A Digital Front Door: Robin Wiener’s Big Idea that Might Change the World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

It turns out that large corporations are very competitive with smaller companies, and they do not want to share information. My first instinct is to want to partner with clients to make things happen. But we’ve had to fight for a long time to get cooperation from big companies.

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 Robin Wiener.

Robin Wiener is the dynamic leader of an international health IT company, with a 25-year track record of pioneering digital healthcare solutions. She grew Rockville, Maryland-based Get Real Health from a three-person consultancy to a global team that has changed how healthcare is delivered for thousands of patients in dozens of health systems around the world. In 2021, the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business recruited Ms. Wiener to join its Center for Global Business advisory board, helping to provide strategic guidance and outreach with UMD’s business, government, and thought-leadership communities.

Her success in positioning her company at the leading edge of health IT attracted the attention of CPSI, which tendered an offer to buy Get Real Health in 2019. Ms. Wiener negotiated and managed the sale to and merger with CPSI while maintaining her focus on management, hiring, product strategy and business development. She simultaneously ran the company, closed on major new business, and spearheaded a culture-shifting organizational restructuring and a productivity-boosting goal-setting framework.

With her innate knack for identifying the skill sets integral to a successful team, Ms. Wiener achieved an impressive employee retention rate throughout this period of major change, and secured the Get Real Health staff’s unwavering commitment to the company’s success.

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?

When I was a student in the fourth grade, school district authorities in my hometown of Willimantic, Connecticut, told me that I shouldn’t expect to achieve much in life. They dismissed my chances of success after concluding I was too slow to learn anything.

But my mom knew better and fought the school system, forcing the authorities to send me for tests. The testing showed that I wasn’t slow, rather I was learning disabled due to both dyslexia and a speech problem.

Mom did a lot of research and reading, and got me into a program at the University of Connecticut that helped kids with learning disabilities communicate better. I couldn’t pronounce three-syllable words, so they got me into music, which helped me pronounce words better. Regular teachers didn’t know how to educate me, but my family helped me all along the way, and I ended up being class president in high school.

Things weren’t any easier in college. My GPA wasn’t very good because I still had trouble with reading and writing. I ended up in dead-end retail jobs for a long time. Fast forward: I eventually got into sales and human resources management roles at a variety of companies, and was able to use my life experiences as a moral compass about how to treat other people.

In 2000, I was finally happy in my work and my life. I got married, but during our honeymoon I got a call telling me that the tech company I worked for had been sold and half our workforce was being laid off. So, here was yet another challenge I had to overcome — and I decided right then that I never again wanted my career or my life to be subject to someone else’s decisions.

I teamed up with two of my co-workers from the failed company, who felt the same way I did, and we formed our own business — Get Real Consulting, Inc. — so we could determine our own destiny. With my new business partners, Mark Heaney and Jason Harmon, we started the business in our homes, then got accepted into Montgomery County, Maryland’s incubator program and moved into a small office in one of the county’s Innovation Centers.

We got by on the revenue we generated from providing professional services to clients. Coincidentally, one of our clients was a health and wellness company that needed us to handle the development work involved as they joined Microsoft’s proprietary health record storage platform called HealthVault®. And that led to Mark Heaney attending Microsoft’s HealthVault® launch in October 2007 — which turned into a transformative moment for us.

Heaney got so excited about what he was hearing that he put his phone on speaker and called me so I could listen in on the event. The reason we were so excited was because we recognized HealthVault’s potential to help people store and access their personal health records securely from anywhere.

Get Real Consulting turned into Get Real Health, and we created apps that evolved into our then-flagship product: InstantPHR™ — PHR stands for personal health record which is a health platform that using our content management system can build any health application in multiple languages — which enabled consumers and healthcare providers to collaborate in managing medications and treatment. In 2010, the state of Maryland named us its “Incubator Company of the Year.”

We’ve grown the company over this past two decades to 50+ employees, with clients around the globe, and recently merged with a larger company called CPSI (see details on that in my answer to question #2). We continue to be focused on leveraging the intersection of evolving Health IT with the consumerization of healthcare.

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

I feel honored to have had a career with some really exciting moments. It’s hard for me to pick just one story, but these are the top three that come to mind.

I’ve traveled all around the world for Get Real Health, from India to Guam to New Zealand to the UAE and more (including a 24-hour dash through three countries — France, Sweden and The Netherlands).

Secondly, I had the unexpected experience of meeting with the chief growth officer of CPSI to try to get them as a client, only to get a phone call from him four days later asking me if we’d ever think of selling Get Real Health to them — and saying “Yes!”

Finally, a memorable experience was the feeling I got while standing on the other side of the fence at the White House. I grew up in Connecticut, which to a kid seemed like a million miles away from the magical place you saw on TV where the President had famous meetings with famous people. It’s a place I never thought I’d be asked to go. So, I was blown away when they asked me to come and be on a panel there to talk about how the U.S. could export Health IT. The feeling of looking out at the world from inside that fence is so different than when you’re looking in at the White House from the outside.

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

My mom continually inspired me to never give up. She convinced me to not give in to the limitations imposed on me by my dyslexia and speech problems. And my father used to tell me that people are people, and they all put their pants on the same way.

So, my personal philosophy has always been to be honest, kind, understanding, and confident. I learned the hard way that we should never hold anyone back, because you can achieve anything through hard work.

I’ve also learned the importance of surrounding myself with great people who are smart, driven, and who I respect. They bring me to another level. If you want to be a strong organization, it’s all about the people you work with and interact with.

Another lesson from my upbringing in New England was to always drive forward and not get hung up on whatever challenges we face. It’s what they call New England grit: Get over it, get after it, get it done. When obstacles arise, figure out how to go around, go under, go over, but figure it out. Find a way to fix it and then don’t look back, don’t dwell on the negative, keep moving forward. Everything will be okay.

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”?

In every major health and hospital system today, patients and providers are faced with a confusing and time-consuming array of disparate platforms, portals and communication tools. The experience is inefficient, chaotic and unproductive for patients, providers and organizations alike.

We wanted to transform that experience for all involved. So, we created a “digital front door” that offers a seamless solution. Our digital front door connects multiple systems, giving patients and providers easy, seamless, one-stop access to all of their health information in one place, as well as helping patients find and arrange needed care, which improves health outcomes while resolving a range of business problems facing hospital systems.

Our digital front door is an ideal alternative to EMR consolidation for large healthcare provider organizations seeking a single patient digital front door. It’s a comprehensive, EMR-agnostic, architecturally aligned, extensible platform that combines patient data from professional and personal sources, and provides a single entry point for all patient web and mobile engagement.

Our digital front door is also both international and localizable: We can tailor it to suit the needs and language requirements of any health system in the world.

How do you think this will change the world?

Trying to manage all the details and decisions and documentation involved in one’s care these days is not only intensely frustrating but also potentially dangerous, because of the fragmented way healthcare is delivered.

Now, imagine the power of a digital front door that gives patients on-demand access to their data anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Imagine how much better care providers can offer when they have a holistic, 360° view of each patient, allowing them to engage patients meaningfully and effectively.

And imagine how entire health networks can operate more efficiently as a business and more compassionately as a source of healthcare, by creating a seamless system their patients and their providers can access through a unifying digital front door that connects all the disparate portals and platforms in use throughout that network.

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?

Not drawbacks exactly, but two lessons. One involves businesses and government, while the other pertains to consumers.

  • Our Digital Front Door solution is meant to help healthcare systems, providers, and consumers benefit from the efficiencies and better health outcomes that can be achieved by leveraging data and technology in a transformative way. But we have to surmount a lot of business and government barriers to achieve that. Some companies don’t want to share their data, so we have to address integration and interoperability problems. And in the U.S., all 50 states have their own rules, which complicates our task.
  • The consumer lesson is a bit of an irony. The unexpected can happen at any time. So, people should always be prepared. As hard as we work to ensure data is secure and seamlessly available, a power or internet outage caused by a natural or manmade disaster can knock digital systems offline. Every individual and family has to take charge of their own health information, and straddle the analog and digital worlds simultaneously. Consumers should print their most important pieces of health information and keep that paper record in a safe place where they can quickly grab it if Murphy’s Law strikes. Our Digital Front Door solution actually enables users to PDF their information and provider contacts, which they can then print to a hard copy so it’s there if they need it.

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

The event that led us to the idea was Hurricane Katrina. But the tipping point for broader acceptance of our idea was COVID-19.

We had all just watched Hurricane Katrina devastate the people of New Orleans, wiping out not only their homes but also their vital documents and health records. Plus, my own father was going through a health crisis because doctors weren’t properly monitoring his medications. These were all “aha” moments spotlighting the need to harness technology to empower both healthcare consumers and providers.

So, for more than a dozen years, we’ve been iterating different variations of what we now call our Digital Front Door solution. But not everyone was ready for it. We were pushing the idea up the proverbial mountain. Suddenly, after all that time, along came a virus that caused a global pandemic in 2020 that generated instant demand for what we’ve been developing and advocating. The pandemic overcame the resistance we’d faced and demonstrated the immediate use case for healthcare consumers and providers having all their information at their fingertips. Our Eureka moment took a long time to coincide with the healthcare market’s Eureka moment. It’s been quite a journey, and we’re finally at a place in history where people realized they needed a digital way to make appointments, to see a doctor virtually, to share medical records, to pay health bills — all through one seamless portal without logging into multiple different platforms.

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

We need the industry to understand that this is truly happening, that our Digital Front Door solution is making a difference for hospital systems and patients. And we need health systems to understand that adopting this solution is easy and quick compared to behemoth electronic medical record (EMR) platforms that take years to implement. Our solution consolidates all those platforms, and we do it in six months.

Hospital systems already know they have financial and customer service drivers pushing them to adopt a Digital Front Door. But companies are made up of human beings, and humans resist change, even when they know it’s in their best interest.

So, our biggest task is communication and demonstration: Not just explaining, but showing that our Digital Front Door solution works, that we have clients already adopting it, that we’re demonstrating success. And it’s not just us delivering the message. It’s our clients who will talk about it. It’s healthcare industry leaders — and eventually patient advocacy groups — who will spotlight the benefits.

Of course, part of our job is making sure we’re constantly improving the solution, continually upgrading data security, and steadily lowering the perceived risk hospitals, providers and consumers may have of embracing and adopting change.

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

First, I wish I’d known how tough it would be and how long it would take to change minds, to get people to do something new and exciting.

Second, it turns out that large corporations are very competitive with smaller companies, and they do not want to share information. My first instinct is to want to partner with clients to make things happen. But we’ve had to fight for a long time to get cooperation from big companies.

Third, realizing that the government will put out rules, but then roll those rules back when they get pushback. It’s been very frustrating to have constantly changing rules.

Fourth, it took me a while to learn that you have to find people that are like you, who want to be a part of your journey, who share your excitement about the progress you’re working to achieve. These people inspire you to do better and go farther.

The fifth and maybe hardest thing I wish I’d known was the importance of humility. Your technology will not be the thing that ends all problems. You don’t have every skill, every capability, every functionality needed. You have to work with best-of-breed partners who excel at things you don’t, who bring strengths to the table that complement yours. Thanks to these partnerships, you can build something together that combines the best of the best, which can lead to a superior outcome.

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

These sound so basic, but I have found them to be true from my own life’s challenges.

  • Never let anyone tell you that you’re not capable, that you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never succeed.
  • Tune out negative messages (including the ones in your own head) and look for solutions to problems. Problems exist to be solved. You have two eyes. Use one of them to look at the problem, and other one to look around it. You have to clearly perceive and define and understand the problem. But you also have to intentionally seek different perspectives, new information, and new directions.
  • Always be willing to be surprised.

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

The advent of Get Real Health’s digital front door means the future of healthcare has arrived. As our solution expands, we will continue to touch and help more and more people around the world, leading to healthier populations and more resilient health systems. And as part of the CPSI family of companies, we are squarely focused on providing technology solutions to empower change agents in communities around the world as they work to disrupt and improve old ways of organizing and delivering health. We’re always looking for forward-thinking partners who can help us transform barriers into opportunities.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter:

  • @Robin_GetReal
  • @GetRealHealth

LinkedIn: Get Real Health

Facebook: Get Real Health

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


A Digital Front Door: Robin Wiener’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.

Daniel Farrar Of Assembly Software: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Daniel Farrar Of Assembly Software: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

At Assembly, we communicate regularly how we are performing at a monthly, virtual all-hands meeting. We discuss initiatives and updates across all relevant functions and areas highlighting both the good deliverables and where we can improve. Each member of the Executive team and their colleagues present a candid, balanced view to reinforce stability, and as a company, we are in action on every front for our stakeholder’s benefit.

As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Farrar.

As CEO of Assembly Software, Daniel brings over 25 years of experience successfully leading Fortune 500 companies and technology and SaaS businesses. He most recently led a global UCaaS and Cloud Services business, after CEO positions at two leading B2B SaaS enterprises. Daniel holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. 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?

A good place to start is where and how I was raised, in a small town in New Hampshire. Living there were hard-working families and citizens weathered and reared by immigrants with strong work ethics. My family was no exception.

All four of my grandparents had a deep appreciation for the life and opportunities provided to them living in the USA and were immensely dedicated to family — values they clearly passed to my parents.

My dad was an electrical engineer, a tireless worker, and at times intolerant of those who would not put in the effort required to match a task. He built the family business, and both he and my mother had an excellent command of both right- and left-brain elements. My parents encouraged us to strive for lofty goals and to never be afraid to put the effort in to succeed. They have always been there for my siblings and me throughout school, sports, and later in our careers.

When I got married, my wife and I made it our goal to raise our two boys with strong values, too. The boys were raised in Europe and in the USA and continue to be a never-ending source of pride and joy for me.

From college, with an engineering degree in hand, I was selected to General Electric’s (GE) management training program. From there it was onto assignments in Quality Assurance, Production Control, Management and Supervisory posts, and Product Marketing Management before heading off to graduate school for an MBA. Upon completion of post-graduate work, I went into strategic consulting before returning to GE at Corporate Headquarters to work on establishing the company wide strategic initiatives, M&A and Business Development during the Welch era. I went on to run GE Capital financing businesses in the United Kingdom, the USA and later for all of Europe before departing to become a partner in Private Equity. After 5 years in PE, I jumped back into the operating roles again turning around SaaS technology companies in the Silicon Valley, leading a telecommunications UCaaS business and later brought me together with the Assembly Software team.

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

During my time at General Electric in the early days, I was often deployed or requested by various business units to come on site to teach and implement Six Sigma, Lean production, and Kaizen techniques to reduce inventories and improve cash flow in real time. While in Hungary, I was at a lighting plant on the shop floor demonstrating how to redesign fixture heads to eliminate timing-consuming screws and bolts necessary to conduct lightbulb changeovers — wearing a nice crisp white business shirt.

One of the line workers pointed out that we would have to reach into each station head to pull out various components for redesign to simplify the changeovers. Without thinking, I reached directly into the station head with my tools and removed the components. When I emerged, my nice white shirt was covered in grease, much to my chagrin. The shirt was ruined and many of the employees got a good chuckle out of me in my spoiled garment. They then surrounded me to see what I was doing to alter the fixture station components.

Later, when we finished the work, I was informed of the impact that simple unknowing and unintentional gesture of soiling my shirt had made with the staff. For the line workers, it showed that I was on the team and prepared to make real change. They told me that if someone who didn’t have the background they had with the machines could come into their shop and make meaningful improvements, imagine what they could do with their knowledge. It started a flow of ideas and changes to the lines that ultimately cut nearly 2 full shifts of time, creating capacity for more runs and reduced inventories by 40%.

It highlighted for me that people embrace change when directed properly and leverage team strengths — and that real hands-on leadership does inspire and makes a difference in the engagement of others to succeed together.

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?

Along my journey there have been many wonderful and thoughtful people who assisted in penning my story — each of them surfacing at a different time, almost as if they knew when to arrive, to ensure my footing was in place and I was ready to take each next step. To every coach and colleague, I say THANK YOU for making me a better person and in turn a better counselor, friend and leader for others.

It begins all the way back in grade school with teachers who embraced my energy versus trying to suppress or control it. With coaches in football and wrestling who took the time to instill the purpose, benefits and discipline of drills, practice and training to hone skills towards mastery and excellence. And during my professional career, there were too many mentors and sponsors to mention who took an interest in me, helped shape my career path to general management, and onward to business leadership. Honestly, without their guidance and coaching on how to set strategy, communicate effectively, make data-driven decisions, and engage and reach people — without question — much of the success I have enjoyed over 35 years leading companies from multinationals such as General Electric to Silicon Valley tech start-ups would not have been possible.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

In the early days of the creation of Assembly, the founders at Ridge Road Partners had the vision of creating a platform of scale by combining two stalworth brands, Trialworks and Needles, launching modern cloud-based technologies for the customer base and bringing the industry to a new standard of quality and service. The purpose surrounded the opportunity in a nascent vertical, legal case-management software, to develop and deploy appropriate contemporary technology solutions in the cloud for law practices of any size in the country, providing the firms growth, productivity and efficiency.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

We certainly are going through a new paradigm for all aspects of conducting business and building relationships. The pandemic changed the rules of engagement. At Assembly, we have been assessing the best way to engage our employee and customer base during the pandemic with an eye to supporting our clients — law firms who are also embracing the needs to change their businesses. We have embraced concepts, new ideas, and best practices around being virtual and flexible. We have had to introduce new procedures and policies across the company to address safety concerns, remote working, and employee and customer support.

We took a multi-pronged approach, starting with safety. We put the health and safety of employees and our customers first. Whether choosing to come to the office, to travel, or to work from home, our job was to assess and ensure we provided all the tools and processes necessary to be safe and productive in any environment. Obviously, for employees who choose to travel , we provide guidance to the risks and the up-to-the-minute CDC guidelines. There are no guarantees, as we have seen with the pandemic, so we must maintain our diligence and focus for sound and safe practices. Mask up, sanitize areas, safe distancing, and companywide support for personal decisions.

Second, we embrace the requirement to change. Flexibility has been critical and a key to keeping everyone safe, productive, and happy on the job. Assembly has fully embraced remote working, and our employees dot the location landscape of the United States. With every interaction we become more efficient in our communications. Much of the success we have seen has been through utilizing technology software to not just conduct meetings, but also in honing our dashboards and access to communicate more effectively to conduct business, make decisions, and take action.

Lastly, we monitor and update. At Assembly, we communicate and ask for input regularly. If something isn’t working and a customer or an employee has a better idea, we are listening and ready to change. We use team meetings, focus groups, and surveys to bring improvements to the table regularly.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

“There is no tomorrow, Rock,” as Mickey so eloquently put it to Rocky Balboa. For me, short answer is — No. I started walking at 8 months old and haven’t slowed down. Having always had a fire in my belly, I’ve generated immense energy (hopefully a contagious energy) for everything I have interest in accomplishing and for sustaining a drive to the goal. Giving up on something you desire or want to achieve feels like code for failure or that you didn’t give it your all. Personally, I would rather go down in flames, crash into a heap on the ground than simply quit without effort. As the old adage goes, “It is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all.” Or as Yoda said, “There is no try. There is only do or do not.” When I was younger, my ambitions and goals drove me onward to becoming a champion wrestler, earning an engineering degree and an MBA, racing Ducati motorcycles at Imola, paraskiing in the French alps, a solo assent to the top of Kilimanjaro, deep sea cave and reef diving, designing cars, advancing software technologies, skiing the Forcella Rossa of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites, collecting and creating art, skydiving, dune riding, GT racing, running global companies, and building businesses. Seeing the world (several times around now) by rolling up the sidewalks to live and see the things locals do — it all seems a long way from a small New England town kid who rode around on a red Schwinn bike with a dog named Floppy. For all of that, I am grateful for the privileges and experiences of what life has brought to me.

As I’ve gotten older, more seasoned and more reflective, my personal goals have given way to more balanced goals, which have become more inclusive of those around me whose lives I may be influencing or touching along the way. The people around me, both friends and colleagues, matter in the equation. Every person is another intersecting point and connection at a different point on the journey. My hope would be that a little of my enthusiasm for life rubs off on those lives I touch and maybe inspires a few along the way.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

There’s no one thing but there are 3, I believe, that are essential.

First is to clearly prioritize. Keep the organization companywide, every function and team focused on the 2–3 big goals. Determine the key drivers, measure them, resource them, and stay on them. Focus on what matters strategically for your customers and business advancement. In challenging times, communicating what matters to sustainability, especially with your customer base, is essential even if the messages are tough. Let them know what you are doing, why you are doing it and its impact.

Second, marshal and align resources. Keeping everyone in the boat rowing in the same direction makes the work and our jobs more interesting and more fun no matter how hard the challenges may be or how turbulent the waters. When we know that we are working to the same end goals, we can marshal investments in our people, our teams, tools, training, and cash on the agreed initiatives for the highest impact to our desired outcomes. Lastly, I believe in over-communicating. Communicate. Communicate. And communicate some more about the big stuff and the small stuff too. Give customers, partners, and employees time to engage with you directly. Have constant communications and transparency with teams, individuals, and customers in every function. In this time of the pandemic, it’s important to use the tools at our disposal now to virtually engage every day, every week with employees and customers.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

The one thing I’ve always been mindful of all the way back to working for my dad’s company — there was no job too small for my dad. He was the owner, President/CEO, Proprietor, chief cook and bottle washer in the shop. He did everything from managing the business, engineering designs, machining, motor repair, ordering, billing, traveling to sites for repairs and extractions of equipment to the very basic task of cleaning the washrooms if it was required at the end of the day. I have never forgotten that work ethic and have put into practice in my own career with every company I have had the privilege of leading. So when I say to people “I’ll never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” I mean it. If we have to stay up late, run the numbers, deal with process problems, fix, close or sell to get something done — I’m going to lean into it with the team when needed. I believe that part of inspiring people is that they feel like you’re willing to put on a jersey, get on the field with them, and play ball in the mud. When they see their leader as a member of the team, and not just someone standing in the background, you get more engagement, more spirit, and more camaraderie with a lot more collegial sense of getting the job done together.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Communicate both the good news and the bad news and communicate progression transparently and with unyielding integrity in every word. Anything short of that is unacceptable at every level in a company. Make it known to every employee that this is part of the culture and creed of the company. Share with employees, customers, colleagues, and partners a clear and present voice in every communication. Don’t just communicate the problem — provide context. Communicate what you’re doing about it, and how customers or teams will be affected by the decisions or be a part of those decisions. Everyone can handle good news, but they can also handle tough messages about changes, downsizing, setbacks, or marketplace changes that impact the organization when delivered with sincerity and honesty. My rule of thumb: Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Most of the time in business, we must make decisions with limited or extrapolated information, which is often imperfect. Like the old galley ships of early explorers, true North and the direction for finding success were unknown. They had imperfect data and cartography to pick a heading to chart a course and didn’t know if success lay before them at all. In some ways that’s what we’re doing in business. We chose a heading for our business with the best data available to us. There are no guarantees and ultimately it all falls to our ability as a collective team to work together, act with agility, and constantly improve our operational execution. We are regularly taking our position in different directions to keep the sails full and the tailwinds behind us. When we set a plan in motion, is it a perfect plan? No. If it’s a B+ plan that we can execute, I’m okay with that concept versus awaiting the A+ plan with perfect analysis that, frankly, never materializes. Getting the team and company in motion with momentum and inertia gets us in action and delivering.

At Assembly, we’ve had to do a number of things new and differently than when we first set out. Many have been challenging and highly unpredictable, requiring new structures, team dynamics, processes to be redefined and tasks to be learned or re-learned as we navigate the technology needs of our customers in a rapidly changing industry. We’re delivering new products, services, and content as we go fearlessly into aggressive competition. And all with the pandemic as the backdrop, that requires being immensely flexible, transparent, and supportive of people.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

I already mentioned over-communicating but it’s worth mentioning again. In the absence of the facts, especially in turbulent times, people will create their own version of a situation. That will only breed anxiety and frustration among the troops. Often those same stories may be based in an element of fear, so it’s important as a leader to remain centered, clear, and cogent — providing a human, approachable, and empathetic posture to what people may be experiencing. Employees and customers are not always thinking about hitting all the metrics; in tough economic times, it may be about their future or whether the company will even be around tomorrow. They are thinking about things not necessarily on your morning agenda, like ensuring the children are in school, can they pay the bills, do they need multiple incomes, etc. The concerns on peoples’ minds when times are tough need to be considered in your leadership voice when communicating. If you sound like you don’t care or aren’t truthful, you can bet that is exactly the voice people hear.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

When things go from smooth sailing to rough waters, it’s important not to lose your heading. Key metrics and strategies have been put in place after thoughtful analysis and debate. They are rooted in value creation and normally in growth for your customers. Keep them front and center to everyone in the business and when they need adjustments, no matter the reason, in tactical employment, make them quickly and efficiently. Don’t get distracted.

I would also say to not get over-extended or over-react. Resources, people, and capital are precious. Put your best and brightest on the toughest problems you face. Don’t keep asking for more from everyone and adding more issues to the pot for your teams to try and sort out. That is a selfish and wasteful use of talent. Have the courage to change structures and initiatives to align resources to your goals. When markets and competition change, be adaptable. Doubling down on old ideas that may have become mediocre in changing winds never ends well or with the intended results. Be prepared to act and change as required. What was working yesterday may not be the best way forward anymore. Don’t be afraid of that outcome or asking your team for help. If you aren’t willing to leverage the collective talent of the company’s intelligence, you’re off to a poor start already. If the markets have moved, embrace the change, and take action with counsel from your teams and customers. At Assembly, our integrated voice of the customer structure, which is aligned with our competitive intel and market pulsing, provides us with keen insights on how to best anticipate what the customer is experiencing and what marketplace demands are allowing us to make critical, real-time adjustments to our products and services delivery for customers.

It’s true, everyone doesn’t have the thick leathery hide of a business leader but it’s a mistake to lack empathy. Employees and customers alike can often be quite sensitized, often polarized, to changes and trends in the marketplace. We all have different biases and reactions to how we see things based on our unique vantage point. In difficult times, make yourself available and be approachable. Everyone isn’t looking to bring problems to your desktop. I have found that most people in the company and with our customers want to hear from the business leader to gain confidence, a greater appreciation of particular areas of focus, or to begin a relationship with which to build upon. Being open to listen and approachable to anyone will, more often than not, provide insights and new perspectives that shape your own leadership agenda in engaging the teams.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

It sounds basic enough but it’s all about metrics, monitoring, and transparency. Yet companies don’t always get it right and into practice, and they often can’t sustain it when they do. Clarity on the direction and the key priorities with business-wide and functional alignment, including shared goals to reinforce accountability with regular reviews, keeps us on track and focused at Assembly. We re-aligned to be product-led and cloud-focused with a disciplined release management process using an Integrated Voice of the Customer (“IVOC”) approach with metrics and accountable ownership.

The IVOC has been critical ensuring that at every “moment of truth” (where the customers touch our internal process), we are capturing and engaging customers for their input, which we use to improve every aspect of the company deliverables into the market. Bringing the customer voice and thoughts into both our product definitions and our process delivery for service and support has accelerated and refined our strategy, key priorities for value creation, investment focus, and our financial results,

Our metrics and dashboards are completely dialed into the critical areas we must deliver on from the eyes of our customers and the marketplace. We share them, review them, and drive our actions to improve them daily.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

At Assembly, we communicate regularly how we are performing at a monthly, virtual all-hands meeting. We discuss initiatives and updates across all relevant functions and areas highlighting both the good deliverables and where we can improve. Each member of the Executive team and their colleagues present a candid, balanced view to reinforce stability, and as a company, we are in action on every front for our stakeholder’s benefit.

Next, I’d say be transparent about where the true heart of the issues exists. Explain what you are doing to address them and of equal importance what you are not doing. It is important not to sugar coat or water down key messages, whether it is reinforcing why key initiatives are important, or what is not being done enough of to correct it. We constantly are self-evaluating the Assembly performance across all processes and incorporating an IVOC into all our product discussions and investment decisions.

Being Human (and vulnerable) with everyone is another good one. Pretending you are a rockstar or have all the answers is a sure-fire recipe for disaster, disappointment, and disengagement. There is not a single person at our company, or any company for that matter, who wakes in the morning with the idea they won’t do a good job on any given day. People inherently want to succeed. They want to know what they are working on matters that make a difference, and that they are an important piece to the company’s success. So, it’s important to allow good ideas to surface and flow. Good ideas come from all parts of the market, your customers, and employees. Have a listening ear for insights from all points, be ready to act on them, and celebrate the person or team.

My fourth tip is to ensure alignment and dialogues between teams. In my experience, once functions and organization structures are decided with a budget, people and teams may become insular and siloed with focus only on their own areas. This doesn’t maximize team dynamics or foster a stronger, more cohesive team. At Assembly, we have functional leaders in charge of shared metrics, which requires working together across functions to solve problems. We have company wide metrics surrounding the customer experience and success, such as NPS scoring, to ensure we are all reminding each other that our actions or our inactions impact our customers. Every conversation is a moment of truth with our customers and part of our IVOC.

Lastly, be ready to celebrate. When a person, a team, or a function hit those precious three-point shots, don’t miss the opportunity to share in the success. At Assembly, we have company wide shout-outs, management awards, and personal outreach programs to say well done and thank you. Everyone is experiencing the same pressures and challenges during turbulent times and working hard to keep an even keel in those waters. A little recognition in any form goes a long way for that extra effort, which may have been unexpected yet well received.

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

There is one quote, which I come back to again and again, and has been with me since it was right under my high school graduation picture. The quote I used there was “Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion; you must set yourself on fire.” As a very ambitious young adult, I took that approach to heart with everything in my life — sports, work, fitness, schoolwork, music, designing, languages, reading and writing, art, and especially as a parent. I wasn’t going to let one piece slip into the cracks nor allow any endeavor I chose to apply myself towards be left to simple chance.

Others quotes that resonate with me are “Everything’s happening right now. Be in the moment”; “In life there is no dress rehearsal”, and as Mae so beautifully put it, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful” and finally — an all-time favorite, Nike’s now infamous slogan “Just Do It!”, which may be the best ever.

Each of the quotes are action oriented and speak to being ready to seize a moment, immerse yourself, and to remember to enjoy the ride.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow me on LinkedIn or at assemblysoftware.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Daniel Farrar Of Assembly Software: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Thomas Drew Of 1AND1 LIFE On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Do not go cheap on your business accountant/bookkeeper. Doing this right from the beginning will save you tons of pain down the line.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Drew.

Thomas Drew is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and co-founder of 1AND1 LIFE, a mental health and wellness digital platform that empowers consumers to become the best versions of themselves through media/content, digital products and services. 1AND1 LIFE is a product of Thomas’s love for brand building and storytelling, colliding with his passions for health, wellness, and self-improvement.

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thomas graduated from Davenport University. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a Marketing concentration in May of 2015. Thomas moved to New York City following undergrad to pursue Graduate School and earned his Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication with an emphasis in Brand Strategy from Columbia University in May of 2017. Thomas was chosen as a Student Ambassador of his Cohort by Dean Jason Wingard.

Prior to 1AND1 LIFE, Thomas Drew led successful marketing, social media, and brand strategy initiatives and campaigns for companies like Samsung/Verizon, The U.S. Army, The St. James, and more. He is currently sought after for his brand and marketing strategy expertise as a consultant and motivational speaker.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

My childhood backstory is a very interesting one. I was lucky enough to grow up in a two parent home, with Stephen and Clarice Drew — the best two parents that any child could ever ask for. While my Father was at work during the day, my Mother would stay back to raise me and teach me things before I was old enough to start preschool or kindergarten. My Mother noticed that I picked up on things very fast, and she created her own homemade version of “Hooked on Phonics” for me. Because of this, I was reading chapter books out loud by the age of 3. This, and a multitude of other factors, caused me to skip the 1st grade and go directly from Kindergarten to the 2nd grade. My Mother would always say that it was clear that I was a “gifted” child because I would grasp/figure out things extremely quickly, and then I would move on to the next thing. After skipping a grade, I was placed in advanced/AP courses throughout my grade school, middle school, and high school years. During this experience, I was seen as a nerd, younger than everyone else in my class, and didn’t fit in. I also was overweight, and hadn’t yet grown into my body. Because of this, I experienced a great deal of bullying by not only a handful of students, but at times teachers. Looking back, these experiences powered my passion for wellness, mental health, and self improvement.

The craziest story about my childhood is the story of what I wrote in my class autobiography when I was 7 years old. In class, we were given the task to write about our lives in a book: who we were and what we wanted to be when we grew up. At this young of an age, I wrote in the book quote “I want to be an entrepreneur and own 7 businesses. I love basketball, I love reading and I love New York City.” I believe I was the only kid in class that wrote down that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Fast forward to now, whenever things get hard, or I need a reset, I bring up this picture and look at what I wrote as a child to reconfirm that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Childhood me would be proud, and it’s up to me to keep going and manifest my own destiny.

Something else about my childhood that was/is very notable is that I watched my Dad and studied him extremely closely. My Dad was, and still is a business owner of a very successful law firm in his own right. Growing up, I saw his consistency in leaving for work every day in suits and ties, and his routine. I spent time at his office once I was old enough and watched him work, take meetings, and oftentimes watch him be the last one to leave the office since he was my ride home. Watching my Father work hard, grow/lead a business, inspire his people and others cemented that in me from a young age. I understood that I had a legacy to uphold, a torch to carry, and a standard to live by, just by watching his actions and results.

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

My favorite Life Lesson Quote is “Don’t miss your moment.” It’s pretty simple, but it means so much. I’ll never forget when my mentor, and first big private investor in my company, told me how he went about preparation when looking to get a deal done. He told me that “The deal is won before you enter the room”, meaning that he put in a ridiculous amount of time, attention and effort on studying, learning and preparing for who would be in the room. Life is all about moments, and having the awareness to understand the severity and importance of certain moments so that you can prepare for the moment and fully succeed in the moment. Tom Brady is the greatest Quarterback of all time because he didn’t miss his moment. When Drew Bledsoe was injured, and Brady’s number was called, he was ready for the moment. He had a sense of the moment, controlled the moment and performed in the moment. Tom “not missing his moment” set the tone for his whole career. I have tons of other examples of this in my personal and professional life, but this quote/philosophy is a huge part of my personal ethos.

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

Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill changed my life in more ways than I can mention. This book was instrumental in my personal journey with mental conditioning, refreaming my mind, and reprogramming my subconscious. When I first moved to New York in 2015 it was a new experience for me. I knew I could make it in the hardest city in the world, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how hard the journey was actually about to get — and it’s still hard. I read Think and Grow Rich for the first time in 2017 after I finished Grad School at Columbia. This time period was a serious strategic inflection point in my life, and the book set me on the right path mentally. I would recommend this book to anyone that is looking to go on a journey of self awareness, self-discovery and enlightenment. This book made it apparent to me that if you have a clear vision, and you pair a burning desire to be successful with that vision, you will attract it, and the only thing that will get in the way of you getting what you deserve is giving up at any point along the way.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

As we all know, good ideas happen all the time, but execution is the hard part. This is the formula that I’ve distilled it down to. Success in business is a combination of execution, perseverance/persistence, diversity of thought, a consumer driven focus, access to the right capital, adaptation, curiosity, clear vision, timing and luck. There are some other things as well but I believe that this is the core.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Oftentimes when something has already been done, that tends to be a good sign — that means market validation has been achieved. Instead of worrying about someone that has already done what you’ve done, put all of your time, energy and effort as a founder to think about how you can differentiate through your product, communication, community niche, and storytelling. It’s not about who does it first. It’s about who does it best. For example, Apple and Nokia at one point were making the same product (cell phone) at the same time, and Nokia was the leader in the space. Had Steve Jobs dismissed his ideas, we would’ve never had the iPhone and Apple may not be a 3T market cap company and.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

This is never really a one size fits all approach. In my experience, it depends on the business model and what you’re trying to bring to the market. For example — if you’re running a digital business that’s based on content and media, you won’t need a manufacturer. Instead, you’ll need writers, editors, researchers, an SEO team, etc. If you’re creating a DTC physical product it’s a different ballgame. That being said, I would break it down like this:

1. An idea is an idea, but execution is far more important. Once you have your idea, look for validation either through the market or through asking your target consumer questions. Yes, it is possible to create something that people don’t yet know they like, but it’s harder. It’s easy to find product market fit when you get a real pulse of the consumer first and meet them where their needs/pain are.

2. The journey of starting a company is easier when you don’t do it alone. I can tell you from experience that starting and running a company is truly one of the hardest things in the world. It can get lonely, extremely difficult and depressing at times. Having a co-founder or business partner to go on the journey with you can make all the difference. For my business, 1AND1 Life, my co-founder Corey Lewis and I have been in it together since the beginning. Without each other, we definitely would not be where we are today, and we both know that and are upfront about that. If you’re lucky enough to find a co-founder that aligns with your inner drive/what’s important to you, and if their weaknesses are your strengths and vice versa, you should seriously consider going to battle with them. It will make all the difference in the world and allow you to keep going when times get tough, because you have someone fighting in the trenches with you that you can trust.

2. Before you spend any money on creating your product, put all of the time, energy and effort that you can into understanding who your target consumer is, what they want, what their pain points are, what drives them, who they admire, follow and listen to. Understanding your consumer in this way will give you the ammo to create your product or service’s unique value proposition.

3. Create an example of your product, or a prototype, which is commonly referred to as an MVP “minimum viable product”. Take this MVP and give it to people to test, use and give you feedback. If you get a good amount of people, let’s say 50–100, that believe in, need, love, and would use your product then you’re on the right track.

4. There are two things in entrepreneurship that you shouldn’t go cheap on — your accounting (financial management) and your legal counsel. Set up your company, figure out your structure, get your roles and responsibilities, voting rights and other things set in stone before you really start moving.

5. If you can bootstrap your company and find ways to support it other than with outside capital to start, then do that for as long as you can.

6. Obviously after you have your product, marketing and distributing it is important. I could share a ridiculous amount of information here but it really boils down to your customer experience from the top of the funnel to the end of the sale. You should be thinking about packaging, landing page experience, email nurturing, follow up sequences, unboxing, literally everything from start to finish. The consumer experience is more important than anything, and a good consumer experience almost always equals better LTV (Customer lifetime value).

I could ruminate on this forever but those 6 are good as a start.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

1. Start with understanding the consumer first before you create your product.

2. Make sure you know how to build and read a financial model as the founder so you can truly understand and simulate the business from the beginning.

3. Do not go cheap on your business accountant/bookkeeper. Doing this right from the beginning will save you tons of pain down the line.

4. It’s going to be way harder than you think. Way harder. Your “why” behind your business will be the reason why you continue to persevere through the times where you get punched in the mouth.

5. There’s nothing more important or powerful than building an audience or community organically. You do this by investing in storytelling. Nothing is more powerful than storytelling, so invest tons of time in the story early, and use it to build loyal brand stewards over time that connect with your ethos, mission and communication style.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Similar to what I said above, but I would first trust my own gut and conviction. Try to have that conviction backed by research and make sure that there’s some data that points to your idea or solution being relevant. Whether it’s big data or small, it just makes it easier for your invention to have some legs. Think about the brand, the communication, but most importantly the story behind the product. Make sure that this story connects with the target consumer intrinsically. Those are some good first steps. Also doing research on competitors in the niche early, figuring out what they’re doing well, but more importantly what they’re NOT doing well — this is also a huge key in figuring out your value prop/product differentiation strategy.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I think only YOU know as the founder(s) what you want the vision to be, the little nuances, etc. You have to trust your vision. There’s always room for consultants but there’s something to be said for figuring out your vision and doing it your way for a while. You never want to get in rooms with potential investors or supporters of your business and not be the one with the institutional knowledge.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Always bootstrap when you can, and for as long as you can. There’s something to be said for working towards having a profitable business, and also something to be said for not giving up too much of your company too early and regretting that later. VC’s are great if they’re the right fit, but if you align yourself with the wrong VC, they won’t care about you, may even push you out and see you as a cash grab. Only take money when you truly need it. The best way to think about it in my opinion is if your business gets to a point where the main thing in the way of scaling what you’ve already built is cash, then you know you’re in a good spot. Try not to take someone else’s money to build something out of thin air if you don’t have to. It’s always easier to put gasoline on the fire when you know where to put it in order to produce the most powerful flames.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My personal philosophy is Acts Of Kindness Change The World. The more I receive, the more I give. And the more I give, the more I receive. If I can use my personal platform and business story to inspire people and let them know that it IS possible for a young black man to do what I’m doing, and that in turn is a spark for other young entrepreneurs, then I’ve done my job. I just want to be the spark — the one wave that creates 20 more waves.

I’m grateful that through 1AND1 Life, my business partner Corey and I have built a purpose driven business that actually changes lives. We’re in the business we’re in because we know how many people we’re impacting now, but the addressable audience of the people that need what our company is doing is where we can continue to make the biggest impact. I love being able to look at the comments on our Mental Health Podcast, Off The Cuff With Danny Lopriore, for example. We get DMs and comments from people on the podcast pages about how the show has saved their life. It’s little things like that that really get me up in the morning each day to continue to build on this mission. I don’t see myself as successful yet, and I know that may seem self-deprecating and might not make sense to some, but I will FEEL a deeper sense of successful once I’m able to take a step back and truly see my impact on a large scale with the amount of people I’ve helped, businesses I’ve advised, doors I’ve open and capital I’ve given. I still have a long way to go, but please believe me when I say that I have plans to do this at the largest of scales.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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 appreciate you saying that and that’s very humbling. I have a long way to go. But as I said earlier, my mission is this: Act Of Kindness Change The World. I want this to be the movement. One good deed inspires another. One moment of selflessness, compassion and care inspires another. The more people that do good deeds for others without expecting any in return, the better our world will become.

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Great question. I love music, art, film etc, so in that world it would have to be Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) — I look up to his creative genius for many reasons and I at some point in my career I would love to be as polarizing/successful as him, but in the world of business — doing it with a similar flair and attention to detail. In the business world, I’ve been humbled/grateful enough to meet many of my idols, but someone that I haven’t met that I think very highly of is Marcelo Claure. I just think what he’s done throughout his career, not just at SoftBank, is truly phenomenal and his dedication to investing in entrepreneurs of color is super inspiring to me for obvious reasons. Growing up, I wasn’t aware of many successful investors, CEOs, entrepreneurs etc. that weren’t white men. If my memory serves me right, I believe that currently only 4 or 5 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are black. Someone like Marcelo as an investor, CEO, etc. has been and will continue to be the exception. Sidenote/fundact: I actually had a meeting at a coffee shop in New York City a month or so ago and saw Marcelo sitting by himself having a coffee. I was going to go up and introduce myself before my meeting but he quickly walked out before I was able to. I actually ended up having an incredible meeting with a VC fund at that coffeeshop, so maybe that was a cool sign from the universe. Time will tell!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Making Something From Nothing: Thomas Drew Of 1AND1 LIFE On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Michaela Holland

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Stop running from pain and hurt by making yourself ridiculously busy and distracted. Siit in disappointment, frustration, and grief. Reflect on it, process it, know who you are despite it.

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 Michaela Holland.

Michaela Holland is a consultant and creative strategist who blends traditional media with XR (Extended Reality), VR, AR AI, motion capture and 360-degree film.

Michaela is not only a leader of creative teams on storytelling projects, she is also a producer, public speaker, and documentarian. She acts as a consultant for various corporate and creative firms to introduce them to XR technologies and how they can be used within their business.

Based in New York City, Michaela began her career in XR working on TIME Magazine’s LIFE VR project and has since produced multiple immersive non-fiction films which have won her both an Emmy and a Webby award.

Throughout her work, Michaela focuses on ‘compassionate storytelling’ and collaborating in a truly inclusive way with underrepresented communities. She always aims to honor her Filipinx heritage by championing the stories of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), immigrants and mixed-race people.

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?

From a young age, I learned adaptability. Growing up, I constantly moved back and forth from the West and East Coasts of the United States. During this time, I went to private schools, public schools, and even homeschooled for a few years. I also experienced accountability and leadership as the oldest of six children. When I was twelve years old, I took my first jazz class and fell in love with the physical rigor, creativity, and performance expression that I felt while dancing. Unfortunately, my parents would not let me pursue dance at the professional level, fearing that I would forsake a university education. Despite their wishes, while I attended University of California Irvine, I signed with a dance agent and continued to audition and perform.

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?

Spark & Fire: Epic Creative Stories by WaitWhat. It’s a podcast that takes you into the process of incredible creative projects from the perspectives of the creators. From Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief” to Bill T. Jones’ “Afterwardness”. It takes genius awe-inspiring work and brings it into a unique lens of human vulnerability that is often laced with humor. The podcasts help to ground me in times of uncertainty, exhaustion, and frustration. It reminds me that while no creative process is perfect, the end experience will still be impactful to the audience.

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

I realized in high school that I wanted to be a part of storytelling, no matter how that manifested, whether in dance, business, journalism, or some other form. At the beginning of my second year in college, I booked a Disney Cruise Line contract, so I took a personal leave of absence from UC Irvine, completed the nine-month performance contract, and then returned to UC Irvine to complete my degree. While I continued my Literary Journalism degree and Digital Filmmaking minor, I continued to audition. I would go on to perform and dance at Disneyland, Legoland, and SeaWorld in Southern California. During my time on Disney Cruise Line and in the theme parks, I saw firsthand the power of immersive and interactive human centered storytelling.

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

In October 2016, I volunteered for a trivia event organized by the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian American Journalist Association. One of the trivia attendees was Rober Hernandez, a Professor at USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism, who taught a course on virtual reality. I made it a point to introduce myself, explained my passion for virtual reality, and showed him the Samsung Gear VR headset I kept in my backpack. He sent me an email a few days later and invited me to join a Google Group with other journalists in VR.

Little did I know that he had already introduced me to the community, encouraging someone to hire me. The group consisted of folks from New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, and more. Less than a month later, I found myself moving from Los Angeles to New York City to work for TIME under their LIFE VR initiative. In almost an instant, I had gone from a virtual reality journalism enthusiast to working for an incredibly well-known news institution with a focus on virtual reality and augmented reality, and none of it would have happened without a trivia event and Rober Hernandez.

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 already mentioned Robert Hernandez in earlier questions, so I would like to use this question to highlight Lauren Ruffin.

Ruffin is one of the first people I met that did not just speak about financial abundance and stability for creatives but also put it into practice. Ruffin invited me to join an XR co-operative that she founded and mentored me in the realm of finances and valuing your work. She fully trusted me to lead, produce, manage, and create in any and every project. When I vocalized my discomfort with a client. She would advocate for me. She even allowed me to fully remove myself from a project due to an unsafe conversation I had with a collaborator. No questions asked. To be managed by someone as considerate, caring, and courageous as Ruffin is one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now and how do you think they will help people?

The latest project I am a part of is called, “On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World)”, a virtual reality documentary that captures the voices of the people who experienced the real and imminent threat of nuclear weapons. For this three-part virtual reality experience, my role is Games for Change’s Creative Strategist and Impact Producer. I oversee everything outside of the virtual reality documentary, so the website, social media, installation, festival activations, programming, and more.

For most, nuclear threat is unimaginable — out of sight, and out of our control. “On the Morning You Wake” makes that threat proximate and uses the first-hand experience of citizens in Hawaii to make clear the fundamental injustice of a world held hostage by nuclear weapons. The Games for Change team and I developed a multi-media impact campaign centering on the human cost of global nuclear threat. Story is the most powerful agent for change that we have as a society, and the intersection between art and technology has never been more important in shaping the opinions of the public, and our political leadership.

Plans are underway to screen the experience at policy maker gatherings, as well as a tour with museums, cultural institutions, universities and public spaces. In the near future, home viewers will be able to download the experience to their Oculus VR headsets or watch a 360 version on their computers. Other iterations of the work will also be broadcast, streamed, and podcasted.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry?

  1. First, the expansiveness — the ability to learn, build, and create using the power of software and hardware in technology has given us the worldwide web. Now with VR, AR, and MR, we can make the worldwide web permeate our physical world, as well as create a digital experience that is 3D.
  2. Second, the connectivity — the world wide web has allowed people to meet each other, reconnect with one another, as well as bridge the differences between each other. This connectivity will only expand with VR, AR, and MR industries as new hardware tools are introduced for people, as well as new software and content for people to share experiences with each other.
  3. Finally, the access — VR, AR, MR industries can lead a movement in access. With the rise of technology that utilises specific hardware and access to certain levels of high speed internet, my hope is that these industries will also move forward with democratization of access to these portals in and out of the digital reality, like wifi, headsets, and apps.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? And what can be done to address those concerns?

  1. First and foremost, you cannot have a conversation about any technology without addressing the issue of data and security. If companies have the ability to track your movement through the internet, imagine the increase of finite data that they will be able to access when they can gather and track your physical movement in a virtual reality headset. This can make someone easily identifiable not just through their digital footprint, but now also through your physical footprint. It takes whistleblowers, activists, and organizers to hold companies creating these technologies accountable to the data they collect, how they store the data, how they use the data, and whom they allow access to the data.
  2. Second, turning a blind eye to the cost of the physical reality at the gain of the digital one. Beyond the worry of people living solely in the metaverse and fully abandoning the physical universe is the concern of how this digital reality is being built. With the rise of higher speed wifi and larger data collections, our impact on the physical world has also increased. I am concerned that the VR, AR, MR industries will allow pollution from electricity-powered data centers to continue, instead of exploring and investing in wind or solar powered data centers. We can also use this industry to decrease and eliminate the use of material like plastic, versus using it to support the continual sales of products and services that increase harmful wastes.
  3. Finally, the inaccessibility — VR, AR and MR industries can lead a movement in inaccessibility. With the rise of technology that utilize specific hardware and access to certain levels of high speed internet, the industry can restrict access and create paywalls to these portals in and out of the digital reality, like only servicing high-speed wifi and expensive hardware, headsets, and apps. Instead, we need an industry built around the mindset that access to hardware, headsets, haptics, and wifi is a human right in accessing the emerging digital reality, not a privilege sorter accessible only to those with wealth.

I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?

As VR, AR, and MR begin to enter our day to day life, I would compare it to the rise of the at-home-computer and smartphone. The technology will take time to integrate itself into day to day life, and will rely on the audience’s adoption as well as the usefulness of the technology.

Currently, VR is being used by companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon for training incoming employees for on the job skills. It is also being used in the education of students within medical fields to train and practice surgical procedures without the need to access equipment.

There have been incredible studies around how the embodiment of virtual reality allows for the learning of a skill to become akin to muscle memory that creates a deeper line of understanding than a 2D computer training course or a training film.

AR and MR are also being used within consumer based mobile apps. For example Ikea Place now has a feature that allows the potential buyer to see the scale and color of the item within their physical space before confirming the purchase.

Let’s zoom out 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 am speaking specifically to the United States’ technology industry, when I say that I am not satisfied with the status quo.

One powerful change is re-inventing the status quo around the work week. Instead of continuing our current work structure, I advocate for an additional day to be added to our current two-day weekend and shortening the 40 hour workweek to 30–36 hours. Nordic countries, like Iceland, Finland, and Norway have tested and begun to implement this structure with overwhelming success. It allows more time for people to recover and moves them farther away from burnout. This can lead to better decision making in leadership, stronger motivation in support roles, and a healthier environment for both male and female identifying people in STEM.

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

At the end of the day, digital reality, otherwise known as the metaverse, already exists! If you have any sort of social media account, email inbox, or use text messaging to communicate with others, you are a part of the digital reality. The growth and expansion within technology are how we can make digital reality mimic or take on aspects of physical reality. This is the root of industries like artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, virtual reality, and augmented reality. No one should feel isolated from technology because they do not have a technical background or education. The immersive and interactive expansion of digital reality is meant to serve people first. It is needed by all sorts of people from all different backgrounds and expertise, including performers, artists, storytellers, activists, and more!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech”?

  1. First, opportunities, projects, and collaborations will come and go. Release the ones that do not serve you. No need to hold on so tightly to something that is just not working out or serving your higher self.
  2. Second, you are not valued because of what you do or how you perform. You are awesome, valued, and loved because you exist. There is no need to be so competitive and sharp. What is meant for you is already yours.
  3. Third, stop running from pain and hurt by making yourself ridiculously busy and distracted. Siit in disappointment, frustration, and grief. Reflect on it, process it, know who you are despite it.
  4. Fourth, there is no such thing as lost time, only lessons to learn and lessons learned.
  5. Fifth, make the internal team’s experience as ethical, equitable, and enjoyable as the external audience’s experience.

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. 🙂

While working at TIME, I realized that my work is aimed at both the digital and physical dimensions, and I always consider accessibility and equality as a foundation in creating a new era of media. This in turn led me to realize that traditional journalism viewpoints are too constrained and distorted by colonial and capitalist mentality. My passion lies in telling stories about, and for, people who struggle to be represented in the media.

Compassionate storytelling is the rediscovery of ethical journalism through non-traditional mediums and honors the collaborators and the audience. The first pillar of compassionate storytelling is for journalists/performers to work with individuals/directors that have lived or have written powerful stories in a deeply collaborative manner. The second pillar of compassionate storytelling is to not only take special care of the story/performance but also to the guests/audience members experiencing the story. I strive to make compassionate storytelling and the hyper fusion of old and emerging storytelling techniques available to well-known storytellers. And also to push the emerging and diverse narratives to be accepted in the mainstream.

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.

Vicki Dobbs Beck, iLMxLabs

Wendy Anderson, Disney Imagineering

Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF Innovation

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 Michaela Holland was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Roberta Eisen Of Eisen Blackstone Group On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A…

Roberta Eisen Of Eisen Blackstone Group On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE YOUR BEST SELF THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS. Knowing that you will be making decisions that will impact the rest of your life and your children’s is reason enough to understand that one must do their best to stay focused and centered. Remember, these decisions will impact you and your children for the rest of your lives.

As a part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Roberta Eisen.

Roberta Eisen, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, is a master practitioner in coaching, mediation, counseling and consulting services for families. Over the past three decades, her expertise has assisted parents and children through the transitions of divorce and beyond. She is an Advanced Practitioner Member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, a member of the Association of Family Conciliation and Courts (AFCC), and a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. She served as the consultant to the American Psychological Association to create and implement the Program for Agreement and Cooperation in Contested Custody Cases for the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

The author of the curriculum for the Parenting Education Class for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Pittsburgh, Roberta also teaches parenting education classes and presents workshops on basic and advanced training in mediation and conflict resolution throughout the country.

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

Hi, I’m Roberta Eisen. I’m a grandmother, a mother, a woman in my third marriage, and a licensed professional counselor in educational psychology. My daughter Carly Blackstone and I founded the Eisen Blackstone Group to help families navigate the changes in our world today.

I come to this point in my life with about thirty years of experience helping families navigate changes through family courts and private practice.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a relatively normal family. My mother was an elementary school teacher and my father was a businessman who, like many World War II survivors, struggled with depression and remorse from leaving his Jewish parents behind in Germany.

I was lucky to grow up in the “Mister Rogers” era, and lived only miles away from the iconic educator himself. Educational television taught me early lessons about feelings and emotions that my parents reinforced with love at home.

I developed a penchant for music in the first grade, and by the time I turned 16 I earned a spot in professional summer stock and dreamt of pursuing a musical theater degree. My parents encouraged my dreams and aspirations, and believed that a performance degree would build a great foundation for a career on Broadway. So, after graduation and a lead role in The Gondoliers with the Chautauqua Opera Company, I moved to the city. I now live in Washington, D.C.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Shortly after my second marriage and with not much in the help wanted ads for a lyric soprano, I decided to attend graduate school. With two young girls from my first husband and a new marriage with children on both sides, I had found love in my second husband–my Prince Charming of the ’80s. We created the “Brady Bunch” family in a suburb of Pittsburgh and I knew all of our baggage would come along, but I was confident that we could work through it as we had found true love in one another.

What I learned during this marriage was that there had to be a better way to navigate divorce and life after divorce, other than family court. My ex-husband was a drug addict and was never around, but my husband’s ex was vindictive and took it out on her children. Unfortunately, the only option for parents at that time was the court and the court could not help parents learn how to work together for their children. It was a court of law, not a school. We now know from much of the literature of the last 30 years, that the working relationship of parents is directly related to the adjustment of children in the family. When parents remain at war, kids pay the price. If parents could not agree about the kids, they went to court. As the divorce rates began to surge in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the courts were not equipped to handle family matters that were often not about the law but about the family.

When I finished graduate school, the courts had just begun to add both education and mediation components to the court divorce process. This offered parents the opportunity to learn about the importance of making their own decisions for their own children. I was on the early frontier of these kinds of programs in Pittsburgh after earning my master’s degree in Educational Psychology. At the time, I met a family attorney who had researched the benefits of getting emotional support while going through a life transition such as divorce and she and I created a model to integrate the process of the law with the emotional aspects of divorce. Our goal was to define the best ways to achieve healthy outcomes for children and parents alike.

My passion lies in developing a curriculum for parents to teach them skills that could enable them to reach better decisions for their children, so that the parents can make decisions for their children rather than the court or a judge who would likely never meet the children in question.

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

One of the most interesting stories since starting my career involves the family program in Pittsburgh I helped to spearhead. The educational part had an adult and a children’s component: the education class consisted of a class for the adults, while children in the family between the ages of six to 15 years old attended a children’s group. While the adults were learning the importance of working together as parents, the children were supported by mental health professionals to learn that what was going on in their families was not their fault, and that they were not alone, as a lot of other kids were going through the same kinds of things in their families.

The court-ordered program was held on Saturday mornings and both parents and children were told that information shared in these groups was confidential and could not be used against anyone in future court actions.

