Agile Businesses: Mike Becker Of The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) On

Agile Businesses: Mike Becker Of The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies

Hire the right people. Build a team of people who are open to challenges, evolving the business, and taking it to the next level. If you surround yourself with people who understand that change is necessary, it will make it easier to adapt operations as you move forward. But make sure your team members also feel valued and have a voice. Encourage them to speak up and share their thoughts. They will guide the business, keep it on track while also taking it to the next level.

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

Mike is Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), one of the largest national trade organizations serving independent agents. He is a forward-thinking leader who embraces smart use of technology to drive business growth and operations. He has more than 14 years of insurance industry experience and has been at the helm of PIA since 2013. He leads the organization’s strategic initiatives, advocacy efforts, and insurance carrier relations as well as oversees all growth initiatives and program launches expanding the business.

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?

Like many people who end up in insurance, it wasn’t an area I had planned to go into originally. In fact, I knew very little about the industry at the beginning of my career. I got my degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University thinking I would pursue a career in politics. I’m a native Washingtonian, so Capitol Hill seemed like a natural choice. I was a staffer for former congressman, Nick Lampson of Texas and then left to work for congressional relations for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Then in 2007, I responded to a job ad from PIA seeking legislative help. I got the job and began representing the organization on Capitol Hill and led our legislative efforts. Then in 2013, I was promoted to executive vice president and CEO and have been in that role ever since. It was one of the best moves I’ve made.

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 business we often say it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. However, that’s not always the case.

When I first started with PIA, I had to learn about crop insurance. I was a city person and this was a major learning curve. I knew nothing about farming or crop growing and was headed to an educational meeting about an hour outside Wichita, Kansas. This was pure farm country and I was meeting a crop insurance agent who was going to show me the ropes. I was always taught to dress to impress. I showed up in dress shoes, slacks, a button down, and blazer.

I learned pretty quickly that’s not the best attire to wear as we spent the day climbing into a combine with a farmer who was harvesting crops.

What it taught me is to meet your customers where they’re comfortable and want to meet. This could mean having to change your own expectations of what to wear or what the interaction would entail. Also, it’s always ok to ask questions if you’re not sure what to expect at a meeting. If I had asked the crop insurance agent what we would be doing that day, my blue jeans would have prevailed.

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 very fortunate to receive guidance from a number of people along the way. I’ve worked with people both inside and outside the organization and industry who have helped me tremendously.

One name that springs to mind is Kellie Bray, my first supervisor at PIA. She helped guide me as I was first starting out in PIA and in insurance. During my first week in my new job in a new industry she came into my office and said the most important thing: when you have bad days, push your seat back from your desk, close your eyes and think of the people.

I keep that advice with me to this day. It’s the people who made me fall in love with insurance. The quality, the integrity, the compassion of our members and all those who make up our organization is at a level far superior to any other group of people I’ve ever interacted with.

This is true in most industries and jobs. It is the people — your customers, your colleagues — that make what you do meaningful. During those bad moments, thinking about them puts everything into perspective.

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 agree with this research 100% and PIA is living proof. In the last year, we just celebrated our 90th anniversary, and our values, mission, and vision today are as important as they were 90 years ago.

We have an enduring mission to advance the needs of our members and be a leading voice in the insurance industry. We achieve this success by focusing on our four pillars: Inform, Educate, Advocate, Protect.

At the core of our pillars, we provide important insurance information to agents and carriers, offer educational programs, advocate at both the state and national levels, and deliver products and services to help insurance professionals protect and grow their businesses.

Throughout the generations, we have never lost our commitment to our purpose, yet we’ve managed to evolve and adapt to keep up with the ever-changing business environment.

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?

PIA is one of the nation’s largest trade associations for independent insurance agents dedicated to serving professional independent insurance agents. We use our vast knowledge, resources, and expertise to advance the business interests of all PIA members including aggressively promoting, protecting and defending the diverse interests of professional independent insurance agents in the legislative, regulatory and public arenas. We advance the independent agent model among carriers as the preferred distribution system for insurance products.

Independent agents are the best distribution channel for insurance and are the best way for consumers to ensure they are protected and sleep well at night. To ensure the success of independent agents, PIA is the trusted source for factual and relevant information for our members, is the unquestionable leader in insurance education, the strongest advocate with state and federal legislators and regulators, and the best provider of tools and resources specifically designed for independent agencies.

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

Insurance has constantly been the focus for disruption and transformation. It all stems from the changing expectations of consumers. Today’s customers expect a more digital experience. They expect to be serviced immediately with on-demand access and 24/7 support.

But some independent agents do not have the most tech-forward businesses. Some operations still use dated and antiquated technologies to conduct business.

For consumers, there can be a real conundrum. Insurance customers want to work with agents. Insurance is so complicated and complex — and agents provide guidance and advice. Customers don’t want to risk not being protected and they want the agents’ expertise. But they also want an Amazon-like, on-demand buying experience where they can purchase a policy with a few simple clicks.

Technology companies are seeing the need and trying to fill the gap. The industry thought the main disruption would come from insurtechs that want to remove agents from the equation and sell products directly to consumers. But we have seen that most consumers still want agents. Now these insurtechs are actually turning to agents to help distribute their products.

The main disruption today is from the onslaught of technologies that are trying to improve the independent agent channel. Agents now are overwhelmed with technology choices, the impact on workflows, and how to convince team members to get onboard with change.

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

One of our goals is to educate agents. This is an area where we have a significant impact and help agents adapt to change. One of the biggest challenges is simply understanding what solutions are out there and which ones are the right fit for particular agent operations.

We began creating programs which introduced agents to different tools and connected them with vendors for additional research. We also created agency experience videos, including interviews with individual agents to show real-life examples of how tech can work.

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.

Change has been a long time coming for the insurance industry. Change is necessary to keep up with customer expectations — many in the industry are realizing this and beginning to make adjustments.

But what has really accelerated insurance’s digital transformation is COVID-19. When the pandemic began, all agents — whether they were embracing technology or not — were suddenly relying on a variety of digital solutions to work remotely and connect with customers virtually. If they weren’t using technology before COVID, there were no more choices post-pandemic.

At PIA, while our overall purpose didn’t change, our focus and the ways we delivered support shifted. We created a whole program centered around how agents can excel in a virtual work environment. We identified different types of solutions to help agents run successful virtual agencies and connected them to different technology solution providers.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

It’s exciting! The future opportunities are motivating us to continue to move forward. Consumer and business reliance on agents is getting stronger. Direct to consumer insurance companies aren’t overtaking the industry. Insurance isn’t something that can be bought off a shelf. Insurance is complex and buyers are at risk if they don’t get the right coverage. They want the guidance that agents provide. With new technology, agents are able to make the insurance purchasing transaction simpler and easier. That includes customer portals, instant quotes and e-signature. Using the technology, agents are still able to provide stellar one-on-one customer service addressing a customer’s unique needs.

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

PIA had a “teacher becomes the student” moment as a result of the pandemic. We were able to embrace this and really take our service to the next level.

We introduce agents to many new technologies. But since we work with agents — and not directly with consumers — we don’t always use all the solutions we’re talking about.

But as a result of the pandemic and needing to work remotely, much has changed as we implemented collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft teams and began to use Zoom more regularly.

Through Zoom, we were able to add another dimension to the programs and materials we were offering our agent members. It became even easier to record interviews, podcasts, and webinars with agents from across the country. We created a network of agent technology ambassadors: agents who successfully utilize different solutions in their agencies, sharing their experience with the tools and providing advice for other agents. These examples illustrate success with these solutions is not theoretical and can be achieved.

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

Navigator, encourager, strategist: there are a lot of critical roles to successfully lead during change. But one of the most important ones is communicator. It’s imperative to communicate the strategy, answer questions, listen to feedback, and relay decisions. During periods of change there is uncertainty. And strong communication can help clear up any doubts, misconceptions or misgivings.

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?

A strong culture can get an organization through any storm. At PIA, we strive to have a team environment. We’re all part of the same mission. We all have each other’s backs. And, we try to have fun. I always say that if I go a day without hearing laughter in the office, then I get concerned.

Having this strong culture enables us to embrace change and accept failure. We don’t want to fail on any objective, but fear of failure is no excuse to sit on the sidelines. Learn from it. Work to make everyone comfortable so they embrace risk moving forward.

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

Every company is different so to come up with a single universal principle that can guide them through turbulent times is difficult. But there are several tactics that could be beneficial for a company to use including:

  • Celebrate the wins — big or small: We used to have a deli bell on our reception desk that any employee would ring to celebrate a victory of any size. Everyone popped their heads out of their offices to cheer on the success. In our virtual working world, it’s changed a little bit. We now send an email to share our good news.
  • Listen to your customers: Your customers are your North Star. When in doubt, let them lead the way. Use data to help understand them. Ensure your relevance by staying ahead of your customers’ challenges. Look outward.
  • Stay focused: Keep your eyes on the long-term goals.
  • Remember, everything passes: I used to have a career mentor that asked me, “Did anyone die?” That’s of course an extreme situation, but he was proving a point. It could be worse. Life will go on.

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?

Burying your head in the sand: I have seen this so many times in the insurance industry. Businesses think that if they don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist. When I see organizations doing this, I often have the urge to share with them a quote from statistician, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. “Survival is optional. No one has to change.”

No one is going to force a business to change, but the business can’t expect to stay relevant. Not everyone likes change but it is the nature of life. Company leaders need to have an open mind and realize that there is no final or perfect version of how the business operates. It should always be evolving to keep up with customers.

Not listening to customers: We see this problem so often in business and I don’t understand it. To me, listening to your customers is like being given the answers to a test. They are telling you what they want to see from you to keep their business, so listen. No one knows the needs of customers better than customers themselves and most won’t stick with a company that tells them they are wrong.

Ignoring the competition: Thinking you operate in a protective bubble won’t protect a business from outside threats. You need to be aware of traditional competition and stay on top of nontraditional disrupters. Awareness is important, but there’s another way to look at it. Competitors don’t have to be threats. They can also be learning opportunities about how to improve.

We have seen this firsthand in insurance. Agents faced competition from companies selling insurance direct to consumers. The main competitive advantage over agents was a technology fueled transaction that led to a seamless buying experience. Instead of ignoring this competition, agencies began to upgrade their own technologies so they could provide a similar purchasing process.

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.) Stay on top of market research. There’s a reason there are so many reports. It can at times be a lot to digest, but information is important. Businesses can’t operate in a vacuum. Customer trends and industries are constantly changing and evolving. Research can give you an idea of what is coming down the road, so your business isn’t blindsided. Once you have the information, play offense not defense.

2.) Adopt a new motto, “Change is good.” A business that stands still will not last. Leaders should adopt the mentality that change is going to happen and they need to embrace it. Be open to new ideas from customers and employees. Be alert to new tools that might improve how your business operates day to day.

3.) Understand your “why.” Every change should have a reason. Unsure if a change is appropriate? Look back to your mission, vision, and purpose — you’ll find the answers there.

4.) Hire the right people. Build a team of people who are open to challenges, evolving the business, and taking it to the next level. If you surround yourself with people who understand that change is necessary, it will make it easier to adapt operations as you move forward. But make sure your team members also feel valued and have a voice. Encourage them to speak up and share their thoughts. They will guide the business, keep it on track while also taking it to the next level.

5.) Be properly insured. This is one thing every business leadership should be doing, but it doesn’t make it to the top of every list. Leadership should constantly be working to reduce risks in their organizations, and that includes making sure that they’re properly insured. Technology is changing the game — particularly in the area of cyber threats — and companies should be regularly talking to their agents about what’s best for them.

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

“Straight home.” This was something my late dad always said to my four sisters and me whenever we left the house. Of course, when we were in high school and college, it was literal. He was really telling us to head directly home. Don’t stop anywhere, don’t get into any trouble.

Today it means something so much more. It’s something we say regularly in our family, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of home, family, and a strong work/life balance. I love what I do for work, but the quickest way for me to get burned out is when my work/life balance gets out of sync.

How can our readers further follow your work?

At PIA we are continuing to do really exciting things which people can see on our website: www.pianational.org. I also share a lot of things on my LinkedIn.

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


Agile Businesses: Mike Becker Of The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) On was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Renée Cohen Of Lucidworks: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Make your customers superstars. Across our entire revenue team, from marketing to sales to our customer success team, we say our mission is to get our customer champions promoted. As a B2B brand, we hold deep conviction in the value and return-on-investments that our offerings bring the businesses we serve. When our champions get a win, we celebrate with them. Nothing makes us happier than celebrating our own customers’ success stories and giving them the tools they need to tell a great story within their own industry.

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

Renée Cohen is the VP, Worldwide Marketing at Lucidworks, a B2B SaaS search & insight engine provider. For almost 20 years, Renée has led demand generation, social marketing, branding, and market research in software startups and agency environments. Prior to joining Lucidworks, Renée was the practice area leader for social and marketing programs at professional services firm, Trellist Marketing and Technology, leading sales and delivery for brand refreshes, product launches, social management and campaigns for Fortune 500 clients and some of the world’s largest private companies. You can frequently find her in coffee shops around the greater Philadelphia region, where she lives with her husband, two children, and Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy.

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

In college, I was a political science and history nerd, thinking I’d apply to law school. But during school, I had to pay the bills. So I took a paid marketing internship at a start-up B2B software company, and that turned out not to be a short term gig. I continued in my marketing role there for three years, and upon graduation, I knew this was a career path where I’d grow and thrive.

Earlier on in my career, I had fun talking about how a double major in history and political science prepared me to be a well-rounded marketer. For both of those degrees, you do a lot of research and writing — particularly persuasive writing. The most well-rounded marketers I’ve worked with are analytical, know how to research, form conclusions, and, of course, write to move an audience.

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

The one that still makes my cringe inside was a technical mistake. Early on in my career, we were testing personalized email sends for some high-touch field marketing promotions (rather than branded email sends). This was long before tools like Outreach.io or Sales Loft existed.

I was setting up a simple mail merge using Excel, Word, and Outlook — which works great for what I needed to do on the cheap, by the way. And while I was setting up the send, I still had some “test” email copy in the set up while I was working on merging the send list from Excel into the Word app. One wrong button choice, and my test email copy started sending out to the real email recipients, our customers and prospects.

I was mortified. The fastest way I could think to stop it was to pop the battery out of my laptop to get the emails to stop mid-send. The “whoops” email went out to about 20 people before I yeeted my laptop battery, and I sent personalized apologies to each person.

Lessons learned: Order of operations matters. Risk mitigation matters.

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

Lucidworks is a leader in AI-powered search technology. That sounds…jargony…doesn’t it? So the cool stuff comes in when we talk about what search can do when you’ve got powerful machine learning driving it.

Every user interaction, every customer behavior, can be tracked digitally. Your customers are sending you “signals” all the time about what they like, what they want, what’s relevant to them, and what’s not. You can use these insights from customer behavior to drive really delightful and seamless user experiences.

This can manifest in a number of ways.

One of our customers, Regeneron, is using Lucidworks to power a research app, making it easy for their employees to access the most relevant, publicly available COVID-19 data sets.

For our retail customers, in 2020 it became critical to improve online shopping experiences during quarantine. This year for Cyber-5 (Black Friday through Cyber Monday) we supported over 1 billion search queries on our many retail customers eCommerce websites, including a top athleisure brand and one of the world’s largest big box retailers. This technology makes the holidays merry and bright for all of us, from the safety of our homes.

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

The marketing team at Lucidworks is very busy right now (when are we not!) with the launch of our new search-as-a-service platform, Springboard, and the availability of our first SaaS application on that platform, Connected Search.

We’re taking search engine technology into the future. Springboard is a search engine that works really, really well and is really, really easy to use and maintain. With other search solutions, highly relevant search experiences have been notoriously labor-intensive to manage and require lots of technical expertise to get it right. With Connected Search, our first app on the platform, we’re making it easy for any marketer to set-up and manage a superior search experience on their own website to delight their customers and drive conversions and loyalty.

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 hard to measure, but nearly every business leader and owner knows it’s important to achieving growth. Brand marketing is about building recognition, affinity, preference, and loyalty, which are measured with longer tail metrics. Your audience is not only people who are in-market for your solutions today, but the people who will be in-market for you in the future. Brand awareness is important for ensuring people think of you when they do need what you offer. Also, how does a relationship with your brand (or a potential relationship with your brand) make your audience feel? Do they feel safe? Do they feel they’re getting something superior? Do they feel you are real and down-to-earth, honest? Depending on your target market, what you want your audience to feel will differ, based on what drives them rationally and emotionally. But getting it right is key to driving future affinity and loyal customers who return again and again.

