Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Nancy Beaton of VCOIN

Surround yourself with smart women. Build a circle of trust at work and in life. Build each other up and support each other. We do not need to be in competition, we need to work in collaboration.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Beaton.

Nancy Beaton is the Vice-President of Strategy at Together Labs, the technology parent company behind the leading friend discovery metaverse and social app IMVU and VCOIN, an ERC-20 token, built on Ethereum. Nancy Beaton currently leads efforts to turn the economy of IMVU, one of the largest virtual 3D worlds, into the next generation of market exchange through blockchain technology and VCOIN, which lets all users hold, earn and exit the platform with real value.

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

Nancy Beaton: I’m a “good” Midwesterner, born and raised most of my life in Kansas before moving to Colorado to help start a tech company in Boulder. While both my parents started as teachers, my dad eventually found his way to politics and ended up being one of the longest-serving Lt. Governors of the state. And, growing up it seemed like a lot of obligations at the time, but traveling the state with him and going to dinners, press conferences and even having my family be visible in the media really exposed me to a lot that my formal education did not.

On the more formal side of my upbringing I have three degrees (BA in Rhetoric, MS in Journalism and an MBA) as I need to be continuously learning which likely contributed to me typically jumping at new career opportunities that challenged me — which is also why I think I was so attracted to starting new businesses, especially in the ever-changing environment of tech.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

As I mentioned before I have an insatiable appetite to learn, there isn’t one touchstone book or podcast that had an impact on me…I listen to and read as many as I can. I can tell you that growing when getting in trouble, my dad would always say, “well, what did you think would happen?” This was a common phrase in my house and likely hit meet more than a single market strategy from an Olgivy book. It left me always thinking through scenarios, what would happen and a bit of strategic game play when it came to business.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.

We have all seen the Ready Player One type movies, Westworlds and others that portray the idea of a unified experience across the Metaverse and I personally believe these are all a matter of “when” and not “if”. I have been fortunate enough to be on the forefront of some great tech plays and believe in the power of what X Reality, what it can bring to users and how it can shape the market.

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

I am a firm believer that we achieve our ultimate success with help from others. It is key to surround ourselves with friends, mentors, bosses and colleagues who make us better and stretch us to play at the top of our game. It is why I feel lucky to have had strong mentors and why I choose to be a mentor in programs such as TechStars.

Specifically, I am fortunate to have first, a strong group of women that I call friends, mentors, colleagues and part of my circle of trust that I can turn to for any part of my life — — professional and personal. For any woman, young or old, this is essential. Things are different for women and we need others who understand and can support us.

On the business side, I would say that I have been in business some way or another with John Burris, Chief Strategy Officer for Together Labs, for the past 20 years. He pushes me to recognize what I am capable of, even when I might not see it myself, is something for which I am grateful. And, while we challenge each other, the friendship, friendship of our families and his guidance has helped me reach where I am today.

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

VCOIN. This is the first digital currency that can be earned in a virtual world and transferred off of the platform and converted to real cash for people to us in the real world. Based on Blockchain technology, this puts control in the hands of earners in virtual worlds, games and communities and enables users to turn the love of the game and the time they spend to real money.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now.b What in particular most excites you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

What excites me most is the immersive nature that VR, AR and MR deliver to users. I already see it with my eight year old son who dives deep into Minecraft on his Oculus because “it feels more real”. His expectations are already high when it comes to what you can do with technology and eventually AR,VR and MR will meet and exceed those expectations.

Secondly, I believe that when you combine these technologies with other new and exciting technologies such as blockchain, NFTs and other forms of user control and interaction the market will really begin to take off in a meaningful way.

What concerns you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

Right now, the most proven business case is gaming with just a few standout examples. And, don’t get me wrong, gaming is a great industry in which to have success — it is bigger than Movies and North American sports combined. Obviously, we are huge fans of the game and social gaming industry.

But for the AR, VR and MR industries to really take hold we need to see proven business models in other industries as well. This will be a matter of time as the technology becomes more widely adopted with access in lower-priced devices and accessibility across devices in everyone’s hands. This is when it will turn from a “novel science” to a useful product.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?

Definitely. VR, AR and MR have great capabilities in the areas of health care — which is front and center on everyone’s minds right now, construction proof of concepts, mapping with AR and arts and galleries creating more immersive experiences than listening to guided tours on headsets.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I think there is always room for improvement — especially when it comes to women in STEM. I think we address this starting at the roots:

First, we need to highlight more women in STEM. As we discussed before, no one gets to the top of their game without mentors. It makes it even harder when you don’t see anyone like you as a successful leader, harder to find a mentor to help you navigate a sometimes difficult path, and harder to see yourself in the field at all.

Secondly, we need to share more of what STEM is — Amazon is STEM, Facebook is STEM, Google is STEM, Snap is STEM. We need to attract more young women to the field with the products, companies and interests they know and have today. It starts in school where it should be core to the curriculum and not an after-school offering to join STEM as it is in many classrooms today.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?

Virtual experiences are more than just fun games. These experiences truly connect users, create friendships and give users a means to make a living. Unlike just scrolling through curated social posts, true virtual experiences — like those we have at Together Labs — can create healthy social environments with new friends and give users a way to turn the time they spend in the game into a way to make real value.

For example, in IMVU, our users provide all of the virtual goods and services on the platform. Now, those that are wedding officiants, avatar editors, personal shoppers can provide services, earn a digital currency (VCOIN) and convert that VCOIN to real cash. When you hear from this Producers, as we call them, connect with users, provide a valuable service and earn real money. Very different from a traditional first-person shooter experience on a console.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Five leadership lessons…wow, after this many years in tech, I have learned a lot.

  1. Both men and women are smart, many times only men believe they are smart enough. Too many anecdotes on this one to choose just one.
  2. Both men and women are smart, many times only men believe they are smart enough. I am saying it twice because it is that important.
  3. Walk into the room like you belong there…because you do. When I was younger in my career we went to Japan to research a new product offering and how to bring it to market. As was the custom at that time, they had two tables facing each other (one for our team and one for the partner’s team). Name tags were placed from center to the end based upon professional hierarchy. Being one of only two women my name tag was at the end — although I was second in seniority. Without causing embarrassment I picked up my name tag and moved it to the middle to sit across from my partner counterpart.
  4. Always be learning, be watching, be listening. Unfortunately, oftentimes a weakness of women in tech is that we don’t feel we belong — or it has been so hard to be recognized, you sometimes question that. So we are always trying to improve, to listen to what people need and carefully watching. Use this as your superpower — and you will quickly surpass those that stagnantly rely on only what they possess today and ego.
  5. Surround yourself with smart women. Build a circle of trust at work and in life. Build each other up and support each other. We do not need to be in competition, we need to work in collaboration.

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. 🙂

Free good education to everyone. It is a great equalizer and can also be a great barrier. I have been fortunate to be born into a circumstance and environment where it was available, valued and made accessible. But not everyone has that opportunity and they should. It should be a basic right.

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

There are so many.

A living leader — likely Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. I love her drive and grit, even when she got into an industry she didn’t know. And, even today she hasn’t lost that drive, nor the desire to change women’s lives.

The nerd in me — I have always been fascinated by the Algonquin Roundtable — the idea that smart, sassy and well-read people would get together and banter and collaborate every day at lunch is my cup of tea.To be part of that once would be amazing.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!


Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Nancy Beaton of VCOIN was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Erika Cramer of The Queen of Confidence: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To…

Erika Cramer of The Queen of Confidence: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Get around mentors, coaches and others who are resilient — They have a different way of seeing the world, they are optimistic and most times will have a solution mindset and choose to focus on solutions rather than problems. Growing up I didn’t have this community and I noticed the difference.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Cramer, The Queen of Confidence

Erika Cramer, The Queen of Confidence, is an award-winning international confidence coach and host of the 5 star-rated Confidence Chronicles Podcast. After surviving many traumatic experiences, Erika is a real example of how you can heal your personal story to transform trauma into triumph and now leads a global movement to empower women. She is also the author of the new book, Confidence Feels Like Sh!t.

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

I grew up in a little town near Boston, Massachusetts. I was raised by a single mother who truly did the best she could, while struggling with bipolar. I was in and out of the foster care system, while she was in and out of mental hospitals. Growing up in the system there was a lot of sexual abuse, verbal abuse and physical abuse. It created this really angry child and in high school, I struggled with my worthiness and felt like I was damaged goods.

That led to me joining the military at 17, a stint that lasted 10 years. I fell in love with my high school sweetheart; he went to war and thankfully, he came back, but he wasn’t the same. We ended up in a terrible car accident. He walked away, and I broke my back. I had to learn how to walk again. It was a crazy tragedy. But it really woke me up to my life. The following year, unfortunately, my husband was drinking and driving on his own and he passed away in a car accident. I felt so trauma’d out by then that it was too much to handle. I numbed out for the next five years of my life.

This is the very short version! After this, I ended up moving to Australia where I went on a huge journey of self-development and discovery. I spent over $50k on courses, mentors, life coaches and retreats. I fully worked through my life and trauma and I got so obsessed with doing this work, I decided I would help women do the same thing. I also met my personal trainer Hamish, who later became my husband. We’re now married with two gorgeous sons.

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

I had my second son in 2017. I was working for a corporate company and had been doing my side hustle for five years. I lacked so much confidence, but one morning I was in the shower (why does all the wisdom come in the shower?). I got a clear message: “You’re not here to do what you’re doing. You’re here to become a confidence coach. You’re here to help women.” I ran downstairs and told my husband. I wasn’t going to go back to my corporate career. I was going to become a confidence coach!

It was the scariest thing to do, because it was the worst timing. We were dead broke, in debt, and we just had a second baby. But this meant I didn’t have the luxury of doubting myself — I had to do what I had to do to make it work. I had to go all in. I started creating content, I started sharing, building a community on social media. I started a YouTube channel, I started my podcast. I had to step up and by “having to do it”, it made all of our dreams and business vision come true. My biggest takeaway from that experience is that no one’s going to come knocking at your door. If you want to do something, you need to just do it. You need to make your own noise instead of expecting other people to somehow discover you or find you.

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

One of the biggest things that makes our company, The Queen Of Confidence, stand out is that we are about community and sisterhood. We’re about taking responsibility and we’re about integrity. During the COVID pandemic, we had 300-plus students in 18 countries in our program. Since the pandemic hit different parts of the world, affected different parts of the world differently, we emailed every single one of our members and asked them if they needed financial support, if they needed to pause payments, if there was anything we could do? We even ended up doing a fundraiser for the women who were really struggling.

Because we reached out and looked after them, we didn’t have any members drop off. We can say that not only do we have values, but we truly live our values in this business. We don’t just say we’re for women, but what we do is for women. We are a company that takes a stand for that. We are inclusive. We are supportive.

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

I have to really give it up to my husband, Hamish. He was the first person I ever told my whole story to and instead of feeling ashamed or broken, he really honoured me. He made me feel seen and strong. He was very patient, and gently invited me to work on myself and to unpack my difficult experiences so that I could grow from them. He is still my greatest teacher and mentor.

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

I think of resilience as an ability to overcome difficulty and discomfort, without it destroying you. Meaning, when you’re able to overcome the difficulties life gives you and not allow it to ruin your existence. Instead resilient people let it make them, they let their hardest times create their inner strength. I feel it’s highly connected to resourcefulness and being someone who looks for solutions to the challenges they are faced with.

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

Nicholas Vujicic. He was born with no arms and no legs, he could have easily felt sorry for himself and spent his life being angry at the world (something I read he did in his youth). Instead, he spends his life as a motivational speaker teaching children about the importance of accepting people’s differences and inspiring others with his story. He shows us that it’s not about what happens to us, it’s about what we make it mean and what we decide to do next. We can allow the tough times to destroy us or grow us. We get to choose.

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

Yes, when I broke my back at 23 years old, my doctor told me I would never touch my toes and that I would have back pain for most of my life, especially if I ever decided to get pregnant. He was wrong. Three months after surgery I was able to touch my toes. I had two children and no back pain and to this day, I still never have pain in my back, even though there is a titanium fusion. I have been able to deadlift 100kg by strengthening my back and core!

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

To be honest I feel I have too many of those moments, but the one that stands out right now is the most recent one. In 2017, my husband and I found ourselves in the worst financial position ever. I was a contractor on unpaid maternity leave, my husband’s gym business was on the decline, we had just had our second child, moved into a large home rental and drained our savings account.

It was the most stressful time. We were looking for coins underneath the car seats to buy bread for our family. Just 11 months later, I had created an income of $160,000 in our coaching business. The tough time we experienced gave me such a desire to hustle and not only hustle but to actually go for my dreams.

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

When I was 7, my mother took us on a family vacation to Puerto Rico and we got into a terrible car accident. Our car had flipped upside down multiple times, we were lucky to survive. My dad heard that I was in the country and what had happened (he’d left us when I was two). Just four days after our horrific car accident, I was kidnapped by my dad, who I’d never met. Suddenly, I wasn’t going back to America to be with my mother — I was staying in Puerto Rico, without her, with a whole new family and unfortunately I couldn’t speak the language.

When I was finally reunited with my mom 12 months later, we jumped back into the regular cycle I grew up with of my mom getting sick, me visiting her in mental hospitals and living in yet another foster home. By 16, I’d had enough. This experience was terrible at the time, but it showed me my strength, and my ability to persevere and keep going, even when I felt like I was cursed. In Puerto Rico I learned Spanish and ended up connecting to my roots. Twenty years later, I reunited with my dad and heard his side of the story and gained deep closure. Every single “bad” moment supported me, therefore I can’t think of them as bad. It’s because of all the hardship that I am who I am, and I have been able to create the life I live and leave the impact I have.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Become aware of your stories and what meaning you’ve put behind them — We all have a story about our lives. I carried the story that I was damaged goods and unworthy of love. How that played out in my life was that I attracted toxic relationships into my life. The moment I started working on myself and realising that I can choose what things mean changed everything for me. I remember my first ever mentor telling me that I could choose how I wanted to see my past and my mind was blown. She taught me that I didn’t have to make meaning out of anything. Later I realised that if I don’t believe my crappy stories, they have no power over me. It was and still is such a huge realisation.
  2. Commit to working on yourself — A growth mindset is needed if we’re going to become more resilient. When I started to read books, listen to podcasts, join programs and hire coaches I started to unravel my past and see the gifts in the difficulties. We can become more resilient if we’re willing to become more optimistic, which comes when you raise your consciousness and you start working on you.
  3. Choose to see things happening FOR you rather than TO you — A lesson I learned from Tony Robbins. He would always say there is a gift in the struggle and although things seem hard in the moment, notice that everything you have ever experienced that has been difficult has created strength and resilience in you. We cannot become more resilient without the challenges, this is a part of the process. I wouldn’t be able to serve the women I do today and have the empathy for my clients who experienced trauma if I myself hadn’t felt similar feelings to them in my past.
  4. Work on your self confidence — This was one of the biggest things that helped me become more resilient. I lacked so much confidence until I started to work through my life, gaining awareness and putting myself out there. I started doing things that scared me and proving to myself that I could overcome my fear and that I could do hard things. Little by little my inner confidence grew. Self-confidence is extremely important if you’re going to become resilient.
  5. Get around mentors, coaches and others who are resilient — They have a different way of seeing the world, they are optimistic and most times will have a solution mindset and choose to focus on solutions rather than problems. Growing up I didn’t have this community and I noticed the difference. When I started to strengthen myself, take responsibility for my life and my results I would attract the same group of people. Those who wanted to grow and evolve and in this community I thrived, I was supported and I felt like things would get better and of course, they did.

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

I would love to see more of us working on ourselves, I would like to normalise the expression of hard feelings and emotions without it feeling like “if I go speak to a professional coach or therapist something is wrong with me”. I would love to have more trauma informed humans in the education system, in the medical system, in government etc. So many people suffer in silence about their feelings of inadequacy or not feeling good enough and if it keeps going unspoken we think we’re the only ones. In reality, this is something everyone experiences; there is nothing wrong with us, we are not broken or damaged, we’ve experienced trauma and we should be able to openly discuss this in our communities and hold space for each other to transform.

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

Tony Robbins. I freaking love him so much. The fact that he is SO resilient and has lived SO much and the fact that he completely transformed his life. Then decided to serve others and still continues till this day to serve others. He could easily retire, he’s got the money, the love of his life, the family, the success, yet he will still stand up and speak for 50+ hours at his live events (events that he has been doing for years). Also I think we both have the same crazy amount of high energy and I love that about him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me everywhere but i particularly hang out a lot on instagram so come say hi

▸ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/thequeenofconfidence

▸ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Theconfidencequeen

▸ Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/erika-cramer-ab695571

▸ Website: www.thequeenofconfidence.com

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


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

Non-Fungible Tokens: Shani Merdler of Minute Media On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a…

Non-Fungible Tokens: Shani Merdler of Minute Media On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry

Empathy is a strong weapon — when trying to think of what the other side has in mind, whether it’s seller or buyers, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand their perspective. If you approach situations with the mindset of what you would care about, what would move you to action and make you come back again, you are set up for a greater measure of success.

Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shani Merdler. Shani is the VP of Product at Minute Media, a leading global content and technology company and owner of The Players’ Tribune, FanSided, 90min, DBLTAP, Mental Floss and The Big Lead. SInce 2013, Shani has helped develope the publishing, video and content tools that help Minute Media and its publishing partners create, distribute and consumer digital content. Today Minute Media holds the #1 spot in Comscore’s U.S. sports video rankings and #3 in U.S. sports reach.

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in a small town in the center of Israel, the eldest of four children and granddaughter to immigrant grandparents from Romania and Iraq.

I was always very independent and after serving in a technology unit in the Israeli army, I took a different path from most freshly-released Israeli soldiers. I started working in the hitech industry. What was supposed to be a year of saving up money for a long, glorious trip was replaced by a career path that led me to where I am today.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a short book that lays out in a very structured and simple way sources for our suffering as humans that mostly come from our perception. It resonated with me as I saw how we are all used to being part of a situation or experience that we rarely look at ourselves from the outside. There is so much value in this new perspective of understanding that we have a choice in how people’s actions and words affect us. It can help us become more empathetic and compassionate towards others which I believe also leads to success in different aspects of life.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.

At Minute Media, I am responsible for product development to help our own media properties as well as our publishing partners reach more people, increase engagement, bring in more revenue and monetization opportunities. This includes everything from video tools, to content management systems, to ad tools. I am constantly thinking of both content creators and the end-user that is consuming the content. Minute Media has a large focus on sports (The Players’ Tribune, 90min, FanSided and others), and the sports world has been an early adopter of bringing NFTs more to the public.

The connection of NFTs to the creators and media world is very natural in my view. As the creator economy rises in popularity and more and more tools and services are being created to empower them and support their success and financial indepences, NFTs are a vehicle that can solve many of the challenges that are coming up for creators.

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

An interesting experience that I have had was participating in a Roblox concert. I’m usually not a user of the platform but I was intrigued by the experience. I have found it extremely weird to be walking in this virtual space as a character that I don’t feel a connection to. This is why the idea behind Meetbites resonated so much with me, similarly to how I choose what I wear in the physical world, I should be able to choose how I look when I’m in the virtual space. Especially with their new guide on how to convert your character into a metaverse avatar.

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

The funniest mistake I’ve made was assuming that the same limitation of the physical world also applies for NFTs. I was thinking that there could be only one copy of what is also called an edition of a certain NFTs, like in the physical world there is only one copy of the Mona Lisa. This made me look at all of the marketplace platforms the wrong way.

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

I have had great teachers in different forms along the way, many times the most unexpected ones. If I have to choose one person that helped me get where I am today, it’s my father.

My father had his own business in the ERP software industry most of his life, and from a young age he has shared with me stories and dilemmas from his work and the way he chose to deal with them. He was and is a great advisor that helped me look at things with the right perspective more than one time, stopping me from making mistakes by sharing his philosophy.

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

At Minute Media we are working on exciting tools to help content creators grow their business through content creation, distribution and experiences. Our goal is to empower them to make the most out of their creation through their properties and through our ecosystem. This is powered by Voltax which features a CMS for written content, an OVP for video content and what we call Voltax Boost — a smart toolkit that helps enhance their revenue potential, content offerings, and audience development, enabling them to stay ahead of the ever-changing industry. For NFTs specifically, I believe that they are a great enabler for us to do great things for creators once NFTs will support new types of assets.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?

NFTs enable us to own and prove our ownership over digital assets. Similarly to how we acquire physical products from stores, offline or online, we are now able to own a beautiful digital art in the highest quality using NFTs. People that value art and unique objects value it regardless of it’s form of existence. Thanks to technology, digital experiences are no longer secondary to physical ones and that’s the key to why people are willing to spend money on them.

The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

What most excites me about the industry is the endless possibilities for it to evolve.

If we are getting specific, I’m moved by how NFTs are going to shape digital communities, how a true sense of community can emerge from models where all community members contribute to a certain cause but also be compensated for its success.

I’m also interested in how NFTs shift the power balance to the creators, allowing them to create the guardrails for the consumption of their work, allowing only their true followers, the ones that purchased their item or items before to be able to acquire their latest work.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

The things that I’m most concerned about are around the utilization of NFTs for negative purposes such as racism, hate of speech, encouraging violence and more. While NFTs have had a beautiful (also visually) beginning, we have already witnessed things that started with good intentions but have been misused in a way that caused harm.

To address these concerns, I believe a really strong moderation tool is needed that will be able to scan assets and prevent the exchange of these types of assets.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe that some of the myths that surround NFTs are that they are only relevant for a small group of geeks. However, this can easily be debunked as well-known, more mainstream entities start to use them, as we’ve seen with Taco Bell and others.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?

A common mistake that I see broad;y, not just with NFTs, is that people tend to jump into things without understanding how they work. For NFTs specifically, this means that people are entering the industry without being knowledgeable enough about how things work, the different platforms that exist and the entire ecosystem. People have gotten used to consuming quick “how to” videos on everything they do in life and their attention span continues to shorten. My main recommendation is whatever you want to do, first learn the rules of the game, then play.

How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?

I believe that NFTs could have a great potential for charities looking to raise money using auctions of digital assets. This trend has shown it’s first signs with this auction for the cause of stopping Asian hate.

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Knowledge is power — we are fortunate to have access to free information that helps us be more informed in our choices and untap our abilities and potential. You want to be successful? Master the way things are working.
  2. Be nimble — don’t restrict yourself to what has been done or how it has been done, continue to try new things, new platforms and above all, experiment. Eventually you will find what works for you.
  3. Get creative — when you think you have exhausted your options, remember that the number of opportunities is endless. New initiatives continue to emerge and since you know what you do best, think creatively about how it can connect to what is being done.
  4. Don’t be a stranger — there is some loneliness and individualism around creation online but many good things are coming from collaborating with others. Whether it’s via a community, social media or any other form of communication, reach out to people that inspire you, you might be surprised by the outcome 🙂
  5. Empathy is a strong weapon — when trying to think of what the other side has in mind, whether it’s seller or buyers, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand their perspective. If you approach situations with the mindset of what you would care about, what would move you to action and make you come back again, you are set up for a greater measure of success.

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

I would create a platform of NFTs for good, where people can create and donate assets to their favorite charities. The platform will enable the charities to easily create a public auction for the assets and maintain their community of donors.

If that triggers a movement, count me in and let me know 🙂

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

Yes, I would love to have a private breakfast with Elie Hassenfeld, the founder of GiveWell to speak about the opportunity NFTs could have for charities.


Non-Fungible Tokens: Shani Merdler of Minute Media On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Alkaline Certified & Alkaline Fresh: Brandon Burrell’s Big Ideas That Might Change The World

The challenges of raising funding! Before started Alkaline Fresh, I never had to raise funds for my previously companies as they were self-funded by myself, so I was unaware of the process of fundraising and how many different variables that came along with it.

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 Brandon Burrell CEO & Founder of Alkaline Certified & Alkaline Fresh.

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 have always had a major passion for eating healthy foods but when I started my global recruiting firm and started providing culinary and food beverage applicants for the maritime industry my desire just went to another level. Being in the food culinary space, I learned a great deal about culinary arts from various countries around the world. In my travels, I learned about The Alkaline Diet and how alkaline foods had so many positive effects on the human body.

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

When I started my global recruiting firm, I created partnerships in Ghana, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, South Africa and Vietnam where me and my team set up culinary and food hospitality schools to provide the necessary trainings for individuals who were seeking careers in the maritime and hotel industries.

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

Always set goals for whatever I want to achieve. If there is no set goal, there is nothing to strive towards. Everything must be sacrificed for the attainment of that goal, and one must persist through all adversity until the goal has been obtained. Another principle I live by is to always do the right thing because good will always follow.

