision goggles for years. In their desire to get better technology, they became too rigid in their written definition (requirements) of their needs. What we wanted to do is bring some common sense into military technology.

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 Larry Stack. Larry spent the first 25 years of his life flying jet aircraft from aircraft carriers and has the spent the last 20 years as an entrepreneur and as CEO in the software, engineering, and industrial manufacturing sectors. Currently, Larry is CEO of Photonis Defense.

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

I went to college to become a graphic designer or marketing specialist with a geology minor. I love the arts and have always been fascinated with rocks, nature, and the Earth.

On geology fieldtrip to Death Valley, California, I saw two jets dog fighting above me. There’s military space near the area that is used as a practice facility. This got me thinking: what does it take to become a fighter pilot? It was 1975, the end of the Vietnam War, and nobody wanted to join the military. A stigma had been attached to military veterans because of the war.

I investigated the military’s aviation program anyway and found that the competition to enter the training program was fierce. There was a 75% failure rate in their testing program just to obtain an application. Then if you are one of the lucky few accepted, 60% did not make it through the Aviation Candidate Officer Program to become an officer; another 30% failed flight school. Out of the 100 people who initially applied, very few earned their wings. Challenge accepted.

The military community is amazingly diverse; there are people from all walks of life. Officers, however, must have a university degree. At the time, an engineering degree (any discipline) was preferred. In close second was mathematics. I was in the arts. Challenge accepted.

I quickly found out that the military is a very level playing field. They don’t care about your background, race, etc. They only care about getting the job done and completing the mission at hand. There are a lot of Type A personalities — no BS and very solution oriented. It was perfect, even for an art major.

Once I graduated from flight school and entered “The Fleet” I found out that a Naval Aviation Squadron is just like any microcosm of a large organization. Within each squadron there are a variety of departments, each run by a Department Head with reporting organizations; for example, Administration, Legal, Maintenance (with several subcategories), Operations, Training, etc. It takes a lot to maintain one squadron of jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier and there were 10 squadrons.

In my opinion, there is no finer organization than the military to help you obtain a varied background and expertise in a multitude of areas that can also be applied to the civilian workforce. There is one exception: you just can’t order people around in civilian life the way you can in the military simply because in the military you face many life-or-death situations that can’t afford the time for protracted debate.

After 25 years in the military, I had to figure out what I would do when I retired. Like everything else in my life, I decided that the best option was to do something that took me out of my comfort zone. No flying job for me, so I joined a commercial software company.

Here I learned about software engineering and IT architecture from a managerial aspect. I learned how applications were developed from requirements to use cases and beyond. Every aspect of the task had to be documented thoroughly so there was no scope creep. Our focus was ensuring that we got a product out that works!

Eventually, I moved up the ranks and was running the company. After it sold, I started working for a non-profit organization (NPO). I soaked in everything I could about what a NPO was, how they operated, how they raised funds, how they marketed themselves, etc.

My next move was running a manufacturing company whose technologies I knew nothing about. Again, challenge accepted! I applied my theory that most problems are people problems, and I managed my team with great success. From there I transitioned to another CEO position in a chemical manufacturing job — nothing to do with flying, software, or engineering but plenty of people problems.

Present day, I am CEO of Photonis Defense.

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

All jet aircraft are equipped with ejection seats to help protect the pilot. When the ejection handle is pulled, if the canopy isn’t jettisoned, you’re going through the glass. All pilots train for this situation, but you don’t perform the operation because it could kill you (and you’d ruin a perfectly good jet). When you pull the handle and initiate ejection you incur 22x more weight than your actual body weight.

The day came when I had to use the ejection handle. Again, you train for this, but it doesn’t make it any less scary. I was propelled out of my aircraft through the canopy glass. As my parachute opened, I saw the aircraft explode. The fireball was so intense that it sucked in everything around it including my parachute and myself. Thankfully, this didn’t last long, and I was able escape to safety.

If I had not pulled the handle when I did, I estimate there were about .5 seconds left before the upward velocity vector of the ejection seat was negated by the downward velocity victory of the aircraft. 0.5 seconds between life and death.

That experience caused me to put life into perspective. You tend to look at what you are going through and evaluate situations differently. Should I really be angry? Should I really stress? Is this truly worth it?

I have learned to calm down. There are times you must get excited or agitated because not all situations can be broad brushed; however, you must choose wisely.

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

There are two guiding philosophies that I follow:

  1. In general, don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything is small stuff when you look at what could be.
  2. I have learned that most problems are people problems and can be talked through.

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”?

Our big idea is to enable everyone to see at night. Historically, only the military had the technology to do that. Sure, there are cheap versions of night vision goggles, but their nothing like what the military has. The government has used night vision goggles for years. In their desire to get better technology, they became too rigid in their written definition (requirements) of their needs. What we wanted to do is bring some common sense into military technology.

The current standard in night vision technology is the 18mm image intensifier tube. To house this technology, the form factor becomes very clunky and heavy. Current night vision googles are so heavy it’s like having a two-pound roast in front of your head with a two-pound roast in the back to help counterbalance the weight. This added weight creates a huge stress to a person’s neck and shoulders and can cause a lot of other issues in terms of health, general stress, etc.

My company has answer — move to a smaller tube.

Photonis is the only manufacturer of a 16mm image intensifier tube. Smaller tubes = smaller housing. Our binoculars are about two thirds the size of regular military binoculars and one fourth to one half the weight. An analogy would be running a marathon in hiking boots and then someone comes along and shows you a pair of lightweight running shoes. That’s the type of impact our night vision goggles have, and we haven’t even discussed the technological advances our 16mm tubes bring to the table.

You’d think military would snap these up, but no. Even though the military has been clamoring for a better solution they haven’t re-written their requirements, which leaves them stuck purchasing large, heavy legacy night vision devices.

We decided not to wait any longer on the military and opened the product up to the general public for purchasing. Consumers now have access to military-grade binocular and monocular night vision goggles that give them same quality and performance as our military members. And that is just cool!

How do you think this will change the world?

Once the sun goes down, people must wrap up their daily activities because that’s when having a lack of daylight creates dangerous situations. How many times have you heard of a search and rescue operations being called off because of darkness? At Photonis Defense we always wonder why this happens when you can continue operations by being able to see in the dark. There are an infinite number of threats to your safety depending on the terrain, weather, and environment. Night vision goggles magnify whatever ambient light is in your area — moonlight, starlight, flashlight, headlights — helping you avoid potentially dangerous and life-threatening situations.

Search and Rescue teams can extend their hours or even go around the clock. Sometimes that 8 to12 hour period makes all the difference in their mission and in the lives of those they’re trying to save.

Firefighters use thermal devices to find bodies or people trying to escape a fire. At night, fire destroys natural night vision capability because bright lights narrow the pupil. Night vision goggles solve that problem by allowing you to see in the dark even in the presence of bright light like that which comes off flames.

Campers have a whole new level of security and enjoyment with night vision goggles. The dark becomes a safe place to play because now you can detect potential threats.

Night fisherman will be able to see objects that might get in their path such as buoys, crab traps, or even docks.

On the home front, night vision goggles help you see things that go bump in the night without the need for a flashlight.

There are so many applications and options that I could go on for hours.

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?

Following the Law of Unintended Consequences, the pros are outweighed by the cons. On the con side, there is the potential that criminals could use night vision technology to circumvent the law. Ironically, criminals usually have the means to fund devices and systems that may be beyond the budget limitations set by city governments to combat crime. On the pro side, night vision technology allows us to have access to the other 12 hours in a day that our natural eyesight is not capable of seeing. We can pursue outdoor activities, such as camping, astronomy, fishing, hiking, hunting, science, and more, without the need for flood lighting systems and/or flashlights. Police departments are also recognizing that they need to be equipped with the best in night vision technology because their adversaries are using it.

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

The tipping point was realizing we were hitting brick walls with what we thought was our “natural” market, the military. They were not going to rewrite their requirements anytime soon; we knew we needed to pivot and not let ourselves be constrained by what the military specifies. Our company is strong, yet nimble, and could think outside of the box by bringing new function to military technology. We approached the problem from a different perspective and brought these amazing night vision goggles to the general public where we knew there was a need.

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

We need to educate the consumer that this technology is available, accessible, and attainable. Consumers have already invested countless amounts of time and dollars into getting the right gear and completing necessary training. Our job now is to educate everyone that military-grade night vision products are available to them at an attractive price, in an ergonomic package, and with 40-hours of battery life. It truly is a game changer!

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

1. Understand cash management, cash flow, and finances. The first time I was asked to step into the role of CEO is when I was handed the resignations of the company CEO and CFO who told me we had $5K in the bank and our $135K payroll was due in 3 days.