Now the dilemma–in this case, an older boy disclosed that his father was dressing up like a woman and that’s why his mother wanted a divorce. His younger brother cried and told his brother that he was lying, but the older brother insisted it was true and shared that his mother had asked him not to tell anyone. Thankfully, he understood this group was a safe place for him to share this family secret with mental health professionals. After sharing the story, he was able to relinquish the stress and confusion he had brought with him to the group that Saturday morning. To observe the change was very rewarding for the child.

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

One of my first-high conflict mediations took place when I began as principal mediator on the family court docket:

After almost two hours of destructive communication between my clients, I ended the mediation and recommended these parents continue with the court process. As they stalked out of the room, I shared my feelings with a fellow mediator who had also just finished. I said, more loudly than I thought, “Even God couldn’t have helped these parents settle.” Unfortunately, others heard my comments as well and the next morning I was told how inappropriate, albeit likely accurate, my comments were as a professional mediator.

Although this happened early in my career and was not particularly funny, it was a humbling experience that taught me never to share my emotional reaction to the conflict aloud after mediation ended.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Life is always full of a lot of “Life Lesson Quotes” because a good life is full of a lot of options! Here are my favorites:

  • So what if it takes a bit longer to get to your dream? There are lots of different ways to get there and many things to learn along the way. As you navigate the journey, you are in control of your own narrative in your own mind and heart. As such, it is best to trust your own gut instincts.
  • I have a passion for life, for love and mostly for children: I think children are the absolute best gift in the world. I don’t think we appreciate how beautiful and precious one’s childhood is until we can look back and understand the journey of life and learning. Life is a plethora of lessons learned.

I am grateful to have always had optimism as part of my persona. My parents were survivors and I learned about resilience and flexibility early on. I learned to be strong and find a way to be happy because life goes way too fast. All of this has given me the strength and the courage to be authentic about my life, my marriages and my experience working with relationships.

One of the first things I learned in graduate school was to think about educational psychology as prevention counseling. If we gather information about something, we can feel more confident that we are making informed choices and thus be more in control of our lives.

It taught me to always have a plan, but to also be prepared to be flexible. Things happen in life for a reason; we may not know what it is at the time, but it will be clear someday. I guess to sum it all, my favorite quote is that of Gilda Ratner, a “Saturday Night Live” comedian who wrote a book that was published after her death by her late husband, Gene Wilder, “It is always something.” The title of her well known book seems to sum it all up. Life has a strange way of taking us on many journeys, but we must be ready to go along and learn from them all.

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

Yes! My daughter and co-founder of Eisen Blackstone Group Dr. Carly Blackstone and I are in the process of launching a non-profit organization to benefit those who need family services in the D.C. metropolitan area on a sliding scale. We both hold a passion for the D.C. population because we were involved in court programs here. The court can only try to implement the law, but families often need other services that are focused on developing healthy emotions and relationships. Unfortunately, the courts are not designed to properly care for the emotional aspects of family work. In D.C., the one family court program that existed lost funding at the beginning of the Trump administration and the court has yet to reestablish these much-needed services for families.

We have started work on the D.C. Institute for Children and our dream is to be an arm of the court to help families in D.C. navigate change. Family work is about protecting the well-being of children and I feel that many children are cheated of their precious and innocent childhoods because their parents are unwilling or unable to figure out better ways to navigate the complexity of families and relationships.

The courts will be backed up for years following the pandemic and we expect the number of cases coming to Court to continue to increase. The courts alone cannot handle the surge. The need for help and support increases all the time. The D.C Institute for Children is all about children: our vision is that it will be a place to learn about children’s needs, their development, and understanding how things feel from their perspective during family drama.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?

Divorce number one was to some extent easier. There were no custody issues, no support issues to be resolved and no scheduled time to be negotiated with their father. He had moved to New York to attend his third rehab program and the last responsibility he could deal with was one of being a parent.

Although there were no issues to present to the Court to resolve, it is difficult for children to understand why a parent leaves a family and goes away and remains unable to care for their children. In these cases, issues of dissertation and trust resonate with children for years after the divorce. The literature has told us however, with a good strong fellow parent, a child can learn to have the strength to navigate through life with one complete parent and one mentallly compromised parent. In these families, the strong parent gives the child enough inner strength and resilience to be able to compensate with what they have been given in life and not what they were missing.

My first ex-husband was my high school sweetheart, the drug addicted father of my children. I filed for divorce while he was in his third residential treatment center. I was left with two kids, a mortgage, no child support or alimony, but I figured it out somehow. I can remember the gong moment that was the actual turning point in my mind that told me it was time to file with the courts, as I had been advised.

I had spent that morning with a therapist telling her that although he was away and getting treatment, I knew that I needed to move on with my life, but there was so much uncertainty. I had been advised to file months prior but I kept waiting until I could be sure that he was going to be okay before he was served with papers in the treatment center. As I told her my plans, which were relatively nonspecific and avoidant, she asked me one of the most profound and important questions of my life: “What was I waiting for? What if that day never comes?”

That question was my real wake up call. What is the likelihood of him getting better or being okay in life? I knew in my heart that it was probably slim, as he had been troubled his whole life and had self-medicated with drugs at a young age to survive.

Divorce number two took me into fairytale land with my Prince Charming. My only regret is the emotional roller coaster that I put my girls on by remarrying for “love” alone, while compromising some of my values.

Although this marriage had a lot of fun times at the beginning before reality set in, living in a step family was way more difficult than they made it seem on the Brady Bunch. Life was not like the Brady Bunch and eventually we knew we were headed down the road of divorce again, each of us for the second time. This time the battles were different as the children were older; mostly they were emotional. Deep wounds that both of us had to come to terms with the fact; how could it be that love alone can not be enough for a marriage to survive?

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

From my perspective, the most common mistake occurs when individuals get swept up in the emotions that are associated with the loss of their relationship.

Divorce is a legal outcome that ends a legally binding and committed relationship. What is more important than the outcome of the divorce is the process of getting there–the discussions and negotiations of the relationship that lead to divorce. There are lots of ways to divorce and lots of different complexities, and no one process fits every family. Can the adults negotiate by themselves or do they need a third party to intervene and assist with reaching decisions? This is an important decision to answer before contacting a lawyer and “preparing for battle.”

Take time to think about the process and the goals that are important to you and the other parent, and be assured that your process is in sync with your goals.

People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positives that come out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?

One of our clients recently shared her divorce story on our blog, which highlighted the process and outcome of divorce as a “gift of peace.” Admitting that you are not your best self in a relationship, knowing what you need next on your journey, and separating takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage. Although ending a marriage may seem like it’s the ending of a love relationship, it is actually the start of two individuals’ new journey to love themselves. Whether children are in the picture or not, we are all our best selves when we listen to what we need.

Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?

It is my opinion that no one should be “getting back out there” until they know exactly what they are looking for in a partner. Before moving on to another relationship, the previous one needs to be completely ended. An extramarital relationship or affair can feel emotionally satisfying in the moment, but will only make things more complicated and is merely a symptom of a bad or unhealthy relationship where someone’s needs are not being met in the first place.

I would say that it is time to begin dating again when you truly know who you are, what you need in your life, and understand what kinds of things make you truly happy.

Dating for fun and experience can be healthy, as sometimes, you don’t know what you like until you try something different. For example, if someone had told me that I would end up with a wonderful man from Oklahoma City, I would have told them that they were crazy! The fact that he is a smart, kind, loving, generous man from a wonderful family is what really is important to me, but in my younger years, we most likely would have never have been able to connect due to perceived differences. After my second divorce, I needed a break from it all and concentrated on finally finding myself. That led me to the surprising man (and cowboy!) of my dreams.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

During a divorce, it is so important to be present. I find that looking at ourselves in the mirror makes this easier. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently so that I can achieve a different outcome?” Make yourself an active participant in your journey to achieve the results you seek.

The emotional roller coaster of life can get us spinning around into the blame game, or the good/bad syndrome. It is easy to feel sorry for one’s self or even hold on to blaming the other person for things of which we were also responsible. Remember that a couple consists of two people: the behavior of one directly affects the reaction of the other and vice versa. The only change you can count on is the one that you begin yourself.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

#1. DETERMINE YOUR PRIMARY OBJECTIVE GOING THROUGH THIS DIVORCE. What is the most important thing to you while you negotiate with your former partner? For example, the children, money, revenge, possessions, to name a few.

#2. CHOOSE ANY/ALL LEGAL AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS CAREFULLY. Ensure the professionals you choose to aid in your divorce have goals that align with your objectives. Are you leading the process or do you feel as if the professionals are driving the process? The legal process can be either lawyer or client-driven during divorce, so be sure you know which you prefer.

#3. FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE YOUR BEST SELF THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS. Knowing that you will be making decisions that will impact the rest of your life and your children’s is reason enough to understand that one must do their best to stay focused and centered. Remember, these decisions will impact you and your children for the rest of your lives.

#4. BEWARE OF THE COURTS AND USE THEM ONLY WHEN NECESSARY AND IN CASES OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT. A judge that has most likely never met your child, doesn’t know your child in the same way that a parent does, and could never make good decisions as the parents. Whenever possible, use mediation as alternatives to court, and stay open to knowledge and guidance to help your family reach healthy outcomes for all.

#5. NEGOTIATE A PLAN THAT WILL WORK FOR YOUR FAMILY BEYOND THE DIVORCE AND LEARN TO SHIFT FROM A MARRIAGE TO A BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP. Conducting life moving forward as a business relationship will keep the focus on the children you and your ex-partner both love and help make the best decisions for them.

The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?

Take the time to think about what you learned from this relationship. This reflection can help ease some of the stress of divorce: What are the things you liked and what are the things you learned after you were in the relationship that you know now you must pay attention to before committing to another monogamous relationship? List the pros and cons so that your list can be clear as to what you may be looking for the next time. Learn what you can live with and what you cannot. This can help to make sense during both the process and outcome of the divorce.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers

When I first trained as a mediator in the early ’90s, the first book was our required reading. Over the years, I have found that the core of every successful relationship is the capacity to negotiate differences. Empathy and flexibility are key aspects to compassionate and successful outcomes.

The second book is bound to help us all in every aspect of our life.

Because of the position that you are in, 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 create a movement towards Compassionate Divorce, divorces that are kind and loving, divorces that have better outcomes for children. Mister Rogers wrote and talked about divorce many years ago and I believe that we must follow his words today. Be kind to the other parent; you are both parents to your children forever. My intention is to teach adults the importance of learning to divorce in the most compassionate way possible. The Compassionate Divorce can allow everyone in the family to live happily ever after and for the benefit of the children.

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 love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would like my task force that we have created to begin working on the D.C. Institute for Children to meet with First Lady Jill Biden. I am convinced that her love and passion for education and children will help us to provide a better, more stable and certain structure for children in the future.

My goal is to look at the silver lining that this pandemic has shed upon many of us to refocus us on what really matters to us most: our children.

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!


Roberta Eisen Of Eisen Blackstone Group On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ross Shafer On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Consistency: I mentored a talented young speaker who was finally getting some companies to pay him to speak. When I first saw him, he was fun and articulate. I thought he had bright future. The second time I saw him, he tanked. He blamed it on the audience. The third time I saw him, he was Okay. Not bad. But not great. Afterward, he told me he was having an “off day.” I said, “Professional speakers don’t have “off days.” We are being paid to deliver a solid message every time. And the time you blamed your failure on the audience was assigning blame to the wrong people. It is not the audience’s responsibility to make you great. That’s on you.” Effective speakers take responsibility for making the speech great without excuses, every time.

At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ross Shafer.

Ross Shafer is a former headlining standup comedian and Emmy winning talk and game show host. Ross is an in-demand Keynote speaker with 2,500 paid speeches under his belt. He was awarded the CPAE Designation from the Professional Speakers Association. Ross has written (11) books on performance, customer friction, and leadership. Ross’s latest book (2021), co-authored by Allison Dalvit, is titled: “RATTLED — Crazy A** Stories of Extreme Resilience.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Oregon and Washington State. My parents were very funny people and they entertained their friends every weekend. My dad wanted me to contribute to the family fun. So, as a 7-year-old, my parents enrolled me in accordion lessons. Countless times, my dad would wake me up at midnight to come down and have me play “Lady of Spain” for his coworkers. The instrument weighed 20 pounds more than me so by the 7th grade I had enough lawn mowing money to buy an electric guitar and form a band with three friends. The upside of “performing” so young was that I never had stage fright. That gave me an edge when I ran for Hr. High School treasurer and secretary — and later as the student body president in High School.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

After college I was determined to become a millionaire. (I had no idea how to do that). Armed with a business degree, my plan was to buy bankrupt businesses, fix them up, and sell them. I bought and sold 23 of them. It was exhausting so I sold them all and began working as an advertising director for a chain of clothing stores and went to a comedy club one night. I loved it! I had grown up in a family of funny story tellers so I could do standup comedy! I had no fear so I went to open mic nights for a few months and eventually won a major comedy competition in Seattle. That led to a career as a touring comedian with Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Eddie Rabbitt, Crystal Gayle, and Three Dog Night. Before long, I got the attention of TV producers and I created a very successful comedy show called ALMOST LIVE. Several Emmys later, I had hosted MATCH GAME for ABC, DAYS END for ABC, THE LATE SHOW ON FOX, and LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT for USA. About a thousand shows later, the comedy boom fizzled and I found myself looking for work. I combined my two most successful skills…repairing broken businesses and standup comedy. Before long, I found plenty of work as a corporate keynote speaker.

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

The perks of being a highly effective public speaker is being able to travel all over the world and have your client pay for it. Not only have been paid obscene fees for my talks…but I’ve been flown first class to give speeches in Paris, France, London, England, Johannesburg, South Africa, Dharan & Riyad, Saudi Arabia, and Vienna, Austria. For me, the most surreal experience was having lunch in the Vienna, Austria Opera House where Mozart gave concerts!

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 got a 60-minute speaking assignment for the Minneapolis, MN Chamber of Commerce. The job paid $1,000; which was a fortune at the time. I had been booked as the main stage attraction at The Mall of America. At that time, the MOA was the largest shopping mall in the United States. What a kickoff for my corporate speaking career! When I was led to the massive stage, I noticed that the elevated platform fifteen feet off the ground and the 100 Chamber of Commerce members were seated in metal folding chairs 40 feet away. I started to talk and realized that whatever sound squeaked from the tiny Public Address system rose to the 100 foot ceiling to be sucked into the super mall’s AC system. I was also competing with thousands of chattering shoppers choking the hallways. I heard no laughs. I saw no smiles. I did see a fair amount of Chamber members get up and leave. Even though I was dying on stage, I pretended I was charmed and thrilled to be there. When I had burned through all of my material, I said “Thank you” and left the stage. The Chamber President was furious as he caught me at the bottom of the stage stairs, “You’ve got to get back up there!” What? He informed me that my contracted 60 minutes of material had dissolved in about 24 minutes. What did I learn? Before I say, “Yes” to any gig, I need more details. How high is the ceiling? Is the sound system loud enough for the space? How close are the chairs to the stage? Are there any distractions in the room i.e., noisy shoppers fighting over sale items?

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?

Nobody succeeds alone. As the opening act I was exposed to accomplished headliners. These pros could see I was working hard and was curious about their “journey.” Early on, I got a lot of encouragement from a comedy team of Mack Dryden and Jamie Alcroft. Seattle comedians Mike Neun and George Miller were mentors who guided me to my first network TV appearance. Once I was on the casino circuit, Jay Leno became a pal and his friendship made big time standup success accessible for me. When I got into the professional speaking business, a very successful Dallas based humorist named Joe Griffith taught me what specific marketing tools I needed to crack the corporate market. (join the National Speakers Sssociation and have a hilarious cassette tape).

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Yes, if you want to become a successful public speaker, be bold. Be willing to write original material you a corporation would like to hear. I say “corporate” because business organizations will pay for a public speaker if you are amazing. What do you talk about? Write about your own experiences but focus on a topic that will help them either make more money or save money. Then, ask your local service clubs if you can give your speech (for free) to the Jaycees, Kiwanis Clubs, The Elks, clubs, the Shriners, the Moose Lodge, or any church that offers business classes. Offer to speak at a Community College business class. Here’s the hard part. You will have to give 90–100 speeches for free before anyone will pay you. Why so many? You have to get good. You have to practice your stage presence. You have to practice the structure of your speech. You have to be able to intelligently field questions from the audience. How will you know you are ready to charge money for your talk? When someone comes up to you after a speech and says, “My group would really enjoy your message. What do you charge?”

What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

In the beginning my motivation was “Can I make enough money at public speaking to replace the income from my “day job.” After I was able to achieve that I began to ask myself, “Nobody wants to hear another public speaker…unless I can add value to their day or to their life.” It is a privilege to be paid to speak to an audience and I take that responsibility seriously. My life has been a roller coaster. I’ve been rich. I’ve been dead broke. I’ve been rich again. So my principle message is about resilience and how to get back up again after life has crushed you.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

Myself and my co-author, Allison Dalvit, just finished my 11th book: “RATTLED — Crazy A** Stories of Extreme Resilience to Help You go from Shook To Solid.” This is the book we always wanted to write for our five children. RATTLED is a jagged tour of our lives…the tragedies….the triumphs…and how we got back up when our collective asses got kicked hard. Every writer who has made a living ‘writing on assignment’ has always wanted to finally sit down a write a tale they think needs to be written…without worrying if it will be a commercial success or not. For us, this was an 19-month project we did during the Covid lockdown. We are extraordinarily happy with how it turned out.

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

Every new comedian or struggling Public Speaker experiments with their on stage persona or “character.” They see someone successful and think they must model that person’s charisma or style. If you do, you will never be successful borrowing someone else’s persona — and you will always feel like a fraud. When you are onstage, be the same person you are offstage. Audiences are very savvy and they want 100% authenticity from you.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?”

1. Confidence: When I first went to comedy clubs, I was curious to see why some comedians snagged the headliner spot (highest paid) while others were stuck for years as “opening acts.” Confidence was the differentiator. I admired how comedians like Kip Adotta, Steve Bluestein, and Franklin Ajaye took full command of their material. That confidence put their audience at ease. When I went onstage, my (practiced) confidence made me look like I’d been doing standup comedy for years. It took awhile for my material to be as strong as my confidence but you get the idea. Unless you are raining buckets of flop sweat, as an aspiring public speaker, you should remember your nervousness is most likely invisible to an audience. Act confident. Practice your material so you can deliver it flawlessly. Appear to know what you are doing…even if you are still learning.

2. Structure: As a young comedian I was hired as the opening act for deep-voiced singer Lou Rawls. One night he came into my dressing room to give me some advice. Lou said, “You have some funny stuff but you need some structure, man. Your funniest bits are in the middle and your act gets weaker at the end. If you want people to remember you, you have to have an unforgettable closer. Like me, I build the show backwards. I want an encore so I end my act with my strongest, tightest material. But man, I also want the audience to like me right away so I start my show with my 2nd strongest material. That way, I’ve got them on my side up front and I can do whatever I want in the middle; knowing I will always close the show with something big.” Today, in my speeches, I am always careful to make sure my closing words are quotable…hopefully unforgettable.

3. Credibility: When I first started speak to business audiences, I would set up a premise and then shape my opinion to either agree or disagree with the premise. One time, I told a group of fitness club owners, “If you want to be successful, you must back up your lies with the truth. Say “YES!” to everything and then figure out how to pull it off later.” I thought it was a clever and challenging idea. But in the Q & A portion of the speech, audience members wanted to know more. What proof did I have to back up that claim? I learned immediately that if I was going to make an audacious statement like that I needed to back it up with evidence, facts, and research. If you don’t, you risk your precious credibility. After that, I still used that challenging premise but I included case studies of why it worked and how to use it effectively.

4. Consistency: I mentored a talented young speaker who was finally getting some companies to pay him to speak. When I first saw him, he was fun and articulate. I thought he had bright future. The second time I saw him, he tanked. He blamed it on the audience. The third time I saw him, he was Okay. Not bad. But not great. Afterward, he told me he was having an “off day.” I said, “Professional speakers don’t have “off days.” We are being paid to deliver a solid message every time. And the time you blamed your failure on the audience was assigning blame to the wrong people. It is not the audience’s responsibility to make you great. That’s on you.” Effective speakers take responsibility for making the speech great without excuses, every time.

5. Humility: I knew a car salesman who had such a heartfelt rags-to-riches story that a major Hollywood star played him in what would become a hit movie. That kind of exposure transformed this sales guy into highly demanded public speaker. Audiences everywhere were excited to meet the real-life version of the man they admired in the movie. The problem was this guy was an insufferable jerk to everyone he met. He felt so entitlement that when I met him, he thought he was too important to be talking to a group of garden tool manufacturers. His sour reputation went viral and within months, his speaking career had fizzled. If you are being paid a lot of money to simply talk to people, you are one of the luckiest people on the planet. My humble advice is to be nice to everybody, all of the time. Realize that a large public audience also has the ability to talk…about you.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Everyone — even experienced public speakers get nervous. Johnny Carson, a man who hosted the Tonight Show for 30 years, was a tennis player whose resting heart rate was 65 beats per minute. One night Johnny’s doctor took his heartrate fifteen seconds before Johnny went through his very familiar stage curtain. His heart raced at 145 beats per minute. Here’s the lesson. Johnny’s nervousness was invisible. Nobody saw anything but a cool, collected Johnny Carson. People don’t notice your nerves either. Secondly, memorize the first five words you intend to say. Just five words. Once you start talking, you’ll realize you can continue the rest of your talk.

You are a person of huge 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?

This was a question my coauthor and I thought about a lot when writing RATTLED. It was cathartic writing gut wrenching stories we had locked away for decades. We would like to start a movement where OTHER PEOPLE would have a place to tell THEIR stories of triumph over tragedy — a series of RATTLED books for teens, grandparents, couples, etc. We don’t want other people’s life lessons to be lost to their own families. There is a legacy in every family. A legacy that would inspire children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to know how their ancestors lived, loved, worked, and survived.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens! David Letterman. For years, Dave and I corresponded and I visited him at his house (with our mutual comedian friend George Miller). After all this time, I would like to talk to him again.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

TWITTER: @rossshafer

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/Ross-Shafer

Ross Shafer INSTAGRAM: RossShafer

LinkedIn ross@rossshafer

YOUTUBE.com/user/rossshafer

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


Ross Shafer On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dr Eli Shapiro On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be Edutaining: My authentic style is to mix jokes in so my audiences are both educated and entertained. If you want your audience to internalize an idea, or be inspired to make a behavioral change they can’t be wondering when you are going to be done speaking. They need to be engaged and on their toes focused on what you are saying and wondering what you are going to say next.

At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Eli Shapiro.

Dr. Eli Shapiro (elishapiro.com) is a licensed clinical social worker with a doctorate in education and specialists certificate in educational leadership. Dr. Eli is the creator and director of The Digital Citizenship Project (thedigitalcitizenship.com), an Adjunct Professor for the City University of New York and a Trustee of the Queens Borough Public Library. He is a graduate of the Azrieli school of Education and Administration, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Touro College and holds two licenses in school administration through the Queens College post graduate Educational Leadership Program. Dr. Eli has presented to tens of thousands of parents, school faculty and mental health professionals in communities across North America.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Brooklyn NY as an underachieving student with an overachieving imagination and delusions of growing up to be the next great starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. At some point I had the realization that a 50 mile per hour fastball against my Brooklyn stoop with no opposing batter wasn’t going to result in getting a call up from the Yankees, so college became the next logical career path.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always had an interest in mental health and social emotional functioning as well as a healthy dose of oppositional tendencies to the status quo. During graduate school and early in my career I focused on substance abuse amongst adolescents and promoted educational programming in communities that were traditionally resistant to open dialogues around controversial topics. The relationship between substance abuse and overall emotional well-being led me to work in school settings with a focus on the affective domain of education and student support though social programming like bully prevention and promoting positive peer relations. While doing my research for my doctorate the sudden proliferation of portable technology and explosion of social media brought into focus the issues associated with cyberbullying and technologies overall impact on human functioning. This became the subject of my dissertation, the core foundation for the creation of The Digital Citizenship Project and although always evolving, has continued to serve as the source of content for the vast majority of my public lectures.

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

I don’t know if this is the most interesting story but it was impactful for me. A number of years ago a former patient came over to me to share how something I shared with him completely changed his outlook on his children’s behavior. He shared that it was eye-opening for him to hear me say that based on the family history, biological pre-disposition may be contributing to some of the challenges they were facing with their child. I couldn’t believe that such a basic concept of child growth and development would be both a novel concept for him and serve as a source of influence in his understanding of his child. One of the challenges of developing a targeted area of knowledge is that when something becomes so obvious to you it’s hard to imagine that could possibly be a new idea or of interest to someone else. As a public speaker there is natural concern that what you have to share may be obvious to your audience, because it’s obvious to you. This story serves as a reminder to me, to paraphrase TED, there are so many ideas worth sharing.

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

When I look back on some of my earliest lectures I laugh at how I took on the persona of a “stoic mental health professional”. I believed that in order for 25 year old me to be convincing I had a to carry myself in a way that just wasn’t me. Serious topics required serious people to talk about them. So I guess my earliest mistake was trying to be something other than me. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give for being a successfully engaging speaker is to be authentic. Being authentic is so much more important than being dynamic. Not everyone can be dynamic, funny, entertaining or brilliant, but everyone can be authentic.

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 contributed toward inspiring me and paving the path toward the success of my work, but if I had to pinpoint a watershed moment where someone opened the door that directly led to where I am today it would be Aviva Hoch, Director of Magen, a not-for-profit educational organization in Queens NY. Not long after completing my doctorate I was asked on a pretty regular basis to deliver “Internet Safety” speeches for parents in the NY area. Most of the requests were talk about the dangers of the internet and the graphic content therein. Perhaps it was my aforementioned opposition to the status quo but my perspective was that these one off speeches on a myopic angle of technology’s impact on functioning were ineffective in yielding the desired results of individual and systemic change. When Mrs. Hoch asked me to speak for some schools in Queens I shared my perspective with her and she challenged me by saying if you think it should be done differently stop saying it should be done differently and do it. If we need a curriculum; write a curriculum. If the focus needs to be on overall functioning; make it on overall functioning. She didn’t only challenge me to do it, she financed the development of the first draft of the curriculum and presentation content. Without her initial push, The Digital Citizenship Project would have never happened and that makes up about 90% of my public speaking engagements.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Stephen Covey talks about beginning with the end in mind, and that works for projects, but a career path is not “a” project, it’s the collection of a series of projects and opportunities both taken and not taken. I never would have predicted that in any given year thousands of people would leave their warm comfortable homes and gather in rows in a building to hear what I had to say. In fact as an adolescent I was often encouraged to keep my mouth shut. The current state of my career is simply the result of the many projects I have been involved with over the years. And the truth is when it came to projects I was never worried about failure. The only thing that I worried about is whether I would be able to look back on my effort and be able to say I put in 110% percent. So my advice would be, if you think something is worth doing make sure you committed to giving it your all, and a little bit more. You don’t always get the results you want, but there should never be doubt that the reason something failed was because you didn’t put in the effort.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

I am energized by communities. I love visiting them. Working with communal leaders. And helping to elevate the conversation on complex issues with the goal of improving functioning. I have been fortunate to visit and work with hundreds of school and community leaders across dozens of cities across north and central America and love learning about both the similarities and differences of the human experience. If I had to sum up my message in a couple of words it would be “Thoughtful and Deliberative”. Whether talking about personal technology habits, parenting, relationships, productivity, well-being, it all comes down elevating your own levels of self-awareness and engaging in behaviors that enhance your functioning rather than serve as an intrusion. So the main message is be thoughtful and deliberative.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

More than anything, I see myself as a connector. When I am speaking or consulting I am connecting audiences and clients to information and resources. When working with organizations, there are so many talented individuals and organizations that do wonderful work to help people and communities flourish I want to connect them with other individuals and organizations that can complement each other’s work. Currently I am involved in bringing together 5 independent organizations in the technology education and management space and putting them under 1 umbrella as a direct multifaceted resource for communities. We are running a pilot in the Crown Heights community of Brooklyn NY and hope that this model can be replicated in communities across North America.

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

There are so many cliches that I can give you but I am a big fan of Dr. Adam Grant so I will create a life lesson quote from the titles of 3 of his books “be an original thinking giver”. Adam Grant’s wisdom informs so much of what I do professionally. 1. Be original. Recycling the same information that may or may not be accurate never “moved the world”. 2. Think Again. To be an original thinker you have to question your previous assumptions and be open to new data or ideas. 3. Be a giver. In addition being the right thing to do, giving actually drives success rather than inhibits it. As a researcher, speaker and advocate, I try to actualize these concepts in both my personal and professional life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be authentic: Early in my career I took a stoic mental health professional persona for my public speeches. Afterall it was serious business. Although my content was fine, it just wasn’t me a resulted in, at best, adequate speeches. I was once about to speak om the topic of digital responsibility to an audience of 400 people (my largest audience up to that point) and I felt I needed something different. Something that was more me. So I stepped up to the podium, took a moment to survey the audience who all looked back at me in silent, serious anticipation and I turned my back to them, took out my cell phone and began to position for a selfie. The audience immediately recognized the irony of the behavior relative to the topic and started to laugh. Before actually taking the selfie I turned around and hit them with a follow up punch line by asking them, all 400, “can you all squeeze in a bit”?. More laughter. I turned around and took the selfie. That was the moment that my authentic presenting style emerged.
  2. Be Edutaining: My authentic style is to mix jokes in so my audiences are both educated and entertained. If you want your audience to internalize an idea, or be inspired to make a behavioral change they can’t be wondering when you are going to be done speaking. They need to be engaged and on their toes focused on what you are saying and wondering what you are going to say next.
  3. Don’t let them know you’re telling a joke until they hear the punchline: I strategically place jokes at different points during a speech. While professional comedians try to increase their laughs per minute, my goal is to use jokes to keep the audience focused on the content. To that end, the setup for my jokes sound like any on information I might be sharing with my audience, but the punchline is an unexpected turn that they didn’t see coming until after I said it.
  4. Know your content; know your audience: As a presenter, you are balancing the information you want to share with your audiences expectations, prior knowledge, and social norms and expectations. For that reason I encourage the groups that hire me to speak to send out a short survey in advance of my presentations so I can take the temperature of the participants. I always look at the title and any descriptions or correspondence that sponsoring organization may have sent out see exactly how they are promoting the event, and I will try to have short conversations with audience members prior to speaking. All this gives me the tools I need to maximize the likelihood that my message will be best received by attendees.
  5. Connect with your audience: As speakers our goal is to influence our audience in thought or action and according to Adam Grant the two fundamental paths to influence are “dominance and prestige”. Dominant influence is gained through being powerful and authoritative, while prestige, a significantly more potent form of influence, is achieved through respect and admiration. People respect and admire people they feel a connection with so joining in a struggle with your audience or expressing self-deprecating vulnerabilities will open your audiences up to what you have to say. Early in my speech, when the audience has not quite loosened up yet, I may ask “who here loves technology?” Very few people will raise their hand. Not because they don’t love technology, but because they have been conditioned to sit quietly when someone is lecturing from a stage. But there’s always one or two that will cautiously raise their hand, so I will survey the audience a reply “so only me and the guy in the back love technology”. I get a laugh, and I get connection and prestige based influence.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Speaking in public, like skydiving is not for everyone and I’m not sure where the sense of needing to overcome certain fears or discomforts comes from. One can live an incredibly rich and satisfying life without public speaking and skydiving. If however one feels that their opportunities are being held back because of this fear the only way to get over it is to prepare thoroughly, throw yourself into the abyss and repeat until you are no longer terrified.

You are a person of huge 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?

I wish I had the answer to that. I don’t really think in terms of big movements but I do believe that the rapid advancements in technology simultaneously serve as both a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous hazard for nearly everyone on the planet. If we could be more thoughtful and deliberative in the development, distribution and consumption of technology, I think we would all be better off both individually and societally.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Dr. Adam Grant see above. Would love to have that happen.. His email address is grantad@wharton.upenn.edu Twitter: @adamMgrant

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Elishapiro.com

Twitter: @DrEliShapiro

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


Dr Eli Shapiro On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Wayne Brewer Of Brewgrass Entertainment: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader…

Wayne Brewer Of Brewgrass Entertainment: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Make sure that you secure a good line of capital to fund whatever project that you are doing. Always think ahead and keep reserves to fall back on during difficult times. When the pandemic started, touring was taken from us, we had funds previously set aside to use for promotions.

As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Wayne Brewer.

Wayne Brewer is the CEO and co-founder of Brewgrass Entertainment. He manages the legendary Billboard chart-topping American-roots music group Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers, overseeing SGM Records and Brewgrass Entertainment Studios as well. Brewer does much more than the business side of things in his work; he is also a 6th generation musician and long-time member of his family band. Wayne has received critical praise as a vocalist, bassist & fiddle player with the group as well. Wayne took over as CEO in 2012 and under his management, the band has been taken to new heights of success. Their most recent album release 40th Anniversary Celebration charted on Billboard at №1 for 16 weeks, staying in the top 5 for 72 weeks (according to MRC data 40th Anniversary Celebration has sold around 60K verified units) and was submitted to the initial round of the 63rd GRAMMY Awards in 6 categories.

The band was later submitted to the 64th GRAMMY Awards initial round for “Best New Artist” (recognizing the band’s 40-year career, its second wind of new life with new generations of Brewers, and their largest mainstream breakthrough success to date. New and exciting things are still to come under the leadership of Wayne Brewer.

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

I’ve enjoyed music all my life. My career in the entertainment industry started at the young age of 18 months old. My dad (Gary Brewer) brought me into the studio to record on one of his CDs (Memories of Home) singing lead and playing guitar on “Y’all Come” (alongside my dad and grandpa Finley J. Brewer). Because of my early start, I was awarded the honor of “The Youngest Recording Artist” in the Guinness Book of World Records. I was also blessed with the opportunity to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and I was again awarded a world record in the Guinness Book; this one was for “The Youngest Artist to Perform on the Grand Ole Opry Stage.” Since then, I went on the road with my dad and his band as much as possible. At 7-years-old my mom finally let me tour with the group without her accompanying me. I really wanted to be a full-time touring member of the group, so I pulled my dad off to the side and asked when I could do that. He told me when I was able to learn all his music, and play it as good or better than who he had at the moment, I could have a shot at it. About a month later, he had a show in Arkansas; I asked to play with them as I knew he was looking for a bass fill-in for that show. He told me that he’d love to have me, but there was just no way I was up to par that quickly. I practiced day and night. After several weeks, I had my dad listen to my bass playing, and he hired me on the spot. We all jumped in the bus, and on the trip there, the guys were asking who was going to be the bass stand-in at the show. Dad told them he had hired me; they all said things like “ahh okay” and “alright, sounds good,” but I could tell nobody really knew what to think. Next thing, we were on stage. The guys and all the fans accepted me with a warm embrace and proud smiles. I was already exactly where I was meant to be when I was just 14-years-old. I still look at that night as a vital highlight of my career.

In 2012, I decided that I wanted to expand our business by incorporating all of our entities into one large company as an entertainment industry “one-stop-shop,” thus Brewgrass Entertainment was born and I was given the opportunity to become CEO. Since 2018, I’ve been a very proud endorsing artist for NS Design basses, fiddles, and now guitars; a partnership that helps further my career in many ways. I have and I still very much enjoy touring, traveling, and seeing the world; and feel very blessed to do so along with my wife, family, and support from many friends and fans. Early on, I was very interested in and thought it was important to learn all aspects of the music business inside and out, top to bottom. I’ve been able to experience those various parts by learning them for myself. Since then I have toured all over the world, recorded, booked, managed, produced multiple projects (for myself, the group, and others) that have garnered critical praise, won awards, and been in contention for multiple IBMA and GRAMMY Awards. I’m proud to be a voting member of the Recording Academy, IEBA, AMA, and IBMA. Most importantly, I’m able to make a living doing what I love. Speaking of love… in 2014 I met my beautiful and talented wife (Alyssa). We fell in love, and while dating I discovered she had a lot of abilities and traits that I knew would work well in our business, so I introduced her to all that we do. She is now the COO of Brewgrass Entertainment along with her own publicity, web design, and event management company (also included under the Brewgrass Entertainment umbrella). In addition to working together in the music business, I have been a life-long martial artist alongside my family and wife. I find it captivating for my mind, body, and spirit; a great way to stay in shape, relieve stress, and of course, learn self-defense. I also enjoy collecting and restoring old vintage cars. I have restored and now own a 1968 Torino GT Fastback. For many years, we talked about having our own recording studio (built on the family farm) in one of the warehouses where we store our entertainer coach (tour bus). In 2020, we built a state-of-the-art recording studio to our specs; which was another life-long dream checked off the list. My dad, my brother (Mason, who is also an audio engineer), and I write, record, and produce projects for ourselves and others.

I have been training for this job my whole life under the tutelage of my father, and am pleased with what has happened so far. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for me in this business.

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

When I first started, I had the crazy idea that no one could do anything better than I could do it myself. I loaded myself down with all the work and wouldn’t delegate any of it. I soon found out that is not the way to do things; it’s too stressful and taxing on a person to do it all. I eventually delegated the work out to the team and taught them as I would do it. Now, we each have a more efficient workflow and less stressful workload.

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

The first person that comes to mind that I’m grateful toward for all his help getting me to where I am is, of course, my dad (Gary Brewer). He passed the family legacy down to me, giving me the opportunity to prove myself as a businessman, manager, and CEO initially. Even still, if I have any questions, he is my mentor and business partner in all things Brewgrass. From the day I was born, my dad has taught me everything he knows and in a lot of ways, we are just alike. That’s why me being Gary Wayne Brewer Jr. is so fitting! He was always “the guy” that did it all and over time he saw fit to pass that responsibility on to me. Due to his belief in me, his guidance, and his mentorship, I have been able to take the business to heights never imagined.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I started our parent company “Brewgrass Entertainment” to house all of our entities (Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers, the management company, the live concert production company, and our record label SGM Records) in order to have a central point of control and contact. My vision is to continue to promote and preserve in the interest of furthering our family’s musical legacy into future generations.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Truthfully, for me, normal times and difficult times are treated the same. In other words, as a professional in the music and entertainment business, I haven’t changed my mindset because the music business always has been and always will be ever-changing and uncertain. I keep my team’s and my own focus on the task at hand no matter what may be happening around us. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we still do our conference-style meetings on video calls (if in-person is not an option) to keep everyone on the same page while being very transparent with what our common goal is. The key to an achieved goal is to have a good team working toward it. In uncertain times, we stay our regular course having a clear vision of what we are trying to accomplish. When we found out about the shutdown and pandemic, there were a lot of cancellations and postponements that heavily impacted our largest source of income (touring) that directly affected other areas of the business financially. Knowing the “40th Anniversary Celebration Tour” was being postponed, instead of pushing our 40th Anniversary Celebration CD release, we made the decision to go ahead as scheduled, unlike most everyone else in the industry that held their releases until a later date. Because of that decision, 2020/2021 turned out to be our most successful years to date. You are always changing and updating your business model as far as how to run things better, but at the end of the day… don’t let it change your end goal.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I think everybody has thoughts in the back of their mind about the grass being greener somewhere else, even if they say they haven’t. I have never considered giving up. There is a difference between having those thoughts and entertaining those thoughts, but no I have never given up on anything I’ve ever started. I’ve always had an above-average work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents (Gary & Lesia Brewer) and grandpa (Finley J. Brewer) from a very young age. As I got older, my desire for success only grew because I now have my wife (Alyssa Brewer) by my side. We are what people like to call an “entrepreneur power couple”. So my motivation came from my family as a kid and throughout my life growing up. My wife helps sustain my drive from day to day as the COO of Brewgrass Entertainment and we share the same passion for our joint career. In addition, keeping the business thriving and growing for future generations definitely sustains my drive to do more.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to be a strong motivator and good support system.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Create more short-term goals than long-term goals, BUT always keep the ultimate goal in mind. Especially if everyone is working remotely rather than all together in person. You have to have a victory every now and then. I like for us to celebrate all wins rather than just the big ones. Keeping short-term goals and celebrating small wins too will keep everyone positive and working toward the end goal.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

In my experience, the best way to communicate difficult news to the team is to be direct and try to get straight to the point. It also helps to get the bad news out of the way and have some good news sprinkled in after the fact to soften the bad, if possible.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

I have always thought and lived differently than most people, I would say. The future is always unpredictable and you have to just live day to day, minute to minute, stick to the plan, and keep going. Make adjustments when necessary, but don’t let anything knock you off the course.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Yes. To me, the number one principle is to always be professional. No matter what is going on in the world or in each individual’s life, it’s important to be a positive influence, have a respectful presence, and stay on task.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

1) Focusing too much on what is going wrong rather than on the job. You have to keep your mind on what you are trying to accomplish above all else.

2) Not setting aside funds for difficult times. You should be able to enjoy your success, but don’t bask in it too much so you can have reserve during uncertain times.

3) Changing the business model too much. There are adjustments needed for specific situations, but never let the work stop.

4) Too many employees to begin with. Sometimes you have more success with a smaller boutique-style company that you can connect with rather than a huge staff. When difficult times come around, it is easier to keep morale up and funds flowing to fewer people.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

One of the strategies that I have always done to drive sales is to keep promotions flowing. When our entire touring season was pulled out from under us because of the pandemic, it got rid of the most prominent form of promotion; getting out in front of people to perform. Basically, I did the opposite of everyone else and put the money toward publicity and other promotion outlets aside from touring. When you lose 90% of your presence with your fans, you have to invest twice or three times as much in yourself to stay in front of everyone and relevant to drive merch and cd sales. The old saying is true “out of sight, out of mind.” Promotion is key.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Keep your team motivated, stay positive, and have a good professional work atmosphere. Our team had a rough time at the start of the COVID 19 pandemic because we lost a very important member of our team (my grandpa, Finley J.), but we all used that loss as motivation because we knew that he wanted us to go on and continue the family legacy.

2) Make sure that you secure a good line of capital to fund whatever project that you are doing. Always think ahead and keep reserves to fall back on during difficult times. When the pandemic started, touring was taken from us, we had funds previously set aside to use for promotions.

3) Be a trendsetter and don’t jump on the bandwagon. What works for other people might not work for you. It was our decision to go ahead with our original schedule in releasing our 40th Anniversary album; including a virtual CD release party and other promotions. Other artists didn’t release their projects and held their music for years. We are happy with our choice.

4) Encourage your team to find an outlet to relieve stress outside of work to keep things at work good and flowing. Everyone needs to find something to use as a release whether that’d be working out or other hobbies, it’s up to each person.

5) Find employees that are dedicated to your business and have the desire to do the work. Dedication is needed to do good work. Our day-to-day operations depend on our dedication and drive to do great things. Our whole team has a joint passion for this business.

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

You would probably have to know me personally to fully appreciate this quote; A quote of my own that I use a lot: “If you don’t like it…love it.” -Wayne Brewer.

That can apply to yourself as a leader or your team members. If an employee comes to you having a bad day, dreading something they have to do, we say “If you don’t like it…love it.” It can be taken as a lighthearted joke and serious at the same time. If you don’t like something that you’ve got to do, just do it, love it and you’ll be better off. Dreading something is a waste of time and energy. The work has to be done either way. With a better attitude, the work will in turn be better.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can like and follow me on Facebook (@Wayne.Brewer.7) and Instagram (@waynebrewerofficial). You can like and follow Gary Brewer & the Kentucky Ramblers on Facebook (@TheKentuckyRamblers) and Instagram (@garybrewer_thekentuckyramblers).

Also, you can look around our website and join our email list (www.brewgrass.com).

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Wayne Brewer Of Brewgrass Entertainment: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kevin Kelly: How to Be An Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

To be an effective public speaker the bar is very high — You don’t just communicate the message — you should be the message. When message = messenger, you have a compelling speaker.

As part of our series about “How to be an effective Public Speaker” I had the pleasure to interview Kevin Kelly.

Kevin Kelly knows the challenges and joys of the selling and influencing more than most having sold across industries and cultures all his life. He packs 25 years plus of energy, enthusiasm and results into his keynotes and consultancy service.

Born into a business family, Kevin began his sales apprenticeship in the family shop in the West of Ireland at the tender age of six. Very soon he became aware of the power of attention — paying attention to what people said…and didn’t say.
Barely able to see over the counter, he entertained customers a multiple of his age that were happy to tell him their life story or at least that’s how it felt. Then there were others who just couldn’t get served quick enough.

On graduating from NUIG with a Marketing degree; Kevin consistently broke sales records in each of companies he worked for culminating in him being continuously head hunted. The strategy was consistent — listen to customers, integrate their thoughts where possible into the product offering, and finally — sell them back their product.

In 1990, Kevin honored his entrepreneurial DNA and set up his own company, Advanced Marketing. The company dedicated itself initially to increasing the sales of small and medium businesses in addition to exhaustively researching the area of personal and business potential.

Over the next few years Kevin deepened his passion and research into human behaviour driven by the desire to find out how people succeeded against the odds.
In 1996, Kevin committed to writing a Best Selling book on motivation, the first of its kind on the Irish market. The fact that he had received a “D” in English consistently at school made the challenge more fascinating.

“How? When You Don’t Know How” became a mega best seller. Kevin learned a very valuable lesson: knowledge may give you enough reasons not to act but Do! it anyway. Since then he has written four more books.

Staying true to his Irish roots, Kevin is a master storyteller who has worked around the world with Fortune 500 companies and prestigious associations like the Million Dollar Round Table.

Kevin’s keynotes consistently deliver an interactive conversation that engages, informs, inspires and empowers attendees with a toolbox of invaluable takeaways. Regardless of whether he is presenting in person or virtual he brings a unique angle and energy to any event.

www.youtube.com/kevinkellyspeaker

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was brought up in a small village in the West of Ireland. My parents had a service station and a convenience store so I was serving customers at the tender age of six! I noticed very early on that people thrived on positive attention. Indeed on reflection I wondered was I the youngest therapist in the world because even at a young age people told me their life stories! I was barely able to see over the counter.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I guess being brought up in a business environment put you in the spotlight from a young age. I loved interacting with customers. In 1990 I set up my own marketing consultancy firm focused on growing SME’s. More by accident than design I was asked to create a marketing course for SME’s by local enterprise development agencies. I got my first taste of speaking live albeit 20 people and I loved it. I guess I knew intuitively this was the profession for me.

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

Wow way too many when I reflect on 20 years plus on stage and travelling to 35 plus countries. But a few highlights worth mentioning. Arriving in Buenos Aires to find that a bomb had being planted in the auditorium programmed to explode during the Speakers session that followed me. The speaker was ex President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe. Another that comes to mind was an attendee shouting up from the back of the audience before I started “ When is this going to be over!!”

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

The funniest mistake I made when starting off was a simple one — a clothing malfunction.. I was addressing my peers in college. I was wearing a crisp white shirt with wait for it — a “Born in the USA” Bruce Springsteen Tee shirt underneath, In fairness I did get the audience’s attention — they all recognised the tee-shirt!

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 started my marketing consultancy at a very young age in 1990. Two enterprise development officers were more than happy to take a risk and put me into some very established companies to advise on Marketing. One of those subsequently promoted me as a speaker option for a Quality organisation he was also involved in. This culminated in my first big keynote on customer service in front of 160 people. The two men Pat Campbell and Pat Dalton.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Commit — Do it …and you truly want it …. watch your journey become one of magic and adventure…if you so choose!

What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

Be Open — Connect with Integrity — Communicate with Care — Lead with Curiosity.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I am currently penning my sixth book “Open — Connect with Integrity…Communicate with Care…Lead with Curiosity.” This process is now almost in its second year. I am excited about its potential. Leadership worldwide I contend is in the Intensive Care Unit and its needs to evolve to flourish in these changing times.

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

The only failure in life is the failure to learn from failure. The speaking profession is a tough world — in the last two years, for most speakers very little or anything happened. You need to be really passionate about your occupation to persist. I used this time to learn…learn …learn and create a new book with new IP and keynotes. The turnover wasn’t great, but the joy was still there. To survive you must inhabit this space.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need to Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. To be an effective public speaker the bar is very high — You don’t just communicate the message — you should be the message. When message = messenger, you have a compelling speaker.

A few years back I was keynoting in Saudi Arabia. I am the proud owner of three damaged discs in my back so from time to time they come out to play! That day, I was in excruciating pain so much so that I had to lay on the floor for an hour before my contribution to see if I could get some relief. The organiser looked down on me and with concern suggested I don’t continue with the keynote.

Looking up; I reassured him that all would be well when I started speaking.

One hour later I sat on a seat in a very specific way and spoke for three hours with a break. In that time, I didn’t feel any pain. I was in flow. For readers who love what you do, speaking is the profession for you because you experience flow. Flow transcends all and ensures that the message is the messenger!

2. From a tactical perspective, we are living in an attention deficit world, so your keynote must be INTERACTIVE otherwise expect them to be sleeping in the aisles!

If you are conducting a 30/45 min keynote include at least 2/3 “” Breaks” where the audience can discuss the topic at hand with the person beside them — where they can do a written exercise — even as simple as getting them to stand up — stretch and sit down this helps to increase the energy in the room.

What you don’t do is to talk non- stop for 45 minutes on any topic — don’t be surprised if someone snoring drowns the atmosphere.

3. Use Humour……..if you are funny.

People love to laugh — it releases endorphins the pleasure chemical into their system. Without doubt a funny speaker with a well-crafted contribution will have huge impact. However, the question is — are you funny?!! If you aren’t you will be a big TURNOFF with the audience!

4. Tell stories — stories synch the minds of the teller and the receiver according to Princeton University and are 22 times more likely to be remembered than dry facts according to Jerome Bruner of Harvard. If you have three key points to illustrate, choose three suitable stories to make the message stick.

5. Practice…practice…practice!

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Know your content

Be the message

Have fun!

Reflect afterwards — what worked, what didn’t. Run with what worked the next times around.

You are a person of huge 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?

Choose integrity even when no one is looking.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool FC Manager — lucky to have met him before for a picture opportunity when I was speaking in California.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Kevin Kelly | LinkedIn

www.twitter.com/kkunlimited

(1) Kevin Kelly | Facebook

www.kevinkellyunlimited.com

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


Kevin Kelly: How to Be An Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tenita Johnson Of “So It Is Written” On 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be authentic. No one likes a fake or a phony. You don’t have to sound like any other speaker. You don’t have to dress like any other speaker. If you’re comfortable in jeans and gym shoes with a blazer, rock that! You have to have your own flavor, flare and flow! Why fit in when you were born to stand out? Sometimes I wear a dress with bright red pumps; other times I wear jeans, a blazer and stilettos! Be you!

At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tenita “Bestseller” Johnson.

Transforming pain into purpose is a gift that authorpreneur, speaker and book coach, Tenita “Bestseller” Johnson gives to everyone she encounters. She is a warrior of words with a fierce passion for guiding authors to expand their brand by showing them how to earn multiple streams of income from just ONE book. As the author of 18 books, seven of which have been Amazon bestsellers, she is living proof that sharing your story leads to your destiny.

Familiar with rising from numerous fires and coming out unscathed, Tenita has triumphed over suicidal thoughts, depression, low self-esteem, marital storms and blended family woes. She has also endured miscarriages and the still birth of twins the day after she married her husband. Each of these tragedies has added indelible layers to her resilience. With more than 25 years in journalism, writing and editing, she has a knack for creating narratives that are authentic and raw, yet endearingly relatable. She is a vessel with the ability to change lives and impact the world, thus she is a proud “book bully,” who relentlessly urges others to, “Write the book and get paid for the pain!”

When Tenita speaks, people listen with their ears as well as their hearts and souls because her transparency transcends pretense. She is a bold beacon of hope who inspires others to seek their highest peak. One of her proudest and defining moments was her appearance on Kirk Franklin’s Praise Sirius XM channel.

As the founder and CEO of So It Is Written Publishing, she has helped hundreds of authors birth their books in record time. The 12-year-old company excels as a one stop shop for the complete book process from conception to completion, not just editing. The editorial guru successfully helps people to pen books that will boost their brand, accelerate their paydays and bust open doors of endless opportunities. So It Is Written won The Sunrise Pinnacle Award for Diversity Company of the Year, in 2020, from the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce in Rochester, Michigan. For six years, Tenita hosted the Red Ink Conference in Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte and Chicago. Over 600 attendees received invaluable information from industry leaders on how to write, edit, market and publish their next bestseller.

Beyond her books, her versatility shines in multiple areas, including her role as the executive producer of the hit stage play, When the Smoke Clears, which was based on her book, When the Smoke Clears: A Phoenix Rises. The play ran in 2017 and 2018 to sold-out audiences in downtown Detroit. She also served as the editorial director for Career Mastered Magazine and Hope for Women Magazine. Currently, she is the national president of The Aspiring Writers Association of America, a writers’ organization that works with writers worldwide to pen their next literary masterpiece.

Tenita’s passion for delivering bestselling books is matched only by her devotion to helping women and men heal from the drama, trauma and baggage of sexual abuse. Her 2021 anthology, HUSH: Breaking the Cycle of Silence Around Sexual Abuse, features eight women who lost their innocence and identity to life-altering trauma. She is a huge advocate and mouthpiece for those who have been sexually abused as she empowers them to release their pain instead of suffering in silence.

Her future plans include the release of HUSH II, producing her short film What Happens in This House, and completing the script for her feature film When the Smoke Clears. As a catalyst for positive change, she is a woman who has learned to live an intentional life of purpose while unapologetically fulfilling her God-driven assignments.

For booking or speaking engagements, email info@soitiswritten.net or visit www.tenitajohnson.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up on the west side of Chicago until I was 9 years old, when my mother and I moved to Detroit. Born to a 14-year-old mother, I was raised mostly by my grandmother before the age of 10. She was my rock and my pillar. I’ve never met my biological father and, if he was walking down the street, I wouldn’t know it was him. I’ve never met him or talked to him. Once we moved to Detroit, we lived on the west side and I attended Detroit Public Schools, including Communication and Media Arts, where I picked up my love for writing, editing, and publishing.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a child, I didn’t feel like I had a voice. But I could always count on the pen and paper. They never let me down. They never talked back. They never rejected me. I kept many journals and diaries of my personal thoughts in a time when I didn’t feel like I had a platform to share my thoughts at all.

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

I left a position in change management/communications at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services to go back to a contract position at a company I’d been at not once, but three times. This was at Raytheon Professional Services. I left Mercedes-Benz Financial Services making $37/hr to go back to Raytheon for $45/hr. On the surface, it sounded great. But six months later, I found myself sitting in my cubicle with no work. Not only was I a contractor, but I was a contractor making almost $50/hr.

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 made the biggest mistake of NOT getting a deposit for the editorial work for my first client. I was afraid to take a deposit because I felt like once I accepted payment, I had to start right away on their project. But I screwed myself in the end. Once I completed the editing, the client was still paying me months later. I learned the hard way to get a deposit of at least half, if not the full payment up front.

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

There have been many pivotal people in my career journey that have helped me grow and soar. I can’t pinpoint one person. It truly takes a village to build a successful brand and business. Early on my career, the Detroit chapter of The American Christian Writers Association, with president Pam Perry helped me hone my skills and get my first literary clients. Venus Mason Thues opened the door to my first speaking engagement on writing/editorial for books. Sylvia Hubbard and The Motown Writers Network also opened doors for new clients, interviews and speaking opportunities. I was later trained to self-publish not only my projects, but projects for others, from Valerie J. Lewis Coleman and Cynthia L. Hatcher. Most recently, my business success has been cultivated by Darnyelle Jervey Harmon, business mastermind and prophetic coach.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Don’t plan for failure. Plan for success. There should be no Plan B. Stick to the plan. There’s only one. That is the plan to succeed in all that you do. Many times, even what looks like failure to the outside world, is a launching pad for greatness in the future. Fear will always be present. Just don’t let it drive.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

I always aspire to transform the lives of others, not just conduct a transaction. I am intentional about empowering, uplifting and inspiring others to become the best version of themselves so they, too, can transform the lives of those around them. My main message is, “You have the power to transform the world through words.” We will say whatever we say. We will have whatever we say.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I’m currently working on launching my 20th book project, Overcoming the Fear Factor: The Cut from Corporate to Creative, which chronicles my journey from being laid off to building a six-figure business. In addition, I’m working on producing a short film entitled, What Happens in This House, as well as a documentary, HUSH, both centered around breaking the cycle of silence around sexual abuse. I am also in the process of starting a non-profit organization to heal both men and women from the long-term effects of sexual abuse called The Monarch Circle.

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

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” No one in my immediate family has been an entrepreneur or business owner. There was no blueprint. I’m literally leaning on my faith in God to build the business, draw the right clientele to the business and even hire the right employees for the business. It’s all new to me, even though I’ve had the business 13 years. I’m still learning to take “the first step” at every new level of business shifts.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.

1. Be authentic. No one likes a fake or a phony. You don’t have to sound like any other speaker. You don’t have to dress like any other speaker. If you’re comfortable in jeans and gym shoes with a blazer, rock that! You have to have your own flavor, flare and flow! Why fit in when you were born to stand out? Sometimes I wear a dress with bright red pumps; other times I wear jeans, a blazer and stilettos! Be you!

2. Be vulnerable. People gravitate to those people they feel like they know, like and trust. When I speak to entrepreneurs, I tell them about the months where I had no income and those days when I couldn’t buy groceries. When I’m empowering married women, I’m open about the many, many times I’ve said I was leaving my husband (and he said he was leaving me). On any stage, I’m an open book (literally, and yes, pun intended). There is nothing off limits.

3. Engage with the audience. Even if you’re in a room of 500, engage with the entire front row. Call up volunteers to the stage. Use the audience at certain parts of your presentation and speech. Be demonstrative. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a live demonstration has to be worth 10,000. Whenever I get the chance, I bring several audience members onto the stage with me to demonstrate one of my points, or I engage the front row and put them to work from their seats.