Product marketing is more easily measured with direct response metrics. Your audience is people who are in-market, now, today to purchase your solution — or soon will be with a bit of nudging. Here you’re promoting the superior benefits of your product, and either overtly or covertly contrasting the differences between your product and competitors’ (whether that’s quality, price, breadth of solution, etc.). You want to be at the right place, at the right time, with a compelling offer to induce a sale. You want to convince them that they will miss out by not taking action now and with you.

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

Creating a strong brand is an investment that pays off in future growth. As I mentioned, well-executed brand marketing should reach and resonate not only with the people in market for your solutions today, but the people who will be in market for your products and services in the future. This will pay off dividends as your business grows, creating a memorable connection with people so they remember you when they are ready to buy. If you’re tapping into the emotional drivers of your audience, you are not only one of the first brands they think of when they are in market to buy, but you also become their biased first choice when evaluating options (whether they consciously notice it or not).

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.

Well, I believe a company should have one brand strategy.

The defined brand strategy should support your business goals in terms of growth, acquisition plans, exit plans, and more. For example, a company that’s building a diverse portfolio of products that meet the needs of notably different demographics may choose a product-branding strategy (house of brands) over a corporate branding strategy (branded house).

At Lucidworks, we are building a corporate brand that reflects the strength of our past and articulates the vision we have for the future. The new products we’re launching this year push search and customer insights technology into the future, and we are expanding the accessibility of superior on-site search, browse, and discovery to new markets.

Once that brand strategy is identified, these five tactics are crucial to building a trusted and believable brand:

  1. Before developing or refreshing a brand, start with documenting a well-defined company mission and vision. Why do you exist? How is the world better because of what you do? You’d be surprised how often this is murky and muddled amongst senior leadership in an organization. It’s important to bring the business owners and leaders together to define this. Creating a brand without first knowing, with conviction, why your business exists, it will be difficult to convince anyone externally of your brand values.
  2. Showcase your own people. Humans buy from humans. People want to connect with the real voices and thought leaders driving a brand’s mission. Midyear our social team implemented an intentional plan to feature quotes and voices from our own team on social media. The result? We’ve generated a 94% increase in impressions and a staggering 200% increase in engagement with our social content since highlighting the real people behind our brand.
  3. Stop talking about yourself. Who do you exist for? Why are you making their lives better? How passionate are you about that mission? Too often marketers fall into the trap of forgetting about the perspective of people outside our metaphorical walls. And I get it, we’re in the weeds every day. We see inside the sausage factory. Keep your message focused on the outcomes you’re promising to deliver. At Lucidworks we create really technical search engine software for companies to make finding information a seamless and easy experience. It’s really tempting to geek out and talk about all the artificial intelligence that powers our product, because we have massively smart people building it. But our customers care about solving their own business challenges. We’ve started to evaluate all of our marketing promotions through how well we’re empathizing with the pain and joys of our customers.
  4. Invest in initiatives that align to your brand values, even if they’re not overtly targeting your buyers. For example, Licidworks recently partnered with RetailROI, whose mission is to connect foster children with resources while in and after leaving the foster system. A healthcare biologics company I supported rebranding a few years ago is heavily involved in promoting tissue and organ donation and breast cancer research. These initiatives create strong engagement within the organizations because employees feel connected to the causes and the passion extends out into the marketplace.
  5. Make your customers superstars. Across our entire revenue team, from marketing to sales to our customer success team, we say our mission is to get our customer champions promoted. As a B2B brand, we hold deep conviction in the value and return-on-investments that our offerings bring the businesses we serve. When our champions get a win, we celebrate with them. Nothing makes us happier than celebrating our own customers’ success stories and giving them the tools they need to tell a great story within their own industry.

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?

One that I’ve had my eye on for a while is startup Gong (gong.io). Gong is a saas company with a platform that offers sales teams automated insights into sales call performance. They’ve created a delightful human voice for their brand, they know their audience (sales leaders) really well. They know what drives them, they know what frustrates them, and that comes out in their brand voice. They’re a bit humorous, a bit irreverent, but always focused on the business value they provide their customers.

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

Brand building requires longer tail metrics, to be sure. Branding absolutely needs to support the growth of the company. However, the metrics to measure success tend to be softer and leading indicators of growth.

Social media followership is one proxy. How is your audience growing? Also web traffic, particularly branded keyword searches (searches using your company and product names) and direct website visits. Are these two numbers increasing? These KPIs are all indicators of people seeking out and following your brand, and they’re metrics that any marketer can easily access and track.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

For a B2B company, especially, it’s really tempting for brands to fall into the trap of trying to define social success through direct response metrics. Did we create leads from this post? How many downloads of that new whitepaper?

If you stand on that trap door, you’re going to miss the real opportunity. It’s stepping over dollars to pick up a penny. Social media is an opportunity to communicate genuinely and create a conversation with people. Success needs to be defined as growing reach and impressions (awareness, recognition), engagement (resonance) and followership (affinity). If you see these numbers growing exponentially, you know your brand voice is landing well, and you can use these KPIs as a proxy to measure growth in brand awareness (which is hard to measure directly without paying for expensive surveys).

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

Marketing is a job that is very difficult to “turn off” at the end of the day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had what I describe as a “shower thought” — an idea I was mulling over during the weekend or overnight that pops into my head while getting ready in the morning. Or waking up from sleep and having to write down an idea in my notes app to come back to it.

For myself, I’ve learned to embrace the fact that my work brain doesn’t turn off after 5pm at night, so I try to create enjoyable “work-life integration” into my day. For example, my local coffee shop is a 30-minute walk from my house through wooded conservation trails. A couple times a week I’ll walk the trails to get coffee and use that as thinking time. If I need to write, I’ll start processing my outline while I walk, and sometimes record myself talking through the outline. This time away from my desk, walking and sitting at a favorite coffee shop, gives me that little serotonin boost and does wonders for my mental health 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. 🙂

The US public education system needs a massive overhaul, and we’re not setting up all socio-economic backgrounds for success in the future of the labor market. I’d love to see a movement toward integrating deeper engineering and coding curriculum, as a core standard, starting with primary school and throughout the entire K-12 experience.

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

One I’ve ascribed to for a long time: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

This is not a pass for sloppy or lazy work. However, if you’re not constantly testing and floating new ideas, you’re going to miss out on growth opportunities. Inaction can be a failure. If you’re measuring with rigor, you can quickly determine what’s working and build on it from there. Trying to perfect a tactic that you haven’t yet proven out will result in slower speed-to-market and missed opportunities for growth. I like to challenge my team to quickly evaluate ideas, quickly refine them, and get them out in market to test and learn.

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. 🙂

Some people who know me well wonder at my obsession, but won’t be surprised to read my answer: Ira Glass, the creator and producer of the NPR radio show This American Life is top on my list. The format, the human interest storytelling, and the journalism he brought to the medium has had a huge impact on me since I was 15 years old. I’ve listened to most of the 25 years worth of episodes at least twice, some three or more times.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn is the best place to catch me on the regular: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renee-cohen/

And I do occasionally lurk on Twitter: @cohen_renee

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


Renée Cohen Of Lucidworks: 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.

Apologies I Never Got: Bethany Nicole’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Stay Authentic. I wish someone had told me that I could trust myself to make decisions about my life. I came from an upbringing that was surrounded with fear and limiting beliefs. I was taught to always take the straight and narrow at all costs even if that didn’t feel right to me or caused a lot of pain. But what I have learned, is that when you follow your own path, you are sometimes your only guide. You have to shine your own light because how can you expect people who’ve never been where you are going, to lead or guide you. But by staying authentic, you will always be following the right path.

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 Bethany Nicole.

Bethany is an LA based author, freelance writer and relationship expert. Her breakout book, Apologies I Never Got, is all about dating and relationship horror stories, phrased as apologies you never got, from the people who never gave them to you. To see more of her work, or book a session, please visit her website www.bethanynicole.com

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 really feel like this career path chose me, as opposed to the other way around. I have always heard to just follow what lights you up and let the rest fall into place. Well, writing lights me up. Relationships light me up. And self-work and discovery lights me up.

When the concept of Apologies I Never Got, really hit home for me, I realized it was a concept that could change the world. Our relationships determine how we show up. Whether it is our relationship with ourselves, our parents, friends, family, romantic partners, etc. It all plays a part in how we function individually and how we can contribute to society. I believe that is part of why our culture is in so much chaos right now, we have no idea how to relate to others on deeper levels, let alone how to relate to ourselves.

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

Well, I will keep it light. I get asked quite often what my favorite “apology I never got” story is. (Some of them are mine, some belong to friends, family, coworkers, and some of them are submitted) One of my personal favorites so far, happened to a friend of mine, right here in LA. She went on a first date with a guy, they met at a restaurant for dinner. The restaurant had front facing floor to ceiling windows(this becomes important later.) She saw the guy pull up in an Uber. The two met and began engaging in fairly normal first date conversation. After a few minutes the guy excused himself, saying he had to use the restroom. At which point she saw him through the front windows hop onto a bike that she knew was not his, and pedal away as fast as he could. The guy snuck out the back exit, stole a bike that wasn’t his and left her there at the restaurant.

Pretty hilarious if you ask me.

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

Well, it took me a while to get there, but “Regrets Are A Waste of Time.”

We all do the best we can in given situations, even when that “best” doesn’t look very good. But when we learn better, we can do better. If we never learn better, or refuse to learn better, we probably won’t see a lot of changes in our lives.

That allows me space to be able to work towards forgiveness of others. They were doing the best they could at that time. If I don’t see any growth, acknowledgement or change on their part, I recognize their behavior is likely to continue as is and I can try to exit the friendship, relationship or situation with compassion and (hopefully) some grace.

That concept also allows me to give myself grace for past errors, especially because I always like to analyze what happened so I can try to do better moving forward. I trust myself now to course correct my own actions and to learn from my own mistakes. So why beat myself up over them? Time to move on and enjoy the moment.

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

The concept is based off of my book, Apologies I Never Got. The idea is that we don’t need an apology, to be able to move on with our lives and our healing. Healing is ultimately our responsibility and while that initially is a hard pill to swallow, it is actually quite freeing. That means we aren’t stuck waiting for someone to acknowledge the pain they caused, or even apologize for it. Because the truth is, we rarely get the apologies we deserve, and we have to learn to accept that. And it’s ok because we don’t really need them. We have a choice. We can sit around waiting for an apology that may never come, and let it hold us back for the rest of our lives, walking around inflicting our wounds on ourselves and others…or… We can get to work on healing ourselves. We can realize that we are free to move on with our own lives, no lame apology from an even lamer person, necessary.

How do you think this will change the world?

I have seen in both my personal and professional life, how people allow their past, to directly affect their future. They feel that their trauma or past gives them a free pass at messing up their lives and the lives of those around them. But it doesn’t. Because where would it end? Who would get to say that this person’s trauma was worse than that person’s, therefore they get to go around destroying other people and acting terribly? Obviously, that’s not realistic. There is no free pass. There is no one thing (or many things) that allow people to hurt others. And ultimately it just hurts themselves. Whoever or whatever hurt them in their past, has taken enough. They don’t get to have their future too. And ultimately that’s all that happens when we don’t let go, we live out our pain and trauma over and over.

To give you an example from my life, my anger and resentment at how my father treated me and the life he is currently choosing to live, did absolutely nothing to him. But it nearly destroyed me. And that’s a lot of people’s stories. That’s why, we have to learn to let it all go. Not because that person deserves our forgiveness, but because we deserve to have a good life.

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

Yes. I think people need to be sincere in their approach. It can’t just be a band aid of “ok I forgive them.” Forgiveness is a process; it can take years. It is a daily practice and some days it is far easier than others. It is important to be consistent and sincere in your intention, or else the anger and resentment will remain and fester. It is not about shoving down emotion, it is about working through it and coming out the other side.

I also want to remind people that you can forgive someone or let something go, without involving yourself back in that person’s life. In the example I gave above between my father and me, I work towards forgiveness of him daily, but I never interact with him. His choices are not safe for me. So, I have to distance myself.

There are lots of ex romantic partners I have had to forgive too, but that does not mean I call them up and let them know I forgive them, or that I get back with them. You can absolutely emotionally and energetically forgive someone, without having any interaction with them. And if they have truly damaged you, then sometimes that is what is best.

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

I just had finally had enough. My life was falling apart. I hated my job, I struggled in romantic relationships, I had no family to speak of, I was pushing all my friends away. And I was tired of holding grudges and letting the incidents of the past, shape the actions of my future. I was tired of watching mine and other’s life fall apart over and over simply because I couldn’t let go of the pain of the past. And I got tired of waiting for apologies from people over things that they would never apologize for. I finally realized that I never needed those apologies to begin with, and it was one of the most freeing moments of my life.

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

For people to believe in its power and be open to its healing. It is such a simple concept but so incredibly life changing if you fully embrace it.

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

  1. Stay Authentic- I wish someone had told me that I could trust myself to make decisions about my life. I came from an upbringing that was surrounded with fear and limiting beliefs. I was taught to always take the straight and narrow at all costs even if that didn’t feel right to me or caused a lot of pain. But what I have learned, is that when you follow your own path, you are sometimes your only guide. You have to shine your own light because how can you expect people who’ve never been where you are going, to lead or guide you. But by staying authentic, you will always be following the right path.
  2. Regrets Are A Waste Of Time- As I mentioned before, there is no changing the past. I spent a lot of time regretting one very extreme and intense romantic relationship I had for example. He was abusive in all the ways a person can be emotionally, financially, energetically and even physically at one point. As a now relationship expert I felt an immense amount of shame around that relationship. I felt like I couldn’t move forward with my life or career because of that experience. I felt like people would think I wasn’t qualified because of my past mistakes. But I finally realized, I am who I am because of it. I am an experienced and highly compassionate expert for that exact reason, I’ve been there. And I learned how to navigate myself out of that danger zone. But the regret over that experience, crippled me in the future. And ultimately that is ALL regrets do. Hold us back.
  3. Your Path Has Value, Even If No One Else Values It.

Obviously not everyone valued or even understood my path. Every step of my life from my various moves, to quitting my stable 9–5 job to pursue my passion in writing, has been critiqued, condemned and questioned. “Why can’t you do what everyone else does?” “Why can’t you do things the normal way?” “Why don’t you just stay in your hometown and be a dental hygienist.” (That is the height of accomplishment where I am from… to this day people still tell me I should stop writing and do that, so bizarre.) But that is how limited a lot of the people where I grew up are. They are not expanded enough to recognize or even value any different type of life. So it is important to value you your own life and path. Because some people are just never going to get it. No matter what your level of success, they will just not get it. So, you have to define your own success and be happy with your own achievements. Your life is valuable, your path is valuable, even if no one else gets it.

4. You Will Probably Never Get That Apology…Just Let it Go.

You know that apology you’ve been wanting on? That one that has been holding you back from living the life you truly deserve. The one that has taken up all your thoughts, time and relationships for years? Yeah, you know the one. I’ve got news for you…it’s never coming. And you know what…that is ok. Actually, more than ok. Because you don’t need it. I shared with you how I let those unsaid apologies run my life for many years. Don’t let the same thing happen to you. Learn to let it go and learn to accept you deserve a good life, no matter what has happened in the past.

5. You Teach People How to Treat You.

Obviously, everything that happens to us, cannot be prevented. But some things can. For years I walked around wondering why I was treated badly. Until I realized the person who was treating me the worst, was myself. The way I talked to myself, the way I let other people walk all over me, the way I ultimately ignored my own thoughts and feelings and shoved down my opinions, always deferring to others. And guess what… people followed suit. People treated me the way I treated myself and the way I allowed them to treat me. Once I stopped allowing that, things got better. And while boundaries are still a work in progress (they are for everyone pretty much) I am happy to report I have come a long way with them.

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

Honestly just stay aligned and stay authentic. If a situation, opportunity, job, person etc. doesn’t feel right to you, trust that. If it feels off or even just feels like it’s not meant for you, that’s ok. You don’t’ have to take everything that comes along. You can say no, you can choose yourself over someone else, and you can choose to stay true to your path, over the observations or expectations of other people.

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 🙂

I would say, let’s get this book and this concept out on the market. We are standing on the brink of a new dawn of not only on dating and relationships, but how we interact with each other. Our perceptions are shifting, and in the darkness, we are walking through, I want this book to the be the light. The market is primed for a guide on how to dig deeper in our relationships both with ourselves and with others. This book does that. It offers more than just concepts; it offers step by step guides and practical ways to implement these practices in our daily lives. Let’s not let anyone walk around with the burden of resentments and unsaid apologies any longer. It’s time to put those down and move into the future of relationships.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@bethanynicoleauthor

@apologiesinevergot

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


Apologies I Never Got: Bethany Nicole’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.