2. Almost all problems are people problems and people problems need to be taken care of early in the game.

3. Tomorrow is another day — don’t panic.

4. Sometimes you just won’t have all the information. Don’t be afraid to make a decision based on incomplete information — as long as you can live with the results.

5. People naturally want to do a great job — let them. This isn’t saying to let them run amok, but guide when required, otherwise let them make and learn from their mistakes and successes.

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

The most successful mindset both in the military and outside of the military is to believe in yourself and never let fear of failure dictate your moves.

My art degree has served me well. Because I am not an engineer, I approach problems from a different perspective. Sometimes, I just don’t know enough to understand my engineers when they tell me it can’t be done. Art has given me the freedom to see things “out-of-the-box” and allowed me to create ideas that might otherwise be dismissed. Suddenly, what might seem unpractical becomes practical.

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 🙂

First, I’d ask if they’d like to take the lead in 22nd century telecommunications by investing in the one item no one else is looking at except for the Chinese. Then, I’d tell them that Photonis is working with the military on a product and capability that will revolutionize night vision for the masses and it’s a wide-open field.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am most active on LinkedIn.

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Let’s enable everyone to see at night” With Larry Stack of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ray Custis: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’

Healing is essential when developing GRIT — As a former athlete I developed a false sense of what GRIT really was. I was led to believe it was just about pushing through when times get hard. Accepting that reality caused me great pain in my relationships and career life. I had learned to not deal with my feelings and emotions which caused toxic build up of frustration. This frustration led to poor decision making. It wasn’t until I went to therapy and got a coach that I was able to unpack all of my trauma. As I went through the healing process, I discovered a new definition of GRIT. GRIT is the ability to persevere while healing through the process.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Custis. Ray is a Certified Integrative Wellness Life Coach, PRP Counselor and Co-Founder of ThryvLife356 DBA Purposeful Promise LLC, located in the D.C. Metropolitan area. Ray began his coaching career by pouring into youth groups and athletic teams, at the age of 19. He eventually branched out to serve and consult government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and our U.S. military. Now he is a sought out life strategist in the D.C. Metropolitan area where he helps companies and individuals thrive in all areas of life.

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

Being a former collegiate and brief professional athlete helped me to discover strategies to manage my toxic upbringing. I grew up in a home where mental, emotional, and at times physical abuse was present. Because of this, I sought out strategies to cope and manage my anger and frustration through athletics. I dove into personal development seeking everything I could on changing human behavior and developing a GRIT mindset. My journey began my junior year in high school when my high school football coach told me to tell my parents that I would be receiving a full scholarship to go to college. No one in my family had ever gone to college or received any scholarships for that matter — this was the beginning of me breaking cycles. After a major knee injury before the season started, I experienced deep depression not being able to play that year. My odds for receiving that scholarship became slim to none. However, I didn’t give up. I was given my first personal development book by Tony Robbins called “Awaken The Giant Within.” This fueled me to look within and to create a new perspective on life. It changed my life because it changed how I viewed my current circumstance and what it meant. Fast forward a year later to my senior year when I received a full scholarship to the University of Maryland. I knew the experience of my mental transformation would help so many others transform their minds if they were open to these empowering belief systems and strategies. And for over 15 years, I continue to find the best strategies to change my life and the lives of others.

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?

Growing up through mental, emotional, and at times physical trauma taught me at an early age to develop grit to survive my unhealthy environment. Athletics became an outlet for me to nurture my grit in a healthy manner. As a former collegiate and professional athlete who was 5’8’’, 180 pounds, I embraced the ingredient of grit because of my size. After two knee surgeries in my athletic career I was able to be the first to go to college in my immediate family receiving a full athletic scholarship, and the first to sign as a free agent to a professional football team.

Finally, after losing my identity in football I went through a season of depression and feeling lost. Developing my grit muscles helped me find purpose and passion in serving others to create a thriving life through healing, self-love, and vision. This led me to having a family of my own which exposed all of my insecurities, fears, and limiting beliefs. Through therapy, counseling, coaching, and most of all grit, I was able to heal and free myself to create the life I deserved to live. Now I am able to coach and counselor from a space of experience and not just book knowledge.

For me grit wasn’t about pushing through, it was about healing through.

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

My drive came from my connection and relationship with God. The more I learned about the creator, the deeper my hope was in my future. I realized that life was always working for me, causing me to grow even in the most difficult situations. When I looked back over my life I was able to connect the dots and realize there was a beautiful harmonic balance of struggle, success, and grace.

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

GRIT led to success in my life because it helped me to see my life as it was and not worse than it was. It led me to seek strategies to manage through dark moments in my life like depression and the pressure to perform at a high level whether it was on the football field or in the private sector. Grit was the ingredient to assist me in renovating our families first home while my wife was pregnant with our first child. Grit was the force that pushed me when I lost my job and chose to take on side jobs to take care of my family until the next opportunity was created. Grit was the essence to get up in the middle of the night multiple times to care for our newborns and still go to work for 12–14 hours a day. Grit was and still is the catalyst for me to heal through life and continue to make progress.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Take ownership of your focus — Our brains are powerful. Your RAS (Reticular Activating System) takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sorts through the information and presents only the pieces that are important to you. And all of this happens on autopilot. Remember when you were shopping for your first car or shopping for desired clothing apparel? After your purchase, you began to see your new car or that new outfit everywhere you went. The question is, were those items always there or did your RAS prompt your focus to notice those items that were always there? The reality is those cars and outfits were always there. Your brain just wasn’t prompted to focus on it. As you continue on your life’s journey, be mindful of what you focus on. Many times the answers you’re seeking could’ve been right in front of you the whole time.
  2. Do something daily that takes you outside of your comfort zone — I dreaded having to get into an ice bath after a long day of football practice. It was extremely uncomfortable to numb my body from the waste down, to then experience the pins and needles of the blood rushing back through my legs. Talk about being uncomfortable. However, this undesirable practice helped me to control what my mind was going to think and do. It helped me to understand that I control the mind, it doesn’t control me. And because of this, my grit muscles developed more strength.
  3. Find the empowering meaning — In life, we will experience difficulty and discomfort. However, the meaning we give these experiences will determine whether we heal and press forward, or quit with wonder of what would’ve happened if you didn’t give up. Take this 14 year old girl who was molested during her childhood and early teens and became pregnant, had a son born prematurely and died in infancy. This young girl could have decided that the last 14 years would define the rest of her life. Or she would decide to find the empowering meaning in her life and become the most influential and wealthiest African American of the 20th century. This young 14 year old girl is Oprah Winfrey. Find your empowering meaning.
  4. Plug yourself in a GRIT environment — As a seed requires proper soil in order for it to germinate and grow healthy, we require healthy environments that will foster our personal growth in this life. Think about the groups of friends you grew up with. You had similar interests, beliefs, and values. This is what drew you to those friendships. As you matured, those interests, beliefs and values might have changed because you were exposed to a healthier and more fruitful life. This may have resulted in you acquiring a new set of friends. Your desire and intent to reach your potential requires an environment that will assist in that potential being manifested. Plug yourself into a grit environment that will constantly challenge you to be your best self.
  5. Healing is essential when developing GRIT — As a former athlete I developed a false sense of what GRIT really was. I was led to believe it was just about pushing through when times get hard. Accepting that reality caused me great pain in my relationships and career life. I had learned to not deal with my feelings and emotions which caused toxic build up of frustration. This frustration led to poor decision making. It wasn’t until I went to therapy and got a coach that I was able to unpack all of my trauma. As I went through the healing process, I discovered a new definition of GRIT. GRIT is the ability to persevere while healing through the process.

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

Coach Randy Trivers was my high school football coach. When I met him my junior year he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He pulled me into his office after a week of summer workouts to tell me to go home and tell my parents that I was going to college on a full scholarship. No one in my family had ever gone to college, let alone receive a full scholarship. Before the season began I tore all of the cartilage in my knee that resulted in missing out for the most important season to a student-athlete at that time. Coach Trivers didn’t change how he felt about my situation. He held me accountable for the commitment that I made and encouraged me through a dark season in my life where I experienced depression because of this experience. His primary focus was to help me focus on the things I could control. And because of this, I was able to rehab at a more expedited pace, and was stronger and faster than I was before the injury. I’m grateful for Coach Trivers because he enhanced my faith in myself and in God. The results landed a full scholarship to the University of Maryland during my senior season.

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

I have used what I define as success to serve our underprivileged youth by coaching and mentoring them to develop GRIT through various strategies and techniques. Through speaking engagements, workshops, and one-on-one coaching, I assist our youth in developing healthier mental, emotional, physical and spiritual lives.