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

The creation of Alkaline Fresh and Alkaline Certified. Both projects are monumental and will create a paradigm shift to our current awareness regarding food, beverage and personal nutrition products. With Alkaline Fresh, it is the first company to provide the healthiest plant base ready- made alkaline meals to adults and children that will help fight adult and childhood obesity in America. Amongst environmental issues, such as consumption of animal products, preserving our oceans and natural ecosystems by helping decrease the demand in fishing which is affecting our planet. Alkaline Certified will help spread awareness of alkaline products by being the company that certifies alkaline food, beverage and personal nutrition products. We are committed to certifying and building sources of alkalinity products, educating consumers and providing certification. Alkaline Certified will give consumers to right know that their food is alkaline, or acid based. Both of the ideas will change the world in a positive way forever.

How do you think this will change the world? The world will now have the awareness along with the access to the healthiest meals on the planet that it did not have prior to Alkaline Fresh and Alkaline Certified being established.

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?

Currently, I do not foresee any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think deeply about. Our products and services are aimed directly to help consumers easily be able to choose healthier options that they were previously unaware. Alkaline Fresh and Alkaline Certified will are extremely beneficial to consumers who are seeking to improve their wellness and have no ill effects.

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

The tipping point was the rise of COVID-19 and how Americans were losing their lives to this diseases mainly because of underlying health issues. Especially, minorities! It was just extremely sad to see people suffer and lose their lives because of obesity issues. I was just fed up and watching people die and decided I needed to put my dreams into motion no matter how difficult they may be to achieve. As a minority, I knew if people could see what I created I could impact millions of lives around the US and the world in a positive way. Therefore, I acted on my ideas and started to put them motion in the peak of the pandemic.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption? I need a positive public platform to lead this idea to widespread adoption. People are always seeking ways of having a healthier lifestyle and I believe with the right platforms widespread adoption will happen immediately.

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

  1. The challenges of raising funding! Before started Alkaline Fresh, I never had to raise funds for my previously companies as they were self-funded by myself, so I was unaware of the process of fundraising and how many different variables that came along with it.
  2. The importance of having networking relationships with employees working in VC’s. I had no one in my circle who had prior experience on fund raising nor did I have relationships with people who worked for VC’s so I had to step outside of my comfort zone and network with various organizations and professionals who had experience in the VC space to educate me along the way.
  3. The importance of having traction for startups. This was a question I was truly not expected to answer for a startup company that had not launched. I learned that I could create traction outside of revenue streams from other sources such as branding, product development, connecting with influencers and establishing valuable partnerships.
  4. The importance of having positive people around you when starting a business. When starting a new business there are so many ups and downs along with all a lot of doubt, fear and anxiety. It is important to surround yourself around people who are supportive even if they cannot see the end goal. It makes the experience less worrisome when you have that support group. No one will be in harmony with the goal like you because it’s part of your consciousness!
  5. Align yourself with partners that believe in you! During this process I have align myself with partners who believe in me, my brand and really are passionate about the products and services my companies are providing.

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

  1. The importance of setting goals and the proper way to attain them.
  2. Establish a daily gratitude practice. I learned from mentors the importance of having a daily gratitude practice and when faced with adversity to remember to express gratitude.
  3. Always keep positive mental attitude.
  4. Action must be taken in spite of doubt, fear and any other negative factors.
  5. Trust your intuition when making decisions.
  6. Act as if the goal is already completed and it will be.
  7. Enjoy the journey and trust the process.

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 🙂

Perhaps you have a growing family and struggle to find convenient yet healthy meal options for every day of the week. Maybe you feel your constant battle with weight gain, brain fog, and food allergens deserve attention. Perhaps you are ready to help America diminish the obesity issue in children and adults. Introducing Alkaline Fresh! We help young adults, athletes, and families eat healthy foods. We do this by providing ready-made, plant-based foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Imagine arriving home from work to find your Alkaline Fresh box on your doorstep. That feeling of relief you get when you see the Alkaline Fresh box and know all you have to do is heat your meals and not worry about the millions of details necessary to cook a fresh, healthy meal.

Hello, I’m Brandon Burrell, Former Wall Street Investment Banker, Serial International Entrepreneur & Founder of Alkaline Fresh. I have partnerships and conduct business in over 8 countries in the culinary, maritime, hotel, and financial services.

After years of enjoying an alkaline diet, I realized that most consumers have limited options to purchase quick, healthy alkaline meals. Most market options use low protein, low fiber ingredients enriched with soy and other additives such as thickening agents or gluten, which is not suitable for anyone. Customers don’t have the option to purchase premium, ready-made plant-based alkaline meals.

Until Now.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brandon-burrell-5aa040b/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brandon.burrell.754

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/burrellbran

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


Alkaline Certified & Alkaline Fresh: Brandon Burrell’s Big Ideas 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.

The Future Is Now: Jenna Yim of ProtoPie On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Jenna Yim of ProtoPie On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

Everybody Wants To Feel Important — We spend at least 8 hours a day at work with our team members. That’s ⅓ of the day! What we often don’t acknowledge is the influence that has on us and the influence we have on each other.

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

Jenna Yim is the president and chief strategy officer of ProtoPie, the codeless interactive design tool ProtoPie. Yim has spent 18 years diving deep into digital ecosystems, digital transformation and user experience strategy to bring large and complex digital projects to life. Her global perspective on user experience and digital strategy was forged by working across Asia and North America. In the latter, she spent over 12 years driving digital expertise for creative businesses such as Isobar, Publicis, and No Fixed Address by making her mark as VP, Solutions Strategy and Customer Experience at FCB/Six providing strategic partnership to C-level clients of global brands. Over the course of her career, she has played a pivotal role in creating successful digital & mobile foundations for global brands including LG, Samsung, BMO, WestJet, The Home Depot, and AXA Insurance. Now back in her native South Korea, she is defining the future of digital design as a global business leader and Chief Strategy Officer for ProtoPie.

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 speak Korean and English, but my first language is digital. I’ve spent the last 18 years deep-diving into digital ecosystems, from user experience to digital transformations, I’ve loved bringing complex and unique projects to life. I consider myself very fortunate in that I was able to develop a truly global perspective on UX and strategy by working in two very different continents — East Asia and North America.

I spent 15 years in North America working as VP of solutions, strategy, and customer experience, strategically partnering with C-level clients from global brands and guiding an extremely talented team to thrive and deliver results. From LG to Samsung, BMO to Home Depot, I have contributed to creating successful digital and mobile foundations for some of the most recognised brands.

Now back home in South Korea, I’m a global business leader, strategist, maximizer and chief strategy officer of Studio XID, a company that provides the code-less interactive design tool ProtoPi’. I’m responsible for the full operation of the Growth and Customer Success Division. It’s been a journey, but I am very much in love with what I do — the passion, curiosity and tenacity that stems from that really drives me to deliver the best solutions I can.

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

This might not be the most interesting story, but it’s definitely the most challenging part of my life and career. In 2017, at the peak of my career, I got a severe concussion from a very unfortunate accident. Overnight I went from a high-functioning, intelligent woman to a person with a two-digit IQ who couldn’t even go outside without physical pain and emotional fear. Since then, it has been a long journey of recovery and adaptation of my “new” limited capabilities. It was a very difficult journey but as a result, I believe I became a better leader who understands the power of caring for others, values empathy at work, and knows how to motivate others and support them to overcome difficulties they encountered.

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

I work on the strategic direction of a product called ProtoPie. ProtoPie is a powerful software used to create interactive prototypes to communicate and demonstrate creative ideas with others. Imagine that you have a mobile app idea that you want to show to your potential investors. It used to take a lot of time and effort to find designers and engineers who could create a functional demo. With ProtoPie, you can create this functional prototype on your own. The tool lets you express your idea without coding. Instead of spending hours on coding, users can focus on articulating their ideas and exploring various options before finding the right solution. I’m currently working on expanding the capabilities of ProtoPie so that users can not only explore their idea but publish it as a final product. From the conception to creation of interactive digital products, ProtoPie will empower users to go through this journey as easy as pie.

How do you think this might change the world?

Just like YouTube influenced everybody to become a content creator, I believe ProtoPie can empower everybody to become creators. One doesn’t have to be a designer or engineer, but anybody with creative ideas can create digital products. Parents can create a mobile app for kids to learn math, an entrepreneur can create a concept product to find potential investors, and a student can create a tablet game he can play with his friends. By eliminating the obstacles of coding, we can change the world of interactive digital products.

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

Just like the drawbacks of user-generated videos that could be created for abusive and harmful purposes, user-generated digital products could benefit or harm others based on the creator’s intentions. A tool like ProtoPie empowers people to create something, but proper guidance or education is required for all creators about harmful contents and utilities.

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

The most meaningful tipping point was actually at the beginning of our journey. Tony, our CEO and co-founder, was questioning how interactive ideas can be expressed without the core message being lost in translation. He was inspired by the simplicity of music notes where beautiful pieces of music can be expressed through a combination of simple symbols. He created a concept model of ProtoPie by defining basic elements of interactions as triggers & responses. By combining 25 triggers and 17 responses, you can pretty much express any interactive ideas. That’s pretty cool, huh?

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

The most challenging part of ProtoPie’s adoption is that people simply don’t know they can create something without code or coding experience. We recently released a voice prototyping feature where users can demonstrate a voice-activated experience, similar to Siri or Alexa, through the prototype. However, most people will assume that they will need an engineer’s help to create this experience. Breaking the current perception of technical limitations; that is our challenge.

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

Because ProtoPie is very innovative, we decided to use a more traditional method of marketing to break the perception. We created a beautiful 3D animation video to tell the story of a creator’s journey. We delivered the message very beautifully without an overwhelming use of technical jargon or flashy marketing copies. We just wanted to deliver the message that “an idea stuck in your head is just an idea. Free your idea with ProtoPie.”

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

There are way too many people who helped me in my journey, so I found this question particularly hard. If I really had to name one person, then I would have to say Lori Ralko, who was my psychotherapist. She helped me understand my inner strengths and made me believe I am much stronger than how I see myself. Especially during my recovery from the accident and concussion, there was a moment when I thought I would never be able to be back to who I was again. Then, with her help, I was able to realize that I don’t need to go back to who I was. I have power to create a “New Me” who will be even stronger and wiser than before.

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

I know there are many intelligent and great leaders (and potential leaders) out there. But I also know that even those who we think are the greatest, have their own doubts, insecurities and fears. I try to be very open and honest about the struggles I had along the way, rather than emphasizing the shiny and glamorous parts. Even if there are only one or two people who may be experiencing similar challenges, I think it is still worth letting them know that they are not alone.

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

  1. Everybody Wants To Feel Important — We spend at least 8 hours a day at work with our team members. That’s ⅓ of the day! What we often don’t acknowledge is the influence that has on us and the influence we have on each other. As a leader, you have to remember that one careless word can really ruin someone’s whole day. When we wake up in the morning and go to work, there isn’t a single person who thinks, “I want to have the most meaningless day.” Everybody wants to be recognized, appreciated, and believe that they contributed to something that matters. If we remember this then the way we treat each other will be better and we will all have a more meaningful ⅓ of a day, every day.
  2. Your Energy Is Your Leadership — When I think of the great leaders I have met in my life, they always had a smile on their faces and positive energy shining through regardless of the time of day or mood they were in. Great leaders know how to bring positive energy to the room and deliver it to people around them.
  3. Define Your Goals Based On Intrinsic Values, Not Extrinsic Values — When I see a team member’s career development plan, I often notice that their career goal is to be promoted or to get a salary raise. The thing is that promotions and salary increases are the outcomes of the evaluation. Basically, it is a KPI of your performance, not something you can decide or control. Create your career goals based on the capabilities you want to gain, skills you want to improve, and growth you want to achieve. Then, sooner than later, you’ll be able to achieve the outcome as a result.
  4. Success Is Achieved By Developing Your Strengths, Not Eliminating Your Weaknesses — What are your top strengths? This is a simple question and so often asked during an interview. You may answer this well during the interview, but once you start the job, quickly you start feeling insecure and thinking about all the things you may not be good at. Be confident. Be aware of your own talents and strengths. Focus on excelling at what you are good at and find a partner who can compliment your weakness, rather than trying to be good at everything. You’ll soon realize that you are not only more successful but also happier in life.
  5. Bring Solutions, Not Complaints — This is very simple but often gets forgotten. Many people easily can find something they don’t like or they have trouble with. However, not many people see it as an opportunity to come up with solutions to make the situation better. Just a simple attitude change will bring drastic improvements to your relationships, communications and performances at work.

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

Respect for Diversity — We are all different human beings with different personalities, perspectives, lifestyles, languages, races, gender, and so on. We all need to stop expecting others to be the same as we are and learn how to respect and embrace differences. I believe the world will be a better place if we all try to understand these differences because they really are our biggest strength.

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

I love who I’ve been, but I really love who I’m becoming.” — Dulce Ruby

Even when I thought I had rock bottom, when I was going through illnesses or difficulties, I was learning and growing. I truly believe that I became a better person as a result. This quote inspires me not to be afraid of the unknown future because I now know that the future me will always be the better version of me.

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

#Design #No-Code #Productivity #EnterpriseSaaS #Innovation
ProtoPie has the full potential in this up-and-coming market and growing user demands. Contact us! 😉

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennayim/
Twitter: @jenna_yim

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


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

Non-Fungible Tokens: Devesh Mamtani On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful…

Non-Fungible Tokens: Devesh Mamtani On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry

KYR (Know your risk) — First and foremost, it is very important to understand the risks that come with this investment type. It is important to know about the risks involved.

Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT, and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Devesh Mamtani, Chief Market Strategist at Century Financial

Devesh Mamtani joined Century Financial in January 2017. He is responsible for risk monitoring and evaluation and the supervision of the research and trading divisions at the firm. He also heads algo- trading for the organization.

Prior to joining Century Financial, Devesh was the Deputy Vice President for Global Wealth Management at the Edelweiss Group — India’s leading diversified financial services company.

Devesh’s illustrious career kicked off in 2007 when he joined Deloitte Consulting (India) as an Associate Analyst before joining Motilal Oswal Securities — India’s leading integrated financial services company a year later.

He later joined Asit C. Mehta as its Senior Vice President for Asset Management, then moved to Edelweiss Group.

Devesh holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Information Technology Engineering from Thadomal Shahani Engineering College in 2007 and is also a certified Financial Risk Manager.

Devesh is a regular speaker at Investment-related events in UAE and also writes articles for leading business and economical publications in UAE

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in India, where I completed my engineering degree specializing in information technology. Mathematics has always been a passion for me, and I soon realized that I could make a career out of it. Hence, I cleared FRM in order to hone my risk management skills. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the team that led the algo trading space in India. My parents ran a business along with an NGO for animals. This helped me in developing business acumen along with empathy. In my free time, I enjoy a good game of tennis, football or cricket as sports have always helped me in decluttering my mind. I am a firm believer in forming win-win partnerships and growing together.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are a couple of books that I keep coming back to on a daily basis. “The 7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen R. Covey is a book that I have learnt a lot from. I feel it has a holistic view of how to approach life in an efficient manner. The book resonated with me as I firmly believe in taking responsibility for your actions. I also draw immense inspiration from “Rafa: My Story”, the autobiography of my idol Rafael Nadal. It has time and again motivated me to constantly strive for excellence.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.

I enjoy taking up initiatives that satiate my curiosity. I constantly wonder about what could be the next big thing that changes the world. As a result of this, in the beginning of my career itself, I was a part of the pioneering algorithmic trading team when algo trading was a lesser-known term in India. Since then, I have witnessed the finance industry evolve from one form to another. Currently, I feel NFTs are one of the future forms the industry could evolve into, and hence I am trying my hands in them.

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

The beauty of the finance industry is that you have tons of anecdotes for the future generation. Recently, the way blockchain and cryptocurrencies have exploded onto the scene is incredible. From a handful of people knowing about them to it being discussed, accepted, and adapted by billions in a short span of time makes it one of the most interesting stories to tell. Talking about cryptos and not mention The Beeple auction price of 69 Million is unthinkable. A colleague of mine suggested that I should buy some cryptocurrency and later on said that he was joking. The joke made me 10K USD.

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?

As mentioned before, I had chanced upon an opportunity to be part of a then-upcoming field (more than a decade ago) called Algorithm trading. It was exciting to be one of the first people to do this in India. When we launched the first algo, it felt like it would be one of the biggest things in the industry. Once, a slight error in the code led to a sizeable financial loss which we were able to more than cover up eventually. This made me realize the flip side of high speed and high computational power. My colleagues and I still joke about it and call it tuition fee. This incident taught me that one needs to be careful in the world of technology.

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

I feel success is a very ambiguous and subjective word. I am grateful for what I am doing. I have been blessed to work with many great people. However, there are three who deserve a special mention — Mr. Bal Krishen Rathore, Mr. Nadeem Khan, and Mr. Vijay Valecha. I call them the holy trinity. They have been paramount in my career growth. In 2020, one fine evening, we happened to discuss the possibility of starting a fan engagement platform. Little did I know that with the support of these three, we would start Boomer11, UAE’s one of the first fan engagement platform. I also am indebted to my family for their constant support and love.

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

I am part of a couple of projects which we hope would add huge value to people. One of them is a fan engagement platform which I hope every sports lover shall enjoy using. The other one would give people an opportunity to invest in real estate in a new and innovative way. We are hopeful that both of these projects should be useful to users.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, called a blockchain, that certifies a digital asset to be unique and therefore not interchangeable. At this point, a good description of NFT would be a collectible. They are unique digital assets or what can be called as one of a kind assets in the digital world.

A lot of people are looking at NFTs as collecting art. The spending seen on Beeple auction, Grimes Video, Jack Dorsey tweet, and many others have made artists and people believe that there is a huge demand for NFTs. People are spending on these as they believe this a unique opportunity to have a claim on future royalties as well as the satisfaction of owning the asset.

The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Value for Creators — It is an excellent way for creators to monetize their work.
  2. Fan Value — An excellent way for fans to own collectibles of their favorite creators.
  3. Acceptance — NFTs have seen a quicker acceptance than other use cases in the blockchain world. If the sustainability issue is solved, then we shall see many more accept NFTs. This space could explode, especially with interest from so many creators.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

  1. Power Consumption — With the electricity consumption of cryptocurrencies being more in several countries, the rush towards NFTs has further increased this issue. This is a very concerning issue as the carbon footprint is massive.
  2. Hacking — The underlying assumption is that the security of a blockchain ecosystem is full-proof and un-hackable. However, history has shown that this is not the case.
  3. Acceptance issue/Regulatory — Perhaps the biggest fear for crypto & NFT investors is any market downfall on account of an outright ban on the mining operations

Switching over to protocols like proof of stake is one of the many solutions to the problem. Another possible alternative would be for the developer community & miners to invest back some of their rewards in renewable assets space.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth probably is that the digital assets cannot be hacked. Some reports say that users of NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway said hackers stole digital artwork worth thousands of dollars from their accounts. Some people who were hacked also said their credit cards on file were used to purchase additional NFTs.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?

People are getting carried away by investing in probably everything as there is a lot of buzz in the space. Investors need to understand the risks of this space. They should also know that there can be duplicates of the NFT they have invested in. To avoid this, the most important thing is learning more and having the satisfaction of owning the NFT without considering the value it may have in the future.

How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?

This could be the way collectibles and digital assets are sold in the future. It could generate fair and great value for artists. It may become very big in years to come as it is seeing interest already from big brands like NBA, Nike, etc.

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

https://youtu.be/OoG6syWwLFA

  1. KYR (Know your risk) — First and foremost, it is very important to understand the risks that come with this investment type. It is important to know about the risks involved.
  2. Take a chance — If would don’t buy the lottery, then you won’t win the jackpot. The rally in the space is crazy. What better time than now. Invest or buy an asset that gives you the satisfaction of owning it
  3. Creators — Add all the content that you have made; you really never know what would sell for how much. Ask Mike Winkelmann.
  4. Selection — While selecting what could be a good digital asset to invest in or create, try to focus on it being the first of its kind. Like the first tweet, first 5000 days etc. This could be an excellent way to select from the many options available.
  5. Be updated about this space — currently, Ethereum is being used, but you never know, a push towards sustainability could see a demand for Tezos.

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

Education for all. I think education is essential for everyone. It is a fundamental right that every human being has. Education plus basic finance knowledge should be provided to everyone who cannot afford it. This shall help change the world to make it a better place.

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

Breakfast with Rafael Nadal. I would love to ask him, how he can be so humble even after achieving nearly everything in the sport of Tennis. I would like to speak to him about his never-give-up attitude. How does he go on and on and on!

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!


Non-Fungible Tokens: Devesh Mamtani On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brand Makeovers: Sue Reninger of RMD Advertising On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Brand Makeovers: Sue Reninger of RMD Advertising On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Stay connected to your consumers/market: In a world of social media, most brands have become more similar than different. Some have violated the essence of the brand to join the ever-growing category of “edgy brands” in the social space. But the best communities are those that attract brand lovers: consumers and category advocates that WANT to share their thoughts/opinions, and enjoy being a part of the creation or recreation of a brand.

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

Since founding RMD Advertising in 1992, Sue has been responsible for the complete strategy and direction of RMD’s Columbus-based flagship office. Sue knows what it takes to successfully market and grow an emerging food business. As Managing Partner of RMD, she works with clients such as Rudolph Foods, Barney Butter, Bil-Jac Dog Food, Little Caesars Fundraising, Graeter’s Ice Cream and ParmCrisps/THINSTERS to develop new strategies for their businesses and distinctive brands.

Her talent as a manager and leader has given rise to RMD’s employee and client-focused culture, which, at its core, has a creative and engaging environment. Sue is the past President of the American Marketing Association, where during her tenure as President, earned the prestigious honor of being named the International Chapter of the Year. She is also a past Advisory Board member of the International AMA’s Chapter Council, past member of the Board of Directors of Central Ohio’s Alzheimer’s Association, as well as past member of Communities In Schools and the Hunger Food Alliance.

She has also co-founded Wagons Ho Ho Ho, a 501c3 charity that serves children in dire need with HOPE. Each year in December, the charity buys, builds and stuffs red wagons with a Christmas dinner, and delivers them to the state’s neediest children and families. In all, 1,500 families and children are served by Wagons Ho Ho Ho, through the help of more than 700 volunteers who build the wagons in one day.

She has been honored with the prestigious NAWBO Visionary Award and Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association.

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

I grew up on a strict diet of Bewitched and David Ogilvy. Bewitched cast a husband who was in the advertising agency business. In each episode, he struggled to come up with an appropriate campaign. I knew then, at the ripe age of 6, that I wanted to be in that industry. As I got older, I found myself greatly interested in David Ogilvy, the father of the advertising agency business.

After college, I joined an advertising agency, where I learned a lot. But I also had the distinct thought, “there must be a better way to strike a win/win between the agency’s profitability and the client’s needs”. That was the beginning of RMD Advertising. Still to this day, I can honestly say I was led to this career.

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?

Well, no mistake when you’re starting out feels funny at the time — they feel rather terrifying. However, one story revolves around a direct mail campaign we were creating for a client. It was to be a pre-show mailer for a major, national tradeshow. Everyone in the industry was attending, and our challenge was to design a pre-show mailer that would capture attendees’ attention — ensuring they came to our client’s booth.

We designed an amazingly creative piece. It showcased a duck, with a baby’s safety pin penetrating through the heavy card stock (this piece was for a neo-natal nurses show). The pins were glued, and we took the concept to a branch of the U.S. Post Office for approval. At the time, this was a VERY large spend for the client. Significantly large … as the database was large.

On the eve of the show, our client called, angrily, to inquire WHY her pre-show mailer was still at the post office. The post office general had called her directly to inform her the mailings violated their safety standards, and all 100,000 pieces needed retrieved immediately.

Looking back: of course they were disallowed. But at the time, creativity (not brand) was king to a young startup.

After a sleepless night of worrying, and quite a bit of brainstorming over how to get out of this dilemma, I woke up in the morning with the only solution possible: admit blame, take responsibility and provide a next best solution (which involved a custom post show mailer at our expense).

It was difficult, but I remember choking down the words as I asked the client after presenting the next best solution, “will you find a way to forgive us, and to continue working with us?” I’m forever grateful for her response, because it taught me grace, and the importance of extending it often. She remarked, “Yes, we will — mainly because we’re impressed with your willingness to solve the problem, not simply dump it at us, and to shoulder the financial responsibility accordingly. That shows character and integrity, something we don’t often find.”

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?

Most definitely.