Making Something From Nothing: Inesa Ponomariovaite Of Nesas Hemp On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Do not waste time on people who don’t produce results. In the beginning we hired many firms or marketing companies and agencies, etc., that promised the world, but under delivered or didn’t deliver results at all. From now on, we always ask to show us instead of just telling us.

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

Inesa Ponomariovaite is a holistic health expert who after years of improving the lives of her clients through her alternative and holistic health consulting services, became frustrated with the inability to source pure CBD products that met the highest quality standard. She’s also a visionary on a mission to change the world by teaching people to harness the power of nature, like she did, to restore their health and well-being. She is the founder and CEO of Nesas Hemp, a dominant player in the CBDa hemp industry. Nesas is the world’s first-ever full full-spectrum and first certified by FDA registered laboratories with safety seal CBDa hemp extract It is created through a unique process to preserve all the healing compounds of the hemp plant, which bring optimal health and healing and restore the body to its natural state. Inesa’s ethos, “doing right” for humanity, continues to propel her to develop products and services that are good for the environment and good for the body, mind, and soul. Deep down in her heart, Inesa truly believes she can create a positive revolutionary change in the world.

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”?

Growing up in Lithuania wasn’t easy, particularly during the 1980s-1990s. As a result, my mother had to work away from home, many times far away, so I had to take full responsibility to do the day-to-day chores and take care of my younger brother and sister as a child myself. If I wanted to have anything, I had to work hard and earn it myself, including tastier food, clothing, or anything else children would want to have. My childhood helped me to appreciate every single thing in my life.

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

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful — that will be my life.”

Every time I end up in situations where people have taken advantage of me, or unfortunate situations where things went wrong, I learned a lot from them, and I used them to empower myself to turn every dark moment into love and turn negativity into positivity.

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?

My faith has always been a huge part of my life. I reference the Bible constantly and have to say this book has had the most profound impact on both my life and how I do business.

Judge not. Keep your word. Live a worry-free life. These are all lessons I took from the Bible, and have helped to guide me. Anything is possible as long as you have faith.

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 truly believe that the desire to make it happen is always going to push you forward. I think many people who do not have a deep desire to succeed are the ones who struggle the most in translating those ideas into an actual business.

A business idea and a burning desire to succeed are two different things. If you are truly passionate about your business idea and have a deep desire for it to succeed it will translate into action automatically. I truly believe that when you are passionate about something and willing to work hard, taking any action won’t seem to be a problem.

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 strongly suggest that people do their research and even if someone has already created your idea, consider whether your idea is better. Maybe the first person just introduced the idea to the world, but you will introduce a much better version of that same idea. Whatever the case, you can research what worked and what didn’t. In some ways even if someone has already created your idea it might be to your advantage because you can make it even better.

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.

I think the first thing you need to do is to really understand the industry you are trying to get into. The next step is to think about how your idea would be different from what already exists in the market because you need to differentiate yourself to be successful. Once you’ve done this, find a manufacturer that understands what you are trying to achieve and can help you to be unique in that area. The manufacturer should have the same values and should understand and be capable of fulfilling your needs. In terms of retailers, I think it’s best to focus on e-commerce and selling your product online, because the world is shifting to digital shopping, and we already see a lot of businesses struggling selling products through physical stores.

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. Do not waste time on people who don’t produce results. In the beginning we hired many firms or marketing companies and agencies, etc., that promised the world, but under delivered or didn’t deliver results at all. From now on, we always ask to show us instead of just telling us.
  2. Always ask for references. We found out the hard way that some of the companies we wanted to collaborate with, were not even real companies, but had a successful business scam plan to take advantage of other businesses.
  3. Do not get into your personal life or stories, do not overshare. In the beginning I shared too many personal things about myself and family just trying to be friendly and open, and that was a perfect way for others to use it and take advantage of me.
  4. I wish someone told me this wouldn’t happen overnight. I think I was so excited and impatient in the beginning to make this happen that I worked myself into the ground. Now I know it takes time, patience, consistency, and persistence to create a successful business.
  5. Find yourself a mentor who is already successful and has done something good for themselves, instead of listening to people who haven’t really achieved much success in their lives or their businesses. In the beginning of my career, I took advice from people who were pretending to be experts instead of seeking out real experts. Their advice led me to failures.

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?

If they can’t invent it themselves, find the most knowledgeable people on that specific topic and try to collaborate with them. Talk to them, get some advice and insights, so you can become as knowledgeable as possible about the product you want to invent. I would also recommend people find a credible expert attorney that wouldn’t scam you, and patent your idea if it’s unique. Write down your vision and goals and create a roadmap for execution and start taking the action.

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 believe that it’s better to strike out on your own. There is so much information online, so it’s better to patent the idea, discuss it with an attorney, and save some money, rather than spending it on consultation fees.

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

If you have an option to do it on your own, that would be a great start, and even a priority. If you take venture capital, you could end up facing a lot of pressure to meet certain deadlines, or your idea can even be stolen or be manipulated to make investors happy. That’s just my two cents on that.

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

Thank you so much for this question. This question puts a smile on my face because that’s the only reason why I am in this business in the first place. Helping the world and making this earth a better place is my number one desire. I want to see people healthy, happy, and loving one another. On a daily basis, I am helping a lot of people improve their health through natural, alternative solutions. Besides donating our product to families who cannot afford it and really need it, we serve hundreds of kids’ food, and help at homeless shelters in the Chicago area. I am also currently putting together a project on how to help children in the South Side of Chicago. I am also developing a new strategy to help victims of human trafficking. My goal is to end human trafficking and sex slavery.

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 too early to share, but I believe we already started the 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.

Tim Tebow. I believe him and his wife are fighting for a great cause, and I passionately believe in their intentions.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Inesa Ponomariovaite Of Nesas Hemp 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: Joshua Otten Of Ronin Content Services & ALTRD TV On The Five Things You Need…

Meet The Disruptors: Joshua Otten Of Ronin Content Services & ALTRD TV On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t work 24/7. — We celebrate the “hustle” and “rise and grind” but the reality is we are all here for a limited time and to spend it all working would be a shame. I try to turn my phone on and off at specific points of time every day and allow myself to be present.

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

Joshua Otten spent the last 20 years as a trailblazing developer and producer of premium entertainment, builder of digital media platforms, and creator of content marketing solutions. He has founded a digital marketing agency and a cannabis content platform (PROHBTD) and has produced over 50 documentaries, TV shows and films. His most recent company, Ronin Content Services, is focused on integrating the connected-tv experience into the blockchain via their CTV network ALTRD.TV.

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?

I’ve spent the first ⅓ of my career working with some of the prolific and creative storytellers in the world in what would be considered traditional “old school” Hollywood. It really opened my eyes and showed me how powerful content is — it can shape our youth and elect politicians and it can also bring communities together. The age of social media has made this power accessible to everyone and it was fascinating watching big brands and major media companies try and pivot to this new reality. At the same time the democratization of content creation and the sheer amount of content out there meant that premium quality content was even more relevant. I took my background of broadcast TV development and production and experience working with some of the biggest brands in the world and merged it into a company that is focused on helping brands tell their stories to dedicated audiences while still maintaining authenticity and creativity.

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

We are taking our existing CTV Network — Social Club TV (www.thesocialclub.tv), which has been focused on cannabis content, and evolving it into ALTRD.TV which will be the largest blockchain-powered “Watch To Earn” CTV network in the world. The key to its success is our content focus and our audience — we are creating content in the cannabis, psychedelic and crypto space with a focus on lifestyle, education and entertainment. I like to say we are ADULT SWIM meets VICE NEWS. These audiences demand authentic content and are turned-off by the mainstream media and the control large media conglomerates & social media companies have on content and distribution.

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

When we first launched PROHBTD in 2015 the two other co-founders and I flew to Denver, CO to High Times Cannabis Cup to sort of celerbate but also promote the company and meet with brands and media companies who were in the space. Walking around I just started eating every gummy and smoking every joint handed to me — and honestly I’m pretty much a lightweight when it comes to cannabis. Needless to say about 2 hours later I was stuck in my hotel room listening to some “Calming Music” app on the phone and trying to talk myself out of a panic attack. The lesson there is don’t eat whatever gummies strangers hand you.

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?

I’ve had way too many mentors to mention but I think the ones that have had the most impact are my family members. My Uncle, Mother and Grandfather all had their own small businesses as accountants and my Father worked his way up from a starting job in administration to run a large hospital group. Their focus, drive and hard work showed me what was possible and what it took to be successful.

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?

I’ve found that the most transformative disruption happens when someone starts a new business focused on disrupting an existing business ecosystem. The entrenched players are usually too stuck in their way of doing things, the employees are not incentivized to find new ways to do things and they are set to maximize profits vs. take risks on new ideas or business models. There are obviously dozens of examples of this: Netflix taking on Blockbuster, Apple / Spotify changing the music industry, and social media companies like Facebook and Twitter completely changing news and media publishers. The common denominator is that technology companies end-up being the ones to disrupt the established players. And I think we can all agree that it hasn’t been “Good” — a specific example is Facebook and what they did to the media and publishing business promising them they would be able to grow their business if they invested in their ecosystem only to basically crush it years later. Not to mention the total dumbing down of our political discourse. One thing I’ve found is that no matter who the gatekeeper is (goodbye Sony hello Apple Music) the reality is the creator class is usually the last to come-up or benefit.

That is one of the unique things I really love about the entire blockchain platform — it is based on decentralization and distribution of power and resources to the masses — I’m sure Facebook will find some success in their Meta platform but in the long-term it may not be the biggest or most successful. And when you look at how the creator class can utilize NFTs, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology it becomes clear that even some of the big companies that emerged as winners from the last 20 years of technology disruption may not be the winners tomorrow if they can’t or don’t adapt.

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

Don’t work 24/7. — We celebrate the “hustle” and “rise and grind” but the reality is we are all here for a limited time and to spend it all working would be a shame. I try to turn my phone on and off at specific points of time every day and allow myself to be present.

Learn from your (and importantly other people’s) mistakes — this is super cliche but still one of the most important business lessons. Mistakes are guidelines and provide knowledge on how to improve and do things differently and more efficiently.

Wisdom = Knowledge x Experience — It can take some time before what you are working on can become successful and even grow to where you want it to go. You can have all the knowledge in the world but without real world experience (and mistakes / failures) you won’t have the wisdom on how to apply it effectively.

Don’t be afraid to pivot — You don’t want to try and be all things to all people but being able to pivot is important if you recognize a unique opportunity or what you are doing isn’t working but can work for something else.

Separate yourself from your work — It is easy to allow yourself to get caught up in your job and business especially as an entrepreneur. You see people celebrate their success and create identities that are tied to their business or job. I’ve seen and heard way too many people talking about their legacy and not enough time being present and creating personal joy in their life.

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

I am beyond grateful for the team and co-founders I have. We have a very unique opportunity to create a massively successful platform with ALTRD.TV — we are in over 60M+ homes with 2500 hours of content and the largest broadcast quality cannabis, psychedelic and crypto content library in the world. We have a dedicated audience and with our upcoming integration into the blockchain and the capabilities that will bring including unique NFT projects tied to content and watch-to-earn technology.

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?

Yes — I highly recommend people read “Wherever You Go, There You Are” and “Awakening from the Daydream”. The former is a powerful book that provides amazing tools so that anyone can cultivate presence, peace, ease and stillness. This is incredibly important for everyone but especially important for entrepreneurs where there are ever shifting goals and milestones and the job truly is never done. Awakening from the Daydream is a Reimagining of the Buddha’s Wheel of Life. It provides perspective on life in general and is incredibly grounding. I strongly believe that curating peace and ease in one’s life is incredibly important and without mediation it is nearly impossible.

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

I believe the keys to a peaceful, successful and joyous life are built on cultivating compassion, generosity and enjoying being present at all times in the experience you are in (even if it isn’t the experience you want to be in). The deification of wealth and “success” can create stress in people’s lives by creating unattainable goals (or even goals that should be attained do not come with the happiness and peace one has envisioned).

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

I think if everyone would meditate for 20 minutes a day and focus compassion for those they think least deserve it we would see a world has absolutely changed for the better.

How can our readers follow you online?

ALTRD.TV is the best way to follow my work.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Joshua Otten Of Ronin Content Services & ALTRD TV On The 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.

Public Narrative: Jhmira Alexander’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fight to see the good in democracy and pursue it — at all costs. I’ve had seasons that have taught me how to survive the highs and lows of business. As exhausting as resilience can be, remaining mission-focused has allowed me to leverage obstacles and the complexities of relationships.

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 Jhmira Alexander.

Jhmira Alexander is the President and Executive Director of Public Narrative, Chicago’s Premier Communications and Media Literacy Resource. She is a trained journalist committed to improving community health and well-being through media and civic engagement. Under her leadership, Public Narrative uses storytelling to implement narrative change strategies addressing harmful narratives related to public safety, health, and education. Jhmira is a resourceful, solutions-oriented visionary and social impact leader highly skilled in diverse stakeholder engagement. She is an innovative and goal-oriented strategist with over 14 years of proven leadership experience training and consulting individuals, nonprofit organizations, media professionals, and outlets according to their own strategic goals for growth and communications. She’s worked with the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications.

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?

There’s a scene in The Best Man starring Taye Diggs and Nia Long where Nia’s character, Jordan, is directing a show on BET. I was fascinated watching this character stylishly carry out her vision. In high school, I knew I wanted a career that welcomed self-expression. Exploring a career in communications at Bradley University led me to focus on broadcast journalism specifically. Although, my media career was over just as soon as it began. I was interning at a news station while in undergrad and decided three months before graduation not to pursue a career in media. While studying broadcast communications at Bradley University, I found I didn’t love the kinds of stories we were sharing. I was a floor director at the time and the station had taught me how to direct newscasts. They’d even offered me a job directing the news on the weekends. Still, I wanted out of the industry if I had to tell such disheartening stories. My career advisor, Dr. Bob Jacobs, suggested I complete the degree and go do whatever I wanted to do. Fifteen years later, I am the President and Executive Director of the Chicago-based nonprofit, Public Narrative (PN), formerly Community Media Workshop. PN exists to balance narratives relating to public safety, health, and education. Through training and connecting community members to the media and each other, we actively diversify the voices participating in the news.

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

Since beginning my career, I’ve worked with some of the best leaders and teachers. Some of them have served as personal advisors sharing their own lived experiences through which I learned what to and what not to do. Their willingness to share their experiences gave me a significant lead in both my personal and professional development shaping how I support stakeholders as a leader. Every major moment in my career has started with an idea. While exploring the idea of leading Public Narrative, I attended the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards. After the event, a woman stood waiting for a cab, she’d left her phone in the office a few blocks away. While she was waiting, she was chatting with a woman I had spoken with to at the start of the event. I offered to give her a ride a few blocks away to her office. Our mutual acquaintance then said, “Wait until you find out who is in your car.” On our way, she began to share her story, including her five years working for Oprah. This woman was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. The most poignant moment that has stayed with me all these years is to believe, “Everything is possible!” I’ve never forgotten her words and have leaned on them many times in my leadership journey.

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

Identifying and remaining connected to my life’s purpose was a game-changer for me. I work with all kinds of people with different backgrounds and lived experiences. Therefore, I try to approach my work with compassion and understanding for their perspectives while remaining true to my own. My faith guides me and helps me endure difficult circumstances that surface in both my personal as well as my professional life. It’s through the lens of my faith that I’m able to allow those circumstances to shape me into a higher, better, more polished version of myself — — the version capable of grasping, implementing, and leading big ideas!

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World?”

I am extremely passionate about eradicating racism; dismantling systemic racism and encouraging people to find and cultivate their life’s purpose. I believe there is room to achieve this through entrepreneurship, community engagement, social justice, etc. There’s much debate about how to achieve this. For example, people with 9 to 5’s are often criticized by entrepreneurs and (sometimes) vice versa. Having been in both positions, I can say that both are hard. Both challenge you beyond your limits. In my experience, I was an entrepreneur whose work attracted a 9 to 5, positioning me for even greater access to resources, influence, and income. In any event, leverage is the name of the game. I want to curate an experience for stakeholders of all kinds to step outside of their comfort zones without fear of cancel culture. As tall of an order as that is, it’s not only necessary but possible for us to address root causes of issues harming Black and Brown communities.