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

I have been working on building the ThryvLife365 community. It is the support network and safe space where you will receive practical application ideas, tools, techniques, and resources to self-invest, and become your best version of yourself. Many of us know the “what” we want to change in our lives, but don’t know “how” to change those things, and why we should change them. I believe our community is an environment where people can heal and become more self-aware of themselves. When healing and awareness are coupled together, we can create a new Earth.

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

I would suggest that executives or founders adopt a company culture that promotes mental and life health. It has shown that employee mental health costs rise twice as fast as all other medical expenses. Many companies have underlying concerns of a toxic culture and it affects the companies financial growth and longevity. Those companies that invest in their employees’ mental and life health see a 60%+ return on their investment according to a Deloitte. Healthy employees equate to a healthy 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. 🙂

I would inspire a movement in regards to self-healing for the nations. I believe the deep rooted pain that exists in individuals is manifested in the physical world by violence, abuse and trauma. This movement would have the intent of creating more love and awareness of self and others.

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

“Learn to learn.” This quote sums up how I attempt to live each day by learning from my mistakes, successes, and unforeseen circumstances. The desire to be a lifelong learner of myself and others has assisted me in creating healthier boundaries and decisions that are congruent with my beliefs and values. It has helped me to realize that the minute you think you know it all, life has a way of reminding you that you have so much more to learn. Learning has been a catalyst to saving my life from destructive decision making. As I continue to experience the gift of life, learning has been an intimate experience in which I’ve grown deeper in love with God, my wife and children, and the calling to help others thrive.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

IG — @RayCustis, FB — www.facebook.com/groups/thryvlife365/, https://www.facebook.com/rcustis


Ray Custis: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’ was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brand Makeovers: James Gibson of Relic On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize…

Brand Makeovers: James Gibson of Relic On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

It’s hard to judge your own brand when you don’t have a holistic view of how your brand is currently perceived. It’s dangerous to make altering decisions to the brand if you don’t have comprehensive, third-party data giving you a decent look at where you stand with your target demographic. Ask “Are you making these alterations based on your own singular vision of what you think the brand currently is and anecdotes that you’ve heard?” Or, “Are you basing it off research where chances are, you’ll get a different perspective?”

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

James Gibson, art co-director at Relic + EKR, has a strong, foundational background in animation, illustration, and graphic design. His work has won numerous industry awards including Marketer of the Year in 2017. His expertise and passion lie in creating comprehensive brand strategies and effective creative campaigns for tourism destinations.

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?

The idea of a specific career path has always terrified me. There are so many creative avenues and I want to explore them all. I think that’s the heart of a creative personality. Creatives are constantly driven towards seeing the world in a new and, hopefully, transcendent way. There are so many options to pursue and I think many creative professionals fear missing out on finding something they truly love if they dedicate themselves to one thing. It seems irrational, but logic usually isn’t the primary driving force in a lot of creativity.

For example, I remember when I saw “Finding Nemo” for the first time and was awestruck by the beautiful world they had created. The music made my spine tingle with delight and I fell in love with Thomas Newman as a composer. The director, Andrew Stanton, showed me the power of a story when it’s told well. I came out of the theater with a feeling that I had witnessed something special. I felt better after watching it. I had a more pleasant disposition. I realized that creating something truly beautiful has a real effect on someone. I adamantly thought that recreating those feelings in everything I did had true value. That would become my purpose for getting up in the morning for work. My next step was to learn everything I could about the animation process.

A couple of months later, I was struck again by something else. During an art history class, I encountered Robert Delaunay’s “Champ de Mars.” My mind was blown. In the painting, Delaunay portrayed a scene of the Eiffel Tower through simple shapes and lines that transformed reality into a beautiful alternative. It was a fascinating, new way to see the world and I loved it. I fell in love with shape. From that point on, I pursued illustration as another love.

Later, I began to study the work of Sagi Haviv and Charley Harper. I was mesmerized by how they transformed complex shapes and ideas into refined, simple concepts. The method of distilling something complicated down to its simplest form is beautiful. It’s almost like the carving of a raw stone into a perfectly cut diamond. There’s nothing superfluous there, only the most important elements.

There are too many of these moments to write about, but I became torn as to what I should dedicate my time to. Branding has provided me the opportunity to pursue every creative avenue I desire. Whether it be film, animation, illustration, logos, visual identity, or writing, they all have a place in branding. The medium may vary, but the end goal is an authentic connection.

With that freedom to create, I set my goals as a professional to connect with people on a genuine level and show them what is beautiful about this world. Life is extremely hard for everyone. So I asked myself, “What could I create that shows people all the hard aspects of life worth it?” The business jargon for that would be, “How do we solve peoples’ pain points?” No matter how small the problem is, you’re making peoples’ lives easier.

Some may say making the world a better place has a minimal place in business, but I firmly believe that if a creative project connects with the target audience on a genuine emotional level, that project will always generate more revenue.

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?

Like many creatives, when an idea starts to brew in our minds and our imagination starts to give form to a concept, we get excited. Ideas scatter out in all directions and then you fall in love with an idea that appears perfect.

I recall a specific scenario in my early career where I was tasked to create three concepts for a logo. I was so attached to one of the ideas, I went into a focus zone for hours perfecting every little detail about it. At the end of the process, I was mentally and creatively exhausted. However, I still needed additional concepts to present. I managed to assemble two more executions that took roughly thirty minutes. I wasn’t concerned about these two because, in my mind, my initial idea was overwhelmingly good.

From my perspective, the choice for the client was simple. One logo required thirty hours to complete and the other two took thirty minutes. I’m sure you can guess which one the client chose.

The client’s face had no reaction at all other than a simple nod when I presented my “thirty-hour” version. However, when I switched to the next slide for the “thirty-minute” versions, the client gave a clear, “Wow!” At that moment, I knew my love for the initial concept was dead in the water.

That day, I learned that a good logo is a good logo, no matter how much time was spent on it. If it took thirty minutes or thirty hours, it doesn’t matter. What matters is if it accomplishes what it was designed to do. I altered my process that day to offer general, visual directions first before I delved into minute details of an individual concept. That would eliminate any possibility of me making the tragic mistake again of spending hours on a concept and hoping the client likes it. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made for my process.

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

For many branding agencies, I think there is a temptation to keep client relations to an account/project manager and for the creative to focus on creative. It sounds simple on paper and I’ve seen it work in many different scenarios, but the process can easily get halted if there’s one small misstep in the pipeline. It can turn into a game of telephone where information just gets lost in translation and frustration develops on both sides.

When I started taking an active role in client communication alongside the account manager, there was a significant increase in not only the quality of work but also satisfaction on both sides.

On my side, I felt I was not just creating something for client X, but also for a person with whom I have developed a real relationship. I knew their needs on a personal level, not through a report. When I presented to them and explained my thoughts behind my decisions, I saw their appreciation for the effort I put in. It varied, of course, but I began to notice the quality of work was commonly in direct correlation with the quality of the communication and relationship with the client. As a designer, I was excited to serve them because of that relationship and I knew exactly what to do since there was no guesswork in the communication.

On their side, they felt the relief of their problems being solved and the reassurance of their needs being understood. That relief is an amazing relationship builder. If you take an active role in asking important questions and aligning yourself with exactly what they want, the quality of the work is staggeringly better. If a designer doesn’t feel comfortable developing that kind of relationship, I highly urge you to step out of that comfort zone. If you’re able to communicate and understand exactly what the client wants and needs, it will only help you in the long run.

The logo, colors, or brand guide may be some of your deliverables as a professional, but the most important product you’re delivering is the process. The process is what keeps clients returning to you again and again.

Some questions you can ask yourself to gauge your client relationship as a designer are:

  1. Do you feel the client is comfortable enough to be completely honest with you? If not, why?
  2. Do you feel like you know exactly what the client wants? If not, why?
  3. What are you doing to let your client feel like they are a priority? If you can’t think of anything, that’s a problem.

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

I’m in the final stages of rebranding Bear Lake in the Utah/Idaho area. It’s known as the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for its mesmerizing turquoise waters. The destination has become a symbolic place where generations of families reunite together. Everything in our decision from making the logo down to the color selection has been focused on keeping that concept alive for generations to come. The idea of someone’s grandkids associating the beautiful memories they make in Bear Lake with our logo and creative is an awesome feeling. It makes me believe there is true value in what we’re creating.

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

I highly recommend watching footage of a Michelin-star kitchen. There is much to be learned about communication from a professional restaurant. The execution of creative work has to be held to a very high standard of quality, all under the pressure of product being made to order. I’ve copied many restaurants’ methods since our projects are “made to order” and require professional quality in a short amount of time.