After nearly a decade and a half in the agency business, we gained (and then loss after three years) the darling account of the agency, a food client. At the time, like most agencies, we focused on whatever work we could find — healthcare, technology and manufacturing, etc. EVERYONE wanted to play on this account, and when it was lost, we were heart-broken, all of us.

It was in that moment in our conference room, while I was breaking the news to the team, that one lone hand raised and inquired, “why don’t we just pitch ONLY food brands?” And that was the beginning of the new RMD — an agency that to this day focuses solely on food and beverage brands.

A brand strategy lesson: Brands ARE aided by sacrifice. This focus on the food/beverage category overall, and specifically on challenger brands, has allowed us to become EXPERT in serving these clients. And today, I can say humbly that we perform better in this category than any other agency.

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

I’m always working on something exciting — doing so helps me to live two of my core principles: continuous learning and contribution.

Currently at the agency, we’re growing faster than we ever have in the 29 years we’ve been around. We’re using that growth as fuel to attract new talent and new clients that push us to grow and expand ongoing. Aside from the agency, I’m currently writing three books, based on life experiences and core philosophies (one is a children’s book), and this year, our charity (WagonsHoHoHo.org) will be expanding from one state to three.

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

Honestly, I believe burnout comes from NOT having enough to stimulate yourself. I also wholeheartedly believe it comes from not contributing enough. Many people think it comes from working too hard or doing too much. I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve worked very hard (which is my typical state), and I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve taken it easy. For me, always working and always contributing makes the difference. It’s when we lose touch with, or neglect, the reasons behind what we do (and no, money is not a strong enough motivator), that we become burned out.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

In my own words, product marketing is the art of bringing a product that is already needed by a group of individuals to market, and helping them to learn about that product.

Brand marketing, on the other hand, is about creating something much greater. Brand marketing is less about education and more about helping consumers feel something about that product or company. By connecting consumers to a sense of nostalgia, a reason to believe in the brand, or emotional experiences, brand love is eventually created. It cannot be created quickly, as it’s much like a relationship that must be nourished over time. When consumers are willing to select and purchase that brand over time, despite other options or the price of the product, brand love has been achieved.

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

A brand, once built, is long-lasting. It’s very difficult for a new product to come to market and take market share away from a product that’s already built a following of brand lovers. In fact, studies have shown that once a brand owns a place in consumers’ hearts, new competitors often must spend three times more to even penetrate a portion of market share.

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

Often, food brands especially, will embark on a “rebranding” venture. Many mistake a brand for a logo or a look/feel/label of a product. But if a brand is built in the heart of the consumer, and placed there through experiences, changing a logo or a look of a product technically isn’t a “rebrand”. Still, products will often change their look/feel to remain relevant to consumers and their expectations of what a product that is “current” should look like. In the food business, it’s really about shelf appeal — which is important.

Further, studies have demonstrated over and over the impact of a proper “brand” and how a refresh can dramatically increase sales and relevancy, if the new look/feel is directed by research and hits the mark with consumers.

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

If a “rebrand” is done based on “gut” or instinct, it can fail. If the purpose of enhancing the shelf presence or look and feel is to become more relevant to consumers, a founder can sometimes feel too close to the product and think they know what’s best for the consumer.

When this happens, there can be a “miss” and sales, brand and market share suffer. There are some brands who enjoy a nostalgic connection with consumers. It’s rare, but when the brand resides so deeply in the heart of those consumers, a brand refresh could actually be rejected by fans and brand lovers.

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.

Understand and define your core values: What does the brand stand for? What needs does it meet? What are you most known for?

When Graeter’s Ice Cream looks for innovation, it refuses to pivot from the core foundation that it was built on 150 years ago. Today, the brand is the ONLY craft ice cream brand still owned by a family and using the original French Pot process. This process is unsurpassed for making the best quality and the richest, creamiest ice cream. It always has and always will remain at the core of what it does.

Audit the brand: Are there any products in the line that do not “fit” or that violate the brand promise? What is the culture of the brand? Is the true essence of the brand being adequately communicated in a 360 fashion, such as with PR, social media, advertising, internal communications, etc.? Is the brand’s communication authentic?

Doing this important step is the fastest way to earn consumer trust. When Southern Recipe Small Batch reinvented the pork rind category, and turned the appeal to millennials, predominantly females, it did so in a way that everything that touched consumers made the brand more believable and relatable. Today, five years later, it remains the #1 pork rind in America, and single-handedly changed the way America thinks about this high protein, low carb, Keto-friendly snacks.

Continually grow and learn: Few curves are sharper than the marketing curve, especially now. Keeping up with competitive innovations, movements in dissimilar categories that can be adapted by your brand, how you communicate and more — all of this is important to the brand. An ever-growing brand must have an insatiable appetite to stay alert, learn and grow.

Stay connected to your consumers/market: In a world of social media, most brands have become more similar than different. Some have violated the essence of the brand to join the ever-growing category of “edgy brands” in the social space. But the best communities are those that attract brand lovers: consumers and category advocates that WANT to share their thoughts/opinions, and enjoy being a part of the creation or recreation of a brand.

Be true to the brand amidst fear: In a competitive, outspoken world, it’s often terrifying for a brand that receives negative reviews and polarizing posts as the public speaks. It’s important at this point to return to the core of the brand amidst troubling times and respond quickly in an appropriate, brand-centric way. Diplomacy is always important, but equally important is the brand.

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?

There have been a lot of really great case studies of strong rebrands over time. Two of my favorites are Taco Bell, of recent, and Betty White. I’m impressed with Taco Bell’s ability to adapt to the ultra-instant gratification needs of their current consumer — in look, feel, product and delivery method. The pivot was admirable as well.

In a non-food arena, no one can argue against Betty White’s ability to remain relevant as a brand. She has stayed true to who she is throughout many decades, while adjusting her brand and herself to a changing package, a changing audience and changing times. As one of our most iconic brands today, although a bit unconventional, she optimizes what it means to remain relevant and find ways into the hearts and the minds of a very diverse group of “consumers”.

The lessons in both of these case studies are important: remain relevant and stay true to your core brand while understanding what makes the brand beloved. Repackage when needed and stay close to the wants/needs/desires of your audience.

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 start a movement that brings families, all families, back to the dinner table. I firmly believe that family time is essential to building healthy families, yes — but also healthy individuals.

During dinner time, when a family gathers around the table, discusses their days, their dreams and their heartaches, real conversations begin. It’s here that families learn to trust, to communicate and to solve problems. Every single problem in our world today could be solved if we all learned to trust and dialogue just a little more.

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

My dad once told me, “remember, no matter what they take from you, they can never take the experience. Even if it’s just 5 minutes of experience, that’s something you’ll always have.”

My dad was my hero and my mentor. I’ve tried to keep everything he taught me with me, but this nugget specifically has guided me always to seek to learn, and more importantly, to experience every new adventure, no matter how small, in a long-lasting way. I truly do believe that there’s something to be found that can be carried with us as we move forward in life.

How can our readers follow you online?

RMD Advertising on Social @RMDAdvertising
Sue Reninger on Social @SueReninger
www.RMDAdvertising.com

Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.


Brand Makeovers: Sue Reninger of RMD Advertising On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Non-Fungible Tokens: Robert Norton of Verisart On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly…

Non-Fungible Tokens: Robert Norton of Verisart On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry

Keep up with the technology. NFTs are changing very fast, and just because you understand them today doesn’t mean you’ll remain in a knowledgeable position tomorrow.

Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Norton.

Robert is an entrepreneur with a passion for art and technology. Before establishing Verisart, he was the co-founder and CEO of Saatchi Art and Sedition Art. Previously he worked on the executive management team at King.com and AOL Europe.

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Hampstead in London, which is an area known for being the home to many artists and writers. The poet John Keats had a house not far from where we lived. It’s a pretty neighborhood known for its wide, open parkland called Hampstead Heath. I studied in London and Oxford, and then started life as a journalist for Reuters before moving on to AOL. I’ve been working with digital media and internet businesses ever since.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I studied English literature and Modern History at Oxford University, and was a great admirer of the poetry of Sylvia Plath in my teenage years and the short stories and novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald in my 20s. “The Great Gatsby” remains one of my favorite books, because it manages to be both concise and lyrical and keeps you wondering and wanting more.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.

Having co-founded and led two other startups in the intersection of art and technology, Saatchi Art and Sedition Art, I was familiar with how artists used new technologies across their practises. However, I wasn’t too knowledgeable about blockchain and how this technology could be applied to the art market until the artist Casey Reas wrote to me about its possibilities in 2014. This started me thinking about how I could apply blockchain to the arts and collectibles market, and so began my idea for Verisart.

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

The first NFT we launched as part of the 10×10 series with SuperRare was a work by Neïl Beloufa, and was one of three NFTs that related to three large scale sculpture installations at a museum show at an exhibition called “Digital Mourning” at the Pirelli HangarBiccoca in Milan.

What was so interesting about this NFT is that the museum show itself had to be temporarily closed to the public due to a COVID resurgence in Milan. That meant that the only way for people to experience this show was through the NFT, which was aptly titled B, trying to reach out to its audience. That was a really intriguing moment in terms of how art finds new ways to connect us despite the occasional restrictions of the physical world.

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

I’m grateful to Shepard Fairey and his wife, Amanda Fairey, for seeing the potential in applying blockchain certification to the art market very early on, and for using the Verisart service for the registration of their works. I was also fortunate to learn from the incredible people in his studio, who helped us build a better product.

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

We’re currently working on a range of initiatives, from better preservation standards for time-based media with museums, to AI algorithms that develop their own distinctive styles, to assisting galleries with strategies for entering the world of NFTs. All of these projects will lead to more art making its way into NFT marketplaces in a structured manner that empowers the artists and creators.

The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

NFTs are still very new. We’re comfortable working with evolving technologies, and there’s always the excitement of the new that comes along with them.

We also enjoy helping people navigate through new digital experiences, and NFTs certainly qualify in that regard.

Finally, we’re thrilled by the widespread consumer interest in owning digital assets, and intrigued to see how the collector proposition naturally evolves from where it is today.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

Scams and fraud are a big problem. We’ve already seen instances where people believe they are buying from or supporting well-known artists but get fooled by fake accounts. It’s happened even on reputable platforms.

The other two concerns are related: people having their intellectual property rights breached, and NFTs that are minted on behalf of artists without their knowledge, depriving them of the revenue they should receive. There are numerous accounts on social media of artists who are surprised to see that NFTs are created based on their work.

These are issues that can be solved through education, by getting the word out to creators on how to protect their work and to buyers on how to know if what you’re buying is legitimate. We’re also actively advocating for clearer standards for verifying NFT art, including the additional information in the records of our own Verisart certification which can’t be found within the NFTs themselves.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?

Because something’s online, it will be there forever. That’s a dangerous belief to hold, because history teaches (and will continue to teach us) that nothing is forever. Being sure you know what you’re buying when it comes to NFTs is crucial, because otherwise you may be at the mercy of a network or server that can be switched off and leave you with nothing,

An even bigger myth is that NFTs are a sure win and a quick way to make money. The reality is that the NFT market is very patchy. There are pockets of success, but also people who struggle to find their audience like in any creative industry.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?

Entering the NFT market without a plan, and that goes for both individuals and companies. It’s easy to get seduced by the idea that this is a technology that you should be involved with simply because it’s receiving so much hype.

But FOMO is not a reason for participating. You should find the passions, artists and works that are meaningful to you.

How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?

NFTs have the potential to transcend borders in a more frictionless way, allowing for more creative collaboration. They’ll allow for a greater speed to market, thanks to a growing group of collectors who are willing and eager to engage with digital assets. The trading of NFT art will also speed up as a result.

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Be in it for the long term. We’re just at the starting gate for consumer interest and adoption.

2. Learn by doing — don’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water. Like all emerging technologies, NFTs are a medium for iterative improvement, and each one doesn’t need to be a massive success.

3. Put out work that has meaning to you, as opposed to looking for quick market fits that may not have longevity.

4. Enter into dialogues with other people in the NFT industry. Since everyone is learning about this technology together, you’ll benefit from their experiences, and vice versa.

5. Keep up with the technology. NFTs are changing very fast, and just because you understand them today doesn’t mean you’ll remain in a knowledgeable position tomorrow.

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

We really believe in the importance of our Fair Trade Art certificate, which allows people to immediately know when an artwork is doing something good in the world by generating proceeds for charitable causes. We’ve worked with Shepard Fairey and Amnesty International, as well as Rob Pruitt and the ACLU, and I hope to see other artists tackle the climate crisis with works that focus our attention on how we can do better to protect our Earth.

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

I’ve had the good fortune to meet many great artists, but I’ve never met Jeff Koons. I’d love a private breakfast with him because he has been at the forefront of contemporary art, with works that continue to dazzle and push forward how we see art.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!


Non-Fungible Tokens: Robert Norton of Verisart On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly… 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: Joe Chamdani of TuringSense On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Joe Chamdani of TuringSense On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

The route that makes it easiest for customers is usually the best route, even if it’s the harder one. For example, when we started TuringSense, the easier route for us was to do what everyone else was doing, such as depending on the user to affix the sensors onto their bodies and to rely on them to provide a stable magnetic field environment. With hindsight, we should have seen sooner that both issues would have huge usability problems for consumers.

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

Joe Chamdani is CEO of TuringSense. A serial entrepreneur, Joe has co-founded two other companies with successful exits and raised over $80M in venture capital. Joe got his BS degrees in EE and CS at Washington University St. Louis and PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Georgia Tech.

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

A mentor of mine told me one day that I would be happiest working at the bleeding edge of technology, and he was right! In fact, I was so eager to get going that while getting my PhD I was moonlighting as a research engineer at a computer systems lab. And when my doctorate was finished, it led to two patents and a job straight away with Sun Microsystems.

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

Well, I’m not sure if this is the most interesting story, but it’s certainly the most interesting car rental story. For one of my companies, we were due to present the next day at a conference in another part of the country, but the product wasn’t totally ready, and I didn’t want to hop on a plane and leave the engineering team behind and be potentially out of touch with such a big deadline looming. So, with only 24 hours left, I rented an RV and put the entire product and engineering team in it, and we drove cross country for 12 hours, coding the whole way there. We arrived at our lodgings with a completed product and nailed the demo in the morning.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on?

Before PIVOT Yoga, the only way you could get reliable wireless motion capture information in real time was to use cameras and lots of them, the way Hollywood studios do. Those systems cost millions to buy and even hundreds of thousands to rent, because you also need specialized studios, technicians, software, and hardware.

But with PIVOT Yoga, our system is completely digital, with no cameras, and it only requires a smart phone app and our smart, “sensorized” yoga clothes, which we sell for $99 plus $19/month for unlimited classes.

When you choose a class through the app, the instructor appears on screen and PIVOT Yoga digitally inserts a live avatar of your body into the video, allowing side-by-side practice with the teacher. There is no equipment to set up, no cameras to position, and no furniture to move out of the way.

It’s hard to think of another product with a pricing and ease-of-use breakthrough like this one. We have calibrated our clothes against those massive Hollywood-sized camera installations, and we have virtually the same accuracy. Technically speaking, some of the component breakthroughs here were in sensor fusion, wireless protocols, error filtering, and other firmware.

How do you think that will help people?

Movement activities, like yoga and tennis, can’t really be learned out of a book. And honestly, it’s a little difficult to learn it even with a video demonstration like YouTube. Can you imagine paying for a tennis lesson or yoga class where the teacher never gave you any feedback? That’s what learning yoga through YouTube is like. We believe real-time feedback on your form is vital to learning well and quickly. At the end of the day, that’s what we provide: instant form feedback, whether it’s from a teacher directly (as in our live classes) or indirectly (in our on-demand classes). We really do want to teach the world to move.

How do you think this might change the world?

The bar for online instruction is going to be permanently raised and that’s a good thing. But beyond that, for activities like yoga, fear of doing things incorrectly is a big problem for beginners and it’s one of the things holding them back from exercising. In the US and in many parts of the world, there’s rising awareness for physical fitness and activity and anything we can do to keep people motivated and exercising is going to be important.

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

It’s true that any technology can be misused. With our product there is an opportunity to get too obsessed about your form, we do recognize that. That’s why all of our performance tracking metrics require a little digging from the yogi to discover. We do want people to be interested in proper postures, but it’s possible to miss the forest for the trees, and the yoga for the asana. We hope we’ve gotten that balance right.

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

There were actually two really important moments. The first was when we noticed just how tough proprioception — the ability for a human being to know at any point where their body is in space — really is. In early tests, we asked yogis to close their eyes and raise both arms until they were level with their shoulders. It surprised us that nobody could do it! So, we started thinking hard about how to help yogis in this respect, and that led us to the product we have today, which puts a live avatar of the yogi’s body on screen.

The second big moment happened when we demoed our app in a high-rise building. It simply wouldn’t work properly, and we finally figured out the problem: the flooring of the building had lots of electrical conduits in it, and they were putting out a magnetic field that was causing havoc with our system, which depended at the time, like most motion capture systems on a stable magnetic field environment. That pushed us to make our product immune to magnetic fluctuations, which are all too common in consumer households, and I’m happy to say we succeeded.

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

Honestly, we feel like most of what we need are more great teachers on our PIVOT Yoga Teacher platform. We are scouring the world for them now.

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

Our focus right now is mostly on the product side of the business. We’ll start worrying about the other P’s (in the famous four P’s marketing expression) shortly.

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

There are so many people I could name, but one stands out: my father, who helped not so much with what he told me, but by the example he set.

My father was a CPA, but hardly a traditional one. His passion was for helping his clients grow their businesses, and his clients loved him for his out-of-the-box yet practical thinking. He was very hands on and even ran boot camps and other entrepreneur education sessions out of his office. He made most of his money from side investments, eventually leading him to start other businesses of his own. As my siblings and I grew up, there was always some new product being made in the house — from a printing press to soy sauce and furniture carvings. I always enjoyed watching employees make the products and tried to jump in to participate in the making and sales of these products. Eventually my dad’s furniture business took off, though it weathered some hard times when my father kept the business running to make sure that his employees still had incomes. And most importantly, I remember to this day that his customers used to do every deal with my father on a handshake, since they knew his word was as good as law.

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

Well, most of what I work on starts out as an idea on a napkin. So, I never get tired of seeing ideas come to fruition after an insane amount of work and then seeing a smile on the face of a customer. Those are great moments. And along the way of building these businesses, it usually means jobs get created and careers get built. I’m even old enough now that several of the people I recruited to former companies have gone on to start their own businesses.

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

I can think of 4!

The route that makes it easiest for customers is usually the best route, even if it’s the harder one. For example, when we started TuringSense, the easier route for us was to do what everyone else was doing, such as depending on the user to affix the sensors onto their bodies and to rely on them to provide a stable magnetic field environment. With hindsight, we should have seen sooner that both issues would have huge usability problems for consumers. Eventually we did, and it’s been great, but we had a lot of resistance internally to breaking the mold. But if the mold is hard on end users, it needs to get broken, and the sooner the better.

A little research goes a long way. I’ve often been tempted like many entrepreneurs to build things in consumer or even hardware spaces that I know a lot about already. That can work, but not always. While consumers can’t always tell you the answer you need, you can certainly look at what they currently do — what they use, what they spend their free time on, and so on — and learn from that.

Get the key hires right from day one. Early hires are so critical, particularly along core dimensions of a business. In a consumer business, product talent is super important, and you should sweat that first hire if you don’t already have that DNA. In some of my businesses, I’ve been slow to recognize that and regretted it later.

Learn faster, and practice tough love. I always feel that a team can learn faster. But where my teams have made mistakes, it’s almost always been on the “learning” part of the build-measure-learn loop. Part of the learning here is that you have to be willing to let go of approaches that don’t work sooner, or more precisely aren’t working well enough in the amount of time that it’s prudent to give them to develop. Most technologies will eventually work if you give them a lot of time, but young companies are always short on time and capital. So you have to be a little ruthless in weeding technologies that are going to take too much of either of those.

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

Well, we think that teaching the world to move — our cause at TuringSense — is a pretty good calling. The developed world in particular has huge problems with obesity — over a third of US adults fit that description — and we know extra weight has enormous health implications. So, removing the barriers to exercise, and meeting people where they are (which is at home!) is really important. And by making it easier to learn proper form correctly, we can not only keep people safer as they exercise but also help develop the motivation to keep their exercise going. We’ve only just gotten started here.

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

Somebody once told me that startups are roller coaster rides, not moon shots. That’s given me important perspective because all of my companies have experienced ups and downs. If you know in advance to expect a rollercoaster ride, then you’ll be a lot likelier to hang on to the end.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

We have a proprietary product that’s cheaper, better, and easier to use, by orders of magnitude, in a trillion-dollar industry at the intersection of fashion, fitness, gaming, and even physical therapy.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We’re on Instagram and Facebook.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.


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

Non-Fungible Tokens: Yura Lazebnikov of WePlay Esports On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a…

Non-Fungible Tokens: Yura Lazebnikov of WePlay Esports On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry

…What we saw in this new technology was a new way to present ourselves and deliver our thoughts, a certain amount of creativity associated with the content that we had created and will create to our audience, not just by sharing it all at once, but by sharing the joy of owning it. As pretentious as it may sound, this is a concrete step forward in interacting with your users, your consumers who love your product and want to spend more time enjoying it.

Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Yura Lazebnikov.

Yura Lazebnikov is an expert in IT integration, software development, and the creation of data centers. He started his first business in 2003 in the field of esports. In 2006, Yura Lazebnikov, together with business partner Oleg Krot, founded WePlay Esports. His achievements include taking it to the multinational level, with offices and esports studios from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Yura Lazebnikov’s focus is WePlay Esports’ strategic goals, partner engagement, and creating new global media and IT products.

His goal is to increase the market share of the WePlay Esports media holding company up to 25%.

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

If we talk about my background, it probably presents a classic example of an IT entrepreneur who was into all things related to computers, gadgets, and computer games since childhood. At some point, my hobby started bringing me money little by little, which produced a number of streams of income that helped me earn and grow in various industries related to IT, video games, software development, outsourcing, and the construction of these infrastructures. And over all this time, my love of gaming hasn’t gone anywhere, which in the end took us to what we have today in the company WePlay Esports.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

In fact, if I think about it, there are probably a lot. Here’s an interesting story related to video games. When I was a very young kid, I had a computer game. It was the first version of the game Dune. Not the one that was a strategy yet, but the one that was a first-person RPG quest. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time — I don’t remember for sure. So, anyway, I couldn’t complete the game, because I would get very much stuck after the first, like, 10–20 minutes, because the ideology was like an impenetrable wall to me, and I didn’t know where to go or what to do. So, it was basically this game that inspired me to do two things at a very early age. First, I read all the Frank Herbert novels at that age, which definitely helped me complete the game as it was quite accurate to the first Dune novel. Second, it encouraged me to start learning English at least at a level that would help me understand the dialogues between the characters. So, this was a story from my childhood that probably influenced my formation as a person to some extent.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.

I guess there is no particular story. It was a combination of numerous circumstances, facts, events, other people’s successes, their stories, books, hobbies — this whole mix, which is always present in the life of each individual and affects their decisions every day. Chance meetings, the convergence of interests — that’s how it all happened. If I had to single out one story, like when I was walking, saw the northern lights, and decided to perform a specific action, I couldn’t because this was not the case. Louis Pasteur once said: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” So, there must have been some uninterrupted chain of events that led to a number of correct decisions, which led to career development. There sure were mistakes, obstacles, and setbacks, but judging by the fact that in the long term, we are moving forward quite energetically, this inspiration probably isn’t waning yet — it just keeps accumulating and driving us forward.

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

I can tell you, but it’s probably not a very interesting one. However, what happened was part of what influenced the formation of some sort of entrepreneurial mindset, and my career, too. When you move from school to college, numerous opportunities open up; you get a lot of freedom, and also thoroughly different parameters for life that apply to you, in fact, as an adult, when you stop being a schoolboy. So, in my first exam week at the end of the first term, I failed all the possible exams and tests, my grades were even below the threshold required to get to sit them. And this gave me an understanding that a lot of freedom comes, of course, with quite a lot of responsibility, and in the end, you have to sort everything out yourself, because it’s unlikely that someone will come and solve everything for you. It was a great lesson, and in the end, I passed all my exams very well, at the end of February or in March. And it had a strong impact on my formation, my understanding of the world, and so on. It was a good wake-up call, which made it obvious that with great freedom comes a lot of responsibility, and, my friend, you have to learn to solve any problems fast and basically by yourself. That was the story.

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?