How do you think this will change the world?

I think this is one of the most prolific moments in our history. We have a wide range of access to capital via technology and media. Social justice movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter have challenged us to consider the place of morality in being accountable for the platforms we hold when replacing racial and gender harm with racial and gender equity. There are countless individuals with meaningful stories and experiences to contribute with the ability to truly change the public discourse that suggests we must share the same perspective of what we think, feel, and know. That’s impossible. My experiences as a Black woman in this country are different from those of a Black man. I can empathize with and support my brother, but I can’t represent his voice, his story, aspirations, or desires as he can. I can, however, create space that allows him to share my platform and perhaps even surpass it considering we are a complement to one another and not competition.

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

Potential drawbacks would include a continual debate about how to explore and bring resolutions to these issues without attaining meaningful goals. Presently, we see this fallout as with the debate around the controversial topics that insist on the shift of certain power structures that have depended on race to survive. Nonetheless, I think we must do it anyway!

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

The narrative change model is Public Narrative’s approach to changing harmful health, safety, and education narratives that threaten the wellness of BIPOC individuals. Created in 2020 around the time of George Floyd’s murder, the civil unrest that followed inspired the three pillars considering how protestors leveraged media and public space to speak truth to power. Phases in the narrative change model include the ability to uplift voices from the broader community through a series of ‘Community Conversations.’ Those conversations help inform organizational plans for community engagement with diverse stakeholders. In 2019, we began a research partnership with the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities. It is known as the Chicago Community, Media, and Research Partnership. In two years, we identified the disconnect between health researchers and journalists. We leveraged our findings and lessons learned to create a framework for increasing engagement among researchers, journalists, and the broader community. In our partnership with the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a series of surveys and focus groups were conducted to help us understand the origin of harmful narratives pertaining to boys and young men of color. The results of our surveys and focus groups indicate the role the media plays in influencing perceptions of boys and young men of color on whites and other nationalities. This is why we’ve chosen to focus our efforts in areas of safety, health, and education where harmful narratives exist causing detriment to marginalized and BIPOC communities. In addition to capturing demographics, we are exploring ways to evaluate our impact. We aim to understand how we improve the public narrative through media engagement. After implementing our narrative change model, our next steps include scaling impact in communities through non-profits, service agencies, and other institutions in our areas of focus, public safety, health, and education. The City of Chicago has several projects and initiatives that would be well served by our narrative change model. Because the narrative change model is enabled by community voice, story gathering is paramount in implementing efforts that help deliver social impact.

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

We need access to capital to properly compensate leaders skilled in transformational leadership, policy and advocacy, diversity, equity and inclusion, health communications, and journalism. Presently, we’re exploring sponsorship options that align with corporate social responsibility to meet our needs and the needs of the communities and organizations we serve.

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

1. I wish someone would have told me that so many trained journalists leave the industry for other careers. And though they leave journalism, they’re still well-served in other professions for the skills they attained in journalism.

2. When your ideas are rejected, pursue the good ones anyway. I’ve encountered my share of people who didn’t believe in my vision. It hurt at the time but failing to move forward would have hurt way worse. Believe it or not, the vision I hadn’t seen with my natural eyes was more real than the rejection.

3. You can have an impact in journalism in roles beyond publisher, editor, or reporter. Throughout my career, I grew an appreciation for helping people change both their own personal and professional narratives. Still, the work I am doing allows me to change the course of history through individuals committed to purposefully influencing the world around them.

4. How to navigate the bureaucracy without losing my interest in the industry.

5. Fight to see the good in democracy and pursue it — at all costs. I’ve had seasons that have taught me how to survive the highs and lows of business. As exhausting as resilience can be, remaining mission-focused has allowed me to leverage obstacles and the complexities of relationships.

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

Consider your power and your influence at the table. Don’t be afraid to set your table accordingly. Every season is not the same. If you’re developing and growing professionally, you’ll face all sorts of challenges. Challenges can and will be messy, discouraging, and frustrating. It’s not weird. It’s a natural function of progression as you’re sorting things out. Setting your table accordingly means putting the right people in the right positions while welcoming the thought that you could be wrong about all of it. In my experience, it’s been my willingness to be wrong that has challenged me to lead beyond fear and into a place of success and abundance. I don’t believe success is attained in silos but in a community with stakeholders who have the capacity to influence the larger vision.

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

In over 30 years, Public Narrative has worked with journalists and non-profit organizations to tell better stories. Our relevance, in this moment, includes supporting systems change and transformation through media and civic engagement. We work with a diverse group of stakeholders to provide media literacy and communications training. The next phase of our work includes brokering relationships among corporations, startups, non-profits, educational institutions, and city agencies to help normalize the efficacy and practicality of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. In three years, we’ve built our capacity to implement this initiative along with increasing our budget by 47%. Presently, we’re seeking capital to establish five media literacy collectives throughout the City of Chicago. The collectives include the South Side, West Side, North Side, Far South Side, and Near North Side. Each collective will include non-profit organizations, researchers. and journalists who actively engage in the reshaping of Chicago’s narrative. To start, we’ll need an investment of $200,000 that allows us to invest $50,000 in each collective. Please contact me, Jhmira Alexander, at jalexander@publicnarrative.org to pledge your support and/or discuss further.

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


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

The Future Is Now: Nikki Shum-Harden Of Subspace On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake…

The Future Is Now: Nikki Shum-Harden Of Subspace On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Working at an agency can be fun, and it provides a great starting point for a marketing career. But, make your exit before all your experience is agency-based because it will be hard to transition after more than 5–7 years. I found this to be true when I was in the job market after a decade at one agency with 12 years in the agency-side overall. I’ve also been passed this advice from other agency veterans as well.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nikki Shum-Harden.

Nikki is a strategic marketing executive with nearly 20 years of experience in technology, media, entertainment, gaming, and digital marketing. Nikki currently serves as the Vice President of Marketing for Subspace, the world’s fastest, most secure, real-time optimized network. As the first marketing hire at the company, she has been instrumental in brand evolution, overall company growth, and the development of each marketing function. Her proven background as a cross-disciplinary leader creating, managing, and integrating teams across multiple business functions has led her in her success working with and driving results for a wide variety of iconic brands including The Walt Disney Company, Nike, Microsoft, Samsung, Netflix, ESPN, Under Armour, Bud Light, Budweiser, GoPro and Ubisoft. Nikki has a BA from UCLA in Sociology with a certificate in New Media Management from USC. In her free time, she’s an avid golfer, wannabe foodie, and Peloton enthusiast, all while being a mother to her two daughters Vivienne and Rosalie.

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

Growing up, my inspiration came from my father who is a serial entrepreneur and an electrical engineer. He took his first company, a VOIP startup, public in the mid-90s, sold his next company to Pioneer and won Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. Because of his tenacity, I grew up with a startup mentality and a passion for technical innovation. When I joined my first tech startup, he was beyond proud and excited for me and I couldn’t wait to keep exploring a career in this industry.

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

I was part of the core team at Super League Gaming that helped build and lead it to go public in 2019 which was a huge career moment for me. This was my first startup, and one of the big goals for many startups is an “exit” like an IPO. We went from a lesser-known startup with experiences for a few game titles, to the first esports company to go public. From all the publicity, along with the scrutiny of the public eye, that comes with an IPO to the addition of new titles, experiences, venues, and partners, it was an unforgettable experience. I learned that going public has its advantages and its disadvantages.

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

At Subspace, we are creating a new internet. Literally. This includes all 7 layers of the open systems interconnection (OSI), hardware and software. The new internet is focused on prioritizing dynamic, real-time traffic which is a breakthrough from the outdated version we currently use. This innovative technology has an immediate impact on the way we communicate today in our video calls and multiplayer online games, but it also paves the way for truly interactive, digital experiences like the metaverse.

How do you think this might change the world?

Without an internet built for real-time, we can never have truly real-time experiences like what virtual reality is trying to emulate. When you experience jitter, lag, and packet loss which manifests as dropped calls, gaps in voice/video feeds and slow connectivity, you’re not interacting in real-time. There are many delays which make it such that virtual experiences can’t be seamless, and therefore, can’t feel real. But, with Subspace, connections happen securely, stably, and at the speed of light so the world can communicate faster and realistically in a virtual space. When this happens, anything is possible and autonomous driving, remote surgery and the metaverse are just the beginning, becoming truly achievable.

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

The main problem we face in this technology is access. Right now, it is cost prohibitive for an end user to get on Subspace. We work in the B2B space with massive companies who can afford to use our infrastructure. Eventually, this will also be a problem with individuals, as some people can afford better internet than others creating a gap in access to experiences — both critical and not. And in the future, when we do move into the metaverse, we have to establish appropriate social behavior and ethics. We already are seeing this as a major problem in video gaming. This issue will only be amplified tenfold when our entire world is essentially evolving inside a video game.

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

The global pandemic accelerated the need for Subspace. Suddenly, everyone was meeting virtually, and the internet was taxed. This made us realize the time for Subspace is now.

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

The number one piece we need from people, companies and end users is acknowledgement that the current internet is not suitable for the way we communicate and interact today. Subspace is creating a new market and in order to demonstrate our solution, we first need the world to understand the problem.

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

Unfortunately, we are not allowed to disclose that we work with our game company customers because of strict NDAs. But, we know that game companies are influenced by what the gamers say. So, we’ve leveraged influencers to create video content and take to social media, complaining about lag and asking for Subspace. This took off in the Middle East, where gamers there have become and are huge fans of the company. We have also partnered with prospective customers to run their traffic on Subspace, as a means of showing, “the proof is in the pudding.” For example, the live stream for Avaya’s ENGAGE conference (https://avaya-engage.avaya.com/avaya-engage-2021) was executed by us and provided the evidence needed to back up our claims. We also spearheaded the initiative to create a Metaverse Advisory Board that’s in partnership with VentureBeat. Participants have included Epic Games CEO, Tim Sweeney and NVIDIA CEO, Jensen Huang.

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?

Instead of just one individual, I’m grateful for a group — my content marketing agency, Foundation Inc. I came from the agency space, so I have a critical eye when it comes to agency partners, and Foundation Inc has exceeded my expectations time and time again. The company has been with Subspace since we had a budget of around $5K a month all the way to our significantly higher spend now. They have completely immersed themselves and truly became part of the Subspace team. I’ll never forget when their VP of Operations, Melissa Hughes, once gave me such critical feedback that I’m forever grateful for. It was a bit shocking at first, given that I’m her client, but I learned and grew greatly from it.

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

As a result of bringing more connectivity to the Middle East, which has large geographic areas of desert sans internet, we were able to enable completely new esports teams to participate in a massive, high-level tournament for the first time ever. This is just one of many examples of what bringing greater access to the world can do.

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 a company’s mission, vision and values before you join. If they don’t have them, it’s a red flag. You should feel passionate and aligned, especially if it’s an early stage startup, because the ride is going to be bumpy.
  2. Decide if you’re a pre- or post-product-market fit (PMF) marketer, then find out which stage your company is in. Your experience and required skill set is going to be vastly different depending on whether the company has achieved PMF or not.
  3. Link in (LinkedIn) with everyone you meet. Assistants, customers, agencies, friends and family. You never know where people will go, what they will do or how your paths may or need to cross. I’ve leapt from job to job all from connections in my network.
  4. Working at an agency can be fun, and it provides a great starting point for a marketing career. But, make your exit before all your experience is agency-based because it will be hard to transition after more than 5–7 years. I found this to be true when I was in the job market after a decade at one agency with 12 years in the agency-side overall. I’ve also been passed this advice from other agency veterans as well.
  5. Experience with sales/selling is useful no matter what specialty you choose in the long-term. Learning how to pitch based on the audience has applications to personal life and all job functions. Then, you can pitch yourself in job interviews, pitch an idea internally, pitch an opportunity to a customer — or even pitch an alternative solution to your family, partner or toddler.

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

I’d hands down say the movement I hope to see adopted is supporting employees who are parents in the workplace. As evidenced by the sharp decrease of mothers in the workforce during COVID-19, companies do not amply support parents to be effective in raising their children while working. A solution to this is to allow families to disclose their family planning with their employers and feel like their employers are an active, helpful part of making their home lives positive. Additionally, governments should give companies resources to keep their businesses thriving if their employees choose to have a family. Children are our future, as Whitney Houston said, and what better way to engender positivity in humankind than to empower parents to raise their children to be good people?

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

The quote is, “dress for the job you want to have, not the one you already have” but I don’t take it literally. While I believe the quote is speaking about appearances and clothing, I think it applies to aiming higher, providing more value and acting the part. I’ve been promoted every two years and given more access and exposure because I acted for the part I wanted to have before it was given to me.

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

I’m a Swiss army knife and a chameleon. I know a little bit about a lot of things, adapt to situations and figure things out quickly. From new media to esports to the metaverse, I have a history of learning the new-new; bringing opportunities to market and then accelerating significant growth. All of these are traits I consider to be critical in a high-growth environment, and yet very hard to capture in bullets on a resume.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes — https://twitter.com/NikkiShum and https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikkishum/

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


The Future Is Now: Nikki Shum-Harden Of Subspace On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Comcast’s Steve White: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Lead with a clear vision that is purpose driven.

Develop systems to ensure you’re connecting to all levels of the organization.

Share transparent and regular communication (with customers and employees).

Remain customer driven. What are your customers saying? What do they need? Be responsive.

Start disrupting yourself before others start.

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 Steve White.

How does a poor kid from the housing projects make it to the corporate boardroom? For Steve White, it’s the result of an uncompromising attitude and work ethic. President of Comcast’s West Division for eleven years, Steve launched his career in 1996 as Regional Vice President. A commitment to his why and the influence of mentors enabled him to demonstrate consistent growth for his teams and divisions, which led to increasing leadership responsibilities. Driven by continuous learning, radical responsibility, and an unwavering commitment to excellence, Comcast’s West Division became a pacesetter by delivering industry-leading results. Steve White was responsible for all Comcast Cable operations in the Western U.S., leading nearly thirty thousand employees, serving almost eleven million customers, and driving annual revenue of nearly $18 billion. If the West Division was a stand-alone company, it would be one of the top 150 companies in America. Today, Steve serves the role of special counsel to the CEO of Comcast — one of the top 20 companies in the U.S.

Giving back and paying it forward are two of Steve White’s life values. He has lived in Denver for more than ten years and champions causes related to family and education, such as the Denver Scholarship Fund. He partners with the University of Denver as an Executive in Residence, providing academic enrichment for the Daniels College of Business. Additionally, Steve serves on the board of directors for New Leaders, which focuses on the development of public school principals. Steve also speaks to various professional groups helping others along their journey to professional and personal success.

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?

How does a poor kid from the housing projects make it to the corporate boardroom? For me, it’s the result of an uncompromising attitude and work ethic. President of Comcast’s West Division for eleven years, I launched my career in 1996 as Regional Vice President. A commitment to my why and the influence of mentors enabled me to demonstrate consistent growth for my teams and divisions, which led to increasing leadership responsibilities. Driven by continuous learning, radical responsibility, and an unwavering commitment to excellence, Comcast’s West Division became a pacesetter by delivering industry-leading results. I was responsible for all Comcast Cable operations in the Western U.S., leading nearly thirty thousand employees, serving almost eleven million customers, and driving annual revenue of nearly $18 billion. If the West Division was a stand-alone company, it would be on of the top 150 companies in America. Today, I serve the role of special counsel to the CEO of Comcast — one of the top 20 companies in the U.S.

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 was 21 years old, and I was attending my first national sales meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. As a new teammate, I was trying to fit in. A large group of leaders hit the casinos for a little gambling. I joined and wanted to fit in and “be cool,” so I started gambling with the group. We started at the blackjack table, and quickly realized that I was in over my head. I lost $100 within 20 minutes. I quickly stepped away from the blackjack table. I learned that you need to be you, and you shouldn’t try to be someone else. Ultimately, people will respect you for being 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?

The two most important women in my life: my mother and my wife. My mother was a motel maid, and we would often assist her on the weekends. While my mother’s talent was greater than what her position required, she did what she had to do to support my brothers and me. I learned the importance of sacrifice, commitment, and living your why during those long weekend days helping her clean motel rooms.

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 founder Ralph Roberts bought his first cable system in Tupelo, Mississippi( the home of Elvis Presley). He was looking for a business as his current business selling suspenders in the early 60’s was being disrupted by belts. In essence, the business was launched as a result of disruption. Ralph quickly realized that this was a local business, led by local teams and empowered to do what was right.