Clear and concise communication from the head chef is the nucleus of the process. The creative director acts as the head chef in our environment. If designers and marketers understand with a military-like precision what their role is and how it fits into the overall strategy, it will make your end product higher quality in a shorter amount of time. It is the leader’s role to establish that dynamic.

That process is how professional restaurants thrive under the scrutiny of Michelin judges and how any marketer will thrive in a competitive, free market. Burnout occurs because of the back and forth between revisions and poor communication. Having a leader who communicates clearly and simply to both sides will eliminate those revisions significantly.

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 break it down simply where product marketing is all of your collective efforts to sell your product/service. Branding, however, is what people actually think and feel about your product/service. As Marty Neumeier says, branding is your “gut instinct” about a company.

So in turn, brand marketing is designed to influence that gut instinct. Branding makes it easy to see how building a relationship of trust, associating your product with positive emotions, and providing joy through solving a problem can influence how you feel about a company. The stronger that relationship or brand is, the easier it will be for a customer to go through the marketing 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?

Right off the bat, there’s the brand perception issue. If your target audience doesn’t trust you, then it will be incredibly difficult to sell anything to them. Trust is a major element in peoples’ decision to purchase something and branding is designed to build that trust.

Think about the ancient technology of CDs. The music industry found that when listeners developed a strong relationship with a band, the listener wouldn’t need to listen to a newly-released CD to purchase it. Trust reassured them the product would be quality.

Secondly, there’s the brand awareness issue. If you find very few people are aware of your existence, trying to sell anything will be extremely difficult. If you can gain awareness by building a strong brand, you’ve already gained a significant advantage by simply being in people’s minds. If you aren’t being considered, it’s going to be hard to sell.

Branding also establishes the core of what you’re actually selling. For example, Simon Sinek uses the example of how Apple doesn’t sell computers or technology, it sells innovation. John Deere doesn’t sell tractors, it sells reliability and putting food on the table. Dewalt doesn’t sell tools, it sells craftsmanship and quality.

That’s why branding is so powerful. When you see an apple logo, your instinct tells you there was a large amount of thought in “how can this product change the world?” Which company would you rather buy from? The company that “sells nice computers” or the company that “tries to change the world with everything it makes?”

The sad truth is there is a large number of marketers who don’t see the urgency of this issue. If you’re not giving an extremely unique reason for people to care about you, then you will be ignored. Simple as that. Messages under this umbrella can be distilled into, “We exist. We make stuff. Buy it today.”

There’s nothing worse than a boring brand. When making films, Andrew Stanton uses one question to know if a scene is effective. It applies to all creative marketing. Ask yourself, does this make me care? If not, you’ve got nothing. If your brand makes people care, then your marketing efforts will be exponentially easier.

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

I run into these almost daily. Here’s what it comes down to. Your brand is a reflection of you and how you do business. With a first-time customer, they’re taking a leap of faith in a purchase because they have no experience with your product or service.

They’ll look at reviews, ask friends, and do research online because they want to know if they can trust you. If your logo, colors, layout, design, values seem off or unprofessional, it can easily be assumed that your product or service follows the same suit.

For example, I have seen many examples of companies where it doesn’t see the need to have a professional logo, style guide, or website. The honest truth is first impressions matter and your visual identity and brand values are what people will use to get a sense of what they can expect from you. If your logo looks like a child designed it, then a potential client has every reason to believe your product or service is of the same quality. A question arises of if they weren’t willing to invest in the first touchpoint a customer has with a company, did they invest in the quality of the product as well?

Remember, your brand is people’s gut instinct about your company. If potential customers look at your visual identity and it looks outdated, inconsistent, and unprofessional, then they will associate those qualities with your brand. If you let that dynamic happen for too long, you will fall out of relevancy in a constantly changing and updating modern market.

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

Rebranding is very dangerous. Your target audience has built strong relationships with what you’ve established over time. If you rebrand and get rid of everything your audience has developed a bond with, people could be upset. That will always be the case, even if you have objectively good reasons for every decision.

A good example is the Instagram rebrand. The logo and visual identity were so different from what people had developed a bond with that there was an immediate backlash. The problem was that the logo people had grown used to was simply not going to work in the future. Instagram built a solid system for the rebrand and trusted that time would heal all wounds. The company was right, and now it’s hard to imagine Instagram under any other logo

With brands, equity is key. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Some companies feel the need to refresh or update its brand every couple of years in order to stay modern. However, every time you make changes to the brand, you lose a bit of brand equity and in some cases, have to start all over.

A fresh start and a completely new perception are what some brands need, so a rebrand is the perfect solution. There are companies like Coca-Cola, Nike, Apple, and Marlboro with years of brand equity built up that any change at this point would hurt them more than it would help.

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. It’s hard to judge your own brand when you don’t have a holistic view of how your brand is currently perceived. It’s dangerous to make altering decisions to the brand if you don’t have comprehensive, third-party data giving you a decent look at where you stand with your target demographic. Ask “Are you making these alterations based on your own singular vision of what you think the brand currently is and anecdotes that you’ve heard?” Or, “Are you basing it off research where chances are, you’ll get a different perspective?”

Remember, research from surveys and focus groups are far from perfect. Biases and inaccuracies run rampant, but it is worlds ahead of trying to make decisions from one singular point of reference.

A proper experiment to see if you fall under the umbrella of myopic brand vision is to first take a poll of those who have been deeply invested in the brand’s creation and history. Ask them on a scale where the brand stands as far as looking professional, communicating brand values, looking unique, having personality, etc. Then poll a large group starting at 20 who have no personal association to the brand. I’ve seen that there has always been a large discrepancy between the two. It is essential in opening our eyes to the aspects of a brand that may be hurting it.

2. An important question to ask is, “Do you know the core of your brand — your “why?” Ask yourself why is your brand important. What are you trying to do besides generate revenue? Generating revenue is an essential part of the business and is necessary to grow. However, if your target audience’s gut instinct about you is that your most important priority is to make money, how do you think that affects its trust towards you?

“People don’t know what you do, they buy why you do it” is a common phrase tossed around the marketing world, but it’s more relevant now than ever. In order to stand out among your competition, marketing messages that present a logical argument of why you should buy X,Y, Z will fall to the wayside and those brands that establish trust and connection through positive emotion and brand values will gain significantly more attention.”

This is incredibly easy to see with Tesla. Tesla’s brand is essentially a master class on how branding is essential in generating revenue. The company’s valuable stock price has directly been influenced by its why. The company’s “why” is simply to create the world they would want to live in. You can even feel it when you step into a Tesla vehicle versus an average competitor. You can see how each design decision was made with the thought of, “Wouldn’t it better if we approached it this way?” That kind of brand essence is absent in other car manufacturers from a surface point of view.

3. A third question to ask: “Does your brand have a personality?” If it was a person, how would it talk? What are its character traits? It is a temptation for many brands to have a standard, almost impersonal method of communicating because it’s safe. You’ll never alienate anyone if you have a neutral brand personality.

However, you’ll never garner any attention either. The modern-day brand is expected to have something to say that’s unique. If not, the market will simply ignore you since there’s nothing special about your approach. Remember, branding is essentially building a relationship and if you don’t establish a brand personality that resonates with your target audience, you’re giving them minimal reasons to care about you.

This is evident in the brands of AT&T and T-Mobile. AT&T has struggled from a growth perspective and the lack of a clearly defined brand personality is a major factor. Just like Apple’s version of PC, if AT&T was personified into a human, it’s hard to imagine it. Its generic and safe approach simply makes the company appear like an impersonal, monolith robot asking to be ignored.

T-Mobile however is taking AT&T to school in that arena. The company has identified its target persona down to the smallest detail. The younger demographic resonates well with its messaging and most importantly, the company seems human. The brand has grown significantly strong and has cut a large portion out of many telecom titans’ market because of it.

4. If you want your brand to be memorable, you need to incorporate a story. It’s a trope we’ve all heard before, but let’s explore the basis for it. Our brains focus on information much more when it’s in narrative form.

Take the world memory championships for example. People from around the world will memorize thousands of numbers in a sequence in a small amount of time. How do they do it? They translate the sequence of numbers into a language and then create a story out of the numbers. Our brains are much inclined to memorize the narrative than the list of numbers.

So ask yourself, what story is my brand telling? If your brand has none, then it will be just as memorable as that list of numbers.

5. Finally, the most important question to ask is, “Do your brand efforts make you feel genuine emotion?” Having your target audience resonate on an emotional level is the end goal, but to get there, you need a starting point. If your brand makes you have an emotional reaction, whether that be laughing, crying, nostalgia, fascination, entertained, enriched mentally, physically, spiritually, you’ve got the basis for a solid brand.

We are not robots. The decisions we make, whether they be small or large, are heavily influenced by the way the outcome of that decision makes us feel. That genuine emotion will engrain a positive association with your brand that is invaluable.