There is actually a series of such stories, and I would hardly call them mistakes — I’d rather call them experience. We analyze all mistakes and move forward — just as I told you in my previous answer. I can recall our experience with the green screen at a tournament in 2016, which has contributed to the fact that WePlay Esports has now one of the strongest production teams in the world, and we are making the coolest content on the market. But at the time, it was a funny enough story that allowed us to learn a lot. Such stories are small, and they happen weekly, if not daily. They are all part of the set of factors making up our experience and progress. So, yes, I know that it echoes the previous question, but we get a lot of experience every day.

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?

At different stages in my life, there were, of course, different people. Of course, there were my parents, who gave me some basic capabilities, who believed in me, helped me, sometimes they would give me a push, sometimes they would discipline me, and sometimes, they were cool about things and did not scold me. Sometimes they also passed on their experience. It was in my teenage years, some sort of anti-childhood — my formative years. Then, quickly, I met Oleg Krot, my partner. We influence each other, and it’s hard to put anybody else at the same rank — that’s why we are partners, we grow and move forward together.

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

There are actually many projects, both in my head and in development. You can give people either a feeling of joy and happiness or a sense of earning and increased prosperity through the projects that we are doing, if we don’t consider the social and charity projects that we have. As for our business projects, we either create products that make life or the world better, or they are products deliberately intended for earning money, which in the end still make people happier. That’s the only way we do projects. That is, we don’t do those that can harm anyone or can be detrimental to any of the parties in advance. That’s why, same as any IT entrepreneur for that matter, we are looking for undiscovered areas of the market and trying to combine many things like a puzzle. And if this puzzle comes together, there is a huge BOOM — fireworks exploding, someone has a smile on their face, someone has got more money, someone has more happiness and joy. So, that’s it.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?

That’s an easy question, compared to all the other questions that come at us from the crypto world, cryptocurrency and blockchain industry, and so on. Because, in fact, an NFT is just a digital asset, which does not appear to be any different from the assets that people had in earlier years. And if a person actually has an original Dali or Van Gogh in the basement, they don’t see it every day anyway, but the mere knowledge that they have this painting is heart-warming. And an NFT is a digital treasure of the same order. In other words, it’s a unique item that exists in the digital world, belongs to a certain person, can’t be replicated, and whose value depends on many factors. Basically, people have long been accustomed to owning digital or semi-digital derivative assets, such as company stocks, gold and precious metal derivatives, futures contracts, and so on. And no one normally has any qualms about them. Since we live in the 21st century and everyone spends a huge amount of their free and working time on the World Wide Web, it’s only logical that civilization has produced a certain type of asset that exists in this digital world. Thanks to blockchain technology, it is practically indestructible, its ownership is easily confirmed, and, basically, the only question that arises is that of the price of these assets. And as we well-know, in today’s world, things are worth exactly as much as people believe they should be worth. And the market for digital items, digital game currency, skins, accounts, and everything else has been around for years, and for some above — even decades. NFTs are just a sort of new step forward, a step-up in the cultural and business development of asset ownership on the Internet at the moment. And if you look at the essence of things, there is nothing new in it compared to owning any other type of asset, be it rare cars, a diamond ring, a baseball cap with an autograph of an athlete — there is no difference. It’s just another transferable thing, or, yes, a digital thing. Yet another prized possession that increases in value over time, that’s nice to own, to know that you have it somewhere, let’s say, in a digital vault or a cold digital wallet or platform. And you know that no one else has it. That’s what an NFT is.

The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

NFTs are now peaking as a trend since the technology has been around for quite a long time — several years already. Now everyone is talking about it. Again, there are things that make people more excited about this industry. First comes the easy access to acquiring these assets. That is, in fact, unlike with any other asset that exists in the physical world, you spend your money, cryptocurrency, conventional currency, and instantly get in your possession a digital asset that you can just as easily sell, auction off. It’s stored with you; it’s much easier to transport than any other type of asset. And if you really love something you’ve bought — a painting by an artist, a photo, a music track, a digital autographed card, a highlight reel, digital figurines, characters, etc., you can wrap many things up as NFTs. It makes it much easier for you to own them, and you get as much pleasure from owning them as from anything you bought on the market. And that’s probably where their secret lies. Because we as human beings have already come to the understanding that we don’t quite distinguish between the pleasure of owning digital and physical objects, so the trend for NFTs will grow, the industry will develop. Perhaps hype will decrease a bit. But, same as with the pandemic that, I hope, is declining in many regions, the number of cases is now much higher than it was a year ago, but everyone is talking about it much less. It will be the same with NFTs — more and more people will own them each day, the market will stabilize, it will become understandable and accessible to millions, hundreds of billions of people, but the feeling of hype will decrease, although the engaged audience will grow by tens and hundreds of times.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

There are actually no concerns about the industry, and if we talk about the cryptocurrency industry, then it has nothing to do with NFTs. If there can be concerns about cryptocurrencies, like that it’s digital money with nothing behind it, and so on, NFTs are just a new format of asset ownership, as we just mentioned. So, if we talk about the industry, there is no entirely new industry — it’s the same one that sells paintings worldwide for tens of millions of dollars on Sotheby’s, the black market that sells one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, people queuing for new collections from their favorite artists, so they can put them in storage or hang them on the wall of a private museum. And NFTs are just another commodity added to that list — it’s not a new industry, it’s the enrichment of the old one with new types of items that exist in the digital world. Therefore, there are probably no three things to be concerned about — there is hardly even one. This industry is not connected in any way with cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency exchanges, the rise or fall of Bitcoin, Vitalik Buterin’s remarks about Ethereum, or Elon Musk’s tweets about Dogecoin. There is just one base, it’s used in many honest NFTs, and blockchain technologies are used for storage. Blockchain is a centralized, deregulated data storage system. It’s basically a type of database. So calling it an industry is a bit of an overstatement. We at WePlay Esports often get asked about the esports industry. Sure, it does exist as an industry. But more and more often, I try to explain to people that it’s not a separate industry. It’s the good old sports industry, to which new disciplines get added. And a person who watched a boxing match on Friday night, the same person aged 25, who is, for example, interested in neuroscience, who loves video games, and spends their free time with their girlfriend or boyfriend, on Saturday night will watch a Counter-Strike matchup. Just because they like to consume competitive content, be it Formula 1, boxing, or Dota 2 — for people who have grown up in the 21st century, it makes no difference. It’s the same with NFTs — it’s just a new kind of asset that people who have money will want to own, will maybe want to earn some money from speculative trade, from reselling it; there will be a black market, a gray market, a white market. So, I think we needn’t worry about NFTs — they’re not going anywhere.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?

We’ve just talked about this — it’s about them being non-existent things. “They are non-existent things” is one of the main myths in general, which concern not only NFTs but all the digital assets existing in the world: how can you spend money on something you can’t put your finger on? Well, for one thing, people very often spend money on things that they can’t keep or touch, for example, on services. If people endow a certain object with value — one can talk for a long time about the value of modern-day money, gold and reserve assets, the gold peg, etc. We can talk about whether modern money is worth anything in the understanding of the 19th century, for example (a small spoiler — it’s not). So, the main myth that people believe in is that if a certain asset exists in the digital world, it has no right to have a value in U.S. dollars or euros, and this is a myth and nonsense. Because if humanity as an entity endows a certain object a certain value, then this object automatically acquires this value. It’s somehow been working like this for 50 thousand years, and we all live with it — starting from the times of digging sticks, berries, and mammoth meat, and ending now, with NFTs, digital works of art, some unique things that only exist on the Internet, which are physically impossible to transfer to the real world.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?

If we talk about mistakes and recommendations, I would probably like to address the security of storage. People are often quite messy when it comes to storing some of their data, accessing digital wallets, and so on. Most of our company projects exist in the digital space, which is why we are careful when it comes to cybersecurity. Therefore, when we were preparing the launch of WePlay Collectibles NFT project, we approached the issue of choosing a marketplace carefully, and selected a safe, reliable partner with a solid reputation — the leading international exchange and blockchain ecosystem Binance. They are launching the Binance NFT marketplace, and we have decided to present our first tokens from the Storyline collection at the platform’s auction as part of the “100 Creators” campaign.

We need to understand that if the asset is digital, the number of attackers and scammers who will try to set up schemes to steal NFTs and then resell them on a black, underground market will grow with each passing day. So, the biggest mistake that people can make is to be messy about the safety of their digital assets, because the number of people who will want to steal them will grow exponentially every day. So, I do have a recommendation — if you want to start owning this type of asset, work on your technological literacy. This basically applies to the ownership of assets of any type, be it stocks, cryptocurrency, shares in enterprises. You should always meticulously observe security measures that will allow you to continue to own these assets, regardless of the desire of scammers and people who want to take them from you.

How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?

As a matter of fact, it is one of the ways people can apply their creative and entrepreneurial potential. It’s another tool for self-expression for which other people are potentially willing to pay money. How will it help society? It will make the world a richer place in terms of art, music, and sports achievements, which can also be represented as NFTs. This will give artists the opportunity to look for new ways to earn money, new ways to express themselves, and that’s cool, that’s the way to go. Many people are horrified about the 21st century wiping out professions through automation, and trade unions are fighting tooth and nail to save thousands of jobs at companies. Here are the jobs — take them! More routine work will be done by ever more advanced algorithms, machines, robotic technologies, while this is where the human potential can apply itself — create some things that algorithms, neural networks, etc. are not yet capable of creating. Although, of course, there will be a place for them, too. But as in any other industry, handcrafted things will always cost more than those created by algorithms and mechanisms. So, there is this huge field of possibility for new professions, for earning money, for applying your intelligence and your creative abilities. That’s why this all is so cool.

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

That’s easy enough to answer using our example and our reasons for deciding to enter the NFT market. I can tie all my previous answers to this question. What we saw in this new technology was a new way to present ourselves and deliver our thoughts, a certain amount of creativity associated with the content that we had created and will create to our audience, not just by sharing it all at once, but by sharing the joy of owning it. As pretentious as it may sound, this is a concrete step forward in interacting with your users, your consumers who love your product and want to spend more time enjoying it. What we are doing with NFTs is something that I think companies from all industries that are not entirely b2b-oriented but have at least some connection with b2c will come to eventually. If you have a live person as a client, you want to touch them and share with them some part of what you do. And, at the same time, baseball caps and T-shirts with the company logo are already a cliché everyone is sick and tired of. On top of all that, in industries such as media and competitive gaming, in which WePlay Esports works, we accumulate a lot of complex, beautiful, and cool material that you can start releasing to the audience. That’s what we will use NFTs for. This is not some random tool that we decided to mass-produce, like some sort of baseball card equivalent, and give it away for a bit of money. No, it will be a large set of what are, in fact, our history and our thoughts, ideas, events — assets that are ours, which we will distribute among our audience, giving them the opportunity to own it all together! That’s what NFT is for us and how we got there.

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

It seems to me that this is a trick question. It’s like, “If you know the answer to this question, why haven’t you done it yet, and if you don’t, why try to come up with some stupid thought just to answer it?” So, my answer to this question is that I honestly don’t know, but I sincerely believe that every day, all the people on the team and I, we all try to do it. And so, “the most amount of good to the most number of people” is what we do every day. In some things, we do better, in other things, we do worse. But if at some point we do have an epiphany and suddenly understand how to make sure that everyone has enough of everything, we will probably take that chance. However, the probability of this happening tends to absolute zero. My answer is part romantic, part cynical, but my point is that if someone says they know the answer, they are most likely either a fool or a liar.

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

Can I just briefly answer “No” to this question? Actually, as an entrepreneur, I try to pursue the meetings and opportunities that help move the business and what we do forward. If we talk about what we do in esports, then, of course, I would like to be able to convey my thoughts in a deeper, more interesting way to the people who make decisions as leaders of the global industry — at Valve, Epic Games, even though I really like what they both do. I am no less awed by what Blizzard, Riot Games, and so many others do. This doesn’t mean that there is no chance to have these meetings, but if the question is who I would like to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner with, then the more breakfasts and dinners I have in my life with people who we can mutually enrich and find some common ground for of our potential projects, the more fun it will be for everyone, and no matter how selfish it may sound, for the world as a whole. So, you can tag Gabe Newell and Electronic Arts Inc., Blizzard Entertainment Inc., and Epic Games Inc. top managers.


Non-Fungible Tokens: Yura Lazebnikov of WePlay Esports On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Alexander Ferzan of Zaddy: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

It’s not what you like, it’s what they like. I am constantly approached by people who make a thing that they think is awesome, but nobody else cares about it. When I first started my agency, this was the lion’s share of my business, trying to retrofit something someone was selling to an audience that didn’t ask for it. A commodity isn’t about what YOU need, it’s about what THEY need. Pay attention to THEM.

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

Alexander Ferzan was born and raised in New York, and now proudly claims “Miami transplant”. He came to life in the late 90’s punk scene, transitioning from mediocre musician to talent representative, pursuing a path in music management for almost a decade before jumping ship to put his art school degree to work. Now specializing in non-traditional marketing and advertising, Ferzan prides himself on developing alternative ideas for brands that can stomach the risk. From Bieber, to Four Loko, Ferzan has spent the better part of the last 10 years creating out of the box initiatives for some of the best brands on the planet, out of a small creative shop he calls ZADDY.

Ferzan, The Fat Jewish and White Girl Problems also founded BABE (recently acquired by Anheuser-Busch), a wine company that revolutionized the alcohol industry by leveraging audience and voice over social media and traditional advertising outlets. When he’s not handling special projects for his clients, Ferzan is focused on owned and operated brand development, creating intellectual property in house and building teams to bring each initiative to life. Oh, he’s also 5’9”.

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

The truth lies in a confluence of two factors; I refused to work for anyone else, and my process was a bit too alternative for any employer to truly stomach. That meant I had no choice but to work for myself, applying a whole quiver of amalgamated skills to whatever project I could see myself benefitting. From managing punk bands as a kid, I had no choice but to do everything — from sending out demos, to doing packaging design, to even hopping on stage and playing when a band member had the flu.

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

I’ve mad countless mistakes, it’s part of innovating. One that my colleagues never let me live down was with regard to a meeting we had with distributors for White Girl Rosé early on, where I had the stage for 5 minutes and completely blacked out, going full wax poetic on super deep cut entertainment and internet industry jargon. Essentially, I was telling a room of 350lb liquor sales reps named, “Sal” about how @browncartigan isn’t a good outlet for marketing spends due to the disconnect between meme audiences and theme or personality accounts. Biggest take away, know your audience.

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

We focus on non-traditional tactics in every strategy we design, that’s the gist. When Four Loko wants to make a splash, we do a collaboration with Fleshlight and send celebrities prosthetic vaginas in a Four Loko can. When Babe wants to prove that they crush the competition, we build a wine endorsed monster truck and jump it 100 feet in the air, only to land on a bunch of spiked seltzer demolition cars. We just don’t care what anyone thinks is “too much” or “nuts”…we do what we think will slap, and we do it hard.

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

Yes, every project we are working on is exciting, that’s something I can say with confidence. While some give away money or help people get tested for STD’s (stay tuned for that one) the one that stands out as the most exciting and helpful at the same time would be “99PROJECTS”, a CSR platform we built for AriZona Iced Tea. 99PROJECTS is AriZona’s commitment to bringing 99 creative ideas to life, no matter how long or how much it takes. People can submit their ideas at99projects.org and AriZona will choose the ideas they will fund.

We’re also doing a bunch of notable talent initiatives, in trade. From sending Mike “The Real Tarzann” Holston to Ecuador during a global pandemic to continue his conservational efforts, to helping Raw Rodgers live out his dreams as a 50 year-old pro skater, we’re the team helping to make it happen.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brand Marketing and Product Marketing used to be different, but now everything is the same. When I was a kid, you were a skater, a punk, a jock or a nerd. These days it isn’t so segregated. All creative types have converged, thanks to the internet, and it’s an amazing time to be everything at once. For brands, it’s no different. A brand’s voice is just as important as the Product Integration and it all needs to hit just as hard as the call to action. Everything is happening at the same time, and the ones who get that are the ones who are winning.

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

You know, a few years ago I think I’d actually agree with the presumption of this question, but I’ve grown out of it. Building a brand is kind of bull, to be honest. It’s a tactic that us woke millennial entrepreneurs engineered to increase the value of our product or service to out of touch executives, basically the VICE methodology. “We control the audience, so we can just tell them what to do.” We now know that’s not true, it’s smoke and mirrors. There is no brand without a great product or a great offering. My goals have shifted from storytelling to consumer listening. Some of the most ubiquitous brands we intimately know did nothing but offer something great at a value, brands like OxyClean, Cellino & Barnes and Glock didn’t focus on building a brand, they focused on a product people needed, and how to offer it in an enticing way. Tesla and SpaceX are the best examples of that today. No commercials, no real social media, no ads…just great products.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

1) It’s not what you like, it’s what they like.

I am constantly approached by people who make a thing that they think is awesome, but nobody else cares about it. When I first started my agency, this was the lion’s share of my business, trying to retrofit something someone was selling to an audience that didn’t ask for it. A commodity isn’t about what YOU need, it’s about what THEY need. Pay attention to THEM.

2) “Too far down the road” is B.S.

A lot of people fear shutting a project down or pivoting because they consider the amount of time and energy invested to be a factor in the potential success, or lost revenue. That’s not true. Beating a dead horse will only result in a really dead horse that no one cares about. If it’s not working, cut your losses! You’ll limit your wasted utilities and probably make up for it sooner with a better idea.

3) There is no “way” to do stuff.

If you don’t have a hammer, you’ll probably whack a nail with the nearest hard object. You’re not going to not get that nail in the wall. Similarly with marketing, advertising, brand development, etc., if you follow the path of someone before you, you’re not innovating. Now, that path might be a thorny trail of potholes and oil slicks, but if you get to the end faster, better, richer — who cares? Agencies and brands all think they know the path to success, and the truth is most of the time all they do is proliferate mediocrity. Do it your way.

4) You don’t know one thing about anything at all.

Spew heaps of B.S. at all times to get the job done, but then just shut-up and listen. You’re the only one who knows you actually don’t know anything at all.

5) Ok now you’re a F*ing genius.

Ok truth is, if you made it this far, you’re on to something. Appease everyone by listening with one ear open, exercise ‘assimilation contrast’ where it fits, but know that you know what’s best in the end — and do what you have to do to protect that.

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

Apple, Tesla, Nike, blah, blah, blah…ALSO, FOUR LOKO, never once defined a brand voice or narrative, they just let the consumer believe what they wanted and give the product an organic voice. They let the fans do the work because the product was so strong.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

Said it before, I’ll say it again…branding and marketing and sales are all part of the same 21st century beast. Can’t have one without the other. Success is paying your bills and putting some money away at the end of the month.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Media, be it social, earned, traditional, is at the root of all campaigns we design. We typically think headline backwards when we’re ideating, and if it’s not going to work in the news, then we make sure it’s photo-worthy for the internet. If it isn’t on the internet, did it even actually happen?

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

If you don’t want to avoid burn out, don’t do this. Get a job that allows you to retire at 45 with full bennies, and enjoy your family and ice -cold Bud Lights the rest of your life. Otherwise, burn the f* out. That’s how we do it, we rip and shred.

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. 🙂

Proofread your meltdowns. Type it out, read it an hour later, edit it, read it an hour later, edit it, read it an hour later…then see if you still want to send it. You’ll get a lot further doing the exact opposite of what you want to do at any given moment, then doing what you want to do at any given moment.

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

Omg, I’m literally writing a toilet top book on euphemisms — this is my thing! Ok…

Mom: People tell you who they are everyday, only you refuse to believe them.
Ram Dass: Everybody’s busy being somebody.
Fat Jew: There’s a million ways to say, ‘fuck you’.
Ace Ventura: If I’m not back in 5 minutes…just wait longer.

The relevance for all these quotes is simply to reflect on what you do, say, hear, and think — just be different, ’cause if you’re different, you’re probably better.

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

Hmmm, how’s about Donald Trump (yes, I think he’s an a**hole obviously), the ghost of Steve Jobs and that 12 year-old Burger King hired as their creative director like 6 years ago — that kid rips.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @ferzan

Business: www.zaddy.net

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


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

Steven Jiang of Hiretual: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

Increasing diversity will help create an unbiased foundation at company — Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is the only way for a company to really be conscious and aware about how they engage with individuals who come from different backgrounds and have different opinions that are crucial for growth. How is a company supposed to be confident in their ability to avoid unconscious bias if they don’t have a workforce that challenges them to do so?

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

Steven Jiang is the CEO and co-founder of Hiretual, the recruiting industry’s leading Talent Data System. Coming from a technical background, Steven’s passion for recruiting began with his own struggles hiring engineers as an Engineering Manager at Samsung’s mobile division in Silicon Valley. Steven founded Hiretual on the principles of leveraging deep advanced technology to transform recruitment into a data-driven model that was completely Internet-friendly. Powered by a proprietary AI-matching engine, Hiretual helps recruiters source and engage the most relevant job candidates 10 times faster with the power of public data found on the Internet and intelligent system integrations with search engines, talent databases, and business software. A lifetime student of recruiting, Steven believes in empowering recruiters with valuable and up-to-date resources in the ever-evolving hiring landscape.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

I grew up in a rural village in China where education at the time wasn’t a main priority. My parents went to great lengths to provide me with a good education, where I then knew I wanted to succeed. In the later years as I was getting my PhD, I also received an internship as a software engineer, which soon later inspired me to focus fully on becoming a software engineer. I worked very hard to differentiate myself from my peers, sometimes working 18 hours a day 7 days a week! After many promotions and growth, it was time to think about what was next in my career — I wanted to build something for myself. Being always passionate about building a team, bringing a group of people to create a purpose, I knew creating Hiretual was my next step. I put in this much work so I can better support my team and set them up to make bigger and better contributions to the organization.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

When I started my career, I would work a ton of hours each week and in the process I spent a lot of time understanding what productive work really is and what type of leadership could build an environment for productive work to flourish. Through all that hard work, I got a promotion that would soon lead me to a great boss that I’ve learned a ton from throughout the course of my career up until today — that boss became of a cofounder of Hiretual with me, and we’ve been on this journey together for the past 6 years thanks to everything we’ve learned from each other during that initial stage of my career. Spending all those hours back then has also helped me better understand what my team would need in their day to get their job done efficiently while enjoying what they do.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“If you can dream it, you can do it” by Walt Disney. I suppose the quote is self explanatory, and it really is a truth that I take to heart. If you were to tell me all those years ago — back when education wasn’t a main priority for most — that I’d successfully build a company of my own and grow a team that thrives off innovation, creativity and teamwork, it would sound like a dream. I’ve always dreamt of big things, and I believe that everything paid off because I dared to dream and I wasn’t afraid to reach for things even though they felt so far away.

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?

My parents. They inspired me to where I am today and the company I created. They have always taught me to be myself and always real to myself, which has taught me great lessons throughout my career thus far. Also, my team who’s been with me since the beginning of Hiretual. They never allowed each other to say anything negative about the startup company and never showed any fear, even though every day was a challenge. The team helped give me the drive to push through and never give up — which led us to creating Hiretual.

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

At Hiretual, we have more women team leaders than male — 80% of our product team is female. We strive to have a diverse team and to date we have eight countries represented. Rather than caring about candidates’ backgrounds, we focus on experience and passion for the job. Hiretual’s goal is to have the best practices in recruiting, focusing on bringing in the unbiased.

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

An exciting project our team has been pursuing is Hiretual Apps, a marketplace of integrations with tools to support recruiting functions including resume searches, calendar scheduling, video interviewing, team collaboration and analytics. This helps those in the recruiting space by removing the extra steps in the recruitment process with automated data synchronization between recruitment tools while simplifying talent management across internal and external channels.