4. Empower and inspire to leave a lasting impact. The late, great Maya Angelou said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When you leave the stage, people should be inspired to go higher. They should be empowered to tap into the greatness within themselves. They should be motivated to take action. Once you’re done speaking, the audience should leave considering what they need to do to create a greater legacy and leave a lasting impact on others.

5. Cultivate a culture of confidence. People can smell fear and uncertainty a mile away. You may have nervous jitters before you hit the stage, but be confident in who you are and whose you are. You’re the expert. Own the stage and dominate. Confidence is contagious. You’ll have a line of people waiting to take pictures with you and shake your hand when you cultivate a culture of confidence in the room and stand unapologetically in who you are.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

I’ve been speaking for more than 13 years on various stages. Fear never goes away. You’re going to have to learn to do it scared. Fear can be present; it just can’t drive you. Fear will paralyze you or propel you. You decide. Use it as fuel to forge forward into greatness. If you mess up, keep going. If you stumble, get back up. If you lose your train of thought, tell the audience you did and ask them, “What was I saying?” It’ll make them laugh, but it’ll give you time to regroup. Be human.

You are a person of huge 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?

I would organize small group discussions in all major metropolitan cities for both men and women to work through the trauma of sexual abuse. I believe The Monarch Circle is the beginning of that movement.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

As a writer and author, I’d love to have lunch wit Tyler Perry. I’d love to discuss how his writing has to differ for film versus TV and TV versus books. He’s constantly coming up with new shows and new movies around tough subjects too many of us in the world choose to ignore. I’d love to one day do the same through my writing.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Facebook: Tenita Bestseller Johnson
Instagram: @TenitaBestseller
Twitter: @TenitaJEditor
LinkedIn: Tenita Johnson
Website: www.soitiswritten.net
Website: www.tenitajohnson.com

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


Tenita Johnson Of “So It Is Written” On 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jess Ekstrom of Mic Drop Workshop On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

A premise, and a promise. The premise is the personal story you tell that taught you the lesson. The promise is the takeaway for the audience.

At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Ekstrom.

Jess Ekstrom is the founder and CEO of Mic Drop Workshop: an e-learning company with the mission of helping more women tell and sell their stories as thought leaders.

What started out as a way to spread the word about her company, Headbands of Hope, turned into a booming speaking career. She’s named a “Top Rated Speaker” by Forbes Magazine and has shared the stage with President Joe Biden, Tyler Perry, Jenna Bush Hager and more. When Jess discovered the discrepancy of women in the speaking industry, she set out to change it by providing courses, community and free resources through Mic Drop Workshop. Mic Drop has now helped thousands of women gain impact and income through thought leadership.

She’s the bestselling author of Chasing the Bright Side with Harper Collins and working on her first children’s book. Jess will never turn down a taco and will always ask to pet your dog.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I started out as your typical lemonade stand kid; standing out on the street corner with my sister and flagging cars down as they drove by. The feeling when a car stopped and asked for some lemonade was electric to me. And if there’s one thing we do as kids, we follow the electricity without a shadow of a doubt.

I started selling (or swapping, I should say) my clothes on a site called SwapStyle. I would get a white sheet from our linen closet and hang it up in my bedroom when the light was shining perfectly through my window. I’d hang up clothing items in front of the sheet and take the picture on my mom’s digital camera and upload them to my profile. I remember I wanted this green Juicy Couture jumpsuit (oh the 90s!) and I traded in almost everything I owned to have it. I wore that jumpsuit every day for months!

Then I discovered eBay and started selling my American Girl Dolls and toys on there. I loved packaging up a sold product and going to the post office with my dad to ship it. The electricity was booming.

The big boom happened on a family camping trip where I was frustrated that my headphone cords were tangled in a knot. I told my dad (who’s an entrepreneur), “I’m just going to invent headphones that are like slinky cords so they never get tangled again!”

He sat me down and looked me in the eyes and told me to, “Keep thinking that way. Keep thinking about how you can solve problems and you will.”

And that was the moment I became an entrepreneur, was when I thought about the world through a lens that I could fix it.

Ten years later, I started my first company, Headbands of Hope. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with an illness.

Five years after that, I started my second company, Mic Drop Workshop. An online course and community for women to become paid speakers.

Three years after that, I started my third company, Prompted.io. A personal development platform delivering Prompt Pathways from Thought Leaders.

I was looking at the world through a lens that I could fix it.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I started Headbands of Hope, I was a broke college student and to make matters worse, I had gotten involved with a fraudulent manufacturer and lost a loan from a family member.

I realized that public speaking was a way for me to tell my story about Headbands of Hope…and also get paid to tell it.

My speaking career blew up and I was speaking at over 50 colleges a year. Then it grew into corporations and events. Forbes named me a “Top Motivational Speaker.” I shared stages with Tyler Perry, President Joe Biden, Olympic athletes, musicians and more.

I was speaking at an event where I was the lunchtime keynote and a guy was the morning keynote. A few weeks later, I got a call from the meeting planner from that event.

“Jess, I wanted to give you some information that you can ignore or not.” The meeting planner said.

“Okay, what is it?” I was nervous.

“We did audience feedback cards and you were the highest rated speaker of the day.” She said.

“Great! So, what’s the problem?”

“We paid you $13,500 to speak. We paid (morning keynote guy who I won’t say his name) $50,000.”

That moment, amongst many others, was when I became hyper aware of the discrepancy amongst paid speaking engagements for women. So many times, I’ve been the token woman in a panel or a speaker lineup. Don’t even get me started on tokenism for women of color.

Mic Drop Workshop was born. And three years later, we’ve helped over one thousand women land paid speaking engagements.

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

I was speaking at an event for event planners. After I spoke, I sat and listened to the panel about diversity in the speaking industry and how only 30% of speakers are women.

“We want to have more women speak at our events,” said a meeting planner for a huge company, “but they are only 12% of our speaker applications.”

The rest of the panel unanimously agreed that the number of applications they get from women to speak are a fraction compared to men.

That was a moment that I carried with me because I realized that just putting your name in the hat to speak was a huge part of the battle, especially for women. So, if I can give them the knowledge and tools for how to pitch and apply so they feel confident, then maybe I can be a part of bringing equality to the speaking industry.

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

When I first started speaking, I used my slides as a crutch. I knew what was coming next because my slides told me. I knew the line I had to say because it was on my slide. But one of the #1 rules I teach in Mic Drop Workshop: slides are not for you, they’re for your audience. And secondly, be able to do your entire keynote without slides.

I showed up to speak at a university and when I pulled up to the location on the map, I saw it was an outdoor amphitheater. Just a stage and a microphone like I was performing at Burning Man or something.

The meeting planner came to greet me and I said, “Hi! Where is the projector?”

“Oh- we don’t have one. But don’t worry you have a microphone!”

Oh no. This was not going to be good. I thought to myself.

But nevertheless, I went up there and surprisingly crushed my presentation without slides. From then on, I changed my relationship to my slides and only used them when I knew it would enhance the presentation, not for my own personal guidance.

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 met my husband in college right as I was starting Headbands of Hope. We’ve been together for almost ten years and he’s been with me throughout the many highs and lows of being a business owner. He’s a big part of the reason I felt like I could leap and take risks, because I always knew he’d be there no matter what when I got home.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Failure will always feel better than regret. Period.

Whenever I feel the fear of “what if it doesn’t work out?” I remind myself of this quote that I’ve said thousands of times in my talk. One audience member even got it tattooed on her arm in my (awful) handwriting! Talk about a great testimonial.

What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

My mission when I speak is to help people train their optimism muscle so they can not just envision a better world, but create it. I have many stories where optimism was my gasoline to success, not skill. So if I can share my story with this greater message, then maybe someone out there will go for it too.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

One of the keys to writing a highly booked keynote and bestselling book is a disciplined writing and self-reflection habit every morning. But I couldn’t find any journals or software that prompted me to write and reflect based on my interest that day or challenge I was trying to overcome.

That’s why my newest venture, Prompted.io, is an online journaling platform with hundreds of Prompt Pathways you can embark on to achieve your goals, get out of your head and get clarity on your direction. Each pathway is written by a successful Thought Leader who’s gone down that same path.

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

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, then perhaps the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” — Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound.

I did Outward Bound when I was a kid and at the time, I didn’t appreciate it. But this quote stuck with me because every time we are challenged or try something new, we’re gathering more evidence that we are more than what we imagined. I think successful people don’t always get it right, but they continue to try and surprise themselves when they do.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. A premise, and a promise

The premise is the personal story you tell that taught you the lesson. The promise is the takeaway for the audience.

A lot of speakers focus too much on the premise and not on the promise. Anyone can have a great story, but in order to be a highly valued speaker, you have to relate it back to something teachable for the audience.

In my course, Mic Drop Workshop, we do an exercise called Moment to Meaning. What was the snapshot moment in your life that made you pause? And what’s the universal meaning that you can pull from that?

2. A transformation

Before you ask yourself, “what should I speak on?” I’d rather you do this visualization first.

Imagine you just gave a talk and absolutely crushed it. Standing ovation, tears, laughter, applause so loud you can’t hear yourself thank the emcee. Then the audience leaves and heads home. What do you want the audience to think, feel and do differently after hearing you speak?

How will your talk be a before and after moment in someone’s life? Fill in the blank: After people hear me speak they will _____________ because my talk will ______________. For example, mine is: After people hear me speak they will learn how to train their optimism muscle because my talk will tell the story of how I started a company by using optimism more than skill.

The transformation of your talk is the value proposition to a meeting planner. The better you can articulate the transformation, the more you can advocate for yourself to get paid gigs and the better you can serve your audience.

3. A signature keynote

Another mistake I see speakers make is they have a website with a list of topics they can speak on or a list of keynote talks. In Mic Drop Workshop, I call this being a Cheesecake Factory Speaker where your menu is so long that you have no idea what you’re good at.

A meeting planner wants to know your chef special! What’s the one thing you know you’re going to hit out of the park?

Don’t be afraid to say: this is what I speak on and nothing else. In fact, that’s where you can get better at your craft by focusing on one signature talk and you’ll attract bookings by being clear about the thing that you’re good at.

If you want help crafting your keynote, you can take my free 3-Day Keynote Writing Challenge on MicDropWorkshop.com.

4. A deflated ego

As a keynote speaker, it’s not about making yourself look good, it’s about serving your audience. And in order to do that, sometimes you have to tell stories where you learned a lesson. And sometimes the stories where we learn the greatest lessons are at lower points.

I used to think being a speaker was going up there and showing all of my accomplishments. Save that for the emcee to read in your introduction. Your talk should be about helping the audience achieve the transformation you set out to provide. In order to do that, you have to be real and honest. Check your ego in your green room and leave it all on the stage!

5. A speaker companion

If you want to grow your speaking business, I urge you to lean more into collaboration than competition. Speaking can be such a collaborative industry if you let it. Think about it: if an annual event books you to speak this year, the chances of them booking the same speaker next year are low because they want to mix it up.

I end every gig by asking them, “are you looking for speakers for your next event?” And 99.9% of the time they say, “YES! Do you know anyone?”

And I have a roster of women speakers who I suggest to speak based on their needs. And then those women refer me to their past events too. You can even set up a revenue share if you want to get a kickback for referring your speaker friends that get booked.

In Mic Drop Workshop, we have a community that we call Speaker Sisters where we share gig leads and speaking opportunities. If you’re wanting to be an ally for underrepresented groups, this is a great opportunity to refer them for gigs.

Find yourself a speaker companion or group where you can pass the baton after you speak at events to keep the good going!

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

There are so many tips and tricks you can do to overcome your fear of public speaking (but don’t picture the audience in their underwear!), but the two I find most helpful are:

  1. Diagnose your nerves as excitement. Nerves and excitement are the same physiological response. So instead of your butterflies indicating you’re nervous, tell yourself you’re excited!
  2. Have a mantra before you go on stage. My mantra is: the pressure is a privilege. It’s a really grounding reminder that every time I have a microphone in my hand, it’s a gift that many people will never have. What a privilege it is to have the pressure of hundreds (sometimes tens of thousands) of people listening to you speak!

You are a person of huge 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?

If I could inspire a movement, it would be more diversity in Thought Leadership: books, speaking, everywhere we get advice and information. For so long, “experts” have looked the same. I believe thought leaders can shape the future; so I’d like to help shape the future by providing more opportunity for women to influence it.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Bozoma Saint John, the CMO of Netflix. She is such a powerhouse and an example of thought leadership changing the world.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Yes! https://www.instagram.com/jess_ekstrom/

And if you want to follow Mic Drop Workshop, here is our Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/micdropworkshop/

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


Jess Ekstrom of Mic Drop Workshop On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Bill McEllen Of Fingerpaint: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

Bill McEllen Of Fingerpaint: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Lean into change. Just because it’s what you’ve always done doesn’t mean it will work in every situation or should continue being done that way. Be open to new solutions and ways of doing things.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Bill McEllen.

Bill McEllen has been a leader in global biopharma commercialization for nearly 30 years. As the global president at Fingerpaint, he serves on the executive leadership team and oversees all of Fingerpaint’s business units. Under his leadership, the agency has experienced exponential growth. His team has garnered 5 Agency of the Year awards in the last 5 years and won a CLIO in a category alongside Nike and Budweiser. Prior to joining Fingerpaint, Bill spent 13 years with McCann Health as president of both McCann Torre Lazur and McCann Echo, where he led his agencies to 14 nominations as Agency of the Year in various industry publications. Bill also spent the first 10 years of his career on the client side in pharma, gaining a deep understanding of the varied challenges our clients face across the full spectrum of commercialization.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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 spent the early part of my career (about 10 years) on the client side in pharma, gaining a deep understanding of the varied challenges our clients face across the full spectrum of global commercialization. The next 20 were spent on the agency side, leading exponential growth in revenue, talent, and capabilities, as well as earning many top industry awards. Now, as the global president at Fingerpaint, I serve on the executive leadership team and oversee all of Fingerpaint’s business units.

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

As a pharmaceutical sales rep, there are a lot of tactics you use to get to see a doctor. One of the most common ways to get past a gatekeeper is to tell them you are there to “check the samples” (loosely translated as, “I promise not to take up a lot of the doctor’s time”). I used this tactic once while working with my manager with an unintended consequence. While I was able to successfully get past the gatekeeper and see the doctor, my manager was none too pleased with the approach. When we got back to the car, she firmly and politely reminded me what I was getting paid for: “To provide the office with valuable information on our products. Most certainly not to check their samples.” For 2 weeks following that encounter, I had the pleasure of starting every morning with a call from her to remind me what my goal was for the day. Needless to say, it was most certainly not to check the samples.

Be clear what your goal is and the value you bring. Never lose sight of that.

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

My first job off the college campus was as a pharmaceutical sales representative. I had no prior sales experience to speak of but was given a shot to prove myself. As my first boss, Sandee Petway not only took a chance on me but also taught me the foundational lessons of what it takes to be successful, both in work and in life. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

Extensive research suggests that purpose-driven businesses are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, and what was its purpose?

Fingerpaint was founded on a simple principle: Put people first. When you put your people first, it forms a foundation of empathy that spills over into everything, from how we work with clients to how we approach a creative campaign.

We are also in the business of healthcare, an industry that is driven by a purpose of service and helping others. This allows us the opportunity to help other companies execute on their purpose-driven businesses by providing healthcare communications that facilitate that process.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you led your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The early days of the pandemic immediately come to mind. There is a tendency to say that there was no playbook for a global pandemic, and while that is true, if you lead from a people-first, empathetic point of view, you can get through almost any challenge you are faced with.

For example, in March 2020, we knew our first priority was to keep our people safe and support them through an uncertain time. That meant going beyond the basics of remote work; it meant supporting them and their families as individuals and not just employees. Initiatives included providing care packages and stipends for family meals and establishing flexible work schedules so that employees could look after loved ones, parents could get their kids set up for remote schooling, and everyone had time to process what was going on in the world.

We made it a point to ensure our culture transcended beyond our physical walls. We set up dedicated Slack channels devoted to common interests to stay connected, and we sent out routine videos from our leaders to not just give business updates but also to celebrate personal milestones like birthdays, engagements, and promotions. All of the things we did in the physical office became virtual.

Our goal was to bring confidence and a bit of comfort to our people during such a turbulent time. Being proactively transparent about the state of the business was a critical way for us to bring stability to the situation. We regularly shared that information in addition to new business wins, revenue projections, and other business strategies, which allowed our people to see exactly how we were handling the situation.

As we go into year 3 of the pandemic, that philosophy has not changed, and it will not change as we move forward. We are continuing to be transparent with our people in our approach to the business; we celebrate wins, whether they are personal or professional; and we ensure our people-first culture is felt across the company — no matter where someone is physically located.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

The work we do — helping to deliver critical healthcare information at all stages of the commercialization process — is something that cannot be disrupted. When we receive an email from a client sharing with us that a project we worked on helped a patient get the treatment they previously couldn’t access, those are the moments that matter. That is the motivation behind everything we do, and it sustains our drive during challenging times.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

There can be a lot of chaos and competing factors at play during challenging times. Taking a step back and always focusing on the goal can help leaders guide their teams through tough times. Keeping in line with the company’s mission, being mindful of what is happening around you, and leading with empathy are critical.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?

Lean into your company’s culture, lead by example, and develop activities and opportunities to have fun, collaborate, and get to know your colleagues on a personal level.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Approaching difficult news from a place of empathy, transparency, and honesty is the best route. Keeping those 3 things in mind when having to communicate it can help guide the situation.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

The only thing you can predict is change. In any situation, you do your best to assemble the facts, listen, and make decisions based on what you know at that moment. At the same time, you need to be open to being flexible and willing to pivot those plans as you get new information or if the circumstances change.

Is there a number 1 principle that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Lead with empathy.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

During difficult times, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment. Pausing to refocus on the big picture can help prevent reactive decisions and instead lead to proactive decisions, which are, more often than not, a better choice.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

No matter the economy, it boils down to planning ahead, sticking to the principles your company was founded on, and working within your means. Making sound decisions guided by those principles early on will set a secure foundation that can help weather turbulent times.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Listen. It is important for a leader to truly listen to what is and is not being said. Having a deep understanding of a situation and hearing all sides, scenarios, and possibilities play an important part in decision-making.
  2. Ask the right questions. Asking a lot of questions is often highly regarded, but it is important to make sure the correct questions are being asked. Are they questions that will just get you the answer you are looking for? Or are they the questions that dig down and get you a meaningful answer, no matter what it is?
  3. Surround yourself with smart people who are not afraid to challenge your ideas. Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean everything you say or do is the best or only way to do it. Having people who are able and willing to express their thoughts and opinions — and challenge yours — is how you go from a good solution to a great one.
  4. Lean into change. Just because it’s what you’ve always done doesn’t mean it will work in every situation or should continue being done that way. Be open to new solutions and ways of doing things.
  5. Keep an open mind. The first 4 points will not produce effective results if you don’t approach all of them with an open mind.

Can you please give us your favorite life-lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” It’s easy to focus on individual performance, and sometimes it’s easier to get a job done on your own. However, that is a very short-sighted approach. Teamwork is crucial in life and in work. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a strong group of supporters, and I hope I’ve been that for others as well.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow Fingerpaint on LinkedIn and Twitter, or connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Bill McEllen Of Fingerpaint: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Esme Rogers Evans Of Duxford Studios On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Esme Rogers Evans Of Duxford Studios On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Start small — It’s really easy to get business envy whilst browsing social media. Everywhere you look, people are succeeding and thriving. It’s easy to start feeling inadequate and this can lead to unsustainable commitments or risky business decisions in the hope of getting ahead. Luckily, I didn’t make any terrible mistakes but, for a while, it did blunt my enjoyment and ability to recognise achievements. It’s important to strive for growth, but just as important to take the time to acknowledge the wins and enjoy the journey.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Esme Rogers Evans.

Following a Fine Art Sculpture degree, Esme traveled and continued exploring new creative skills. Having always loved wearing jewellery, Emse was eager to delve into this lustrous world. She began a course while in New Zealand and from the beginning of the 1st class, was transported back to her childhood pastime of making miniature sculptures. The scale felt so familiar; Esme’s inner child was awoken and she wasn’t going back to sleep without a fight.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been encouraged to explore my creativity. Kids dance classes, standing on a big blue tarp in my parent’s house with an easel getting covered in paint, making tiny Fimo sculptures all through childhood into teenage life — you get the picture. No surprise that my parents were artists, right?

After school, I saved for a year and traveled through Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Then, after what felt like a swift foundation year in Art and Design, I was off to do a BA in Fine Art Sculpture. I totally changed tack: from making huge art installations with fiberglass sculptures to building my own makeshift darkroom to develop photographs taken during an artist residence in Barcelona with hand made pinhole cameras.

It wasn’t until a few years after finishing uni that I reverted back to my first love — miniature. While traveling New Zealand on a working holiday visa, I did a short course in jewellery making in Wellington and totally fell in love with the materials and the processes. My next plan was to move to Vietnam, so I knew I had to keep teaching myself this exciting skill. This is where the seed for Duxford Studios was planted.

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

I once heard someone say ‘If it costs you peace of mind, the price is too high.’. This lesson has taught me to not exceed the limits of my conscience, especially in business. I made a conscious decision when starting Duxford Studios to only use ethical materials: Ecosilver, fairtrade gold and responsibly sourced gemstones. I’m proud to be contributing positively to the jewellery industry, and to be offering bespoke ethical jewellery to my customers.

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

I absolutely loved the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s witty and empowering, and came into my life at the perfect moment, shortly after starting my business when I felt, quite frankly, out of my depth! Gilbert challenges the reader to embrace their curiosity, pursue what they love above all else and face their fears. She encouraged me to ‘remove the suggestion box’ and instead to listen to my heart and ‘have an affair’ with my creativity. It was the perfect time for me to hear about someone else who was much further along on the path I was treading, and helped me visualize what I wanted and where to take my business.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

I think determination is the largest component of a successful business. Capital, self belief, a willingness to learn and contacts in your industry are all important. But if you give up, they quickly become irrelevant. It’s important to know that starting a business is almost always a hard and sometimes lonely road. Enjoying the peaks, and having the resilience to carry on through those deep troughs will stand you in good stead for success. As I’ve heard many people say, ‘It’s not about how much you get knocked down but how many times you get back up’.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Love the industry you’re breaking into, find like minded people, network with peers and competitors alike and you’ll soon find the ‘cutting edge’.

Jewellery is a highly competitive industry filled with countless takes on the perfect pair of everyday earrings, elegant necklaces and showstopper engagement rings. Does that mean jewellery’s finished? Definitely not! So remember, it’s not always about making something completely new, but doing things your own way to stand out from the crowd.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

After planning, design and prototyping, sourcing a good manufacturer can be a tricky process. You need to research many and then sample at least three to be able to make a value judgement balancing price, reliability, quality, turnaround time, customer service and other industry specific factors. Finding the one which best suits your needs can benefit your customers’ experience and your bottom line!

There are many different distribution models for jewellery as for all other industries. For me, having my own website is a must, because it provides the highest profit margins and I have complete control of the end-to-end customer journey.

There are many different types of retailers so it’s important to research which avenue best suits your pricing structure and business model. Once you have this information, ensure that you thoroughly research the ethics of the retailers you think would be best for your brand: you need to ensure your brands and ethics align. Shops are a great option and will either buy stock outright or work on a sale or return agreement, but the latter can be expensive if the cost price of your products are high. Another option is online marketplaces which can be great for raising brand awareness and gaining credibility. There are countless avenues to explore, the important thing is to find sales funnels that you feel will work for your brand, and to always be sure that your product or service represents value for money to your customers.

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.)

Learn how to time block — Like many people, when I started Duxford Studios, I also worked full time. Having only evenings and weekends to grow my business, I would flit from one thing to another, simultaneously replying to email enquiries, designing new collections, creating my brand image and marketing and everything else. After around six months and not enough progress, I learnt about time blocking. It’s a planning method of marking out short blocks of time throughout the day to focus on specific individual tasks. My productivity increased significantly and I would never look back.

Start small — It’s really easy to get business envy whilst browsing social media. Everywhere you look, people are succeeding and thriving. It’s easy to start feeling inadequate and this can lead to unsustainable commitments or risky business decisions in the hope of getting ahead. Luckily, I didn’t make any terrible mistakes but, for a while, it did blunt my enjoyment and ability to recognise achievements. It’s important to strive for growth, but just as important to take the time to acknowledge the wins and enjoy the journey.

Know your customer — Without them, you don’t have a business. You need to understand who they are, what they want, their likes and dislikes, their challenges and goals. Making meaningful sales is about connecting with your customer and solving an issue for them. It took me a while to understand exactly who my customers were because I was so focused on my products, so make the time to get to know your customers from the get go.

Stay true to yourself — It’s very easy to get distracted with all the advice people give, potential upcoming trends in your industry and comparing yourself to your competitors. These influences can be positive, but it’s always important to be mindful of what special and unique features you bring to the table. People buy from others that they know, like and trust, so if you’re not being true to yourself and your brand, customers may discount you as inauthentic.

Know your limitations and learn to say no — Especially when you’re new in business, it’s impossible to say yes to every opportunity. Doing research and understanding your strategy and priorities will give you the best chance of understanding what to say yes to and fully focus on, and what to kindly decline.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Firstly, look at your idea from the perspective of your customer — Will it solve a problem? Will it add value to their life? How much should it cost?

Next, I generally go through the same initial design stages before moving on to production. I first think about its scale and material practicalities. Once I’ve decided on these basic features, I make a test piece using a cheaper metal like brass or copper and wear it for a few weeks. This tells you a lot about the product, like how it feels when worn, its durability and if you get a positive reception. Once I’m happy with the feel and I’ve hopefully got a compliment or two, I may make some additional minor refinements to the design before making a mould for reproduction.

Essentially, consider the size, materials and production costs, use cheaper materials when making initial prototypes, ask for feedback and user experiences and refine before moving to production.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I guess this depends on each person’s knowledge, confidence and budget. For me, I wouldn’t go this route as the design process is very personal to me.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I went with my gut and funded my own business with a full time job. I found this worked for me, as being on a budget forced me to always consider my business profits and it enabled me to keep 100% control of where I wanted to take Duxford Studios. Bootstrapping definitely teaches you to manage your money responsibly and it channels you to focus on how to make that money back quickly.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

In an industry where exploitation has been the normal practice to ensure a high profit, it is important to play a part in changing the culture. By using recycled and ethically sourced materials in my work, I support ethical working practises and promote the need for conscious consumerism. By creating and promoting bespoke ethical heirlooms, I provide an alternative to the world of fast fashion and encourage consumers to think about their purchases as investments in products and peoples.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.

Think before you purchase!

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would absolutely love to have lunch with Grayson Perry! He’s a British potter and contemporary artist who’s straddled the world of art and entertainment for years and he’s one of the most straight talking, unpretentious, likeable people in the art world. There is an unnecessary divide between the art world and people who think they ‘can’t draw’ and I think it’s a lot to do with how ‘art people’ talk. It can sound intimidating to people who don’t actively engage with art, and although Perry has some pretty out-there imagery in his work, he’s able to connect with people from all walks of life, closing the gap between both camps. His personal brand is authentic and alluring, and I’d love to pick his brains!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Making Something From Nothing: Esme Rogers Evans Of Duxford Studios On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Jim Stevens Of M3 Commercial Moving & Logistics On The Five Things You Need To…

Meet The Disruptors: Jim Stevens Of M3 Commercial Moving & Logistics On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Win or Learn. I’m a competitive guy — and I hold myself and my team to the highest standards. We’ve adapted a mindset that we are either winning or learning and it’s magically shifted our mindset to find positives in everything regardless of the outcome.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Stevens.

Jim Stevens is the 37-year-old Vice President (and Managing Partner) of M3 Commercial Moving & Logistics located in Phoenix, AZ. Jim helped launch M3, Muscular Moving Men & Storage’s sister division and started in this role on February 11, 2019 — he’s served just about three years in this capacity and 20 total in the moving industry. Jim graduated with a BS in Marketing from Lehigh University and is a proud Army brat, father of three with one on the way, and husband to an incredible wife, Chantel.

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?

Sure can. If you told me 20 years ago when I started in the moving industry that I would still be here I would have laughed it off. But I’ll never forget my old operations manager at the first moving company I worked with telling me a few weeks in, “Once you get into the moving industry you never leave.”

I was a passionate soccer player who dreamt of making a living playing the game I loved. While I had a successful collegiate career at Lehigh University and played in the minor leagues, I didn’t have the talent to succeed at the highest level. I worked on the trucks in college and in almost every role a moving company employs (Operations, Project Management, Warehouse, HR, Sales) before I had graduated. When I didn’t have any more opportunities to continue in soccer, I felt going into the industry I knew so much about would be a natural fit. And I loved how ever-changing and dynamic projects were.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

There are hundreds of moving companies in the state of Arizona and thousands around the country. Almost all of them are residential first moving companies. M3 is the only commercial only moving company that exists in AZ — that is, me and my team will NEVER set foot in a house. All day every day we are supporting business on the move and the challenges that come with it. We get calls every day to move houses but rely on our teammates with Muscular Moving Men, true residential moving experts, to assist them with their moves.

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

When I started at the commercial division of one of the industry leading organizations in the country (JK Moving) back in 2008 I was hot off of six years in the industry and really thought I knew it all. I remember my mentor and one of the greatest contributors to commercial moving, Rocco Balsamo, first pulling me and a new colleague into the conference room to ask us questions about our experience. I didn’t know him yet. I have never lacked in confidence — and made sure I was forward in answering his questions with suave “even though I’m young I know it all candor”. By the end of the conversation, very directly and uncomfortably, he let me know I knew nothing about commercial moving and backed it up with some fascinating data and facts. I was embarrassed and to this day we laugh about it from time to time!

As funny as it is to look back on — it was a valuable lesson I learned early on that I have opportunities to learn every day — especially as technical as commercial moving is.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Jim Stevens Sr. — my hero and father

Betty Stevens — my hero and mother

Chantel Stevens — my wife

Dean Koski — my college soccer coach

Rocco Balsamo — my sales mentor and business father

Vince Burruano — my leadership mentor

Bob Slevin — my business coach

My success is a byproduct of so many who have helped me along the way.

My father is someone who has taught me the value of family, hard work, honesty, and integrity.

My mother is someone who taught me the value of my faith, something that is more and more important to me as I get older.

When I met Chantel on September 25, 2009, she inspired me to channel my energy positively and focus on a future with her — and she’s also taught me how to deal with adversity and inevitable change.

My college Coach, Dean Koski, taught me about a winning mentality and the importance of developing a team to achieve your goals.

Pre 2016, I achieved enormous success early in my career and, at the same time, was the most un-emotionally intelligent person on the planet. My drive for success consumed me — and while I was enormously successful, my behaviors were cancerous to those I worked with. I was given a very direct ultimatum by my former company though I drove sales success. Get professional coaching and work on my behavior or I would be ushered out the door. I started working with an incredible coach, Bob Slevin, and also counted on additional mentorship by Rocco Balsamo and Vince Burruano. The coaching from Bob and assistance from Vince and Rocco changed my life and career trajectory and is a catalytic reason more success than I ever imagined has occurred — both personally and professionally.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

To be considered an industry disruptor for me is the ultimate compliment. And it’s an honor to be connecting with you about what we are doing because I’m constantly referring to our team as disruptors. I do think disruptors are good — they challenge the norm. In our industry it’s a norm that “if it moves, anyone can do it”. Our greatest salespeople are our competitors. So many assume because something moves, they can take on moving anything. And when you move a business there are so many variable components to performing at a high level. Moving businesses are not “cookie cutter” like moving a residence is. And I don’t mean any disrespect by saying the words “cookie cutter” — I see how hard our teammates at Muscular Moving Men work as residential experts and the services they perform, like so many of our industry peers, is not only essential but great. But our business is exploding because we are different. And I don’t need to tell people that we are, they evaluate us compared to our competitors and experience it for themselves. I’m a huge believer in “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” — one of Simon Sinek’s greatest quotes. The mission for any disruptor should be to provide exquisite value to the marketplace — and if we continue to do that our success will continue to come.

For me, if you are disrupting your industry and providing your buyers and/or employees/colleagues a better experience or overall product/service then it’s positive.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Win or Learn

I’m a competitive guy — and I hold myself and my team to the highest standards. We’ve adapted a mindset that we are either winning or learning and it’s magically shifted our mindset to find positives in everything regardless of the outcome.

2. Play the infinite game.

I’m competing in my industry in a game that ever ends. There’s never going to be a “winner”. And that being the case, we need to be building processes that 1. Live on but are all subject to change and 2. Always be open to processes that increase efficiency and our clients’ experience. 3. I need to be an open book to others to assist them — as we can’t keep up with demand for our services. And if we can’t service everyone that wants to move forward with us, we need others to be able to take care of and service our clients’ needs. It’s infinite.

3. Your mission as a leader is to develop more leaders.

We are in a world in need of leaders more than ever. My goal is to build trust with those I’m working with so I can further positively impact their lives and turn them into better leaders. In my leadership journey, one of the biggest honors of my career was playing a part in helping a former teammate achieve success. Jennifer Villalobos and I worked together for about a year and a half and she went on to become a Phoenix Business Journal 40 under 40 — one of the best of the best under the age of 40. Jennifer Villalobos’ challenge as I’ve told her is not to thank me in her career journey, but for someday, 50 other people to look at her as a catalyst to her success. The more you move up in your leadership journey the BIGGER your servant’s towel needs to be. And the world will be a better place if that’s the case.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’ve launched a Junk Removal and Liquidation Division on a mission to be the first junk removal company that GUARANTEES donation of assets. Our Director of Junk Removal, Ethan Delahunty, and I are working on building partnerships with local charities and currently are donating about one tractor trailer load per month back to the community. It’s enough to furnish 6–10 apartments.

Next up, we want over 1,000,000 lbs. of excess assets annually avoiding landfills and be donated back to serve the community. It’s a hard road ahead, but we’re doing it because focusing on donating assets is neglected in our industry — and we want to scale doing it right.

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?

“Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The book made clear that any shortcomings, mistakes, or errors must be owned completely by leadership. And if you exude that it will resonate with your team and they, too, will take extreme ownership. We live in a society that points fingers. And it’s the form of leadership I am working harder than ever to exude every day.

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

“Do or do not. There is no try.” You don’t need to try to make something happen. Try suggests doubt. And of course, in the art of doing it you’re putting forth effort! It’s just you’re changing your mindset to convince yourself that you can do it.

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

I wish ALL companies, every single one, would create goals around community impact leveraging their own talents. I’m surprised talking to friends of large corporate entities that basically do nothing in the community. I recently asked one the question why and he replied, “because it’s not a requirement for our success”. It doesn’t take much, but if all organizations prioritized community outreach, even just a little, it would make a much bigger impact.

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-stevens-29915718/

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

My pleasure.


Meet The Disruptors: Jim Stevens Of M3 Commercial Moving & Logistics On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Agapi Gessesse: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Take every opportunity to appreciate the people who are on your team, those who are riding through the turbulence with you, and find ways to show appreciation.

As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Agapi Gessesse.

Agapi Gessesse is a powerful, influential and fearless changemaker. Born and raised in Toronto by a refugee mother, Agapi’s commitment to community development stems from her lived experience, which then propelled her to obtain her master’s degree in Social Justice. Agapi has captivated audiences on local and national stages and conferences including the National Housing Conference, AFP, and Maytree’s Five Good Ideas. She speaks and writes articles on topics such as diversity and inclusion, workforce development and youth engagement. Agapi Gessesse is currently the Executive Director of CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, addressing economic issues affecting Black youth.

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

I grew up in a refugee single-parent household that received and utilized social services. My mother passed away when I was 14, which meant I had to navigate adulthood at an early age. I have always had a passion and conviction for social justice and the need to help others. Through my own life experiences growing up, I originally did not believe working in this sector would offer a career with a decent wage. I have always volunteered my time to various organizations and, eventually, my 5–9 after-work passion projects evolved into a passionate career. My life experiences have truly offered me the ability to serve my community.

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

Once, I was doing a TV interview and I was supposed to speak about the work CEE has been doing in several communities across the GTA. The anchor confused CEE with another non-profit organization in the GTA, asking specific questions about their programming. I did not want to intervene on live television addressing the mix up and, as such, I gave the best answers that I could regarding the other non-profit organization. Looking back, I believe I answered the questions very well and made them look good! The takeaways here are to learn to be adaptable, roll with the punches, and that everyone, especially Executive Directors and news anchors, make mistakes, even on live TV.

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

My life has been the epitome of a village raising me, especially at a pivotal time in my life when I had to be an adult quite quickly. Throughout my career, I have always had managers who showed me how to do their job and encouraged me to do what was best for myself. I have also had great friends and amazing mentors along the way; there have been too many people for me to individually name! I truly believe all things work together and that all my interactions and relationships have propelled my personal and career growth through the years.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company (ORGANIZATION) started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When CEE was first launched in 2012 under the Youth Challenge Fund, it was initially created to help young Black entrepreneurs furthest from the labour market. Over the years, this has quickly evolved into creating high-paying jobs with upward mobility in labour gaps where young people can express their entrepreneurial skills in said job, but also gain concrete skills to use as they see beneficial.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The ongoing COVID Pandemic is the first thing that comes to mind. It was an uncertain time for CEE during the first wave in March 2020. It was very unclear how things, with respect to funding, programming and social supports, would stay afloat. Our organization needed assistance, as did the members that we served. During the first wave, CEE staff worked long hours, where we went from serving 30 young people at one time to 175–200 young people. Our team was small and stretched, and we needed innovative ways to meet everyone’s needs. My leadership style has been and continues to be collaborative, especially during these uncertain times. No idea was left off the table, which I believe is important in a passionate team. As a leader, one needs to strongly believe in things no one else can see. I had to convey to my team that CEE would come out of this pandemic better and stronger.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I was 26 years old when I first became an Executive Director, with no prior experience in managing people. I struggled with imposter syndrome (self-doubt) and grappled with ‘throwing in the towel’ many times. I was too focused on the title of my job, rather than what it took to complete the job.

My motivation has been consistently thinking about what supports I needed when I was a young person, the youth who currently need my help, as well as services that are needed to address needs in the community. This is what motivates me to this day; there are young people who need assistance daily, who need me to show up and show out at work, to ensure that they achieve upward social and economic mobility, as well as stability.

In terms of sustaining drive, seeing the successes that we cultivate through CEE’s programming and wraparound supports on a daily basis feeds my motivation, especially with young people who may have been in particularly difficult situations. With us as contributors to their journey, they end up in a completely different position that is favorable to them. These success stories motivate me, as does my team, as they show up to work daily, always outdoing themselves and upholding CEE’s mission and vision above and beyond.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

You must have a clear vision and resiliency. A leader must have a vision and express it very clearly to staff, partners, funders, stakeholders, etc., to ensure everyone is on the same page in an organization’s journey. Transparency in difficult times is also extremely important; leaders must share what they know. Knowledge is meant to be shared!

The sooner leaders understand that their jobs are to problem-solve and that there will never be a day where they are not problem-solving, the better.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

In the case of CEE, we remind people why we exist; someone’s life can be dependent on whether our team shows up to work motivated and ready to be their best. This is not something that we can take lightly. As a leader, we can create an environment where balance and self-care are priorities, capture opportunities to celebrate even the smallest wins, and set boundaries.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and members and alumni?

The best way to communicate difficult news is to put yourself into the members’ realities and what they might be facing. We must put ourselves in their shoes and attempt to understand how we would want to be communicated with. It is also important to mention that by building trust and transparency, if difficult news needs to be communicated, it will come with understanding.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

A leader cannot only be looking at the current circumstance and what is happening around them; a leader must have the ability to look outside of their own circumstance! At CEE, this is what we ask young people to do when they come through our doors — to look beyond their circumstances in a realistic manner and envision what the future could be. In order to be successful, you cannot do what everyone else is doing, you have to focus on yourself, your vision, and your organization’s vision in order to succeed.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The number one principle is to stick to your organization’s mission and vision. If your organization focuses on solving a specific problem, serving a community, or attempting to solve an everyday problem for the communities it serves, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of your company and who you are trying to serve. This motivates staff, customers, members and, including oneself, leaders.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

1. Giving up too easily.

2. Reinventing themselves so far from where they originally planned and making decisions that make the organization unrecognizable or unapproachable to those they serve.

3. Getting too comfortable, to the point where innovation is no longer a priority and they simply believe that what they are doing is working.

How to Avoid these Common Mistakes: In a company, organization or business, it is imperative to keep people on your team who are stronger in areas you are not, can fill gaps where weaknesses lie, will consistently think outside of the box, and won’t allow yourself, others or the organization to get too comfortable. These persons must keep you accountable to the mission of your company or organization.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Going back to the words of advice I mentioned earlier:

1. It is important to think outside of the ‘box’, rather than solely pay attention to the challenging and turbulent times.

2. Have a vision that is greater than the current circumstances. During an economic downturn, organizations need to find opportunities.

3. People give money to people, not necessarily to organizations! It is extremely important to build and maintain relationships and partnerships in order to generate funding for subsequent years. An organization must have a long-term vision; it is about thriving, not surviving.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Leaders, themselves, need to roll up their sleeves and do what needs to get done, no matter what the job is.

2. Transparency is key. Open and honest communication is needed so that others are aware of everything at any given time.

3. Take every opportunity to appreciate the people who are on your team, those who are riding through the turbulence with you, and find ways to show appreciation.

4. Turbulent times are not where you should become scared — this is where you have the opportunity to try new things and think outside the box.

5. Put the right people in the right places. Use the opportunity for staff to utilize talents outside of their job scope.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is, “When you make plans, God laughs.”

Why? In my life, and in my career experience, I have had the opportunity to have jobs I was not ideally ready for career-wise or qualified for in terms of experience. But the people who hired me saw great potential in me, something I would not have initially seen in myself or my plan otherwise.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow CEE’s various social media platforms to stay up-to-date with our work:

Instagram: @ceetoronto

CEE’s website: https://ceetoronto.org/

Twitter: @cee_toronto

LinkedIn: CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals

YouTube: CEE Toronto

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Agapi Gessesse: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Agile Businesses: Jim Harold Of Identity Automation On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In…

Agile Businesses: Jim Harold Of Identity Automation On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face Of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Listen to clients, employees, the market and competitors — then triangulate. I hinted at that earlier, and here’s an example. During Identity Automation’s pivot to EdTech, our team had to work extra hard, but our time-off policy was outdated. People felt like they had to sacrifice paid time off just to take their kid to the dentist. We introduced unlimited PTO, and of course, people were afraid to use it. I tried to model the idea that you really can take time whenever you need it, and our culture eventually shifted. Listening to the team’s needs put us in a much better position to deal with disruption.

As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Harold.

Jim is the CEO of Identity Automation, a digital identity platform for K-12 and higher education that aims to make learning more secure and productive. Prior to joining Identity Automation in 2020, Jim spent over twenty years in the software industry, with stints at Accenture, Teradata, Sybase (SAP), PeopleSoft (Oracle), Acxiom, Quantifind, and Neustar most recently. As an entrepreneur, he co-founded the pricing optimization organization Spotlight Solutions, which was acquired by Oracle.

Jim has appeared on CNBC and speaks frequently at events such as Forrester Summit and the Customer Relationship Management Conference. He is a former member of the Executive Board of Directors for the Sam M. Walton College of Business Center for Retailing Excellence at the University of Arkansas.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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?

The ‘backstory’ begins at the University of Dayton in Ohio, where I was studying for a mechanical engineering degree. I got involved with a technical project that was way out of my league, but I found a way to be useful. Our team needed someone with business acumen to do $1,000 of free work for us; I found that person and convinced them to do the work. The team was happy because no one else wanted to dial up random people and ask them for a favor. It turned out that I was a better people person than engineer, so I went with it. I rose up the ranks in sales and eventually became CEO here at Identity Automation.

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

In my first job out of college, I was a software consultant with Accenture, and my team did a factory tour with a packaged goods company. I was oohing and ahhing at everything, like a 12-year-old. Afterwards, my boss pulled me aside and said, “You do realize we’re billing you out at $200 per hour to work on something you’ve clearly never seen in your life?” I learned a valuable lesson about being prepared.

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

I’m particularly grateful towards Rob Daly, a pillar of Cincinnati’s business and civic community. Back in 1999 when I was getting to know Rob, I was CEO of a tech company that had to sell to a competitor. Although we’d nailed marketing and sales, our product wasn’t good enough. After the sale, I was in a rut and moaning about how the investors didn’t see things my way, and how we would have succeeded if they had. Rob wasn’t having it. He said, “you’ve got to decide when it’s time to flip over the table,” meaning you must stand up for your principles assertively — or be willing to walk away — if you want to get things done with strong-willed people.

I was done complaining after that and moved on. Rob has been my mentor ever since.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Our purpose at Identity Automation has always been to make industries more secure and productive. Today, we’re fortunate to align that goal with the mission of educators. Most players in the cybersecurity space don’t have the tenacity and patience to work with school districts and universities. Because of the many things we can accomplish for educators, students and communities, we believe the obstacles are worth it.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?

Identity Automation aims to ensure that digital learning environments are secure, available and free from technical obstacles. This job has become especially important since the beginning of COVID-19. Eighteen months ago, it wasn’t obvious that educators would need dozens of learning applications to teach students during a pandemic — and that those apps would need to be part of one, cohesive system. We make sure they talk to each other and protect people’s identities and private data.

Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?

Due to COVID-19, the immediate need to educate students online was a massive technological disruption. Suddenly, learning apps needed to be available 24/7. So, money flooded into the EdTech market, which kept schools running but also caused chaos.

To put this in perspective, everyone who has worked remotely during the pandemic has had issues with their “working environment.” For example, they’ve all had video conferences that started 10 minutes late due to technical issues. Now, imagine losing those 10 minutes in the beginning of every 50-minute math class. That would have a serious impact on learning outcomes. And that’s just one of many ways a digital learning environment could fail. It took more effort than expected to maintain EdTech systems, add new users and protect everyone against cyber threats.

What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?

Although we worked with a handful of industries including education, the digital learning disruption led us to go all-in on K-12 and higher ed. They were so underserved. Too few providers were able to keep kids safe as they learn online and meet the unique wants and needs of the education sector. We pivoted to being a pure EdTech company.

Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.

The “aha moment” happened in March 2020 during a conversation with a large public school. They were sharing how digital learning had enhanced equity and inclusion across the community.

Initially, digital learning was a big problem because devices and Wi-Fi weren’t equally available to all socioeconomic and demographic groups. COVID-19 changed that. They cited the example of “Johnny,” a high schooler, who needed to go home midday to take care of his second-grade sister, so he would miss every calculus class. Now, he goes home to watch his sister, logs into calculus class remotely and has a fair opportunity to learn.

Before this discussion, we were concerned that digital learning would be a temporary thing and dissipate after COVID-19. That presentation gave us the conviction to press on.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

It’s going extremely well. School districts quickly recognized the need to invest in security, so we saw 50% growth in our business in 2021. We’ve had a strong track record of securing identities, which is critical in this environment. When we surveyed K-12 technology leaders early in 2021, 92% said they had suffered a cyberattack since the beginning of COVID-19. The education sector has never seen anything like it before. Ransomware attacks are surging and have become extraordinarily costly for school districts without proper security, so we’re doing our best to help mitigate these risks.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?

During disruption, the challenge is to avoid being reactive. Too often, the first point of view, the most expedient option or the loudest voice in the room can rush a flawed decision. The most critical role for a leader is to step back, take a breath and have a moment of Zen. Then, listen to different points of view and triangulate those perspectives until they are aligned. The more you can listen to different stakeholders like clients, employees and partners, the more likely you are to find common ground — and see opportunities unique to the disruption.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Stand in the shoes of your teammates. When you’re a leader distanced from the frontline, it’s easy to give directions but hard to know if you’re aiming people in the right direction. You need to show teammates that you’re in the foxhole with them and can empathize with their position. That comes from conversation — you must speak openly with people who are struggling with uncertainty. Sit down, understand their day to day and show interest in seeing the situation from their point of view. Inspiration, motivation and engagement follow from empathy.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The best principle for turbulent times is the car metaphor. Your steering wheel is empathy, the engine drives everything forward. Without a steering wheel, you go in random directions, which wastes fuel and can cause accidents. Without the engine though, you’ll point somewhere but get nowhere. There needs to be urgency and action behind the steering. The steering wheel (empathy) and engine (drive) are equal partners in navigating turbulent times.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The first common mistake I see is denial. Most businesses don’t want to believe that their model is at risk of becoming irrelevant, regardless of what customers say. The second and closely related mistake is arrogance. When a business acts as if things always worked a certain way, and therefore always will work that way, they dismiss upstart competitors and refuse to adapt. Third, when reality finally pierces the denial and arrogance, you see a knee-jerk reaction from the business. The loudest, most aggressive voice decides what to do next, and it rarely goes well.

To avoid all that, be humble. Trust that your stakeholders understand their own needs and have insight into where your market is going.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.

First, listen to clients, employees, the market and competitors — then triangulate. I hinted at that earlier, and here’s an example. During Identity Automation’s pivot to EdTech, our team had to work extra hard, but our time-off policy was outdated. People felt like they had to sacrifice paid time off just to take their kid to the dentist. We introduced unlimited PTO, and of course, people were afraid to use it. I tried to model the idea that you really can take time whenever you need it, and our culture eventually shifted. Listening to the team’s needs put us in a much better position to deal with disruption.

Second, try stuff. In fact, think about disrupting your own job or role. People who are happy with their career — and perform at the highest level — rarely take a predictable, linear path to get there. They embrace change and experimentation, get in a lot of repetitions, grow through first-hand experience and redefine their job role over and over. Disrupting your own role is one of the surest ways to help an organization stay relevant. If people’s jobs aren’t transforming, neither is the company.

Third, bias towards action. Not long ago, Identity Automation was debating whether to roll out a tool that would enable small districts to customize usernames. This was standard for major districts, but our basic offerings limited some options to reduce complexity and costs. For three days, we debated whether this was worth introducing. Meanwhile, Ramon, one of our teammates, built the feature and ended the debate. Had we all been biased towards action, we would have saved valuable time.

Fourth, work most closely with those who love change, who live for it. This year, Identity Automation partnered with Clever, who we long considered a competitor. To clients though, we were like chocolate and peanut butter. We were tastier together. So, we put aside our differences and aimed to serve clients together. That took a brave appetite for change among Clever’s leaders. The partnership is working out great, and we’re so glad to be working with them.

Fifth, trust in real-life experience. I used to try to figure everything out before taking action. Disruption gives you time to listen and think, but not that much time. As an analogy, if you want to run a marathon, don’t read about marathons. Put your shoes on and run a mile, or whatever you can manage. I recommend the same for disruptions. Listen, but don’t get paralyzed. Do something.

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

In an interview for Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asked director Steve Spielberg, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

“Thanks for listening,” answered Spielberg.

It showed humility. Spielberg never pretended like he possessed all the inspiration and genius we see in his films. Rather, he became an iconic director by getting outside his own head and listening for direction, everywhere and in everything.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Visit www.identityautomation.com and follow me on Twitter @jimrold.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Agile Businesses: Jim Harold Of Identity Automation On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Thuan Nguyen Of AVID: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Insist on great experiences for anyone interacting with your brand. Every interaction matters. You build your brand not by what you say but by what people experience. AVID is an experiential brand and we pride ourselves on the experiences people have. Successful teams, successful projects, and successful organizations are not without problems or an absence of conflict. What is important for a company or organization’s brand is how we show up to address those conflicts. When we get to the other side of a problem will we still like each other, trust each other, and be willing to dig deeper into our next problem? This is what determines if we will be successful or not as an organization in getting people to know and trust our brand.

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

Thuan Nguyen is the incoming AVID CEO. He officially steps into his role in April 2022. Mr. Nguyen first joined AVID as Executive Vice President in 2016 and was since promoted to Chief Operating Officer and then to President and Chief Operating Officer.

Mr. Nguyen, who immigrated from Vietnam to the United States at eight years old as a refugee, credits public education and devoted educators for transforming his and his family’s lives. His drive is to create opportunities for all students to dream big and create their own paths to succeed and thrive.

He is responsible for implementing AVID’s strategy, which includes furthering its mission of closing the opportunity gap and preparing all students for college, and career, accelerating the scalability of AVID as a schoolwide and districtwide system, developing student-centric technologies to enhance and sustain the student experience in AVID, and determining how AVID can best serve urban districts.

At AVID, Mr. Nguyen has been instrumental in launching more resources for educators over the past four years than at any time in AVID’s history, creating AVID’s public service for educators, and navigating the organization through the pandemic. During Mr. Nguyen’s tenure, more than 3,200 schools have partnered with AVID Center, increasing the number of students served by more than 1.5 million.

Mr. Nguyen brings to AVID more than 20 years of experience in education. He started as a student helper delivering mail after class for Washington State Kent School District. He eventually became the Assistant Superintendent/Chief Digital Strategy Officer, responsible for the overall success of the district’s information technology, communications and security policies, programs, and services. Mr. Nguyen has held executive roles in IT, instructional technology, safety and security, environmental services, communications, public relations, and building operations and served in interim executive roles in human resources, payroll, accounting, and finance.

Mr. Nguyen was named a Computerworld Honors Program Laureate in 2008, was selected as one of the National School Boards Association’s “20 to Watch” for 2008 and was named as one of the 100 most important people in education technology as part of Tech & Learning’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2010. He has also worked on two projects permanently archived in the research collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. In 2013, Mr. Nguyen’s work received recognition from The Center for Digital Education, The National School Public Relations Association, The One-to-One Institute, and Project RED for web technologies, branding and communication to the community, student technology, and a one-to-one project. His team also received the national CoSN Team Award and was recognized by the National School Board Association in 2014. In 2015, he was honored by the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) as the Outstanding Technology Leader of the Year.

In 2021, Mr. Nguyen became the 58th person in San Diego State University’s history to be awarded an honorary doctorate for his work in education. The first person to receive such an honor by SDSU was John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Nguyen currently serves on the board of International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

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 am one of those very fortunate individuals that had incredible teachers. The person that I am today was greatly impacted by teachers that cared for me and saw potential in me that I didn’t even know was there. They sparked a love of learning and believed in me, and for that I will be forever grateful. To repay them, I want to do my part in ensuring that every student in every single classroom has the same opportunities that I did, but I am not gifted enough to be a teacher so I am paying it forward and doing whatever it is I possibly can to encourage and support educators — teachers, principals, district administrators.

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?

Very early on in my career I was asked to help communicate a need for a new facility bond for a school district. We did posters, videos, flyers, listening and learning sessions with the district leadership and shared all kinds of financial, tax collection rates, and existing facility data. After months of work, the bond failed.

When we tried again, instead of only focusing on the traditional facts and data points, we showed the inside of one of the water pipes as an example of a project the Bond would fund. Half of the pipe was filled with iron, it was gross! And sharing that visual helped the community to visualize the need beyond the numbers. The bond passed overwhelmingly.

I still have the pipe in my office to serve as a reminder that we must communicate in ways that resonate and we must be creative in how we communicate if we want to reach everyone.

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

AVID works. We have proven results that impact outcomes for students. More than 90% of our customers renew their contracts with us and invite us to keep working with them. That kind of retention is remarkable. Our net promoter scores are also very high, better than consumer brands like Google, BMW, etc. One reason for this is AVID builds incredible relationships with our customers and has created a passionate community of educators from across the country working tirelessly to close the opportunity gap that exists for far too many students. More than 40 years ago Mary Catherine Swanson, our founder, was a high school teacher who knew there was a need, that underserved students did not have the same opportunities because of inequities within the system. She exercised her educator agency and figured out how to close the opportunity gaps facing her students. She showed what’s possible. AVID stands out because genuinely care about public education and want all students to have opportunities. It’s not about hawking our product. We are a nonprofit and for us the work is a calling.

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

We are resuming our face-to-face trainings this year after a two-year pause. Like so many companies, we had to pivot because of the pandemic. Prior to summer of 2020 the majority of our trainings were designed to be delivered face-to-face. The pandemic required that we find another way to train educators. We worked hard to create rich virtual trainings with terrific and timely content. Now we want to make sure that our face-to-face trainings are just as strong. We are aligning all of our trainings so that the content will be consistent regardless of how it is delivered. We are developing new products and services to help schools accelerate learning for all students and address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing to expand our public service offering and the free resources we create and curate for educators. We are also devoting more time to providing thought leadership in the education industry to help with emerging challenges.

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

Brand marketing is about winning people’s hearts and minds. It means that we deliver on what people want and expect from us. With more than 40 years, people have high expectations for us. The challenges schools face is real and when they turn to us to work with them, they expect to see results. We want to uphold our legacy, stay true to our mission, but continually stay relevant and improve. We cannot rest on our laurels and must continually win over the hearts and minds of new people. We try to personalize our brand. We are about making dreams come true for people and transforming people’s lives. That is by its very nature so inspiring and so filled with emotion. In our marketing, we try to get out of the way and let AVID students and AVID educators tell their stories. We change lives. We give students hope for a life filled with possibilities. That’s our brand.

Product marketing is communication — if you have people’s hearts and minds and they trust you, then product marketing is merely communicating information. It is helping customers identify what makes the most sense for them, given where they are in the journey. For example, we have developed resources supporting accelerating student learning because there were gaps, and continue to be gaps, created by the pandemic. We engage in product marketing when we communicate the resources, content, and training to support closing the many gaps faced by students today. Our customers trust that what we create will support and engage educators so they can meet the pressing needs of their students in a way that keeps everyone moving forward because we can’t afford to go backwards. Our students and teachers deserve more from us.