The original vision of allowing consumers to have access to entertainment and information is still as relevant today as it was in 1963 when the company was birthed. Our purpose is to connect customers to information, entertainment and what’s important to them.

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 beginning of the pandemic, we moved over 15,000 employees from an on-site environment to working from home.

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

Yes. We all have difficult days of doubt, feeling overwhelmed and not sure we’re on the right track. I start counting my blessings, and after listing three to four, I realize whatever I’m facing is not that critical. Reflecting on my gratitude allows me to re-focus on the matter at hand.

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

Clearly communicating a compelling vision in the simplest way that is purpose driven.

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?

Keep the team focused on the purpose of the organization. Paint a picture of what customers and/or employees would experience if the company wasn’t able to fulfill its mission.

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

In person if possible. Too often, leaders take the easy way out because they’re not comfortable with delivering bad news. The reality is that employees will have greater respect for you if you convey as much as possible about the rationale behind your leadership decisions.

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

There are only two things that you can truly impact and influence: 1) the quality and development of your people and 2) the culture of the organization.

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

Do what’s right while honoring the company values.

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. Taking shortcuts — especially as it relates to expense reductions.
  2. Reducing your investment in employees.
  3. Not readily sharing information. Employees can handle more than you think.

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?

  1. Stay committed to being a customer-focused organization.
  2. Start disrupting yourself. Don’t wait for others to do it.
  3. Focus on a long-term view and approach.

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. Lead with a clear vision that is purpose driven.
  2. Develop systems to ensure you’re connecting to all levels of the organization.
  3. Share transparent and regular communication (with customers and employees).
  4. Remain customer driven. What are your customers saying? What do they need? Be responsive.
  5. Start disrupting yourself before others start.

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

“The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

stevewhitespeaks.com

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


Comcast’s Steve White: 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Gabi Saper & Lorenzo Gonzalez Of CMY Cubes On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Gabi Saper & Lorenzo Gonzalez Of CMY Cubes On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may be certain that your product idea is the next best thing but make sure you only buy stock you can move. Yes, there are economies of scale, and yes, you’ll pay a higher unit price, but if you can move 100 units quickly you won’t sweat the extra costs you had in the beginning as you scale to 1,000 units. On the other hand if you are sitting on 10,000 units that it turns out people don’t want, you will be in a world of stress. Trust us, we’ve been there!

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

With many businesses under their belts, Gabi and Lorenzo found themselves going back to the drawing board during the pandemic, when the world was flipped on its head and previous business’ dried up.

Together, they created CMY Cubes- the most curious and utterly magnificent sensory toy you’ll ever get to handle. These seemingly magical colour-defying cubes, tetrahedrons, icosahedrons, and more are captivating the world, seeing 1200% growth in the first six months alone. The almost instant success came from a mixture of launching a first-of-its-kind product that is extremely visually appealing and good digital marketing, thanks to Saper’s experience in the industry. Shortly after launching, CMY Cubes went viral on TikTok & Reddit, which launched CMY into the market quickly. Lorenzo has a history in science and engineering and together, they both have always loved experimenting and making new things. This was the inspiration behind the idea for making CMY Cubes. What they didn’t realise is that it would be as big of a hit as it has become all over the world. They soon realised that they created something that people not only wanted but needed.

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”?

Lorenzo: I was born and raised in Hollywood Florida which is in South Florida between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. My father died when I was 18 months old so my mom raised my older sister and me on her own our whole lives. She was always working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet and thankfully we never went without food or shelter. When I was 11 my sister left to go to college and so it was just my mom and me for all of my teenage years. At 18 I left home to attend the University of Florida for Aerospace Engineering but I soon discovered that, at that point in my life, university was not for me and so I left university and started backpacking and travelling the world. After travelling through North and South America I found myself backpacking through Europe which is where I met Gab when I was 21 in France. Her and I continued travelling together for several years through Europe and Asia and we settled in Sydney, Australia where Gab is originally from. In Sydney, I worked as a Carpenter for several years eventually starting and running a successful renovations company before returning to University for degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Physics.

Gabi: I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. My parents got a divorce when I was about 9 years old and so I lived with my mum majority of the time. She was a flight attendant and flew around the world every other week so I spent a lot of time on my own at home. This definitely taught me to be very independent, it’s the reason I got my first real job at 15, working in retail. I was very self driven. My dad was always self employed during my childhood, whether it was his carpentry services or his retail shop, he was always his own boss — this inspired me a lot and gave me motivation to want to do the same. I remember making my own bedazzled phone cases in grade 8 for the iphone and walking around school selling them to my peers, my aspiration for entrepreneurship started early, haha.

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

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” We have found that success is as much a function of persistence and perseverance as it is of talent or luck. So many things in life won’t always work out the first time but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying. We like to think of our failures as the paving stones on our path forward. Between us, we tried and had varying levels of success with 8 different businesses that produced some sort of revenue before CMY Cubes. While some of those did turn out to be successful, each one that did not could have been where we decided to cut ourselves short and stop trying. Thankfully we tried, tried, again!

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?

Lorenzo: Probably the most important book I ever read in my life was “The four-hour work week” by Tim Ferriss. During my time as a carpenter I was constantly listening to audiobooks so I could reclaim my time and the first time I read The Four Hour Work Week I was actually building an exhibition for the Museum of Applied Sciences in Sydney so I wasn’t able to follow any of the instructions provided in the text. The value of the book came through to me regardless because it showed me for the first time that it was possible to start a business or curate and construct your own life anywhere that you wanted in a way that was meaningful to you. Until I read a book, I thought that the barriers to entry for being your own boss or running your own business were just too high for me to surpass. It was a direct result of reading that book that I started my own carpentry business, and the subsequent businesses that Gabrielle and I have run together including CMY Cubes.

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?

It’s true that there are plenty of good ideas, the real issue is execution on those ideas and people‘s risk tolerance because having a good idea isn’t enough. You really have to be able to stomach spending (likely your own) money on your idea which means having confidence in yourself and/or your team. You have to be able to cope with failures which are so likely they are basically guaranteed. As far as the practical execution of a good idea goes, a lot of research has to be done, and you’ll come across what will seem like perpetual dead ends. The mindset you need is of going through a finite list, you need to find out all the places where you’re NOT going to be able to manufacture your product or provide your service, and cross them off the list. And if you can persist, if you can summon the resilience to go through that list, if you can find your way past all the deadends, eventually you WILL find the right place. And only then can the merit of your good idea stand.

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?

It may sound simple but Google is your best friend. It’s as easy as searching for the term of your product that you have the idea for and if it has been done before it will likely come up very quickly. There’s been plenty of times that we thought we had the greatest idea yet but shortly after googling we realised it had already been created and sold. If your product idea doesn’t show up on the first, second, or third page of google it’s likely that it’s not a very common product and it may be potentially worth executing. Another great place to look at is social media. A simple search on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or twitter will give you a good idea on whether the product is already trending and it’ll also give you an idea on whether people are asking for 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.

1. Researching the idea to find out how large (or small) the competition is. Is there a need or want for this product in the market? Can you make something that already exists even better? What would your positioning in the market be?

2. Start brainstorming, designing and writing a brief on what you want the product to look and feel like. Is it a particular colour? What size is it? What material is it made from?

3. If possible, try making a DIY sample of what you’re wanting to create, or get someone locally to help bring the idea to life in a sample. Fiverr is a great resource filled with professionals to help create 3D designs, drawings or highly detailed tech packs. This will really help when taking your idea to manufacturers.

4. Start researching the name of your product to find out if it’s available, this includes the business name, website domain name & social media handles. It’s a good idea to have all of those secured before your move to manufacturing.

5. In tandem to working on your product design and samples, work on your company logo and overall business look and feel. This will become necessary when working with manufacturing as you’ll either want it on the product, product packaging, or labels.

6. Set up your website by using a platform such as Shopify. There’s a lot of free ready to go templates that you just need to update with your branding and products. If budgets are low, you can easily do this yourself, alternatively you can pay somebody to design and create the website for you. You’ll want your website ready to go by the time your products have been manufactured.

7. Once you have your product brief, a sample in hand, or a design tech pack complete you can then start to research for manufacturers. If you’re looking for local makers, a few simple google searches looking for a local manufacturer of the type of material your product is made from will point you in the right direction. You can even email them, and they’ll likely point you in the right direction. If you’re looking for a product to be made further abroad, Alibaba is your best bet. Remember, if you’re using an overseas manufacturer, your brief will need to be clear, and a product tech pack will really help avoid miscommunication and translation error. Start off by getting samples from multiple manufacturers to compare quality and price. Don’t rush this step — it’s important to consider your best option. Never settle for second best.

8. Once you’ve got samples on the way and your website is almost ready, it’s time to start shooting content (photos, or videos) to get your social media accounts and advertising underway. Whether you use influencers, content creators, or just do it yourself, content is key. Showing off the product in engaging videos or writing blogs will help you create a need for what you’re selling. It’s important to start building your audience through a mailing list or social media following before you officially launch your product to start off with a bang and continue to go up from there. When customers become ambassadors, that’s when you’ll be set up for continued growth and success almost guaranteed.

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. Value your own time. When you are providing a service do not sell yourself short. If you have gotten to the point where you think you can have a business offering your services then you must be good at what you do and there must be a need for your skills, do not be afraid to price yourself appropriately. If you offer yourself for less than what you’re worth, you will make your clients happy at the expense of your own happiness and this is not the ideal situation. Close your eyes and imagine your business going extremely well, with lots of happy clients and enough remuneration to feel fulfilled. Whatever number makes you feel this way is what you should price yourself at. You will find out very quickly if this is realistic, and can adjust from there. When Enzo started his carpentry business he would work long hours for free because of a sense of obligation to the clients, and it took several projects before realising that the obligation works in both directions. Reasonable people are happy to pay for a quality service, provide that quality and charge that price.

2. Value your own opinion. There is a quote by Steve Jobs: “everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it-you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” When you finally realise the truth in this statement it will change your life forever. Whatever it is you want to accomplish there is a path to that fulfilment, and all that path requires to divulge itself is self belief. There is a time and place for expert opinion, but you should always start with what YOU think, and how YOU feel about it. Chances are you’ve got a pretty good head on your shoulders and can probably reason through 99% of what you’ll encounter. And don’t take advice from people who aren’t experienced in what you’re doing. When you are starting a business everyone’s got an opinion on it which is kind of funny considering none of them have ever done it! Meanwhile there are great resources (like this publication) full of free advice from people who actually HAVE accomplished something, start there.

3. Trust people to do their job. If you can’t do it yourself, and learning how to do it yourself will take more effort than it’s worth: outsourcing is key. Finding the right help from the right people is often cheaper and easier than taking the time to figure it out for yourself. People with the entrepreneurial spirit often feel like they can do anything and everything themselves, and true as that may be, there is only one of you. With few exceptions anything of significance that has ever been built has eventually been the result of teamwork. Find people who you connect with who you can trust, and then trust them. As good as you are, collaboration is so important and always leads to something even greater than what was possible on your own.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may be certain that your product idea is the next best thing but make sure you only buy stock you can move. Yes, there are economies of scale, and yes, you’ll pay a higher unit price, but if you can move 100 units quickly you won’t sweat the extra costs you had in the beginning as you scale to 1,000 units. On the other hand if you are sitting on 10,000 units that it turns out people don’t want, you will be in a world of stress. Trust us, we’ve been there!

5. Working with manufacturers is hard. They tend to over promise and under deliver. Quality control is so important and do NOT believe it until you see it (in your hands). Never settle for less, remember — anything can be made.

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?

Clearly define why this product needs to exist. Try to figure out why it doesn’t already exist, and if it does exist then find out what’s wrong with the current version. Then really think about whether you yourself would buy the product and how it would improve your life. Finally construct a prototype or have it made for you.

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?

We have never done that. Whether or not that’s beneficial to somebody I think must be judged by them. I feel the utility in a consultant might be in how to increase the manufacturability of their idea rather than the utility of their idea. As with any contractor, you should look at their track record. They should prove they are successful otherwise don’t waste your time.

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

We have always been self-funded because we haven’t yet fallen in the need to raise capital. We think it’s important for each business to do as they feel is necessary but if you decide to bring on a venture capitalist, make sure it’s for the right reasons and not just for the cash. Do they have the connections you need? Can they mentor you to grow your skill set? Can they help you grow your company? Don’t forget there are always other options out there as well, such as business loans and crowdfunding websites either funded by customers believing in your product or micro loans from new investors.

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

At every opportunity we share the lessons we’ve learned the hard way with those who are just starting out or struggling. We were fortunate enough to receive advice early on from successful business owners and we endeavour to pay it forward. We are constantly engaging with our customers to provide them with products they will cherish. We are also currently working towards collaborations with schools to promote science literacy and involvement with young people.

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.

We strive to promote self belief, independence, and personal responsibility in people of all ages and backgrounds. Being your own boss brings a sense of fulfilment in your life and we would love for everyone to reap the benefits of their potential. We truly believe that the world would be a better place if more people were able to express themselves meaningfully through their work and provide their communities with role models for success and leadership.

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.

Tim Ferriss has been so influential on our lives. His books opened our eyes to what is possible for everyone and his podcasts keep us constantly engaged with what success means to us personally, be that in business, personal development, or engagement with our community. Meeting him would be an honour.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Gabi Saper & Lorenzo Gonzalez Of CMY Cubes 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: Jehan Luth Of Banyan On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Essentially, the concept is to spend each third of your day on one of the following — spending time with people that know more so you can continue learning, spending time with those who share a similar mindset and are on the same page, and spending time mentoring others who are seeking advice and direction, which helps me live with purpose. This is a rule I like to live by and so far, it has proven to be helpful and offer balance.

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

Jehan Luth is the founder of Banyan, a fintech infrastructure company whose mission is to harness the power of item-level receipt data to empower retailers and consumers. Jehan’s broad background includes degrees in Computer Science, Public Health Epidemiology, and Privacy Law, which led him down a path of constantly identifying challenges and ways to solve them by applying high-quality data insights. Jehan cares deeply about people, the world, and breaking down barriers while taking the road less traveled.

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?

Being an immigrant from India and moving all around the world, I came to the U.S. over a decade ago, so I have a unique appreciation for being here and I am humbled to have such incredible access to technology, people, infrastructure, and capital to tackle some audacious goals.

In addition, I have a unique journey, which is not what anyone would consider “traditional.” My educational and professional journey has been anything but linear. I have always followed my passion to work toward determining my mission and purpose in life and to fulfill that mission. My professional and educational journey continues to lead me down a path to answer the question, “How can we use data to keep people safe and healthy?”

My educational background is different. The way I look at it, all educational programs are teaching rules or how to be creative. For example, I have a degree in law and law is all about teaching rules. Whereas, my culinary degree taught me how to be creative and combine different elements to create something truly unique. In addition, I have degrees in Computer Science and Public Health Epidemiology. In general, the world is not black and white. That grey area in the middle is where we learn and explore. And my “ping-ponging” between incredible technical and creative learnings helped me appreciate both sides and learn how to live in the grey area and innovate. For example at Banyan, we designed and created an innovative solution that adheres to specific, necessary rules and systems, but the solution is truly inventive and fills a need for both retailers and consumers.

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

At the core, I want to solve the complicated problems facing our world. What I learned is that solving some of the most complicated problems requires data, people to make sense of the data, and established processes.

Through my past experiences, I identified a glaring gap in verifiable receipt data. This experience motivated me to find a solution, which led to my latest venture, Banyan. The problem we are solving is that consumers do not have digitally available item-level receipt data. Today, you get a paper receipt. Digital access to that data has the potential to solve problems for all of us — and we are providing that access.

Here is an example of a real-life situation and how Banyan can help. Consider an individual who is aging and has a caretaker — an adult child or otherwise — who is responsible for helping manage their finances. The aging individual has some dementia but can still function independently. The individual goes to the grocery store every other day. And for whatever reason, they buy the same product over and over again resulting in a surplus of the product and a deficiency in funds. Using Banyan’s technology, the caretaker can view item-level information and understand this spending habit and help make a change. This is a pretty specific scenario, but it explains the value in the data that can be found below the surface.

In short, Banyan is a fintech infrastructure company that enables fintechs and banks to deliver incredibly personalized experiences to customers. With item-level data, consumers can be aware of product recalls, evaluate spending habits, and overall, make changes that can positively affect their well-being.