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

Bringing goodness to the world has always started from my relationships with the people around me. My success has introduced me to a team of over 200 people who are excited about Hiretual, a vision and product I led in a small apartment room with less than 10 people over six years ago. I want to bring goodness to the lives of each and every one of my team members so my biggest priority is treating everyone around me with respect and fairness and showing them a place where they are listened to and appreciated, the same way I was when I first started my career. The world will be a better place if each and every one of us truly takes care and expresses our gratitude to the circles of people around us.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Increasing diversity will help create an unbiased foundation at company
    Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is the only way for a company to really be conscious and aware about how they engage with individuals who come from different backgrounds and have different opinions that are crucial for growth. How is a company supposed to be confident in their ability to avoid unconscious bias if they don’t have a workforce that challenges them to do so?
  2. Diverse talent brings unique experiences which can bring better, more creative ideas
    At Hiretual, we’re building a product that talent acquisition teams actively use to increase diverse representation in their talent pipelines. Our product can’t be made without a team that speaks up about different problems and solutions in the hiring process viewed from many unique lenses. When we’re upfront and aware of how experiences differ among minority and majority groups, we’ll have a more complete picture of how our product actually impacts the audience we aim to serve.
  3. Diverse talent can aid with decision making for the same reason as above — they all experience, perceive and learn different things from the world, which can help with decisions
    For example, I mentioned above that 80% of our product team are women. The decision-making process would look completely different if everyone on the team were men, especially if it comes to decisions on how our product should serve our many customers who are looking to drastically increase gender equality in their organizations this year. The enthusiasm to drive these solutions forward might look different, and the empathy toward other minority groups and how hiring processes adversely affect them may also differ.
  4. It’s proven that diverse companies produce 19% more revenue
    I believe that companies with diverse workforces produce more revenue because the quality of products and services increase for the reasons mentioned above — a more holistic view on solutions to build and a deeper understanding of problems being faced by a broader audience. When scopes are limited by a lack of diversity, your organization is limiting the value it can offer.
  5. Being more conscious of diversity brings the opportunity creating more business opportunities
    This comes hand in hand with expanding the value add your organization brings to more members of the community. Being conscious about diversity gives people a reason to trust in your service and your product. In our world today, nobody is going to depend on a company that throws a single blanket solution over everyone’s unique problems. There are many choices out there for people to choose from, and they’re going to choose a company that represents them best.

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

Build a company and team that’s filled with talented and energetic professionals to realize their value. In order to help employees thrive, the company should be accountable for delivering the same value and consistent results that is promoted in their business — consistency is key.

What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?

Actions and examples are the two key factors. It’s easy to assign a title to a person, which usually brings power, but the most important concept is using that power as a community together. For leaders, it’s a good habit to try to do everything with your staff — being close to staff is just as important as being close with your customers.

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

That’s a hard question, I have respect for a lot of great leaders who I continuously learn from. If I have to choose one, I would choose Reid Hoffman. He is the prime example of someone who created a genius business model.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenhiretual

Visit Hiretual’s website: https://hiretual.com/

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.


Steven Jiang of Hiretual: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Etai Hochman of Mirato On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Etai Hochman of Mirato On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

Be prepared to disappoint everybody, including yourself. You will always want to achieve and do more. I want to spend more time with my wife, I want to spend more time with my daughters, I want to build more features, I want to learn more about a new industry, I want to spend more time with our customers. More. More. More. I want to do all of that, but I cannot. Understanding this is key for expectation management.

As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Etai Hochman, co-founder and CTO of Mirato.

Etai Hochman is the co-founder and CTO of Mirato, a recognized technology and innovation leader in the field of third-party risk management for the financial industry. Etai has successfully broken norms across a wide range of industries, from improving academic education for gifted children in mathematics (Bar Ilan University Israel) to optimizing the radio networks of the world’s largest mobile operators (Intucell, acquired by Cisco) to unlocking a new breed of cyber insurance for enterprises (founder of At-Bay). While still in high school, Etai earned a B.Sc. in mathematics from Bar Ilan University before enlisting to serve in the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, where he worked for six years creating a strategic cyberinfrastructure that unlocked new operational capabilities for Israel. During his tenure, he also completed an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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

I think I was eight or nine when I got my first computer. From the very first time I saw a computer at my cousin’s house, I really loved it — it was like a magic machine to me. In Hebrew, the computer is mechashev, and a magician is mechashef. I drew the connection immediately between these two words and their meanings.

I had always had an affinity for numbers and methodology, and this new machine was exciting and magical to me. My family called it “breaking the box” whenever I would think of a new way to approach something or if I found a way to solve a problem around the house. I learned how to code when I was ten, and it came very naturally to me.

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

Early in my career, a manager challenged me to identify and solve a unique customer problem. I needed to find something we were not even aware of yet and outline a solution within an aggressive timeline — three weeks or less.

I hit the road, flying across the U.S. to meet with a variety of our customers in NY, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Kansas City and Washington, D.C. I spent the day with the customers’ engineers, following them through how they used our products and what type of challenges and opportunities they faced. As a former software engineer turned product manager, I knew our products backward and forward, but did I truly understand how our customers were using them?

I returned to the office and worked for 48 hours straight on a prototype for a new product, which was eventually approved. We built it and shipped it, and it quickly had a significant impact on our business unit’s goals for sales and customer satisfaction. We won an award, and this project helped inspire other customer-focused programs throughout the company. My technical background helped me connect with our users and draw feedback from them in a way our other executives had not yet been able to do.

After this project, I became an entrepreneur. I had a voice that I did not have before, and I was able to understand the things that I could do that no one else could. In short, this experience taught me that my technical understanding and ability to explain solutions in a format that could be digested by executives would be a key part of my success moving forward.

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

In today’s fast-moving global economy, organizations are finding themselves increasingly reliant on third-party partnerships in order to remain competitive. These suppliers open the organization to additional risk, which is managed in a third-party risk management (TPRM) program. These programs in large organizations typically use outdated technologies, which results in significant human time and effort spent on manual processes.

At Mirato, we empower risk managers to leverage new advanced technologies to apply a greater level of automation and intelligence to highly manual TPRM processes. Cognitive computing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) are used to augment TPRM and power performance alongside human thought processes and traditional analytics. We leverage the efficiencies gained by other known methodologies such as intelligence gathering, data analysis and software development to improve upon an organization’s existing TPRM program.

How do you think this might change the world?

The secret sauce at Mirato is our ability to understand risk processes and build automation to make these important functions more efficient and effective. We empower very smart people to focus on high-value work, without having to waste time on redundant tasks and data administration.

We are focused on financial services today, but this type of automation in risk management applies to other verticals. For example, the automobile industry relies on thousands upon thousands of third-party suppliers at every stage of production and distribution. Helping to mitigate risk in this industry could have a direct influence on performance and consumer safety. This technology also has the potential to expand into industries such as healthcare, where it could have a very positive impact.

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

Some readers might hear the phrase “automation” and assume that this will replace humans in the risk management field. We do not see that happening at all. This type of technology is helping risk management teams enable their people to do what machines cannot do, and not waste their time going back again and again to an assessment questionnaire or a business continuity plan. Instead, the addition of this technology allows these risk professionals to focus on the more challenging work of mitigation planning, scenario development and other more advanced functions of their profession.

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

My entire background led me to this. When I was a software engineer and algorithms developer in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), an elite intelligence unit in Israel, I was learning many different aspects of risk and cyber risk management. I took what I learned in the Army and went to work analyzing cellular networks, where I assessed these vast networks from a bird’s eye perspective — looking for the geographical places where we might have the most risk of failure in the network, fix it automatically and monitor to make sure nothing deteriorated, all using sophisticated AI. I then moved into the insurance industry for a time, where I was managing the risk of loss from cyber-attacks. Then I moved into building this infrastructure at Mirato that is designed from the ground up to allow organizations to decide how they want to manage risk. I have taken everything I learned before and helped to create a powerful risk management infrastructure to benefit our clients.

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

We are always eager to add new design partners. I give a lot of credit to our earliest intellectual design partners, who got us to an amazing product. As we continue to build more applications on top of our infrastructure, this group continues to be very important to us.

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

An innovative marketing strategy that we have used is our design partnership program. The design partnership program has helped us get the word out to key partners and potential customers and demonstrate Mirato’s value quickly.

By allowing people into your initial processes and design exploration, you are able to delve much deeper into your customers’ needs and wants than what your early research, surveys and other market investigations can possibly uncover.

Invite people in and show them your product very early. Then iterate based on their insights.

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?

The network we have in Israel is quite amazing. My career would not have been possible without it. From my friends in the Army and at university, to the supportive networks I found at my earlier companies, I am really grateful for the friends I’ve made in these different types of organizations.

There are so many people I should thank, and that I do thank whenever I can! One story I can share is from when I worked under Lior Div, a cybersecurity industry luminary. I was on a new project, and Lior asked me to “make a plan,” and I did not know how to get started. I was missing key information and it was my first time creating a plan of this type. I went back and told him I did not know where to begin, which was a difficult thing for me to admit! He reassured me and offered this advice, “If you do not know how to make a plan, make a plan on how to make a plan.” He offered such a simple tip — realizing that everyone does not always have all of the answers — and this has guided me several times throughout my career.

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

While I am still very much a student of entrepreneurism, one area where I actively give back is in our schools. A good education is critical to success. I was fortunate to have amazing teachers from who I learned a tremendous amount. Everyone should have that same opportunity, but the reality is that we are not quite there yet.

I volunteer to teach math and computer science at the high school level. I wish I had more time, but for now, I do what I can. It has been rewarding from the very beginning. I remember reconnecting with some of the students in my very first math class a few years later, and they shared what an impact I had on them. One even went on to pursue a very unique role in the military, indicating how my experience had inspired him to pursue that opportunity. While I started as a volunteer to give back to these kids, they end up rewarding me, too.

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

  1. Be prepared to disappoint everybody, including yourself. You will always want to achieve and do more. I want to spend more time with my wife, I want to spend more time with my daughters, I want to build more features, I want to learn more about a new industry, I want to spend more time with our customers. More. More. More. I want to do all of that, but I cannot. Understanding this is key for expectation management.
  2. Learn to manage urgency versus importance. We cannot do everything for everyone, so learn to weigh each item’s urgency and its importance to your broader goals.
  3. Embrace feedback and learn from it. It is easy to get defensive when someone comes to you with feedback, but do not let pride get in the way of hearing — and ultimately embracing — good feedback from well-meaning people.
  4. Scale at pace. It is tempting to want to grow quickly, especially when you build something people want, that fills a need, that solves a problem. However, you can quickly dilute your value if you spread out functionality and features to try and please too many different types of users too quickly. Stick to your original targets and grow only when you are ready.
  5. Hire the best people and make sure they become better. I cannot say this enough. I have been very lucky to find the best people, and I owe our success to their excellence. The second part is equally if not more important. Once you are in this partnership, it is your privilege and obligation to help your partners evolve and become the best version they aspire. This is a story I like very much. Assaf, our research & development director at Mirato, is the best engineer I have ever met, an inspirational leader and an amazing enabler to his peers. All that, and he has been my best friend for the last 15 years. Our commitment to each other is to stop at nothing, including hard feedback, to make sure we are better versions of ourselves every day.

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. 🙂

Our education system needs an evolution. I do not have the answer, but it is clear the entire education system across the world needs more investment — money, talent and ideas. We need to invest more in our children’s future. I will continue to do my best to help on a local level. One of my dreams is to take a year off from work and take my family on a trip around the world where I would develop a unique curriculum for my girls. I would work in local information and travel-based knowledge that could create a deep set of meaningful lessons, and they would be able to take these learnings with them through their entire lives.

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

“Nothing is free, not even a kick in a**.” My grandfather told me that. Everything you get, you get for a reason, good or bad. He encouraged all of us to work hard for everything we earn. A negative experience will make us stronger if we learn from it. If we earn praise, it was deserved, and it might get you to the next step or earn you a new tool you needed. Understand the reason, learn from it and move on.

My grandfather passed away 25 years ago, and I have seen this lesson proved to be right over and over during this time.

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 🙂

What we do at Mirato has not been done before. We are taking thoughtfulness, experience and know-how from different industries — cybersecurity, big data, risk management, artificial intelligence, business analytics and data analytics — and bringing it into the management of big risk processes at scale and at depth. It is effective because our technological capabilities are designed to distinguish entities, controls, people and locations automatically. We enable risk managers to focus on what they are good at. With this, we believe we can change an $8 billion TPRM market and own 25 percent of it. In fact, 50 percent of the TPRM market today is human labor and we are focused on optimizing output from that group.

Beyond the risk management issues, we also bring the best talent to the table. Mirato has strong relationships, which we have built on trust and excellence. We know each other, care about each other and drive each other to be better, every single day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. I am busy building, so your readers should also follow Mirato, where we are much more active on social media! Follow Mirato on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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


The Future Is Now: Etai Hochman of Mirato On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The… 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: James Kaplan of MeetKai On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: James Kaplan of MeetKai On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

If something isn’t working, it doesn’t always make sense to fix it. This is especially true for people. If you don’t mesh with someone, don’t try to force it to work. As an entrepreneur, you want to minimize politics and focus on your business.

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

James Kaplan is the CEO and Co-Founder of MeetKai, the first AI voice assistant that uses conversation, personalization, and curation to make users’ lives easier.

Kaplan founded MeetKai in 2018 after becoming frustrated with the current AI voice assistants on the market today. Now, he’s joined by his Co-Founder and Chairwoman, Weili Dai, to create one of the fast-growing tech startups.

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

I have always loved programming since I was six years old. I started to learn how to code just after learning to read! In particular, I liked making games. One of the most important pieces of a game, especially when you are an adolescent, is artificial intelligence (AI). Wanting to design AI for games morphed into a love for AI in general. Over the years, I realized entrepreneurship is the best way to amplify the work that one person can do.

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

Before co-founding MeetKai, I ran an AI-based hedge fund. At the time, my business partner bought Ethereum, a type of cryptocurrency, when it first came out. But we couldn’t remember the password to our cryptocurrency site! We had to work for a few days to write a cracker for his password based on similar patterns when creating passwords. After a few days of rushed and stressful engineering, we recovered tens of thousands of Ethereum coins.

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

Our core area of focus is in Conversational AI. We want to go beyond using language understanding to get a single search result from a search engine and instead allow computers to truly converse with users. Right now, this conversational capability is being used to help people search and find content (such as recipes, restaurants, movies, and television shows) using conversational language. In the future, we want to bring this same conversational technology to more day-to-day scenarios. In particular, we want to use this technology to enable rich meditation and fitness experiences that are dynamic. By allowing AI to replicate the experience of a personal coach, we will be able to bring that experience to many more people than can’t afford a human doing so.

How do you think this might change the world?

We see this as the first step to reach the AI that people envisioned would be helping them in their day-to-day lives. The first Iron Man movie featured Jarvis as a true conversational assistant, but that was 13 years ago. While it may have seemed that progress was being made towards that goal since then, I think everyone can agree that the current state is far from it. We are aiming to accomplish this using fundamentally new approaches to the problem.

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

I think there are two fundamental problems and drawbacks. The first is user privacy. In trying to create a conversational assistant that’s with a user in their day-to-day life, we need to make sure that this assistant is truly personal. We want this technology to be developed in a way that you can see your assistant as your best friend, not a commercial entity. The second class of problems is the question of ethics and bias. If you trust your assistant to provide you personalized content, we have to ensure that the assistant is not introducing bias into your life or otherwise promoting it. Our goal here is not to eliminate all viewpoints from the assistant. We think it would make a lot of sense for the assistant to challenge you at different points — encouraging you to break out of your comfort zone — but we have to be cautious. All decisions we make as a company, both in business and R&D, have to keep these fundamental drawbacks in mind.

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

We founded the company in late 2018 based on an observation: the current technology for voice assistants was trying to add voice to a text-based understanding of the world. Put simply, voice assistants turned what you said into text and just put that text into Google. As a result, the technology was good at basic queries like asking for a movie by title but started to fail and degrade if you expected to have a conversation with it. Our tipping point was one realization. Instead of building a voice assistant on top of existing search engines, we started from scratch and built a search engine based on the premise that it will be used for voice.

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

We spent 2019 in a pure R&D cycle, and we spent 2020 in a QA cycle with partners with a large global footprint to validate the technology. Our goal for the next 12 months is to take what we developed and build it into consumer products. We are still at the early stages of bringing all of the capabilities to users, but one of our biggest challenges to widespread adoption is education. We need to reeducate users so they interact with our AI using actual conversational language to search, not just keywords. This has been more difficult than we thought. People have a fixed set of expectations for what types of searches a search engine can handle. As a simple example, people would search Google for “white solid color shirt” if they wanted to find a shirt without stripes. With our technology, we can enable users to say, “Hey Kai, can you find me a white shirt without stripes?” It’s a very different way of looking at things.

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

We just started our marketing process in May. We are working with a few content partners in different regions to put together marketing campaigns this coming summer to target early adopters. These are still at the early stages of being discussed publicly, but we hope to have more to share soon.

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

My Co-Founder, Weili Dai, is the embodiment of a mentor. I can’t say enough positive things about her. The biggest thing that she’s taught me is to think about how the other side can win. You want to make that a win-win rather than the opposite. This is what helped us get our first partner when we were still in the R&D. I went into the meeting with a clear pitch of why they needed us and why we had an interest in helping them. That win-win is key to avoiding long-winded dances that waste both sides’ time. If there is no win-win, make it obvious early, and if there is, make it clear early on.

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

I think that we’re only starting here, but one of our big hopes is to bring cutting-edge AI to areas of the world that are traditionally last in line to receive new technology. We have selected Mexico and Indonesia as our “test beds for innovation.” We want to bring more cutting-edge and disruptive technology there even sooner than to the United States. We have formed a partnership with the premier digital health company in Indonesia and are working towards using our AI to enable much lower-cost health experiences for Indonesians in 2022. We’re hoping to make similar partnerships with local players in other underserved markets to enable them with this next-gen AI.

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

Never write an email that is longer than one screen on a cell phone. I can’t count the number of times I have sat with high-profile individuals and never seen them scroll to the end of an email before replying (or ignoring it).

Don’t undersell your potential. People are tempted to say something like, “If we just capture 1% of the market, we will be huge.” Just say, “This is the market, these are the players, and we are going to eat their lunch.”

If something isn’t working, it doesn’t always make sense to fix it. This is especially true for people. If you don’t mesh with someone, don’t try to force it to work. As an entrepreneur, you want to minimize politics and focus on your business.

Trust your gut, seriously. If something feels off to you at first glance, don’t convince yourself that it’s fine. Listen to yourself and trust your common sense.

Always know who is signing the paper on the other side and who you will be talking to if things go south. Whenever you deal with massive entities, make sure you understand who the decision-maker is, and more importantly, who the person is that you will go to if something goes wrong. The last thing you want to be doing is trying to build a relationship with that person before it’s too late.

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 know this may sound cliche, but never be afraid of being the underdog. Many movements fail to start because people are afraid of being the “David.”

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

“Overpromise, overdeliver even if it is hard.” This was shared with me by a startup founder doing extremely ambitious work in hardware. It resonated with me. Sometimes, you have to ignore the advice to underpromise, overdeliver. I think about this very frequently ahead of weeks that look intractable. You have to buckle down, bite the bullet, and make the impossible possible.

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 🙂

Few major advancements in AI have come from established players. Most of the groundbreaking work comes from new entries. Google, for example, leapfrogged Yahoo. When it comes to conversational AI, this will be the case too. By approaching the problem in a new way and creating everything from scratch, it’s possible to leapfrog over the tech giants and build a next-gen voice assistant with conversational AI technology.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on Twitter as @jekirl and you can find us on Instagram as @meetkaihub


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

Non-Fungible Tokens: Michael Blu of LGND On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly…

Non-Fungible Tokens: Michael Blu of LGND On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry

You need to have an audience. — If I’m an amazing artist and I show people I know my stuff and they think it’s wonderful that’s great, but if you don’t have a way to get that momentum out into the bigger community it’s incredibly difficult to be successful in that way. You need to get out into the community, make friends, show your art, make NFTs give them away, slowly build your audience. You’ve got to be a promoter, or if you just don’t have that in you, you have to find someone else who really believes in you and can do that job for you.

Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Blu.

Michael Blu, Co-founder of LGND, is an early blockchain investor and expert in intellectual property and data center technology. He brings his diverse experiences as a Marine, musician, film producer, best-selling author, and owner of a national precious metal brokerage, to supporting LGND’s mission of empowering artists with sustainable NFT opportunities.

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I was born in a fairly small sleepy town on the edge of a big, beautiful river. I would cut my way down through the blackberry bushes to the train tracks with my friends. We’d often hop on the slow-moving trains and end up taking 10–15 miles long train trips to nowhere and end up having to make the long walks back home. Lots of fun adventures growing up like that. We lived in an era where parents didn’t really ask where you were going, and we had a lot of independence in that way. I’d ride my bike all over town and come home at dark. I grew up with a lot of freedom and I always had time to be creative and work with my hands, whether it was building tree forts or painting. Later on, I fell in love with playing music, I started playing the guitar, joined choir, and really enjoyed the idea of having my whole life in front of me. Anything was possible it seemed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy more rigorous studies as well, I especially enjoyed math and science. No matter what I was interested in I was able to explore it and I’m extremely grateful for having that sort of childhood.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My three children, my wife and I find ourselves sitting around the table drawing and listening to Audible. It really gets our creative juices flowing and makes for a fun, shared experience. Specifically, not too long ago, we started going through the Harry Potter series as a family. It was our first experience with the stories, and it was fantastic! What a ride that was and such a joy to experience it all for the first time with your children. We were all enamored by it. We’d wake up the next morning, and start talking about where we left off in the story the night before. There’s a lot to those stories, lots of subtext and parallels to life right now. It brought about some great philosophical discussions with the children, which made it take on a whole new perspective to me as an adult. Our adult programming makes us look at these sorts of things in a certain light, but hearing an 8, 9, or 11 year old talk about these big concepts was an absolute blast. Talking about what things meant in the book through the filter of the kid’s perfect innocence made me have a whole different level of appreciation for the art of storytelling. It was a powerful experience for me, personally and I cannot wait for our next big book journey together as a family.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.

A book that comes to mind, one that I read a very long time ago is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It has stuck with me, even more so recently when put into a modern perspective. There’s a lot of uncanny crossover between that book and what’s going on today. That book and that story line was significant, and I think it pushes into the whole blockchain, digital assets outlier technology aspect of our industry. Depending on what side of the aisle you’re on economically, politically, etc. you’ll have a totally different take on the technology. The book is completely misunderstood by one side and completely adored by the other and there’s not a lot of middle ground. I think that’s a really interesting parallel to how the industry is going right now. I’ve been meaning to revisit it again with this fresh perspective, so I’ll have to pick it up and reread it soon.

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

The most interesting story is a pretty dramatic one. The formation of LGND was me embarking on Uplift.art, which is a philanthropic technology organization that leverages blockchain and NFT tech. In the formation of that I was speaking to a young developer and I shared my vision for the LGND.art platform. He told me to reach out to a guy named Scott. I reached out to him that same day and we immediately became friends. It was one of those situations where within the first few minutes of talking to someone it feels like “it’s good to see you again, brother!”. It was comfortable, familiar, and we were immediately on the same wavelength. We just started pitching ideas back and forth and when we took our first breath, we realized a few hours had gone by! We sat back to kind of take it all in and we both came to the same conclusion: ‘We have to build this!’ Then the realization hit us, and we just started laughing — we can’t do this alone! We’re both dreamers, swept away by ideas and innovation, but we’re not programmers or savvy businessmen necessarily. But we both had a certainty in our vision. That led us to a sort of impasse as we decided it was worth trying to figure out how to realistically create this platform. Cut to me driving home later that evening when I get a call from a friend of mine, Mike Rockwell. He was just calling to check in and catch up. We’ve been friends for a long time and we’ve both been involved in crypto for a long while at this point, our kids play together, you know he’s just a really great guy who also just so happens to possess that savvy business mind that Scott and I were lacking. It was one of those synchronistic moments. He had just finished building out this giant data farm project in Europe, was looking for his next project and he really wanted to focus on the crypto space. I just couldn’t believe it! I said, ‘funny you called… I have an idea for you!’ Then I sat in my car in the driveway for the next hour going over the broad strokes of this concept that Scott and I had just honed. By the end of the call Rockwell kind of left it open-ended saying you know, “interesting, let me get back to you”, but I could tell the passion came through and it had sparked something in him that he just needed to put into perspective, so I wanted to give him a little time, but scheduled a chance for Scott and I to sit down and really pitch it to him. I immediately called up my new best friend, Scott and told him he wouldn’t believe what phone call I had just been on. I told him we had an amazing opportunity, and we had an hour to meet with Rockwell the next day and really make sure we plant those seeds deep. We knocked it out of the park during the meeting. We all had a shared chemistry and passion about the concept, but still at the end of the meeting Rockwell, who is very methodical, didn’t give any clear commitment. He doesn’t run into things, which is smart, but we were still confident he got it and we just gave him the time he needed to come to the decision on his own. Three or four days later we got the call, and it was real. Rockwell was all in and we were off to the races. Rockwell immediately laid out the plan forward for us just like a leader does and boom, boom, boom, he started executing all these things like a rockstar and we were onboarding a killer, world-class team. We were just blown away, we couldn’t have dreamed of a better, more established team of the smartest most talented folks out there. It all ramped up so fast it was astounding. Everyone was on fire and working at their peak.