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

Investing resources and energy into building a brand is more than dollars spent on building a marketing team or developing an advertising campaign. Truly building a brand is delivering on our mission and who we are as an organization. Alignment as an organization is how we deliver on our mission. We honor the trust and confidence schools have in us when we are willing to acknowledge when something doesn’t go right. We honor their trust and confidence in our brand when we celebrate their successes with them. Investing resources into building a brand means making the right decision by our partners and delivering excellent customer service, this is the heavy lift of creating a culture where every single employee has the same level of commitment and care to the customer. It is hard work, and it takes commitment and ensuring that the core values of the organization align with the mission and how we serve our partners.

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

  1. Stay true to the mission. When the pandemic first began, it really tested us as an organization from a business standpoint. We were at risk of losing all of our revenue overnight. We were talking about budget reductions, Reductions in Force (RIFs), all of those terrible things. However, staying true to our mission meant finding ways to support educators as they and their students were being sent home to learn without many of the resources they needed to be successful. While fighting to keep our company open and fully operational, we began to reach out to collaborators and partners like MIT, Amazon, and others for resources we could provide to educators. It would have been really easy to require an email address in exchange for access to these resources, but that would not have meant staying true to our mission and we chose to make the resources open and accessible to everyone, free of charge and no strings required. Because we are committed to the success of teachers and the success of students in every classroom. No matter what the crisis is that we are facing as an organization, our North Star is finding ways to support educators when they need us.
  2. Focus on what makes you unique and distinguishes you from your competitors. From the very beginning, our work has always been partnering with educators to identify what works and then sharing that from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher. That is how Mary Catherine Swanson began searching for answers more than forty years ago and then how those answers were shared, and that is still our model. We hire classroom teachers, principals, counselors, and district administrators to train the educators that rely on us for support and resources. Mary Catherine interviewed underserved students who had graduated and found success after high school to figure out what worked for them. We have a large alumni group we stay connected to because we know that staying relevant requires that the strategies, resources, and products we create are best developed through lived experiences.
  3. Speak with a common and consistent voice. Pay attention to your employees and what they are saying. Every employee is a brand ambassador because the organization is made up of people. The organization is us and how we choose to treat each other. When there is a mismatch between what we say matters and how we treat people, it is obvious, and it hurts the brand. We have core values that we have adopted as an organization, and we do our best to live them. Service, authenticity, excellence, ownership, and potential are what we want our customers to experience when they interact with us, and that can only happen if these values are integral to how we work together when our customers aren’t watching.
  4. Cultivate brand champions and let your customers tell your story for you. Our most valuable resource has been our ability to be a grassroots organization even as we have grown to scale. Learning what your customers and prospective customers think is important, the data you collect is important, and what is even more important is that data is being used to get to know what your customers need. Creating space for educators to share their stories with other educators around what is happening within their classrooms and their schools is some of the most important branding work that we do. And that the stories they are telling are their stories, not the AVID story.
  5. Insist on great experiences for anyone interacting with your brand. Every interaction matters. You build your brand not by what you say but by what people experience. AVID is an experiential brand and we pride ourselves on the experiences people have. Successful teams, successful projects, and successful organizations are not without problems or an absence of conflict. What is important for a company or organization’s brand is how we show up to address those conflicts. When we get to the other side of a problem will we still like each other, trust each other, and be willing to dig deeper into our next problem? This is what determines if we will be successful or not as an organization in getting people to know and trust our brand.

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?

Nike, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Starbucks, and Costco are a few companies that come to mind because of their brilliant customer service. The people who are addressing challenges and issues for the customer are empowered to do everything it takes to resolve the issue without needing to talk to someone else, such as a supervisor. We have followed this same model at AVID, empowering our customer service team to issue a refund or offer a variety of options so that our customers will receive excellent customer service. We trust our employees to make the right decisions and the right decisions are the decisions that are in the best interest of our educators. We will always support that. That doesn’t require money, it requires empowerment.

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

There is never just one indicator with anything this complex. There have to be multi-faceted ways of measuring our impact. Analyzing the interactions on social media campaigns, the open rate on the newsletters and emails we send out because open rates tell a story. If we send out a newsletter and expect a 5% or 10% open rate, then we’ve probably lost the battle as people opening it are likely viewing it as an advertisement and not information or communication. That is a sign that a customer has lost faith in our brand.

Focus groups, feedback, and listening sessions around how people are talking about us are all ways we measure our success. If an educator — a teacher, a principal, a district administrator — is talking about our impact to other educators without our even being part of the conversation but simply because they are willing to step up and share their success and they aren’t directly connected to us, then we know we are being successful.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media looks different for us than it does for more traditional companies. People don’t join our social media groups because they want to be a brand ambassador. They join our social media groups because they want to have an authentic conversation around the challenges they are facing in the classroom. When I think about social media, I think about what it takes to create a community of educators willing to help each other with day-to-day challenges of teaching. A space where resources are shared, and questions are asked and answered by other educators doing the same work. For me, social media is not about marketing and ad campaigns. It’s about building a community that helps one another and is using the AVID network as a way of solving problems. Whether sharing ideas for increasing the number of students completing the FAFSA, college applications, or scholarships, our social media channels are where educators share real-time examples and engage in real-time problems, leveraging the collective knowledge of the community around what is working and not working.

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

I am a believer in disconnecting, this was more difficult during the pandemic because everything was just more intense. The other day I was sitting on the couch with the lights turned off, not doing anything other than sitting, literally, in the dark. When my wife walked in and asked what I was doing. I shared what I was thinking about, and her response was “Is this how you do it? Is this how you come up with long-term strategies and solutions to problems?”

And the answer is yes, this is how I do it. I disconnect from the day-to-day problem solving because that uses different brain muscles than long-term problem solving. I give myself space to let data and information just flow over me so I can begin connecting dots and making connections. We can get so caught up in solving problems, putting out fires, and then finding new problems to solve that we lose sight of what we need to accomplish or think about in a much bigger way. I think it is important to take a step back from fixing issues and being caught up in the busyness to allow our brains to exercise different muscles and make new connections. You don’t have to sit in the dark — but it is important to identify how to give yourself the mental break needed to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture, whether it be going for a walk, taking time off, or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Being able to disconnect from the day-to-day problems to think strategically is an important way to avoid burnout.

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. 🙂

Every student having the opportunity to fully participate in their community. I know it’s not groundbreaking, but in order for students to be active participants in their community they need skills, opportunities, experiences, and people that believe in them. I often tell our new employees that when I began working for AVID we were serving 750,000 students. Six years later we are serving more than 2,000,000. Those are numbers anyone should be proud of, and I am proud of these numbers. The reality is that we have 50 million young people in schools today, and around 25 million are underserved in some way. That’s the gap. Those are the kids we are leaving behind every single day.

Hopefully one of the positives coming out of the pandemic will be the realization of the important role schools play in serving the whole community. The stark reality is that students are being sent home and our communities are grappling with the lack of internet access and food insecurity for students who depend on the two meals a day provided at school. We know that schools meet more than students’ educational needs and the pandemic illustrated how much work we have to do as a nation to create a future where every student has the opportunity to succeed and be an active participant in their community.

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

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is something I try to remember because one of the many gifts that my educators and mentors have given me is the belief that I can do anything. That I can fix any problem. I have always had people who believed there was no problem too complex or that I couldn’t handle. I want to empower my staff to believe that they can fix problems and solve complex issues. We work with schools, and it is easy to look at data around student outcomes or who is succeeding and who is failing and then begin thinking in three-year or five-year solutions. We can easily begin to feel unempowered. And then we remember that AVID began when one teacher identified a problem and decided to solve it. One teacher made a difference. And that is happening every single day all over the country, one teacher at a time choosing to make a difference in students’ lives. This creates a multi-generational impact that ripples through the entire community. It requires taking that first step and knowing the momentum will carry us forward.

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. 🙂

Brene Brown. We partner with educators to spark and support thriving learning cultures so every student can live a life of possibility. Learning requires vulnerability and courage, and so much of what we do aligns beautifully with Brene Brown’s research.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can stay up to date with all things AVID at www.avid.org.

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


Thuan Nguyen Of AVID: 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.

Brand Makeovers: Antonia Hock Of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center On The 5 Things You Should Do…

Brand Makeovers: Antonia Hock Of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be Specific and Disciplined about your Identity: Consumers want to connect with brands that have a specific identity that speaks directly to them. As a brand you cannot be generic, appeal to all, and be successful. Take a stand and have a focused, disciplined identity that appeals to the specific demographics you target. Peloton has done an exceptional job of focusing on consumers that are passionate about fitness, but crave a connected, yet private, community experience. They have built a platform that supports and engages this specific demographic, and their reward has been huge year over year growth and an enviable social media following of passionate consumers.

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

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

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

Thank you so much for 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 came to terms early in my career that I was driven towards chaos, turn-arounds, new ideas, start-ups — anything that was a “build” vs. a stable, run-rate business that needed only incremental improvement to thrive. I also love working with big brands that have resources and an appetite for being market-makers through innovation and calculated risk. This led me to work for fast-moving progressive companies like Microsoft, HP, and Siemens where I earned a reputation as a maverick: the one you call when you have a big challenge with high stakes attached.

When I was presented with the opportunity to work for a heritage brand like The-Ritz-Carlton — but with the new twist of taking that legendary service to market by building a methodology that can be implemented in the Fortune 500 to drive business performance, I knew I had to jump. Over the past five years, I’ve grown this business from training to a global consulting firm known for excellence.

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?

This is not a funny mistake per se, but it is poignant and indelible one that I observed early in my career. Our entire regional leadership team was meeting for a full day workshop, and there were eight of us seated around a table. Our Regional Vice President was running the meeting. Two of us were women, and at the end of the day, my fellow female colleague had said very little. She diligently took notes and listened intently all day. At the end of the meeting, our Vice President asked her to stand up and said in front of all us that she should go clean out her desk because she failed to contribute to our meeting and our future. And that very day, she was walked out of the building. She was smart, but never found the confidence to use her voice. The lesson is to always find your contribution, cultivate your brand, and make a mark. Every time, no exceptions. Everyone has great ideas and insight. Never let circumstances intimidate you, quiet your creativity, or silence your best ideas.

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

My tipping point was not an event, but rather a realization. When I discovered that my ability to be authentic was tied to my work performance, I sought out career opportunities that allowed me to bring more of my true self to my work. When I started to do that, I saw a direct correlation to my success. Authenticity is tied to discovering what you do well, expressing your work style, and connecting to your purpose in your professional world. When you bring these into alignment for yourself, great things happen!

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

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center is focused on making seismic shifts in the brand identity of some of the biggest brands in the world. We start this journey by focusing on human capital. The way each of us experiences a brand is through the humans that represent that brand — either in person, online, or through channels created and administered by those humans. Recently, we worked with a large sports franchise aspiring to be a world-class sports experience brand through their 2,000 game day employees. After we implemented a new strategy with this franchise, one of their leaders pulled me aside and said that several game day employees expressed shock that they would be able to attend sessions from The Ritz-Carlton. One lady said that this was a watershed moment in her life, “As an hourly employee, I’ve never work for a company that empowers you, believes in you, and invests in you like this.” This sports franchise is now winning awards for outstanding game-day fan experiences delivered by these employees!

Everyone in our business believes that great service, exceptional experiences, and a culture of trust and empowerment will change lives and businesses. We know the multiplying effect of our work impacts millions of employees, their families, the customers that they touch, the communities where they live, and the businesses that they serve. When you operate with the mandate to change lives, create competitive advantages through service, and help build cutting-edge experience-based businesses, purpose is central to everything that you do every day.

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

Be disciplined about what you undertake and trust your own experiences to guide you. Surround yourself with diverse ideas and people that inspire you! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sensory overload in marketing today, so take the time to be inspired by brands that inspire YOU. We are surrounded every day by people who are pushing the envelope and trying fascinating new strategies. Let that inspire your next move, and be fearless.

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

Brand marketing is all about building your identity, what you stand for, and who you are across your enterprise. Your identity connects your brand to your consumer, and the deeper the connection, the more binding the relationship will be. Product marketing, in contrast, is focused on driving transactions for specific products or driving sales for a category of items. I fundamentally believe that consumers today buy brands, not just products. If you are not invested in having a clear brand identity that is expressed across every touch, you will not ultimately be successful. Too few companies are investing in building their brand identity, and they struggle to understand why their products aren’t “sticky”. In the luxury segment, consumers are loyal to brands, not to products.

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?

Consumers today want to have a meaningful connection to the brands that they endorse. This means that they are proud to be affiliated with your brand, they stand for the same things you stand for, and that there is a deep connectedness to the way that they experience your brand. General marketing and advertising are a part of this work, but to create this magic, you need to be disciplined about your brand pillars, know your consumer’s deepest desires, aspirations and goals, and then innovate carefully around how you express your identity in the market.

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

Companies can and should consider rebranding for a few reasons: if you have grown by acquisition, and, as a result, you have a variety of cultures, operating models, and public images, that is a good time to consider rebranding. If you your business has dramatically evolved over time, and your brand is out of sync with your primary business levers, that is a good time to consider rebranding. If your brand is struggling with relevancy to modern consumers, you have already launched efforts to address this unsuccessfully, and you have low general brand equity in the market, that is a good time to consider rebranding.

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

I think that any companies with a long historic legacy as well as the category of luxury heritage brands should consider a “strong evolution story” vs. an outright rebranding. That history, the urban lore associated with it in many cases, and the rich storytelling affiliated with these brands can be lost during the process of rebranding.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  • Invest in Passionate Advocates: No matter what channel you choose, a brand without passionate advocates will fail to connect. Invest in building a great culture first where passion and commitment are cultivated and supported. That will translate directly to customer engagement. Chick-fil-a is a great example of a brand that has passionate advocates driving brand success every day. I recently had a customer tell me that she pulled up to a store in the pouring rain, and she was waiting for the storm to subside to come inside to eat. A Chick-fil-a employee noticed and came out with an umbrella to escort her into the restaurant. She could not stop smiling, raving, and posting all over social media about her experiences. In her own words, she is now a “Chick-fil-a customer for life!”! This underscores that the way a consumer experiences a brand will drive loyalty and, in turn, results.
  • Be Specific and Disciplined about your Identity: Consumers want to connect with brands that have a specific identity that speaks directly to them. As a brand you cannot be generic, appeal to all, and be successful. Take a stand and have a focused, disciplined identity that appeals to the specific demographics you target. Peloton has done an exceptional job of focusing on consumers that are passionate about fitness, but crave a connected, yet private, community experience. They have built a platform that supports and engages this specific demographic, and their reward has been huge year over year growth and an enviable social media following of passionate consumers.
  • Create Indelible Human Experiences: In a world of constant stimulation and options, the strongest brands are creating authentic connections that support meaningful memorable moments. As a consumer, if I share some important information with you, and you fail to turn it into a “moment”, you devalue your brand and you devalue consumer trust. A brand that gets this right is The Ritz-Carlton. If you share your birthday or anniversary, special moment, tiny detail of your stay, or simply give us an opportunity, we will find away to turn that into a “brand defining moment”. When I joined the brand 3 years ago, I checked into The Ritz-Carlton in Dallas from a long day of difficult meetings, a rain-soaked flight delay, and a quick turn around in morning. I was on my last few squeezes of tooth paste — just enough to get through the night and the morning. When I returned to my room late that next day, I had a full new tube of toothpaste on my sink. I did not ask for that toothpaste. It was given openly by another human who saw my need. I was “wowed” by the housekeeper’s thoughtfulness. Years later, I still love to tell that story.
  • Personalize your content & anticipate desires: The brands with a devoted following know that creating personal connections with consumers drives loyal behavior. The next step beyond this personalization is the anticipation of needs that demonstrates genuine care and connection. Brands that can show this degree of “commitment” and “relationship” create a 1-to-1 rapport that drives viral followings. Nike has invested heavily in technology that creates this type of connection to the individual consumer. As a NikeID member, when you approach many of their stores, geo-fencing picks up your presence and alerts the sales associates to pull items that match your preferences in your size to present to you in store. This behavior not only personalizes your experience, but it also anticipates your tastes, and acknowledges that, as a loyal consumer, you matter to the brand.
  • Be Honest and Authentic in your connections: Research shows that the coveted Millennial and GenZ consumers want to engage with brands that have a definitive point of view on social, business, and environmental topics. As a brand, you cannot be non-committal or neutral on important generational issues. Part of being authentic is to find a way to consistently express your brand values, so you connect with your desired consumer. Athletica is a great example of a brand that is leading with a core social statement. When you log into Athletica’s app, the first screen you see is that they are a “Proud Certified B Corp”. You do not see products, offers, or other advertising. Instead, you see this strong statement about their commitment to a social movement that balances their supply chain, employees, and environmental impact with their profit. This is another way to connect with the heart of your consumers and drive that authentic brand connection.

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?

While this is not an official brand makeover, I think that Gucci has done a brilliant job of strongly evolving their heritage brand into a modern, cutting-edge arbiter of culture, pushing the envelope with collaborations and experimenting over the past few years with truly innovative style. Gucci has created a set of experiences across all their channels that taps into the aspirations, desires, and feelings of consumers. By pushing the envelope with their store experience, their visual merchandising, and the way they integrate technology to drive personalization, Gucci has proven that they can outperform their peers. In a luxury segment that is crowed with choices, consumers are proud to be affiliated with Gucci, and they covet the opportunity have that next experience and buy that next item. Brands that want to recreate this should seek immersive experiences that allow consumers to express their individuality in boundary breaking way.

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

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

https://www.yearup.org/

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

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”- Aristotle

This quote reverberates with so many things that ground my point-of-view. First, achievement will always come with a price. Often that is criticism. Speaking out or having an opinion will come at a price. Often that is criticism. Following your own path will often come at a price. Often that is criticism. The world is full of critics, judgement, and naysayers, and we must all consider whether that will limit our choices. If we follow Aristotle’s meaning to the end point; fear of criticism will ultimately lead to a passive choice to be nothing. The faster we can all make peace with criticism as a component of our actions and choices, the faster we can move forward unfettered.

How can our readers follow you online?

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

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

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


Brand Makeovers: Antonia Hock Of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center On The 5 Things You Should Do… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Agile Businesses: David Williams Of Quali On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face Of…

Agile Businesses: David Williams Of Quali On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face Of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Disruption is not just technology. Business models (SaaS/Consumption) and, now pandemics, have proven to be far more disruptive. While most technology disruptions take time to make a real impact — pandemics do not. Prepare for disruption on multiple levels, people, process, business, and technology.

As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant in The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Williams.

David Williams is the Vice President of Product Strategy and Product Marketing at Quali, a leading provider of Environments-as-a-Service infrastructure automation solutions.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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?

Thanks to a summer job at a market research company working in their datacenter doing all the menial tasks IT operations people didn’t want to do, I was offered the chance of full-time employment starting at the bottom-rung of IT operations. This started a long career involved in all things network and IT operations. For many years I worked for Digital Equipment Co. and was a member of the team that delivered the first European ‘lights out’ datacenter. This planted the need to get involved in things that changed how IT was created and used. The need to innovate led me to an exciting product role in a disruptive startup called Tivoli.

It was with Tivoli that I left the UK and came to Austin, Texas. Something you would not have seen predicted in my school yearbook. After Tivoli was acquired by IBM, I eventually became the VP Product Management and Product Marketing. After leaving IBM, and with several startups under my belt, I joined Gartner as a Research VP. I was with Gartner several times, responsible for network and IT operations tools, IT monitoring, and automation tools. My last contribution at Gartner was to define and deliver research on DevOps tooling and practices.

After Gartner, I joined BMC Software as the CTO and VP of Strategy, where I was responsible for defining the vision and strategy for BMC’s cloud and automation product portfolio, then as the SVP Product Strategy at Computer Associates in Santa Clara, I was happy driving the product direction until being acquired, which gave me the opportunity to join RF Code, as EVP Products and Marketing focused on delivering Edge management solutions.

I joined Quali just over a year ago, where I have the pleasure building out Quali’s product portfolio, which has been a rewarding experience. As the VP of Product Strategy at Quali, I am constantly looking for ways to address new infrastructure challenges that software developers, DevOps practitioners and IT operations face delivering applications to the business.

Throughout my 35-year career, I have helped several startup companies through IPOs and acquisitions by establishing a vision and then developing, differentiating, and growing a product or portfolio of products.

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

When I joined IT operations, it was at a time when mistakes were common, and rarely funny. As a computer operator my job was to keep the systems and networks running and performing. Days were about remediation and apologizing to users. Evenings were about offline administration and backups. The mistake I made early in my career sticks with me to this day. The bank went from one server and OS type to a new one. Changes were many, but subtle. One of the subtle changes was the command syntax order of ‘to’ and ‘from’ when backing up files. Doing it the wrong way over-wrote the live data with an old version. No prizes for guessing what I did. My first day of working with the new computer systems was nearly my last day with the bank.

What it taught me was. Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. Taking responsibility does. Mistakes happen but the same one should never happen again. Lastly, if the last syntax you see when doing a backup is “Confirm or Abort” you should always check that confirm is the right answer.

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?

Thanking all the people who have been instrumental in helping me be successful would be an Oscars speech. If there was one person, it would be my mother, an early datacenter pioneer, who found me the summer job and supported my decision to drop further education and take a full-time high-risk job in information technology.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Since its inception, Quali has been focused on providing infrastructure automation at scale for developers.

The ability to deliver software with speed and safety at scale is more important to business success than ever before, and more difficult to achieve. By seamlessly removing obstacles and accelerating the complete development lifecycle at every level, Quali’s platforms deliver unbound environments fostering creativity, innovation, and transformation to enable organizations with the freedom to build the future, anywhere and everywhere.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?

Quali’s platforms create self-service, on-demand automation solutions that increase engineering productivity, cut cloud costs, and optimize infrastructure utilization. With Quali, engineering and DevOps teams can create environments within minutes to solve the pain points of provisioning, deploying, and orchestrating individual environments.

Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?

In recent years, the DevOps methodology has vastly improved the speed at which businesses can deliver new software and update existing applications. The shift to DevOps has given rise to a proliferation of new tools and platforms designed to improve the way we approach and manage the DevOps pipeline.

What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?

Quali’s Environments as a Service solutions — for public cloud environments and for on-premises and hybrid environments — enable business units to create environments within minutes. Both solutions automate the decommissioning of infrastructure components, ensuring costs are kept under control.

Additionally, when using Torque and CloudShell, organizations can apply role-based-access controls and governance policies to control resource usage, cost, and security, while accessing real-time data that details environment utilization.

Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.

I had the good fortune to meet with Lior Koriat, Quali’s CEO. We shared our thoughts on the role IT infrastructure plays going forward. We didn’t talk immediately about cloud, virtual systems, or containers but instead we talked about what was happening and how it was changing how infrastructure needed to be delivered and managed. We agreed that innovation is happening on all fronts, which is creating increasing demand of infrastructure. Application architectures have become increasingly modular, allowing continuous updates and changes to be made in smaller increments, delivering more value while reducing business disruption. 5G networking opened the consumer floodgates enabling businesses to deliver more and faster capabilities to the Edge. Data growth is immense delivering shared content at faster rates to more applications and consumers.

In most organizations infrastructure is treated as something separate, provisioned when needed, in ways that meet the need. Understanding the role and value of the infrastructure is hard. It’s fragmented, complex and increasingly ungoverned making the ability to scale expensive, labor intensive and fraught with risk.

This situation is due to more innovation, this time at the infrastructure level. Infrastructure can be quickly delivered from the cloud. It can be temporary, or it can linger without notice. However, infrastructure is a stack, it’s not just compute. We talked about the Quali platform and how it provides an infrastructure management control plane, connecting disparate IT infrastructure elements to a broad range of organizational use-cases. It was more than provisioning. The a-ha moment was once I understood how it could do this.

At the heart of the Quali platform is a blueprint model allowing infrastructure to be delivered in the form of environments. Each environment contains the infrastructure stack, any code or configurations files used to provision the infrastructure and most importantly, context. Context being the reason the infrastructure is being used, who uses it, why and when. This would allow organizations to protect existing infrastructure investment, embrace new investment faster, scale safely, provide a self-service portal and allow software developers to use whatever they wanted to provision without interference!

So, how are things going with this new direction?

The direction, Environments as a Service, continues to gain more attention. The term is now used and understood driving an increasingly number of people to Quali’s website to both learn and trial the platform. As agile and continuous practices, once considered high risk, have become the established norm more enterprises are reaching the decision to gain a greater understanding of how the infrastructure contributes to business value. It’s a maturity path helped by technology that can augment and enhance existing tools and does not dictate new processes or practices.

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

Early last year I spoke to a company considered a leader in the adoption of DevOps and continuous software delivery. I expected to hear how the organization had established agile practices for infrastructure delivery that were both pioneering and disruptive. For years teams were allowed to use whatever they needed to develop competitive and differentiated software. I was surprised to hear that fragmentation was the main challenge. There was limited understanding of overall company infrastructure use, spend or value. Teams were not working well regarding infrastructure choices or how they are used. No re-use or cross infrastructure optimization. The need now was to re-assess the culture and create a level of control, accountability, and visibility without impeding software development. This showed me that even the most advanced organizations see infrastructure as a challenge.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?

‘The Great Resignation’ has created a raised awareness of what it takes to be a good leader. Having a great product is excellent. Having great people is critical. Being a leader is about creating a healthy team environment, listening and empowerment. With remote work locations time must be allocated to ensure employees have the opportunity to talk. Communication cannot not just be about work and asks.

The more traditional leadership attributes, smarts, focus, energy, and passion remain key, but this now needs to include the balance between what employees can do for the company and what the company needs to do to make the employee successful and appreciated

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?

Transparency is critical. Explain clearly how the company is going to succeed and overcome potential threats. Involve, as much as possible and within reason, people in decision making. Provide a path for growth and improvement through a broadening of skills by education and mentorship. Act quickly when situation occur that create a toxic or hostile workspace. This is especially important with people working from remote locations. Uncertainty, and insecurity and a lack of communication will lead to personnel finding somewhere they feel more appreciated and respected.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Awareness and agility, change is normal, not an exception.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Panic. This is typically caused when a competitor announces something more than a feature or function. Most ‘devastating’ news is not devastating but deserves a quick answer on what it means and then a follow-up with the actions being done to address the news.

Creative positioning. Responding to something by changing the position or message fools no-one. Best to position with accurate information. Disruptive or not it’s going to have both strengths and challenges.

Ignoring it. It’s going to go away. The longer it’s left the worse it will get. Better to hit it head-on and if needed adjust strategic priorities accordingly.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Disruption is not just technology. Business models (SaaS/Consumption) and, now pandemics, have proven to be far more disruptive. While most technology disruptions take time to make a real impact — pandemics do not. Prepare for disruption on multiple levels, people, process, business, and technology.
  2. Disruptive change is going to happen. The best way to deal with change is to hire and train people who understand how to adapt quickly and positively.
  3. Continuous awareness, customers, market trends, community chat rooms, and tier 1 analyst firms. Disruptive change is rarely delivered without minor tremors.
  4. If disruption happens reach out to the installed base. Understand their expectations, concerns and thinking. This will establish the nature of the threat, the severity, and the speed it will have to make an impact.
  5. Adopt an agile methodology. This will ensure the company is able to pivot effectively and will do so with less disruption. Agile is all about effective change.

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

I have two, one from Earth. One not.

“One original thought is worth a thousand mindless quotings”. Diogenes

“Do or do not. There is no try”. Yoda.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow our work at Quali on Twitter (@QualiSystems) and LinkedIn.

and follow me on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-paul-williams/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Agile Businesses: David Williams Of Quali On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face Of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Samantha Harding On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Learn from the best, In my time in London I stepped down and started from zero going to work for brands that I looked up to, from luxury Hermes to mainstream Urban outfitters, I was always hungry to learn more and how they where doing it ans what made them stand out.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Harding.

Samantha Harding is a Brazilian, english fashion designer born in Dubai and raised in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, now living in London. 10 years ago she started her brand Sahar swimwear, now known as Sahar by Samantha Harding. It’s an exclusive slow fashion brand with beautiful high quality luxury resort wear designs. Everything is produced locally in the communities of Rio de janeiro.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in Dubai and raised in the UAE until I was 10, I then moved to Rio de Janeiro where I started surfing at a young age. That’s when it all happened, I’ve always loved the sea and the beach and when I was introduced to this sport I just feel in love. I always had a passion for fashion, designing little croquis everywhere, saying I was going to become a famous fashion designer one day. I started Sahar in university, of course I did fashion in Brazil because I was busy traveling the world discovering new surf spots to surf at, from panama to Hawaii yearly, you name it I was there surfing. My brand started to pick up in Brazil and I was doing well! In 2017 I suffered a life threating car accident because my ex boyfriend was reckless driving. This seemed like the end of the world because I was told that I was not allowed to surf for two years not go in the sun. That’s when moving to London was the way to go, if my passion surfing was taken away, my other passion Sahar was to succeed.

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

Never give up, there is always a way. Today you can say my life has gotten back to normal, but it took a lot of sacrifices to be where I am today. I’ve had a lot of help, and I’m grateful for all those who have helped in way but in the end Sahar would never be where it is today if I hadn`t gave it my all, as I`m still doing until this day.

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

Principles by Ray Dalios, yes I carried that brick of a book all around Bali, even balancing it on my head while getting a boat to Nusa Lembongan, didn’t want it to get wet with water all the way to my waist, if you have been, you know what I’m talking about, wear shorts, swimwear and flip fops guys, valid piece of advice. Its just learning from the best & taking in all that knowledge.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

Coming up with ideas is the easy part; putting it down on paper, executing and making it happen is the real deal. The thing is to start and not stop until you have finished, be persistent, it will happen.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Like in Fashion everything has been created before, that’s why we have Google!

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

My designs come to me out of the blue, I draw it on paper and get them made, nowadays I can send it straight to my employees and get it made, back in the day it was a different and longer process. After what I created has been approved by me, we do all the creative photos & product strategy leading to placement in the boutiques we sell in around the world. Thankfully I have employees who do all theses processes for me, but back in the day it was all me, thanks team you know I love you all!

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.)

1 — Save your money, everything that is made by your business stays in your business, I made the mistake of spending all of it on lavish trips and designer goods, I mean it was beautiful but I would have been a lot further down the line.

2- Get a mentor — I’ve always had a good mentor that was my dad, he always gave me good advice on what to do and what not to do, guess I was just lucky to have really supportive parents.

3- Negotiate, Always and I repeat ALWAYS try to bring the price down. Be like people in Bali, Berapa? Mahal, Translating to, how much? Very expensive!

4- Learn from the best, In my time in London I stepped down and started from zero going to work for brands that I looked up to, from luxury Hermes to mainstream Urban outfitters, I was always hungry to learn more and how they where doing it ans what made them stand out.

5 — Invest in yourself, Take finance courses, marketing courses, anything that will help you gain more knowledge! I myself have an MBA in marketing and regularly do a course here and there to excel my knowledge, it’s a very competitive market so you have to be the best of the best!

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Firstly, check our best friend Google to see if it exists, then chat to your friends and family to see their thoughts ( only take in what you think is valid on this one, friends and family not always know what is the best for you, follow your intuition always). Then go from there!

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Depending on the idea Id say firstly try it on your own, you have nothing to lose and if you start to succeed then hire someone with that vast knowledge you need!

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Id start of with bootstrapping, the advice I once received was, If you let an investor in, you loose control and after working for all these massive companies, I totally agree on this one.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Yes, since I started my brand, I’ve always wanted to have a strong social side and now I can say this is happening and our social project MAR is only growing! We give 10% of all profit to our project Mar, which goes to helping the kid of the communities have more opportunity in life. This is a big project with a lot of elements but it starts small, like anything in life.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.

Buy more from Sahar and support a good cause. At least you will be supporting this beautiful project MAR as seen on our social medias. https://saharswimwear.com/collections/project-mar

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Ray Dalios, if you see this, thank you for your book, It has been carried all around Indonesia, gosh it was heavy!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Making Something From Nothing: Samantha Harding On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Richard Battle: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Have a vision and create a plan.

As part of our series about the “Five Things, You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Richard V. Battle.

Richard V. Battle is a multi-award-winning author of eight books, media commentator, and motivational speaker on leadership, sales, and faith for over 30 years. He has served on several leading non-profit organizations in an executive advisory role. Richard is a regular guest on KLZ, Denver CO, and KTOE, Minnesota, in addition to his appearances on or in dozens of leading media outlets, including Fox TV, The New Rationalist, The Washington Times, WMT, Wake Up Tucson, Real America’s Voice, and KMOX St. Louis. You can visit him online at www.richardbattle.com

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

My first leadership opportunity was as president of my college business fraternity, and I executed responsibility by instinct and experience as a follower rather than study or experience. It was a life-changing event as it revealed to me the opportunity to positively impact others’ lives and an organization by our leadership.

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

I was surprised early that everyone I led in the fraternity didn’t respond to one single motivational tool. Each member required individual communication to inspire their performance. Early on, I thought the problem was theirs. Fortunately, I discovered the problem was mine early and adapted to succeed.

Interpersonal skills are crucial for leaders to achieve organizational success and individual performance and development.

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

Some so many people helped me knowingly and unknowingly. The best contributors knowingly helped me by being interested in my development and coaching me to improve myself consistently.

Others unknowingly benefitted me by their personal example. I’m a firm believer in active learning every day, formally and informally. Some of the models were positive, and others were negative illustrating negative leadership. Both are beneficial if we’re studious.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Successful organizations must be led first by individuals with a vision of where they want them to go. Leaders with a grand vision may not attain 100% success, but they will consistently achieve more results than those who meander through time uninspired.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Leading volunteers requires additional skills because you can’t use money or job security as motivators.

As Austin Junior Chamber of Commerce president, three board members resigned during one meeting to protest a project they rejected.

It was a test that could have split the organization and doomed my presidency. Fortunately, my response and my executive team reaffirmed our vision for the year and the opportunity to significantly better our community.

Overcoming that and other challenges resulted in our chapter receiving the Outstanding Chapter in the United States award and further recognition.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Thankfully, the few things I quit in life and the regret they fostered were individual activities and not as a leader.

Our responsibility as a leader to executive responsibility and then prepare future generations of leaders to ensure long-term organization success demand perseverance through turbulent times regardless of the individual cost.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Leaders must earn trust from their teams from the moment they join an organization at any level. Team members must be sure you’re capable, confident, honest, transparent, and your interests are organizational and team member success. If team members perceive a leader only cares about him or herself, the leader will be ineffective during good times and catastrophic in challenging times.

Sam Houston was a great example during “The Runaway Scrape” during the Texas revolution. For six weeks, he restrained his overanxious troops until the singular moment when Texas could win their independence. If he had not built a reservoir of trust with his army, they would have rebelled, and their premature action would have lost the war.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Proven leaders with established trust can ask teams to follow them into the unknown because they realize it is their best opportunity for survival and success.

Trust based on experience, vision, open communication, experiencing the danger with the team, and sharing the victory bonds team members with leaders.

Effective leaders command respect and loyalty because they earn it day in and day out with their teams. Ineffective leaders fail to prepare for the difficult times during good times, and organizational failure and destruction often result.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I prefer to communicate trouble before the team or customer knows there is an issue. With the news, I inform them I am already working on a solution that will occur shortly, causing minimal damage.

Getting in front of trouble is another tool to increase people’s trust in your leadership.

There is nothing weaker than a leader appearing surprised and unprepared by a threat.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

There is no substitute for experience. The experienced leader will prepare a plan and multiple contingencies.

Multiple plans enhance the leader’s knowledge, and quickly implementing them demonstrates confidence and capability to team members. There is no wasted effort in contingency development because preparation may be utilized at any time in the future.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

If you don’t have the very best leader for your organization, find and hire that person.

Wandering through the valley of death with an average leader will cost more and negatively impact the organization’s future longer than investing in the best steward for the institution.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Responding too slowly to the threat.

Retaining ineffective leadership because of loyalty.

Failure to honestly inform the team of the challenge and plan to overcome it.

Failing to examine offensive responses to the difficulty while playing defense.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

There are two sides to every equation. Too often, cost-cutting is the first and only response considered during turbulence.

Sometimes great opportunities appear and can be capitalized on because others are only playing defense.

Thoroughly examine what an organization is doing and ask why about everything. Too often, “it’s always been done that way” dulls our creativity and inventiveness.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Have a vision and create a plan.
  2. John F. Kennedy inspired the nation to set a goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. It was a bold vision that united the country. A monumental effort was undertaken to achieve the goal, resulting in many non-space benefits.
  3. Communicate the plan and opportunity for success.
  4. There was no better leader in the 20th century than Winston Churchill. He became prime minister during England’s darkest days. Even leaders in his political party wanted him to negotiate a peace treaty with Germany.

He realized that if they surrendered, their lives would be much worse than if they fought and lost.

Delivering one of the most powerful speeches in recorded history, he inspired the country, stating, “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

  1. Inspire their team to achieve the plan.
  2. Former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry defined leadership as “getting people to do what they didn’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve. Few want to pay the price to achieve excellence, but everyone wants victory. Successful leaders inspire total team efforts beyond what individuals believe they can contribute to achieving results surpassing anyone’s imagination.
  3. Lead the team from the front in executing the plan.
  4. Joshua Chamberlain’s inexplicable attack under maximum duress from Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, set the stage for Union victory at Gettysburg, Lincoln’s re-election, and ultimate victory. A theologian and teacher by trade, his leadership from the front was instrumental to success.
  5. Adjust the plan based on resistance and obstacles.
  6. Every plan becomes obsolete upon first contact with the enemy. D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the Normandy campaign only succeeded because of the individual initiatives of soldiers on the ground adapting to what they experienced in real-time.

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

“What you do in the present will create a past that will greatly influence your opportunities and dreams in the future.” — Richard V. Battle

In other words, seemingly insignificant decisions today may have a lifetime impact. We should make every decision in that light with the example and precedent it may establish.

How can our readers further follow your work?

My website is http://www.richardbattle.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Author Richard Battle: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Robert Wessman Of Alvogen: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

Robert Wessman Of Alvogen: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Listen and ask questions. A solution to a problem can often be one question away. It can be easy to think that one needs to deal with a demanding situation alone, but listening to and discussing problems with colleagues and advisers can help provide perspective on the situation.

As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Róbert Wessman.

Róbert Wessman is Chairman & CEO at global pharmaceutical giant Alvogen, and founder and Chairman at biopharma specialist Alvotech.

Róbert grew up in Mosfellsbær, a small town on the outskirts of Reykjavík. From an early age he grew up with a love for both medicine and business; it was the latter path he chose to follow when picking his studies and he attended business school. However, he has since set up and developed a series of highly successful healthcare businesses to realise his vision of improving people’s lives through greater access to affordable medication. Róbert’s achievements have made him the subject of three Harvard Business School case studies on business excellence.

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

I grew up in Iceland, in a small town on the outskirts of Reykjavik. I went to University in Iceland and the choice was between business or medical education. Eventually I chose business but have spent 23 years as a CEO in the Pharmaceutical industry.

I’ve always enjoyed international travel and loved the experience of living in Germany, when I worked for the shipping firm Samskip, eventually becoming CEO of their German operations.

However, Iceland would always be my home and just before my 30th birthday, I decided to come back and take on a new challenge — turning around a failing Icelandic pharma company called Delta. Although I chose business school, medicine always remained a great interest of mine. So, this was a chance to bring my business knowledge and skills and my passion for medicine together.

The rest is history, really… We turned Delta into the world’s third largest generic pharma company, and I realised just how excited I was about generics with their potential for making healthcare more accessible and more affordable.

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

The ‘comedy moment’ I remember particularly vividly is actually from the days when we were building Alvogen. I was recovering after a serious cycling accident (more on that later) and was waiting to get a new set of teeth as my jaw was badly injured in the crash. In the interim, I had temporary teeth, but work was calling and off I went to pitch to some potential investors in the US.

Halfway through the meeting, I realised that my temporary dental implant had come off. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and tried to stick it back in with glue — but managed to glue my thumb to the implant! It dried instantly so I had to pull out half of the false teeth to get my thumb out of my mouth. I had run out of glue by that point so I just had to go back and finish the presentation with only half my teeth in place. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t invest… Lesson learnt — sometimes you just have to let go of a big meeting and prioritise your health!

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

I have been fortunate to work with so many brilliant people over the years. Success always comes from a great team and a vision, so I cannot single out one person as such, but the thanks goes always to the team.

One story I can share, though, is from when I went to Norwich Pharmaceuticals in 2009 with a vision to create a top global pharma business. I wanted to bring medicines to the people that need them, everywhere from New York to Moscow to Bangkok.

I had no shortage of ambition, but every start-up comes with risks and the financial crisis had taken over the world, meaning funding for new ventures was in short supply. So quite a lot of people simply told me it was a terrible time to start something new. Yet, the team at Norwich was inspired and wanted to co-invest with me. Just a few short months later we joined forces to develop what is now Alvogen, a global business with over a billion dollars in sales.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

In every project and every new venture my take on my vision is the same — to improve people’s lives by providing easier access to affordable medication. Everyone should have access to the medicines they need, regardless of their financial status. I know every one of my teams and our many investors and partners are united behind that vision, and it really does help us persevere through the challenges. With every success, we make a difference to patients living around the world. A purpose driven business is for sure in many ways more rewarding.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The early days of setting up Alvogen were certainly not easy! In the beginning, all I really had was the napkin on which I had sketched out my vision to create a new world-leading pharma business and a handful of colleagues. We had the ideas, but our pockets were empty and the financial markets around us had collapsed (it was 2009).

In this sort of scenario, you just have to believe and stay positive as a leader. I was motivating my team by motivating myself — put simply, if you are being a grumpy cynic, you are not going to bring many people on the journey with you!

Believing in the mission, having clear vision and goals, and making sure we achieved those, brought us eventually over the finish line. On that journey it is very important to celebrate all the small victories and stay focused and motivated.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with was a combination of personal and professional challenges as we were building Alvogen. In 2013, just as Alvogen was preparing to expand into 35 countries, I was training for a competitive cycling race. One day, I was going at 48km per hour and crashed into a car that stopped in the middle of the road. My spine was severed in two places, I was badly cut requiring dozens of stitches and I had sustained severe injuries to my jaw and teeth. The doctors said there was only a slim chance I would survive or even that I would ever walk again.

I had to spend three months immobilised, but I was not giving up on myself or on the Alvogen project. My hands were stitched up and I could still use those to type emails to the team and make sure things were progressing! Today, I can not only walk, but also play sports!

It really comes down to believing in yourself. I am very competitive, and I don’t have it in me to give up. That’s the spirit many of the startups and evolving businesses need. All businesses go through difficult times. The key is to understand where you need to go and how to get back on track. If you let failure or a difficult time impact you personally and demotivate you, the battle is already lost. So, it is crucial is to stay focused and positive!

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

A leader must be able to act and do when most others don’t. You have to communicate your vision, make sure the goals are clear, and that there is ample motivation as well as a sense of urgency. A leader also needs to make sure that the company and the team are both executing key tasks on time to get the company out of the hard times. A leader needs to be willing and able to be hands on and step in when critical things are not getting done.

Clarity of thought is critical. Like many industries, the generic pharma industry is complex. It is very easy for leaders to lose sight of the all-important roles simplicity, clarity, and consistency play in the success of any venture.

People get busy being busy and stop focusing on the key drivers in their industry. Being able to simply and clearly identify the 3–4 things that drive industry success (and therefore you and the team need to master those!) is key. We do not have to be perfect. We just need to be better than the others.

Understanding which those must-win-battles are and then building the organization around those priorities by ensuring clear accountability (organizational design and reward systems), consistency (organizational culture and targeted communication) and transparent execution of those priorities (hands-on-management and strategic investments) is something that sounds simple but harder to truly accomplish. Consequently, it is very often overlooked.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

For me, the most important thing is to lead from the front and make sure everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do not hide behind middle managers and computer screens. If my team is struggling, I will always be the one to go on the floor and talk to people so that we may find a solution collectively. If the team can see the end goal, despite tough times, they are always willing to put extra effort in.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Dialogue and transparency are key — they will see you through any challenge. If there is difficult news to share, be honest about it, communicate it respectfully and don’t hide things.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

The pharma industry is all about focusing on the long term — developing and bringing a new drug to market requires commitment and time. This means we are used to making plans, knowing that there is a great deal of uncertainty and things can shift along the way, be it new regulation, political instability or just about anything else.

A leader needs to use all resources to evaluate where the industry might be heading long term. I rely on people around me, I analyse trends and sometimes use market surveys. At end of the day after evaluating all of elements, I need to make a decision about where we want to be in 5 or 10 years. Our industry is always oriented for the long term — it takes up to 7 years to develop medicine, so we do not have any option other than to always think ahead. I don’t always get things right, but I get more things right than wrong. Being worried about making the wrong decision and therefore not making a decision at all, is the worst thing one can do and in my mind, is always a recipe for a failure.

The key is to have a consistent vision but be flexible on how to achieve your objectives. For example, in 2012 my expectation was that around 2020 the key pharmaceuticals in the world would be biologics. I decided to invest into the industry, knowing it would take 10 years and cost around $1 billion before we would launch the first product into the market. At that time the regulatory environment was not even clear, i.e. how to bring some of those products to market. I knew the regulations in Europe and US would become clear along the way and did not want to lose time. Today around 30 to 40% of global pharmaceutical sales is Biologics. We are in pole position with our biotech company Alvotech, about to launch our first product into the world’s markets.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

I consider it to be important to focus on the larger goal and mission of the company when going through turbulent times. At the same time, it does not matter what happened in the past. You always need to focus on how to deal with any situation, prevent it from happening again and then focus on the future. I never dwell on mistakes and let them bring me or the company down. Our goal at Alvogen is to provide access to vital medication to those who need it around the world at a lower cost. By focusing on the bigger picture, it is easier to deal with the ups and downs and avoid distraction with ideas that do not serve the overall goal of the company.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The first mistake I see is that companies become complacent — they become successful and therefore they do not change with the market. We have seen companies like Nokia, like Kodak, Blackberry and other leading firms in their fields. They did not stay focused on developing their business and at the end of the day, their technologies did not stand up to the competition. You always need to think ahead — think, how will the market evolve and where am I going to be years from now? The second mistake is that many companies focus too much on the past and on mistakes. Dwelling too long on past wrongdoings does not help. The key focus should always be how to move forward. I also often see failing companies lacking in winning team spirit. That can come from a lack of vision within the company, a lack of motivation or simply because of bad morale and culture.

The hard work and loyalty of staff is what makes a company successful. In difficult times, it’s particularly important that the team has a sense of urgency and understands what needs to be done. That’s the role of a leader — to turn on that fire.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

All businesses are subject to change. Changes can come from new competition, new technologies, new designs, new services or from other directions. To continue to be successful, a leader needs to create the urgency and mindset within the firm that we always need to think ahead and how today’s market will change. So being successful in business is like being a soccer team which won a game yesterday. Tomorrow is a new game against a different team which might require a different strategy. To keep up this sense of urgency, long-term thinking about where the industry is heading and motivation to change is the key for future success.

Honesty, effective communication, and forward planning are vital whilst trying to move forward during difficult times. These each keep morale high within the team and help to maintain focus on the challenges you are facing together.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • It is important to keep a clear head. Without a clear head, the tough decisions that will need to be made cannot be done so effectively. Uncomfortable situations are part and parcel of leading a business, so this is an important skill to master. In my early days in business, I found this more challenging, but with experience comes the ability to see past the problem.
  • Communicate with staff and customers as early as possible. Without communication, trust, morale, and loyalty will be lost along with the ability to cope with the uncertainty ahead.
  • Listen and ask questions. A solution to a problem can often be one question away. It can be easy to think that one needs to deal with a demanding situation alone, but listening to and discussing problems with colleagues and advisers can help provide perspective on the situation.
  • Plan for the long-term. Focusing only on the problem at hand will not help the long-term health of your organisation. By setting time aside to also push forward towards your future goals, it will help increase stability and safety once the short-term difficulty has been resolved.
  • Don’t lose sight of your values. Your values are what an organisation rests on, if you step away from these during times of uncertainty, the foundations of the organisation can be lost along with its purpose.
  • Make sure that the team is focused and feels the sense of urgency. Key through tough times is to have a plan in place, make sure that the team believes in the plan and executes it on time.

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

When I lost a big portion of my wealth in the financial crises and when I had life-threatening accident. In both cases I said to myself: “F..it. This happened and I cannot do anything about it. It has already happened and the only question is how am I going to deal with it and move forward.” After 90 days being in bed with double spinal fracture, I got back into sports. After losing so much of my wealth, I knew I would get back on my feet by staying focused and engaging the team. In both cases this was not easy, I could have stayed in the past with questions like why and if… but I didn’t. I simply moved on.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow the Alvogen website or my Twitter feed and Medium blog.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Robert Wessman Of Alvogen: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Olyasha Novozhylova Of NotBasicBlonde On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Olyasha Novozhylova Of NotBasicBlonde On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be patient. Set a short-term goal, when you think of just a big picture, you will not get far, so you should set weekly and daily goals not just long-term goals.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Olyasha Novozhylova.

Olyasha Novozhylova is the founder and creator of Not Basic Blonde, a fashion, and lifestyle blog dedicated to inspiring young women to create an extraordinary style.

Graduated from Georgia State University with a BBA in Managerial Sciences, Olyasha successfully built a career in IT/Project Management, before she became a full time blogger.

A model, blogger, entrepreneur, author, and celebrity podcast host of NotBasicBlonde Podcast.

As the founder and host of NotBasicBlonde Podcast, where no topic is off limits, Olyasha provides millennials an ultimate guide on entrepreneurship, dating, marketing, self-development, astrology, spirituality, fashion, coaching, beauty, health & wellness.

Author of the children’s book Cutie the Unicorn — It’s ok to be different, Olyasha teaches our younger generation how to express their individuality.

The Russian model led an impressive 15-year career in fashion and runway in Atlanta and overseas, as well as enjoying several acting roles.

Now a leading influencer, Olyasha shares her beauty, wellness, and fashion tips with an audience of over half a million. As seen in YahooFinance, Jezebel magazine, Thrive, Medium, and Fashion Week Online magazines.

Olyasha has also partnered with brands such as Cartier, Revolve, PrettyLittleThing, PGA, Steve Madden, Too Faced, Vital Proteins, Tarte, DryBar, Drunk Elephant, etc.

When she’s not documenting her travels through the world, Olyasha is busy masterfully educating women how to create iconic looks with a mix of affordable and designer pieces, as well as offering makeup, skincare, and fitness tips to encourage her followers to live their best and most beautiful lives!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

As far as my childhood backstory, I was always a huge fashionista, and I was bullied in school because I would dress too fashionably, and I would always stand out. I was sent home to change and made fun of all the time. Who would ever predict that I will make a career out of it! Also, because I was bullied in school as a child, I’ve decided to write a children’s book, who will inspire other children to be themselves. My book is called “Cutie the Unicorn — It’s Ok To Be Different”, and it’s available on Amazon.

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

It’s The quote I’ve made up and I always lived by: “Always Unique — Never Basic”, it basically meaning that always be yourself, always be YOU, don’t try to change because someone doesn’t like something about you, it’s their internal issues, not yours. It’s ok to be different, it’s ok to be yourself, it’s ok to be unique, don’t let anyone to dull your sparkle.

Another is and one of my favorite one Your Net Worth = Self Worth, so if want to increase your net worth, you have to work on your self-worth, because they are very closely connected. I’ve had times in my life when my self-esteem was low, and at the same time I was struggling financially.

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

Book “The Secret” was very lifechanging for me. The first, I found out about this book when I was a teenager, I was living in Ukraine at that time. I’ve moved to US when I was 17 years old. Later on, last year, I’ve had a pleasure having an author of this book as a guest speaker on my celebrity podcast, NotBasicBlonde Podcast. It was a lifechanging because it taught me about the Law of Attraction, which really works, and I was able to apply it later in life. Everything is the energy, and we attract everything we project. Any of our dreams can come true, we just have to picture it in our mind, with all the little details, and imagine like we already have it, and a dream can come to reality.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

So True! We get tons of ideas all the times, and some of them stay just as ideas, some of them are an idea because they might not be profitable, and some ideas become a huge business. In order to turn an idea into business, you have to do a lot of research! Usually, ideas that solve a particular problem, always turn out to be the most profitable ones. But you need to identify how will it change people’s life, what problem you are trying to solve, who are the competitors. The best business ideas will fire you up and motivate you, if you are able to get a reliable info through research, you could possibly move into planning stage and execution stage.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Sometimes we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, a simple ideas or products can be profitable. There are so many kinds of different products on the market, but we buy certain brands because we prefer them, and like them for certain reason. The same is with any other ideas, there are could be the same products on a market, but yours will be different, and might have different qualities that others don’t offer. So, if you have an idea, you should be very open minded and if it really excites you, you should proceed with it.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

The first if you have an idea you have to do a lot of research and identify if this idea will be profitable. Identify the problem your product or service will solve, the bigger problem the more profitable it will be for you.

The second step is planning. Plan what it will look like, who will be your ideal customer, how will you get your customers, sources of revenue, how will you retain customers long term, the initial investment required, the infrastructure, how to grow your business, identify a financial model, will it be self-funded or you will require investors.

The third, execute! You have to identify your resources, your time&money, with how it will give you the highest outcome.
The fourth is to adapt, the first when you are starting you might have one plan, but consumers might see it differently and adapt it differently, so you have to learn from customers, and improve if you need to.

The fifth, make sure you have all your legal paperwork and patens in order before you proceed, so no one can copy your product.

Growing your business can be can be challenging at first, since when you start growing, you’re expanding your team, so you have to be very selective with new hires, find and build a team that represents your brand and increases a value.
Lastly, distributing a product, it can be done online or even as a drop shipping, so you don’t have to have the actual product or the warehouse.

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.)

  1. Everything you learn in school or college will not really matter, because that’s not how it is in life. When you starting your own business, you learn a lot along the way, no matter how much you know in a certain area, you still will be finding out things that will be definitely eye-opening.
  2. No one said that being a Boss is challenging, you have to wear so many hats sometimes, learn on a spot, and figure things out.
  3. Be patient. Set a short-term goal, when you think of just a big picture, you will not get far, so you should set weekly and daily goals not just long-term goals.
  4. Be ready to invest your time and not get paid at first! It takes time to grow your business, so at first all the business owner put into the business so many hours.
  5. Don’t give up too early, make sure to try all the options before even thinking of giving up.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

If they have a budget for it, they can definitely try, and work closely with someone, the best thing is to hire a great marketing company.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

It depends if you can self-fund it or you need an external help and find angel investors. In bootstrapping you are in control and you have a freedom to make any decisions, with raising a capital and having angel investors on board, you might have less freedom to make business decisions, but you might have more connections and you might not need to have any capital to start your business, you get an expert help, less personal risk.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I use my fame to help people, and I will use it even more when I will become more famous. I’m a Founder and Host of the Celebrity podcast, NotBasicBlonde Podcast, where my guest share expertise on so many different topics. I’ve written a book “Cutie the Unicorn — It’s Ok To Be Different” and I donate a part of the proceeds form book sales to St. Jude’s hospital, I donate my clothes to domestic violence women’s shelter, and I inspire my followers every day on social media.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.

Mine would be Be Unique Never Basic, its ok to be different, it’s ok to be yourself, you shouldn’t be like everyone else, embrace your individuality.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

I would love to have a breakfast or lunch with Mark Cuban or Sara Blakely, I admire their career and so many successful companies that they have built!


Making Something From Nothing: Olyasha Novozhylova Of NotBasicBlonde On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

David Schwartz Of the Financial and International Business Association (FIBA): Five Things You Need

David Schwartz Of The Financial and International Business Association (FIBA): Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be positive — It is important to be an optimist even in the most difficult of circumstances. This creates a positive atmosphere and motivates employees. We have continued to be optimistic even during the darkest days of the pandemic and this helped motivate the employees to focus their efforts and create some of the most successful events that we have ever had.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing David Schwartz, President and CEO of the Financial and International Business Association (FIBA), a nonprofit trade association that is the leading voice for international banking in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.

David Schwartz is the President and CEO of the Financial and International Business Association (FIBA), a nonprofit trade association that is the leading voice for international banking in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Its membership includes some 70 financial institutions from 18 countries spanning 4 continents, including the largest banks in Europe, the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean, that are active in international trade and finance. David received his Juris Doctorate from New York Law School and also has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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 received my Juris Doctorate from New York Law School in 1982 and my Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida in 1978. During college and after graduation I did several foreign studies and training in Hong Kong and Paris, France. I enjoy the study of languages and I am fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian — which is a major asset in my line of work.

Prior to joining FIBA, I was Senior Vice President and Manager of International Compliance Risk Management at Regions Financial Corporation a $140 Billion dollar institution where I was responsible for providing effective oversight, communication and direction to all lines of business for issues involving foreign customers and related products, services and transactions, including the development and implementation of all BSA/AML policies and procedures.

In 1982 I began working for Banque Sudameris where I spent just over 20 years building my career. There I held several International Banking positions, including Head of the International Department in Argentina, Deputy Manager of Banque Sudameris in Monte Carlo, Head of Correspondent Banking, Credit and Treasury in Miami, and Deputy Manager and Director of Wealth Management in Miami.

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

I am not sure if this qualifies as a mistake but it was funny. My first job interview was conducted in Portuguese and I was hired due to my knowledge of computers as I had an Apple IIC computer at home. I was promptly sent to Chicago to learn how to “manage” the computerized messaging system known as SWIFT. After surviving a blizzard in Chicago, I returned to the office ready to “manage” the system. As I entered the computer room, I noticed there were several large boxes stacked up and when I asked what they were I was told it was the SWIFT system for me to “manage”!