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

This may not be the funniest per se — maybe it’s kind of crazy — but it is something I learned along the way that I think could be helpful for others. Coming from a diverse background of experience, I had a different perspective and would often ask questions that surprised others. For example, early on, I met with a large retailer to discuss a few ideas and at one point I said, “Why don’t you just give us your data?” Maybe that wasn’t the best way to approach the retailer, but I was a little naive. And sometimes being naive leads to optimism and audacity that having too much experience or being denied too many times can squash. I want to hold onto a little bit of that naivety.

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?

I had many mentors throughout my journey. So many of them have offered advice and various perspectives that helped shape my personal work and leadership style. Honestly, I think my best mentors are a part of my trusted network, which offers honest, open feedback that really helps me refine my vision and make intentional decisions.

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?

In the technology space, we often follow the principle of “move fast, and break things.” That approach results in some of the game-changing products and services we all know and love. But, there are times when the disruptors don’t always see the bigger picture and don’t always consider who is impacted by the innovations, who is losing their job or being dislocated. This is why we really tried to build a company that balances the commercial aspects of our technology with the potential benefit for the broader society. In the future, our technology will empower initiatives such as cancer trials and use item-level details to provide insights about how people are shopping to help improve their nutrition and enhance how they live.

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

One of the best pieces of advice I received was the rule of thirds. Essentially, the concept is to spend each third of your day on one of the following — spending time with people that know more so you can continue learning, spending time with those who share a similar mindset and are on the same page, and spending time mentoring others who are seeking advice and direction, which helps me live with purpose. This is a rule I like to live by and so far, it has proven to be helpful and offer balance.

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

I previously mentioned how our technology will be used in the future to help improve health and well-being. And we are just getting started with the scope Banyan’s infrastructure can cover. Today, most of the data flowing through our system is from retailers. However, now we are moving into a broader class of merchants including restaurants and other sectors. Beyond that, we see a huge range of transactions, ranging from services to experiences, flowing through our network. We are also focused on the U.S. for now, but the rest of the world is out there and we know we can make a greater impact when we enter into those markets.

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 enjoy reading and I will often read and then reread a book that makes a difference in how I think or work. One of my favorite books is “The Power of Habit,” which I read multiple times and keep on my bookshelf. In business, wins are most often a result of building habits that thrive on focus and consistency.

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

One of the most influential life lesson quotes is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” It’s the idea that if you never ask, you will never receive. I believe that when there is something you want or need, you can waste time hoping it shows up, or you can go ask for it. Generally, the latter is the best way to go and it has not failed me thus far.

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

I’d recommend trying the one-third rule I shared. It’s a unique way to strike a healthy balance in life, which seems to work for me. I encourage you to give it a try!

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn, Twitter

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


Meet The Disruptors: Jehan Luth Of Banyan 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.

Glenn Lane Of Westchester Family Care On 5 Things You Should Do To Optimize Wellness After…

Glenn Lane Of Westchester Family Care On 5 Things You Should Do To Optimize Wellness After Retirement

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Work on your social life after retirement- Make sure to have fulfilling plans every day to keep you moving and looking forward to new experiences.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Glenn Lane.

Glenn is the Founder and President of Westchester Family Care, an at-home health agency that coordinates care for seniors who are aging in place in Westchester County and Connecticut. Glenn opened Westchester Family Care in 2016 with the belief that high-quality personal home care through exceptional caregivers will “let family members be family again.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

In September 2010, my mother, my mother-in-law and her sister were all diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. We were devastated and needless to say overwhelmed. We were unsure about what to expect. What were our options? We knew we had work to do and our journey began. We learned about Alzheimer’s, dementia, and the treatments available at the time. We learned how to properly care for our loved ones. We also learned that we needed to care for ourselves. We learned a lot and continue to learn.

Since then, we have shared our story with many friends and acquaintances. We quickly realized that there were many families like ours who were dealing not only with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia but an entire array of illnesses and disabilities. Like us, they wanted their loved ones to be cared for and safe at home, but they needed help. We found that sharing what we had learned through our experience was not only helpful to others, but also gratifying for us.

So, this became our mission, and Westchester Family Care was born.

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

Every person who is a client has an interesting story that we are able to be a part of for a short period of time. One testimonial that really stood out was from a patient’s daughter:

“Three years ago, the world changed for my parents — as well as for me and my sister, who both live hours away from them. Enter Westchester Family Care and those who would become our brothers and sisters from other mothers. Everyone — -from Glenn, who sits at the helm, to the nurse whose expertise, devotion and compassion is unparalleled, to billing and has provided me with tremendous personal attention, to sometimes-last-minute coverage requests, to the numerous reliable and dedicated caregivers — -is like a gift. If not for WFC, I would likely have had to quit my job and relocate, suffering untold emotional and financial consequences. They are simply the best and have provided hugs, hand-holding and holistic support to help us take every step of this challenging journey — -ALWAYS with our best interests at heart.”

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I believe humor and laughter is the best form of medicine and helps us give the best care for our patients, as well as build camaraderie amongst our team. A part of growing a business is overcoming obstacles and always learning. This creates the opportunity for us to continue to grow and evolve and be the best we can be.

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

I am very grateful for my friend and colleague Andrea Brown whom I met at an industry conference 5 years ago. She is my go-to when it comes to the home care business. She has become a trusted adviser, consultant, coach and friend as I navigated new waters with her invaluable guidance.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Avoiding burnout in our industry is a top priority. It is important to take mental health breaks to make sure your client is getting the best care possible while taking your own wellness into consideration. Make sure to have a good team in place that is communicative and understands realistically how much time and care it takes to be successful in this industry.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Work culture is ever evolving, and communication and transparency should be top priorities as we are still navigating this pandemic. Since the start of covid-19, my company has started communicating more now than ever. This interaction is important to know how clients are doing but also to check in with staff daily to make sure their needs are met as well.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?

When you come from a 9–5 workday to retirement, your whole world shifts and you can suddenly see an overwhelming day filled with so much time and nothing to do. Not having a sense of purpose throughout the day can cause one’s health to decline.

Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental or physical wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Work on your social life after retirement- Make sure to have fulfilling plans every day to keep you moving and looking forward to new experiences.
  2. Create a Schedule or Pattern- When coming from the work force, our bodies sometimes feel the need to be on a routine schedule. With no pressing events throughout the day, it is easy to just sit and wait for something to fill your day which can sometimes lead to depression and long-term physical implications. Instead set a routine that is easy to follow and allows you to have a purpose every day to get up out of bed.
  3. Physical Activity- Movement is very important for any age, however after retirement, it is more important than ever. Going for a simple walk every day for 10 minutes, dancing in the living room, or going to a group fitness class gets the blood flowing and gives your body the energy it needs to fuel the rest of your day. Find something that is easy to stick to and that you like.
  4. Keep Busy- Retirement is the time to check off that bucket list! Fill your day with activities you enjoy every week. Keeping busy will help with your mental and physical wellness.
  5. Create Obtainable goals- Create goals that inspire you. This can be goals like getting involved in the community, training for a marathon or even waking up before 6 am to see the sunrise. These goals should be fulfilling and excite you to accomplish them.

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

A part of happiness is enjoying life. Always keep laughing.

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

A life lesson quote that always resonates with me was said to me by my former boss at JP Morgan. He claimed, “Hope is not a strategy”. While we want our clientele to be hopeful, it is our job to make the process easier by structuring our business so that our clients only have to worry about their loved ones.

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 if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have the opportunity to sit down with Bill Gates. I believe there are a lot of lessons to learn from someone so successful.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

LinkedIn- Westchester Family Care Inc.

Twitter- @westfamilycare

Facebook- @westfamilycare

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!


Glenn Lane Of Westchester Family Care On 5 Things You Should Do To Optimize Wellness After… 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: Jessi Clayton Of The Prep On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. One of the smartest things I did was hire an assistant! I was starting to get burnt our trying to manage the day to day of the business all myself.

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

Jessi Clayton is the co- founder and co- owner of Professional Performance Prep. Jessi began her career as an actor and musical theatre performer for several years before falling in love with coaching and mentoring young, aspiring performers. Jessi and her business partner and Prep co-owner, Theresa Pittius, recognized that performing arts studios for professional actors and singers was almost non existent in central New Jersey and students would have to travel all the way to NYC for professional training and services. Jessi and Theresa capitalized on the opportunity and have been thriving in New Jersey with almost 1000 students all over the country and even a handful internationally.

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”?

Growing up, my absolute favorite thing in the world was singing. I grew up on a farm in an incredibly small town in North Carolina where performing opportunities were minimal, but I did enjoy yearly recitals with my voice studio as well as singing weekly with my church choir. I knew music was my passion and calling so when it was time for college, I earned a Bachelor’s in music with a focus in voice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I graduated with honors in 2010 and moved to NYC right after to continue my education in musical theatre at the New York Film Academy.

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

“When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized it was because I was afraid of failure — but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure.” — Gretchen Rubin

I believe as a business owner and mentor one of the greatest things you can pursue is education and willingness to learn from others. You’re only going to be as successful as what you are willing to change so humble yourself enough to fail and dream even bigger.

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?

One of my favorite books is Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I learned a lot about myself in that book and how to sustainably build habits based on personal tendencies. This has been a game changer! Highly recommend. I’m constantly looking for ways to better myself as a business owner, mentor, and wife and absolutely believe Better Than Before had a significant impact as I was able to learn so much about myself. Things I had never even realized!

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?

In my experience through co- founding Professional Performance Prep, if the idea and need are there, a business will follow after execution. We saw a real need in Monmouth County, NJ for a performing arts studio that services aspiring, professional performers. We were surprised to learn there were not any performing arts studios in the area created to help young professionals navigate this insanely difficult industry. Our passion to mentor young performers was the driving force behind founding The Prep. We worked really hard and were able to get a studio running very quickly!

I believe one of the biggest challenges for new entrepreneurs is fulfilling dreams while being scared. Having a new idea is exciting but also terrifying! If it’s your passion, push past the fear of failure and see what happens! I think the moment we feel fear over something close to us, is when the doubt creeps in which extinguishes our passion.

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?

Don’t be afraid to ask others for their opinion. Meet with other professionals you trust and see what they think. Maybe your idea isn’t brand new, but a better way or different spin on something that already exists. Ask other people! Gather information and data.

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 Prep’s journey was a bit different than filing a patent and finding a manufacturer, but once we realized the need for a professional performing arts studio in NJ, we first began marketing to the local community who would typically travel to NYC for training and audition prep. We hosted several open houses in the beginning and teamed up with other small businesses to get our name out there. For example, we hosted a talent show at a local beach club and gave their kid members mini lessons to get them ready. We made sure all of our students felt like a part of the Prep family and did camps, cabarets, and even a few family outings!

We quickly began to expand not only in the local community, but across the country using Facetime. Online sessions really are quite effective and have been important for The Prep in growing the number of students we can impact. It has been a joy seeing students from across the country continue to thrive in their craft when several of them we have not even met in person!

We have grown to almost 1000 students with a staff of 28 instructors all over the country in just three years!

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. Being your own boss is not as easy as it seems. Sometimes it’s almost harder to set my own hours as I have to remain super motivated a disciplined to get tasks done on time.
  2. Even after you have established your business and product, never stop learning. This was a HUGE lesson I have learned along the way being a mentor and business owner. Just because you start to become successful doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about your industry.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. One of the smartest things I did was hire an assistant! I was starting to get burnt our trying to manage the day to day of the business all myself.
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of a morning routine. Setting yourself up for success by starting your day on your terms is invaluable. Setting aside that small chunk of time for myself before answering to other people has been crucial in productivity.
  5. Safe guard your time more than ever. As a business owner, you’re always needed, but creating a work/life balance is a necessity. Being busy and working hard doesn’t mean no time for yourself and family.

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?

I would say research research research as your very first step. Talk to other professionals in addition to friends and family and gather opinions and data. Look into similar businesses and see how they did it. Next create a plan. Planning is everything. You won’t have success by just hoping everything magically comes together. Envision, plan, and will it into existence.

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 believe it depends on the business and how advanced the plans are. I believe hiring a development consultant can be a valuable move once the proper groundwork is laid. Having a consultant can provide incredibly useful insight, but also add cost to a new business which can be more harmful than helpful if you aren’t ready with a plan.

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 personally believe in remaining debt free with a solid business plan before expanding or investing. When we started The Prep, we bootstrapped as we had no investors and little capital. We have been able to remain a debt free business through bootstrapping first and expanding second. I recommend bootstrapping as a new business, but also know when to ask for help. Burning out in the beginning won’t be useful for you or your new company.

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

Like I mentioned earlier, the entertainment industry is an insanely difficult one to navigate especially for kids and families just starting out. I grew up in a small, country town in North Carolina where performing arts mentors were non — existent. I wish I had what my students have. A mentor and guide through the whole process. I feel as a mentor to children, I have been able to impact so many kids over the years as they have grown and progressed through the industry.

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.

My passion is helping children of all different backgrounds achieve their dreams. If I were to start a movement, it would be to set up a mentorship program for lower income families and underprivileged communities. Talent and passion exist everywhere and I would love to see the performing arts be more accessible to families with financial needs.

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.

Amy Landino is one of my business heroes. I have learned so much from her YouTube channel and books about organization, running a small business, starting your day on your terms, and so much more. She has realty inspired me personally as well as business owners everywhere. I think it would be incredible to meet her and thank her personally.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Jessi Clayton Of The Prep 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.

The Future Is Now: Drew Hills Of Veritone On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Drew Hills Of Veritone On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Two fold…authenticity is one. Allowing someone to own their brand forever. Giving them 100% control of where and when it is distributed. In addition, allowing more control and distribution at scale. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t again mention producing content in multiple languages in the talent’s voice. This is an ultimate dedication to inclusion and truly serves so many people on a large scale. Not only offering authentic and personalized content to audiences in their native language but also allowing talent to connect with their audience like never before.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Drew Hilles, SVP Global Commercial Sales.

Currently, SVP/General Manager of Veritone Inc. Veritone’s Operating System for Artificial Intelligence (aiWare) orchestrates and unlocks the power of cognitive computing to transform and analyze audio, video, text and more into actionable insights. Drew runs Media and Entertainment Globally for Veritone. Veritone’s aiWare enables media companies, brands, networks, teams, and political groups to grow their audience, enhance workflow efficiencies, improve the efficacy of ad campaigns, index live and archived media content, and unlock hidden revenue streams.

Drew was one of the key founding Senior Executives of dMarc Broadcasting (later acquired by GOOGLE for $1.4 Billion). For GOOGLE, Mr Hilles served as a Senior Director of Sales overseeing Content Partnerships and Advertising Sales & Operations ($25 Billion in revenue). Drew was a key Senior Executive of GOOGLE’S North American Organization for 4 years. Drew worked on many key projects at GOOGLE including a GOOGLE sales restructure and and integration of YouTube’s Sales Organization.

Thank you so much for doing this with us !Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career that lead you to Veritone?

The “AI sunami.” Some say artificial intelligence will be as impactful to the human race as fire. I want to be a part of that impactful pursuit for good. We were the first to develop an AI operating system (aiWARE™) and I knew that would accelerate the impact AI could have on companies and people.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs you see in use of the Veritone’s MARVEL.ai? How do you think that will help people and/or the industry?

I can’t think of MARVEL.ai these days without thinking about scale and localization. Localization is not a novel idea or technological advancement, however localization in the original talent’s voice is — and it’s mind blowing. Think about releasing podcasts, radio programs, movies, and TV shows in multiple languages in that same actor’s voice. It’s incredible and it will fundamentally change how not only the media and entertainment industry operates but also corporations for training materials and government agencies issuing critical announcements. Content curation and distribution has accelerated by multiples over the last several years and synthetic voice can aid in keeping up with that pace from; localization, distribution, etc…

How does Veritone’s MARVEL.ai fit into a Future Now technology that might change the world?

Expanding on the previous question too, this type of authentic localization and dubbing at scale will not only change how these organizations do business but it will change the way audiences relate to and engage with content. Inclusion is a challenge for nearly every single company out there and now those same companies have a way to include audiences who speak a different language in a way that is more personable and genuine.

What will be the “tipping point” for MARVEL.ai?

Certainly there are numerous media companies who clearly see the benefit and value in synthetic voice for advertisements and endorsements, localization, regionalization, news, financial and weather reporting, scene narration, audiobooks, etc. Emergency public safety announcements, corporate training materials across all industries, education –- we are already seeing demand in these areas, the tipping point will be when these industries outside of media and entertainment realize the benefits at scale.

What revenue opportunities are there for media companies, brands, celebrities and influencers that are using MARVEL.ai?