Then all of a sudden, out of the blue… Scott’s no longer with us. He passed away. A devastating, huge blow. Now, I’ve experienced loss in my personal life, and I was fortunate enough to have my family there to share that grief with and work through that pain. It’s hard. The hardest thing you can do. But this was an entirely different experience. Here we had assembled this amazing team, we had the wheels turning and things needed to get done. This project was moving fast already, we couldn’t stop what was already in motion. We were all charging the mountain, hand-in-hand but then, suddenly, half or more of the soul of the project is just gone. Vanished. No warnings, no goodbyes, just sudden inexplicable loss. I struggled with it immensely, but how do you process that when you have an entire team relying on you. I couldn’t get lost, cry, and go through processing that loss in the way I knew. I had to rise up above that loss and be a leader. We all had to rise up. That enormous tragedy had to be something that we processed all together, to listen to one another and support one another — but we couldn’t stop working on the project that was in part founded by the genesis of that loss. It was an experience that none of us will forget. I love all the people on our team dearly and we were all there for one another, working through the emotions and working through the logistics of the immensely ambitious business venture that we wanted to make sure was perfect to really honor, Scott and what he meant to all of us. We had to stand up and plant the flag and say ‘NO’ to surrendering to the grief. We did it and we took care of one another. I wish he were here now because what is going on with LGND is everything he wanted it to be and so much more, and we’re just at the very beginning.

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?

We are building the future. Combining the different components that we are, the technology itself, the conceptual future we see as inevitable. That being the case, being so young in a space that’s growing so quickly, it’s a whirlwind. We’re in an innovative exponential climb, working on so much technology, from cross-chain bridges, to the underlying integration of the WAX blockchain. We’re trying to open up the whole space to the world, instant free, transactions, scalable, built by a team that understands global payments and blockchain to its core. We’re innovating on top of these base layer technologies that are themselves innovating every single day. So, there’s a ton of mistakes that need to be made for that to happen. To find the right path you must explore a lot. So, I’m not sure if they’re necessarily funny, but I can definitely say during our private alpha launch, we were supposed to mint something like 199 of a particular art piece, but our alpha users were so passionate about taking part that the demand far outstripped what was supposed to be the supply. Something was wrong on our end however and once we hit that 199 limit the system didn’t stop, and we ended up selling about 800 more than we were able to mint. So, our resident super hero/master artist, Ty Carter came in and said “I got you”, then created a special edition NFT to give to those users.

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

My father, Thomas. An extraordinary human, he raised me in such a way that I became extremely self-reliant at an early age. I’m one of those ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, types of people. I can do a lot of things, from building houses to making music, but I’ve never spent time getting a master’s degree in something and really perfected one specific skill. But that’s what my father gifted me, the ability to do, and desire to do, so many things. He’s a great mentor and always has amazing feedback and ideas. I call him often and brainstorm with him. He’s a huge part of why I am who I am today.

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

The metaverse we’re building, Uplift.world is really exciting for me. I think we’re doing some really innovative things in the metaverse space, integrating it with real-world creativity. Whether you’re a lawyer, an accountant, whatever, you can go into this world and have a creative experience and be an artist. Another is Yoshidrops.com Its in the early stages, mud-on-the-wall development, but it’s hopefully going to change the future of the music industry by focusing on music NFTs that produce oxygen. We’re working with some exciting partners that we can’t talk about just yet. But we are doing a closed-access private drop soon and we’re a small, passionate community that will be more and more public and mainstream as we grow the platform.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?

An NFT in its very basic form, a way to prove ownership of a digital item. Anything you own digitally; a photograph, a movie file, a pdf, a concert ticket, the deed to your house — anything digital, but let’s use a photograph as an example. Say you’ve taken a beautiful photograph of Barack Obama, you can take that image and add any informational metadata to it you want, your digital signature, a link to your website, a note about the photo, etc. then you can create that as an NFT on the blockchain where it will live forever with all that information. There’s no way for it to be corrupted or disappeared. You can keep it on file as proof, or as an artist you could monetize it. Create X number of copies and sell them. Now say you mint one million of these images. You could sell those one million copies and when your fans buy it, they can do what they want with it. They have this beautiful image, they can save it and put it in their digital collection, or, and this is important, they could go to the secondary market with it. They could say, I’m going to sell this for a hundred bucks. The real interesting part is that since we know the providence of this digital asset, no matter who buys it from the initial purchaser, the original artist still gets paid. This in and of itself is revolutionary for the art world. It sets a new precedent for artists to control their legacy and earn what they deserve off their work. They now have a source of passive income that will last forever, no matter how many times that NFT changes hands, the original artist will always get a portion of that sale price, whatever it may be. The artists now have more control and more income from a single image they’ve sold. That’s why at LGND we say we’re helping artists secure their digital legacy — that’s not a throwaway line, that’s our mission. The reason they’re selling for so much money has to do with the idea that people who understand all the above understand the intrinsic value of not only an authenticated digital piece of art, but also that for the first time in hundreds of years of art history, we’re making sure the artists are taken care of and earning forever. Art enthusiasts like that, they want to support the artist directly and with NFTs they are able to do that on an unprecedented scale. This is a revolutionary step that empowers the artist like was never possible before and people are willing to pay a premium for that. Smart crypto enthusiasts and investors also understand the growing threat of inflation in relation to fiat currencies, a dollar today won’t be a dollar in a few years, so these smart investors know it’s a good idea to put that money into an asset class that is immune from those inflation risks. Their digital asset will retain, and in fact, grow in value as the technology becomes more and more ingrained in our everyday lives and in this new, quickly evolving blockchain-based economy.

The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I’m so hyper focused running the R&D for LGND, working on Uplift, and on Yoshidrops that that’s where all my excitement lies recently. As I hinted at before, Yoshidrops will revolutionize the music industry. The music industry needs a lot of help. What’s being done to musicians is criminal. I know top-notch composers, writers, and producers, people who have worked on huge projects that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars and they see zero revenue from that. That’s a shockingly common thing to see in the music industry. We’re going to change that. We’re going to present the answer and whether the industry gets on board with it will be a defining moment for them. This is their second MP3 moment. Remember the companies who scoffed at MP3’s and digital distribution? That is the same mentality of people who are looking at the NFT market right now and saying, ‘I can just screen grab that.’ They don’t get it, they haven’t dug in and done the due diligence to understand the other side. This is the time they can choose to empower their artists and help them thrive in the new upcoming marketplace, or they can go the way of the dinosaurs. The streaming services too, Spotify, Apple Music all of them have an opportunity right now to get on board with the future and reinvent themselves or lose big time. The core of Yoshidrops.com is to empower the musicians and to empower the labels that are able to see the future and help these artists build their brands in a new way. It’s a new way to support the creative and the IP that surrounds it because right now the original creator is the last mouth to be fed, and sometimes they don’t get fed at all! It’s a shame and that’s what we’re changing for visual artists with LGND.art and what we will be doing in kind for musicians with Yoshidrops that’s what’s really exciting to me right now,

What are three “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?

That they’re going to destroy the planet. There’s a pervasive belief by people who don’t really understand the technology. And maybe that was kind of true in the beginning when people were locked in to using ‘proof of work’ blockchains, those mechanisms require huge amounts of computational power. It’s basically a competition on POW to see who can use the most energy to solve a complicated mathematical equation and “win” the transaction to create the block. Proof of stake however, and specifically, delegated proof of stake, which is what the WAX blockchain is, takes a completely different approach. People saw how ridiculous and wasteful that POW consensus mechanism was, so instead of seeing who can use the most brute force power to create the answer to an equation, a proof of stake blockchain just requires people to invest their own assets back into the protocol to help show they have a vested interest in honestly minting new blocks. These blocks do not have to be brute-forced with hardware to solve because it relies on a consensus mechanism that requires validators to invest their own assets back into the system in a way to create a self-checking approval system that can be done on nearly any hardware, it doesn’t need to be a specialized power-hungry mining rig — it can be your phone. It’s just an approval process that solves the equations easier by having more bespoke assets on-chain to help unlock the solution. You’re more so devoting time instead of mass amounts of energy to solve the new blocks. So over time, POS systems can actually become more sustainable. The WAX blockchain is 125,000 more efficient than other POW blockchains. This is sustainable. Artists have been abused enough without being accused of destroying the planet.

Another common myth is that it’s too expensive to mint and transfer these NFTs, which again can be true on other blockchains where you will end up spending more money to create the authentication of the asset than you may be able to sell it for. That’s not a smart business model for an artist to get wrapped up in. But on WAX that’s not true at all. We do not charge gas fees to our artists, ever. We sweep all that nonsense out of the way and make it as easy as possible for an Artist to do what they do best, focus on their creative process.

The last common misconception is that the whole market is a bubble. We’re still definitely in price discovery mode at this point, but the genie is out of the bottle. The technology solves so many problems inherent in the digital space, while innovating in ways no one ever thought about before that it is impossible to go back to the way it was before. Blockchain tech and NFTs in general are the future and regardless of what prices may do in the short-term, the long-term success is inevitable.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?

Probably starting off on a proof of work blockchain! Which is still probably the most pervasive and talked about aspect of the industry because they’ve been around the longest and there is so much money tied up in them already. The biggest mistake is to not do your homework and just jump in on these blockchains that are not ideal for the NFT market. WAX is purpose-built for NFTs from the ground up, so artists need to understand all the implications of that. Fees on other blockchains are a huge barrier of entry for some. Even as a purchaser of an NFT these things are vitally important, you don’t want to buy an NFT then get hit with a fee to move that NFT that exceeds the cost you originally paid for it. You just can’t buy a ten-dollar NFT on a proof of work blockchain and send it somewhere cheaply. It’s like buying ten dollars’ worth of groceries and being charged a hundred bucks to take it to your car, it’s ridiculous. So that’s the big common mistake. You have to learn about the difference in these blockchains and what their limitations are, what they do best and what they’re made for. WAX is made for NFTs, and we made the decision to build LGND on the WAX blockchain because we did that research and found it to be the best fit to help elevate the whole market.

How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?

They’re already helping people in big ways. I get messages quite frequently on Telegram with Uplift.art, which is, again, the philanthropic, charitable component under the LGND umbrella. We’ve done a lot of charitable NFT drops and raised well over a million dollars to help build schools in Haiti and to also fund a food drive for those schools. We give away NFTs regularly within our ecosystems because it’s so easy, and we’re not paying gas fees, so we can send NFTs to people that have real value — there’s a story behind it that resonates with the audience — but they can then go and sell them on the secondary market. This is something they got for free that has value in the uplift world that other users will pay for, so it provides an income source for people. If someone in Venezuela sells an NFT for two hundred dollars that means something completely different to them in their circumstances than it does to you or me in our circumstances. To us it’s ‘oh, yeah, cool’, but to them it’s feeding their family, it’s the start to paying for their education, to help them move, to really change their circumstances. It can be life changing, lifesaving even. Outside of that, even just taking part in the uplift metaverse can be a source of income for them because they get paid to play, to interact with the uplift world. You get paid in WAX rewards and other cryptos. People are even creating entirely new income sources within that world of their own design; they’re creating business within the metaverse. I know someone who created a tour service in the Uplift world. People are creating new industries and new careers for themselves to change their lives for the better. Keep in mind, we’re still in the early stages here, so I’m very excited and optimistic for more people to learn about these opportunities and become aware of the new possibilities that this technology presents.

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

#1 You need to have an audience.

If I’m an amazing artist and I show people I know my stuff and they think it’s wonderful that’s great, but if you don’t have a way to get that momentum out into the bigger community it’s incredibly difficult to be successful in that way. You need to get out into the community, make friends, show your art, make NFTs give them away, slowly build your audience. You’ve got to be a promoter, or if you just don’t have that in you, you have to find someone else who really believes in you and can do that job for you.

#2 Find your superpower.

What’s your niche, what do you love to do? Don’t just jump on a bandwagon, that’s insincere. Be you, figure out what it is you love to do and what your unique voice is and embrace it. Do that as best you can and put your intention behind it. Form follows that intention so fill your work with that intention and be distinctive.

#3 Finish your work.

Don’t procrastinate to perfect something. Art doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be honest. Perfect is subjective. If you set unrealistic expectations on yourself, you’ll never produce a substantial body of work. You need that body of work to really succeed in the art markets, so you have to allow yourself to be imperfect. A bricklayer doesn’t second guess every brick he lays, he uses his skills and does his job, he builds a wall and before you know it, something substantial and powerful exists.

#4 Give to others.

Help others shine. This is a reciprocal relationship referencing #2 on this list. You sometimes need to be the person that helps someone achieve what they can be too. That’s part of the community mindset I’m talking about. That will come back to you tenfold. Be a good friend, find good friends, and enable and support their dreams.

#5 Slow Down.

Get outside, take your shoes off, plant your feet in a green patch of grass, some sand, even dirt for that matter. Get off the concrete, off the plastic soles, center yourself, take a deep breath and just listen. Be in the now, in the moment and enjoy the gift of life and being centered in the now and that will reset you to go back to #1 and nurture this whole loop.

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

We’re doing it in the Uplift.world! It was built by five friends who loved playing Minecraft who used to get together every Sunday and build cool stuff together. One day one of the friends put up a wall and wrote “I love my son.” Everyone said, ‘what are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I felt so grateful today I just wanted to write about it’. So, everyone else starting writing a gratitude on the wall and 35,000 gratitude messages later in the uplift world with about 2,500 participants this whole world has been built on gratitude from the ground up within what we call the “win, win, win” economy -10% of all the revenue produced within the uplift world goes into our Uplift donate charitable fund, this is the fund we use to build schools in Haiti and as it grows, we’re going to expand it to all sorts of philanthropic good in the world. With Yoshi drops is all about NFTs that produce oxygen where a significant amount of those proceeds goes to planting trees and kelp farms and other innovative technologies that produce oxygen in our beautiful world. So yeah, we’re living it right now, we’re not waiting for ‘some day’ we’re in the middle of that inspiration.

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

You know, I would love to have a meal with Elon Musk. He’s been very active in the crypto space, he’s taken some heavy shots from the community lately because of the price dive that’s pretty much been attributed to some of his recent comments, which I think is more of a coincidence than the actual cause. I’d love to have a talk with him about green energy and the environment and what he stands for, because there is a lot of controversy with batteries for his cars and how the raw materials are sourced and how they’re made. I’d like to see how he squares that up and what he sees as the future technology to remedy these issues. It’d be interesting to dig into his mind about crypto and see what his real true knowledge of the space is because he’s been a real advocate of Dogecoin, which is a meme coin that’s always been a running joke in the industry. Now, I don’t want to disparage or offend Dogecoin advocates, they have a thriving community full of well-meaning people, but I would like to know what’s behind his stance, and if there’s a real structured plan behind it. He’s a brilliant mind and I can’t imagine him making such flippant comments to his significant base of followers that he has an enormous amount of influence over if he didn’t have some sort of real thought put behind what he’s saying.


Non-Fungible Tokens: Michael Blu of LGND On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Smart Energy Management Architecture: Anil Srivastava’s Big Idea That Might Change the World

We should be using hydrogen fuel cells paired with batteries right now. Leclanché is currently retrofitting vehicles to use both these complimentary technologies. There is no reason why any heavy transport vehicle should be using diesel fuel any longer; we can put a stop to it within a few years. There is a larger technology debate and economic viability case but these are manageable obstacles. The battery industry has evolved and is creating good by itself. Smart energy management architecture and batteries paired with hydrogen fuel cells are creating an enhanced and immediate impact. This is evolutionary in nature.

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 Anil Srivastava.

Anil Srivastava, the Chief Executive Officer of Leclanché, is a highly successful and experienced executive with a strong track record of building global businesses. His quarter century experience spans the clean energy, digital technology and telecommunications markets.

He joined Leclanché in June 2014 and has engineered a turnaround of the 100-plus year old battery manufacturer into a top-tier provider of energy storage solutions serving the utilities and mobility/transportation industries.

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

I was born and raised in India and learned that human society will be much happier when you can advance anything in the areas of food, healthcare, water or electricity. Anything that advances in these areas is ideal. I was brought to this specific career path from an experience I had with my wife while I was on vacation in Greece. We were in the middle of “nowhere” and I saw a solar panel on the roof of a house — tapping into the energy of the sun. It made me think of the villages in India. Affordability + Power. After that moment, I came back to Paris and joined Areva Renewables, a company in this space.

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

When I joined Alcatel in Paris, I was faced with the need to change the mindset of the Enterprise Division team I was leading. I felt that as a company, we had lost our attention to detail. Everything was old and not in good condition. I decided to start out by improving the bathrooms, the sinks, the toilets, etc. One young employee told me that I was crazy in an all-hands meeting. My simple response to this was, if you can’t figure out the small things, you can’t figure out the big things. Attention to small details makes good companies great and great companies excellent. The rest is history built on good teamwork and commitment; the Company resumed growth after many years of decline.

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

I don’t have any specific principles or philosophies; just the values I live with. I learned my work ethic from my parents. My mom had no formal education, and my dad was a chief financial officer. He taught me about integrity and honesty by example. Though he had broad access to company money and resources, he never took advantage of his trusted position to enrich himself or provide for a better home, newer appliances, cars, etc. for our family. He was very principled and didn’t give into temptation; I appreciated him teaching me that key lesson. My mother was persistent, a hard-worker and woke me up every morning to study and be on top of things like my education. I learned those important values from my parents.

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 team at Leclanché is creating a smart energy management architecture marrying the latest battery technology with green hydrogen fuel cells with the goal of tripling overall power efficiency compared to standalone fuel cells. This will help to greatly reduce greenhouse emissions and the cost of ownership!

The impact of this smart energy management architecture is significant. It can reduce greenhouse gasses significantly — nearing zero emissions in the heavy transport sector. That’s trucks, busses, marine vessels of all kinds, mining vessels of all kinds, port infrastructure, etc.

We don’t have to wait until 2050 to reduce greenhouse emissions. We can see a quick significant profound reduction in greenhouse gasses right now and help to create a green economy in these sectors using Leclanché’s Smart Energy Management Architecture.

How do you think this will change the world?

We should be using hydrogen fuel cells paired with batteries right now. Leclanché is currently retrofitting vehicles to use both these complimentary technologies. There is no reason why any heavy transport vehicle should be using diesel fuel any longer; we can put a stop to it within a few years. There is a larger technology debate and economic viability case but these are manageable obstacles.

The battery industry has evolved and is creating good by itself. Smart energy management architecture and batteries paired with hydrogen fuel cells are creating an enhanced and immediate impact. This is evolutionary in nature.

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?

No, I don’t see any unintended consequences, but I do see obstacles. The obstacles could come from people trying to take a very rigid, almost religious position if you will, in hydrogen fuel cells versus batteries. I could see that getting in the way. I could see someone saying one is great and someone else saying the other is greater. But combined, they are better. I expect some resistance from vested interests, if you will and primarily from a technology debate, as to which one is superior.

There should be an incentive for retrofitting highly polluting vehicles diesel-powered heavy transport vehicles including credit for ‘saved CHG emissions’ and a penalty for those who do not.

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

No, tipping point, this has truly been evolutionary in nature. Current battery technology is good by itself but not sufficient to solve the key problems in heavy transportation and other sectors. A smart energy management architecture can make a significant and profound impact right now.

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

We’ve always led by example. Whenever we see opportunity, we’ve acted. We are currently leading the charge to widespread adoption.

Here are three projects using a combination of hydrogen fuel cells plus batteries that showcase how we are leading by example:

  1. HySeas project in Scotland, UK: this technology is used by maritime vessels in Scotland. This is the final step to zero emissions from marine transport — all powered by renewables.
  2. A large trucking company in the U.S.
  3. Freight Trains: We are currently helping to retrofit a diesel locomotive to 100% electric clean power in Canada. Converting a diesel locomotive to 100 percent electric? Can you imagine the impact of that? That’s what we do — help to create an ecosystem of partnerships moving forward.

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

  1. Premature industrial grade: The battery industry was still in an industrial ramp-up stage.
  2. Complexity: The complexity of energy storage systems is severely understated. This industry is a convergence of electrochemistry and IT systems for application in the mobility and electricity industry.
  3. Vehicle ‘start-use case’ to ‘now running vehicles’: Batteries were used for starting vehicles; not for running vehicles. The scale of engineering, performance reliability and safety requirements needed for that is much more demanding than just the start-use case. The challenge for the scale was, and I believe still, is underestimated. Look at the repeated recalls in the automotive industry involving some of the largest players in the Industry. Also, look at the repeated unfortunate fire incidents in energy storage systems.
  4. Leclanché, my Company, though 100+ years old with rich heritage, was essentially a start-up in developing new applications of battery technologies.
  5. I underestimated the capital investment, and time, required to scale the business in all its aspects. Our technology needed to leapfrog the much larger Asian competitors. Our production levels needed to be at multi-gigawatt hour scale to be cost-competitive. Thanks to our shareholders, our technology has achieved that with an investment of more ca. $250 million over the past six years — we are well on our way to scale our production capacity in Germany and are looking to expand further through a joint venture in the automotive sector.

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

Honesty. Start by being honest and truthful to yourself.

Acknowledging the Issue at Hand/Coming Together: Problems need to be solved by coming together and acknowledging you have a problem.

Voicing Your Concerns to Others: Be honest about your fears and your concerns with others.

Don’t Overpromise: Better to be honest and willing to speak to what you can do, in terms of ability and capability.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/anil-srivastava-03a331/?originalSubdomain=ch

https://www.linkedin.com/company/leclanch-sa/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/LeclancheSA/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Leclanche_SA


Smart Energy Management Architecture: Anil Srivastava’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.

The Future Is Now: Idris Mootee of urbancoolab On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Idris Mootee of urbancoolab On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

50% of business out there is a scam and don’t create customer value. You can find that in financial services when all they do is sell you funds and made commissions but have no value add.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing IDRIS MOOTEE of urbancoolab.

Idris is the co-founder of Urbancoolab, a company focuses on advancing applied AI in computational creativity. Prior to that he was the co-founder and global CEO of Idea Couture for 12 years until the firm was acquired. Idea Couture has built its reputation as the most sought after innovation firm for Fortune 500s with offices in Toronto, San Francisco, London Amsterdam, New York City, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. Idris has a proven executive management track record and over 25 years of experience building business from scratch, he is passionate about building high performance teams to drive product innovation, velocity and scale.

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

I have always looked ahead in imagining about the future. (urbancoolab co-founder) Javier and I would always joke about how machines might eventually take over and how we should start something to advocate for “Machines for Humanity”. In the last five years, I’ve been involved with various Fortune 500s in the application of AI in FinTech and HealthTech was deeply aware of its vast possibilities — as well as its limitations. And during that time, it was common for people to casually throw ideas around how there is an AI solution for all the world’s problems. When Javier returned from London after his computer science studies with a focus AI, we discovered that we had two common interests: Streetwear and AI. And from there the idea was born and we began to design a creative artificial intelligence machine and the first application is streetwear and fashion. And there are many more to come.

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

From the start, everything I’ve ever done in my career has been dedicated to innovation. When I co-founded Idea Couture, the global innovation firm that I exited before co-founding urbancoolab, we worked with countless clients including Burberry, Prudential, Pepsi, Nike, and Samsung in conceiving business models focused on strategic foresight. We deployed armies of anthropologists and design thinkers to help them imagine and realize the futures. In 2000, we received calls, averaging once each month to ask us to help. And the brief was somehow always the same “How can we become Apple?” My answer was also always the same: “Hire Steve Jobs”. People think there is a magic formula, but in reality, everyone has to chart and find its own path in order to succeed.

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

Urbancoolab’s mission is to employ machine intelligence toward various aspects of the creative fields. Because it is involved with creativity, the recurring theme around the concept is that it will somehow take away human jobs. But that’s really mostly a myth. Yes, there are industries in which automation can replace certain operational procedures but new jobs will inevitably be created. The renowned computer scientist Kai Fu Lee’s is convinced that given AI’s limitations when it comes to performing humanistic tasks — tasks that are personal, creative, and compassionate — these are the jobs that will be safe from displacement. But this too may not entirely be true either.

Right now, we are pushing true creative collaborations between Humans and AI Machines. It is not the scenarios that one is the master and the other becomes the tool. The biggest limitation is subjectivity. How can machines perform subjective mapping between senses and sensual qualities to illustrate the dynamics between computing and consciousness? It is unknown how our senses (e.g., vision, audio and olfactory) are translated into subjective human feelings and emotional responses that lead to creative outcomes. One scenario is that our machine will be able to translate visuals and sounds (and we’re already doing that), but the emotional responses we are getting from it might not be the same as they might be for humans. Either way it is a breakthough. And we can argue for another 50 years whether machine art is art or machine feelings are feelings because, clearly, we haven’t arrived at any consensus about what constitutes as art and which feelings are valid.