Undaunted, I looked for the manual and spent the next couple of hours putting it together and fortunately it worked. So even if you are proficient in a foreign language, be careful when it comes to the nuances as I had learned my Portuguese in Portugal and my boss in Brazil.

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

My career received a tremendous boost from my mentor and the General Manager of Banque Sudameris Miami, Robert Marcuse. He had been in banking for over 30 years and was a real taskmaster but if you could see through his bluster you stood to receive an incredible education on international banking. He had a lot of faith in my abilities and took a chance on a young lawyer by giving me significant responsibilities at a very young age although I had very little banking experience and the traditional reluctance to promote young officers.

I was assigned the supervision of the Credit, Correspondent Banking and Treasury Departments of the branch after only four years in the bank. He sent me to Argentina under an exchange that Banque Sudameris undertook to develop officers even though I did not speak Spanish at the time! But my career really took off when he called me to his office one day and asked me if I would like to go to work in the Monte Carlo branch, where I developed and managed client investment portfolios. I am forever in his debt.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

While I was not around at the inception of FIBA, which has a 42 year history, we certainly are purpose driven. In the beginning, FIBA was all about networking and helping its members understand and navigate the new business of international banking that had landed in South Florida at the end of the 1970’s. As the industry grew and became more complex, the mission shifted to one of education.

We apply practical ideas and real-world solutions to train and certify thousands in anti-money laundering compliance, trade finance, correspondent banking, and wealth management. FIBA is recognized by the financial services industry, regulators, and law enforcement as a “Center for Excellence” for our knowledge and expertise in anti-money laundering compliance and our high-level education and training programs.

Our comprehensive educational programs feature the AMLCA and CPAML Compliance Certifications in partnership with Florida International University’s (FIU) College of Business Administration, where industry practitioners are kept up-to-date on relevant trends and changes and we have conferences such as the upcoming Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Compliance Conference from February 28 — March 2, 2022 and the CELAS Bank Security Conference taking place June 20–21, 2022 in Miami to keep members up to date.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

We do not have to look any further than COVID which has brought many challenges in both our personal and professional lives. We were on the brink of launching our 19th Annual AML Compliance conference, our signature event, in March of 2020 when the lockdown was imposed. The event, our educational programs, everything, came to a screeching halt and the future was uncertain.

My first goal was to ensure the safety of the staff and reassure them that we would be able to move forward. This was done through frequent conversations and staff meetings by phone and via Zoom and being completely transparent about the situation. It was important that everyone stay involved and connected.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I have been a student of the martial arts for over thirty years and one of the most important teachings is to never give up. Obstacles will always be put in your way and you have to be prepared to face them. You do not always win but more lessons are learned from failure than from success. And you must always remember that giving up does not only impact you but your family and your employees.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role is to be a visible leader and maintain constant communication with the staff and being fully transparent. In this way, you gain the trust of his/her employees.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

You have to let them know how important they are and that everyone has a key role to play. Involve them as much as possible and listen to their ideas and concerns.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

There is no “best way” to deliver difficult news. One can only be honest and transparent.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

It is important to “keep up with the times” and learn to embrace change as a good thing. Several years prior to COVID, we made a significant investment in new technologies to allow us to provide our training and events virtually.

In addition, after 40 years, we have recently rebranded to be more inclusive, launched a new website and created an Open Banking platform. Change should not be a reaction to future events but rather an ongoing part of your strategy.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The number one principle would be to stay calm and not panic.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. Trying to continue with business as usual — Difficult times call for “out of the box” solutions and continuing with business as usual can put the company at risk for survival.
  2. Not accepting the reality of the situation — the current pandemic is a perfect example of how people face a difficult situation when the challenges of gathering clear and actionable information are so great. Sometimes it is just better to accept the situation and move forward than trying to second guess.
  3. Failure to adequately communicate with employees — it is in a company’s best interest to maintain open and clear communication with its employees at all times and even more so during periods of uncertainty. As I mentioned before, transparency is critical.
  4. Failure to have an updated business continuity plan — While you cannot be prepared for every situation that may arise, always maintain an updated business continuity plan to refer to with basic principles for confronting uncertainty.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Do not be constrained by your budget. Treat the situation as a new beginning and reassess priorities and delivery channels. You may find that you can continue forward as forecast or, as we did as a result of the pandemic, that you need to rethink your strategy and shift to a more flexible model.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Communicate — Nobody likes uncertainty and during turbulent times employees need to know and understand the impact on the company and, of course, on them. This is the strategy that I have employed since the beginning of the pandemic and the employees have expressed their appreciation of the open and frank discussions. It may not have always been what they wanted to hear but it let them know exactly where they stand.
  2. Listen — As much as we like to think that we know everything that is going on within the company we must be honest and admit that is not the case. Listening to those that are, can provide additional insight into strategy adjustments that may need to be made. The input from FIBA’s employees was critical in product sales.
  3. Be flexible — We cannot be rigid in our thinking during a period of uncertainty or tied to any one philosophy for managing it. FIBA organizes conferences and delivers first in class training traditionally as in-person endeavors. COVID made that impossible so we shifted to a completely virtual model and were very successful.
  4. Be positive — It is important to be an optimist even in the most difficult of circumstances. This creates a positive atmosphere and motivates employees. We have continued to be optimistic even during the darkest days of the pandemic and this helped motivate the employees to focus their efforts and create some of the most successful events that we have ever had.

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

My favorite would have to be “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” from The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

How can our readers further follow your work?

The most notable way readers can follow my work is through our hybrid conferences, including the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Compliance Conference from February 28 — March 2, 2022 and the CELAS Bank Security Conference taking place June 20–21, 2022 in Miami. We are also on Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


David Schwartz Of the Financial and International Business Association (FIBA): Five Things You Need was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Tom Osman Of Raymont-Osman Product Design On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Tom Osman Of Raymont-Osman Product Design On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Learn the importance and difference between cash flow, profit and turnover. This is important. It’s important to remember that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity!

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Osman.

Tom is founder and Company Director of Raymont-Osman Product Design, based in the UK. He has 17 years of experience designing and developing physical products — from initial brief to commercially-viable product manufacture and release. Tom has a First-Class Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Birmingham, and studied at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. Having engineered a range of construction equipment for market leaders, JCB and cut his teeth as a design and development engineer at another leading design consultancy, Tom set up Raymont-Osman Product Design in 2014 from his dining room table — a company he now runs along with his wife and Operations Director, Kelly Raymont-Osman and Technical Director, Mike Price. Since then, the company has growth in strength and numbers, now occupying a design studio in rural Warwickshire and boasting clients in a range of industries — from luxury automotive, consumer electronics, sports technology and medical to safety critical systems and avionics. In 2021, Raymont-Osman designed and produced the Queen’s Baton for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, meeting Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I’ve always been a geek! From a very early age, I was into building model air-fix kits, constructing with Lego, or making robots with my dad. Science and Technology were definitely my best subjects at school, and I’ve always been interested in how things work. All in all, unwittingly, I think this was training for an ultimate career in mechanical engineering without even realising it!

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

Joseph Cyril Bamford, Founder of JCB, where I worked after graduating, was once asked what it takes to succeed and said, “The same thing it took to get started — a sense of URGENCY about getting things done. The people who make things move in this world share this same sense of URGENCY. No matter how intelligent or able you may be, if you don’t have this sense of URGENCY, now is the time to start developing it. The world is full of very competent people who honestly intend to do things tomorrow or as soon as they can get around to it. Their accomplishments, however, seldom match those of the less talented who are blessed with a sense of the importance of GETTING STARTED NOW”.

I try to live my life by this sentiment. Get stuff done now!

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

Absolutely, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. Actually, it has a very similar message to Mr JCB; the importance of doing and not waiting. The central characters in the book spend their whole lives wondering what might have happened, essentially wasting their lives living in the shadow of what could have been. Reading this novel really affected me emotionally, so much so, that it gave me the impetus to approach my now wife and business partner…the rest is history! Coincidentally, I discovered that this was also her favorite book on our first date! The idea of not letting opportunities pass us by has definitely been a feature of our relationship and now our business.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

Running your own business is not for everyone — that’s for sure! In fact, it’s not for the vast majority of people. It’s not quick or easy. It takes years of hard work and sleepless nights: it’s a roller-coaster of emotions. That said, I wouldn’t swap it for the world! Once you have a good idea, save like crazy! When we set up the business, my father-in-law (who has run businesses all his life), gave us some sound advice: put away enough money for you to live on for 6 months. If your idea hasn’t made you any money by then, then it’s time for a rethink. In the run-up to quitting the day job, work out how your idea will actually make money. Do you need investor support? How will you secure this? The thing to bear in mind, if that you don’t need to have an ‘all singing, all dancing’ product at this point. You need a product that can get you to the next stage. We frequently work with clients to secure investment without a physical product. High-quality renders and models are surprisingly effective in lieu of a physical product at the beginning.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Your first port of call here is a Google search. All patent data is easily available over the internet, so be sure to check out Espacenet and Google Patents to see what has been done before. This is also where a good product design consultancy can be worth its weight in gold. When clients come to us unsure of whether an idea has been done before, we conduct a broad, high-level review of the market, identifying similar products and brands that may have some similarities with a potential idea. We then undertake a careful review of intellectual property, often employing patent attorneys. Even if we find something, good product design consultancies can usually navigate around it, developing an idea to a higher level, off-patent, so that it is free from restrictions and able to progress to the product development stage.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

You begin with concept development — fleshing out ideas — before starting other activities based on that initial proof of principle. As we’ve already discussed, patent searches are also key so that you can check your freedom to operate. Before anything else, it’s important that you conduct some market research — do people actually want it? How much are they willing to pay? This will give you a better understanding of market trends and of budgets and your cost/profit margins. The next stage is design refinement and prototyping, which you repeat until you have the product you’re happy with. Renders can be generated to help in the production of market material — either to attract investors for the next stage of production or to secure advance orders or prepare for product launch. A good product design consultancy will know a whole range of manufacturers around the world. They can use their existing networks to source reputable manufacturers or approach new specialist ones on your behalf. Your product design agency will then produce an ‘Invention Disclosure’ document to explain your idea, generating images to support your application. This will be sent off to a patent attorney for formally drafting into a legal patent.

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.)

  1. Concentrate on what you know and what you’re good at — employ others to do the rest. If you are struggling with IT, hire an IT support company, if you know nothing about marketing, hire a marketing consultant. This will let you focus on what makes you unique, giving the best possible service to your customers and allow you to spend time on the activities that generate profit.
  2. Employ the services of a PROACTIVE accountant and meet with them every 1–2 months. They should be able to challenge you and your decisions, setting you targets and keeping you and your ego in check.
  3. Learn the importance and difference between cash flow, profit and turnover. This is important. It’s important to remember that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity!
  4. Don’t put policy and procedure in place which stops staff doing a brilliant job, put it in place to help them be brilliant.
  5. No matter how snowed-under you are, always find time to send out quotes and invoices. Once what you’re currently working on dries up, you’ll be glad you pitched for more work. Make sure you invoice promptly to keep the cash coming in and the books balanced. Even if it means getting up at 5am to find the time, your business will thank you for it!

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Conduct your own market research, and by this, I mean not amongst friends and family. Elicit the opinions of the brutally honest — the last thing you need here is for people to blow smoke up your ass! Conduct some Google and patent searches to check out the market and then approach a reputable product design consultancy. When selecting a design agency, look closely at the portfolios on their websites. Have they produced similar products? Won any awards? Are the images on their website of products that have actually launched or are they just renders? This will allow you to find a good match and ensure that you have the expertise you need to be able to take your idea further in the most cost and time-effective way.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Product design / invention development is a specialized and multifaceted job. You may have experience in the field your idea fits into, but unless you have designed products before and successfully developed and brought them to market, then my advice would be to elicit the help of those who do. Yes, consultants will charge for the privilege, but the benefits are immense: you will have direct access to people who have done this many times before, their networks of suppliers and manufacturers, specialist and often highly expensive software, teams of experts, testing and simulation equipment, 3D printers and many other resources, including marketing. Given the huge costs in tooling to make your product, along with materials, time etc. the costs of getting it wrong can be immense and unsustainable. A good product design consultancy will mitigate these risks.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

It depends. We have clients who do both. Ultimately, even venture capital tends to start with some bootstrapping in some way. The decision rests on the quantity of cash required to get your product into production. The larger companies that approach us tend to have cash; you need to think about what access to immediate funding you have. Will you need external investment?

What you do next depends on your idea. If your product is consumer-facing, then a Kickstarter campaign or group-buy scenario can be a great fit, but this wouldn’t be right for all products, for example a surgical or medical device. For this type of product, venture capital, banks or loans would be better options. In either case, my advice would be to do your homework when shopping for product design consultancies. Aim for an agency which will work alongside you and your team to enhance your capabilities, rather than just design something and disappear. Support at all stages, including funding advice, is invaluable, and a GOOD consultancy can provide this.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Having been educated, running a business in, and now bringing up a family in the West Midlands, I feel a strong social responsibility towards the region. A few years ago, we set up the Raymont-Osman Product Design Award with the aim to promote design and development as a career amongst BEng and MEng students at the University of Birmingham through the provision of funding, recognition and support for those embarking on careers in the industry. Students have had a rough time over the last couple of years and so anything we can do to support the engineers and designers of the future feels like something worth doing! So far, candidates have included work on a range of final-year projects from blood clot removal devices to osteoarthritis knee braces.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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 encourage everyone to read about the Grameen Bank, which is a microfinance organisation and community development bank founded in Bangladesh. In a nutshell, it makes small loans (known as microcredit or “grameencredit”) to the impoverished without requiring collateral. The idea that, if financial resources can be made available to the poorest (97% of which are women) on terms and conditions that are appropriate and reasonable, millions of people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to enable substantial humane, grassroots development. This is not really me inspiring, rather championing an existing movement!

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

That’s an easy one — Neil Armstrong — although tagging him may prove problematic! As a test pilot and engineer, he was my childhood hero. He would have to be considered the ultimate person for keeping their cool under pressure. Listening recently to the BBC podcast, ’13 minutes to the moon’, has had me in awe of the genius of this man.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Making Something From Nothing: Tom Osman Of Raymont-Osman Product Design On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Chris Jones Of Markacy On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email…

Chris Jones Of Markacy On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

Create a highly successful career as a digital marketer include having a client-first mindset, being a team player, deploying data-driven strategies, hard work, and having an entrepreneurial spirit and being solution-oriented.

Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.

In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Jones.

Chris Jones is the Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Markacy, a digital marketing strategy firm. He co-founded Markacy in 2018 after working in financial services, both in corporate banking and strategy consulting for a Big 4 firm for over a decade. During that time, he advised Fortune 500 companies through mergers and acquisitions and led teams as far as client strategy and workstream project management. Chris holds a Bachelor of Science from University of Maryland in Financial Economics and a Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?

My partner Tucker Matheson and I co-founded Markacy in 2018 after both working for a Big 4 firm. We were noticing that strategy consulting was beginning to increasingly converge with marketing and identified a white space at the intersection of the two sectors. In this new digital world, we knew we could bridge this gap with a financial-results-meets-marketing strategy approach and founded Markacy. Now we enable DTC brands to launch, scale and grow their e-commerce operations across different sectors.

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

When I first launched Markacy, I was hyper-focused on managing each component of a client engagement project on my own because we didn’t have the dozens of experts on our team to lean on each day, like we have now. I had prior experience managing teams, but it was an opportunity to learn how to better delegate tasks, and how to identify talented individuals who could specialize in specific areas of our business when building our team. Today with a growing team and numerous senior experts, we’re able to balance out the workload much better and lean on what everyone excels at to best help our clients. We still revel in the start-up mindset of working hard to get things done for our clients, but our business and how we balance our workloads looks much different than it did just a few years ago.

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?

We think the world of our team and we would not be as successful as we are today without them. I like to think that we all help each other grow. For example, a pet brand worked closely with a number of our team members including one of our media directors, Chris Rigas. Chris’ strategic advice and expertise helped them grow through his driving efficiencies on the brand’s core media channels. He was also able to leverage his analytical skills and guide them through various periods of supply chain difficulties and seasonality, which was critical to the business’ success. The client was so impressed with his work and leadership, and complimentary of how his work in particular helped lead the company to achieving a significant fund raise, which just punctuates his commitment to excellence and inspires not only our team, but also inspires me every day.

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

We pride ourselves on our ability to deliver financial results. Our results are both quantitative and qualitative. From a quantitative perspective, we are delivering superior results in a competitive digital marketing landscape. Digital marketing performance is a lot like the stock market — one week it’s up and another it’s down — so having a trusted advisor to guide brands through it. We have the ability to show our clients the value of our work both from a revenue perspective, as well as through performance data. From a qualitative view, we tune into our clients’ individual needs and we have honest, transparent conversations with them about expectations, which we believe is our core differentiation and puts Markacy at the intersection of marketing and consulting.

For example, we worked with a high-growth personal care brand. We devised a financially-driven approach and took time to understand their product line. Our team worked to grow customer acquisition and retention by using a fully integrated media and growth strategies. We launched a holistic email marketing strategy that resulted in a 400% email list growth, improved CRO and SEO for their website, and devised a paid media acquisition strategy that resulted in a 475% revenue increase in a single year.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three traits I believe are most important in my personal success as a business leader include being an active listener, having attention to detail and desire to excel, and to always put our team members first and client service first.

Being an active listener is a trait that is dynamic and must be learned over time. It is critical to listen to what people are saying — or not saying. This means listening for cues, or the solution a person is looking for, and often asking questions to clarify and ensure I understand what is needed, so I can deliver on those expectations.

Early in my career, I learned the importance of attention to detail, everything from little things like sending emails or putting together internal presentations, making sure they are thoughtful and will have longevity. Having the desire to excel even in attention to detail for seemingly simple tasks can be major drivers for quality.

Finally, a major factor in not only my role as a business leader, but our success as a company, is that we place an emphasis on putting our team and our clients first. I believe that if our team members are set up for growth and success, then that directly impacts our client service. Making sure our team is supported helps them tune into the needs of our clients to ensure we’re aligned and that we’re meeting their priorities and expectations. It’s key for us to fully understand our clients’ business, their needs, financial objectives, and any other core key performance indicators. From there, our team can create and tailor media and marketing campaigns that will help our clients meet their goals.

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

We have several really exciting new projects in the pipeline, and a major focus of our work in 2022 is going to be helping brands with digital transformation. The pandemic has accelerated the need for companies to have a digital presence and a seamless experience online. Having personalized online interactions that are personalized to the same extent if not more as if a consumer were in a brick-and-mortar location, along with a robust e-commerce strategy, will maximize opportunities to grow revenue and brand reputation.

Sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.

The number one mistake we’ve seen companies make when starting digital marketing is underinvesting in, and under prioritizing ad creative. So many companies are willing to spend money on the campaigns themselves and will commit a significant portion of their budget to it, but not enough budget to high quality creative that will resonate with customers.

Another common mistake is not having realistic expectations when starting to use paid media. Paid media can drive profitable ROI, but it takes time. Brands and their marketing teams should regularly evaluate what is working and what is not and make adjustments as well as give the algorithmic platforms time to learn and optimize.

To that end, companies can be pressed to see immediate results and may see some marginal returns initially and then get discouraged when the cost of acquisition rises. This is to be expected, so brands and marketing teams should build paid media plans 6, 9 and 12 months in advance, setting realistic expectations and KPIs. When starting a paid campaign, businesses often target broader demographics, which tends to be less costly. Over time, the marginal cost of acquisition rises in effort to continue to reach new audiences. This is not unusual, but many businesses are deterred by it. Diminishing efficiencies can be leveled off over time, but having an understanding of the marketing principles and managing expectations in terms of how they work.

If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

At Markacy, we take a unique approach to building a digital and e-commerce strategy, starting with a comprehensive audit of a company’s performance. That includes historical marketing performance, as well as an audit of its financials. We want to learn if there is a tactical playbook for approving core channels, strengths and weaknesses, what happened in prior periods and what we can expect moving forward in terms of gains from any targeted optimizations. This helps us create a detailed media plan that reflects what we’ve learned in the audit. We determine how to allocate to core channels, how to potentially perform better in those core channels and decide which expansion channels might be a fit and how to allocate to those. Then we set goals and KPIs for each channel, create a roadmap for next steps and regularly review how things are going every few months.

Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?

When it comes to PPC, Google AdWords is still the most effective platform. Google AdWords still has the biggest brand search demand, the best performing campaigns and ability to scale, because it still has the highest volume of users.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

1. Understand Your Goals & Budget: Before beginning to launch a paid search campaign, it’s important to have a full understanding of both KPIs and budget needed to achieve those goals. Paid search can be used for a variety of purposes including generating leads, driving revenue or increasing brand awareness. Based on your objectives, this will help define your budget, ad copy messaging, audience structure and other aspects of the campaign such as bid strategies to help achieve those goals.

2. Define Your Keyword List: Keywords are the very foundation of your paid search campaign and the performance of each keyword and overarching keyword category will largely help determine the bids you assign to each of them to achieve your KPIs. A few considerations to keep in mind when building the keyword list is to leverage keyword tools to help identify keywords in your category that have enough search volume and understand what it will cost to bid on them, tailoring keywords around what your customers might be searching to find your business or service, and reviewing what searches your competitors are appearing for to ensure you have coverage across a variety of keyword variations.

3. Map Out A Testing Agenda: Testing is a core piece of running a successful PPC campaign to continue improving performance and understanding key learnings for future campaigns. By aligning on specific items to test you’ll be able to refine what’s working and continue to improve performance and scale spend. Testing can include keywords, ad copy, landing pages and bid strategies among other aspects within a campaign.

In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?

The three things that are critical to run a highly successful email marketing campaign are understanding the client’s business, products, and creative strategy; designing strategic automation flows, and having a monthly newsletter cadence.

Understanding a business’ products and creative strategy is key to recognizing what types of creative and messaging resonate with consumers at various parts of the lifecycle — new customers, existing customers, and the most loyal customers. Then, having automation that is designed with strategic triggers can maximize recurring revenue at various touchpoints. Automation should be designed for things like a welcome series, cart abandonment, browse abandonment and post-purchase to enhance email touchpoints with the customer. Finally, having a newsletter cadence that focuses on the top marketing events each month is another way to drive revenue. Share product releases, holidays or milestones, sales and other relevant content such as recipes, then tailor the quantity and segmentation to each audience to maximize performance.

What other digital marketing tools are you passionate about? What are they and how do you best leverage them?

Even as a foundational aspect of most brand’s mar-tech stack, Google Analytics is incredibly valuable. There is a lot of power in the ability to access real time analytics that can help assess performance by channel at a deep level, at a campaign level, and can show where consumers are dropping out of the funnel. In addition to Google Analytics, we also look at the attribution and available reporting within our media engine UI to make strategic decisions. Our gather reporting includes a spreadsheet and business interface dashboard that combines both media engine and google analytics to standardize campaign performance in one central view.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Five things that are necessary to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer include having a client-first mindset, being a team player, deploying data-driven strategies, hard work, and having an entrepreneurial spirit and being solution-oriented.

All of our media directors are experts in their respective fields and platforms, but what sets each of them apart are their individual analytical abilities. That quality, along with having foundational industry knowledge, helps our team stand out because we critically analyze what is working well for a client, identify trends, and optimize media spend across existing and expansion channels. Marketing and media are something that we can be taught with time teach, so when we’re hiring, we prioritize candidates with backgrounds in diverse fields along with critical thinking ability along with .

What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I’m an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, and The Economist, along with several marketing publications such as eMarketer, AdWeek, and Ad Age.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Marketing is essential for elevating awareness and for sharing resources and opportunities for different causes and can and should be used to lead the charge on essential world issues such as climate change, the importance of high-quality education for people of all backgrounds, and income inequality.

Over the years, a lot of marketing efforts have elevated awareness and resources for people who are on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) range — but so much of it is dedicated to those who are high-functioning.

My brother-in-law has Angelman Syndrome, a genetic disorder which is syndromic of ASD. It is not a well-known condition but causes delayed development, problems with speech and balance, intellectual disability, and sometimes seizures. He cannot walk or talk, but people with Angelman’s often smile and laugh frequently, and have happy, excitable personalities. While a lot of ASD range disorders are more recognized now, and there is education around them, growing up he was very misunderstood and still is today.

We are both very passionate about elevating awareness for people with rare diseases like Angelman Syndrome, and if we were to start a social impact organization, it would likely be in this space. I believe I could use my experience to help families navigate the dynamics of dealing with challenges associated with families providing proper care and financial support for their loved ones, among other things. It’s critical to raise awareness amongst the broader community about specific rare diseases so that those dealing with these conditions are never misunderstood. That way, both those experiencing them, and their families would have easier access to a wider range of support and resources available.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


Chris Jones Of Markacy On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rod Robinson Of Insight Sourcing Group On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Generate cost savings. I learned that casting a wider net enabled us to build a supplier portfolio that included a broader range of supplier segments. This ultimately created a more competitive sourcing environment that enabled us to increase spend with diverse suppliers, generate higher savings and optimize overall supplier value.

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

Rod Robinson is a Senior Vice President at Insight Sourcing Group — the largest procurement consulting firm in the U.S. — where he leads the firm’s Supplier Diversity practice and Center of Excellence. Prior to ISG, Rod was Vice President of Supplier Inclusion & Sustainability at Coupa Software and was the founder and CEO of ConnXus, Inc. (acquired by Coupa), a cloud procurement platform that enables companies to achieve supply chain objectives related to transparency, diversity, sustainability and economic impact. Featured in Forbes, Black Enterprise, Conscious Company Magazine and Be The Change, Inc. for his success as an entrepreneur and business leader, Rod is considered somewhat of a unicorn in procurement and has witnessed the evolution of the industry first hand.

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?

After four years as a CPA and auditor with Deloitte & Touché, I left to pursue an MBA from Wharton. Upon graduation, I started my career in management consulting which began at Kearney and continued with stints at other large firms including Accenture and Diamond Technology Partners (acquired by PWC) where I eventually became recognized as a sourcing and procurement subject matter expert.

Ultimately, my consulting career path led to me being recruited by a client, Cincinnati Bell, to become their Chief Procurement Officer. It was during my tenure at Cincinnati Bell that my passion and interest in supplier diversity piqued. Industry regulations, customer contractual requirements and board commitments made diverse supplier spending goals a strategic imperative at the company. I am proud to note that our team was recognized for achieving our corporate supplier diversity goals and driving year-over-year cost savings simultaneously.

However, this success did not come without challenges associated with utilizing manual and outdated processes for measuring diversity within our supplier base, identifying new qualified diverse suppliers and second tier spend tracking and reporting. These challenges were the catalyst for me creating ConnXus, a software platform that enabled corporations to identify certified diverse suppliers within their supplier base, discover new validated diverse suppliers, collect second-tier diversity spend from designated prime suppliers and generate custom reports.

So, I went from management consulting in procurement to corporate procurement executive to a procurement software entrepreneur solving a big problem. Now, at ISG, I have pivoted back to consulting, bringing my past cumulative experience to the table to help our clients create world class supplier diversity programs.

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?

One of my most interesting stories happened early in my career. Upon graduation from college in 1989 with a degree in accounting, I was fortunate to have offers from several of the “Big Eight” accounting firms (now “Big Four”). Deloitte & Touche was one of the top contenders, all because of one woman — the late Ellen Gabriel.

At the time, Ellen was a partner in the firm’s Boston office overseeing recruiting efforts that year. During the recruiting process, Ellen showed a keen interest in my career and expressed how she believed the Deloitte culture would enable me to thrive. She made a lasting impression on me, but I decided to accept another offer. After expressing her disappointment in my decision, she told me she was going to leave the Deloitte & Touche offer open. She then suggested that we meet for lunch every month or so to see how things were going. She was genuinely concerned about me graduating from college, moving to Boston and starting a new job with a firm that she believed to be a cultural misfit for me. As it turns out, she was absolutely correct. I quit the other firm after six months and joined Deloitte & Touche the next week. As Ellen had predicted, I thrived at Deloitte until 1993 when I decided to pursue my MBA at Wharton.

Today, Ellen P. Gabriel (RIP) is remembered as the pioneering leader of Deloitte’s national initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women. She was an amazing woman who played an integral part in my early career, whom I now think of often. I was extremely saddened to learn of her passing in 1999 from breast cancer. I’m unsure if Ellen realized the impact she had on my life and career, but I believe the best way to honor her is to pay it forward by mentoring young professionals who might become Ellen Gabriel’s of the next generation. She taught me that there are no limits to what you can achieve (in the right environment) and that your best mentor may not look like you.

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?

“You are a product of the company you keep.” In other words, if you spend your time with successful people, you too will be successful. This is something that was instilled in me early in life. Fortunately, I have always gravitated toward achievement-oriented people who have inspired me to continuously aim higher. This life lesson is very similar to the best business advice that I received from an old boss which is “hire people smarter than you and create an environment where they can do their best work.”

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

Wow! Too many to count. I owe debt of gratitude to many family members, mentors and friends who’ve provided tremendous support and encouragement to me through the years. However, I would have to say my wife, of nearly 30 years, has been my single most important source of support on my career journey. We were married three years after graduating from college. A year into our marriage, I decided to leave my job at Deloitte and pursue my MBA at Wharton full-time. Without hesitation, she threw her full support behind me. We packed up our apartment in Florida and moved to Philadelphia in 1993 and the rest is history. Since then, she has provided unwavering support of my professional and entrepreneurial pursuits. Along the way, we managed to raise four wonderful kids with several loving pets in the mix. It has been a great ride for sure.

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

When Tom Beaty, CEO and founder of Insight Sourcing Group (ISG), reached out to discuss the prospect of me joining the leadership team, I already knew the firm had a sterling reputation as one of the preeminent procurement-focused consulting firms in the country. However, I was unaware of the sister businesses — GPO, SpendHQ and Insight Analytics — that were founded as a result of the innovative and entrepreneurial culture that forms the foundation of ISG. There is no resting on laurels here. At ISG, it is always about identifying the next generation opportunity for transforming the business while simultaneously creating growth opportunities for our people. This mindset is a testament to Tom’s vision, leadership and the team he has assembled to be stewards of that vision. I am thrilled to be a part of that team.

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

We have several exciting supplier diversity client projects currently in process. These projects range from helping a Fortune 500 company start a program from scratch to helping a Fortune 50 company accelerate or revamp the strategy of an existing program. What’s truly rewarding about this work is that not only are we helping large organizations achieve their supplier diversity spending goals, but also helping minority-and women-owned businesses grow and prosper. This ultimately generates economic impact in the form of jobs creation and growth within local communities.

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

I realized long ago that “paying it forward” is core to who I am. I believe it’s because I had such great experiences with mentors who had a tremendous impact on my career trajectory. As such, I love mentoring young people along their growth journey. Whether it’s providing career coaching or advising on a new entrepreneurial venture, I get a thrill helping others avoid the mistakes I made along my growth journey.

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.)

Increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line in many ways. Implementing a supplier diversity strategy enables companies to

  1. Drive supply chain competitiveness.
  2. Generate cost savings.
  3. Unlock innovation.
  4. Strengthen brand loyalty and,
  5. Gain access to new market opportunities.
  6. Drive supply chain competitiveness. As a former Chief Procurement Officer, I was always actively seeking out competitive, high-quality differentiated suppliers to bring into the supply chain. I realized that including a wider range of supplier types in our supply chain would yield higher savings, more innovation and enhanced value-added. I also knew that this would ultimately lead to a more resilient supplier mix.
  7. Generate cost savings. I learned that casting a wider net enabled us to build a supplier portfolio that included a broader range of supplier segments. This ultimately created a more competitive sourcing environment that enabled us to increase spend with diverse suppliers, generate higher savings and optimize overall supplier value.
  8. Unlock innovation. I have several examples of how increased diversity can drive innovation, but a favorite comes from one of my previous clients. As a part of its commitment to better serve the needs of African American women, this consumer products giant co-created a beauty care brand extension with a team of African American scientists, stylists and dermatologists. Today, it is one of the leading haircare brands globally.
  9. Strengthen brand loyalty. There have been many studies citing higher levels of loyalty among minority customers when compared to the general market. I saw this play out on a past client engagement for a billion dollar plus membership-based service company. We were working with the client to determine an appropriate supplier diversity spending goal. Interestingly, they had just completed a study revealing that minority customers were nearly 2X more loyal than non-minority members. It was also noted that revenue growth within this segment was significantly faster. Ultimately, our current state analysis showed that a mere 3% of total purchasing dollars were being spent with diverse suppliers while 13% of total revenue was generated from diverse customers. We all agreed that the spend goal should equal at least 13% with meaningful year-over-year increases. This formed the foundation of a value-based Supplier Diversity program where diverse supplier success stories were integrated with broader marketing efforts. This drove even higher levels of loyalty and revenue growth.
  10. Gain access to new markets. One of my favorite examples of supplier diversity providing access to new markets is from a client engagement with a large business services firm where our team was developing a supplier diversity strategy, vision and roadmap. As a result, the team delivered multimillion-dollar annual cost savings, coupled with a double-digit increase in diversity spend across numerous spend categories. Additionally, the team uncovered a significant new revenue opportunity for the client via a partnership with a diverse supplier that provided access to state and federal contracts that required more capacity than the diverse supplier could provide alone.

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

Business leaders should strive to create an environment where employees can do their best work. A big part of creating this environment is building a culture where people feel valued, appreciated and purpose driven.

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

In my experience, I have found that the best way to manage large teams is to create smaller teams based on defined goals and objectives. Of course, each team consists of leaders with accountability for achieving established targets.

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 have been fortunate in that my career and life path has afforded me the opportunity to meet and spend time with some amazing titans in business, sports and entertainment. However, the one individual that I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with is Denzel Washington. Aside from being one of my favorite actors, he is one of my favorite human beings. Based on my observations through the last 40 years, I see a humble individual who has enjoyed amazing success as an actor, husband, father, friend, mentor and philanthropist. These are traits that I strive to emulate.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

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


Rod Robinson Of Insight Sourcing Group On 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.

Sky Cassidy Of MountainTop Data On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC…

Sky Cassidy Of MountainTop Data On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

Grit, Mindfulness, Fairness, and Intelligence. You need a good combination of these and to enjoy working in an ever-changing landscape. Marketing doesn’t stand still; soso, you can never rest. A lot of marketing is competing against other companies and dealing with human nature; thewhile the techniques that work change from day to day. To really be successful you must enjoy solving the same problem over and over in different ways under different circumstances.

Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.

In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sky Cassidy.

Sky Cassidy is the CEO and co-founder of MountainTop Data, a provider of list and data services for B2B marketing. In 2017 he launched one of the longest running B2B Marketing podcasts, If You Market. He is a problem solver and tinkerer, ; and loves to talk about business, science, and philosophy and ─ believes that 2+2 is somewhere between 3 and 5.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started as a photographer but realized early on I wasn’t going to do what I wanted there so around 2003 I started a photo sharing company; the problem was the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet. I loved the start-up world though and poked around for years with various unsuccessful startupsstart-ups while working in Sales and Marketing to pay the bills. Eventually I focused full time on a data company I was part of and after working through nearly every job in the company I took over as CEO in 2016.

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

When other people make marketing mistakes, I find them funny, but my mistakes are not funny, they are sad. I have a hard time laughing at myself when it comes to business, I’m not a serious guy but I do take business personally. I’m not a trained marketer so I have made every mistake there is to make. I’m the Berenstain Bear of marketing. I’ve botched form fills countless times, but the biggest mistake I can recall is probably sorting one column of an excel spreadsheet for a physical mail campaign. , aAnyone whose who has worked with old school excel Excel remembers this issue, causing every mailer we sent out to have the wrong name.

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

I apologize to anyone I’m leaving out, but I had a middle school math teacher, Mr. Hogan, that was good. I was a very poor student, and everyone knew it. At the beginning of the school year, he let everyone pick whether they would take the regular math for the grade or algebra. For some reason I picked algebra and the class literally laughed. W, we even discussed it in class because another student said to the teacher that I shouldn’t be allowed to pick algebra. He said anyone could pick whatever they wanted. Mr. Hogan didn’t specifically help me. H, he didn’t single me out and mentor me or anything. H, he did something much better which was just to be a great teacher that loved what he taught and gave everyone the same opportunity. Up to that point I had been a bad student and, everyone knew it. , iIn math I found the results weren’t subjective;, it didn’t matter what anyone thought about me, if I got the right answer or , I got the right wrong answer. Turns out I was the classic bored student and went on to be one of the best in my class throughout high school, where Mr Hogan was my teacher again for calculus. This carried over to my other classes as well and I went from one of the worst students in middle school to top of my class in high school.

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

I think there are two things. First the list business is overrun with scam companies selling lists of decades old contacts and tech startupsstart-ups with an algorithm that live scrapes the internet and throws the results at you. There are very few true data companies that maintain a database of business contact information like we do. I think we started at just the right time when emails were becoming a thing for business marketing but the drive by data scraping algorithms wasn’t a thing yet. Because of this lucky timing we’re a true data company with modern technical capabilities.
Second, we are a small business, so we still care about our customers. It’s nNot to say that we will stop caring as we get bigger, but smaller businesses provide better service because every customer means so much more to them. Anyone who uses one of the major brands in business lists knows what I’m talking about;, they treat you like your you’re lucky they’re willing to talk with you, that is if you can get someone on the phone.

You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I evaluate people on 4-character traits:. Grit, Mindfulness, Fairness, and Intelligence. I think I’m pretty good in the first 3 and good enough in the intelligence area. Eventually I hope to be successful enough that I’m not good enough in these areas and need to be replaced. That will mean I did my job and took the company as far as I could.

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

I have a couple irons in the fire ranging from near implementation to loose ideas. One project we’re near close to implementing is around empowering B2B marketers. I’m a strong believer in capitalism and in using it to the benefit of the customer. Sometimes this is a product evolution like the smart phone and sometimes it’s a business process like cell companies letting minutes roll over, but it always results in better companies winning and the customers winning. Our data access platform is designed to work the way the customer wants, even when our sales team complains because we’re making it more difficult for them to get easy commissions. One example here that we’ve already done is not having to haverequiring an annual contract. There are many industries that are so controlled by a couple companies that capitalism doesn’t really work to provide the best product to the consumer at the best price. In these cases, there’s an agreement between the big players not to rock the boat and it just becomes a marketing arms race. I hate that. I believe companies have a duty to always be competingcompetitive;, it’s what brings progress and improves everyone’s lives. It’s the purpose of the capitalism these companies benefit so much from. For example, in the early 2000s when we decided to include emails and sell our data instead of renting it, the list industry had to follow. Even though we were a verry small company they were suddenly forced to follow because there was a company competing for business. We got calls back then from companies telling us to stop because we were going to ruin the way the list industry worked. What they meant was we were ruining the easy life they had created at the expense of their customers. When the choices are all the same there’s no real choice and that’s not capitalism. I can’t say exactly whatHOW, but we’re getting ready to make the industry angry again.

Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.

When trying something new many people try to do it themselves. When you do that, you’re a country mouse going to the city with no guide and it’s not going to end well if you don’t learn fast. I’ve made this mistake multiple times. Whatever you’re doing you need a guide if you don’t have experience. This can range from a consultant or trainer to outsourcing the service to someone that knows how to do it well. Trying to manage a new digital marketing technique by just reading the instructions is going to cost more in waste than just paying somebody that’s competent at it already. If you’ve never used Google Ads sign up for a free account and see how far you get. It’s like jumping into the cockpit of a 747, you may be smart but you’re going to get countless little things wrong, and those mistakes are going to be costly. You need an experienced guide.

If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

I’d like to focus on small businesses. If you’re a small business with limited budget and resources I don’t think an all-encompassing digital marketing blueprint isn’t what you need. I would advise companies to look at all options: , Google Ads, FB, SEO, email, YouTube, affiliate marketing, and any others that may fit your business. Identify the 1one or two that are likely your biggest ROI with the lowest short-term risk and focus on those. Manny small businesses feel like they need to do everything, but all that does is spread you too thin. As your revenues grow you can outsource more or add to your marketing team, but initially keep it simple. The one channel I’d recommend for every business is direct email. Email is great because it’s an owned channel and building your in-house list always pays off.

Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?

My experience is all in B2B marketing, so I’d have to say Google Ads. You want to be where you have a good ratio of where your customers are, and your competition isn’t. Google has the most audience, but if Google Ads are saturated with competition, it drives the cost up and a platform like LinkedIn may be worth trying.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

First you need experience in the platform you use, or to haveengage an experienced guide. Next you need to know your audience and what they search for when looking for products/services like yours. Finally, you need an effective landing page. Getting the right people to your site is good, but to be effective you need an effective landing page that will convert them.

Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?

To run effective email campaigns, you need accurate data. If you’re using an in-house list from newsletter signups and other opt-in contacts, you’re good, but if you’re enhancing your campaigns with purchased lists, the accuracy of the email and getting the right targeted contacts is critical. NotNot just emails that don’t bounce ─ but you must have identified the correct target audience and your list source must be able to accurately provide those companies and contacts. Next you need a delivery system that lets you send campaigns to cold email lists. Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and HubSpot , these are all great email systems, but you can’t use them for a purchased list. For this you need something like Inbox25, ClickbackClickBack, or SalesNexus. Finally, you need a good email creative. This includes both the subject line that gets your audience to open the email and a good call to action in the email body. Once you’ve got that in place it’s just a matter of testing, being consistent with sends and incremental improvements.

What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?

For small businesses the phone is great; , that’s digital, right? right 😊. But seriously marketing doesn’t have to be complex, there are lots of great ABM platforms, and I think once companies get larger influencer marketing is great. In B2B influencer means people the public wouldn’t recognize, but that have a lot of recognition in your space. Influencer means generally ‘popular’ in B2C but in B2B it’s just known by your audience. Influencer marketing lets you leverage the connection or trust the influencer has with your audience. It’s a way to quickly have a more direct connection with a large audience in your space. A, any tool that helps you connect personally in larger volumes is great. Make sure it’s a personal connection and not a fake personal connection like some LinkedIn spam programs;, people generally just find pretending like that you’re connecting personally to be really annoying. For example, tools like BombBomb and Bonjoro can help your team quickly send personalized video messages to your highest value targets.

Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I go back to the 4-character traits I mentioned earlier. Grit, Mindfulness, Fairness, and Intelligence. You need a good combination of these and to enjoy working in an ever-changing landscape. Marketing doesn’t stand still; soso, you can never rest. A lot of marketing is competing against other companies and dealing with human nature; thewhile the techniques that work change from day to day. To really be successful you must enjoy solving the same problem over and over in different ways under different circumstances.

What books, podcasts, videos, or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I’m a big podcast listener and listen to audio books. My favourite podcasts for marketing are Duct Tape Marketing, Marketing Over Coffee, Marketing Smarts by Marketingprofs, Marketing School, and The Marketing Book Podcast. I’m regularly adding and removing shows, but those are the ones I listen to the most right now. I also host a podcast on B2B marketing, The the If You Market Podcast. A little secret, if there’s an area, I really want to know more about I will find an expert in that area and invite them on the show.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I love this question because I’ve already answered it. Use capitalism for good. I’m convinced that most things people think are broken could be fixed by private industry, but most of those things are broken because of private industry that isn’t forced to compete. If you want to fix health insurance, start a company that does it right. The best companies are companies that solve a problem, so find a problem and fix it. What I’d really like to see is wealthy philanthropists stop giving money to causes and start giving it to startupsstart-ups that want to solve the problem. Don’t give someone a fish, and don’t teach them to fish, start a fishing company and hire everyone that needs fish. The problem with teaching someone to fish is it ends there, and it still relies on charity. It’s not self-sustaining, there’s no mechanism for ongoing change and improvement in general. I’m convinced that when companies solve a problem, they can force all others to follow in their footsteps. If, if you don’t like how something is done start a company that does it the way you think it should be done. Not only will your solution now be an option, if you are right the whole industry will have to follow you and you will have changed everything for the better. This is the power of capitalism done properly.

How can our readers further follow your work?

The best place to find me is on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


Sky Cassidy Of MountainTop Data On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Mark Alhermizi Of Everdays On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Mark Alhermizi Of Everdays On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Employees make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they should be written off.

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

Mark Alhermizi, founder and CEO of Everdays, is a serial entrepreneur. He has founded several successful ventures through his holding company IZI Ventures including Gas Station TV, a business he sold in 2014. Prior to forming IZI Ventures, Mark headed up the worldwide M&A and Corporate Development practice for J. Walter Thompson, part of the WPP Group. Mark cares about community, business, and technology, and makes these a priority within all of his ventures. He started Everdays after his father passed away.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share the story that brought you to this specific career path?

My father passed away unexpectedly. I knew nothing about planning funerals, but in my culture, as the only son, everyone looked to me to make the decisions. That’s when I understood firsthand what it’s like to navigate the sad, confusing days after losing a parent. For most people like me, it’s their first time having to buy a burial plot, make funeral arrangements, and plan the services, and it’s overwhelming. Not to mention how quickly the bills add up.

My dad, like the vast majority of Americans, had made no plans ahead of time. I asked myself why, and I realized that the process of making end of life plans at the time was not easy or accessible — it was, and for many still is, gloomy and morbid. I founded Everdays to make end of life planning more approachable, inviting, and convenient for everyone, so they enjoy more peace of mind and fuller lives.

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

In the last company I built before starting Everdays, Gas Station TV, I had to prove to my distribution partners, Walmart and Murphy Oil, that having TVs on top of a gas pump was a viable concept. I took on all the risk and started a pilot with 5 of their gas stations on my dime.

We were 45 days into the pilot when Katrina devastated New Orleans, which is where Murphy Oil had their biggest refinery in the country. As I watched the tragedy unfold, I realized this probably was going to be the end of the road for my program. I was recently married, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was facing the reality that I may have just lost all of my savings, everything I had invested in this pilot.

But then, much to my total disbelief, I received a fax that my pilot had just been approved. That day, I learned just how resilient, tough and persevering American businesses can be in the light of major disaster, and I’ve held onto that valuable lesson as I’ve navigated obstacles in my own business ventures and work since then.

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

There are significant barriers to retirement and end of life planning, largely fueled by the fact that technology is never built with seniors in mind. In addition, services are segmented and there is no one place where 60+ consumers can go to plan for their future. Everdays eliminates these barriers by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to guide seniors through planning for their future, and Machine Learning (ML) to calculate costs and provide plan options, all on a digital platform that is convenient and purpose-built for seniors, their preferences, and their stage in life.

Ultimately, the breakthrough is about giving seniors unencumbered access to modern planning on their own terms.

How do you think this might change the world?

Over 75% of Americans know it’s important to plan ahead for their final wishes, yet less than 1% of those who are 60+ make and fund these plans. We’re going to change how the world thinks about end of life planning by making it mainstream — giving the vast majority of seniors who have a latent knowledge that they should plan, a way to actually do it — completely online, whenever and wherever they want. ​​In 2020, that 1% represented $6 billion in policy value in the United States. We plan to take that number to 20% — that’s 120 billion dollars.

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

Everyday uses ML to process consumer data and provide recommendations based on our automated calculations. Algorithms collect and analyze data like age, assets, income, spending habits and general wellness & health to generate the best plan and pricing for their estimated life expectancy. Our proprietary software can get pretty close to projecting how long each of our individual users will live, and we use the data to deliver products that are more attuned to people’s needs. We take our consumers’ privacy very seriously, and utilize the highest standards in security when transferring and storing data, and we only store information necessary to preserve plans and generate policies fit for their needs. While it can be “intimidating” to have an app tell you how long you may live, it is far more worrisome to live a long life and not be prepared.

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

The COVID pandemic has been a tipping point, bringing mortality and end of life more into focus than ever before. According to a 2021 survey, a 30% increase in consumers are expressing the importance of planning ahead for their own final wishes. Beyond that, technology usage among older adults has skyrocketed. I believe this trend will only continue to grow, as the pandemic has pushed young seniors with more urgency towards ecommerce.

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

We need to increase awareness that there’s a better way to live an even fuller life into your golden years and beyond, and that’s by planning ahead for important life events to take care of yourself and your family. Our technology is an enabler and is making a real impact, especially for the 65+ population, which, according to a 2015 report by Population Reference Bureau, is expected to more than double and reach over 98 million by 2060 — making up for 24 percent of the population.

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

In addition to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), keyword research, and content marketing, we distribute the Everdays app B2B2C by partnering with end of life planning industries — such as estate planning professionals, funeral homes, and cemeteries — to distribute our app to their clients.

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

My dad, Ike Alhermizi.

Can you share a story about that?

My father was a brilliant man who exuded a hard work ethic, grit, and who rarely complained. He left his entire family, including my mom and young sister, in Iraq to immigrate to the United States and worked 15-hour days to establish himself to prepare for the arrival of his family. He faced adversity in different ways, and even when he lost his brother in an armed robbery at his first store, he never stopped pushing forward. Even though my dad was just a convenience store owner, he had high ambitions for himself, and taught me that anything is possible, there’s always a way forward, and you should never give up.

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

From my experience, I’ve often felt like we live in a society that’s programmed us to “put a smile on and move on” in the face of hardship and adversity. It seems like we’re constantly asked to pull away from our emotions, and from listening to our heads and our hearts. Everdays is about being a part of the positive cultural change and shift that’s happening around us — to help people connect with what is most important to them — so that seniors can make meaningful plans that truly enable them to care for their loved ones in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

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

  1. Maya Angelou said that people show you who they are, you just have to listen — believe them the first time.
  2. Be easier on your kids; they are already hard enough on themselves.
  3. Employees make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they should be written off.
  4. On the other hand, when you learn someone’s intentions or motivations are bad — extricate them from your life ASAP.
  5. Learn to type.

You are a person of 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?

This may be a little idealistic, and a little taboo to talk about, but I’ve always wished people could argue less about religion and come together over shared experiences more. Throughout my life, I’ve experienced the benefits of religion giving us structure and guidance to navigate through life, but I have also seen the mistake that the institutions make in asserting that their prescribed teachings are solely correct. If we could all focus less on the differences between our faiths, and more on being accepting of and open to the many different paths that people take to get their own perspective on life’s unanswerable questions, I think we’d enjoy a vastly kinder, more empathetic, tolerant and hospitable world.

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

I live by a saying one of my mentors shared with me many years ago about what to do when you find yourself faced with too many responsibilities, commitments, or undertakings. He’d say, “If your plate is getting too full… go out and get a bigger plate”. I’ve always been fortunate to have strong people in my life to encourage me, from my dad leading by example throughout my childhood to my mentor who really inspired me to go after what I wanted for my life with passion and enthusiasm. As a result, this lesson permeates my life, often not even consciously, as I regularly stretch myself to the limits to allow myself and my family new opportunities — and my wife is the same way. Hopefully, it will help us live longer! It doesn’t come without its downsides, though. I probably live beyond my physical limits at times, and in so many ways I regret this as I overwhelm myself with what I’ve taken on!

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

TAM of end of life insurance is $100 billion. Current penetration through analog, traditional models is only 5%. No company other than Everdays offers an online, digital, direct-to-consumer solution for seniors 60+ to make and insure their plans in a modern way that drives widespread access and adoption.

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


The Future Is Now: Mark Alhermizi Of Everdays 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.

Tiffany Harris Of Kustom Kreationz: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Tiffany Harris Of Kustom Kreationz: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Faith. My faith is really important to me, and having faith in God and having faith that everything would work out with my business has been really important to me. To be a good leader, though, you have to have faith, even if it’s not religious or spiritual. As a leader, if you don’t have faith in your business and its purpose, no one else will have that faith, either.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tiffany Harris.

Tiffany Harris is a 38-year-old mother of three and a wife. Tiffany is the sole owner of Kustom Kreationz Wholesale. Kustom Kreationz is a custom apparel business that customizes personalized items for everyone. Kustom Kreationz also provides dye sublimation products to other small businesses to help them reach their full potential in producing customized items by using its branded sublimation line of products, including sublimation paper, sublimation ink, sublimation shirts, and heat tape. Kustom Kreationz is a one-stop-shop for any small business that does sublimation. Tiffany Harris hopes to help many small business owners grow their businesses by using Kustom Kreationz products.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?

Kustom Kreationz was birthed through great friends and family. I started out trying to make my own wedding invitations. It took me a few months, but I did it. Then, I found out that there were machines (Cricut machines) that could help you make invitations, and they could also make shirts; you would input a design and the Cricut machine plots things out. Then, you can print your design. A really good friend of mine already knew how to use the Cricut and had one, so we used FaceTime and she taught me how to use the Cricut.

I started making shirts for my wedding, and I posted on social media to be like, “Y’all, look, I made this!” I didn’t realize that so many people were watching me, and suddenly, people started asking me if I could make things for them, too. I decided to turn it into a business.

Later, I started learning that there were a lot of people who wanted to learn about sublimation, which is a specific type of printing where you print onto a special type of paper first, then transfer the image onto the material you’re printing on.

My friend and I made a Facebook page to teach people about sublimation. I thought, Okay, if I teach them to do sublimation for free, they will buy my products. People bought and bought and bought!

Recently, I started my own line of sublimation paper and ink, so people can buy blanks (blank products they need for sublimation, like paper, etc.) and can use those blanks to create their own items.

Now, Kustom Kreationz is a one-stop shop for crafting blanks.

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

I’m not sure I would say this is or was funny, but it was definitely a huge mistake I made. When I first decided to make a sublimation paper line, I opted to go the cheaper route and package my paper in just plastic. Needless to say, the paper bent up, the packaging tore often causing my customers to return their items for new ones but returning them wasn’t the problem — the packaging was. So, I lost a lot of products aka money trying to be cheap. Now, my paper is packaged in plastic first then inside of a cardboard box to prevent damage to the actual product.

All in all, I learned that trying to cut corners in business can come back and bite you in the end, causing you more money than you thought you were saving in the beginning.

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?

After I made my wedding invitations, which was my first major project using my Cricut machine, I decided that I wanted to learn more about how to use the Cricut.

I reached out to a close friend, Nikisha, because I knew that she was had a Cricut and knew more about it than me.

She ended up teaching me how to use my own machine over FaceTime, and from that, I was able to grow my skillset.

She was and is still my go-to person in life, and I’m really grateful for her! Learning how to use my own Cricut and learning what niches needed to be filled in this crafting community would’ve been a lot harder without her!

She also helped me create my Facebook group, and that helped my business expand and grow, too. This group has been a helpful tool for both people interested in crafting and for me as a business owner.

Now, my business helps crafters at all skill levels and provides them with materials they need to use their Cricut machines and create beautiful items, and I’m thankful that Nikisha was the one who taught me so much at the beginning!

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Initially, the purpose of my business was to help other people who were interested in a specific type of crafting using the Cricut machine and to teach them how to sublimate. As my business expanded, that purpose expanded, too.

My vision was to create a business that was a valuable resource for crafters and a one-stop-shop for those who wanted to get into sublimation printing using their Cricut machines.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Shortly after launching my business, I needed an emergency hysterectomy. This was really upsetting to me since my business had literally just had its grand opening.

I made sure to communicate with my team as soon as I knew that I was going to be out. I wanted to maintain control, but at that time, I knew I had to rely on my team. I delegated tasks for everyone to make sure the business could run while I was in the hospital.

Even after my surgery, I was still keeping track of what was going on in my business and communicating with my team about what needed to get done and who needed to do what.

Communication was really important at that time, and I think it’s important when leading through difficult times in general. If you communicate well, the people on your team and in your community will understand and trust you. Transparency is essential, I think.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

There were definitely times when I felt like it would’ve been easier to give up. I’m a very business-minded person, though, and I really believed in my ideas and my business. I knew that if I stuck it out that my business could succeed. My vision for my company really sustains my motivation and drive, even when times are hard.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

I think the most critical role of a leader in business is to guide their company and know what they want that business to look like in the future. A good leader must be adaptable and know what they will do when challenges arise — because they definitely will — so they can keep their business moving and guide their team even during turbulent times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Again, being honest and transparent as possible with your team is so important. It helps build trust, which is so important in businesses, especially small businesses.

Talking about the ways you’re planning to get through hard times, and also sharing ways you’ve gotten through challenges before as a business, can really help to engage your team as a leader.

If everyone feels like there’s a plan, then they don’t have to worry so much about what’s going to happen next or what their roles are in the business. As a leader, defining everyone’s roles and giving your team a framework is important.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I think it’s important to be honest when you’re giving difficult news to a team or your customers.

With a team, it’s important to clearly define expectations upfront. You want to make a plan to present to your team when something goes wrong; having that plan in place before something happens helps. You want to have steps that your team can follow easily, even if you’re not there.

With customers, you also want to be transparent. If you’re running low on stock or need to close temporarily, letting your customers know what’s going on behind-the-scenes and when you expect things to go back to normal.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

A good leader must always be a couple steps ahead of the game.

For example, in 2021 I prepared my business for the changes of 2022. I believe you must think ahead because you never know what life will throw at you. Have a plan A, B, C, and D if necessary.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

My number one principle is: no matter what, see it completely through. If you don’t see it through, how will you know if it would’ve worked or not?

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

I think a lot of business owners think they’re going to immediately make all this money when they first start out, but that’s not really the case. You have to build up an audience and make sure people know who you are and what you’re doing. People have to trust you. For me, educating people for free meant that people trusted that I knew what I was doing, so they would buy from me.

I also see people overspending when they don’t have the funds. You want to invest into your business, but that takes time. You need to take things one step at a time and make sure you can pay for whatever you’re buying. When you are initially making money, you have to put a lot of that money back into the business to make it grow. Over time, though, you’ll be able to pay yourself more.