Celebrities, athletes, and influencers are often in highest demand during their busiest times of the year. An ethically created and authorized clone of their voice makes it so they are accessible even when they are on the road, playing a game, or otherwise performing. Perhaps more importantly, their voice clone can be put to work when they are at home spending valuable time with their families. In other words, synthetic voice reduces the time needed to produce content such as audio endorsements, saving production costs and accelerating voice talents’ ability to monetize their brand (and the brands’ benefit as well).

What is Veritone doing to ensure that the use of MARVEL.ai is not abused for unethical such as voice authentication fraud?

First and foremost, Veritone will not ever produce a clone of someone’s voice without verbal and written consent from the talent themselves or in the case of the deceased, the estate and/or IP owner. Once that is in place, from a technical standpoint, we have implemented protective measures such as inaudible watermark and traceability. Furthermore, the voice owner has full control over who can license their voice and for which projects. Additionally, Veritone is an active member of governing bodies such as The Open Voice Network and the IAB. We uphold extremely high standards of security, and believe that transparency maintains that trust. We will always protect the t, their voice identity, and any IP you create with our technology.

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. 🙂

Two fold…authenticity is one. Allowing someone to own their brand forever. Giving them 100% control of where and when it is distributed. In addition, allowing more control and distribution at scale. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t again mention producing content in multiple languages in the talent’s voice. This is an ultimate dedication to inclusion and truly serves so many people on a large scale. Not only offering authentic and personalized content to audiences in their native language but also allowing talent to connect with their audience like never before.

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

I really like to study great leaders. I think to be a great leader you first need to be a great Student. I think great students are great leaders. You should never stop being a student

  • Always be curious
  • Always learn
  • Be open
  • Understand that you don’t know everything
  • Ask question

To be a great leader you need to be willing to be a great student.

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


The Future Is Now: Drew Hills Of Veritone 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Sergio Suarez Jr Of Humankind Investments On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Sergio Suarez Jr Of Humankind Investments On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

I wish someone told me earlier on that I need to be a better listener. You hire these talented, intelligent, creative people, and I wish someone had told me from the beginning that I should listen to them a lot more. They have great ideas. I hired them because of how great they were, so why not listen to their ideas and opinions more? I definitely value and listen to all my employees more than I did in the beginning.

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

Sergio Suarez Jr. is the founder and CEO of TackleAI. He began coding at 11 years old, and his passion for useful and industry disrupting technology led him to create successful startups and develop software applications ranging from small business analytics and security to Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks.

He was inspired to launch TackleAI following his career as a healthcare data engineer, where document management led to lack of efficiency, decreased productivity and unnecessary costs for the organization. He recognized an opportunity to create a technological solution that could minimize the human element of document processing, and maximize the productivity of the human element elsewhere.

Using funds from his time as a professional poker player, Sergio and the development team spent years writing code in Sergio’s basement, where they originally launched TackleAI, which now uses that code as the basis for all of TackleAI’s automated data extraction capabilities.

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’m the son of Mexican immigrants, who are both entrepreneurs. It was a huge influence on me to see my father and mother working together in their businesses, which many of our family members work in now. Many of my business strategies and way that I learned how to interact with people in business came from watching my parents run their businesses. They both had their specific roles that they excelled in, but they were always honest and hardworking.

I was good at school but it really bored me, so by the time I got to high school, I lost interest in what they were teaching, and got into computers and learning to code. They didn’t teach this in school so I started learning things online, especially once video sharing sites came up, where you could get resources more easily. I went to college for a year, tried it, and it just wasn’t for me.

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

Steve Jobs said “The only way to do great work is to love what you do”. People talk about struggling to get out of bed to go to work in the morning, and I never feel that way. I’m excited to think about what I’m going to solve that day, and to be around these people that are so talented, and inspire me. I’ve always liked that quote because if I wasn’t in that mindset of loving what I’m doing, I don’t think TackleAI would be where it is, or I could’ve helped get it where it is today. Creativity thrives on passion, and if you’re not motivated to even get to work, you can’t be giving your all.

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?

It’s a toss-up between The Matrix and Good Will Hunting. When The Matrix came out, I thought the technical aspect, like the special effects they used, and the different cameras were all so cool. The story of us living in a simulation was so interesting to me because it’s something we’ve thought of in physics with simulation theory, and it kind of made me look at the world in a different way. I was raised believing certain traditional things, and this made me think that there could be alternative realities to what I perceived.

In Good Will Hunting, I enjoyed that they didn’t portray highly intelligent people as a stereotypical awkward, social outcast. This genius character was charismatic, good looking, and didn’t stick out negatively. Growing up, I always played football, so I felt like I had to either dumb myself down and play up the jock role, or not play football and really lean into my intelligence and be okay with being called a nerd. I felt like I had to fit into one of these boxes, and at the time, usually football was easier. I really connected with the character in that a genius could live a normal life, have different facets of his personality, and how going through struggles and growing up poor, his intellect got him out of things.

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?

The biggest obstacle I see is that people are afraid to fail. Innovators and entrepreneurs don’t fear the failure. It takes a lot of belief in yourself. It takes ego to think that your idea is going to make a significant impact on the world, and I think there’s a tenacity and drive that’s needed that not everybody has. There’s a notion of work/life balance that people strive for, and that’s hard when starting a business. In a startup, you’re wearing every hat, and have little to no capital, and it’s stressful. Once you get your idea off the ground, it’s still hard, because you’ll have so many obstacles and struggles that can stop you and it takes special people to not see walls or obstacles and stop, but figure out how to get around them.

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?

Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure someone’s had the idea, and someone’s attempted it, but it doesn’t mean you should stop. There are a ton of restaurants, even more specifically a ton of Indian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. Competition is healthy. A lot of times, it’s not the first person that makes it to market that succeeds, but the 2nd or 3rd person, because they’ve learned from the other’s mistakes. If you think of your Geocities and Lycos, or even Myspaces that were around, and then there’s Facebook, who was late to the party but has been the most successful. If you have the passion for it, it doesn’t matter if someone’s already come up with the idea. The chance someone has had the idea is very high. That shouldn’t stop you. Make yours better than what’s already come out.

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.

First, always start a company to hold whichever IP, or intellectual property, you’re creating. If a company holds it, ownership can’t be argued like it can be if just an individual person owns it. Second, if there are multiple people in the company make sure you have an operating agreement. You’ll be referencing that agreement many times over the course of the business. My third piece of advice is you need to structure your business as if it is going to succeed. You need to put the work in to make sure that you have the proper documentation and licenses. Some people say, “we’ll take care of it later” or “we’re only going to need that if we get big”, but when you have investors and more people involved, it becomes much more complicated to try setting these things up. The operating agreement solves so many problems later on. I can’t stress enough that the people who don’t do this have so many headaches down the road, and spend a lot more time and money trying to solve them.

I come from the world of software where we don’t tend to patent because if you publish your patent, you have to tell people how you wrote all of it, and then you’ll have to prove if someone stole it from you, which is difficult. If you’re writing software, I suggest not patenting your software. From a software perspective, focus on security, because one breach can take down the whole company. My last piece of advice is to make sure you always have your customer in mind when making your product. Make sure that it’s applicable to a wide range of people and not incredibly niche. It’s really important to put together a diverse team, so the product made suits everyone. If you don’t have a diverse team, you’ll miss perspective and viewpoints that are crucial to a product’s success.

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. Culture within the company, especially as it grows, is so important. You need to create a work environment where people can feel creative, innovative, and collaborate with each other. When you find the key values of your culture, you have to do your best to make sure those things are being cultivated. It’s something that takes work and attention, but it’s too important to be ignored. It’s how you retain employees, and keep people happy. As the company starts, employees will work out which values are important to their happiness in the workplace and agree upon it together.
  2. You’re going to spend ten times more than you think on legal. It’s too painful to give stories. But really, you’ll be spending money on legal to protect your company, and you’ll need to be thorough.
  3. The company is going to need you twice as much as you think they’re going to need you. You think someone won’t need you after 7pm, but you’ll get phone calls and emails at all hours. You just need to be available all the time. A lot of times if someone contacts you, they needed you at that moment to do something, so you need to help them get their task done so you’re not holding things up, or if it’s a business opportunity and they were thinking of you for something, they may move on to someone else if you’re not available.
  4. The quality of your investors matters way more than you think. It’s not just about raising money. I’ve been really lucky in having amazing investors at TackleAI, in that they’re easy to communicate with, they bring a lot of great ideas and resources and that’s important when starting a company. I didn’t realize how much I would lean on them for sales and introductions. Many times, these people are already really successful, and they’re great to take advice from. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your investors.
  5. I wish someone told me earlier on that I need to be a better listener. You hire these talented, intelligent, creative people, and I wish someone had told me from the beginning that I should listen to them a lot more. They have great ideas. I hired them because of how great they were, so why not listen to their ideas and opinions more? I definitely value and listen to all my employees more than I did in the beginning.

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?

Number one, talk to people you respect in whatever industry you’re trying to get into and ask their opinion. Is it something that excites them, knowing it could potentially be something? Number two, figure out how you’re going to pay for it. When those things are done, start a company for your IP, then be prepared for long days and some sleepless nights. Wake up ready to do it all over again. It’ll be worth it.

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?

Strike out on your own. No one is going to be as passionate and care more about your product as much as you do. I believe that your company lives and dies by you, not consultants. You could be in a portfolio of inventors, where you’re one of many, and their attention is divided. You will focus and work on your company harder than anyone else. Spend money on consultants once you’re making money.

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 have a lot of thoughts on this. As a person of color, so many people have told me to bootstrap. It seems like this proud thing to push as far as you can with as little as possible, not get assistance from others, and do it completely on your own. I don’t want to struggle through that if I don’t have to. If you can get venture capital, you’re able to focus on core business, product, customers, and not worry about how to pay your employees next week. When your mind is on that, instead of the product, it’s more difficult, and the product suffers.

So many times, the people you’ve raised from have a great network and have significant resources and/or customers. Then you have helpful people around you where your success is now in their best interest. Your investors become teammates. Worrying about finances when you bootstrap is just not conducive to a healthy work environment or mental state. You start making bad decisions, because you can only worry about today’s problems, and great decisions are made when you’re planning for the future. Investors put you in a great position to grow. It’s crucial to raise money, and it’s a thing in our community that’s almost looked down upon, but so many of the successful companies that have made it to IPO have raised money in some form or another. I believe in order to give your company the chance to succeed, it needs to have money, and if it doesn’t have it, it needs to go raise it.

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

TackleTheFuture.org and Necahual.org are the two main nonprofits that I focus on. I was given lots of opportunity and access to learning materials that others do not, and without that, I wouldn’t have been able to learn what I did at such a young age. The younger you learn to code, the more creativity and understanding you’ll have as you get older. It’s not impossible to learn when you’re older, but you’re tending to learn tasks, when younger people tend to think outside the box. I want to give that chance to as many children as possible. At TackleTheFuture, all children receive laptops because in underrepresented communities, many times they have one computer or laptop shared between the whole family. We’re offering coding courses for all children free of charge, including any apps, laptops or other tools they need.

Necahual Foundation is an organization founded by my parents that supports a children’s shelter in Guadalajara, Mexico, where my father is from. For over 20 years, we’ve provided shelter, clothing, food, allowances, tutoring, birthday celebrations, and now a new swimming pool. The children are taught life skills, and even job skills so that when they turn 18, they can be self-sufficient. There’s also a home shared by some of the young adults who have moved out, and now work or we help pay for them to go to college, and they pay rent and utilities on their own.

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.

Thank you. I would say a movement to get every child involved in STEM, especially for the communities that don’t have access to all the things needed in science, tech, engineering, and math. STEM makes up the universe, and the more we understand the universe, the more progress we make as humanity, and the more we can be better as people. STEM is crucial and plays an undeniable role in the progress of people, and I wish everyone had easy access to it so they could just explore their creativity with it.

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.

Dan Price. He raised the minimum salary of all employees to $70,000 and lowered his from $1.1M to $70,000. I met him briefly around six years ago at, I think, the Inc. 5000 party in Florida. I took a photo with him and told him that his salary idea was crazy, but that I really admired him for doing it. I said it would be really difficult getting people to stay at $70,000 because upper management wouldn’t be happy, but he built an amazing culture, and was such a great figurehead in that company that I would love to pick his brain on how he cultivated their culture, and what he does that makes him such a great leader.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Sergio Suarez Jr Of Humankind Investments 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.

Nicholas Svensson Of SMART Technologies: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader…

Nicholas Svensson Of SMART Technologies: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Explore how technology can support your business goals. Agility is key so don’t just focus on externally focuses capabilities, also think about how to make your operations/decision making ability efficient. Innovation can come in many forms — such as recent work we’ve done on internal process mapping.

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 Nicholas Svensson.

Nicholas Svensson is the Chief Executive Officer of SMART Technologies. Since he joined SMART in 2009, Nicholas has led cross-functional teams consisting of engineers, technologists and scientists to develop and launch numerous SMART products. With a career in technology spanning over 30 years, Nicholas has gained valuable experience during his tenure at various companies, including leading telecom and space hardware providers. Nicholas holds a BSc in Applied Physics from the University of Waterloo and an MSc in System Design and Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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 am a first-generation immigrant to Canada. My family were small business owners — designing, manufacturing, and commissioning wire drawing machinery that made welding wire. Like many who work in family businesses I didn’t fully appreciate the value of the experiences I gained while working through all the challenges and the normal cycles of ups and downs associated with running your own business. What I did learn about myself during this time was that gaining new skills, for me at least, was very rewarding. The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” rings true to this day. Sometimes our best work comes out of adversity. I loved University there were so many interesting courses to take. I didn’t focus on my grades but rather took courses that I was interested in. Admittedly not a great short-term strategy as grades where often used as a course filter to get job interviews.

However, I was very fortunate to land a job in product development at a small company in Cambridge Ontario called Com Dev. They specialized in the design and manufacture of microwave filters and multiplexers for the satellite industry. It was a great place to start a career. A small enough company where I were exposed to all aspects of the business and learned a lot. I quickly understood that “other duties as required” didn’t just apply to the family business — and embracing asks or projects that weren’t quite in my job description was in fact a great way to grow.

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?

One key mistake that I made early on all came down to misreading the room; and I remember it as vividly as if it happened yesterday. It was my first design review. It was a big deal, weeks of work, lots of preparation and practice to walk into the room and deliver. And, through all my preparation, it never occurred to me that the people I would be presenting to actually knew a lot more about what I was working on than I did.

The presentation went well but only because the several industry experts — all with PhD’s in Synthetica Aperture Radar remote imaging and multiple publications in the field — were very gracious with their feedback following what I realized were fairly outrageous statements about the subject matter. There were two big things that I learned from this — one at the time and one much later. The first is not to underestimate your audience — never assume that you’re the smartest in the room, and be open to the idea and opinions that each person brings. The second lesson is to be gracious with your feedback — particularly with new grads or those new to your company or industry. The people in the room for that first design review could have crushed me, ridiculed me, but they didn’t. Instead, their feedback and approach is something that helped to shape my own leadership, and that I still carry with me many years later.

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 two important people that come to mind for me.

Michael Pley is the former CEO of Com Dev — the company I started at after graduating from University. Michael had started in the same role I had at Com Dev and had risen in the ranks, ultimately becoming CEO. He was the first manager I had who sat down and discussed career development with me, convincing me to broaden my horizons and look at more than simply product development. At first, I was very apprehensive about leaving product development where I was comfortable and progressing well in my eyes, but Michael encouraged me to try Operations Management for a few years. I did and thoroughly enjoyed it, learned new things, and gained experiences that I would never have had the opportunity to had I not taken the chance when it was presented.

The other person is Dan Rodrigue, my manager at Nortel Networks. Dan encouraged me to take on broader responsibilities as well ultimately sponsoring me to get my Masters Degree and hiring me into SMART Technologies where I still am today. Both gentlemen gave me the same advice which was “you need to focus on your new role with the same passion as you current one. Managing requires as much focus and effort as doing.”

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?

SMART is absolutely a purpose-driven business. We were founded over 35 years ago to create classroom technology that provides interactive solutions to help every student and teacher discover the greatness within them. And we believe that we are here to help foster strong connections between students and caring adults because we know that those connections play a positive role in a student’s academic and social-emotional development. Our business has evolved to this, it was very important for us to define it for ourselves. Today, our stated purpose at SMART is “Inspiring Greatness”. We believe that there is inherent greatness in every teacher and every learner, and technology, when deployed in the right way, can be an enabler of this greatness. Our promise to our customers, every day, is to provide the connections that matter to them. Especially during these pandemic times, connections matter more than ever.