How do you think this might change the world?

We are optimistic that there is a version of the future in which humans and machines live, work, co-create and even play side by side. For instance, we enjoy driving a lot but there are times when we may wish the machine can self-drive, because we need a power nap or make a video call. We enjoy cooking a lot and there are times some of us would rather the AI kitchen can decide and cook something while we are finishing up work.

Most designers enjoy and take pride in the process of design creation but I’m sure there are days when they might wish that there was a machine that can help in extending an idea and iterating on it while they are doing what humans do, whether it’s socializing or tending to their families. We are figuring out how humans can take advantage of that human x AI collaboration possibilities. This is how we look at it, at urbancoolab, we believe human and machines together can co-create. We believe companies that can use such potentials are best positioned for success.

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

Any technology has its drawbacks even things we create to be good for us — such as medications with potential side effects. The idea is to learn, understand, know, and anticipate these unintended consequences. Sometimes, technology can move at a pace when it becomes difficult too fast to predict what’s next, this may be especially true with regards to changes in human behavior. For us, the drawback is the standards of design will be raised to levels where it will be much harder to surpass them. Think about photography today. Whereas before you had to really know how to calibrate your camera’s settings in order to take a good photograph now anyone can take a reasonably good image with the right phone and thus it’s become really challenging to make a living out of it.

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

There was no actual tipping point. It is not like one day the big idea dropped onto us. We have been working on this for three years and every week we perform new experimentation and taking small steps. It was through a long process of trial and error and testing hypotheses that got us here.

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

Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for an armored humanoid machine in 1495. Engineer Mark Rosheim has created a functional miniature version for NASA to help colonize Mars. Robots will soon be just appliances for every home. AI will be embedded in every system. Creative intelligence will achieve mass adoption once we start to move beyond designing garments to making sneakers to producing food. It comes down to how fast we can collect enough datasets that powers an AI.

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

We are doing all kinds of experimental projects to bring collaboration to a truly authentic level, instead of companies simply snapping their logos together. We are creating collections with brands that will never work together and see how an AI can do it if it is able to get into the “minds” of those designers/brands. Can you imagine Ferrarri collaborates with Porsche? Or Nike collaborate with Adidas? We are hoping these projects will get people excited about the possibilities as well in the exceptional capabilities of our AI.

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

There are so many people that I am grateful to during my career and it is almost too many to mention. That list is long. People of extraordinary vision put a lot of faith in what I do because all the work that I’ve done are uncharted territory. That includes this company that I co-founded. I guess I am destinated for this kind of work. But of course I couldn’t have done this without all the people who’ve been on this journey with us in making this a reality.

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

I have codified what I’ve learned, and the same program I designed and taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and published it into the book “Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business Or Design School” eight years ago in multiple languages. I believe by sharing my IP to the business world will improve the strategic and critical thinking power of any typical business school student by ten times over. I want to make that available to anyone for free in the future. The world needs more design thinkers and not people who solve one problem by creating another one.

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

50% of business out there is a scam and don’t create customer value. You can find that in financial services when all they do is sell you funds and made commissions but have no value add.

50% of business out there are operating on an expired business model. Think about auto insurance and when you won’t be the driver anymore, so it will be Tesla or Google.

50% of customer out there have no idea what they want. As they say ask people what they want for their horse carriages, they’d a faster horse. But one wanted a car. No one wanted a self-driving car.

50% of all large companies simply cannot innovate they way into the future. They have too much vested interests in the past. Think Kodak as a chemical company and never wanted digital to work even they invested the first digital camera.

50% of business successful was lucky accident. Yes hard work was put in but it was not the intended application. The microwave began its lifecycle as a military device. Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer was trying to find a better way to detect enemy planes in World War II and accidentally that microwaves radiating from the device he was working on had melted the candy bar in his pocket.

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

I think our culture is in danger. We are constantly being programmed by media. Mass media used to be influenced by culture. Culture provides media with sources for content and now it is the other way around. Media (social media and TV shows) accelerates how pop culture is consumed and influences everyone and unfortunately the loudest noise and are those that are further amplified. What we need now is a resistance to a trigger down culture and empowering micro culture to flourish again. That would be the kind of movement that I hope we can also inspire with our work at urbancoolab.

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

As a career strategist I used to tell people this: “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco” — which is a metaphoric way of saying that things don’t always turn out as planned. You can only plan so much and modelling becomes a waste of time. These days I remind people of the prove I learned from my time in Tibet — “You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.” Be the sky!

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 🙂

Creative singularity is here. Creativity is what will power our future. Creative machines are part of that new future and that’s what we are building towards.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Instagram, they can follow us on @urbancoolab_ or @idriscouture

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

Thanks for having me


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

Denise Scott of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC): How We Are Helping To Make Housing…

Denise Scott of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC): How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable

I want young people to start thinking about ownership earlier, whether it’s a business or a home. If you start getting on a trajectory to make that pivot earlier, you’ll be stronger throughout your life. I’d also like to see people being more entrepreneurial because that is how we get more creative, innovative thinkers. It would be great to see entrepreneurial skills taught in school to support people who are interested in that pathway.

In many large cities in the US, there is a crisis caused by a shortage of affordable housing options. This has led to a host of social challenges. In this series called “How We Are Helping To Make Housing More Affordable” We are talking to successful business leaders, real estate leaders, and builders, who share the initiatives they are undertaking to create more affordable housing options in the US.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Scott, executive vice president for programs at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the nation’s largest community development organization.

Denise Scott is the executive vice president in charge of many of LISC’s national, and all of LISC’s local programs. As such, she leads LISC’s neighborhood investment strategies to expand and sustain opportunities in communities across the 37 cities where LISC has offices and manages the organization’s Health, Housing, and Safety & Justice programming areas, among others. Currently serving as chair of the Board of the New York Federal Reserve, Scott has a long history in housing, including as head of LISC’s New York City office, and as a White House appointee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She also previously served as the managing director/coordinator responsible for launching the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, an organization that facilitates economic development through job creation, strategic investments, and small business assistance.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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”? What led you to this particular career path?

After college, I got a joint master’s degree in public health and urban planning because I was interested in both, but I was more drawn to the public health side. When I hit the job market, however, all the jobs available seemed to be in housing, so I took a position with the NYC Housing Agency, figuring I would stay for about a year until I found something in public health. That was almost 40 years ago!

Today, housing and public health are seen as very interconnected — people understand housing, employment, and so much more, as the social factors that determine our health outcomes — but that was not the case when I started out. I felt it though. And I have to say that, after all of these years, it’s exciting to find that more people in both the public and private sectors finally see these factors as entwined.

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

It all changed for me when I moved from working in Queens to working in Harlem at a time when Harlem was facing a massive abandonment of its neighborhoods. In the mid 80s the city owned over 50% of the land and buildings in Harlem, and it was one of the most neglected places in the country; today, Harlem is both one of the hottest real estate markets and a place where people of all economic levels can live and work and maintain their community. To be at the forefront of helping to cause that change was a tipping point for me. I saw that intentionality, focused investment, and engagement in community can cause massive change. That’s what made me decide to stick with housing as a career. And memories of that job still inform the work I do today.

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

My father was the greatest inspiration in and on my life. We used to talk for hours as he guided me.

Most parents say, “Don’t play in traffic.” My dad always said, “Play in traffic, Denise.” He meant that, in order to cause change, you have to understand other people’s perspectives and, in order to understand perspectives that are different from your own, you have to get out there — get in it. You have to think strategically and assess the politics of the situation.

He was a chef, but he was always involved in his community. He got me interested in community issues as a child. He knew the mayor, all the elected officials. And he actually influenced my decision to take that first housing job even though it wasn’t the one I wanted. He always had a vision that I was meant for community development and, to him, that meant housing.

He used to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. And you don’t want to take just any road.” He taught me that you have to lay all that information out — all that knowledge you get from playing in the traffic — and think critically.

Most of all, he taught me to love who I am and to always be myself.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

It was really my father and his words of wisdom that have had the greatest impact on me, much more than any podcast or book.

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

“Each one, teach one.” Again, this quote comes from my father. He truly believed we all have responsibility for one another — that you’re not going to get any further than the person behind you. You always have to pull up the rear. I think about that every day.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the shortage of affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. I know this is a huge topic, but for the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

The lack of affordable housing is related to many issues: lack of supply, the high cost to build, not enough focus or funding from local governments, and lack of adequate subsidies, just to name a few. We have been underbuilding relative to the need for years, and what is built tends not to serve families in particular. The cost of land also doesn’t support affordable housing production — cities are becoming ever more expensive, which, while a success story for urban areas compared to the 1970s and 80s, is creating huge issues of gentrification and displacement, particularly for communities of color.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?

LISC invests in historically disinvested communities across the country in order to close gaps around health, wealth, and opportunity. Last year, we invested over $2 billion in housing, community spaces, small businesses, workforce development, and programs related to health, safety, recreation, and much more. Currently, we work in 37 cities and over 2,100 rural counties, so we have the ability to scale market-specific solutions to have an outsize impact. Over our 40+ years, we have supported the creation of 436,320 affordable homes and 74.4 million square feet of commercial space representing $69 billion in total investment.

Preserving and developing affordable housing is always one of our top priorities, and we do it in a way that utilizes diverse sources of capital. We develop creative new ways to build new homes and purchase existing affordable housing by combining resources such as philanthropic, private, and flexible financing — and to identify money that can act like government subsidies.

One great example is a successful fund we manage in Charlotte that has financed over 1,200 units of affordable housing using capital from local government, philanthropy, and the corporate community — a great opportunity to see many players come together to create real impact. The local government decided they needed to do something about housing affordability; the philanthropic and private sectors reached a similar conclusion at the same time; and the community was ready for the change. They called LISC and said, “We have a vision to improve economic mobility here and to build more affordable housing, and we have all these local players who want to work together on it, can you help us do it?” It was very exciting because our theory of change is that it takes all these layers together to make it happen.

Another big focus for us is diversifying the pool of developers so that more women and people of color — groups that are drastically underrepresented in non-profit real estate development — are involved in housing production. We’ve had a program in California called the Housing Development Training Institute running for 30 years that trains nonprofit housing developers to this end; and last year it expanded to Ohio. We are expanding the program to other cities and hope to see it launched nationally for an even greater impact.

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

I think the moment we’re in right now is pretty uplifting. We have an opportunity here to focus on BIPOC communities — to lean into this moment and really use it to invest more and empower communities of color to take on leadership and ownership. That’s what’s going to fundamentally change the conditions of poverty and close the gaps in wealth, health, and opportunity. This is a moment in time and let’s not waste a minute of it. Let’s be assertive and do everything we possibly can to try and take advantage of the attention that this work is getting, of the funding that it’s getting, and let’s do some bold things with it.

In your opinion, what should others in the affordable housing industry do to further address these problems?

We need to be willing to try innovative approaches. We need to consider working with more flexible sources of capital. We need to increase the minimum wage to truly be a living wage because, if we’re not addressing the economic development side of the equation, we’re not dealing with the whole issue. And there are policy agendas we should advance. For example:

Existing programs like LIHTC, HOME, CDBG, and Section 8 need to be better funded and expanded to serve more people. Currently, the mortgage deduction is larger than all the low-income housing subsidies combined. Renters need the same supports that owners receive. Rent stabilization programs should also be expanded to provide a measure of control for rent increases, particularly in hot markets.

Tenants should be protected through strong eviction and other tenant protections laws, and through legal aid and housing counseling organizations. The federal funds designated for past due rent need to move quickly to reach those in need. Nonprofits can be incredibly helpful here, bridging the gap between government and landlords and tenants.

City governments must be strategic about how they utilize their federal housing resources to maximize impact. This means targeting resources to the lowest income and most vulnerable families and ensuring community-based organizations and local stakeholders are engaged with program delivery.

We need to pass foreclosure protection laws, and allow for flexibility with payments, such as extending the mortgage timeline an additional year or two.

Funds should be provided for down-payment assistance and home-buyer education counseling.

Freeze property taxes in hot markets and increase access to grants and 0% interest loans for home repairs.

Develop alternative housing, such as rent-to-own programs, community land trusts and land banks, co-ops, and accessory dwelling units, to increase supply.

Remove zoning laws that prohibit density in order to increase affordable housing supply.

At the federal level, enact the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, which would provide tax credits to support developing and rehabbing single-family homes in distressed communities.

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

We know that the high cost of living in many cities is forcing people out, in particular people of color. One way to prevent this is to pay people more money. We need to increase the minimum wage to a living wage so that people can afford a home, food, education, health care — everything one needs to live a safe, fulfilling life. Secondly, the supply of affordable housing has to substantially increase, and existing affordable housing needs to be preserved to remain affordable. A third focus should be on increasing ownership, both of housing and of small businesses.

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws which you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

In addition to the minimum wage increase, I’d like to see the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act passed. In many historically disinvested communities, it costs more to build or repair a home than the home is worth. This Act would provide federal tax credits to close this gap, increasing affordable housing production. I’d also remove laws that reduce housing density so that we can build more in areas where the cost of land and building is high, as in most cities.

It would be good to have dedicated funding streams to support the increased need for nonprofit capacity to better support communities in need. Nonprofits are a vital component of the local service delivery systems in every city. Their infrastructure is critical to sustain!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

There’s a real complexity to finance that I had to learn how to address in order to do my job well. I think I could have achieved more earlier on in my career if I had started with a deeper understanding of that complexity, but you have to go through it to get to that understanding, so it’s a bit circular.

Another thing I learned over the years is how important it is to keep pushing for a good idea even when you’re told no, even when you have to be flexible or negotiate to make it work. If you believe something to be a really good idea, keep pushing and its time will come. Often, we give up on an idea because we can’t sell it at the first try. There’s a level of stick-to-it-ness that‘s required in this work.

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

I want young people to start thinking about ownership earlier, whether it’s a business or a home. If you start getting on a trajectory to make that pivot earlier, you’ll be stronger throughout your life. I’d also like to see people being more entrepreneurial because that is how we get more creative, innovative thinkers. It would be great to see entrepreneurial skills taught in school to support people who are interested in that pathway.

I’d also like to see philanthropy be more flexible about how funds can be applied to solve a problem. The more flexible funds are, the greater an impact they can have. Right now, philanthropy tends to be very prescriptive, which impedes the possibilities. Historically, philanthropy was more thematic, and when the pandemic began, it shifted again to being less restrictive in order to help people quickly. I’d like to see that be a permanent shift so that we can tackle more multi-dimensional problems in the most creative manner. Banks and government could consider more flexible funding options as well.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to share a meal with Kamala Harris and talk to her about improving equality for women of color. I’d like to see more women in positions of leadership in finance, STEM, government, and industry, and to see a pipeline of women rising in the ranks. I’d love to talk to Kamala about how we can grow this pipeline of women, particularly women of color, for future leadership positions — including president of the United States.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.lisc.org

https://twitter.com/lisc_hq/

https://www.facebook.com/lisc.org/

https://www.instagram.com/lisc_hq/


Denise Scott of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC): How We Are Helping To Make Housing… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brand Makeovers: Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Brand Makeovers: Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

Simplify and focus — Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Keep things as simple as possible which will allow you to better focus on those products that your consumers love. We worked with a brand that had 5 SKUs and all of them were amazing.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs.

Jonina Skaggs, Partner & Art Director at Skaggs and Bradley Skaggs Partner & Creative Director at Skaggs.

Skaggs is a full-service, award-winning creative & branding agency specializing in beauty and hospitality. Skaggs began as a graphic design studio in San Francisco in 1998, with Microsoft and NASA as its first clients. By 2000, partners (and former architects) Jonina and Bradley opened up the New York office which has since grown into a full-service branding and digital agency with an international portfolio of clients including Charlotte Tilbury, Diptyque, Morphe, Estee Lauder and Skyn ICELAND to name just a few. Skaggs thrives at making brands heard, seen and known.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. 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?

Bradley: To make a long story short, we met in architecture school when Jonina was doing a foreign exchange program. I was in my last semester and she had a year to go at the university she was studying at in Germany. My uncle was an architect and had a contact in Stuttgart, Germany and I called him up and asked him if I could have a job. He agreed that I’d learn German so by chance I ended up in Germany for Jonina’s last year of school. Our relationship became closer, I quit my job in Stuttgart and moved to Trier where she was studying and got a job in Luxembourg with a very small architectural practice. She then graduated and also got a job in Luxembourg. We moved and spent about 2 years in Lux before moving to San Francisco so Jonina could do her MFA (architecture ended up not being her thing). Her MFA connected her with one of the founders of Pentagram who ended up being her mentor and literally changed her life. I had interned at a couple of firms in San Francisco while I was in school and knew the good firms there so figured I had a pretty good chance at getting a job.

Fast forward a few years and Jonina finishes her MFA but had so much freelance work that she never really did work for another company. It got to the point where our small studio wasn’t enough space and we found an office space down near Chinatown. I had become interested in 3D modeling and the emerging virtual building concept when I was in Europe and started working on the side developing a website for Progressive Architecture magazine to feature the editor’s top 6 homes in a virtual web environment. This ended up connecting me with one of the pioneering software development companies in the 3D modeling space. One thing leads to another and I start working on a virtual tour website of all 10 NASA facilities while Jonina lands Microsoft as one of her first clients. So here we were in 1998 with our hands so full that I quit my day job and Skaggs Design was formed. We haven’t looked back since.

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?

Bradley: This isn’t exactly a mistake but it is funny. During one of our first major presentations to the team at Microsoft, we ran out of spray mount for the last board (this is before projection and massive screens) so we stopped at the art supply store on the way down to Mountain View, CA. We got to Microsoft and had to mount the last board in the parking lot. While spraying the spray mount on the drawing, a gust of wind comes out of nowhere and blows the piece of paper out of our hands and it ends up stuck to the side of the car and to make matters worse, we end up covered in spray mount. We managed to get the drawing peeled off the car and onto the board, but the 80s metal band hair wasn’t going away. It was a funny meeting. Lesson learned, always keep enough supplies on hand.

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?

Jonina: I would say it was the day we got a completely out-of-the-blue call from the director or e-comm at diptyque. He had been following our work and really wanted to work with us. That was the beginning of an 8 year engagement which involved the design of their first real e-comm site and running all of their global digital for the US, UK, France and EU. That changed everything and led us to work on the launch of Charlotte Tilbury in the US and doing her global digital for 5 years. It also put us squarely in the beauty space. It made us realize that what we were doing was getting noticed, that our creativity was desirable and opened our eyes to an industry we’d never really considered.

Bradley: I would add that the takeaway to this is to stay focused on what you enjoy doing and what you want to be doing. You will get noticed but you have to also be looking for the opportunity. Often you could trip over an opportunity because it’s so close.

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

Jonina: Yes, I think we have been fortunate in that all of our work (for the most part) has been exciting. I love to be challenged and I think the team does too. Over the past year of COVID, we’ve done a lot of digital work and a ton of packaging projects. I’m not so sure it will help people directly, but I do know that putting more of an emphasis on more sustainable packaging and materials and coming up with ways to reduce the amount of material will help with reducing waste and bring some good to the planet.

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

Bradley: Travel. Go to far away places, observe how people interact and how the same things we have here are marketed there. Burnout isn’t impossible to avoid and you should expect it from time to time, but it is manageable. Travel has alway been our re-energizer and a huge source of inspiration.

Jonina: Travel is my #1 thing to do (I’ve had a passport since age 1 but selfcare comes really close (without the selfie): Be alone without a device and stick your feet up in the air, be silly and make faces, meditate (2 seconds flat before you start to talk to yourself, again) and dance, dance, dance to your favorite music.

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?

Bradley: Brand marketing is the “what” and product marketing is the “how”. That might be a bit simplistic or confusing but, for example, let’s say brand X is a skincare company (what it is and what it is known for) that makes products A, B and C. Products A, B and C were created to address issues 1, 2 and 3 and they do this by doing so and so (the how). The “how” is product marketing and brand marketing is “what” brand out there that can solve my problem.

Jonina: Branding is giving a brand their visual and verbal voice. Advertising is executing creative strategies to the consumer.

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?

Bradley: We worked with a CBD brand once that was aiming to take on Lord Jones. The brand grew both cannabis and manufactured products which was unique since most brands buy cannabis from different farmers. We created everything from the overall brand positioning and key message, to renaming the brand and designing the identity to all their packaging and the website. They put a lot of good money and time into this effort and it looked great and very different from what was out there in the market (and their CBD was amazing). Then they hired a Chief Revenue Officer who came in and decided the brand could only win by discounting at every opportunity. He literally killed the brand and now it’s just sort of there but not doing anything. Had they stuck with the plan and continued to invest the resources and energy to build the brand, I’m sure they would be a very successful brand now. It’s unfortunate. Building a brand requires both an investment and marketing and advertising efforts. It really doesn’t work with just one or the other.

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

Jonina: There are a few. The most common is a merger or acquisition and the new management is ready to shake things up. Or, the brand has a legacy they have created over the years and it’s time for a refresh. The other is that the brand started off on the wrong foot and needs to get things in order. This is very common, unfortunately, since it often means they need to try to rebrand without a realistic budget. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the number of times we’ve met with founders that spent a lot of money for nothing only to realize it all needs to be redone is depressing. It’s important to get it right the first time and build from there.

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

Bradley: There is always a downside but if done correctly it can pay off in the end. Young brands need to be patient and stay focused on building their audience and supporting their products. You can never please everyone with the visuals but a bad product is a bad product and people will know it instantly. As it is said “a pig with lipstick is still a pig”, right? Make sure you have an amazing product and that the brand image/messaging is professional and relevant to the audience and differentiating from the competition.

Jonina: If the brand is not broken, don’t fix it. We have seen so many companies hiring new CMO’s and marketing directors and off they go to try to “fix” a brand that isn’t broken. Maybe needs to be updated a bit because of new technology or their customer needs but often a full rebrand isn’t necessary. Just some cleanup, organization, simplifying and revitalizing is often enough to get a reaction and be able to determine if going further makes sense.

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.

Bradley & Jonina:

  1. Hone your brand message — While it may make sense to you, it’s not guaranteed it will make sense to your audience. It’s important to keep honing your brand message since there are new brands popping up every day and to make sure it’s resonating with your audience. Look at what people are saying about your brand and you’ll see keywords start to popup. Integrate those into your story, if possible.
  2. Refresh your brand image — This one is obvious. Sometimes a little change is all that is needed as discussed earlier. Other times, it’s time to put the gloves on and really get to work with repositioning, crafting new messaging, reformulating products or creating new products and rolling out a revitalized brand.
  3. Reevaluate the white space — The market changes and new products show up and what you thought was your white space is no longer yours. It’s important to keep an eye on the competition and make sure you own your space. If not, it’s time to reevaluate and, if necessary, find or redefine a new white space that is better suited for your offering.
  4. Simplify and focus — Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Keep things as simple as possible which will allow you to better focus on those products that your consumers love. We worked with a brand that had 5 SKUs and all of them were amazing. They conquered Europe and came to the US and after a short time, they decided to introduce a bunch of new products that didn’t even contain their key ingredient thinking that would help their appeal with the US audience. So rather than spending the money on building their US audience they spent money on product development and then had to spend more money on supporting products that their competitors were doing better.
  5. Adapt to your audience — This does not mean jump from one trend to the next but it does mean listening to your audience to understand their pain points. We’ve worked with brands that were certain their audience was like this or that, which was true 5 years ago but not today. We’re all getting older each day, our interests change, the products we use change so don’t think that your audience will always be the same. You have to grow with them and at the same time continue to bring new customers into your brand world.

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?

Bradley: Probably easier to find one that didn’t do a good job, LOL. A brand has to be constantly nurtured and if done so, then a makeover shouldn’t need to happen. I’m more interested in brands that continue to evolve over time hence they never get to a point where they have to do a big makeover. Look at Apple, for example, the constant evolution of the visual design keeps their look fresh and engaging and inline with their product evolution.

Jonina: Papaya King in NYC is a brand we did a makeover of that hadn’t been touched for over 30 years. The NY Times noted it as the best makeover keeping the legacy of the brand while giving it a much needed clean up. It was a really fun project too.

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. 🙂

Bradley: Cut down on consumption and support biodiversity. We are literally killing our planet with over consumption and the amount of waste we produce. One of our hopes is that post-COVID we’ll all realize how fragile life is, how having less actually makes you happier.

Jonina: Eat less junk food and maybe the big food corporations will rethink their delivery systems. People need to look into your freezer and RETHINK how much they are consuming and the waste being produced.

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

Bradley: “Haste makes waste” — Mom. She was completely right about this. Either do it right the first time or don’t do it at all would be the follow up statement. It applies to pretty much everything including our work.