It’s also really important to build business credit. I see a lot of people who are new to business not taking advantage of credit cards that are available to businesses. Before you can use these types of cards, you need to incorporate your business first (which means your business is a separate entity from you). From there, you can start to build your credit and can use that to cover your expenses. Just be careful about how you use your business credit cards; just because they say you can spend a million dollars doesn’t mean you should.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Building a community that’s interested in you and your business is really important; having a solid community can help you to maintain financial stability during hard times.

It’s particularly helpful if you start to build that community before you start your business. This gives you the chance to build trust with people who are interested in what you do, and when people are familiar with you and trust you, they’re more likely to be committed to you and your products or business.

I also think staying on top of your finances is essential in good times and bad. You really have to know how much you can afford to spend on your business, how much you need to make to at least break even, and what expenses can be cut out if needed. If there are things you can do yourself during turbulent times, that can save you money in the long run and help your business stay afloat.

Finally, it’s helpful to take advantage of any resources available to you as a business owner and leader. If there are grants, loans, business credit cards, etc., that can help you when you’re struggling, that can make a major difference in your business and can keep the doors open.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Throughout my time founding my own business and working as a business owner, being a leader during turbulent times has become second nature to me. Whether I was leading my business when I was dealing with a life-altering medical issue, after experiencing a loss, or through a global pandemic, there are five things that allowed me to be a strong leader when life was chaotic.

1. Resilience

When you’re in business, things aren’t always bright and happy and perfect, so you have to be resilient and keep going.

For example, after I’d been in business for a little while, I decided to trademark my brand. I’d been applying, and someone from the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) kept denying the trademark because she said the name for my business was too popular.

After I kept reapplying and getting denied, I finally decided to get an attorney. It took eight months, but the trademark was finally approved.

On a larger scale, I’ve dealt with some health issues throughout my life, and that didn’t stop when I created a business. There have been times when it would’ve been really easy to just stop working in and on my business.

When my business wasn’t very profitable, stopping would’ve been easy, too. But I really believed in what I was doing, and I really enjoyed it. I’m glad now that I kept going because I’ve gotten to see my business grow a lot.

2. Confidence

Confidence is so important when you’re leading, whether that’s in a business or in your personal life.

After I’d done some research and learned more about the market in my niche, I realized that my idea for a business was a really good one. I think it’s easy to second-guess yourself, but it’s important to be totally confident in the decisions you make — especially when your decisions impact other people.

When I started my business, I was confident that it was something that could really help people interested in certain types of crafting. Even though it took time for my business to make money, and it took a lot of work, I was confident that my business would get to where I wanted it to go.

It took me a few years, but now, I’ve gotten to see my business really expand and grow in some awesome ways. That’s only added to my confidence about my business, as well as my ability to do things on my own.

3. An amazing support system

I’m someone who’s really independent, but I’ve learned that having a good support system makes running a successful business possible.

Ten days after the grand opening of my business, I had to go to the hospital to get a hysterectomy. I was so sad because my business was just starting to take off, and I knew that I would have to rest for several weeks after the surgery.

My friends stopped what they were doing. They came during their breaks from work to help pack the orders. They came whenever they could to make sure I wasn’t lifting a finger. One of my friends literally came from her house, picked me up from my house, drove me to my store, opened the door or the chair and said, “Sit right here and tell me what to do.”

In the two months it took me to recover, I was so grateful to have my friends helping me out when I needed it.

4. Courage

Sometimes, you have to be a courageous leader, and that means putting yourself out there and taking risks.

I’ve had to take some risks in my life, especially with my business, but having the courage to take risks instead of staying on the sidelines and wishing or wondering what would happen if I did something has paid off.

Before my business began, I had to have the courage to learn how to use the Cricut machine — and that meant that I had to have the courage to fail at first. I started out because I wanted to make wedding invitations for myself, and I did. It took so much time, but I was so proud of those invitations!

As time went on and I learned more, I saw that there was a need for my skills and knowledge in the crafting community. After starting my own community, I finally decided to start my own business, and that took courage to do.

Financially, I was also responsible for my business, and that took a lot of courage, too, I think. Investing in a business is a risk, but as a leader, it was obviously my place to take that risk — and I’m so glad that I did.

5. Faith

My faith is really important to me, and having faith in God and having faith that everything would work out with my business has been really important to me.

To be a good leader, though, you have to have faith, even if it’s not religious or spiritual. As a leader, if you don’t have faith in your business and its purpose, no one else will have that faith, either.

When I was trying to find a building for my business, I was trying to decide between two buildings. I really didn’t know which one to pick.

After seeing the two places and debating, I saw a third place. It felt like God was telling me to take that third space, even though I had only been considering the two initially.

I chose the building that I felt like God was pulling me to, and that building had more space than I knew what to do with at first. But I trusted my faith, and I also had faith in myself and my business because I knew that I would make things work and that I could use the space I had, even if I wasn’t sure how to use it at the time.

Later down the line, I ended up needing the extra space as my business expanded, and I really felt as if that space was meant for me. I was so grateful that I’d made that decision, because I really needed the space, and that allowed my business to grow in ways I hadn’t expected or anticipated.

I’ve learned to give God some grace and to give things time. I like to be in control, but I try not to immediately stress over things that I can’t control. Again, you have to have faith that you can get through hard times.

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

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always followed the motto “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” I even wrote this in my yearbook for middle school and high school. This quote is relevant in my life always because I know that if it doesn’t work out the first time try again. If you fail or think you’ve failed, try again. If you fall, get back up and try again. If you don’t understand why life is seemingly taking you on a roller coaster ride, just hold on tight eventually God will reveal it to you. But if you give up, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Readers can follow me at:
https://www.facebook.com/kustomkreationz727/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Tiffany Harris Of Kustom Kreationz: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jerome Clark Of Vantage Branding & Communications: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And…

Jerome Clark Of Vantage Branding & Communications: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Leverage third parties in building brand trust — No matter how well a brand advertises its products, brand advertising alone will not cut it in today’s multi-channel media landscape. Let’s face it, who wants hear about how great a product or service is, only from the brands perspective. Consumers want to hear from influencers, independent experts and customer reviews in order to get a holistic perspective on the brand. The more diverse and engaging a brand’s content is, the greater the success a brand will have in attracting consumers.

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

Jerome Clark is a marketing executive and consultant who has spent nearly two decades building brands for some of the most notable companies in the US and abroad including L’Oreal, Elizabeth Arder/Revlon and Groupe SEB. Currently, Clark serves as the principal consultant for Vantage Branding & Communications in New York City, which advises emerging and startup brands in the strategic areas of branding, integrated marketing communications, e-Commerce, and new product development. Jerome obtained his undergraduate degree from Clark Atlanta University and Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Indiana University. In his down time, he enjoys volunteering to serve his local community, working out and exploring his personal passions for art, music and travel.

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

My path to marketing consulting began with my last corporate role, where I was the continental lead for strategic brand marketing and integrated marketing communications. A big component of my role was also leading digital acceleration initiatives and the development of regional best practices for digital marketing across the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. At the beginning of the pandemic, I made the shift from corporate to an independent marketing consultant, as it has allowed much more flexibility and the opportunity to work with various businesses across multiple industries in the US.

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

One of the biggest lessons I learned when starting my career at L’Oreal, was how important it is for your product offer to be authentically aligned with your brand. I had just launched a new brand that was all about embracing your natural beauty, both inside and out, through its line of natural haircare and styling remedies. However, my first line of products was geared towards treating chemically treated hair, which was the biggest styling category at the time. This initial line of products performed okay, but it wasn’t until I launched the second line extension of products designed for natural hair that the brand found its true niche. The lesson for me was that a brand must always stay authentic in reflecting it’s positioning and values through its products, especially when launching a new brand.

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

What makes Vantage Branding & Communications stand out, is that our marketing strategies are informed by the brand first, to ensure that what we implement in the short-term can also contribute to long-term brand equity. Our approach combines branding with integrated, digital-first marketing strategy that prioritizes data driven decision making at the core.

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

Yes, I am working on a very exciting project, that is confidential at the moment. It’s a new personal care line of products with a unique, social responsibility mission of giving back to underserved communities of color. Through the daily use of their self-care products, consumers are able to indirectly benefit the brands black and minority-owned partnerships along the product value chain and give back a portion of proceeds to non-profit organizations that are driving social-economic change within these communities. What’s most exciting and challenging about the project, is balancing the positioning of the brand so that it has broad, universal appeal despite the fact that its social impact mission is geared towards a specific target group. I expect a brand like this to do very well, given how our cultural views as a country have shifted in the last two years.

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

Branding is the personification of a product or service offering that distinguishes it from other alternatives whereas, product marketing is based on tangible features and benefits, relative to price.

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

Building a brand is important for creating long-term value that transcends price and product features. It also fosters consumer loyalty, especially when consumers feel like they align with a brands values, beyond the functional aspects of the product itself. While general marketing or advertising efforts may lead to short-term, transactional sales, brand loyal consumers become repeat buyers and ambassadors that can be more influential than any general marketing and advertising efforts that come from the brand.

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

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

  1. Confirm trademark, domains and social handles at the ideation phase of the branding process — This is an essential step in establishing a new brand in today’s competitive landscape. While it seems like a no-brainer, this step can be quite challenging, as you may have come up with the perfect brand name, only to find that someone has already applied or registered the name or that the domain or social handle is already owned by someone else. Having a registered or pending trademark is core requirement for protecting your brand and it’s even become a requirement for selling your products on popular platforms like Amazon.com.
  2. Stay consistent with the brand expression across all of your consumer touch points — Developing brand guidelines helps to ensure a consistent look and feel whether experiencing the products in a store, on-line or through social media. They also help when aligning different teams and agencies that are executing various marketing campaigns on behalf of the brand. When brands are consistent in their execution over time, they build value through the form of brand equity. That’s where brands like Nike, McDonalds or Starbucks have accumulated so much equity that they are even recognizable through their iconography and color codes, which have become subconsciously synonymous with the brand and the product. experience.
  3. Leverage third parties in building brand trust — No matter how well a brand advertises its products, brand advertising alone will not cut it in today’s multi-channel media landscape. Let’s face it, who wants hear about how great a product or service is, only from the brands perspective. Consumers want to hear from influencers, independent experts and customer reviews in order to get a holistic perspective on the brand. The more diverse and engaging a brand’s content is, the greater the success a brand will have in attracting consumers.
  4. Remain human, even in a today’s digital landscape — It’s easy to become enamored with the many digital platforms that automate, customize and track our consumers every move as they experience a brand along the consumer journey. However, as brand custodians, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we all appreciate the human touch element, which can make all the difference between a one-time purchase and a loyal, repeat consumer. Brands like American Express have mastered customer service as a core element of the branding experience with 24/7 customer service, simplified processes for transaction disputes and abundance of customer perks for members to choose from. Even the big technology companies like Google are starting to catch on, and are offering one-on-one coaching sessions by phone, to help start-up brands build their first ad campaigns. This is a practice that is not so common for the tech companies which are quick to invite you to search for an article or a video to help you resolve your own concerns.
  5. Stand for something bigger — What used to be a point of difference for start-up and challenger brands is now a requirement, even for legacy brands. Brands like Warby Parker, Bombas and Lemonade were designed and launched with social impact as a core tenet of their brand proposition, which is very appealing to millennials. However, given a heighted awareness to issues related to the environment and social and racial inequity, consumers are assessing a brands stance in these areas as a key factor in their purchase decision. Gone are the days of marketing to consumers based on product benefits alone, you have to appeal to their hearts, minds and values to gain their trust and brand loyalty.

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

Brand building campaigns should typically be measured on a longer-time horizon and against key performance indicators like growth in branded search terms or direct (non-paid) traffic to your site. Engagement is another key metric for assessing brand campaigns to determine product market fit with a brands target consumer, which can be assessed through engagement rates for social media post likes, shares, saves video views and comments, which can shed invaluable insights on your messaging and visual appeal.

The goal of a brand building campaign should be more focused on getting in front of as many relevant eye-balls as possible, for the lowest possible costs, to ultimately acquire a first-party data point on the consumer, that can then be used to re-target that consumer with additional messages that lead to sales. Each brand’s product offering will dictate the average time it takes to go from general brand awareness to conversion, so brand building campaigns have to be strategically orchestrated in such a way that leads, like acquired e-mails, can be measured for sales conversion as a secondary step in the consumer journey.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media has become one of the dominate platforms for brand communications and engagement, and every brand should have an organic and paid strategy for achieving their business goals. On the organic side, this could involve having a strategy for influencers, communities and community management. From a paid perspective, a strategy might include driving various marketing objectives along the consumer journey from brand awareness to customer leads, video views or site traffic along with an understanding of what you are willing to pay for achieving these objectives based on a customers average lifetime value. From my experience, Facebook has traditionally been the most sophisticated platform for paid social, but other platforms like TikTok have proven to reach consumers at up to half the cost of Facebook, albeit with less bells and whistles for planning and measuring campaign performance.

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

Plan for personal time, the same way you would plan for an important meeting or business project. This involves blocking out time on your calendar to do something as a simple as taking full lunch hour away from your desk, getting in a workout or even taking time to learn a new skill or hobby. What I’ve learned is that if your personal goals are not scheduled, they likely won’t get accomplished and someone else will end up taking the time for you.

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

Greet someone new every day with a kind word and a smile. Even a small gesture like this can make someone’s day and inspire them to do the same for someone else.

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

“Embrace the journey and not just the final destination.” This is what helps me to appreciate even the tough experiences as opportunities for growth. The more challenging the journey, the more rewarding the end destination or goal.

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. 🙂

If I had to pick, I would say Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z or Nas would come to mind first.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

It’s best to reach me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jerome-m-clark

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


Jerome Clark Of Vantage Branding & Communications: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rich Baron Of Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly…

Rich Baron Of Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Make decisions in a timely manner. It is easier to correct decisions going forward, which is always the direction you need to head in. Over analyzing data or failing to make decisions in a timely manner will cost time and effort.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Rich Baron.

Rich is a Master Certified Executive Leadership Coach (ICF Accredited). Rich was handpicked by John Mattone, the world’s top executive coach and motivational speaker, to represent Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching (ILEC). Rich was trained and certified by John Mattone and Dr. Mike Smith, CEO of John Mattone Global. Rich has been in operational and executive leadership positions for over 25 years, primarily in FDA regulated medical device organizations. He was able to lead his organization to obtain a customer retention rate of 100% from 2006 through 2019 while operating at a 5.67 sigma. In addition, Rich serves as a job coach and has helped hundreds of job seekers find new employment through resume writing, networking skills, and interviewing skills. Rich and his coaching partner, Maikel Bailey, host a podcast called Mainline Executive Coaching ACT, which has now grown to have a global audience. The show focuses on issues facing leaders in today’s business world.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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 actually started my career as a musician and ended up in Nashville for a couple of years. After my stint in Nashville, I ended up on the road with a couple of bands and was fortunate enough to play with some well-known acts. However, being on the road for several years, I decided that it was just not the life that I wanted to continue to pursue and went back to school and ended up with degrees in business and marketing. I also found that I loved manufacturing, watching raw materials transformed, working in teams, seeing the bigger picture, and learning how to engage employees to improve not only themselves, but the organization. That started my path in operational management and then to executive leadership roles. However, some of the biggest lessons in leadership and teamwork I learned from my years as a musician. I have played in front of just a few in a club to thousands of people in large concert settings. You must work as a team and when everyone is doing their part, the results are incredible. I also learned the value of listening to those with far more experience and knowledge who were willing to pass on the skills and talents they possessed. The importance of humility, courage, teamwork, and due diligence are attributes I learned early on and was able to apply all those lessons as a business leader. After 25 years in medical device, the company that I worked for was sold to another organization who brought in their own management, and I found myself at a crossroads. I naturally gravitated towards coaching and started working with management level people that were trying to reenter the workforce. I found that when I used the skills and talents that I possessed to help others, I discovered a joy in my life that is only found when you help others succeed. That led me to finding John Mattone and ILEC. There was no doubt that Executive Leadership Coaching was the path that I wanted to pursue. After being accepted as a business owner within ILEC, I was the sixth coach that John and Dr. Mike Smith trained and certified. The rest is history as they say.”

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

“Years ago, I was addressing a group of employees. I had several employees that spoke Spanish, and I wanted to say some things to them in Spanish and asked for some help from a friend to give me some phrases I could say that would tell them how well they had been doing in their job functions. What I did not consider was that my friend had given me a few phrases that was more along the lines of a marriage proposal verses what I had hoped I was going to say. I was first met with blank stares that then turned into laughter. I was mortified. Since that time, I have always used a translator to convey my messages to the team if needed in another language.”

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 been fortunate to have been mentored and taught by so many great leaders, both in business and life. The person who stands out the most for me is my father. He was a truly humble person that achieved some great successes in his life but was always present to help others.”

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

“My goal was not only to start and grow my own business, but to do something that would allow me to help others grow in their careers as leaders. I had several options as far as businesses I wanted to start, but coaching was in my heart. It is a way I can give back through my skills and abilities that I have gained over the past 25 years in various leadership capacities. We are in need of great leaders at every level.”

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

“I have been through several corporate acquisitions which is always a time for concern for the employees in the organization being acquired. The best way to keep employees focused and stop the rumor mill is to keep them engaged. Employees that have a strong culture already in place where communication is strong, and employees are engaged in the future of the organization do much better in an acquisition. I made it a daily practice to step up communication both in town halls and one on one, listening and being empathetic to their concerns, including them in transition and branding activities, and being present and vigilant. Being a focal point and showing resolve to continue the success that the team has already achieved is a vital aspect to helping employees through tough times. However, if there is one take away from this it would be to over-communicate. Even you think you have communicated enough; employees always want more during tough times.”

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

“There are times in life that each of us want to throw in the towel. It is those moments that it is even more important to face your challenges and push through. Fear is a reaction, while courage is a choice. When you decide to push through, you find that those challenges are not as daunting as you may seem to think they are. I also learned early in my career that the comfort zone is a very bad place to be. Challenges are going to arise in our career, it is inevitable. If you’re in a comfort zone, you will not be ready to address the issue in a timely matter, if at all. I was taught a great lesson by someone I consider to be a great leader that if something is running smoothly, break it and figure out how to fix it. Not in the literal sense of actually breaking whatever it may be, but simply to have a backup plan in the event things go wrong. That way, the challenges you will face as a leader are not so daunting when you are prepared ahead of time to resolve them.”

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

“The most important thing for a leader to do in critical times is to model the way. Be resilient, prepared, vulnerable, humble, ask questions and take advice from those around you. The best leaders surround themselves with those who they can trust to give the best advice during these times. It is a proven statistic that 75% of all businesses fail during challenging times because they do not have the ability to pivot and address the changes that need to be made simply because they fail to include the skills, talents, and energy of everyone in the organization. Simply put, there is strength in numbers.”

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?

“Be vigilant and always present. Right now, the future is uncertain simply due to all of the changes on the horizon and events from the past couple of years. The businesses that are going to thrive going forward have leaders who are focused on improving organizational health, can both lead and follow, have a clear vision and communicate it often, include employees both as individuals and team members. Companies that can pivot and change will be the ones to survive any tough times on the horizon.”

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

“By being honest, timely, and coming to the table with solutions to resolve the issue. Listen to the concerns that will most certainly arise and be prepared to follow through with a resolution that may be needed.”

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

“Companies and leaders that will weather the storm will have tools that can help them through tough times. Executive coaching can be a wonderful guide.”

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

“The biggest waste in any organization is people’s time, energy, and talents. The number one principle would be employee empowerment and engagement! The strongest corporate cultures are built on trust, responsibility, empowerment and engagement.”

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

“Ignoring the problem, no contingency plan, failing to take inventory of the skills and talents in the organization, failing to communicate to the organization.”

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

“Keep reinventing yourself and business. What may have worked last year may not be the best path currently. Stay current on trends and technology that are being used to further other businesses. Simply put, continuously improve every aspect of your business.”

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Have a clear understanding of your own personal values and stick with them. This will help you make decisions that will keep you from second guessing yourself or the outcome.

2. Make decisions in a timely manner. It is easier to correct decisions going forward, which is always the direction you need to head in. Over analyzing data or failing to make decisions in a timely manner will cost time and effort.

3. Do not live in a comfort zone. Comfort zones are business and career killers. Be present and vigilant in every aspect of the business and have a solid contingency plan for multiple potential scenarios. Be prepared to pivot and change whenever necessary.

4. Build your culture now based on trust, reliability, empowerment, and employee engagement. Leaders who have built solid organization cultures built on these foundations will be survive and be successful, period.

5. Get executive coaching! An executive coach can help you identify and your strengths, as well as your gaps and develop an individual personal development plan. The tools and skills you will develop from coaching will last you a lifetime!

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

“’People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.’ — F. Matthias Alexander

Our habits are in a lot of ways based on our own personal beliefs, feelings, and values. Staying true to who you are as an individual will truly help you determine your habits, which in turn dictates how our future will unfold.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

The best way to reach me is through my website:

https://executiveleadersactilec.com

They can also follow my podcast, “Mainline Executive Coaching ACT.”

https://mainlineexecutivecoachingact.buzzsprout.com/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Rich Baron Of Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jennifer Urezzio’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Receive More Than You Give. When you want to transform the world it takes a lot of individuals to support that cause. I’m a big giver, but so often we can give until it hurts. If you know that you can give freely and receive freely, it’s easier to create a movement. I remember once I was talking to someone and recommending a bunch of people that she could work with…she finally got frustrated with me and said, “I want to work with you” — I missed all the cues on that.

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 Jennifer Urezzio.

Jennifer Urezzio is the founder of Soul Language — a paradigm that puts tangibility to Soul so a conscious connection can be established to enable crystal clear decisions for success. Jennifer is also a master intuitive and the author of two best-selling books. Currently, she has trained more than 30 practitioners worldwide in Soul Language, and there are over 5,000 individuals all over the world connecting to their Soul Languages.

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

Well…I was in marketing and public relations and wasn’t allowed to talk to clients because I would tell them the truth. I had an inner knowing there was something bigger inside me and I was exhausted by trying to fit into the mold corporate America thought I should, so I began asking questions of the Universe. Before long, I started receiving answers and realized that I could do what I did in corporate America — which was to create the job I truly wanted. After I found that clarity, I spoke at a convention about life purpose and walked off the stage to a line of people waiting to talk to me and ready to hire me for sharing truth.

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

I’m guided by my Soul. One day, I was on Facebook and was looking at this woman’s profile and I heard “call her”. Of course I argued for awhile, but eventually I listened and made the call. When I introduced myself and asked if she had a few minutes to chat…she said, “you’re kidding, right? I was just talking to a friend of mine who recommended I call you”.

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

Every morning, I start off with the intention to speak and hear with the frequencies of love — first for myself and then others. That statement has been the guiding force for many of my choices, and has stopped me from pulling out my warrior card and (figuratively) chopping off some heads.

If I believe I’m whole and complete (which I do), then I must treat everyone else as if they are whole and complete as well, even if they aren’t acting like it.

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

I would be honored to. My Big Idea That Might Change The World is that businesses have a Soul.

How do you think this will change the world?

Well…since the energy of Soul wants what’s in the greatest good of all and operates from a place of wholeness and completeness, there would be a lot less pain and struggle in the world.

Companies would be making decisions, creating products and providing services based on the knowing that there is enough and will always be enough. No more secret memos. No more doing things out of integrity. There would be no need to come from a place of lack because each person in the company would have an innate understanding that a company is designed to succeed. So if we put consciousness into that energy it will expand, grow, and profit.

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?

Well…I think that what I want people to keep in mind is that we are human. When we operate from humanity’s weaknesses (fear, lack, greed) then any idea will create misalignments and unintended consequences. So often people use “their truth” to justify choices. I’m asking them to utilize THE Truth. The Truth that no one is the Source for you, only a resource, and that the Universe is good and wants the best for you.

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

I don’t think there was a tipping point…I think that all of this was/is an evolutionary process. I wanted to be closer to the Divine (and you can call it whatever resonates most with you). I was interested in feeling, knowing and expressing that I have unlimited possibilities inside me, so I was looking at all those places where I and others struggled.

It just seemed a natural jump to want to start to understand the energy of my business.

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

To get this information out more, I require individuals who want to understand their Soul and the Soul of a business, and who also want to teach others.

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

  1. Don’t Try To Convert The Unconvertable. I remember that I was reaching out to “gurus” to support them going deeper in their connection. Each one felt that they had everything they need, yet I was able to tell on an energetic level that they were fooling themselves. It was only when I started talking to people who understood there was so much more to discover that Soul Language took off.
  2. Receive More Than You Give. When you want to transform the world it takes a lot of individuals to support that cause. I’m a big giver, but so often we can give until it hurts. If you know that you can give freely and receive freely, it’s easier to create a movement. I remember once I was talking to someone and recommending a bunch of people that she could work with…she finally got frustrated with me and said, “I want to work with you” — I missed all the cues on that.
  3. Boundaries Bring Joy. I can’t take credit for that saying. It’s from Dr. Heather Clark, but it is so true. I remember when I first started the business, I would say yes to everything and anything. I found myself crying at my desk at night because I was “doing” all these things that weren’t in the best interest of me or the business.
  4. There’s a Big Difference Between Not Resonating and Resistance. I’m in the coaching industry and so often coaches will tell individuals they are in resistance because they are saying no to something, but it often really is that person or thing doesn’t resonate with them. I worked with a podcasting network representative and remember getting off the phone in tears because she was berating me, telling me I wasn’t living up to my potential because I didn’t want to do what she was suggesting. What she was asking me to do didn’t resonate with me and she was trying to manipulate me into doing what she wanted by telling me I was in resistance.
  5. Just Because Someone Is Highly Intuitive Doesn’t Mean They Are Conscious. My first intuitive mentor once yelled at me because during class she asked me what we all had in common, and I said we all share lack. She got angry and told me I was flat out wrong. If she was evolving her consciousness rather than just expressing her intuitiveness, I believe she would have handled that situation differently. That wasn’t the first or last unconsciousness action on her part and it took me a while to understand and let go of her as a mentor.

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

One of the principles I live by is: If I knew I was whole and complete what would I do, express, and speak. That one core value has generated a lot of success.

Also, one of the success habits I suggest to clients is to ask this question: What am I going to do in my business every day, every week, every month and every year to grow it?

Some very well known VC’s 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 🙂

Louise Hay just wanted to create something that would help herself and others. I believe this is the next evolution of “helping” oneself and others. If more people understood how to connect to their Soul and the Soul of a business, it would make life easier for them and their communities. People would have more energy and time to create and transform the world instead of worrying about their survival needs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.facebook.com/jenniferurezzio

https://www.facebook.com/SoulLanguage/

https://www.instagram.com/soullanguagefounder/

https://twitter.com/SoulLanguage

http://www.youtube.com/c/JenniferUrezzio

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

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


Jennifer Urezzio’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.

Hayley Lisa On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce

Give yourself some empathy rather than blame. Oftentimes, we beat ourselves up and look at the divorce as a reflection of us failing. I’d say to a friend, be kind to yourself and look at this as a learning experience for your next chapter in life.

As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach For Men.

There are many divorce coaches, however, Hayley Lisa is the only one who specializes in working with only men. She provides men with unbiased, unconditional support, guidance & accountability they need to gain the clarity needed to make better decisions throughout their divorce process and after.

Being a female for men, Hayley sets herself apart by being a strategic partner with the unbiased opinions of a woman, which gives her clients an advantage.

Hayley believes that men have a significant disadvantage in divorce, especially in the family court system. It is her mission to “even the playing field” and gives men a fighting chance with the uneven scoreboard. Her hope is for her clients to have a peaceful, kinder divorce process, however, when that is not an option, she will tackle the issues they are facing such as co-parenting, high-conflict divorce, and parental alienation head-on.

Being divorced herself, she knows firsthand, the emotional and financial toll divorce takes on an individual. It is through her ten years of experience, education, and tools, that she helps men navigate the choppy waters of divorce by being an unconditional support system to her clients. “Divorce is never a weekday 9–5 issue, which is why I will always show up for my clients regardless of the day of the week it is, including holidays,” Hayley says.

Sessions with Hayley are interactive, thought-provoking, and action-oriented, so clients gain insight, perspective, and action steps for moving forward to a successful solution/goal/remedy/outcome. Integrity, confidentiality, and honesty are 3 things she lives by and will stop at nothing to give her clients a fair chance in the unfair process of divorce. She believes it’s her mission to help men navigate and strategically tip the scale in their favor.

Hayley has received many accolades for success and dedication as a divorce coach for men, however, it is her client’s testimonies and her reputation that she is most proud of and motivates her to be the best and only divorce coach for men.

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

Yes, thank you for asking. My parents divorced when I was seven yrs. old. My mother had primary custody of my younger brother and I, with bi-monthly weekends with our father. My mother did her best to give us a stable homelife, however, without her probably being aware, she emotionally alienated me from my father. I think as a single mother, she desperately wanted our love and affection, therefore, saying negative remarks about my father my entire life. It got to the point, where I honestly feared him and did not look forward to spending time with him. My father never missed his weekends visits, never late for child-support and alimony payments and never said unkind words about our mother.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

There are a few stories, but the one I believe had the most impact was never realizing until 10 years ago, I was alienated from my parent. My father never deserved to be spoken so badly about to his children, which created fear, anxiety and resentment in my feelings towards him. After my own divorce when my son was 4 years old, I decided no matter the outcome I will take the high-road and never be the cause of alienation from his father. It’s ironic since my former spouse refused to pay his court ordered child support, did not co-parent in a healthy way and yet here I am devoting my work to supporting men. As a mother to an adult son and a daughter to a father who honestly didn’t have a fighting chance to create a bond with his daughter, I want to make sure men know they have unbiased support and guidance with me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career? Oh boy, only one story?

I have SO many…A few years ago, I was attending a wedding of a former client in Texas (I’m located in Florida). I worked with this gentleman for nearly a year, and we had a silly bet that he would eventually move through and past his divorce and find peace and perhaps love again. He doubted this for the longest time, however, I knew he had it in him even when he didn’t. Long story short, I won the bet which was an invitation to his wedding should he ever re-marry. Not only was I invited, but he also made it a point to introduce me to as many people as he could (there were over 200 guests). During one of the toasts, he made me stand so he could properly thank me for my unconditional support, faith and accountability I demonstrated with him. Tears and applause filled the room and on a side note; his bride was so thankful of the hard work he put in with me! She was convinced it made him a better man for it.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I shall take the heart. For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” By L. Frank Baum, The wonderful Wizard of Oz This comes into play not only in my own divorce story but my client’s as well. It’s not about being the “smart one” or outsmarting someone. It’s about having a heart, compassion, empathy when people need it the most. This in turn, will give people the happiness they are so desperately searching for.

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

One of my new projects is a virtual support group for men going through a divorce. Each month, I will have a guest interact with the members. I’m sourcing excellent therapists, attorney’s and other professionals throughout the U.S. Men have very few resources of support, which is why I know this is going to be so helpful to men.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?

A few years ago, I had a client come to me just a few weeks after learning his spouse was having an affair and wanted a divorce. He was beyond blindsided, and so filled with anger. Before we began working together, he had put a recording device in her car, and had gathered an enormous amount of evidence showing her adultery and with a subordinate employee. This was grounds of his wife being fired from her employer of nearly 15 years. All her hard work and dedication would be thrown away if he was going to act on his desire to get her fired. Immediately, I informed him that I will not work with anyone who is seeking to sabotage their spouse. If he wanted my help, we needed to work on his anger and find a solution to having him go through his divorce in the most amicable way possible. Long story short, we worked together for 7 months, and he has a wonderful relationship with his 10-year-old son and the best part: once a month they all get together for a meal to be a united front for the sake of their son. When I’m criticized for supporting men, I remind people I also support women with my work. In this case, I save a woman’s career, helped her husband make peace with their situation and move forward with a healthy co-parenting relationship with her. Women do not get the chance to see how much I help improve their relationships with their former spouse, right down to how he will communicate via text, email, or phone with her. This is just one example of why I love what I do.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

For men, I think the biggest mistake they may make is a rebound relationship. Dating and finding your new norm is healthy, however, jumping into the first relationship that presents itself is usually a big mistake. I recommend to my clients, take your time. Get to know your new normal. You discover so many things about yourself both during and after your divorce. These discoveries may lead to changes in what you’re looking for in a new partner.

People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?

Absolutely, there can be many positive outcomes of a divorce. For example, your new home will not be as toxic, stressful, and disruptive to your children as the previous one when you were married. Another is discovering many things about yourself you had no idea existed such as a “voice,” independence, resilience, and strength. Most people come out much stronger on the other side of divorce.

Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?

I would say, look at it as a means of making new friendships, networks, and new hobbies.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

This is a great question. I would say be open to changing your thought process on who was right or wrong in the marriage. Take accountability for your part and work on improving this going forward.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Five things I would advise, would be:

  1. Move forward, take accountability for your part in the divorce. Often, people will say they were blindsided and had no part in the undoing of the marriage. There is always something, even if it’s small, that we have played. Find it and own it, this in turn will help you move forward and not stay stuck in your divorce story.
  2. Keep your emotional support team strong. Whether it is your family, friends, coach, or therapist make sure you lean on them when you need to. Your divorce may be finalized, but you will still need to have people there for you for support. I’ve worked with clients sometimes for a year after their divorce, it’s what keeps them focused and strong as they navigate through their new life.
  3. Make a new “bucket list” for you next chapter. Whether it’s a new hobby, make new friendships, start a new business whatever it is you think will keep you focused on the positive and work towards your new new normal.
  4. Take your time going into a long-term relationship. So many people make the mistake of marrying on the rebound which has a divorce rate of over 65%. I know people don’t like the idea of “dating” and prefer steady relationships, which yes, are wonderful to have. However, you have just been through one of the most stressful factors in life, your emotions and wounds are raw and need time to heal. Don’t skip this part of healing and go full steam ahead with a relationship right out of the gate. Besides, you may learn so many things of what you don’t want in a new partner.
  5. Give yourself some empathy rather than blame. Oftentimes, we beat ourselves up and look at the divorce as a reflection of us failing. I’d say to a friend, be kind to yourself and look at this as a learning experience for your next chapter in life.

The stress of a divorce takes a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?

Get help! See a therapist or a coach. The pain becomes worse when you don’t have a professional working with you. I’ve had many clients seek therapy along with my coaching, and the results are amazing. You many also need medication, even if temporary. A few weeks ago, one of my clients sought help from a psychiatrist and was put on a antidepressant. For him, this has made a tremendous difference as he is working to recover from his divorce.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

One of my favorite books is Conscious Uncoupling; 5 steps to living happily even after, by Katherine Woodward Thomas. This book aligns with my moral compass which is stressing the needs and well being of your children during and after your divorce. A healthy co-parenting relationship is vital for your children to thrive and must not be overlooked. This is one of the most difficult challenges people face but I am here to tell you, it can be done even in the worst of circumstances.

Because of the position that you are in, 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. 🙂

Keeping families out of the family courts and working together as a team for their children’s sake as they go through a divorce. Having more empathy and kindness towards your former spouse.

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 love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Former President Barack Obama- I’m not one to share my political beliefs, however, I love how President Obama was always willing to work with both sides. He was incredibly insightful and was open minded to how others’ perceived things. We need more of this in society, a willingness to be open-minded to the opinion of others without harsh judgements. He always demonstrated this.

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this series.


Hayley Lisa On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce 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: Rohan Doodnauth Of Opalink On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Rohan Doodnauth Of Opalink On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Hire to Your Weaknesses. No matter what stage your business is in; it’s best to hire people in areas you may not have the appropriate skills at. Initially we were hiring employees on our team that had similar backgrounds to our team instead of hiring employees that may have a technical skillset that would’ve added more value to our company.

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

Rohan Doodnauth is the Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer of OpaLink. Rohan earned his B.S. in Finance at the University of Central Florida before working in Cloud SaaS and Corporate Finance.

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

My brothers and I are second-generation Americans born to Indian descent parents from Guyana. Our parents instilled their values of always being kind, humble, generous always helping those in need. Growing up our parents always showed concern for others’ welfare and putting their comfort first. Our parents owned and operated Adult Daycare Centers where we spent time volunteering and giving back to the senior community in Merritt Island Florida. OpaLink was founded on the concept of gifting and the hospitable brothers believed in the concept of giving more than you receive.

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

During the pandemic our founding team was placed in a situation where we were all working from home for our corporate jobs and had to assist our parents with their facilities due to the labor shortage caused by COVID-19. By coming together, we realized that through any difficult situation we can accomplish everything by being a family first and multitasking to achieve our task at hand.

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

OpaLink combines multiple technologies such as peer to peer, geofencing, and data analytics to allow users to communicate directly with our partner restaurants, identify when customers are at a current restaurants/bar and allows friends to gift/send items instantly to each other.

This will allow users to never experience F.O.M.O, create dining experiences with friends that are physically displaced, and meet new people.

How do you think this might change the world?

OpaLink will change the world because it will create a new standard of virtual dining that will foster connections and experiences.

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

With our technology customers will receive more drinks and food items that they were not initially planning for (lol).

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

It was the summer of 2020 and all three of us were quarantined because we had COVID-19. My brother Teddy was on the phone with his best friend living in NY while he was out celebrating his birthday at a restaurant. Teddy called the restaurant to send a bottle of wine to his friend and was denied payment of reading his credit card over the phone because of security reasons

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

In order to lead this technology to widespread we need to partner up with operators and show the positive outcomes that our product will have on their top line, consumer foot traffic, and prioritize the emotional connection of keeping our operators consumers engaged.

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

We are targeting hyper local markets with growing restaurant groups. We will be targeting regional cities that have high population density of restaurants and cluster of Millennials & Gen Z’s within a certain square mile radius and where a single restaurant group owns multiple different venues / locations.

To convert users tactically, we have introduced our “gifting product” to educated users who visit the site. Users are directed to enter in name, age range, and zip for an early access to download our app when it is released on the store. This also tracks how many times the user refers the application and at the end of the campaign we will select the top 100 users to be invited to the launch event on Jan 15th. This strategy allows us to build anticipation and to increase our referrals organically.

Loyalty and Referral: Users, will also only be awarded loyalty points when they gift and refer friends, with this strategy we can increase the brand awareness and footprint of Opa

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 brothers and I are beyond grateful for our loving and supportive parents who always pushed us to achieve our goals and dreams. When we initially began working on our business, we moved back under our parent’s roof to bootstrap funds and they welcomed us with open hands. Without their support and sacrifices, my brothers and I would not be able to pursue our dreams of becoming successful business entrepreneurs.

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

My brothers and I always believe in helping others out without the intent of getting the same reciprocation. Whether it’s giving career advice to our peers, mentoring students that are striving to work in business, or simply helping a stranger — we believe if you give back to society, it makes us happier and healthier.

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

  1. A simple solution is always better than a complex one. Before launching your startup, you should always keep in mind that it’s best to keep your solution clear and concise to allow your customers to fully understand what problems you are solving for them. In addition, the more complex your systems are; the longer it takes to develop and test. When we initially developed our minimum viable product, we realized towards the end that it was way complex to operate with the current team capacity and funds.
  2. Focus on what’s going to move the needle. Spending the first 60% of your day focused on what is going to get your business to the next step will propel you towards your goals faster. This will allow you to cut out distractions and prioritize your goal- driven actions first. When we initially launched our business, we were so distracted on the micro-detailed business plan early on realized it was a waste of time because we pretty much had to re-work it. Instead, we became more focused on what was going to push the needle, which was defining our target market, finding the right team, defining our problem and solution.
  3. Getting through it nearly kills you. No matter how high the cards maybe stacked up against you, you can make it through with determination and hard work. With every roadblock that my brothers and I encountered it challenged us to think outside the box and work together to overcome those hurdles.
  4. Hire to Your Weaknesses. No matter what stage your business is in; it’s best to hire people in areas you may not have the appropriate skills at. Initially we were hiring employees on our team that had similar backgrounds to our team instead of hiring employees that may have a technical skillset that would’ve added more value to our company.
  5. Build Great Relationships. No business can survive without trustful people in your circle. By focusing on expanding your relationships with your employees, customers, and investors; it allows you to grow together with likeminded people. We found that attending business events and utilizing social media allowed us to get inspiration, make connections, gain mentors, and learn about new opportunities.

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 want to inspire a massive movement around connecting people by teaching them how to celebrate life.

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

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” -Confucius

I believe it’s great to constantly challenge yourself and strive for new heights but sometimes we should take sometime to unwind and enjoy the simple things such as Reduction of extraneous input (phone, kids, parents, loud sounds, bright lights, phones, computers or whatever) and focusing on the one simple thing

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

Have you ever experienced F.O.M.O or (Fear of Missing Out) while your friends are out celebrating together? Or do you want to create dining experiences with family and friends while physically apart? Our mobile app allows users to gift drinks and food to friends without physically being at a restaurant or bar. At its core, OpaLink provides a social timeline where friends can share their gifting transactions and let their friends know what restaurant/bar they are at by using the checking-in feature.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow us at

Instagram: @opalinkapp

Twitter: @opalinkapp

Facebook: @opalinkapp

TikTok: @opalinkapp

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


The Future Is Now: Rohan Doodnauth Of Opalink 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.

Meet The Disruptors: Philip Freeman Of Murphy’s Naturals On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up…

Meet The Disruptors: Philip Freeman Of Murphy’s Naturals On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Surround yourself with a team that is as passionate about the business and mission of the company as you are as the founder. Our incredible team is bright, hardworking, passionate, caring, and motivated. You can do a lot of good with a team like that, and you can build one hell of a company with a team like that, and we’re doing exactly that.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Freeman.

Philip Freeman is the founder and CEO of Murphy’s Naturals, an outdoor lifestyle company specializing in plant-based mosquito repellents. Prior to launching Murphy’s Naturals, Philip served as a Deep-Sea Diving Officer in the US Navy for eight years. Following his military service, Philip spent 23 years in packaging sales at International Paper. In 2013, he launched the outdoor natural products company Murphy’s Naturals. Murphy’s Naturals started in a Raleigh, NC garage, quickly grew to a 40,000 square foot facility in 2016. That space expanded to 90,000 square feet in 2021.

Under Philip’s leadership, Murphy’s Naturals became a Certified-B Corporation in 2017. Murphy’s Naturals commits 2% of revenues to organizations that share its vision of a healthy environment. The company is also a member of 1% for the Planet, a global organization that helps companies give back to mission-aligning organizations and holds several sustainability and sourcing certifications.

Philip is also the founder of The Loading Dock, a collaborative coworking and co-warehousing company for small businesses. Murphy’s Naturals is named for the Freemans’ outdoors-loving dog, Murphy.

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? What led you to create Murphy’s Naturals?

I’ve always been curious about business — writing out different business concepts and plans and filing them away. After serving in the U.S. Navy, I worked for 23 years in the corporate world, and all that time I kept coming up with ideas and tucking them away. Finally, I reached a point where I said, “You know what? Maybe it’s time for me to execute on one of these ideas.”

And one of those ideas was solving a problem at home: My wife, Pam, is a mosquito magnet, and every time we tried to hang out together outside, she’d have to run inside to escape the mosquitoes. I really love spending time with Pam outdoors, so I wanted to find a solution to that problem, and what better than to solve a problem at home, right?

We wanted to create something that we felt comfortable putting on our skin — nothing chemical-based — that was actually effective. I had a real hard time finding an effective natural product on the market. There were plenty of chemical-based mosquito repellents that work well, but not a whole lot of high-quality, natural products. So that led us to come up with our own formulations and products and to eventually create Murphy’s Naturals, which was at first a side hustle for me until I transitioned out of my full-time job.

Can you tell our readers about Murphy’s Naturals and what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Murphy’s Naturals is an outdoor lifestyle company, and we make top-quality natural products for outdoor living. One of the biggest challenges when you think about being outdoors — as my wife can attest — is mosquitos. So that’s our focus area.

We launched in July 2013 with mosquito-repelling incense sticks called Murphy’s Mosquito Sticks that we sold on Amazon. Now we have many other products that focus on outdoor living. The company’s name, by the way, is an homage to our dog Murphy. He also was no fan of mosquitos! We continue to honor him in some of our charitable efforts as well.

Our mission is to celebrate nature and inspire good through quality, natural products. That’s intentionally simple, but there’s meaning behind every part of it. To celebrate nature is to enjoy it and preserve it. One of the ways to enjoy nature is to live life outdoors and experience everything that nature has to offer. And one of the ways to preserve nature is to be responsible citizens: Murphy’s Naturals is a Certified B Corporation, meaning we meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility, transparency, and accountability. And to inspire good you need to do good, and by that we mean leading by example, which we try to do in myriad ways with our employees and customers. Through it all, we maintain our commitment to quality in creating natural products.

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?

Which one? (Laughs.) Creating a product is always a challenge. I remember one of the first formulations that I was working on included a fantastic ingredient from the Brazilian Amazon. And that ingredient, unbeknownst to me, wasn’t on the U.S. EPA’s list of approved products. You can have a formulation with five, six, seven ingredients, and if one of them isn’t on that list, then the entire thing is disqualified. So, I had put a lot of work and a lot of pride into a natural product that was highly effective — but wasn’t recognized by the EPA, and I had to go back to the drawing board. I learned that it’s critically important to do your research before you get too far along down any particular path.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

A lot of people have been an inspiration to me. My Mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and a great supporter of entrepreneurism.

In the business industry, I’ll cite one person who has influenced Murphy’s Naturals and how we built this brand. During my 23-year career before starting this company, I had the opportunity and privilege to work with a brand called The Body Shop. Prior to working with them, I had read a book called Body and Soul by Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop. I was inspired by her passion for natural products. She started in her kitchen — like I did. And she ended up forming this global brand, over time, yet she kept the same principles in place throughout.

Anita was very focused on environmental stewardship; she was focused on her people, her employees, and her communities; and she was also very much focused on quality products that they created and derived from ingredients that came from all over the world. And very often, they came from communities that really needed a source of income. She made sure that she paid indigenous people a fair value for their products, and she really created this concept of community fair trade.

Reading that book led me to The Body Shop to make them my customer. I worked with them for nearly two decades, and what I saw throughout that organization is that it was filled with people who were passionate about the mission and who were following the lead and inspiration of Anita Roddick. She passed away several years ago, but her legacy lives on through that brand, through her products, and through people like me who were inspired by her to create companies focused on doing good and doing well.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is difficult. I think there has to be a balance between being disruptive and having longevity.

In our industry, there are a lot of big players. If my intent as a “disruptor” is to go after them directly and beat them at their own game, that can be exceptionally challenging. But if my goal instead is to differentiate my brand by being better than the big players, then I can succeed.

Our disruption was figuring out what in nature worked well at repelling mosquitos, and then figuring out what concentrations of those ingredients were most effective. That’s not a crazy, outside-the-box idea, but it’s one where we could carve out a niche. The big companies were trying to cut costs in their natural products by putting lower concentrations of ingredients like essential oils into their formulas, which lowered their effectiveness. We don’t do that, and it’s made our products stand out.

We have other disruptive products on the horizon, but being disruptive requires capital, and we’ve finally reached the point where we can truly fund the kind of R&D we need to get to the next level.

Lastly, I would say that something we do differently than most of our larger competitors is how we focus on giving back. As a Certified B Corporation, we’re very mission-focused. We give back 2% of our revenue — not our profits, our revenue — and split it between 1% for the Planet and to other causes, including veteran organizations, animal welfare groups, and to the five honeybee hives that we keep for honey that we bottle and sell and then donate the proceeds.

Can you share some of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

Surround yourself with a team that is as passionate about the business and mission of the company as you are as the founder. Our incredible team is bright, hardworking, passionate, caring, and motivated. You can do a lot of good with a team like that, and you can build one hell of a company with a team like that, and we’re doing exactly that.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have some innovative products coming. Timing is always a big question when dealing with government regulation, but we have several exciting things in the works. We are also working on some products that don’t have to do with mosquito repellency but about another one of the challenges of outdoor living: the sun. We’re developing a reef-safe, natural sunscreen line that ultimately will lead to a combo line of products that will have our repellent plus SPF protection. We’ve also fielded a lot of requests from our consumers to come out with a more premium, upscale line of our repellent products, which is something we’re coming out with now. Our candles, for example, we’re going to be presenting them in a stoneware vessel in a few colors that are very clean and upscale — and true to our brand and mission they are also refillable, reusable, and recyclable.

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?

I’ll mention three:

  • How I Built This podcast with Guy Raz on NPR is just an incredible source of inspiration for me from all the entrepreneurs who are featured.
  • Body & Soul, which I previously described, by Anita Roddick.
  • Conscious Capitalism, co-authored by John Mackey, is a terrific example of how for-profit companies can do good and do well.

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

Here’s a story as it relates to an individual’s potential influence versus that of a company, which I like to use as an example of how doing good inspires good:

When you go to a grocery store and you get out of your car, you’ll see shopping carts that are in the corral, and you’ll also see some that are just left in the middle of the parking lot. We assume someone has been lazy and just didn’t care enough to push it over. But we never really know what the situation might have been. Maybe it was a new mom who just put her infant in the car and didn’t want to leave her to push the cart all the way to the corral. We don’t know. So let’s say you see that errant shopping cart and you move it out of the parking lot and into the corral, or you take it into the store yourself, you may not think that’s a big deal, but it actually is. People will notice, and they will see you making that extra effort, and they will be inspired by it.

You can inspire good in the simplest ways. Sometimes that’s as small as putting your own shopping cart back — that sets a good example — or taking it one little step further and putting someone else’s shopping cart back. I think those little measures in life make a big difference, and whether you’re an individual person or a whole company, we should never lose sight of the fact that the little things we do can inspire others to do good, too.

How can our readers follow you and Murphy’s Naturals online?

murphysnaturals.com
linkedin.com/in/philip-freeman-2824274a/

instagram.com/murphysnaturals/
facebook.com/MurphysNaturals/
twitter.com/MurphysNaturals

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


Meet The Disruptors: Philip Freeman Of Murphy’s Naturals On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dr Lawrence MDrake II: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be emotionally intelligent. Consider the impact of your actions on others because you never are able to see yourself as others see. Being emotionally intelligent really means knowing how your emotions impact your decision making and how they are affecting others, especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It’s about being sensitive to how others respond to situations so that your vantage point is as balance as possible. Emotionally intelligent leaders are those who will be the most successful, particularly in this season where we’re going to have more uncertainty, not not less. Emotionally intelligent leaders will be those who will weather the storms much better.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lawrence M. Drake II.

Dr. Lawrence M. Drake, II is a dynamic and focused global leader whose domestic and international experience has led him to be a champion of targeted recruitment and people development. After more than four decades as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and researcher, Dr. Drake is now President & CEO of LEADership, Education and Development, a 21st century learning access advocacy organization, and the Chairman of executive development consultancy Hope 360, Inc. He was recently appointed Dean of the College of Business & Entrepreneurship at Bethune-Cookman University. He is a member of several boards, alumni associations, and professional organizations such as the International Coaching Federation, Forbes Coaches Council, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. His most recent collaboration Business Success Secrets: Entrepreneurial Thinking that Works (2021) is now both a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. His book Color Him Father (2019) has received critical acclaim within the US and around the world. When he is not leading organizations, writing, or serving his community, Dr. Drake enjoys spending quality time with his wife, three daughters, two sons and six grandchildren.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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 spent over forty years as a corporate executive, moving twenty times and living and working around the world. Through these experiences, I learned to think entrepreneurially about everything. When I left the corporate world, I began to apply my knowledge to a variety of industries. I realized that applied leadership and helping people become the best version of themselves while believing in possibilities of “what can be not just what is” were my zones of genius.

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

I remember when I partnered with another entrepreneur on a venture. I was doing the payroll for our team. We weren’t using ADP or anything — we were actually calculating the payroll ourselves. When I added all the numbers up and compared the payroll to what we had in the bank, I realized there wasn’t enough money to pay me. I had to let my family know not only would I not get paid that week, but I wasn’t sure when there would be enough to pay me because of all the people we had on the payroll to keep the business going. It wasn’t very funny then, but as I look back, I wondered how I could not have known the balance between how much money was in the bank and how much needed to be paid out. I think I just had wishful thinking — I was hoping that money would magically appear so I could be paid too — but that didn’t happen. That went on for six months — for six months, I didn’t get paid at all. It was quite a time; I found out the real meaning of being a broke entrepreneur!

What I learned from that is that I was a bit ambitious in terms of hiring people. What I should have done is hired only what I needed rather than hiring what I thought I was going to need. I ended up hiring beyond our capacity in terms of customers and revenue coming in. I haven’t made that mistake since — it’s a pay as you go methodology when you’re starting a firm. You don’t hire more than you actually need, and everyone has to understand that if we don’t have work, we don’t have employees.

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?

There are so many people, it’s hard to single out one — but I will share three stories that are especially meaningful.

In my corporate career, I will never forget my first boss Denny Larson. He was a young vice president at the company and I thought a lot of him because he was smart and savvy. One day, he called me into his office and asked me about my goals and career trajectory. I told him I wanted to be a vice president at 35, be a CEO before I’m 40 and retire when I’m 45 — I was in my mid-twenties at the time.

So he looked at me and he said, “Well first of all, Larry, you have to look the part. Meet me after work.” I was a little nervous, but I liked Danny and I trusted him. We got in his car and he took me over to his men’s shop and I’ll never forget the guy who waited on us — his name was Marv Soldner- real tall, lanky, skinny guy, looked like Mr. Magoo, but he was an incredibly nice man. And Danny told him to measure me for a suit. Now the back story here is I never had a suit — ever — because I couldn’t afford one. And so, he fitted me and asked what kind of suit I wanted, what color and all of that. He bought the suit and told me to come back and get it in a week. And then he leaned over to me and he said, “Look, if you’re going to get those things, if you’re going to do those things, you’ve got to look like you’re ready and prepared to do those things. Put some money aside every paycheck to buy some clothes. Make sure you look the part; make sure people take you seriously when you come into the room. And that has stuck with me my whole life. And, you know, when I look at my closet, I look at how I dress today, it has a lot to do with that lesson Danny taught me.

The second story is about Price Cobbs, my executive coach for 20 years, who passed away about two and a half years ago. He wrote the book Black Rage. He was an M.D. by training — he was a psychiatrist, and he was very interested in diversity long before we were having conversations about it like we are today. Price was over 80 years old when he died. When I lost my oldest daughter, Price was the first person I thought about when I started to look for therapy to help me get through that time. He was one of those people who would set you straight. He started coaching me when I was at PepsiCo, when I was a senior executive there. There were only 13 Black men and women in the senior ranks. He took a liking to me and I took a liking to him, and he was my coach for the rest of his life. He was always there and I made very few big decisions without talking to him about it.

He was a father figure, a friend. A confidant, a jokester. He was all of those, and I miss him terribly. He was instrumental in helping me really look at myself which, as I tell my executive coaching clients, is the reason you need a coach. I tell executives, particularly Black executives, that we’re never good at being able to see ourselves like other people see us. Part of coaching is being able to help you really see yourself like other people see you or at least have some vantage points so that you can be much more emotionally intelligent about what you do and how you do it. Price was very good at that; I learned not only how to be a better executive, but I learned my craft through paying attention to the way in which he coached me and others. Price was a coach for a lot of successful Black executives that I know — everybody from Ann Fudge, to Carla Harris to — you name it. He was a coach to all of us.

Finally, I can’t forget my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Solomon. She would get down on the floor with me and teach me how to count. She was very patient and very kind; I think about her all the time.

Those are three people who come to mind who have helped me — there are many, many more.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I have three companies, so it’s hard for me to single them out, but let’s stay with the coaching business — I didn’t found it, my wife did. She and I reimagined the company — it used to be called Visions plus Solutions, but when we remarried, we changed the name to Hope 360, Inc. Hope stands for “helping other people excel.” She would always say that our company is here to give people hope. We’ve coached executives for 22 years and that is always the aim — how do we help them see a better version of themselves?

We’re all about purpose. We talk about coaching from a 360° perspective, which is mind, body and spirit. Individuals are not one dimensional, and neither should their coaching or our coaching practice be, so we focus on the total person. When we do that, we find purpose not only in the work we do, but we help them find purpose and we talk a lot about them finding their why. One of our key tenets is helping people realize why they do what they do. I’m a psychologist by training, so I have a natural need to be in that space anyway. But as a coach, it’s not about pathology — it’s all about helping individuals figure out how to be the best version of themselves in every space and area of their lives — whether at work or at home, raising children, single, married, building a company, or navigating their career. All of those are situations in which the passion and the purpose we have are married.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

In 2008, when I was CEO of one of my investment partner’s portfolio firms, our mission was to build the brand of legacy recording artists of all genres. Our end goal was to make this company the choice destination and primary connection source for music, entertainment, and information. Due to a significant slowdown in ad spending, we couldn’t afford to cover our costs — it got to the point where we had only 90 days cash. The economic recession prevented a lot of our investors from continuing to provide funds. While we found two angel investors who got us through another three months, the company folded in 2009. The lessons learned from this experience was that even if you have a terrific concept, you must be aware of the ebbs and flows in the market. We didn’t realize how big of a downturn the market was in at the time.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I don’t know any entrepreneur who doesn’t say, “You know what, I need to go back and get a job, you know, because this is outrageous. This is hard.” And that’s particularly true when you’re not getting paid, business is not moving fast as you want to, or you don’t think you’re going to get the clients that you need. My drive comes from my faith. I’m very resilient in the sense that I’ve had a lot of doors closed in my face over the years, and that’s still happening.

There’s no one who runs an organization who doesn’t experience doors being closed in your face. When I was in high school, I was the kid who always wanted to ask that girl that was really cute to dance but I never did because I was so afraid they would say no. And and I can remember the times that I asked and they did say no and I was just crushed. And it made me even more gun shy. Some people wouldn’t believe that I’m an extrovert because I’m shy about a number of things — I think it’s because I’ve experienced some rejection over the years. However, I’m a resilient person. I work very hard — I’m not one to just throw in the towel; I’m going to stay with it as long as I can.