When we have a genuine emotional reaction, the emotional center of our brain, the amygdala, triggers a reaction in our memory center, the hippocampus, like gasoline on a fire. If your brand generates a positive emotional reaction, your hippocampus will sear that emotion into your brain and associate your brand with everything that’s wonderful about that memory. The dangerous part is negative emotions will have the same effect but in a tragic way. The more consistent and positive those emotional experiences, the stronger your brand will be.

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?

Branding is especially important with sports. The relationship fans build with franchises is real. Each team has values and personality that reflect not only the team and players but also the home city. Brands and visual identities are an encapsulation of what makes the team, players, and city remarkable.

The brand that did not understand that concept for a very long time was the New Jersey Nets. Growing up in New Jersey, I’m very biased in this regard. Nonetheless, it’s a perfect example. If you look at the brand as a whole before the team rebranded to the Brooklyn Nets, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Overall, the brand had a feeling of, “There is no reason you should care about me.” The name is probably the most generic name for a team other than the “basketballs.” The colors were low in saturation and had no vibrancy to them, almost showing a lack of life. The logo was a typical execution of the nineties of over-the-top, 3D perspective shapes. Everything from the visual identity to the culture to the message screamed, “Please, ignore me.”

In the biggest turnaround that I’ve seen in sports branding, the team moved to Brooklyn now parented under Jay-Z’s brand. A genius move for a start. Instead of trying to build a relationship over time, the team simply piggy-backed off of Jay-Z and immediately gained brand equity. Gone was the unsaturated color-scheme and in was the high-contrast black and white. The team said goodbye to the forgettable logo and brought in a vintage New York-style basketball design. It felt like a brand that was appropriate for the mecca of the sport. It was even so successful that the team’s brand is arguably more powerful at the moment than the New York Knicks. That thought would be blasphemous 10 years ago and now the team is the king of New York.

The biggest lesson one can learn from the team’s example is to audit your brand. If anything appears generic, eliminate it. Generic messaging and branding tell your audience to ignore you.

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

Making significant goals for your life as a whole will help you more in your career than making goals simply for your career.

To back this up, a study was recently done where two groups of people made goals for themselves. One group made goals specifically pertaining to the career. The other group made significant goals for their lives as a whole. In every aspect, the group who made significant goals for their lives were more productive.

The study simply shows that your purpose crosses boundaries and will influence your life no matter what you focus on.

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

I’ve always resonated with the thought that “life isn’t about happiness, it’s about meaning.” There’s a common paradigm that everything that we do should be about the pursuit of happiness. To me, this paradigm is woefully inadequate. Life is tough, and many times in our lives we will experience trials that will push us to the limit of what we think we can endure. There’s a probability that during those times, a person is not going to be happy. So does life only have meaning during moments of happiness?

When tragedy hits you, is it the idea of being happy that will get you out of bed to continue on? Probably not. What gives you meaning will be the thing that gets you out of bed. A sense of purpose that makes the tragedies of life not only bearable but also something you can overcome. I believe responsibility and the drive to become the greatest good that you can comprehend provides that meaning.

How can our readers follow you online?

Email: james@relicagency.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-gibson-44451189

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jerms_gerbsern

YouTube: www.youtube.com/dijiarttutorials

Relic Projects: www.relicagency.com

Personal projects: james.gibson.info

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


Brand Makeovers: James Gibson of Relic On The 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.

The Future Is Now: Dr Elly du Pré On How We Can Use Technology To Expand Accessibility For Blind Pe

The Future Is Now: Dr. Elly du Pré On How We Can Use Technology To Expand Accessibility For Blind People

Biggest drawback of technology, regardless of disability or not, is cost. There is a big divide in society. Among disabled populations, if you’re not a veteran or don’t have a vocational need for a given technology so that the State Vocational Rehabilitation program provides it for your employment goal, you will have to pay for it yourself and none of the items mentioned so far are cheap.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elly du Pré.

Dr. Elly du Pré has been teaching and learning from people who are blind or low vision for over 45 years. Her first job was teaching adults with vision loss to travel safely using the white cane. She developed the computer training lab at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind starting in 1992 and she has been in the C-suite and on boards of directors of nonprofit agencies. She recently was recognized with the Excellence in Leadership award at the national Executive Leadership Conference of VisionServe Alliance.

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 drawn to the field of rehabilitation of people who are blind by a book I read as a 12 year old child, entitled Follow My Leader. It’s the story of a boy who is blinded in a firecracker accident, learns braille and how to button his shirt, walk with a white cane and finally get a dog guide named Leader. I wrote to the Seeing Eye, the premier organization for dog guide training, and they told me they don’t hire women, but they also shared information about the Master’s Program at Boston College. Ten years later I was an Orientation and Mobility Specialist myself, teaching travel with a white cane.

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

Technology stories in my field are all about increasing access for blind and low vision employees and individuals to the ever-growing and changing Internet-linked world. In 1976, my student, Helen Gribs, was the first blind person in the world to text, and she also happened to be deaf. She had agreed to be a part of a project to build a system for the deaf to have better communication access and reduce the severe social isolation. In fact, the deaf were the first people to text, ever, using a relay system that developed alongside our project in the late 1970s. The deaf used re-furbished teletypes known as TTYs which were linked to telephones using a modem. They would call relay services staffed by hearing people who first called the hearing person or company indicated by the deaf person, and then read the TTY message to the hearing recipient and typed the response to the deaf person. Helen obtained the first ever braille TTY with built-in modem — serial number 0000003 — and I got an old TTY and a modem from a friend. Helen and I started typing to each other from our respective homes, in real time, which now is called texting!

How do you think this might change the world?

The possibilities for blind and low vision people are endless due to the expansion of cutting edge technology such as:

  • Synthesized speech is commonly used nowadays — Alexa, Google Assistant, automated customer service (“You can talk to me like a person”), etc. Back in the mid 1980s, it was much cruder but already it was being used to read computer screens so blind people could review what they were typing or read what was on the screen already. Today we pinch and spread our fingers to change the size of images, but along with synthesized speech, magnification software already was making computer screens easier to use by people with low vision/”legal blindness.” This technology also can read medicine labels aloud.
  • Following up on the relay service concept, AIRA and Be My Eyes are two services that guide blind people through their smart phone cameras (or a headborne pair of glasses with a small build in camera). Want to get to the gate in the airport without waiting for a guide? Find an item on the grocery shelves? Read the cooking instruction on a package or medicine bottle? Call AIRA and use your phone to scan your surroundings so they can tell you which way to go or what the instructions are. Need to identify a bill or the color of your blouse? Did you drop something and can’t find it? Call Be My Eyes. These services are responding to very imaginative requests, but won’t give advice on anything challenging your safety such as when to cross a street.
  • Want to find your friend in a crowded room? OrCam is a headborne camera that can scan the faces and whisper in your ear the names of people nearby that you already have had OrCam “memorize.” It also can instantly read aloud to you a menu, document, your mail, or help you place a page “face down” on a scanner.
  • Uber and Lyft have opened up paratransit options with fast responses and the ability to make spontaneous trips.

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

Biggest drawback of technology, regardless of disability or not, is cost. There is a big divide in society. Among disabled populations, if you’re not a veteran or don’t have a vocational need for a given technology so that the State Vocational Rehabilitation program provides it for your employment goal, you will have to pay for it yourself and none of the items mentioned so far are cheap.

Another drawback is the abuse of technology by some in the general public in order to gain advantages reserved for people who need adaptations. An early “technology” whose use sometimes is exploited by the general public now is service animals. Some people pretend their pets are service animals so they can have advantages that are life saving for disabled people — use in public accommodations (restaurants, hotels and public transportation). Their misbehaving pets cause big problems for people who really need the trust and goodwill of the public to accept trained service animals.

Some say braille is obsolete because everything talks, and some public schools don’t teach braille to blind students who attend as a result (or teach penmanship either for that matter). But the oldest technologies — the ones for writing and reading — are not obsolete. People still use pens and paper and blind people who read braille are the most competitive in employment, with about the same unemployment rate as their sighted peers, while non-braille users have a 70% unemployment rate. So braille is not obsolete, and nonprofits are filling in the gaps with special programs to teach braille, as attending local public (or private) schools is still the usual choice for parents of blind children.

Some professors feel accommodations for disabled students are undesirable and a sign that standards for higher degrees are being lowered. PDFs are not produced in the accessible format ADOBE offers; Powerpoints and computer-based tests are created without accessibility tags but then readers for the tests are not provided to blind students. Somehow the argument of lowering standards was never made when typing stopped being taught or valued as an employability skill. Point and click took over without a squeak of concern. Yet, a good keyboarder (for instance a blind person who does not use a mouse and uses keyboard shortcuts), will outperform a sighted mouse clicker every day. In my experience, the mouse user will be 20% less productive (have to work more Saturdays to keep up with the workload).