Jonina: An old Icelandic saying:Thröngt meiga sáttir sitja” which translates to “Tight may reconciliation sit”. This is important for any work or personal relationship. If you can’t sit “close” to each other then there is no chemistry.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/578560

IG: @skaggscreative

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


Brand Makeovers: Jonina Skaggs & Bradley Skaggs On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Non-Fungible Tokens: Danil Krivoruchko On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly…

Non-Fungible Tokens: Danil Krivoruchko On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry

You need a large, very large follower base (preferably on Twitter). If for the last 3–5 years you have been working on increasing not only your skills, but also your Instagram numbers, now is the time to get a return, not only in the form of likes on the size of your audience.

Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Danil Krivoruchko.

Danil Krivoruchko is a motion designer and visual effects artist. Krivoruchko’s NFT works are already well-known to digital art collectors, having been featured on platforms such as KnownOrigin and Foundation; the Ksoids mark his premiere on OpenSea. His digital art work is also well-known in the film community. Last October, a collaborative group of designers and artists under the direction of Krivoruchko used 3D-imaging to transform the sci-fi novel “Blindsight” by Peter Watts into a short film. The movie has won over a dozen awards, including the Best Animation Award at the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival. In the past 17 years, Danil has collaborated with big brand clients such as Apple, Nike, Boeing, Verizon, and Intel, to name a few.

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 tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I’m Danil Krivoruchko, a designer, director and VFX artist from New York. I was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, but only lived in this city for a few months. My family moved frequently and in the end we ended up in Moscow. Eight years ago I moved to New York and have been living here ever since.

After 15 years of work in various studios, three years ago I became a freelancer and since then I have been engaged in both commercial and various personal projects. During this time I worked for Apple, Intel, Verizon, Nike and released a couple of short films that have collected many awards.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The sci-fi novel “Blindsight” by Peter Watts made an impact on me, so I turned it into a short film. Last October, a collaborative group of designers and artists used 3D-imaging to transform the sci-fi novel “Blindsight” by Peter Watts into a short film. The movie has won over a dozen awards, including the Best Animation Award at the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival. That was a big success for all of us.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.

My introduction to the world of cryptocurrencies began back in 2017. I first heard about the intersection of crypto-technologies and art from Andy Alekhin, co-founder of the snark.art platform, and it was about two years ago. At that time, he had already done several digital art projects and he needed help from a motion designer in his current project. Since then, I followed what was happening in this industry, but did not seriously immerse myself in the topic until the beginning of this year. At that time, Beeple’s works were sold in minutes for some absolutely insane prices, and then I saw in the instagram feeds designer names whom I knew from New York studios about their works sold for crypto. I decided to try it too and applied on the KnownOrigin site, waited two weeks and got the status of an artist. I remember how I posted my first work at night, and in the morning I woke up with the notification that it had already been sold. Since then, I have been actively engaged in NFTs. Now I introduced already 1000 Ksoids.

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

I invented Ksoids together with my wife Victoria back in 2013. We just moved from Moscow to New York and it was important for me to be visible in the new area, so I did a lot of personal projects. The Ksoids were born out of my love for generative art and my wife’s love for cute creatures. To our delight, the project turned out to be really successful — many near-design blogs reported about it and it seems it had an impact on me being hired by my first New York design studio. I even received an offer from a Chinese factory to start the production of physical toys but luckily I declined because it would have been too much of a headache for me. The project was put aside and lay in the portfolio for 8 years. From time to time, I returned to the site of Ksoids, looked at random pairs — Ksoids seemed to be as cute as before 🙂 Recently, Facebook reminded me of my announcement of this project some eight years ago, so I shared that post with the picture of Ksoids, and Andrey wrote back that it would be cool to turn them into an NFT collection. I thought, “Ha, so I made digital collectibles before it became a trend!” We talked over the phone and the process started. We spent about a month searching and restoring a project from long-forgotten backups (8 years for 3D is already archeology), creating and testing a smart contract that would give buyers a random Ksoid, preparing a website and other materials for launch. On April 22, we launched the project and in just four days we sold more than 80% of the collection. In terms of volume, we got to the first place among the new collections on the OpenSea platform and entered the top ten among all collectibles on the platform.

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?

Once I commented rather rudely in a letter from a client, thinking that they were not in the copy. It was a small project that had been dragging on for more than a year, so in fact, everyone in the team already had such thoughts. The lesson is to stay positive and check who and what you are sending 🙂

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?

Andy Alekhin, co-founder of the snark.art platform, has influenced me to turn my artworks into NFTs. We worked together on several digital art projects already over the past few years and our current Ksoids project that sold out in just a few days is one of our biggest joint successes.

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

I am always working on several projects, usually a mix of commercial and personal projects. It so happened that lately commercial work is mainly about credits for big science fiction and fantasy series for Apple and Amazon. From personal projects, I am now working on a joint super-interesting project in the field of digital fashion. I believe that this art form has a great future, and it would be great if it helps to partially reduce the amount of real clothes that are now being produced to be worn only for a selfie.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?

I can’t easily judge the NFT market from the point of view of a collector who sees art as a way of investment. I look at the crypto-art market as an artist, so I’m primarily interested in the creative part of my works, not the price tag. In addition, now there is chaos on the market due to the general immaturity of technology and often the price does not correspond to the value of a given work (in my opinion, of course), it can be overestimated or underestimated. So, I can only advise you to develop your own taste and keep an eye on what is happening. There are more changes happening in the crypto per week than in the regular art over years.

The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

-In my opinion, this is the first time in my career that long-deserved recognition (including financial) has come to digital artists. Before that, I quite often noticed a disdainful attitude towards works that do not have physical embodiment.

-General democratization of the art market, now young artists have many more chances of being noticed than before when they used to try and find their way into the “classic” galleries

-The crypto scene is very fast, and things happen in weeks that can take years in the normal world. There are dozens of different experiments going on right now, many of which will go nowhere — but some will give birth to new names, and perhaps even genres of art.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

-Almost complete lack of control over the authenticity of the authors of the works — there are frequent cases where the artist’s works are in fact stolen from someone else and sold as their own.

-A young market where there is no good way for the buyer to understand the quality and real cost of the work being sold. Many works are sold at incomparably high prices, and at the same time, many really talented authors cannot sell anything at all.

-Energy costs for each transaction should be greatly reduced; hopefully this will happen soon.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?

-That you are guaranteed to earn by selling your work — just like in a “real” art market, no one can give such a guarantee.

-That any work you buy is guaranteed to rise in value. If your goal is an investment, and not just supporting artists whose work you like, then you must understand all the risks associated with crypto-currencies, and in particular, with crypto-art.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry? What can be done to avoid that?

  • Expectations that are too high (from both buying and selling) can lead to disappointment very quickly.
  • The belief that the quality of work corresponds to its price — now the market is too young and often the assessment of work does not correspond to its value when the initial excitement subsides.
  • That you will be noticed simply because you posted a new job — in my opinion, marketing and the follower base are now more important in crypto art than the real quality of work.

How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?

I don’t think this is some kind of technology that will directly affect the whole of society. Specifically in the field of art, there is a chance that the way of collecting will change, direct support of artists can lead to an influx of new people with new ideas and more variety, which will ultimately make our lives a little more interesting 🙂

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You need a large, very large follower base (preferably on Twitter). If for the last 3–5 years you have been working on increasing not only your skills, but also your Instagram numbers, now is the time to get a return, not only in the form of likes on the size of your audience.
  2. This is so important that I’ll say it a second time — social media are your main channels for selling your NFT art. Chat, meet, participate in collaborations, create connections with both other artists and collectors.
  3. Understand the NFT technology itself and the Ethereum blockchain, which runs most of the marketplaces. Many truly interesting NFT art projects are born at the junction of the possibilities that this technology opens up with digital art.
  4. Be prepared that in the crypto-world (and in particular crypto-art) everything develops and changes at a much faster rate than in the usual one. Trends appear and disappear in weeks, the market situation changes every day — you will need to be constantly “in the loop”, otherwise your strategies will become outdated and quickly stop working.
  5. Although from the outside it may seem that NFT art is all about instant success stories, the vast majority of them take years to hone the artist’s style and create their own audience. There is always a chance of gaining popularity by circumventing these conditions, but the chances of this are about the same as winning the lottery.

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

I’m not sure that there is such a movement — but if more people thought at least a couple of steps ahead about the consequences of their actions, we would live in a much cooler world.

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

I have never had role models among famous people. I respect a lot of them for their actions, but it always seemed strange to me to try to get close to them and imitate someone in everything. So, I would rather spend this breakfast with the people closest to me — with my wife and children 🙂

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!


Non-Fungible Tokens: Danil Krivoruchko On The 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Stacey Gordon of Rework Work: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

Spend less time recruiting because according to Glassdoor, 57% of employees want their company to prioritize diversity and are more attracted to companies that do. Less time recruiting can also translate to reduce costs. Jobs aren’t open as long, which means less burnout for current employees and higher productivity.

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

Stacey Gordon is Executive Advisor and Diversity Strategist of Rework Work where she and her team coach and counsel executive leaders on DEI strategies for the business, while offering a no-nonsense approach to unconscious bias education for the broader employee population. Stacey’s unconscious bias course has consistently been the second-highest viewed course on the LinkedIn Learning platform and it also been translated into at least four languages. You can find Stacey’s book, UNBIAS: Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work, at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and wherever books are sold.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

I started my career in diversity, equity and inclusion as a recruiter and when I realized that I was having to spend more time and work harder getting women and professionals of color hired, it occurred to me that I would need to target the companies that hire rather than spend time on hiring.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Since I started my career? That’s a long time. I don’t work in an industry that provides for much fun in my stories but I did have a prospective client ask me if I could skip talking about LGBTQ topics in my unconscious bias workshop. I think I might have been speechless.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

I always work off the phrase “luckiest are the prepared”. It was my favorite quote as a recruiter because I would tell candidates they don’t need luck for their job interview, they need to be prepared. But it’s still a mantra I live by because it’s how I was able to get selected as the professional to update the resume course on Lynda.com, which is now LinkedIn’s learning platform. And by doing that, I was then able to pivot to creating the unconscious bias course which is one of the most popular courses on their platform.

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?

There are so many people. I thanked many of them after publishing my book, Unbias: Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work and my reason for that is that they were all women. I looked back at the people who have gone out of their way to help me when they didn’t have to and every single person was female.

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

I think the name of my company makes me stand out. People like the name. They also like the branding, but the name is what people remember. When I changed the name from The Gordon Group to Rework Work, it was because I was frustrated at the roadblocks not only my candidates were experiencing, but even me as the owner of the company and in a rant, I stated that we need to rework recruiting, rework onboarding, rework hiring, rework advancement and promotions and that we just need to rework work!

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

Yes, right now I am working on a new course concept that will allow people to take ownership of their education in diversity, equity and inclusion and also keep them accountable to action. My goal is to help leaders avoid the trap of being performative and inauthentic and actually champion and implement change.

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

It’s in my mission statement. I’m consistently working to make a difference for all and while I haven’t achieved it yet, I’ve definitely made a difference for some.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

https://youtu.be/0avQQJHsJJ4

  • Increased profitability. You want 19% higher revenues? Be more diverse. (According to a Boston Consulting Group study)
  • Increased new business opportunity. Who doesn’t want to capture new markets and you’re likelihood of doing so goes up dramatically when your company is more diverse — both gender and with regard to ethnicity.
  • Spend less time recruiting because according to Glassdoor, 57% of employees want their company to prioritize diversity and are more attracted to companies that do. Less time recruiting can also translate to reduce costs. Jobs aren’t open as long, which means less burnout for current employees and higher productivity.
  • Increased customer retention/reduce rate of customer attrition — Harvard Business Review article cite a major retailer that experimented with diversity and belonging and increased customer retention by 4%.
  • Increased employee retention. With more women in leadership a company is 30% more likely to provide fair pay and benefits (according to Pew Research Centre).

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

Actually value your employees and their input and feedback. Why hire them if you aren’t going to listen to them?

What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?

Realize that people are different so you can’t manage them all in the same way. You have to have diversity of leadership skills.

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

I’ve already spoken to the CEO of SHRM which is the largest HR association in the world, so I thought I might like to speak with Jeff Bezos, but I realized the largest employer is actually Walmart which means I’d like to speak with Doug McMillon.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can stay apprised of what we’re up to by checking out my newsletter at reworkwork.com and by following me at linkedin.com/in/staceygordon, twitter.com/reworkwork or facebook.com/reworkwork. I’m also on IG @ ReworkWork

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.


Stacey Gordon of Rework Work: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sile Walsh: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

It is good to remember that it takes 10 positives to counteract one negative. Not all feedback can be positive, but it’s important to note that negative feedback has a much bigger impact on any worker. As managers, we tend to be busy and often don’t take the time to reach out until there’s a problem.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sile Walsh.

Sile specializes in strategic and inclusive leadership and organizational development. She is experienced in coaching senior leaders and middle managers across sectors including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, education, technology, and commerce within Ireland and internationally.

Sile has an international client base and speaks on leadership, inclusion, and coaching psychology. Sile guest lectured with University College Cork on both the masters in Organisational Psychology and Personal and Management Coaching, is on the committee for Coaching Psychology with the Psychological Society of Ireland, and is a senior board member for a private organization providing services on behalf of government agencies.

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

I got started over 10 years ago and in a way I almost fell into working with leaders and organizations and supporting them in achieving their goals while also supporting their people effectively. Before I had my own business I was working very closely with director’s business founders and CEO’s and supporting them in developing their own businesses. It came second nature to me to work with people in leadership positions and to support them in achieving and creating the outcomes that they wanted.

Through this work before I sent set up my own business it became really clear to me that people were front and center to both who your ideal clients were or service users and to how the work was done well.

With this focus it made sense to me to start up my own business and work with a number of people in terms of developing their own people and their organizations through inclusivity and leadership.

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

In in our company we focus on people we focus on the people who deliver the results and we focus on the people that we work with and by keeping people central to our decision making we’re able to see through the complexity quiet down the noise and make really good decisions that result in better outcomes for everybody involved. As a wise man whose name I can’t remember once said we don’t just focus on win win solutions we focus on no loose solutions this means in my company we focus on how to best support people everyone in a way that there isn’t unnecessary risk and that losing isn’t part of the equation.

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

The story that I get asked to tell repeatedly is a story about how I got one of my first jobs outside of a family business. This role was in one of ireland’s top restaurants and I wanted to work as a chef however is only 11 so for six consecutive Saturdays I knocked on the door of the restaurant and asked for the head chef because I knew he was the decision maker for five Saturdays he told me that he didn’t have work for me right now and I said thank you and left. I relies on the fifthe knock that I had to change my tactics and I decided that on the 6th Saturday I wouldn’t knock and ask for a job because I’d already been told he didn’t have one right now and instead I chose to knock on the door an offer to work for free. As I knocked on the door and he came out to see me you could see he thought here we go again however this time I asked would he give me the opportunity to work for him for free and he told me to go and get an apron he had things like could do straight away. This head chef went on to employ Me 2 weeks later and later on when I did an apprenticeship went on to fully support the apprenticeship including financially and ensuring that I had an internal mentor within the organization. While this isn’t my career any longer it was the first time I realized that learning to ask the right questions has answers that the wrong questions can never achieve.

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 find this one hard because I don’t think my biggest mistakes just happened in the beginning of my career I think that if you are working towards a learning and development mindset you tend to learn and develop everyday and make mistakes daily. I think the most embarrassing thing that happened to me was in the middle of training a roomful of 45 educators I was pointing at the board and fell over the desk.

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

My first piece of advice would be for leaders to be human first. A simple gesture of safeguarding that one-on-one time with employees is much more impactful than one may think. If a leader starts prioritizing people ahead of the never-ending treadmill of tasks they may even see a more engaged and productive workforce. In short, leaders must be a human first and a boss second.

Another piece of advice would be to encourage teams to unplug. Vacations or not, it’s increasingly difficult to unplug from work — particularly if an always-on culture is encouraged. It is on leaders to set the tone. Employees may often try to keep pace with their superiors, and if their boss does not finish on time or take time off then they won’t either. Leaders have to communicate the value of disconnecting, but also live those values by doing it themselves.

Leaders might also want to establish frequent contact. When a leader takes the time to get to know employees on a personal level, it’s easier to see when they’re struggling. Assuming that they’ll reach out when they’re overwhelmed is easy to fall back on, but rarely works out well. For example, employees may feel intimidated or uncomfortable approaching managers with personal or work-related problems. In this case, you could proactively set the standard for open communications with your staff. At the beginning of a meeting, consider taking a few minutes to ask someone how they’re doing and how they feel about their workload. You might also implement an open-door policy, where employees can drop in and speak with you about whatever is on their mind.

Another good idea is to expand the wellness benefits. We know that exercise is beneficial to our mental health. Between the release of serotonin and endorphins during exercise, we get that happy, at-peace feeling. Why not encourage your employees to take advantage of the many benefits of exercise, including physical and mental? By expanding employee benefits programs to include memberships to gyms, you can encourage employees to stay healthy. And staying healthy goes beyond just the physical benefits. It helps us avoid burnout. In addition to exercise, expand your benefits programs to include flexible work options, employee assistance programs, and stress management programs. Help your employees find the balance between work and home life.

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

Leadership is the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers or other members of an organization. Leadership involves making sound — and sometimes difficult — decisions, creating and articulating a clear vision, establishing achievable goals and providing followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve those goals. An effective leader possesses the following characteristics: self-confidence, strong communication and management skills, creative and innovative thinking, perseverance in the face of failure, willingness to take risks, openness to change, and levelheadedness and reactiveness in times of crisis.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

The truth is that leaders are not born with the ability to cope with stress better than the rest of the population. They simply realize that dealing with stress and pressure is a necessary step on the path to achievement and instead of fearing it, equip themselves to make the most of it. One piece of advice for leaders when dealing with stress is to see the situation as a challenge, not a crisis, and to focus on the goal. The next step is to take controlled, considered action. Taking the time to reflect will reduce stress, improve clarity and increase the likelihood of resolving the issue. Another good idea for leaders is to demonstrate realistic optimism. A positive mental attitude that is allied with a realism that sometimes things do go wrong goes a long way. Leaders may also want to find balance in terms of temporarily removing themselves, either physically or mentally, from the source of their stress, which may include exercising. Multiple studies have shown that physical exercise not only reduces stress but also improve concentration by reducing anxiety, therefore leading to better decisions. Finally, leaders should prepare for the unexpected. Leaders are much less likely to be stressed about something if they were expecting it. The trick is not to worry about everything that might happen, but to be prepared for it if does, which is a lot easier said than done!

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I manage a team internally within my current organization and I have been supervising and managing teams for over 16 years. The first team I supervised I was younger than them by about eight years and that was my first experience of managing teams let’s just say for everyone’s sake that didn’t go as well as I’d like to think I do now.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Feedback is a vital part of any leader’s skillset. Project managers, team leaders, teachers, coaches develop this skill over the course of their careers. Not just giving feedback, but also receiving it is essential for efficiently sharing information within teams and groups. Constructive feedback is a robust tool for creating healthy environment, boosting productivity and engagement, and achieving better results. It positively influences communication, team members’ interaction and teamwork results in different fields.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

When staff members are working remotely, all types of communication are vital to success. However, giving feedback to remotes workers in a virtual workplace is one of the most critical — as well as often overlooked — components of communication in a business that utilizes remote workers.

One important tip is: don’t assume “no news is good news.” Connecting with remote workers is not accidental. They don’t see you pass by in the office halls nor do you bump into them in the elevator. This lack of regular contact can lead to confusion about their status and performance. While the old adage “no news is good news” may be true in some instances, a lack of news or communication can make a worker feel isolated and uncertain. Without a daily smile and chitchat from you near the coffee machine, a worker can start to wonder if he or she is valued. The key to overcoming the remote nature of this office arrangement is to make regular contact a daily ritual. Don’t wait for the monthly newsletter or yearly review; make a point to check in with your remote workers on a tighter schedule.

Another important tip is to choose the best medium to communicate: In a distributed work environment, we get used to relying on various media for communicating. We send countless texts and instant messages in a day. However, sometimes these media are just not appropriate for providing feedback in a remote workplace, because they lack the nuances of a spoken conversation. This is especially true with difficult or critical feedback. For the same reason you should not break up with a romantic interest by text, you shouldn’t criticize someone’s work by text or email. You also shouldn’t reserve phone contact just for the “bad” things or asking to schedule a phone chat will become a harbinger of doom.

It is good to remember that it takes 10 positives to counteract one negative. Not all feedback can be positive, but it’s important to note that negative feedback has a much bigger impact on any worker. As managers, we tend to be busy and often don’t take the time to reach out until there’s a problem. However, this type of intermittent and negatively weighted communication will leave remote workers frustrated and less productive. When you’re providing negative feedback to remote workers, use the sandwich method. Start with a positive, then give the negative, and then end with another positive. The key is to not end the conversation with the worker dwelling on the negative.

And finally, make sure to invite two-way communication. It is easy to fall into a pattern with remote workers of just communicating feedback and moving on. However, there is a lot to learn by opening the door to responses from your remote staff as well. Consider that learning about them, their goals, and challenges can help you better manage them productively. Additionally, you can use them as fresh eyes for plans and ideas you might have.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

A good idea is to say something friendly. When you’re writing the opening line (after the salutation, that is), it can be helpful to imagine it’s a conversation. If someone walked up to you and dove right into their point, you would be put off. That is why a line like How was your weekend? or I hope this note finds you well, as superfluous as it may seem, helps kick things off on the right note.

The next thing a leader could to is to thank the employee. No one likes a blast of unmitigated negativity in their inbox. A leader could begin an email with a small note of appreciation for what the recipient has already done. You don’t have to go overboard, it could be something as simple as: ‘’This provides a great starting point for our discussion.”

In the body of the e-mail provide direction that’s specific, positive and actionable. Criticism is received best when it is truly constructive. That’s why rather than concentrating on what the person did wrong, you should focus on how to improve. For example, as opposed to “This presentation is way too long,” you can write “This presentation is headed in the right direction, and if we can pare it down to 10 slides we’ll be in great shape.’’ Believe it or not, people appreciate knowing why you chose to do things differently. It is counterintuitive (because who wants to hear how they messed up in detail?), but in actuality, it shows that you have a high opinion of them. It demonstrates that you wouldn’t disagree with them just for the sake of it. Beyond that, it shows you think they are smart enough to learn from feedback and deliver on your expectations moving forward.

In the last line of the e-mail always end by asking if you could clarify anything or answer any questions. While ‘’Please let me know if I can answer any questions’’, might seem obvious, it serves a purpose. It makes the whole spirit of your email more collaborative.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

A general rule of thumb is to give feedback as often as you can. If the person is just starting, give feedback on a daily basis until the person is comfortable with his/her job. Daily feedback shows team members that you care about them, shows your interest in quality, and gives them the necessary comfort to grow from there. Look at feedback as a way of empowering your team.

If the team member is already experienced, give weekly feedback, even if it is just a few lines commenting on something that went really well or reminding the purpose of the project if there is nothing to be improved on. Be careful not to fall into micromanagement. Weekly feedback does not mean that you will interfere with what that person is doing; it is just a moment of guidance and mutual acknowledgement.

If the feedback is small, heed the urgency of now. For most feedback that comes to mind, usually, the best time to give feedback is shortly after the moment has occurred. Why? The longer you wait, the longer what you didn’t share is still affecting the way you think — and affecting the way the other person acts.

What if the feedback you need to deliver is a doozy? An employee really messed up a big project, or they seriously offended a leadership team member. This kind of sensitive, meatier feedback is best delivered during a time when both you and the other person are in a reflective, empathetic state. That means not “in passing,” not hurried, and not as a “surprise” to the other person.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

A great boss is someone who inspires their employees to be their best selves. They should be able to identify their employees’ best qualities and bring them out. Additionally, they should pinpoint growth opportunities, share them in a constructive manner and help develop a plan for improvement.

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

I would like to inspire an empathy movement. In this increasingly alienated world I believe empathy is something we miss the most, both in a private and a business setting.

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

My favorite quote would be: ‘’if there’s a will, there’s a way”.

There has been a number of things that I have achieved and access to that I was originally told I couldn’t. I think when we consider feedback we need to think about whether we giving feedback to somebody that supports them in how they’re going to achieve something or whether we’re defining the limits of their capacity. it for me this quote was about me taking control of what I can achieve and doing so by focusing on how I can achieve it despite the fact that feedback may have actually attempted to put limitations on my capacity rather than support my head.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.silewalsh.com

https://www.youtube.com/user/silewalsh

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

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.


Sile Walsh: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.