Probably the best example I can give is my marriage — this is my third marriage. I first got married when I was 20 and stayed married for 18 years. I foolishly got married a second time, stayed married 12 years, and now I’m in year 14 of my third marriage. I’ve been married practically my whole life — can’t figure out why I do that — but this time, thank God, I hit the jackpot. I don’t think there were very many women in the world who would have been as resilient as she was for me when I lost my oldest child. I’m glad I stuck with the idea that marriage could work, regardless of having two that didn’t.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader in challenging times is for your people to feel like you are with them and you are present. They need to see that you have unshakable faith — that it’s going to work, that you’re going to get it. That they see you as someone who is committed wholeheartedly. And even if it’s not going exactly to plan that you’re faithful about it, you’re realistic enough to know, and you’re committed to an outcome. Even if you don’t make it, they will know you were there with them until the end. Your people need to know that you’re present, they need to know that you’re there.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Uncertainty is a fact of life. We never know what’s around the corner completely. But I think in terms of inspiration, having purpose is really important to people. If you’re fighting for something and you really believe in each other, nothing is impossible. Everybody wants to believe that they’re going somewhere. The moment in which we believe that there’s nothing else to do and no place else to go is the moment that we can’t continue to strive and it’s when we lose that we’ve lost everything.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Be straight, no chaser. Don’t try to beat around the bush. People can handle the truth if you give it to them. Be respectful, but don’t hide the truth because it’s hard. When I was at PepsiCo, we had to eliminate 250 management jobs. My HR director and I flew to about four or five cities on the same day to have these meetings and let these people go in person — it was hard. But what people appreciated was we told the truth and respected them enough to be honest and tell them in person. Some people cried because they had been with the company for 20 years — but we had to tell them straight, not send a note or letter in the mail. They appreciated that.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

There is a Biblical proverb that says without a vision, the people will perish. I believe this and have practiced it in my life. You sent a vision for where you want to go, not a goal. Now, you may not reach it — really, visions are designed that way. But once you set it, all of your plans will come underneath that vision, and you can work on it regularly and adjust as needed. Yes, the future is unpredictable — but there will always be uncertainty. Life is about ambiguity; our ability to be agile and nimble in environments like that really determine our ability to stick it out, our ability to deal with uncertainty.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The number one principle that will guide a company through difficult times is to be true to its mission and purpose.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

First, some companies are too ambitious, meaning they may overstate what their ability is or what they can actually do.

Second, many companies don’t have a clear strategy and purpose. In other words, they haven’t clearly identified the problem that they’re trying to solve or their product is trying to solve, and they don’t develop a good strategy and implementation plan. They haven’t chosen a proper strategy because the problem they’re trying to solve is not clear.

Thirdly, some companies hire bad people. When you hire bad people, you don’t have the best individuals to help you implement your strategy, and you will pay the price for that. There’s no substitute for having good people and good leadership, and there’s no substitute for having a clarity of purpose.

Finally, some entrepreneurs are arrogant. They think they know the answers to all the questions, and they refuse to hire the people that can provide answers because they’re intimidated by people who are smarter than them. Solid leaders and astute entrepreneurs don’t make this mistake.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

The number one strategy is to constantly examine whether or not the product I’m trying to sell is something the market really wants or needs. It’s important that you make what you can sell rather than selling what they can make. If you do something really well and you’re really good at it but the market’s not buying it, you have a problem. Be agile enough to maintain your direction. Have multiple ways that you can improve your margins and improve your top line growth and your net income on your profitability. There’s only a few ways you can make money — you can sell more, you can raise your prices, or you can get new products in your portfolio.

During the pandemic, a lot of businesses changed what they offered, the way it was offered, and the price. They found new niches and, in some cases, built entirely different companies. That’s how the best entrepreneurs think — they’re always looking to the market to help them adjust.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Listen to the market, your people, and your customers so you can understand how everything is playing out and how you may need to respond in a crisis or uncertain situation. When I worked at PepsiCo running the KFC business, I was very concerned about our product offering. Our customers were telling us that our service was mediocre and they were visiting us once every 52 days, which was less than most quick-service restaurants (QSR). At the time, we only offered dinner — we didn’t have lunch or breakfast. The market was telling us that if we wanted to be competitive, we needed to have some semblance of one of those or both of those, and we also needed products that were unique to us. One of my markets was Chicago. I knew I couldn’t change everything, but I could adapt our product offering to complement what we already had on our menu. I got the company to change our uniforms and added a few soul food items to appeal to our customers in that market. We added macaroni and cheese, green beans, and cornbread and did a media campaign called “KFC is cooking.” The campaign was a huge success and our customer count improved significantly. People would come just for the sides even if they weren’t buying chicken, which improved our visitation rate and purchase rate. Since we had good margin on those products, we generated additional revenue. We also made the environment within the stores relevant to those customers. I replicated our Chicago success in Detroit and our other urban markets.
  2. Be agile and willing to take measured risk. When I lived in Africa and was managing the Coca-Cola business in several countries there, one of our biggest challenges was that our water packaging wasn’t meeting the needs of our customers. There were local vendors who were selling water in plastic bags, while the Coca-Cola water was in a plastic bottle and very expensive. We realized there was an opportunity to change our packaging and create something smaller and more moderately priced that would be competitive against non-branded products. We also changed our juice ingredients and provided jobs for farmers who weren’t getting their products to market as efficiently as they needed to; this was important because their crops were supplying our juice business. We partnered with a manufacturer co-op in Ghana, shipped those products, and got them moved across the border to Nigeria. This was a win-win situation because we were able to support the local farmers and expand our business into new markets.
  3. Lead by example — you shouldn’t ask your people to do things you’re unwilling to do. If you look at it, you have to walk the talk — your audio and video need to match! When I was in corporate, I couldn’t ask my people to work late or make sacrifices if I wasn’t willing to do the same. I don’t sit back and watch, that’s not how I lead and it’s certainly not what I believe in. In my early days at Coca-Cola, I asked my team to go out into the market and look at what was happening in real time. Since I asked them to do that, they had to know that I would be out there as well. I went out Thursday to Monday every single week so that I could lead by example.
  4. Act with integrity and honesty. This is especially important when you have to deliver news about layoffs, but there are other times when you have to deliver unpleasant news, and you have to do it with integrity. People want to know the truth — resist the temptation to use the company or anything else as a crutch. When you are respectful and deliver the truth the way you would want to hear it, people will have more respect for you.
  5. Be emotionally intelligent. Consider the impact of your actions on others because you never are able to see yourself as others see. Being emotionally intelligent really means knowing how your emotions impact your decision making and how they are affecting others, especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It’s about being sensitive to how others respond to situations so that your vantage point is as balance as possible. Emotionally intelligent leaders are those who will be the most successful, particularly in this season where we’re going to have more uncertainty, not not less. Emotionally intelligent leaders will be those who will weather the storms much better.

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

Yes, my favorite quote is that if you can change the way people think, you can change the way they behave — that is my life quote.

It’s important to recognize how to help people be the best version of themselves. Oftentimes, the difficulty is getting them to think differently about themselves, think differently about others, and therefore act differently. There is a Biblical proverb that says “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Our thoughts have everything to do with how we behave. We have to examine our thinking constantly and make sure that we’re open to rethinking.

Alvin Toffler, who was a futurist and businessman, said that literacy in the 21st century will not be defined by whether or not you can read or write, but whether or not you can learn, unlearn and relearn. It’s vital that we have a quest for lifelong learning, that we continue to reexamine the how and why behind our thinking. Make sure that you’re allowing yourself to see the world through a multidimensional lens.

People are multidimensional and complex, so you have to allow yourself to think differently about them. For instance, how do you allow yourself to think differently about racism, systemic racism, and the socioeconomic challenges that we face today? The opportunity to behave differently really requires you to examine your thinking and then examine why you think the way you do. Since we’re products of our environment, we have to constantly step back and reexamine our thinking. Our environment may have taught us one thing, but the world today is in a different state. If we don’t adjust, we’re still operating with the original thought patterns we had when we first learned instead of unlearning and replacing it with new information. If you change the way people think, you can change the way they behave.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Dr Lawrence MDrake II: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Brian Hartzer: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Care about people — genuinely care about each individual. Strive to find, hire, and nurture people will world class skills, who share similar values. Take an interest in them as people, show them through your actions that you want them to succeed, and they will support you through thick and thin.

As a part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Hartzer.

Brian Hartzer, author of THE LEADERSHIP STAR: A Practical Guide to Building Engagement, is an experienced executive and leadership mentor who served as CEO of the Westpac Banking Group from 2015 to 2019. Earlier, he spent 15 years in senior executive roles at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and ANZ Banking Group. Hartzer has also worked as a financial services strategy consultant at First Manhattan Consulting Group in New York, San Francisco, and Melbourne. He is currently an advisor and investor to Quantium, a leading data-science company, and several Sydney-based start-ups. Hartzer, who graduated from Princeton University and is a Chartered Financial Analyst, holds dual U.S. and Australian citizenship. He currently resides in Sydney, Australia.

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

I grew up in Connecticut and got interested in banking while in 10th grade — we had to write our first term paper on something in the news, and at the time the front page of the New York Times was all about the LDC (Lesser-Developed Country) debt crisis. A neighbour was a senior executive at Citibank and he took the time to explain to what was happening, which formed the basis of my paper. He was passionate about the fact that the loans had been to help poor countries rise out of poverty, and I was hooked by the idea that banks could be a force for good in the world.

After studying European History at University, I joined First Manhattan Consulting Group in New York, which specialised in banking strategy. In 1994 I was sent to Melbourne, Australia on a project, and after a two-year stint back in San Francisco I was recruited by my Australian client (ANZ Bank) to join as head of their credit card business. I found I enjoyed leading a business rather than being an advisor, and got deeper satisfaction out of helping other people be successful — rather than being the “smart guy” consultant in the corner.

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

My first experience as a manager did not go well. I was managing a gelati shop during a summer break, and distinctly remember a young woman I’d hired screaming “you’re a terrible manager!” in my face, throwing her apron on the ground, and storming out.

So my takeaway was that I wasn’t really cut out for management — hence my career in consulting.

The positive of this experience though was that I developed a real appreciation for the craft of management, and recognised that you need to work at if you want to engage people.

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

My first boss at ANZ had been my consulting client, and he went out on a limb to offer me a job managing a business with over 1000 staff — when I’d never really managed more than a large consulting team before. He obviously saw some potential that I didn’t see — and it changed my life.

I’m eternally grateful for his confidence in me, and have tried to repay it over the years by taking risks on people as well. Some of these have gone on to run significant businesses, and that’s given me immense satisfaction and pride over the years.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

At Westpac we were fortunate to have a clear purpose that dated all the way back to its founding in 1817. Westpac was founded as The Bank of New South Wales — Australia’s first bank, and oldest company. It was specifically charged by the Governor of New South Wales with helping to develop a private economy in what was then a military-run colony.

As CEO I was able to point to that original purpose in explaining that we were a service business — that we existed to help our customers to thrive — and that if we did a good job at that then we would be successful, and our shareholders would be successful.

This resonated well with our people, and I’m convinced that this clarity of purpose was an important contributor to our ability to attract, retain, and motivate people.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

In 2009 I was hired as part of the ‘clean-up crew’ at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) after it was bailed out by the UK government in the Global Financial Crisis. My role covered the UK Retail bank, Coutts (the private banking division), and Ulster Bank (Ireland). That meant that I inherited over 50,000 people, many of whom had lost their life savings — since the previous CEO had encouraged them to invest in RBS shares, which were nearly worthless. On top of that, many thousands of them were now facing the prospect of losing their jobs, and negative stories about the bank or the industry were a daily occurrence.

Rebuilding a motivated workforce in that environment was a huge challenge. To do that, we went back to basics and focused on the important role our people played in helping their customers get through difficult times and reinforced the important long-term role that the bank needed to play in the economic recovery of the nation. And while we were transparent about the need to cut costs and transform the business, we continuously acknowledged the uncertainty and did everything we could to be supportive and caring towards people who were affected.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

To add intensity to this management challenge, my marriage broke up shortly after I started the role at RBS, and my four young children returned to Australia with their mother. Plus, I broke my leg quite badly in a bike accident.

While it was a terribly stressful time both personally and professionally, I discovered — thankfully — that I was resilient.

As Winston Churchill reportedly said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”

I got up every morning, put my suit on, and went to work, motivated by the idea of helping to give my people a brighter future, and stimulated by the intellectual and competitive challenges that such a big turnaround brought with it.

Longer term, as difficult as that period was, it was a great confidence builder in that I knew that, having gotten through that period, I could get through anything.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

To stay calm and maintain perspective. Sometimes crisis requires fast decisions or personnel changes, and the willingness to use gut instinct rather than waiting for all the data. But more often it’s about the ability to see a problem from multiple angles, to identify what’s truly important and what’s “noise”, to source a diversity of views to develop and assess options, and to coordinate a thoughtful and comprehensive response to the underlying issues.

When you’ve worked in an organisation for a long time, it’s easy to get emotionally attached or defensive about the current position. But an effective leader needs to be able to separate their own biases, face the brutal reality, and think objectively about what needs to be done

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

To build a truly engaged team, leaders need to do five things, consistently. They need to demonstrate Care for their employees as individual human beings. They need to provide Context — the why, or sense of purpose, and how each individual contributes to that purpose. People also need Clarity on what’s expected of them, what good looks like, and what great looks like. Then leaders need to Clear the way for their employees — knocking over the barriers that get in the way of their people’s success and often lead to demotivation. Finally, they need to Celebrate — to recognise people’s achievement in ways that reinforce a genuine emotional connection and create a culture of appreciation — not just top down from the leader, but generally among peers, teammates, and across organisational boundaries.

But if I had to pick one thing to boost morale, I’d focus on Care — if people feel that their boss genuinely cares about them as an individual and is willing to take action to help them thrive, then that goes a long way.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

With a combination of transparency and empathy.

Transparency is about sharing the facts, and providing context. For example, “as you know we’ve all been working hard to launch product X, but the reality is that the testing now shows it isn’t going to work and we’re going to cancel the project.”

Empathy is about acknowledging the impact of that news on the individual, and highlighting what will be done to support people who are affected. For example, “With the project cancelled I recognise this creates uncertainty for those of you on this project, whose roles may be affected, and I know that’s going to be upsetting for some of you. My commitment is that we will work with each of you over the next month to explore your options from here and will keep you updated on the timing of any decisions that affect you.”

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

I like to think in terms of long-term and short term.

Long term, it’s important to have a view on the forces affecting your industry and how that is likely to shake out over 3–5 years, what your strategy is to deal with that, and then to update that view periodically.

In the shorter term, it’s about deciding what are the big levers that will move you towards that longer term future, while preserving some budget and resource flexibility to respond to immediate opportunities or issues as they pop up.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Understand how value is created in your business over time, and don’t sacrifice on investing in the things that drive that value.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Typically it’s too much short-term thinking or focus on current-period financial results that damages you in the long term. That often manifests in excessive cost cuts that undermine the ability to serve customers (thereby damaging morale), failing to invest in technology systems, hitting customers with uncompetitive price increases that lead to attrition, or flip-flopping on strategy.

In difficult times the key issue for leaders is often about setting priorities and balancing short- and long-term objectives. To get this right, it’s important to be clear on the fundamentals of your business — what drives customer satisfaction, what creates value, etc. — and make sure you don’t neglect this, while accelerating decisions that can improve long-term productivity. It also helps to distinguish between the things that are urgent — i.e., those things that will help you meet your targets, or allow you to create competitive advantage — vs. those things which are nice to have — i.e., they will create value but it doesn’t really matter if they happen now or next year.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Often the best way to grow is to double-down on your core business — simplifying products, reducing costs, and getting closer to existing customers. In a difficult economy everyone is looking for ways to get through it, so rather than trying to create some new magic solution, you can find ways to create win-win with existing clients — for example, by helping them reduce their costs you may be able to gain a greater share of their business and thereby increase your own revenue.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Care about people — genuinely care about each individual. Strive to find, hire, and nurture people will world class skills, who share similar values. Take an interest in them as people, show them through your actions that you want them to succeed, and they will support you through thick and thin.
  2. Increase self-awareness: Take the time to understand what you’re about, what your values are, what motivates you, what your goals are, and how your own experiences and emotional scars affect the way you interact with other people. In my first 360 degree feedback session my colleagues said I wasn’t very collaborative, which surprised me. I subsequently realised — and, with help from my coach, addressed — that my insecurity about whether I was up to the job meant that I was so focused on my own role that I didn’t have time to be generous with others.
  3. Get into the detail: As we get more senior, there’s a lot of pressure to delegate and to empower people. All well and good, but if you’re not careful you miss out on what’s really going on, and you miss the opportunity to knock over barriers and to teach the people who work for you how they need to be approaching projects and problems in ways that benefit from your experience. At RBS I once discovered that we had over 1000 people devoted to an operational process that wasn’t needed at all — simply because no other senior manager had “opened the folder” to look closely at what people were actually doing as a consequence of an outdated policy.
  4. Stay calm, and stay centred: Separate how you see yourself from how your career is going. Many ambitious people (myself included) fall into the trap of thinking that they’re great when things are going well, and they’re terrible when things are going badly. The truth is that there’s a lot of randomness in life and in business, and you shouldn’t link your sense of self to things that are outside your control. My personal mantra is “all I can do is all I can do, and it will be what it will be.” Have I worked hard, to the best of my ability? Have I put the organisation’s interests ahead of my own? Have I lived up to my personal values, and treated people well? If so, then the outcome will be what it is, and I’ll be ok regardless.
  5. Communicate constantly, in many ways: Don’t rely on a monthly email or a quarterly town hall to get your message out. Find ways to connect with people at all levels, find and leverage influencers in the culture, and use “symbolic acts” to create stories that employees tell each other throughout the company — for example, handing out chocolates in the lobby on a big day, sending hand-written notes to teams who achieve something important, or ringing up front line employees to congratulate them on a major career milestone.

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

“Tell them how much you care, before you tell them how much you know”.

Having been through a bunch of ups and downs both personally and professionally, it’s the relationships with people that you build that make it worthwhile and help you through the tough times.

This quote reminds me that genuine human connection is emotional, not intellectual.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I’ve recently published a book, The Leadership Star: A practical guide to building engagement, which is the book I wish I’d had when I was starting out. It’s available as paperback, audiobook, and Kindle in all the usual places. There’s also a website www.theleadershipstar.com where you can sign up and receive a free downloadable chapter.

I also post on Linkedin, https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianhartzer

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Author Brian Hartzer: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Adrian Moza Of Flipsnack On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, &…

Adrian Moza Of Flipsnack On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

Never stop learning. Digital marketing and the online world is ever evolving. There’s always something to improve on and there’s always something new happening. In order to keep up you need to continuously read and stay informed about new trends and new developments.

Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.

In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian Moza, COO of Flipsnack.

Adrian Moza is COO at Flipsnack. He is passionate about technology, marketing and streamlining business operations. When he is not working, he enjoys playing video games, watching fantasy or SciFi movies and all things sports, especially soccer. Adrian has been working in the industry for more than 15 years.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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 hired right after high school, in 2006. I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to start working for a company as a Flash developer, despite my lack of experience and very basic programming skills. But what I lacked in knowledge I compensated with a desire to learn about the internet, programming and the startup world. That’s when I discovered that even though I like technical challenges I might not want to be a developer. I then transferred to the technical support team, and that was a significant moment in my career. It helped me understand and value the customer’s point of view. That background has helped me immensely when later I became product owner for one of the company’s projects. Later I became head of the team, and then PO .

After a few years I joined the Flipsnack project and then I became COO.

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

Looking back sometimes what jumps out at you is the things you didn’t do. I was recently looking back at how Flipsnack evolved over the years and I noticed that in early 2015 the website had only four main pages: ​​homepage, pricing, examples, business. Now we have hundreds of pages that we use for acquisition and I can’t help but smile when I look at these numbers.

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

I would mention two people that have helped me greatly at the beginning of my career, and especially as I took on a more prominent role in Flipsnack. But there are many other teammates who helped me and who I learned from.

Ann Bob was at the time the Product manager. She saw something in me so she invited me to join this project as a product owner. I’m grateful for that and for this wonderful opportunity. She taught me a lot and gave me all the resources I needed at that point. I remember how impressed I was when I went with her to a conference in New York and how much I learnt during that trip.

Another person that I’d like to mention is Gabriel Ciordas, the founder of the company who trusted me and who helped build the confidence I needed at the beginning of this journey.

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

Besides the software that stands out with its interactive features, the company culture is another thing that makes us unique. We truly like to be in each other’s company. We celebrate our achievements together, big and small. It’s not just business milestones, targets reached or promotions, people are bringing in cake and drinks, sweets and snacks to celebrate things like getting a good grade on an exam. We recently even had a colleague who wanted to celebrate his Covid vaccine. These are small things that might seem unimportant, but I think it’s super important for us to laugh together, share stories and make the workplace a space where you can enjoy yourself.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Self motivation — This is what drives me and makes me a better leader, year over year. I have this passion for growth and I truly enjoy learning and trying new things.
  • Motivating the team — We recently encountered a challenge. One of our competitors started to outperform us for a money-making category of keywords that we have been totally owning the #1 rank for, for a very long time. We were frustrated and upset about it and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I wasn’t the only person feeling this way; the team was too. So we got together to talk about it, and I encouraged them to believe in themselves because we’re better and to not dwell in those negative feelings. Instead we made an actionable plan.
  • Honesty and integrity — I expect my team to be honest and direct, whether they have an issue or if they have a different opinion than me. One way in which I encourage it is by being assertive myself. As a leader you have to be. At times it means dealing with uncomfortable situations and talking about issues in a direct manner, in order to fix them.

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

Yes! There’s always something new and exciting going on at Flipsnack.

We’re working on an exciting new project for real estate companies that will make it possible for them to automate the production of interactive listing presentations, while keeping them on brand. We already have integrations with MLS databases, and the next step will be to make it as easy as possible for real estate agents to speed up the process and to keep it really simple.

We’re also currently running a two-week in-house contest, during which multiple teams of two-seven teammates are working on bringing their ideas for Flipsnack to life. The product team has previously listened to pitches and validated the ideas that are worked on and being developed, so we know that these features will bring value to the customer. This is giving employees a chance to advocate for their ideas, to have a direct impact on how Flipsnack is developed and try on a new role during the project. That’s empowering and it has been encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the teams.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.

One of the biggest common mistakes I see about digital marketing is not measuring results. Or looking only at the positive results and trying to interpret everything in a positive way. It’s a rookie mistake, but it happens too often when a team is just starting out.

Another thing, often correlated with the lack of experience, is not having a clear strategy, with clear objects and key results. It happened to us, trying to juggle 20 different things that had nothing in common with each other and that were not part of a strategy. It’s not that those things were bad, it’s just that they were not part of a strategy, so our work was not focused; it was fragmented and not likely to lead to any big win.

I’ve also seen marketing campaigns that are not specific enough to be successful. The message and targeting are super important. If not paying enough attention, it may lead to campaigns that are too general or too broad to be effective.

Another important aspect when running a campaign is not paying attention to the funnel. Is the ad relevant for that particular stage of the funnel? What about the landing page? Is there a smooth transition between them?

Not knowing who you are as a brand and who your audience is, what they think about your product/ solution is another big issue. It sounds very basic and you wouldn’t think this is a common mistake, but I’ve seen it many times. It takes an experienced team to avoid these mistakes.

If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

Every successful marketing campaign should start with a plan. Our marketing team has developed a sort of a blueprint for a marketing campaign plan and we use it at the earliest stages to determine the validity and the potential results of a marketing campaign.

This is what it contains:

  1. A summary of the campaign.
  2. Main objective; Secondary objectives (if any).
  3. 2–3 KPIs based on which we will evaluate the success of the campaign. The KPIs should be relevant, specific, measurable.
  4. Time and duration.
  5. Campaign plan — a detailed timeline plan, that should include all of the relevant stages pre-launch, during the campaign and post-campaign as well as resources needed, people involved, responsibilities, marketing channels etc.
  6. Budget.
  7. Estimated ROI or estimated results if the purpose of the campaign is not generating revenue.

Oftentimes while working with this blueprint it becomes apparent right from the start or before implementation that a campaign might not work or that an idea needs tweaking.

Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?

For us Google Ads produces the best results, but I’m sure it’s not the same for every business. I think generally ads perform better if the platform lists the ad in a native way, making it look similar to an organic result, post or article.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

1. Defining your goal — whether it’s conversions, driving traffic, lead generation or brand awareness. This will help you decide targeting, messaging and measuring the impact of the campaign. It also decisive for the bidding type.

2. Finding the best keywords / keyword research, all based on knowing your audience. Mention the keywords in the ad text as well, and taylor the message to the audience, so that they resonate with it.

3. Making sure that the tracking is set up and working properly.

4. Continuously keep an eye on campaigns and optimize, optimize, optimize.

Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?

  1. Writing an attractive subject line — without it the open rate stays low and it will not drive the expected results.
  2. Segmentation and targeting is key. Make sure the message you’re sending is relevant for the audience.
  3. Make your CTA clear and powerful, highlighting the value of the offer.

What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?

Google Marketing platform is so powerful that it has to be listed at the top. It doesn’t matter how small or big a business is, they are bound to use at least some of the marketing tools provided by Google: Search Console, Analytics, Ads, Tag Manager or the G Suite.

Apart from these we love Semrush and we found it to be particularly helpful for us in our growth journey. We use it for keyword research, keyword tracking, content optimization, competitor research and more. We also use Intercom a lot for marketing automation, so I’d recommend using it or a similar tool, like Hubspot. It allows you to send targeted messages directly in-app based on certain user characteristics or user actions. Very powerful!

Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer or as a manager? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I compiled a list of 5 things you need to create a successful career either in digital marketing or management.

  1. Never stop learning. Digital marketing and the online world is ever evolving. There’s always something to improve on and there’s always something new happening. In order to keep up you need to continuously read and stay informed about new trends and new developments.
  2. Keep an open mind, and try new things. I’m excited whenever someone from the team is telling me they want to run an experiment to test an idea. Sometimes I intuitively know that an idea is not going to work but unless I have very good arguments not to do it, I’ll keep an open mind about it. If it works out, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.
  3. Try to get to know as much as possible. In order to be a very good marketer or manager you can’t just learn one thing. You can’t be a great content writer if you don’t know anything about email marketing, SEO or advertising. Becoming a specialist or an expert in one marketing area will often mean having a great understanding of what marketing in general is and how it applies to multiple channels. For me, I had to learn a little bit about marketing, a little bit about sales, UX-UI and so on. Before you become a specialist, you need a good, solid foundation of the general things.
  4. You can’t know everything. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be an expert on everything. So work with people who know more than you do. Acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses, and work with those people who are experts in their field, instead of trying to do everything on your own.
  5. Always track and measure results. Keeping an eye on numbers and analyzing the performance is key. You can’t progress and get better results if you don’t check to see what’s working and what isn’t

What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

Most of my reading consists of online articles (moz, semrush, search engine round table, sem journal, hubspot and many others). I particularly enjoy books written by CEOs and founders of other SaaS companies. I find their stories inspiring and I love the fact that their writing comes from their own experience, and it’s full of examples that I can relate to. These books aren’t just marketing theory (which is also great, don’t get me wrong), they talk about real life experiences, business challenges and solutions.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Use less paper and plastic, and be mindful of the planet! Taking care of the planet by recycling and not wasting resources could lead to the most good for the generations to come. My heart breaks when I see illegal, aggressive deforestation and I wish this will stop soon. If we could influence more people to go paperless and use Flipsnack that would be awesome!

Even though we’ve evolved so much over the years, sometimes us humans still act like we’re in the dark ages. We focus on our petty differences and we fight wars over natural resources and ignore the fact that there are still nations in which there’s malnutrition and hunger. In an ideal world we’d be focusing on common, selfless goals for the human race, such as resolving these issues as well as technological advancement, colonizing other planets, traveling at warp speed and finding cures for terrible diseases.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow me on Linkedin and Twitter! And check out Flipsnack at www.flipsnack.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story!


Adrian Moza Of Flipsnack On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Andrew Glantz’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Get quantitative proof as quickly as possible — whether it’s through surveys or case studies, quantifying your value proposition with your first customers is incredibly helpful for growth.

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 Andrew Glantz.

Andrew Glantz is the Founder & CEO of GiftAMeal, the nation’s most-awarded charitable marketing platform for restaurants.

An outspoken champion of social entrepreneurship with considerable nonprofit experience, Glantz began his hunger-fighting venture while still a student on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis in 2015.

Now with hundreds of clients across QSR, fast-casual, and casual dining brands, millennial behavior expert Glantz and his creation GiftAMeal have become recognized as major forces for good by hospitality industry and hunger-relief organizations alike. Last year, GiftAMeal received 1st Place at the Global Impact Awards along with the City of St. Louis’ Innovation Award. To date, over 800,000 meals have been provided through the novel “food for photos” customer engagement program.

Glantz lives in St. Louis, MO, where he was named to the Business Journal’s “30 under 30” List and regularly lectures to graduate and undergraduate audiences on topics ranging from restaurant marketing to negotiations. He serves on the Alumni Board of Governors for Washington University and mentors young entrepreneurs through the Future Founders organization.

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 had been involved in the non-profit world in the past — I was Vice President of a children’s charity and co-owner of a non-profit storefront that promoted re-use and sustainability. After working at a venture capital firm, the managing partner exposed me to the idea of a profits with a purpose company. I loved the idea of both doing well while doing good and aligning those incentives. Using tech for good and creating win-win situations led me to become a social entrepreneur.

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

When meeting with restaurant owners, they often offer me a glass of water when we meet. A few months into starting GiftAMeal, in one day I had three restaurant meetings and knocked over my water glass in 2 and had a near miss on the third. Since then, I have toned down my sometimes erratic hand gestures.

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

I live life and run my business with the philosophy to always act with integrity, be transparent internally and externally, and say yes to helping others. Operating with genuine kindness makes life better for you and those around you.

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

My big idea that might change the world is GiftAMeal! GiftAMeal is a mix of marketing and giving back for restaurants. Each time a guest takes a photo of their food or drink at a partner restaurant on the free GiftAMeal app, we make a donation to a food bank to give a meal to someone in need locally. Restaurants earn promotion and boost guest satisfaction and loyalty, while also making an impact in their communities. Over 290 restaurants currently participate and over 800,000 meals have been provided to those in need so far.

How do you think this will change the world?

We aim to provide millions of meals to those in need! And we’re nearing our first million.

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?

People should make sure to understand that more action is needed to solve hunger. We support local food banks not only in providing food to the hungry, but addressing root causes that cause people to be put in difficult situations. 1 in 3 people that are helped by GiftAMeal are children — we aim to put a dent in childhood hunger through our program and encourage others to help as well.

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

I founded GiftAMeal while dining out at an Italian restaurant. The conversation turned to how people discover restaurants and how millennials especially look to make purchases based on their values. In the restaurant industry, there are a lot of financial incentives like coupons and discounts, but nothing that truly engages a guest in an easy, free, socially conscious experience. With so many people sharing food photos on social media, I pulled inspiration from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, TOMS Shoes, and others and combined them to create GiftAMeal: an app where guests can take a photo of their food or drink from a partner restaurant to give a meal to a neighbor in need.

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

We need more restaurants to join our effort to heal hunger! Restaurants interested in learning more can do so at giftameal.com/join.

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

1. Ask for help — people are willing to help and you can learn a lot from others.

2. Build fast, iterate often — don’t spend months preparing an initial model, test it out and continually improve.

3. Get quantitative proof as quickly as possible — whether it’s through surveys or case studies, quantifying your value proposition with your first customers is incredibly helpful for growth.

4. Act with integrity — people return kindness with kindness.

5. Put in the work — you have to hold yourself accountable in a startup and you set the pace, so do the work.

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

Don’t let the highs get you too excited or the lows get you too down, keep the mindset that with anything that happens you are constantly evaluating where to go from here to attain your goals.

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

We’ve built a startup that’s provided almost a million meals to the hungry while growing revenue 65% over the last year. We’ve built our company in a sustainable way that’s primed for scaling nationally.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook.com/giftameal

Instagram.com/giftameal

Twitter.com/giftameal

www.giftameal.com

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


Andrew Glantz’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.

Women In Wellness: Sarah Southwell Of GroWise Be Well On the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help…

Women In Wellness: Sarah Southwell Of GroWise Be Well On the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

I can’t force someone to stand in their power. We have been brainwashed to think we don’t have individual power and that someone else knows best, such as big business or the government or western medicine. I now know that people awaken to this truth when they are ready to embrace it and I have learned to love everyone’s individual journey to it. I, myself, am still on this journey to stand fully in my power.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Southwell.

Sarah Southwell is Luminary, CEO, and Founder of GroWise Be Well. Sarah is an energy healer, Reiki master, multidimensional warrior, and teacher of experiential transformation and healing. Alchemist of intuition, energy, and ancient forces, she is excited to share her life’s journey and expertise to support you as you connect to your power.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My backstory is full of years of challenges and learning opportunities. The shortened up version of my story starts with healing myself from panic disorder after kicking an addiction to speed, and then helping my son heal from sensory processing disorder. I searched for a way to heal without drugs and discovered the holistic and metaphysical tools that I represent through GroWise Be Well today.

The expanded version: It feels as if it started long ago, now. Once upon a time I was living a life disconnected from my body with a dislike for other humans. I was addicted to speed, in any form, from triple lattes to diet pills. I was successful at keeping this addiction from my husband because we spent a lot of time apart during the day. But, we were getting ready to move to the woods of Montana, and live quite close in a cabin on the river. I decided it was time to quit all speed, because, of course, I had lied to myself about being an addict. So, I threw them all away as soon as we moved. Very soon after that, I began horrible withdrawal symptoms, which I didn’t associate with the absence of the speed, because I wasn’t an addict. I felt my mind and body had betrayed me. My body was severely depleted from years of deprivation from nutrition so it shut down for a period which threw my mind out of its normal state of overconfidence and I began to doubt everything. So, I descend into a state of panic. I had every test offered by western medical physicians run on me to find out what was causing this affliction and all they came up with was to offer me anti-anxiety drugs and send me home. I had just come off of one pill, and didn’t want to become addicted to another, so I began my unending quest for ways to heal myself. I tried every holistic treatment I could get my hands on and soon began to emerge from the panic to anxiety. I discovered Oriental Medicine, which I believe truly helped me heal and thrive. Slowly, over two years, I returned to me, but not just me, a much improved version of me. Through the search for modalities that would help me heal physically and mentally, I found a healing I hadn’t been looking for, a spiritual healing. I emerged from my quest with a love for others.

Several years later, my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, with sensory processing disorder. I began another quest to help him heal and feel great in this world. I discovered how food could help or hurt and eventually the possibility of a malfunctioning methylation gene which drove me to buy a farm and milk goats, but that is a much longer story. I tried a lot of things I had previously learned with my healing process but he was too young for many of them. I asked my doctor of oriental medicine if he could help my son but he said autism is a western medical diagnoses and he needed the oriental healing translation and then he could help him. So, I searched the land for a translation of autism into an oriental perspective, which I found in North Carolina. We went to visit the doctor who had successfully translated and treated autism and came home with a treatment plan that my doctor used to heal my son. I’m cutting out some details, because this would be a book, not an article. It was not as simple and short as it sounds here. There is no magic pill and healing doesn’t come without extreme discipline, desire, and ultimately, the belief, the knowing, that health, joy and abundance is here now.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

I was suffering from postpartum depression after my first son was born and my very good friend decided to take me away for a weekend and show me a movie she thought would help. She showed me the movie The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and it changed my life. I had been an atheist most of my life, all the suffering in the world made me believe that any God that allowed such atrocities had to be the devil. I didn’t want to watch the movie but my friend insisted and I trust her so I watched. It blew my mind. I came home from that weekend a changed woman. I had hope in my heart and a knowing that we create our own reality. To this day, I will catch myself moaning about something that isn’t going right in my life and I stop myself and ask, “What do I want my life to be like? How do I want this to go?”, to get me back on track with creating what I want. The twist on this story is that I came to discover that my friend that showed me the movie didn’t believe in it. Over the years, if I heard her complaining about something in her life, I would remind her of The Secret and she would say she didn’t believe. I now know that we can all have an abundance of joy and health and wealth in our lives if we believe we can.

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

The biggest mistake I made when I was first started was to think everyone who seemed out of balance and unhealthy, to me, wanted help. And, that I had the answers because I had been through something challenging as well. The old saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”, has been something I have to remind myself of to this day. I want everyone to live a life full of joy and health and I know they can but they have to believe too. I don’t heal others, they heal themselves. I only assist them with more universal energy. I used to believe I had all the answers and that if only that person would take my advice then they would feel great. But the truth in the statement about leading the horse, is that the horse has to want the water, it has to seek it out.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

GroWise Be Well empowers people to believe in their power to heal themselves. We don’t profess to know everything or tell you how you should heal. We believe you already know what is best for you, you just need to be encouraged to believe in yourself. We offer the opportunity to learn about 13 different holistic and metaphysical modalities that run the spectrum from essential oils to magic. I have learned that one tool in my toolbox is not enough, I pick up tools all the time through trying a new modality or reading a new book. My toolbox is like Mary Poppins’ magical carpet bag and I can add as many tools as I want. I hope to never stop adding tools, I don’t know when one tool I thought I wouldn’t use may help me or someone else. GroWise Be Well ferociously supports you to gather as many tools as you want, as long as you use the most important tool of all, your belief in your own power. The world seems like it is finally waking up to the idea that everything we want already exists, we just have to use the power of our mind to bring it into our lives.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Believe — in yourself, your intuition, your connection with source, your power. Watch The Secret, read The Secret book and dig into the people interviewed and you will find it is all true. You have the power to change your life, you always have. When you need something to come into your life to help you or your situation, it will show up. When you believe, you are on the wavelength of manifesting and the universe only hears that frequency. Tape mantras and positive statements all over your house and in your car to help yourself remember you’ve got this.
  2. Unplug. Remove electronics from your bedroom for a restorative night’s sleep. Have only 1 tv in your house and use it only for entertainment, not news. Read paper books, not books on a device. I understand this may upset those that want to reduce our consumption of paper to save trees but I believe that we can plant more trees and the evil presented by electronic devices is far more detrimental to the human race. Don’t get sucked into social media, use it to learn things and improve your mood. Limit video game time and computer time. The more organic we can be, which means connecting with the earth and all of its glory, the better we will be.
  3. Eat organic. The chemicals in conventionally grown food cause disease. The nutrition content of conventionally grown food is so slight that they have to “fortify” foods, which means they add vitamins and minerals back into the foods because they weren’t present when the ingredients were growing. Eating organic also makes a statement to the food providers and our government that we don’t want franken-food or food drenched with chemicals because these practices are killing all wildlife, as well as humans. Organic food has the highest nutritional content to help your body and mind be vibrantly healthy.
  4. Love. Love yourself by listening to your body and mind and giving it what it needs to provide an awesome day for you, such as food, rest, laughter or simply a walk in the park. Love others by listening to them. Accept their similarities and differences, their human story, their journey they are on. Don’t make it about you, don’t try and fix them, don’t ask them to stop talking because you didn’t really want to know. Don’t judge, just listen and radiate love for them. We are all connected through universal energy, so loving others will bring that love back to you. I love the idea of passing it on, you show love for someone and they show love to another person and so on. That’s the best wave there is.
  5. Visutate. I created this word, visutate, as a combination of meditate and visualize. I do a visualization every morning and it makes my day amazing. Visualizing how you want your day to go is extremely powerful because you are literally showing the universe how you want things to be and you are radiating at a very high frequency when you are experiencing what you want, which is the frequency of manifestation. Meditating is calming your mind so that things become clear. I like to think of meditation as a snow globe; normally my mind is a shaken snow globe, lots of thoughts flying around. Meditation allows me to let the shaken globe of my brain settle so that I can see things clearly. I combine visualization and meditation into one sitting session where I am having a conversation with my body, running my energy and settling my mind all in a 15 minute session.

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

The empowerment movement. I would love to see every human flying their proverbial freak flag. We would all be so creatively powerful if we started living outside of the paradigms that have been created for us. There is so much more than what we have been presented as reality. Just imagine where humanity could go if we all believed in our unique creative power.

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

1.I can’t force someone to stand in their power. We have been brainwashed to think we don’t have individual power and that someone else knows best, such as big business or the government or western medicine. I now know that people awaken to this truth when they are ready to embrace it and I have learned to love everyone’s individual journey to it. I, myself, am still on this journey to stand fully in my power.

2. Love is the answer. I used to think that if I showed love to all, especially those that want to take my power from me, that I would be weak and a doormat for them to walk on. Now, I know that the Beatles really did get it right when they sang “All You Need is Love”. Love is by far the most powerful frequency you can stand in. Love will conquer all. I love myself when I defend my boundaries with love, I love others when they are not comfortable with me standing in my power, I love differences of opinion because I get a chance to learn and so on and so on.

3. Ignorance is bliss. Ok, someone did tell me this before I started, but I didn’t understand. As Nero found out in the Matrix, wanting to know the truth of the world is not blissful until you can stand in your power. I’ve been known to say “If only I didn’t know….” I wouldn’t unlearn anything and it was my path to follow, but I can definitely understand others not being excited about stepping into a place of knowing. Being different then the pack and choosing a life of intention can be lonely, as well. I get judged as anti-social or no-fun because I won’t partake in things I know will lower my frequency. It can also be painful to see those you love continue to suffer because they don’t believe in their power.

4. You create your reality. I would have jumped right in with gusto, ok, maybe a little bit of doubt, but with excitement. Deepak Chopra just released a new book “MetaHuman” where he states clearly that our imagination, our creativity creates our reality, really. When we daydream we are creating. I wish I would have known this before I started because I would have allowed myself to get lost in daydreams a lot more often.

5. The shadow is my friend and ally. I always fought my anxiety and other “demons”, wanting them only to go away. Now I know that they are actually my friends and they help me live my best life. When they rise up and become a strong voice I know I need to listen.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Definitely mental health. The sooner we allow ourselves and those we love to be human and express their true worries and hopes then the sooner we will be a vibrantly creative energetic human presence on this planet.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

The best way to follow me is to subscribe to the newsletter at www.gwbw.com and subscribe to my podcast, GroWise Be Well, on any podcast streaming service.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!


Women In Wellness: Sarah Southwell Of GroWise Be Well On the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Joe Stefani Of Desert Cactus: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

Joe Stefani Of Desert Cactus: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

My number one tip is to be flexible, things might change week-to-week or even day-to-day. You need to be flexible and be open to a new way of doing things.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Stefani.

Joe Stefani is the President of Desert Cactus, an e-commerce company focused on licensed products. The company has licensing deals with a handful of lifestyle and entertainment companies, the NBA, NHL, Armed Forces, and 675 colleges and universities.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?

Years ago, I owned and operated two summer collegiate baseball teams in the Chicago market. Along with three other individuals, I actually was instrumental in founding that league. Prior to starting Desert Cactus, I always held the belief that businesses I worked for were run the wrong way, or they took the traditional way of getting from A to Z. I liked the idea of doing it my own way, but also doing something in an area that was up-and-coming, like e-commerce. When we started, many people thought, “that’s nice,” and I still have friends that think we’re not big time or see this as a hobby of mine, even though we have 27 people who work for us full-time.

We started our business with a small subgroup of products (five) and we grew very slow at first (from $250k in revenue the first year to $750k the second year). With our first product line, we set a goal for revenue and profit. When we hit those numbers, we added a handful more products, and continued to repeat the process. As of 2021, we’ve raised no outside money at all; in the past, we’ve had businesses with investors, and we’ve had to try what they’ve proposed because of their investment. I think people sometimes raise money for the wrong reasons, but also they get tied up with things that don’t make a difference- such as raising money for flashy things like new offices, personal assistants, etc.

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

When we first started selling on Amazon, we were preparing the initial shipment of our product for their warehouses. Unfortunately, we labeled all of our products wrong and didn’t realize it- until the very end before the order was about to ship out.

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

My husband Josh keeps me on my toes and makes me second guess my reasoning.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

For us, the idea to start our Amazon store was a lightbulb moment, but we wanted to prove our concept over multiple lines before we really dove head first with investing a significant amount of money in the company and in hiring outside employees. I had a handful of years of experience in the e-commerce world, but the concept we were putting into place (using Amazon as a marketplace for licensed goods) wasn’t yet being done in that way. We aim to fill this void with a great selection of licensed products. Over the past two years, it has turned into a much larger venture than I expected.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

My leadership style is to lead by example, and that’s important to me. If you’re not willing to do a job that you’re asking others to do, how can you ask them to do it? I’m always helping other doing their jobs and tasks, from packing orders to taking out the trash.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I’ve been challenged, but I always treat that as an opportunity to show what our team can do. They haven’t let me down yet. I’ve never thought of giving up.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

It all circles back to leading by example. In the valleys, your team needs to see that you are there with them; that you’ve not left them behind to advance to the next peak alone.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

We never could have anticipated what our business would look like when we began selling with Amazon. When your team is looking to you to provide them with a picture of the future, it can be intimidating. Luckily, we’ve always kept our team focused on the short game while my partner and I managed the bigger picture. It is difficult to find the right combination of motivation and inspiration, especially during a busy holiday season. We do our best to communicate expectations clearly and ahead of time, while also giving the team something to look forward to (for example, we announced the date of our holiday celebration back in the beginning of August).

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I have had experience in this, and what I’ve learned is it’s best to be honest and get straight to the point.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

This can be challenging. If you change the horizon, the “future” becomes a shorter period of time, and is easier to navigate.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

My number one tip is to be flexible, things might change week-to-week or even day-to-day. You need to be flexible and be open to a new way of doing things.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

We’ve built our business on trying not to repeat mistakes we’ve seen other companies make. This includes thinking too far into the future; thinking things are much worse than they really are; and not giving employees the benefits they deserve. When COVID hit, we made drastic changes to our business to conserve cash and prepare for the worst. What we discovered was that the pandemic made consumers rethink how they shopped, which benefited e-commerce companies like ours. When it comes to employees, we do the right thing by offering competitive pay, company-paid health insurance, substantial 401K accounts, other retirement options, etc.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

We are always stashing away money for a rainy day. One strategy we use is to keep challenging ourselves: even when business seems “great,” see if you can outdo yourself and take your business to the next level, even if it’s small things like new images for your products, or new content. Each step brings you closer to legitimacy and stability.

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

“Work hard, Travel harder.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

The best way to do this is to follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-stefani-191a484/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Joe Stefani Of Desert Cactus: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dr Dain Heer Of Access Consciousness: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Never Give Up, Never Give In, Never Quit. Please, Never Give Up, Never Give In, and Never Quit. You are too valuable to the world. If there’s one thing I know: it is often darkest before the dawn of great change.

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

Dr. Dain Heer is an internationally renowned entrepreneur, speaker, and best-selling author. Raised in the ghettos of Los Angeles, Heer is the co-founder of a diverse range of businesses worldwide, including El Lugar, a resort in Costa Rica that utilizes biodynamic land management, and Castello di Casalborgone, a luxurious castle in Italy.

He is also the founder of the world’s first International Being You Day (May 22nd), a day dedicated to empowering people to be their most authentic selves.

A conscious and creative business leader with a profound understanding of the power of entrepreneurship, Dr. Heer draws upon his personal experience and unique perspective to invite people from every culture, country, age, and social strata to create the money, business, and life they truly desire.

In addition to his diverse business portfolio, Dr. Heer is co-creator of Access Consciousness, a popular personal development organization operating in more than 176 countries, which has contributed to changing the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world for the past 30 years.

He is also the author and co-author of several books, including Being You, Changing the World, The Return of the Gentleman, Body Whispering, Right Riches for You, and How to Become Money. www.drdainheer.com.

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

Twenty-one years ago, I was working as a chiropractor, engaged to be married and living in beautiful California. Yet in my practice, I was frustrated by all the existing modalities and techniques I had been taught. They all seemed to provide only temporary relief and change for my clients and myself.

One morning I woke up, and for the first time in my 30 years on the planet, realized I had given up hope. I had gotten to a point where I had everything that was supposed to make a person happy — and it had absolutely no value to me. I had tried every single modality for inner peace I could find, but I was still dying inside. I was so deeply unhappy I was considering suicide.

I was so unhappy, I actually set a date to end my life and said to the universe, “Either my life truly changes this time, or I’m out of here.”

Well, the Universe heard the demand, and not long after that, I found an article in the local newspaper that read, “All of life comes to me with Ease, Joy & Glory. Call Shannon.”

When I first read that, all I wanted to do was kill this person. I didn’t even know her, but the very thought that someone would take the time to put something so audacious in the paper made my skin crawl. I crumpled up the paper and threw it away.

But the next week, the paper came out again, and there it was again! “All of life comes to me with Ease, Joy & Glory. Call Shannon.”

I knew I had to call her this time since it triggered me so much. I know that if something evoked me to that degree, there was something in there for me to explore. I had always known that. And I had nothing to lose…

So I called Shannon. We ended up chatting over the phone, and she invited me to have my Bars run. I walked in depressed and suicidal, and after one session of what’s called the Access Consciousness Bars, I walked out of it with a sense of joy and gratitude for being alive, and I knew that I would never go back to that dark place again. Stress, gone! Anxiety, gone! Depression, gone! Suicide, ba-bye!

And that was just the very beginning of the most fantastic journey. The tools from Access Consciousness changed my life to such a degree that I knew I had to have more, be more, and create more.

For the first time in a long time, I had an enthusiasm for living that I had been looking for my whole life but never knew how to find. I ended up meeting the founder of Access Consciousness, Gary Douglas, and we started working together.

Today, I am the co-creator of the company. It has grown to be in 176 countries with thousands of facilitators worldwide inviting people every day to know that something different is possible for themselves — and the world.

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

There are so many; I am incredibly fortunate. One of my favorite stories of change is when I was invited to work with a lady who had fourth-stage liver cancer.

When I met her, she looked to be about 70 years old, with most of her long hair being gray. During the session, we talked about the joy of life and living that she knew was possible that she had not been able to create in her life. We spoke of the fact that she knew this should be possible and about the possibility of her choosing it NOW.

I put my hands over her liver where the cancer was. In contrast to the suffering and judgment, I thought I would find there, I perceived the beauty within and beneath her condition. As I perceived this, we held hands and wept together, both for what had not been and for what could now be.

At the end of the session, she said she was at total peace and was okay with whatever would occur. She said she would LIVE for as many–or as few–days as she had left on this planet.

A year later, I was in the city where the session had taken place, facilitating an event for a few hundred people. In the end, there was a long line of people taking pictures and asking for hugs… Up comes a beautiful lady I thought I had never met before. She looked about 30 years old, with the most beautiful long brown hair. She seemed to be in a hurry and skipped to the front of the line. She gave me flowers, a card, a beautiful hug, and looked me in the eyes, and just said: “thank you!

As I was leaving, my assistant said to me: “Do you know who that was?” And I said, “No, I’ve never met her before.” She then told me it was the same young lady who told me she had three months to live when I worked on her 18 months ago.

My jaw dropped, and I started crying tears of joy and gratitude. I was fist-punching the air with enthusiasm, thinking to myself, “Yes! Yes! Yes! THAT is why I am here!”

To know that I was able to contribute to this beautiful being making the choice to live is one of the greatest gifts of my life. And please know, that is what this is all about: contributing to people choosing more and choosing something different. It is not about me healing them — it is about them healing themselves.

I am truly blessed and fortunate to have worked with many people that are now truly living. From my point of view, there is no greater gift.

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

When I first started facilitating Access Consciousness classes, I was invited to Texas to facilitate a class on any topic I wanted. So I asked my best friend and mentor, the founder of Access Consciousness, Gary Douglas, what topic should I do for the workshop?

And he said, “Why don’t you do it about fun and clearing the issues that don’t allow people to have fun?

From the moment he suggested this, it felt a bit heavy in my world, but it was my mentor and best friend who suggested it, so I did it. And this four-hour workshop was one of the worst facilitation experiences I’ve ever had in my life!

Not one person laughed, and almost no one smiled. The whole room was HEAVY. Two hours into the class, a little girl lying on the floor pulled on her mother’s skirt and said, “Mommy, when do we start having fun?

(Even the four-year-old knew that I screwed this one up!)

Usually, the classes that I facilitate are a lot of fun and full of laughter. This one did not have any of that. I apologized to everybody in the class, and I called my friend Gary and said, “Why did you tell me to do a workshop on clearing the issues of fun?

He said two things to me that have stayed with me forever.

Number one,” he said, “Don’t trust me. Always trust you. Number two, when you get into a situation that is heavy, change whatever you need to change at the moment so that you can create more lightness out of it.”

He then asked me, “What would have happened if you got up on stage and said, okay, I know this is supposed to be a fun workshop. But let’s go where you want to go?

From that moment on, I have always gotten up on stage and dealt with what was in front of me regardless of the class topic. I’ve also learned to apply that to my life.

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

I am blessed to have so many exciting projects — too many to mention here! One of my current favorites is an eco-friendly luxury resort in Costa Rica called EL-Lugar that we are building in communion with the land.

Our desire is to show people how to be stewards of the earth in all aspects of development while also embracing the beauty and elegance that was once part of our culture. One of our requirements is that no tree will be cut down on the property. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It has elegance, beauty, and spaciousness to it — and it is eco-friendly.

Another exciting project is a video podcast I have just launched — The Possibility Explorer. It’s a video podcast for the ADHD adventurers out there looking to explore something different in all aspects of life. It features many unique tools and life hacks and hopefully adds a bit of humor and lightness to people’s lives. https://drdainheer.com/podcast/

Oh, I almost forgot! I’ve got a TV show coming out on Ickonic Media, called Is Now The Time? I’m very excited for it to be aired — it premieres on January 15.

Why are you an authority about the topic of the loneliness epidemic?

Good question! How does one become an authority on the epidemic of loneliness? Well, I lived it dynamically for much of my life…

I grew up in the ghetto, where I was the only white face for eight square miles. Even more than that, I had a sense of loneliness because I always felt different than others. I never fit in, no matter how hard I tried. Even though I had friends, I was never “popular.”

Also, I couldn’t figure out what made other people tick. I would look around me and see what other people were choosing, and I just didn’t understand it. I would see them lying and cheating to try to get ahead. They would outdo each other and try to prove that they were better than other people — rather than lifting each other up. And I never understood that.

So, in a sense, I’ve been a bit of a loner my whole life, though for the last 20 years or so, a pretty happy one.

Part of the reason I wanted to end my life 21 years ago was that I felt all alone. Nobody saw what I saw. Nobody got what I got. When you are that different from the people around you — including friends, co-workers, family, clients — it can seem like your very being has no value because there is no one else to acknowledge it. I could not see a way forward.

Luckily, the circumstances after that moment became the beginning of me truly living.

When I began to demand that I explore what was true for me and live my life according to that, the loneliness started to subside, as did the accompanying depression.

I started caring for myself and surrounding myself with people that didn’t judge me. I started having people in my life that cared for me as much as (or more than) I cared for myself. And now, I am surrounded by precisely that.

When you start to acknowledge you and care for yourself, you begin to realize that true loneliness is not a function of not having other people in your life. It’s a function of not having YOU in your life.

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

  1. We are herd creatures.
    It sounds so basic — and we are herd creatures who thrive on connection and interaction with others. When that is taken away, our quality of life diminishes; when we don’t get to interact with people, contributing to them and being contributed to, the fuel that moves our lives forward runs out.

2) Not able to change.

While being a herd creature is one of our strengths when we have others around us who can inspire and support us, it becomes a detriment when we rely on the support of others and feel as though we’re not getting it.

When we feel like we are not in control of changing what keeps us isolated, we lose the sense of being in control of our lives. That makes us feel helpless, disempowered, and utterly alone indefinitely.

More than anything — that there is no end in sight — can create an acute sense of loneliness and progress to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts if not addressed.

In addition, many of us have been taught that it indicates weakness to ask for help or support from others. It goes like this: A person feels lonely. From their point of view, they are not getting the love, support, admiration, and acknowledgment they desire. This often creates a sense of insecurity — making them less likely to reach out to anyone. Instead, they contract to try to keep others away, so others do not see their insecurities. This contraction exacerbates the loneliness and feelings of insecurity, making them even less likely to initiate — or even desire — interaction with others. This, in turn, creates more of a sense of loneliness and the vicious circle is in full spin.

Before the pandemic, there were more ways to break this circle within the motion of daily life. This has become way more challenging and close to impossible for some people, like the elderly, during the pandemic. Currently, isolation is what supposedly will keep you alive — if it doesn’t kill you first.

3) Our bodies are missing each other.

Our sense of well-being not only comes from what goes on in our heads and hearts. A big part of that sense of loneliness can actually come from our bodies. Bodies thrive on touch. When they don’t receive that regularly, many of the so-called happy hormones, like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, never get produced.

Even before the pandemic, the lack of touch was an issue for many people. However, with the social distancing and quarantine, it has reached whole new levels.

There are scientific studies that have found that if a baby doesn’t get touched, it literally dies. Our adult bodies may be bigger, but here is the thing: they still require and desire touch to thrive. In addition, our bodies talk to each other every time they hang out — so much of the input we get from people is via our bodies, not what we say out loud in words.

Basically, our bodies get nourished by other bodies way more than we’ve ever acknowledged — and I’m not talking about making out or having sex! A hug from a friend, sitting close to someone in a bar, a handshake, or even a pat on the back to let us know we have done a good job from one of our peers can go a long way.