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

Widespread adoption leads to lower prices and wider availability, for specialized equipment and its popular adaptions:

  • When general uses by the public were found for early technologies for blind people, the prices came down and the availability went up:
  • One of the first technologies for the blind that became popular was the talking calculator. It started at about $600 in 1986 when it was created for blind people. When sighted people saw the value, the market increased exponentially and the price dropped to $20.
  • The first speech synthesizer with optical scanner — the Kurzweil Reading Machine in 1976 — was the size of a washing machine and cost $50,000. Ray Kurzweil was a blind student at MIT when he invented it. He probably was still using braille and human readers to attend classes and do his homework. You probably know the name Kurzweil from Stevie Wonder’s piano synthesizers. Stevie was also one of the first to buy the Reading Machine, and he hired two men to carry it around from one show venue to the next. The Kurzweil today does a lot more and costs $1,000. Specialized audio and braille notetakers and readers used by blind people today are in the $1000 — $5,000+ range.
  • “Talking book” versions of popular books used to appear a year or more after publication. Textbooks had to be read in-person to a student in order to keep up with assignments. Then audio books became popular. Harry Potter in audio version actually was available at Midnight, the same time the sighted public was finally getting through the bookstore doors for the latest installment. Technology makes textbooks available much faster as well. Readers still volunteer to produce hundreds of magazines, periodicals and special texts.

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

My favorite marketing was Kohler’s use in a tv commercial of a blind guest at a party to highlight the features of its bathroom faucets. Marketing of products for the blind tends to be within the larger context of educational and rehabilitative training services to people who are blind or low vision.

It’s a huge focus of ours as the biggest challenges now are related to outreach. Outreach to eye care professionals to use a free, web-based referral system to easily connect low vision patients with the nearest providers of training services so the patients have information and a feeling of hope. VisionRefer was developed in Florida and is now rolled out nationally, but despite strong support from the American Academy of Ophthalmology which supports it through its endorsement as a best practice, individual acceptance/adoption by practitioners in small and large practices alike has been very disappointing.

Also, outreach to healthcare and home care, senior living and other “aging network” providers to build their skills in identifying and providing inclusive services that support independence of older persons living with vision loss — the largest demographic. Just in Florida there are 2 million older individuals living with severe low vision or a diagnosis of a blinding eye condition. The Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition has a Three Year Action Plan with national support that needs funding to roll out a plan for education, collaboration, professional development, policy and advocacy. The ultimate result will be a significant reduction in long-term care and health care costs and meaningful increase in quality of life for families and individuals. As well as building widespread awareness of the value of diversity to economic growth. As The Institute for Educational Leadership says, “A diversity of ideas, skills, and tools is essential to a team, a workforce, a community, or a campus that wants to excel at solving complex problems.”

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?

Two colleagues of mine were my mentors from the earliest years of my career — one was a fellow teacher who taught me about truly listening and creating innovative individualized solutions to people’s needs and the other was my boss who taught me how to create meaningful, efficient and responsive services.

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

I think I do, but only because I have found so many great colleagues and collaborative partners over the years. The goodness comes from helping older people to regain the lives they thought they had lost when they became blind, or from helping parents learn how to raise a confident blind child, or from guiding a person to finding a career that fits their interests and skills and then succeeding in landing a job in that career. The goodness also comes from the people I helped whose positive impact on me as a person and on the community made things better.

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

  • 5 things I wish I had known (sooner):
  • It’s good to ask for help
  • It’s smart to ask questions
  • Apologizing is a powerful means to creating stronger relationships
  • Trying to be perfect does not lead to excellence
  • Don’t trust people who say “trust 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. 🙂

The movement I think I have been part of all along is taking action to bringing people into full participation in our communities and the world. In my daily life, that means empowering people living with blindness or low vision to achieve their goals. It could be the goal of graduating from school. Or the goal of career success as it is individually defined — hitting the C-suite, owning a business, earning enough to support the family. It could be the goal of attending religious services and being able to read the passages and lyrics to the songs. It could be the goal of voting, or babysitting the grandchildren, or volunteering, or meeting with friends for a card game and dinner. That movement also means going beyond the daily duties of my specific job and being involved in committees and groups to advance the quality of our profession to educate and rehabilitate visually impaired people. So I am involved on boards that certify professionals, I manage a program that accredits agencies and university programs, and I work with my wonderful colleagues to advocate for system change in healthcare and public policies that affect how blind people live, work, play, contribute to their communities. This movement inspires me, and my participation does help to breathe life into achieving these important goals.

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

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” — Eleanor Roosevelt.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Florida Agencies Serving the Blind online @beyondvisionloss or visit our website www.beyondvisionloss.org

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


The Future Is Now: Dr Elly du Pré On How We Can Use Technology To Expand Accessibility For Blind Pe was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Julia Fowler: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’

Winning is easy. Learning to lose with grace is the true measure of a winner.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing celebrated author, Julia Fowler.

South Carolina native, Julia Fowler, is an actor, author, screenwriter and the creator of Southern Women Channel — a YouTube channel with over 25 million views. Her books, Talk Southern to Me and Embrace Your Southern, Sugar, both released by Gibbs Smith Publishing, are collections of comedic essays and southernisms that have been endorsed by prolific southerners including Dolly Parton, Delta Burke, and Andie MacDowell. As an actress, Julia has worked on Broadway as well as in film and television and currently she’s writing on the new Netflix comedy, Country Comfort.

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

My Mama, Claudia Fowler, grew up clogging. For those that don’t know, clogging is an America’s percussive folk dance. So, the moment I flew out of my Mama’s womb she taught me to clog. In addition, Mama charmingly convinced the local dance school to let me begin dance classes at two years old, even though the school required students be at least three years old. I’m forever grateful to my Mama for exposing me to dance at such an early age because I took to it right away. I spent my youth in both the competitive clogging and the traditional, competitive dance world. My parents even helped me open my own dance studio when I was a sophomore in college, and I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Theater and Dance.

So, dance was my first love and that’s how I literally “kicked” in the show business door. After working as a dancer on a cruise ship, I moved to New York City with big Broadway musical theater dreams. Ultimately, my clogging skills came in pretty darn handy as I was cast in the original Tony Award winning, Broadway revival of “Annie Get Your Gun” and I helped incorporate clogging into the choreography of the show. When I was working in musical theater, I was in hog heaven. I was so busy doing eight shows a week I never even thought about writing. It wasn’t until my thirties, after I got engaged and moved to Los Angeles, that I finally tried my hand at writing.

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?

I won’t beat around the bush. Show business is mean as a snake and filled with rejection and disappointment. I’ve been eating “no” for breakfast, lunch and dinner since I graduated college. For every success on my resume, I’ve got a hundred buckets of gator tears cried over jobs I didn’t get, agents who didn’t believe in me, or projects I’ve written or pitched that didn’t sell. Then of course, there’s my southern heritage. Many highfalutin’ showbiz folks told me that my Southerness would be an obstacle to my success. Bless their hearts. I’ve found the opposite to be true.

It took a particularly devastating career set-back for me to realize that my Southern grit was my greatest asset. Years ago, I wrote and developed a film project with a major studio and was even attached to star in the movie. I honestly thought that movie was my big break. But then at the last minute, they decided not to greenlight the film citing concerns from the marketing department that the film was “too Southern.” I called home in tears and without missing a beat my Mama told me to “put my big girl panties on” and figure out my next move.

Adhering to Mama’s advice, I stopped crying and started plotting. And that’s when I was inspired to create my YouTube Southern Women Channel. My first video went viral, which led to more videos, then a book deal, then another book deal, then doors slowly started to crack open again for me in Hollywood and now I’m writing on a Southern TV show — which is a dream come true. We Southern women are taught that when life gives you lemons, you gotta put ’em in your sweet tea and thank God you’re Southern.

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

Southern women are known for their grit and grace and they carefully instill that grit and grace in their daughters. Our grit can be summed up with our philosophy, “Why do when you can overdo?” For some reason we have this primal need not to just do things, but to do them better than anyone else. Southern women are some of the most determined creatures on earth. If you tell a Southern woman they can’t do something, that only sends her determination into NASCAR force overdrive. So, I think my drive — my grit — is written in my southern DNA. My parents and my grandparents all had incredible work ethic. My family didn’t have the luxury of being lazy, so laziness was never tolerated. We Southerners may be slow paced, but we are not lazy folks. I was raised with the knowledge that luck favors the backbone, not the wishbone.

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

In the South, grits are not only a beloved food, GRITS is also an acronym for Girls Raised In The South. And I attribute any strength and resolve I have to being raised in the South. The truth is, I never even realized how Southern I was until I left the South. When I was younger, I worked hard to disguise my Southern accent and eccentric Southern ways and tried to blend in with the NY and LA crowd as I was repeatedly told that was necessary for success. But I was miserable. I felt like a fraud. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin because I wasn’t embracing my authenticity. Once I unapologetically embraced my Southern roots, leaned into my uniqueness, and began creating in the Southern lane, success began to slowly unfold for me. And more importantly, embracing my true nature led to self-acceptance which is way more validating and rewarding than any career success.

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

  1. Stop whining and start working.
  2. Turn your attitude into gratitude.
  3. Live in faith rather than fear.
  4. Remember that being strong does not require being rude.
  5. Winning is easy. Learning to lose with grace is the true measure of a winner.

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?

I’m incredibly blessed to have a very supportive family and network of close friends. However, my husband, Sam Sokolow, is my biggest cheerleader and I cannot imagine life without him. He’s a television producer, which is why we moved to Los Angeles in the first place, so he totally understands the difficult challenges of being an actor and writer. We’ve been together for twenty-two years, so he’s wiped away twenty-two million of my tears. He’s also quite brilliant, so there’s this constant exchange of creative ideas being thrown around our home which creates a very intellectually stimulating environment. Of course, the pandemic lockdown has been incredibly tough — especially in Los Angeles. It’s possibly the toughest thing I’ve ever had to endure but my husband’s steady love, and incredible sense of humor has kept me from drowning in despair. Plus, the pandemic revealed that he has a tremendous talent for doing laundry and mopping floors. Who knew!? I now consider him to be an “essential worker.”

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

I can only hope that by the mere fact I’m in the business of humor, I am bringing some goodness to the world. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of correspondence from fans saying that my videos helped them get through their chemo sessions or helped them pass the time while sitting next to a loved one’s hospital bed or brought a smile to their face in moments of such despair they thought they’d never smile again. The greatest currency I could ever receive for my work is laughter. To know I’ve made someone laugh and brought a bit of joy, a bit of goodness into their life makes all the hard work worth it.

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

I’m chomping at the bit for the world to see the Netflix show I’ve been working on, Country Comfort. It’s a Southern family sit-com set in Nashville, TN with a fun country music element tucked into the storyline The show is created by Caryn Lucas and stars Katharine McPhee and Eddie Cibrian along with a terrific cast of talented kids. This show is southern fried humor with plenty of heart and I think that’s exactly what the world needs right now. Positive, uplifting, family entertainment.

I also recently adapted the novel, Whistling Past the Graveyard, into a screenplay and my producing partners and I are gearing up to take that project out to market. It takes place in 1963 Mississippi and follows a mixed-race trio, as they embark on a treacherous road trip through the segregated South that drastically changes their lives forever and teaches them family is forged by heart and sacrifice rather than blood. The heartwarming message of this movie is precisely what our country needs right now. Fingers crossed we can sell it.

And of course, I’m toying with some new video concepts for my YouTube channel. Hopefully Americans will be released from Covid jail soon and it will be safe for me to gather my gaggle of Southern actresses and shoot.

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

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

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 would be simple. Choose kindness over hate. Simply be kind. The smallest effort of kindness on your part can have a huge impact on another person’s life. The truth is, we’re all struggling in some way on some level every day and a simple act of kindness is certain to make someone’s struggle a bit more bearable.

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

Earlier, I shared some of my favorite life lesson quotes which were:

-Luck favors the backbone, not the wishbone.

-When life gives you lemons put ’em in your sweet tea and thank God you’re Southern.

-Put your big girl panties on!

In my first book, Talk Southern to Me, I dedicate a chapter to Southern wisdom. A few favorite

philosophies I was raised on and are my personal guideposts are:

-Sometimes you gotta hang in there like hair in a biscuit. (Don’t give up)

-Sweep your own back porch before sweeping somebody else’s. (Tend to your own business)

– The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s tail all the time. (Be patient. Your time is coming)

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.southernwomenchannel.com

YouTube: Southern Women Channel

Facebook: Southern Women Channel

Instagram: @Southernwomenchannel

Twitter: @womensouthern

Contact: southernwomenchannel12@gmail.com


Author Julia Fowler: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’ was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Samantha Perkins: 5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host

Get the professional photographs. Spend the money, take the time, and do it. Having a professional real estate photographer take photos makes your listing stand out. It highlights the best part of your listing and can also clarify details about rooms, surrounding area, and other special things about the property.

Many people dream of becoming an Airbnb host but don’t know where to start. In this series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host” we are interviewing successful Airbnb hosts who share lessons from their experience about how to run a very successful Airbnb property. As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Perkins.

Samantha Perkins is an Airbnb Superhost, author of Alive AF-One Anxious Mom’s Journey to Becoming Alcohol Free, and nervous entrepreneur. Samantha resides in Louisville Ky with her husband and 2 children and manages the family’s three short term rental properties in Mammoth Cave Kentucky. Samantha loves the hospitality aspect of hosting guests via Airbnb and uses her background in Psychology plus her Real Estate knowledge to give guests the best possible experience. Samantha and her family are lovers of nature and frequent all that Mammoth Caves has to offer year around including mountain bike trails, walking paths, and playgrounds. Samantha is extremely grateful for the opportunities that real estate has given her and her family and loves sharing about how to use Real Estate to get you closer to your other passions.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

Thank you! Sure. We are a little family of four and we have a real estate business. My husband was a past banker, whose job was to approve loans for real estate investors (among other things). He got to see real estate transactions come across his desk in the form of numbers and spreadsheets. Eventually, he decided to do some investing himself and so we partnered with a friend to buy single family long term rentals in Atlanta Georgia, where my husband grew up. I wasn’t very excited about us becoming “landlords.” I was a social worker at the time and worried about the quality of the homes, the care that we would be able to put into the tenants, and more. While I would have preferred to overthink the opportunity until it was no longer available to us, my husband was an expert at taking advantage when the time was right. We became landlords and my fears were quickly diminished as I got to witness the love and care that our partner put into to upgrading our properties and taking care of our tenants. Over the years, we invested in a few more properties closer to home. I was a nervous wreck every time but with the experience that my husband had gained from seeing those numbers as a banker, he had a deep understanding of the long term gains. Eventually we both left our full time jobs, sold our big house and downsized so that we could use that money to buy more properties. We sacrificed the quality of our home so that we could set up more passive, long term income. In other words, while I wanted to go shopping for new patio furniture, we had to buy a sparkling new sink console for one of our rental properties instead. While our floors desperately needed an upgrade, we spent our money refinishing floors at the rental property. The work isn’t always easy but at the end of the day it feels really good to take care of those homes. In addition to our long term rentals we’ve added three airbnb short term rentals to our portfolio. This is a much different business. I personally manage these properties which includes everything from answering questions about what size casserole dishes we have in the cabinet to taking care of all of our guests needs during their stay.

What led you to first start becoming an Airbnb host?

My family and I were on our way out of town for the weekend to visit our friends at their lake home about an hour and a half from our home. My husband, a lover of all things real estate, had been searching the area online for houses for sale. We came across this small but charming cabin that was for sale by owner. On our way into town we stopped by to look at the property. It was so well loved and you could tell that the owners had put so much work into the place to make it special. While, I really liked it, I wasn’t sold on the idea of having a second home. Our kids were very little at the time (ages one and three) and I couldn’t fathom having something else to take care of. We left the property and headed to our friends. We spent the weekend in the country and on the lake having a wonderful time. I guess I was swooned by the smell of campfire and taste of smore’s. We drove back by the property the next day and decided to make an offer. I immediately felt worried about the cost. I guess it was a bit of buyer’s remorse. As a solution, I decided we could list on a short term rental site and if it rented, we could offset the cost and justify having such a luxury (the whole thing was less than 500 sq ft total). I had no idea what I was doing but the Airbnb website made it so easy to load information and pictures. As soon as I listed it, people started to book. I was shocked! Before long, it rented so much that we could barely find a weekend to get away and use it ourselves. The business landed in our laps and we took advantage of what was presented to us. Soon we stopped using it all together and made it available as rental only. We bought a chunk of property that was for sale nearby and built two more tiny cabins.