Touch is the nurturing, the kindness, and the caring that our bodies so long for and require. My latest book The Body Whisperer is all about bodies and what they truly require to thrive.

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

Since we thrive on interaction and connection, the loneliness epidemic has far-reaching effects, most likely in many ways that we can’t even imagine yet. With this ongoing pandemic, the perceived loneliness has deepened and exponentiated. My guess is now reaching every stratum of society and almost every culture globally.

Societies and cultures are conglomerations of individuals. When one withdraws due to loneliness, they cease to contribute to others energetically the way they used to.

Those around that person now have less of an energetic support system to draw upon to weather difficult times. This causes fewer energetic resources to be available to everyone because of the reclusive nature of someone experiencing loneliness.

Because of this, the loneliness epidemic, if left unchecked, has a cumulative effect that can affect large groups of people. It perhaps starts with an individual, but can extend from there to families, friend constellations, and from there to companies, communities, and so on. This leads to a sense of less ease, often a loss of productivity, and a sense of fewer possibilities that can be detrimental.

In working with tens of thousands of people during this time, I have found that loneliness becomes harmful when people do not realize that something different is possible.

In Australia, they have a day in September called “R U Okay Day.” It’s a day where people reach out and ask someone showing signs of loneliness and depression if they are okay. What if we started living this every day?

Asking someone if they are okay–and listening with no point of view or judgment–lets people know that someone in the world sees them, hears them, and acknowledges what is going on for them. It’s a simple gesture that can go such a long way.

What if everyone in the world knew that there was always another possibility available? My advice: Never give in, never give up, and never quit. Please, just take two more steps. There are ways to change the overwhelming feelings of loneliness or sadness, even if you are alone right now.

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

  • Social media is a big part of this problem. Please know, I am not blaming social media. The issue is not that we have social media. The issue is how we are using — and relying upon — social media to fulfill a void that only we can accomplish for ourselves. Although you are “connected” online, it is rarely the same type of connection that occurs when you are with people in person, face to face. Online, people can curate an image of themselves that often only loosely correlates with reality. And though you may have thousands of online “friends,” how many of those would you call when you really needed support? Probably very few. This is very similar to what we have in so much of the world: many HIGH QUANTITY, LOW-QUALITY items to consume. In this case, the consumption is that of genuine connection. Most people spend a lot of time and energy getting the perfect image or video to show that their life is indeed perfect. Even when — maybe especially when — it’s not. They are more interested in presenting a perfect image than presenting their reality as it actually is. There is very little vulnerability, therefore very little true connection. They’ll show a perfectly-curated photo of their perfect family on a perfect tropical beach — but what you are not seeing is that the baby threw up on mom right after the photo, the parents were arguing right before, and that during the 8-hour flight the entire family was at each other’s throats!
  • The need for a perfectly curated image. This ideal of the perfectly-curated image follows people offline also. Not fitting into — or up to — the perfect image is actually a reason why many people feel alone already. In society, there is this idea that you must be perfect or you have no value. When someone starts to experience loneliness, they often feel like something is wrong with them. Partially because of the idea that “perfect is the new black,” those who are feeling lonely withdraw from society, believing they will have no value in others’ eyes. In addition, the sense of real connection is fleeting, even when people get together in person, because they’re focused on their phones and social media feeds or focused on how they are not living up to some standard of perfection that is often not theirs. Also, people have been conditioned to believe that their image is more important than their very being. This leads to a sense of loneliness for people who genuinely desire an authentic, intimate connection with others because even when they have people near them, they have a sense of being alone because they are the rare creature not functioning from the image while many people around them are. Those that are most vulnerable to experiencing loneliness are the sensitive individuals who truly thrive on connection with others. These sweet individuals are often those who are the ones interested in taking care of others. If they withdraw due to loneliness, there is often a void in their social circle, difficult to fill because of their unique contribution. The irony is that the sensitive individual who withdraws due to loneliness often does it because they feel undervalued for their contribution to others.
  • The lack of sense of self. A third element that creates loneliness is that people have not been taught to value themselves and to rely upon themselves. In our current world, for both adults and children, many people are more interested in what others think about them than they are in what they think about themselves. This “other” focus creates a disturbing result when one is not able to be with those who validate them and whom they rely upon for support.

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

1. Contribute to someone else.

Engage in a conversation with someone that is feeling isolated. Let them know they are not alone. Talk to them, ask them questions such as, “What is going on? How are you? Are you okay? What can I contribute to you?” Let them know you’re there and will listen with a non-judgmental ear.

This one apparently-small act can change your life and theirs. This loneliness epidemic is not just occurring because we are not connecting with others. It is occurring because we are not receiving the joy of CONTRIBUTING TO OTHERS.

I suggest finding one small way to contribute to someone EVERY DAY. You’ll be surprised at how much it lightens your world when you see how much it brightens theirs.

2. Get Engaged (No, I did NOT say to put a ring on someone’s finger!;).

One of the great gifts of our current world is the ability to interact online with others of like interests.

My suggestion is to think of something you like doing and go online and find a group of people that do that. Just do a search on that topic, and many resources will usually show up. Visit a forum and read the posts or peruse the comments on a YouTube video and just be a looky-loo for a while. You don’t even have to post anything. But you can.

If you have a more extroverted moment, you could join an online forum and interact with people there. The important thing is to recognize that you’re not alone, even in your love for hairless cats that meow show tunes!

This way of engaging also applies to events you could attend in your local area. There are so many meetups happening, even now. Just search your topic area and then add your city…voila!

3. Stop the Judgment.

We spend so much time judging ourselves and our bodies, and we are so used to believing that we are wrong. Would you be willing to let that go? Would you be willing to consider that you’re not nearly as messed up as you’ve decided you are?

Try asking this question every day. “What is right about me that I’m not getting?

And just see what shows up.

4. Ask Questions.

One of the things that will introduce more possibilities into your life is something as simple as asking questions. Asking questions can help us undo the conclusions and judgments we carry with us.

The idea of asking a question in this way is not to look for an answer but to ask a question that opens up a different possibility — the question gets you out of the conclusion you are stuck in.

Most of us suffer from answers and conclusions since they don’t allow anything else to show up except for that exact conclusion or the “right” answer we’ve decided upon. Questions can be the antidote; they can open a new door — a new world!

Example of questions you can ask every day.

  • What else is possible I’ve never considered?
  • What is right about me I’m not getting?
  • What can I be or do differently to change this?

Maybe watch this TV segment on beating the holiday’s blues and some questions to ask?

5. Never Give Up, Never Give In, Never Quit.

Please, Never Give Up, Never Give In, and Never Quit. You are too valuable to the world. If there’s one thing I know: it is often darkest before the dawn of great change.

Twenty-one years ago, I made the choice to live instead of die, and it was one of the greatest choices I have ever made! Every time something in my life gets hard, I remind myself to take two more steps and what always shows up is an opening for another possibility that always makes things greater.

What if what is going on in the world right now is the same? What if it is the change many of us have been asking for, showing up in a way far different than we imagined? Would you be willing to take two more steps and find out?

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

I would like for every individual on the planet to recognize the gift they are. To truly get the gift it is when they choose to be them with their unique quirkiness, kindness, difference, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and sense of caring for themselves and others in the world. It’s what our world requires.

I would like for everyone in the world to know that they do not have to hide who they are or try to fit into what others want them to be. If we had a world of people genuinely being themselves and valuing themselves, the loneliness epidemic would change dynamically.

What our world requires now is the difference of each of us being able to shine unabashedly. If we choose to be what we truly are, we can come together to create unique solutions to the world’s problems. Even more than that, we, together, can create amazing possibilities that allow us to supersede our problems and create a world where kindness, ease, joy, connection, and possibilities reign.

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

Two actually! Hugh Jackman and Richard Branson.

In a world where so many people are concerned about their image, these two are true gentlemen. They have the fame and the money so many have sold their souls for, but they haven’t given up themselves for anyone’s point of view. I admire them both immensely.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit my website! www.drdainheer.com and follow me on Facebook and Instagram. If anything in this article inspired you or sparked a question, please come online and let me know.

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


Dr Dain Heer Of Access Consciousness: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Humza Khan of HealthIV On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Teaching individuals how to care for themselves and their loved ones. I’ve learned medicine is rooted in patience, empathy, and a desire to see a system that keeps up.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Humza Khan.

Humza Khan is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of HealthIV. Khan is a multi-sector entrepreneur with a strategic focus in healthcare, digital technology, and international trade. With the launch of HealthIV, Khan aims to create unprecedented interoperability in healthcare for patients, physicians, pharmacists, and home care workers.

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 career path?

I started off by being the sole translator/organizer of my parents’ health from early on. I am a first-generation child; therefore, a lot of responsibility was placed on me at a young age regarding choices for my family’s health. Being a medical proxy exposed me to the wirings of healthcare that are still commonplace today. My background was always in the digitization of modern practices, I’m a bit tech savvy so I believe we are entering a new era of virtualizing everything around us and I always gravitated towards things I can easily access. My mission is to enable custom-tailored, proactive, informed, fully guided healthcare that allows patients to guide their own health.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

My focus is on creating experiences with the user at the center, enabling high satisfaction, measurable health outcomes, and more cost-effective care from A to Z for the healthcare journey. Patients no longer need to wait around to get the care they want when sudden illness arises. Instead, medical attention and diagnostics can be provided in the comfort of your own home with a few simple clicks online.

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

In our first year launching, our first event was at a very popular music festival held annually. We had a long list of volunteers and workers who wanted to make it, and so we allowed most eager volunteers to join. When we arrived for our first day of services we found out the legality of it wouldn’t allow volunteers or workers from outside of the state to practice using their licensure. We were out of commission for the weekend. It taught me to ensure all laws and regulations are met before any statewide projects as well as narrowing down the list of candidates to those who are qualified. We had a better outcome the following year and were a lot more prepared, and I am glad we learned early on exactly how to approach such circumstances.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

The cofounder of my company is actually my sister, Aysha, and she is the one I always looked up to — be it grades in school, extra-curricular competitions, or even in general etiquettes. She would set the bar so high in everything she devoted herself to that I always ended up beating myself up over it. But even after all those polarities, there were some hard-to-miss likenesses. One of which was genuinely cultured care for the disease dreaded. From childhood my sister and I both had known the pain of losing our loved ones and we never felt that the treatment given to them was just, or quite enough. Having someone who shares the same vision as you gives some familiarity in a new and unfamiliar road. She manages day-to-day operations and oversees/consults on all medical development.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting an industry is positive if the industry refuses to keep up with the changing world. In the example of modern healthcare, the patient experience of diagnosis can be slow, costly, and inefficient, providing results that can be difficult to understand and interpret. The process begins with first scheduling an in-person appointment with a healthcare professional, after which includes travel to a separate testing facility. The sample is then couriered to a lab, during which time the patient may be subject to long wait times and left unaware of the quality or status of the sample. Several days later a result is provided through old technology that is difficult to interpret and understand. While this process is unfolding, the patient’s underlying condition is not being addressed or contained, with the healthcare provider unable to identify the optimal treatment path required. We believe this system results in underutilization of testing, healthcare professionals having to prescribe treatments without diagnostic context and a disconnected user experience that leads to suboptimal outcomes and hefty medical bills. When systems are put in place and are afraid of adapting it’s time to begin to ask why.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

‘There can always come about change.’ In November, I worked with the Together We Can Foundation to provide medical attention and care to schools being built in Arusha, Tanzania. Mornings would start with setting up the doors to open by 10am as the line began to form from 7am. I have no background in medicine, but I was able to direct patients, listen to chief complaints and provide with the limited resources we had. My group taught mothers how to care for wounds on a child, how to aid with a fever. We educated children on the signs of edema, colitis, liver failure, bacterial infections, and parasitic worms; diseases most rampant in the community. As a single person you feel almost helpless, but it is a slow progress. I cannot tear the foundation of the healthcare disparity that takes place around the world, but what we did as a group was slowly begin to bring about the change of sustainability. Teaching individuals how to care for themselves and their loved ones. I’ve learned medicine is rooted in patience, empathy, and a desire to see a system that keeps up.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We are developing solutions to broaden diagnostic use cases for our platform. Our planned care offerings include tests in the categories of respiratory health, sexual health, cardiac and metabolic health, women’s health, men’s health, mental health, and chronic disease management.

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?

I recently finished the book ‘How to Lead in a World of Distraction’ and I enjoyed how they broke it down, tuning out unnecessary distractions into four habits I can incorporate daily. I tend to get bogged down by minute tasks and overwhelmed easily and the greatest feeling comes from embracing challenges and exceeding my own expectations. I remember the first time I got my own apartment and had to work alone in a new and empty home and how hollow I felt. I should have been proud of the blood, sweat and tears that went into achieving this very moment, but I somehow felt alone taking on more than I could handle. But I constantly look to develop myself to become the best I can be; I just have to remember to sit with myself and actually allow myself to feel every milestone. There are a myriad of possibilities and resources available to young entrepreneurs today and I want to be a resource as well to positively impact those around me — my peers, organizations, and the greater community.

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

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” So, to say the least, I want to leave a legacy of not only success but a helping hand. I come from a family that left everything and traveled overseas for a better life and I live to make that journey worth it. I don’t want to be remembered as a young eager kid grasping at straws. I want to be the forefront picture of coming from meager beginnings to finding a purpose for change.

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

Access to medical care no matter the socioeconomic background or insurance status. A new era where the fear of crippling medical debt is archaic.

How can our readers follow you online?

Our website, Healthiv.com

And on Instagram @GohealthIV

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.


Meet The Disruptors: Humza Khan of HealthIV On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Daniel DeLeon Of Grumpy’s Restaurant: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Creatively show and share your brands Core Values, Mission & Vison across all Social Media Platforms, Company Websites and Business Listings.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to Interview Daniel DeLeon.

Daniel DeLeon, Grumpy’s Restaurant President and CEO, is an accomplished entrepreneur who has earned recognition as a mover and shaker in the industry, voted by Nation’s Restaurant News as one of the Most Influential Restaurant CEOs In The Country, recognized by FSR.com as one of its Rising Restaurant Stars 2021, and recognized by Nation’s Restaurant News’ Power List Reader Picks 2021. In addition, Grumpy’s has been awarded FSR Magazine’s Next-Gen Restaurant Brand 2021, TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award, and Jacksonville Business Journal’s Fast 50 Company 2021.

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

Thank you so much for having me. I grew up just a short drive from our original Grumpy’s Restaurant. When I saw that it was up for sale, I knew that it was the perfect opportunity to use my experience to further develop and perfect this home-style restaurant, build a brand and bring more families and friends together over great diner food. After having a successful career as a multi-unit franchisee for various restaurant concepts and large franchisor representative, I felt I had the knowledge and ability to develop Grumpy’s, establish a brand and launch Grumpy’s as a franchise opportunity.

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?

Looking back now, I’d say my funniest marketing mistake was when I had a Grumpy’s Restaurant Pop-up Tent made and the word “Restaurant” was misspelled on all four sides. To this day myself and the printer have no idea how we did not catch the misspelling. A great lesson in detailed artwork review was learned.

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

Grumpy’s Restaurant was born out of passion and our continuous commitment and mission are to deliver the highest quality dining experience at an affordable price for families everywhere. All while closing at 2:00PM, providing our employees the ultimate family, work and life balance. Over the past 21 years, Grumpy’s has experienced changes in staff and locations, but the commitment to excellent home-style cooking, attention to detail, sweet southern hospitality and serving a hungry-person’s portion at a working-class price, have not waivered. I believe our commitment to these key principles make our company stand out and keeps the customers coming back for more.

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic we created an Employee Relief Fund and I was recognized in the community for forgoing my salary so that my staff could continue to bring home a paycheck, despite dining rooms being closed in the state of Florida. We also organized a produce giveaway for residents who couldn’t afford groceries. Lastly, we launched a community campaign that allowed anyone to contribute and gift a meal to people on the frontlines of COVID-19, as well as people in need in the community. The dedication my team and I have for the local communities surrounding Grumpy’s is what makes us a consistent staple in the Jacksonville area and beyond. I believe our commitment to our neighbors, customers and team members are what also helps our company stand out.

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

Grumpy’s Restaurant growth! We have two locations opening in 2022 and possible two more. Each location will employee about 45 people.

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 (branding) is what you utilize to build and maintain your company’s image, or in other words, your company’s reputation. Band Marketing and Branding should describe a long-term, specific plan to continuously boost your brands public recognition and reputation. Whereas, Product Marketing (advertising), is used to develop one-off campaigns and specific strategies to promote a particular product or service.

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

In my opinion, it is important to invest in building your brand so that you can properly develop and build your business. Successful brand creation will help build brand awareness with consumers and guide your brands marketing and advertising campaigns, all the while keeping your brand consistent and relevant.

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. I believe the most important part of being a trusted and believable brand is to live your brands Core Values, Mission & Vison daily. For example, at Grumpy’s we will never waver on our commitment to excellent home-style cooking, attention-to-detail, sweet southern hospitality and serving a hungry-person’s portion at a working-class price.
  2. A consistently positive and honest Company Culture is another key to building a trusted and believable brand.
  3. Creatively show and share your brands Core Values, Mission & Vison across all Social Media Platforms, Company Websites and Business Listings.
  4. Let your existing customers be your brand ambassadors! Highlighting your existing customer feedback as validation will quickly help build your brands reputation.
  5. Be a participating and valued member of your brands community.

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

The first company that comes to my mind for building a beloved brand is Chick-fil-A. They have great Core Values and always stay true to them. “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chickfil-A.” It may sound simple, but to consistently live and demonstrate their Core Values takes great commitment. With that said, any brand that truly believes in their Core Values can execute them and ultimately build a believable and trustworthy brand.

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

Building a trusted and believable brand is very different than simply counting your sales. Although sales are a great measurable statistic, sales alone may not accurately correlate to your brand building overall success. To measure the success of your brand building campaign more accurately, I believe you should look at more factors such as: Consumer Feedback & Ratings, Consumer Traffic, Consumer Frequency, Sales Growth and Social Media Engagement.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social Media should be one of your brands tools to creatively market and advertise your brand, and also show your brands Core Values, Mission & Vison.

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

To thrive and avoid burnout, I find it is best to break down your brands goals into shorter stages. You may not be able to accomplish your goals in one day, one week or one month, but you will be surprised how much you can accomplish over a quarter and even year! Always celebrate your successes and keep in the back of your mind that small accomplishments add up to big wins!

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. 🙂

During the initial round of Covid, I created and launched: Grumpy’s Restaurant Give A Breakfast | Give A Lunch community campaign. The program was simple: Help Grumpy’s Help Others!

Customers could help others by contributing $10.00 to our Give A Breakfast | Give A Lunch community campaign. Each customer donation would purchase a breakfast or lunch meal. Grumpy’s would then deliver their contributions to people working on the front lines like doctors, nurses, and first responders as well as the less fortunate in our community. Grumpy’s would also match any customer donation! Additionally, customers had the option to personalize a Thank You Card that we would deliver with their meal.

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

“Give Everything, To Everything.” — Inky Johnson.

In my life, both professionally and personally, I try give everything to everything.

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. 🙂

Inky Johnson!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

IG: GrumpysRestaurant

Facebook: Facebook.com/GrumpysRestaurantCo

Website: www.GrumpysRestaurantCo.com

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


Daniel DeLeon Of Grumpy’s Restaurant: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Arvind Baliga Of QMocha On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Arvind Baliga Of QMocha On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Do something you truly enjoy doing. I started my career in Engineering simply as a way of avoiding a career in Medicine which seemed to be the only two choices when I graduated from high school in India. I may today be a doctor if not for a random coincidence. I was admitted to a medical school in India and while heading to the interview it was cancelled because someone filed a suit and the courts stayed admissions for a week. I never went back and then joined an Engineering program at a leading school in Mumbai. Ironically it took me years to understand that I did not want a career in Engineering either.

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

ARVIND BALIGA is CEO and founder of QMocha. With a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering he started his career designing semiconductor lasers launching a career as a technology executive. In 2013 he co-founded a smart home startup where he developed a Shopify store acquiring customers via Facebook Ads and discovered that subtle changes in imagery can drive dramatic improvements in ad and store performance. These insights now power QMocha’s AI which helps eCommerce stores transform their social media and store imagery to better engage their customers and drive sales.

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

I actually changed careers from technology to marketing through an unintended sequence of events. For most of my career I was developing lasers and LEDs for telecom and lighting applications. I was successful in my career eventually becoming VP of Engineering for a company that designed super bright LEDs that were used by Samsung, LG and Philips among others. I always had the urge to start a company so I quit this career to cofound my first startup BeON Home. We invented LED security bulbs that made your home look lived in when you were away. I ended up with the responsibility of running the Shopify store as well as the Facebook ads. I found that I really enjoyed the combination of creativity and technology in eCommerce and digital marketing. This is what led to my current career in eCommerce marketing and visual design.

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

Yes, I had a literal lightbulb moment at BeON Home. When we were running Facebook Ads we found that some ads performed way better than others. Surprisingly, what was different about them was just the backdrop. The best performing image was one where the light bulbs were placed on a granite countertop. It was amazing that the same product would get such different audience engagement when placed on different surfaces and backdrops.

We realized that backdrops tell a story and that our customers were not just buying the product but their experience when the product solves a problem for them. This insight led to the founding of QMocha and is now available as a Shopify App.

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

QMocha is working at the intersection of technology and creativity. Our vision is to develop breakthroughs that help creators, artists and photographers integrate their creative output seamlessly into retail imagery. Many stores use dull, plain backdrops for their products that are just not right for today’s world where we see such wonderful creativity on Instagram and Tiktok.

QMocha’s technologies will help liven up eCommerce imagery by enabling creatives to integrate with eCommerce imagery in ways that were never before possible.

How do you think this might change the world?

We want to create a win-win-win situation for retailers, creatives and shoppers. Retailers will be able to run new inspiring campaigns using imagery that is dynamically integrated with output from creatives. Creatives will see an expanded marketplace for their creative output and new opportunities to earn a living while following their passions. Shoppers will enjoy engaging with entertaining and inspiring content that resonates with them rather than the dull shopping experience that many often encounter today.

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

Millenia before the Black Mirror, in the Bronze age, metallurgy was used to improve daily life with tools, pottery, creativity with carvings and castings but also to make swords and weapons. There is nothing inherently right or wrong about technology, but we always have to be thoughtful about misuse and unintended consequences. For AI imagery and the metaverse, there is always the concern that images can be used to mislead. In our case, we have narrowly deployed our technology in an eCommerce context and it is not really available to use outside that. So it is designed to work really well for all eCommerce products but not for just any image.

We use machine learning and AI in two ways — to help creatives collaborate better with eCommerce and to help those without specialized training produce high quality creative output. We want to make sure that the technology safeguards the rights of the creators and that our users are always careful to only use imagery that they have the rights to use.

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

Yes, once we realized the power of backdrops to tell a story, we were still not sure that we could produce images that would meet the very high standards of retail and fashion. We were introduced to the owner of a boutique store in the area who was generous enough to work with us while we were at such an early stage. She provided us backdrops that would work well with her brand and we started understanding all of the subtleties that go into making those choices. The quality of the images from our collaboration were just spectacular and that really was the tipping point that convinced us that our approach was feasible.

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

With our technology users can accomplish in a few clicks what might otherwise take hours or days. This enables new possibilities for marketing campaigns. However, since this has simply not been done before, we need to demonstrate the product to new customers so they can see the possibilities. We are also learning about the business processes at our retail partners so we can design the technology to fit into how they currently do business. We also know that we have to solve pain points that matter to them today while communicating the new opportunities created by our technology. As they get familiar with the technology, they will then begin to use the broad creative possibilities that our platform unlocks both for them and for creators.

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

We have had the opportunity to share our story in several leading publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, Daily Front Row, Entrepreneur.com. We are proud to have worked on the #StopHate campaign with Boy Meets Girl USA, an athleisure cause driven brand that used QMocha to help 7 activists communicate their response to hate using color and texture.

We also partnered with Caravan Social Club to run an innovative comarketing campaign where six retailers and six fashion models collaborated on a photoshoot in Brooklyn. We then transported the creatives to their favorite destinations around the world (virtually and therefore safely in these challenging times!). We also were able to match the same model images to backdrops that were brand approved.

We will soon be running contests where creators and retailers can collaborate to produce inspiring content. Look for them to be showcased on the QMocha website — there are some fun campaigns coming up. We also have virtual events planned at Fashion Week and other venues.

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?

As an engineer, I used to pride myself on being dispassionate and objective when solving problems and leading teams. At one point in my career I was leading an important project for a major telecom customer. In a key meeting with my project team which my boss was attending, he repeatedly provoked me but I worked hard not to lose my temper.

After the meeting I went to his office, closed the door and told him that he almost made me lose my temper. He said “Great! I was trying to make you lose your temper. You need to pay more attention to emotions when you lead people and showing some passion is not a bad thing.” It was an important lesson for me that I have taken to heart since. Emotions do matter and I am glad my boss helped me with that insight. I have become more open and aware about my and other people’s emotional needs since.

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

I was successful as an engineer rising to become VP of Engineering of a LED company. However I felt like my contributions were relatively narrow and only understandable to engineers that used our products in TVs, projectors and entertainment lighting. But along the way, I learned about color and light and perception. My technical knowledge is now helping develop new creative and commercial possibilities. At QMocha, we are hoping that this creates new earning possibilities for artists, creators and photographers to participate in the growing world of eCommerce.

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

  1. Do something you truly enjoy doing.

I started my career in Engineering simply as a way of avoiding a career in Medicine which seemed to be the only two choices when I graduated from high school in India. I may today be a doctor if not for a random coincidence. I was admitted to a medical school in India and while heading to the interview it was cancelled because someone filed a suit and the courts stayed admissions for a week. I never went back and then joined an Engineering program at a leading school in Mumbai. Ironically it took me years to understand that I did not want a career in Engineering either.

2. Don’t wait till tomorrow.

This is definitely easier said than done. I always wanted to start my own company but there always seemed to be a reason not to do it at the time. There may never be a time that is exactly right. The first time I had the opportunity was during the fading days of the telecom boom. I was at Nortel Networks at the time and our site was being shut down. I could have joined a couple of startups with my friends or started one on my own. I had a young family at the time and hesitated. It was another decade before I had my next opportunity.

3. It takes both inspiration and perseverance.

We all hear narratives that make it appear that there was a singular moment of inspiration that led to dramatic success. We all know that is a fantasy but it is an appealing fantasy. The truth is that it is a long journey and while the moments of inspiration do matter, it is persevering on the journey that matters the most. At the very first company I worked at, my team was working on improving the current generation of lasers and there was a second team that was working on a completely new technology. Our team persevered, steadily producing 10 to 20% compounding improvements in brightness — the new technology was never able to catch up to us.

4. Walk towards your difficulties.

We all avoid doing things that make us uncomfortable. I once listened to a meditation which asked — what if you walked towards your difficulties instead of away from them. Embrace how you feel and be curious about what might happen when you do that. It is a lovely metaphor and I now use curiosity as the fuel and motivation to embrace my challenges.

5. Value the process and not just the outcomes.

This is consistent with the themes of perseverance and embracing challenges. Being mindful and focusing on the process maximizes the possibility of good outcomes. We hold ourselves to high standards at QMocha. Our product works for all eCommerce products but is especially effective for fashion retailers. Fashion retailers have very high standards for their imagery and the only way to achieve them is to have an extraordinary focus on detail. We obsess about every subtlety when it comes to imagery. We use the power of machine learning to meet the high standards set by creatives. This process is essential to delivering a quality outcome.

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

At a time when we are flooded with information about the world around us, we are surprisingly ignorant about the workings of our own mind. I think one of the root causes of polarization is a lack of awareness of our own responses to external triggers and a lack of openness to new ideas. Despite my own initial skepticism, I have found that meditation and mindfulness are powerful tools that can help us become more aware of what triggers us and build intellectual curiosity.

I see many wonderful meditation apps these days that are building awareness of these techniques but think even more could be done. I truly believe that this could be an antidote to the poison of polarization.

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 is by the author James Sherman. He said “You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.”. I started my career doing something very different — working with quantum mechanics and designing lasers and LEDs. While I enjoyed the intellectual challenges and the complexities of developing new products, I was looking for something that balanced technology with creativity. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do just that today leveraging my analytical side to help unlock creative possibilities

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 🙂

QMocha AI brings the photoshoot location to the product catalog, when stores cannot get their product to the location.

QMocha has unlocked a $3B+ TAM opportunity targeting growing eCommerce stores that cannot afford the cost and logistics of editorial photography but know that retail imagery has to be Instagram ready to convert sales. The QMocha Shopify app seamlessly connects the store’s existing studio product photography to millions of backdrops from Getty Images™and creators with an AI powered no-code, no-editing platform.

QMocha AI dynamically restyles an entire store in a few clicks which would otherwise take hours or days with photoshoots or traditional editing solutions. With innovative technology that merges machine learning and creativity, QMocha’s analytics power marketing campaigns transforming how retailers deploy imagery to engage customers.

When you tag your VC friends, be sure to tell them to ask about our super cool demo 🙂 Seeing is believing!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn and on our Instagram page. We will be sharing our journey as we launch our product for Shopify retailers

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


The Future Is Now: Arvind Baliga Of QMocha 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.

Scott Walker Of Screenmobile: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

Scott Walker Of Screenmobile: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Trust your team — Allow them to do their job, but make sure you’re available as a resource for guidance.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Walker.

Scott Walker is the President and CEO of Screenmobile, the nationwide leader in screen doors, windows, porches, and screen repair and installation. Operating since 1980, Screenmobile is the world’s first network of mobile screen professionals, with more than 100 franchise locations currently open across the United States. Scott has led the Screenmobile Corporation since 1999. Prior to that, Scott served as the Vice President and spent 18 years as a service technician, support manager, and operations manager.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?

Absolutely! I actually got my start in the industry by working with a home improvement franchise that offered handyman services. My father, brother and I were all involved in the company, and it served as a great learning experience that has helped to lay the groundwork for how we run our company today. We soon realized that a good franchisor needs to have certain leadership qualities and characteristics and found that we didn’t quite align with this company. As a result, we decided to start our own mobile screening company in 1980 out of our garage in Glendora, California. Screenmobile began as a converted tent trailer that became the first mobile manufacturing unit for screens. This business model allowed us to conveniently measure, manufacture and install our products on-site. By 1984, the demand for Screenmobile had become so great that we decided to branch out into franchising. Today, our company has been established as the leader in the screening business and continues to grow to new territories across the United States.

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

Early on in my career, I was outside working on a screening project and all of a sudden, a guy pulled up with a beat-up truck and messy hair and clothes, looking to get a screen done on his property. I reluctantly agreed, assuming based on his appearance, that he wouldn’t be able to afford the work that I do. This was a huge mistake, and a classic don’t judge a book by its cover moment, because he then had me follow him to his home, where he proceeded to pull up to a gated country club. His house was a lavish property, with an 8-car garage filled with luxury cars, and a huge patio that needed to be screened in. The biggest take away I learned from that experience was to never assume what your clientele are willing to invest in, especially when it’s for excellent service and quality craftsmanship from a Screenmobile professional.

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 owe my business partners, my dad and brother, an immense amount of gratitude for the work they’ve put in to help Screenmobile grow to what it’s become today. We all have a really strong working relationship, and we rely on each other to grow and build together, trusting each other every step of the way. We all came from different backgrounds — my dad had years of business experience while my brother had lots of home service and maintenance experience. These combined areas of expertise helped us develop a great mentoring module to lean into as we grew the business together. I have 40 years’ worth of stories, but we did learn early on that when you have a family business, there’s a time for business and there’s a time for family. We learned to be very cautious of co-mingling those throughout our early years.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When Screenmobile launched its franchising division in 1984, our goal was to provide people with an opportunity to build wealth by using our system and then change their lives as a result. We envisioned Screenmobile locations from coast to coast, with all of our Screenmobile professionals committed to providing exceptional quality and convenient service that homeowners can depend on.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

At the start of the pandemic, we got our system together via Zoom and we made sure to honestly and openly communicate our game plan for the year. We looked back to history, like the economic downturn of 2008, and made plans accordingly. We advised our teams to be mindful of their cash, be cautious of investing too much in a growing plan given these uncertain times, obey local ordinances, and overall tried to give reassurance to the team that Screenmobile was prepared for an economic downturn should it come and had our franchisees’ backs. Despite the pandemic’s challenges, our business actually boomed in 2020 as more people were working from home and had time to focus on renovations. This helped our team not feel the pandemic as much financially and feel stable working alongside Screenmobile.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

No, we never considered giving up. That wasn’t even an option in our minds. Thankfully, all of our franchisees were on board and all-in throughout those early pandemic days. We were all facing the same challenges, so our motivation was supporting our Screenmobile team members. We wanted to skillfully guide our franchisees to make good decisions and help them navigate building a business rather than building a job. Our drive is sustained by our desire to continuously uplift our team, keeping in mind that the decisions we make also affect their families. So, we pride ourselves on providing guidance and coaching through regional meetings and virtual conventions, for example, to remain in close contact with our franchisees.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader is to have the patience and foresight to make good decisions for the long term. It boils down to your leadership style, but I believe taking time to think on decisions, strategizing conservatively, and prioritizing your team’s best interests, go a long way when leading your team through challenging times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

When the future seems uncertain, I think it’s best to shut off outside distractions and influences and make sure you focus on just doing business. Of course there are concerning aspects in these trying times, but it’s best not to overwhelm yourself with negativity. In our particular industry, we have to remind ourselves that everyone is going through it and to be grateful of where we are at today. We always make sure to reassure our team and internally we always try to approach our staff meetings with these three questions — what are our franchisees working on, what do they need help with, and what do others need to know? This helps us foster an environment of open communication and trust and keeps us tight within our network of professionals across the country.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

It’s best to approach difficult situations with love and integrity. I’m very big on being straightforward. Even though the truth can be uncomfortable, I don’t believe in massaging or manipulating it. People always recognize and appreciate when someone is open and honest with them.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Our company used to do our planning a year in advance, but in these times, we’re finding that six months is about as far as you can plan right now due to how fast things are changing. We believe in moving one step at a time to keep yourself agile amidst all the change.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Integrity from the top down — we believe in walking the walk and talking the talk. If you are the same person no matter where you’re at, whether it’s with family or at work, then that integrity will shine through. We pride ourselves on this as it helps our franchisees instill trust in us. We gave them our Screenmobile baby to generate wealth for themselves and they trust our vision, and together we bring our investment to new heights.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

I find that some businesses are not mindful of their cash flow and don’t have good accounting practices which is crucial. Business owners also need to assess all situations logically and strategically to continue furthering their brand. They should always keep an eye out for trends and opportunities. Good communication internally and externally is also incredibly important. Making sure that everyone is doing a good job and is on the same page allows for the team as a whole to prosper.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Part of our strategy is to make sure we are in good communication with our vendor teams. We ensure that our vendors are operating profitably and make sure that our team members are financially stable. We want to be sure that all parties are mindful of their debt and are focused on growth. We remind our teams to look at what’s affecting the economy and our industry and plan accordingly. It’s also important to not overreact to personalities in the business world, and instead assess whether this is an industry decision or a personality reaction. We make sure to analyze data to decipher trends and most importantly picking the right partners and franchisees will help you keep forging ahead.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Trust your team — Allow them to do their job, but make sure you’re available as a resource for guidance.
  • Listen to your CFO — Communicate efficiently internally and talk to business partners to ensure your finances are stable.
  • Make sure your franchisees are “healthy” — Franchisees are often measured by sales dollars, but this doesn’t reflect on their “health” as an individual. By that, I mean are they taking time to spend time with their family, are they paying their employees enough, etc. Always check in with your teams and make sure they are not just surviving but thriving.
  • Look for trends and opportunities — Don’t get comfortable, but instead always look ahead to what’s happening in the industry to stay ahead of the game.
  • Lead with integrity — Know your values and what is expected of you as a leader and serve as an example and a mentor to your colleagues. This helps to build lasting trust amongst your teams and leads to greater organizational effectiveness.

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

“You don’t build a business, you build people, then people build the business.” This embodies exactly how we run our business and what keeps us thriving.

How can our readers further follow your work?

They can visit our website at https://www.screenmobile.com to learn more about our services, take a look at our blog for industry-related insight, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Scott Walker Of Screenmobile: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Alex Willen Of Cooper’s Treats On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Take it one thing at a time. As an entrepreneur, you have to multitask, but I’ve had the most success when I’ve tackled one big project at a time.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Willen.

Alex Willen is the founder of Cooper’s Treats, a premium dog treat business he launched at the height of the pandemic. He left a decade-long career working as a Product Manager at enterprise software companies in Silicon Valley to start a business focused on his one true passion — dogs. Alex lives in San Diego, CA with his wife Maggie and their dogs, Cooper and Maple.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, and I’ve been a Californian my whole life — I moved north to attend Stanford for college, lived in San Francisco for several years and have now come back south to San Diego. I was always thought of as the smart kid when I was young, and I leaned into that. Lots of reading, computer games and the like. We never had dogs at my house, but my aunt and uncle always had two Golden Retrievers that I absolutely loved.

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

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” -Bill Gates

It can’t be said enough — learning from your failures is everything. Entrepreneurship is failure after failure after failure, but if you look at them as lessons instead of failures, it’s a whole lot more palatable. I’ve failed more times than I can count since I started this business (and it hasn’t been that long), but each failure helped me to understand the business better and improve fundamental parts of it that will outlast my memory of the failures.

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

I’m a huge fan of Odd Lots, a Bloomberg podcast by Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal. It started as a nerdy economics podcast, but through the pandemic they’ve really focused on the global logistics industry and how it’s been disrupted. They’ve interviewed owners of trucking companies, the head of the port of LA, and a host of other people who are deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the logistics industry. As someone who started an ecommerce company right as major disruptions started, I really appreciate how educational it’s been about the inner workings of an industry that affects everyone, but especially small business owners.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

This was the single biggest obstacle for me when it came to starting a business. I had ideas, but none of them were good enough. I spent a decade working in Silicon Valley at startups, so I was watching many of my peers go and start their own companies. Somehow it just seemed like there was something different between them and me.

Ultimately, I started a business by joining a franchise. The idea of using an established system helped relieve the fears that my business idea wouldn’t work. That ultimately didn’t end up working out (I was just about to start construction in March of 2020… poor timing to say the least), but just going through the process of starting the business helped me to come to a realization that starting a business isn’t about having a perfect idea — it’s just about actually taking the first step, and the second, and so on, until you’ve started a business. If you don’t know what to do, just do something — anything that gets you moving in the right direction is a good start.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Before you start researching whether someone has thought of your idea before, ask yourself: “who cares?” Seriously — think about all the businesses that have started by people who weren’t the first to have an idea. There’s probably more than one burger joint in your town; that means someone decided to open a burger joint even though it was clear that someone else had already had the idea (and executed it). There are plenty of car companies — Soichiro Honda didn’t think about starting a car company, realize Toyota already existed, and then give up. Things still turned out okay for him.

Having a unique idea isn’t a requirement for success in business. If you can take an existing idea and do it better, that’s plenty. There are endless ways to do it better — you can add features that improve a product, you can have more efficient operations that allow you to have lower costs, you can have better customer service, you can target a new market or you can just be better at selling to customers. Instead of fixating on a unique idea, figure out what your strengths are and figure out how you can apply those to whatever business you start in a way that gives you an advantage over your competition.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

In my case, I started as simple and small scale as I could. My first product was a mix that’s used to make frozen dog treats at home — it’s a powder you mix with water, and it only contains a few ingredients. That meant that I could make it in my kitchen in small batches.

In terms of specifics, there were a few things that had to happen before I sent it to customers. First, I developed the recipe — this was just researching ingredients that are good for dogs, ordering them off of Amazon, combining them and giving the results to my dog to taste test. I also kept some spreadsheets of what the treats would cost with the different ingredients, but frankly I was more focused on giving my dog treats than doing the math at that point.

Once I’d settled on two flavors, I had a logo as well as packaging designed. To make that happen, I ran a logo design contest on 99designs and then had the winner do my packaging as well. When that was ready, I had a small number of boxes and jar labels printed.

At that point I had a product, so I needed a website. I put up a quick Shopify site, took some photos of my products (thank goodness for portrait mode), and we were off to the races. When the first order came in (it was from a friend of a friend), I packed it, printed a label and shipped it.

When it came time to scale up, I found a manufacturer by Googling, making a spreadsheet of anyone who looked like they might work, and calling all of them. Out of dozens of possibilities, I found two that were willing to work with me. I asked a whole lot of questions, picked the one that felt like a better fit and had my first production run made. My only recommendation here is to start with the ones that seem less likely to be a good fit — that way you can ask all the dumb questions and get a basic understanding of the jargon from your early conversations.

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.)

  1. Think through the plan just a little bit more. I tend towards just trying things and figuring them out along the way, but there were certainly issues that I could have foreseen if I’d put a little more thought into them up front. The best example of this is shipping costs — I really did not think much about how much it would cost to ship my products, and I eventually realized that I could save a lot of money by shrinking my best-selling product down a few ounces to get it under a pound, which saves about 40% on shipping costs. If I had done a bit more research, I could’ve figured that out without wasting time and money doing it the wrong way.
  2. Just because things work now, don’t assume they’ll stay that way. I was having excellent success with Facebook ads until the iOS update that everyone familiar with digital advertising will be familiar with. Apple made a change that was totally out of my control, and suddenly my cost of acquiring new customers shot way up. I had been building my plans on the assumption that things would continue as they were, so that really threw a wrench in things.
  3. Prepare for crazy customers. Thankfully most of my customers are amazing, but I’ve had a few get very upset with me because the instructions for my frozen dog treats didn’t mention that they had to be stored in the freezer or they’d melt.
  4. Take it one thing at a time. As an entrepreneur, you have to multitask, but I’ve had the most success when I’ve tackled one big project at a time.
  5. Make sure your partner’s on board. Thankfully, my wife has been endlessly supportive, but our garage and our extra room are currently stacked to the ceiling with boxes of extra inventory. I didn’t really prepare her for that before I got started, so I’m particularly thankful it hasn’t become an issue (and I certainly wouldn’t blame her for it if she told me to get everything out of the house).

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Make a prototype! I don’t care if it’s made of sticks, twine and gum and it looks like it was done by a second grader. Anything to get your idea in the world will help you refine it and begin to understand the challenges behind it.

After that, test it on your prospective customers. Luckily this was pretty easy for me — I had a willing tester of dog treats in the house — but no matter how complex your idea is, there’s some way you can communicate it to the people who you’d want to use it. Make a PowerPoint deck about it, draw up a diagram or just interview people. The earlier you start to get feedback, the more likely you are to avoid mistakes that will need to be corrected down the line.

Once you’ve got a decent feel for the product, do the basic financial analysis. Understand what it’ll cost you to make your product and operate your business. It doesn’t have to be perfect — the goal is just to make sure that you have a financially viable concept — but if there are any big questions you can’t answer, get those answered before you start investing lots of time and money.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I’ve hired a few agencies and consultants, and I regret each and every one. I’m now a firm believer that when you’re starting a business, you need to do everything yourself until you have a good handle on it. Once you’ve mastered something, you can bring someone in to help you execute and save you time, but you shouldn’t be bringing people in early to solve the problems that are core to your business.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I bootstrapped my business, and I recommend it if you’re able to do it. Either way, though, it’s a question worth thinking about early on. Do you want to raise capital, have investors and try to create a really big company, or would you rather start something smaller but self-sufficient and profitable. If the latter, then focus on ideas you can bootstrap. In my case, I was able to start the business with a limited amount of money because I could manufacture it myself in small batches. If I had needed $100,000 to do my first production run, I probably would’ve looked for another idea rather than try to go raise that money. That’s a personal preference, of course, but there are lots of folks who get suckered into the idea that the only way to start a business is with VC money — don’t be one of them.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

One thing I love about this business is that we can incorporate giving back into our marketing. Over the holidays, we launched a limited-edition holiday box with two special flavors of our Pupsicle Mix, and we gave 5% of the revenue from that to local shelters. The holiday box was a great success, and I look forward to doing it for a few more holidays this year, while giving back to a different rescue for each one.

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

It’s tough for me to answer a question like this about anything but climate change. Given that we’re in the process of destroying the only planet we have, there is nothing that would do more good than mitigating the damage we’ve done as much as humanly possible.

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have lunch with Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal from Odd Lots. They’re just total economics nerds and my kind of people.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Making Something From Nothing: Alex Willen Of Cooper’s Treats On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Friedhelm Weinberg Of HURIDOCS On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Friedhelm Weinberg Of HURIDOCS On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Make time to read and learn, even if you think you’re busy, it’s where the answers are. All good managers I ever had modeled this and I have seen that whenever I did not make enough time, that’s when I get stuck.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Friedhelm Weinberg.

Friedhelm Weinberg is the Executive Director of Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems (HURIDOCS), an NGO that supports organizations and individuals to gather, analyze and harness information to promote and protect human rights. Friedhelm has overseen HURIDOCS projects and partnerships around the globe as director since 2017, having first joined the organization in 2012. He is constantly exploring new solutions, approaches and collaborations.

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?

A combination of curiosity and chance led me here. Curiosity was a main driving force for me seeking out experiences in journalism, working at local newspapers, becoming the editor-in-chief of a youth magazine, and reporting from other countries. I was curious about people, their stories, and telling them. At the same time, I had started gaining experience working with nonprofits, in youth exchange and human rights education. Part of me was attracted much more to doing, rather than telling the stories of those doing.

By sheer chance, while visiting a friend in Armenia, I met someone who was working at HURIDOCS at the time, and I was immediately taken by the mission of the organization. I knew that that was what I wanted to be doing. By an even bigger chance shortly afterward an opportunity opened up to which my profile suited, and I jumped on it. Almost ten years later, I am still here and excited about what we do.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At HURIDOCS, we are committed to helping solve some of the trickiest challenges facing human rights defenders and we are using innovative technologies to do so.

Typically, NGOs collect and curate large bodies of human rights evidence, law, and research, with the goal of making these collections useful for advocates and human rights defenders. However, manually processing these documents can take several days, particularly when they’re published in unfamiliar languages or in PDF format which is difficult to search through.

HURIDOCS is making this process easier by leveraging the power of information and machine learning. In 2018, we were selected as a Google AI Impact Challenge grantee and received a $1M grant and a team of seven full-time Google.org Fellows, who supported us pro-bono for six months, to build new tools that automatically tag human rights documents so they are searchable. The result — making the curation process 13x faster (which now takes one week instead of three months).

In June of last year, HURIDOCS also won a CogX Award for our machine learning work, and we are continuing to explore what our machine learning models can do — from creating automatic tables of contents for documents to identifying references within text.

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

I was asked to make coffee for a high profile visitor, while I was working at Kreisau Initiative, a Berlin-based non-profit organization focused on youth exchange.

My problem? I did not drink coffee at the time and had only ever watched people making it from afar. I improvised and did my best. After this, my boss took me aside. She complimented the way I served and how that helped make the guest feel at ease. She then went on to say that, alas, the coffee was so weak, it was undrinkable.

It taught me the importance of asking for help, even when it could be embarrassing. I could have easily sought out one of the colleagues in the office that drank and made coffee regularly, and I should have, given the stakes. It also taught me a lot about giving feedback. I did not receive a telling-off, but an important life lesson.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

One was Agnieszka von Zanthier, who was the boss I just mentioned. The other is Klaus Prestele, who took over her role, as she transitioned to our sister foundation. They were so different and so complementary, which in itself was a lesson in what organisations gain from leaders with diverse backgrounds and experiences. From Agnieszka, I learned so much about the importance of relationships, bringing yourself to it, but meeting the other where they are. She modeled how important it was to understand people and to speak to them from your heart. From Klaus I learned about balance and organisation: He was a very present father of three, studied in the evenings, wrestled at the national level, so he could have never worked an 80 hour week. Instead, he used his time smartly and made sure that as an organisation we met our commitments, and did so on time. Trust in people, clear processes and loads of fun were some of the key ingredients for that.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Nothing is ever always good and that certainly goes for disruption. Social change takes a long time, it’s changing attitudes, behaviours and how they shape systems. We’re not going to have an app, a policy or a law cut this journey short — but we should rather see all of them as part of the journey. It’s important to value the people, the movements leading the change. People and relationships are the unseen fabric, and disrupting these woven webs can be absolutely terrible.

Disruption can be much more positive when it is enabling these people. For example, with the machine learning work we do at HURIDOCS, we are enabling highly trained and overstretched curators of information collections to do their work faster and with greater detail. It is building on their work to make critical human rights information accessible, and it is focusing on the tedious and overwhelming tasks that they never ever could have had time for.

We’re hoping this will disrupt how accessible information is, and that, in turn, enables a much more diverse movement to take action with this information: to follow up on recommendations a State has received at the United Nations to combat gender-based violence; to find precedent from an international court that allows an advocate to win their case at the national level; to strategize who your unusual allies can be when you want to bring an issue to international attention.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Make time to read and learn, even if you think you’re busy, it’s where the answers are. All good managers I ever had modeled this and I have seen that whenever I did not make enough time, that’s when I get stuck.

There is a physical dimension to thoughts and feelings. Working with a coach made me realize how tensions, fatigue and restlessness are very much physical sensations in the body, and opening up to that has had a powerful effect to deal with them.

Exchange with peers. When becoming the executive director of a non-profit, I did not quite expect how isolated one can be with challenges. Having circles of peers has been invaluable for confidential exchange with people who get it.

Focus not on what you’re trying to say, but what the other needs to hear. It’s really about understanding how to create a connection — whether that’s with the team, a potential partner or the board.

Dress to show respect. My former boss at HURIDOCS was one of the most casual managers, interviewing me in jeans and t-shirt. But he’d put on a shirt and tie for occasions where it mattered to others, even though he would always prefer sneakers and hoodies. Since I fall into camp hoodie and jeans as well, it impressed on me when to make it more about the other person than oneself.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’ve got great plans at HURIDOCS! We’re deeply convinced that information will be at the heart of a rights-respecting future. Truths will allow humanity to grow, learn and reckon with its past. Persuasion will lead to the realisation of rights of the vulnerable and marginalised. Accountability will deter abuse of power.

And that is why we’ll see how we can work with many more human rights groups across the globe. For this, we’re hoping to focus on exploring new technologies and equally crucially the infrastructure to allow all of us to use them, at scale and in a sustainable manner.

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?

“Evidence for Hope” by Kathryn Sikkink would be my non-fiction pick. It’s a compelling, well-researched book that makes a strong case on the incredible success the human rights movement has had, and how that’s rooted in its origin that is a lot more global than many would have thought. It resonated with me, because it grounds in research why we should be forward-looking and excited about the potential for positive change.

But to be honest, it has probably been novels that had the deepest impact on my thinking. I find they are best to open up my mind to nuance, perspective and surprise. There are many that have had that effect, but to name one it would be “Purge” by Sofi Oksanen as it covers so many aspects of oppression, liberty and the human condition.

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

“It is possible that there is no other memory than the memory of wounds. […] Memory thus is our force, it protects us against a speech entwining upon itself like the ivy when it does not find a support on a tree or a wall.” Czesław Miłosz

It speaks to the importance of remembering, and how it is a force in the present and to build a better future — without taking away the pain it is also linked to and how that endures. Miłosz expresses something that deeply resonates with me, growing up in a unifying Europe, but with the memory of the great crimes committed in the 20th century.

It also speaks to the work we do at HURIDOCS, supporting human rights organisations across the globe to preserve memory, to document abuses with the goal of achieving accountability and healing.

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

I am a big believer in personal exchange and learning languages as a way to broaden the way we see the world, how we appreciate perspectives and the beauty that lies in something that is different from ourselves. If we could learn more languages together, I am sure that would help a lot of people on their individual journeys, and us together as societies.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow HURIDOCS on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Feel free to also connect with me on LinkedIn.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Friedhelm Weinberg Of HURIDOCS On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Elizabeth TenHouten On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t expect others to be your cheerleader. Be your own cheerleader. You are the best person to give yourself a pep talk to. You are the one who had the idea in the first place, so you are the only one who can have the kind of faith you need to succeed;

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth TenHouten.

Elizabeth TenHouten, accomplished beauty expert and author of the beauty cookbook, Cooking Well: Beautiful Skin (Hatherleigh Press; 2009), and international bestseller, Natural Beauty: Homemade Recipes for Radiant Skin & Hair (Hatherleigh Press/Random House; June 25, 2013) is known for her distinctive approach and expansive knowledge of beauty, which she frequently brings to various outlets within the industry.

For five years, Elizabeth was the Editor-in-Chief of Celeb Life Magazine, served as Contributing Beauty Expert for DiscoverBeauty.com and ShareCare.com, and had a monthly column in Beverly Hills Times Magazine.

Elizabeth took her creativity and entrepreneurial spirit elsewhere and began a career in songwriting. As a songwriter, singer, and guitarist, she released her album, Broken in 2020. It is available on all musical platforms around the world. Her lyrics were inspired by her poems.

A poet all of her life, Elizabeth selected poems for her upcoming book, The Stars Fell Into the Ocean, from her vast collection of poems written over the past several years. She has been featured in the Dark Poets’ Society, and her poems have been featured on several poetic peers Instagram accounts. She writes with soul, and opens up her world for readers to observe, so they feel as though they have a glimpse into her heart.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

A native Californian, I grew up in Laurel Canyon, and was exposed to a creative culture from a young age. At age 10, my father introduced me to poets the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, e.e. Cummings, among others. I began reading poetry. It was incentivized by my father who would pay me a dollar for every line memorized, a dollar for literal interpretation, and a dollar for metaphorical interpretation. It became a way to teach me the value of a dollar and spend quality academic time with me, as well. Around that time, I began to write my own poetry! It was exciting for me to create my own ideas, seemingly out of nowhere, and put them down on paper. I had a new hobby. Writing poems.

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 is by Marcus Aurelius. “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This quote has meant a lot to me as a poet when trying to access that part of yourself that you will not surrender, the obstacle becomes the way, and it is only a matter of surrendering that one finds the emotion they were searching for.

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

Just Kids by Patti Smith is a book that impacted me. Parts of it took place in Laurel Canyon, where I grew up. It’s the story of how with the encouragement from Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith was able to find her voice as a poet. It also took me years before I took myself seriously as a poet and desired to put my work out there.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

When you want to give birth to your idea and put it out there in the world to stand on its own merits, that is exactly when it will happen and not sooner than that. What I mean is that you have to be prepared for all forms of criticism, negativity, etc., and trust that enough positivity and good reviews will come your way that you boldly launch your ideas into reality. Once you have held onto an idea for long enough, there is a sense of urgency with the timing, and you will want to get you idea out there for the world to benefit from.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

I would recommend simply doing online research through google to determine if your precious idea in fact exists. It may exist, but you may have a part that makes it unique, and that has not been thought of, so dig deep and do your due diligence.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

For a poetry book, one has to create a book proposal for a publisher. You will often find on the publishers’ website what needs to be included in the proposal for it to be considered complete. Each publisher is different, but one part that is a common denominator is the Critical Analysis. The Critical Analysis is where you read roughly 10 books, and for each provide 1. A synopsis; 2. Ways that it is similar to your book; 3. And a final paragraph of ways your book is different from it. This can take approximately 6 months in my experience, but it is rewarding when it is finished.

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.)

Five things I wish someone told me when I first began as a poet with ideas that landed on paper and launched into a book are the following:

  1. Do not write for anyone but yourself. In order to get to the truth of your emotions, you cannot be concerned with how others will perceive your work;
  2. Get a copyright on a work in progress. Don’t wait until your completed with your book to copyright it. As I wrote my book, several months went by where I had the majority of my poems completed, but there were still more pouring out of me, so I needed the protection of a copyright;
  3. It is going to take at least twice as long as you think it will. Everything from inception of what the poem is about and what range of emotions it will tap into, to writing what you feel, and then finding the proper placement among your other poems, to copyright, to printing to publication can take much longer than expected. So set your launch date “loosely” around a few month’s time;
  4. Don’t expect others to be your cheerleader. Be your own cheerleader. You are the best person to give yourself a pep talk to. You are the one who had the idea in the first place, so you are the only one who can have the kind of faith you need to succeed;
  5. Do not let obstacles stop you, rather let them show you the way. It is true that the only way out is through, so if you hit a road bump on your journey, keep pressing onward and you will prevail!

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Having also developed my own skincare line in the past, I can advise to seek the assistance of a copyright lawyer who can do a thorough search for you. That would be the first step to take so you know your idea is novel. Then, if it is a unique idea, for instance a collection of poems, immediately apply for a copyright from the government. Then, you are on your way!

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I would personally not want my thoughts and ideas to veer one way or another due to someone else’s input. I would want to keep my ideas pure, so my advice is not to hire a consultant for your invention.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

This is tricky. I say, if you believe in yourself and have the funds then go for it on your own! But if you are not in a position to get to the necessary steps for your idea to launch, then there is no shame in having others invest in your idea. You may need to share part of the company, but that is the price for moving forward, and you want to move forward.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Yes. I am philanthropic and support the arts. I am in the Director’s Circle of giving at the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and was Vice Chair at an FIDF (Friends of Israel Defense Forces) event. I care very much about our community and our world, and feel it is important to give back.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.

You know what?! I would have fun with this and invite schools to participate in creating one long poem that each student could contribute a line to. That way they express their creativity while being part of something bigger. It would be fun, and probably have the poem taken in a million different directions!

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

My idol is Patti Smith. Her lyrical books take you on a journey you feel a part of. She was awarded the National Book Award for Just Kids, my top 5 favorite books!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


Making Something From Nothing: Elizabeth TenHouten On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.