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

At first, we had no idea what we were doing. This cabin was an hour and a half away from our own residence but I managed all of the details myself. I would strap my two babies in the car and drive down to clean the property every couple of days or so including Thanksgiving Day, other holidays, and days that I was busy but forgot to block off. I would have to cancel things, miss events, and more because I was driving back and forth to clean. One day I had my daughter with me who was only two. We had asked someone local in the community to drop off a “rick” of firewood. I lived in the city and I had no idea what a “rick” meant. When I finished cleaning up inside I went outdoors to discover that someone had dropped off our firewood. There must have been 600 logs laying directly in front of the door. I didn’t think to ask to have the man stack it for me and so I was left to carry these heavy logs down to the fire pit area. The guests were scheduled to check in within thirty minutes and it was a hot summer day. I was running with these logs one by one and stacking them in order down the hill to have the property looking neat ready for our guests. My daughter was crying, I was sweating profusely, but we managed to get the wood stacked and be out of the way before the guests arrived. We had to learn the difference between city life and country life. Things are slower, your neighbor is your greatest asset, and it’s okay to ask for help.

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 often tell people that the only reason I’m successful at hosting now is because I’ve made enough mistakes. Airbnb hosting isn’t as much about managing real estate as it is about hospitality. I thought it would be like our long term rentals and that people would show up, rent, and leave. That’s not at all what its like. One time, at our second cabin that we lovingly call the Cozy Cottage, I was rushing or distracted when going over the calendar. It was one of those times that I thought it was Monday all day but it was actually Tuesday. I sent my husband over to the cabin to drop off supplies (toilet paper, coffee, new sheets, sparkling waters) and the cabin had yet to be cleaned. He told me that he thought it was odd our cleaning people hadn’t been there yet but I gave our cleaning lady the benefit of the doubt and assumed she’d get to it later. Later came and our guests reached out to inform me that they had arrived safely and that there were supplies laying everywhere but that they property had yet to be cleaned. I was mortified. I called our cleaning lady and she was there to clean it up within 15 minutes. I refunded the guests entire stay and took them over a basket full of goodies the next day. It was my biggest fear in managing these properties but I learned that communication goes a really long way….And so do refunds. Taking responsibility immediately for my mistake and communicating clearly have been the best lessons I have learned.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?

Getting stuck on price. Our price is flexible. In fact, just yesterday I lowered our price a few dollars for the entire next month. We like to keep traffic coming to our listing and the best way to do that is to have a competitive price. We prefer to keep it booked than to get stuck on getting the highest price for one weekend. We’re also extremely flexible with our refunds. Money is not the only gain. We provide people a place to relax, get away from stress, make memories and more. If we have failed to provide that we get really flexible with our cost. If our listing didn’t meet some of the cleaning standards, we refund some of the money. If someone has an extenuating circumstance, we refund some of the money. I see hosts refusing to work with the guests and it results in negative reviews and an overall negative experience for everyone. On the flip side I see hosts pricing their listing too low. They do all of this work and barely make enough money to cover the cleaning cost. Looking over price regularly, adjusting, and being flexible have made things much easier for us. We stay booked, our guests are happy, and we get good reviews which drives more traffic to our listings.

What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?

Regularly reviewing your price and competition. You can’t just list and walk away. Well, maybe you can if the property is just that amazing. Get to know the surrounding areas. Understand off season and peak season. Adjust the price often (and maybe that’s only by a few dollars). Give refunds when you go wrong. Guests will appreciate it and maybe they’ll come back again because you’ve built trust. It’s really about mindset. If you start the project with the idea that you want to provide people with a wonderful life experience you’ll be a much happier host with happier guests. If you have the mindset that you just want to make money no matter the cost, you will likely endure problems.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Airbnb experience?

In your opinion, what makes you different from the rest? Current times have led to a bigger business. When the news of Covid came in March of 2020 our business took a major crash. We were booked solid at two cabins almost every single day in the months of March, April, and May. But when states started closing and travel was limited every single guest cancelled. We worried whether or not business would come back and had so many questions regarding how to manage something like this. Soon enough, as the states started opening and guests started booking. Our cabins are secluded in the country. There is no major city nearby and it’s a good 15 minutes to the nearest grocery store (which happens to be very small). Guests are isolated and safe at our cabins especially if they are coming from a city setting. There is nearby hiking and we are only 20 or so minutes away from Mammoth Cave National Park that is open and functioning year around. We don’t provide wifi which may seem like a deal breaker for many but the people coming to stay at our location are really looking to get away. Away from social media, news, stress of work, and more. They can come to our cabins, relax, be in nature, and can be reminded of a slower and simpler time. Believe it or not having no wifi is actually a perk for some of our guests!

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Communicate. Guests have a lot of questions. Sometimes before they book they want to know as much about the property as possible. While it all may be listed somewhere in the description guests want reassurance that you will provide them with the exact answer they are looking for. In addition, it’s probably not just your listing that they are questioning. The quicker you respond and make yourself available to answer questions before, during, and after the booking process-the more likely they are to book and have a smooth stay. In addition, if there is something going on at the property (a leaky sink, a stubborn lock, etc) let the guests know. Don’t be afraid to mention flaws. Guests like to be informed and they would much rather know about something going on than find it themselves and be surprised or feel deceived. Transparent communication makes all the difference.
  2. Get the professional photographs. Spend the money, take the time, and do it. Having a professional real estate photographer take photos makes your listing stand out. It highlights the best part of your listing and can also clarify details about rooms, surrounding area, and other special things about the property.
  3. Make cleaning your top priority. While it would be fun to skimp on the cleaning so that you could put together that cute little side table you’ve been wanting to add to the living room it’s not the best choice. If the guests walk into a sparkling clean vacation spot their whole experience will go much smoother. If anything else comes up they are more likely to ignore or let slide because they are feeling good about the place otherwise. When there is dust under the bed or food debris left in the fridge they guests may get a bad vibe and then things start going downhill. They might be thinking what else is wrong here?
  4. Go the extra mile. The best thing about staying in an Airbnb vs a hotel is that personal touch. Leave a handwritten welcome note. Provide water and snacks for their stay. Give them inside scoop on the best local eateries or hikes. Tell them about your favorite thing to do in the area. Make them feel special and taken care of because they chose to stay with you. Thank them for that and make it known how much you appreciate them choosing your listing over all the others.
  5. Set boundaries. We host amazing guests! However, there are some guests that have high or unreasonable expectations. For example, I’ve been asked to drive people places. I get messages in the middle of the night. I’ve been asked to provide things that we just don’t have (a quinoa maker or a garlic press). People always want late check out and early check in. I’ve had to set some rules for myself and really stick to them so that I don’t get sucked into to every single scenario draining myself of both time and energy. I don’t respond to messages after a certain time at night. I rarely allow early check in/late check out because that doesn’t give me enough time to clean the property. I say I’m sorry but we just don’t have certain items and feel free to look elsewhere for a property that does. Sometimes, I have to remind guests (and myself) that I am not a massive hotel business with 17 employees. It’s just me and there are limits to what I can provide or do for guests. I want guests to know if I can’t meet their expectations that they are free to move onto to another, more appropriate fit for their needs.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I’m an introvert and I like for my vacations to be all about relaxation. A small and clean getaway in the mountains or near water with a view is a great start. Somewhere that I can step right into nature from my front door. I like a quiet place to drink my morning coffee and afternoon tea and walk to a local bakery or brunch restaurant if possible. I like board games and extra blankets so we can have family movie nights while we play new games that we might not have at home. Also sun…lots of sun.

Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Now that I have a couple of cleaning helpers I can spend most of my time working on the properties remotely using the Airbnb app/website. I answer questions, coordinate cleanings, and provide check in information in spurts all day every day (like every single day). But I don’t have to be accountable at a desk or in any certain place. In between answering questions and responding to messages, I have time. This time has allowed me to do some serious personal development. I was able to explore and discover the role that alcohol was playing in my life and it turns out it wasn’t a good one. I decided to stop drinking (which is something I had time to nurture) and I wrote about my journey in a blog I started (another thing that I had plenty of time to do). I also published a book called Alive AF-One Anxious Mom’s Journey to Becoming Alcohol Free with the intention to help other women and mothers feel safe to evaluate their alcohol use and decide if it’s working for them. My Airbnb business created the space for me to do this work that a regular 9–5 would have never allowed. I would have been too burnout and stressed at the end of my days to put the kind of effort I needed to into myself. In a way, this business saved me.

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

One thing that this business has taught me is that we are all more alike than we are different. Right now, it seems like we are completely divided as a country. But in the threads of my messages hosting hundreds of people from every race, religion, political preference, and background I can tell you that we all want many of the same things. We want to feel accepted, safe, loved, and validated. We want to have joy and make memories and have fun. People need breaks from their difficult day to day lives and stressors. My movement would be that every single person in the world would have the right and the ability to go on a vacation. What would it be like if everyone could get away from their lived experience and to see something new with a fresh perspective? Maybe we would all be a little more kind and patient.

How can our readers further follow you on social media?

IG samanthaperkins_aliveaf

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


Author Samantha Perkins: 5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.