Our founders in Calgary, Alberta were pioneers — driving forward a technology vision in a city built on natural resources. They set the pace and opportunity for more innovative companies to also shape the landscape of business in the city — today, Calgary is a hub of technology advancement and SMART sells into every corner of the world.

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 pandemic forced fast and unfamiliar changes to the ways we operate our business and work with our partners. Our team was immediately working from their homes or other locations. Internally, we wanted to ensure that everyone was safe and that we could provide resources to help our employees navigate the unfolding crisis.

For our teachers and students, we knew that they were being forced to go fully remote at the outset. We knew that they were trying to juggle making the most of each instructional moment while also tending to the very real social emotional needs facing our students as well as teachers themselves. Educators are heroes in so many ways. We tried to support their efforts to keep the continuum of learning going while making their days as seamless as possible, and to pursue strategies that help develop students’ sense of agency and ownership over their learning, which will serve them well in the years to come. We tried to develop new, fun, and engaging tools to keep students engaged and give teachers critical insight into learning.

I felt it was very important to keep the communication channels open, and to share information as it became available. My ask of all employees at the time with respect to communications was to “keep it real”. Let’s not get to down in the dumps but let’s also realize we have some critical items that need to get done and significant challenges to accomplishing them. The team was fantastic — I couldn’t have asked for a better response.

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

I never consider giving up because I know that everything that we do at SMART is in support of partners, teachers, students, and full learning communities. I work with some of the smartest, most passionate, and most committed colleagues and they inspire me every day. Also, all you have to do is go into a school or hear from educators about the power of learning using our tools, and it reinforces why I do what I do every day.

We recently launched a worldwide initiative called Connections That Matter that showcases the incredible work happening in schools all across the globe. I invite you to check out the powerful stories of hope and innovation from a classroom near you.

As well, I think back to my earlier days and can see that it’s true that experience helps you weather the ups and downs. You realize that change is the only constant and that adapting quickly is the only real assurance of success. There does come a point where you need to believe that what you are doing is absolutely the right thing. Persistence is a powerful force when harnessed properly.

How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Do you believe in your strategy? If not you need to change it, that’s not giving up. That’s adapting, learning, pivoting and being agile. None of which is easy.

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

Communication, clarity and transparency

It is critical to ensure that everyone is very clear on the goals of the company and their role in moving the business forward. I also believe that people need to be commended for their tenacity and innovation during tough times. I am continually astounded at what is possible when everyone understands what is needed.

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?

As a company, we celebrate innovation. It is in our ethos. We look for ways to showcase the work happening across the company and give our employees a platform to shine. We also do monthly town halls and give out awards. If you think about working it’s all about solving problems. If there were no problems most of us would be out of work so it’s very important to celebrate what went right. Let’s talk about the 99.99% shipments that left on time rather than the 0.01% that didn’t. Reminding ourselves of our accomplishments and authentically saying thank you is a simple, powerful way to motivate and engage.

It also comes back to our purpose of Inspiring Greatness. It’s incredibly inspirational and engaging to spend time with the teachers, students, and corporate collaborators who are excelling even in these challenging time. When we get things right, we are making the world a better place, and that’s truly motivating for the team.

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

One word: “quickly”.

We are a company that believes in relationships. We have many long-standing partners and employees who have been with the company for many years. We believe in basing communications in information and being transparent about details and context about what it means for the future while always operating with empathy. Communicating difficult news early allows for possible mitigative actions you may not have thought of yourself.

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

Part of being a leader is having a long-term vision. When we do strategic planning at SMART, we are planning three to five — or more — years out. We need to understand when to stay the course and when to pivot. We use a system of hierarchies within SMART to describe our planning horizons. We have our strategic goals (longer-term), imperatives (mid-term) and diamond projects (short-term). By looking at it this way we found that it helps us stay focused on the longer term, which isn’t always easy!

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

Don’t wait too long to make changes. During turbulent times details make the difference and being able to manage at a detailed level is critical as time is not your friend. This ensures that your core business is profitable (which is tough sometimes!). And, don’t bet the farm on new ventures — they usually take longer than you would like.

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 have seen businesses jump into a new fad or a new type of business. You can’t abandon your core business. You can certainly innovate, and you should innovate, but being strategic about any changes is core to coming out of difficult times in a successful position.

Use proof points before investing more into a new venture. In other words: have a good understanding of why you are successful or why you are not successful before going all in.

Make sure your leaders are passionate about their roles and not simply good soldiers, you need that passion to get through the challenges and to learn from one another. Your leaders need to feel they can share the real status with you.

Stay calm, focus on the data and don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Sometimes the data isn’t nice to look at but it’s necessary to keep things real and grounded. I have found this helps get employees bought into and engaged as well.

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?

Focus on net earnings, think of it as you would your household. If the net earnings aren’t there you are in a perilous place. So don’t get seduced by EBIDTA if you aren’t a startup. Again, don’t shy away from the details. Getting into the details helps everyone align on what’s critical, where the waste is and where opportunities may exist, regardless of how small. I have found that this applies even to projects or initiatives with longer term horizons.

Partnerships is another good way to share the burden of investing for the long term. Do you need to do it all yourself to start with or can you learn from others as you go?

Another area that is frequently overlooked is your commercial model. How you go to market, channel, distribution, bringing work in house. It may be counter intuitive but once you reach certain volumes or steady state it may make sense to bring work in house. After all, nobody cares more about optimizing your costs than your own company.

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.

{ADD EXAMPLES]

1) Communicate clearly and often to your employees and your partners (and your shareholders). There have been many examples of this over my career, and one that stands out from this past 2 years relates to supply chain and shipping delays. We found ways to mitigate risks caused by the global supply chain challenges through early, direct, and open communication.

2) Look for opportunities to diversity while never losing sight of your end user, your core business, and mission. At SMART, we’ve recently branched into at-home gaming with Funterra — giving parents easy access to vetted videos and games that keep kids entertained AND informed. We’re also leaning into Software As A Service with our could based digital learning tool Lumio. It’s so exciting to see growth in these area, while we maintain our position with leading interactive flat panels.

3) Forge new partnerships. We have done this with many organizations and resellers through the years, for everything from distribution to marketing, content and more. Recently we worked with an organization out of the UK to bring free, ready-made Social Emotional Learning resources into Lumio — our digital learning tool — to support teachers who’s students are facing crises in their classrooms and lives.

4) Explore how technology can support your business goals. Agility is key so don’t just focus on externally focuses capabilities, also think about how to make your operations/decision making ability efficient. Innovation can come in many forms — such as recent work we’ve done on internal process mapping.

5) Cultivate a culture where people are willing to say yes to ‘other duties as required’ — and are supported and recognized through both success and failure. We’ve worked extensively on not only our values but our behaviors at SMART — ultimately I believe that behaviors are what defines your culture. We have codified all of this into a framework that has become part of the fabric of our company.

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

“Necessity is the mother of invention” — unknown

“Innovation is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”– (Edison)

I am always impressed by people’s ability to innovate when they need to. Some of the most creative and long-lasting innovations I’ve seen have come out of necessity. I had taken over a production team only to find that the planning for long lead items required to build the test systems had been missed. We had to quickly figure out how to get the job done. The process was well established and considered impossible to change. We found a way by completely changes the paradigm, spoke with the customers, and managed to show them that our proposed changes were actually better for them. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but did it ever make a difference going forward.

“If you want it bad, you (will) get it bad”” — 1953 U.S. DoD Pentagon

As a manager, I have learned the hard way. Be careful what you ask for, this is something I have to remind myself of all the time. If you don’t have a solid delivery process, be careful how hard you push.

How can our readers follow

Twitter: @SMART_Tech

Linkedin: SMART Technologies — https://www.linkedin.com/company/smart-technologies/

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


Nicholas Svensson Of SMART Technologies: 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Marshall Sandman Of Animal Capital On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

It’s never going to get easier. Starting a business means making a lifestyle change. I love what I do, but it’s important to understand before you take that plunge that you are making a decision that in most ways is irreversible, and you need to have the constitution to stick with it.

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

Marshall Sandman is an entrepreneur, investor, film producer, philanthropist, and Managing Partner of Animal Capital, the first Gen. Z-focused venture capital fund founded in partnership with social media superstars Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, and Noah Beck.

Prior to starting Animal Capital, Marshall worked in venture capital and corporate development at WarnerMedia, where he focused primarily on leading sports betting, podcasting and distribution research. In the past, he was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Jordan Edmiston Group.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshall left WarnerMedia to concentrate on philanthropy full time. In just a few months, he raised tens of thousands of dollars for Harlem Grown, a nonprofit that operates local urban farms and provides increased access to healthy foods for Harlem residents. As a proud partner of the American Cancer Society, Marshall has also raised more than $1M for cancer research through the Hood to Coast relay.

In December 2021, Marshall launched Money Goals, a financial literacy initiative in partnership with WonderFi, which provides relevant resources for Gen. Z to learn about traditional and new forms of finance, including cryptocurrency.

Marshall is also an owner of CrossCheck Holdings, a production company, branding and sports agency in collaboration with Josh Richards, Michael Gruen and Chris Sawtelle. He was a producer the award-winning Tribeca Film Festival movie, Dating & New York, and has orchestrated dozens of investments on behalf of members of the Sway House in companies such as Breakr, a platform that connects artists and influencers; Step, a banking app that helps teens build a credit history and learn about financial literacy; and Super Coffee, a sugar-free, enhanced coffee line that has attracted celebrity investors such as Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez.

Marshall is a North Carolina native and a graduate of Cornell University. He currently resides in New York City.

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’m originally from Raleigh North Carolina. My dad works in real estate development and as I grew up, I was able to see him become successful through his incredible work ethic. Like, to this day, my dad has never really taken time off. Even when he takes trips or goes away for the weekend, he’s up at 4 or 5 in the morning working his ass off. Watching him gave me the work ethic I have today.

Starting at a young age, I would go to sleep away camp in the summer in southern Maine. I was about 7 or 8 years old — really young — and all the kids there were older than me. They were mostly Jewish like me but from New York and Los Angeles, and a lot of them were extremely wealthy. They went to fancy boarding schools and rode in private planes to camp. Being in that environment was a deeply formative experience for me. Getting to know them and hearing about their lives inspired me to leave Raleigh and move to New York City, to go to Cornell and create something bigger for myself.

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

That’s easy. My best friend from high school’s dad once told me, “We all have time for all of the things we want to do. It’s all about how you prioritize.” I think about this today and it resonates in every part of my life, with everything I do. For me, I prioritize work, and I have friends who prioritize fun, and going out. But at the end of the day, we all make time to do the things we truly want to do. Sometime that’s going on dates, hanging out with friends or spending time with family, and sometimes it’s figuring out how to advance your career and improve the lives of the people around you.

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 their idea has already been created? What is the best way for people with new ideas go about translating them into reality?

First, it’s so important that you write these ideas down when you have them — whether on a note pad or on the notes app on your phone — you need to have a place where your ideas can live, where you can solidify your thinking and find ways to make it different than what’s already out there. Second, it’s essential to remember that even if something has been done already, there are lots and lots of ways to reformat old ideas for the 21st century.

The recommendation I would make is that if you feel passionate about an idea, even if it’s not completely original, you should run with it. Stop talking about it and just do it. To use an analogy, the thing that keeps most good writers from writing a book or a movie or a T.V. series is just putting pen to paper. I don’t want to hear about it at the 7th dinner party in a row, just do it and then let me know how I can help.

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.

First and foremost, you need to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in whatever space you’re looking to get into. I don’t think there’s a real shortcut for that, and I am a perfect example of the fact that this works! I run a venture capital firm, but before that I’d never run a business before. I had to learn all of this, and I did it by surrounding myself with people who knew what they were doing and asking them questions.

Let’s say you’re manufacturing a space pen that can write upside down, right? Chances are that no one in your life knows how to do that. Your first step should be Googling “pen manufacturers in my city,” then picking up the phone and seeing if they’re willing to answer your questions. The worst thing they can say is no, and you might find you end up learning what you need to learn. Then you can pick up the phone and do it all over again.

What are the 3 things that you wish someone had told you before you started your company?

  1. It’s never going to get easier. Starting a business means making a lifestyle change. I love what I do, but it’s important to understand before you take that plunge that you are making a decision that in most ways is irreversible, and you need to have the constitution to stick with it.
  2. Find some people you trust and keep them close. At the beginning of this process, I got a lot of feedback. I mean, it’s kind of like when you get a dog and you’re walking around New York City and suddenly everyone is giving you advice on how to take care of a dog that you never asked for. It becomes very difficult with all the noise, and you need to be able to sort through the good advice and the bad advice. For me, the people I take advice from are the people who were there for me in the middle of the night when I had tears in my eyes. Find people you trust and ignore everyone else.
  3. Remember what your thesis was on day one. Never forget exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing, and never let go of that passion.

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 honestly don’t think it’s a great idea to hire a consultant when you’re just starting out. What is that person there to do besides just take some of your startup money? There’s a time and a place for consultants, and I think that independent idea development consultants are a really good way to frustrate some of your investors. I also think it’s a really good way to show that you’re not ready to take the leap into running your own business because someone else has to invent, develop, and push out your idea.

If you get stuck during the process of building your business, then I guess hiring someone makes sense. Or later down the line when you can hire in a more prescriptive manner, then sure, hire an IT consultant with a legal background who can help you file patents or whatever. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to hire someone who is going to shape the direction of your business from the start. You should be doing that.

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 am going to be prescriptive and specific about this: Founders need to think more thoughtfully about the venture capital life cycle and what being in a frothy environment means versus being in a little bit more of a conservative funding means. Right now, we’re in more of a frothy environment and a lot of founders are going to need to raise and think that its going to be super easy are going to have a hard time in 2022. I don’t even think its about bootstrapping versus venture, its more about thinking about your entire capital staff and what you can do to be most efficient. If you’re going to make something or you have a contracted business and you have the ability to take out some debt and go get a regular old bank loan, I think that is really interesting. I also think taking a little bit of venture money can be interesting as well as bootstrapping and getting some of your friends and family to give money. It’s not just bootstrapping versus venture capital, I think that there is a really lost art today of forming a capital staff that the most efficient for you where you own as much of your business as you deserve to own. I can not tell you how many people have said, “yeah we’re raising 5 million dollars in a 20-million-dollar evaluation” but what they really need to be doing is thinking more holistically about all the different ways that they can be funding their business out of the door. When you decide to take a big venture route, have a really good reason for it and know that you’re taking Tiger Global money because Tiger Global offers me this type of structure and this type of support. When you’re ready to take money and it’s the right thing to do, every dollar should be strategic. If you’re taking money because you need it, then make sure you’re taking it from someone who can keep their mouth shut.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

When I left my job at Warner Media at the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to raise money for Harlem Grown. Harlem Grown is a not for profit after school program based in Harlem. During COVID, the actual program was closed, which meant the kids who participated normally weren’t receiving their government subsidized meals. So, I decided to raise money for kids in Harlem to continue feeding them even when they couldn’t participate in the program.

I am a very firm believer in paying it forward, and with my venture capital firm now, we are always thinking about ways we can give back. Right now we are focused on mental health charities, but I have also raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society over the years. We think of ourselves as a mission serving platform: investing and making people lives better.

Recently, we invested in a business called Parallel, is a for profit company creating accessibility through the first ever telehealth platform that is able to diagnose dyslexia. We’re also invested in Zen Business, which allows people who went to trade school start their own businesses and helps them set up their first operating or employment agreement and guide them along the way.

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 truly believe that for-profit businesses can and should be solving non-profit problems. I think about all the non-profits that sprung up during COVID, and I wonder, where did people’s money go? I don’t know. There are all these spectacular charities that often are not affecting real change that needs to be made in certain communities. For us, I think a lot today about environmental change, so we’ve invested in Colossal, which is dedicated not only to resurrecting the woolly mammoth, but other extinct species as well. I think that is the most important for-profit solution to a non-profit problem, because de-extinction and re-wilding species that support ecosystems around the world is the #1 way to reverse climate change. At the end of the day, companies that are going to go out and make money in the space are the ones that are going to be motivated properly to fix problems that we have.

If you could have a private breakfast or lunch with any person in the world, who would it be and why?

I have two: First, Rich Kleiman. He works at Thirty Five Ventures with Kevin Durant. What he’s done to create influence for Kevin both on and off the basketball court is spectacular. To be not only mission driven but constantly thinking about the way that the business world is moving and what is going to be popular or cool while helping people and making money, I mean he’s amazing. I try to emulate him every day.

Number two is Cynthia Erivo. She is someone who has proven over and over again that she is going to use her platform to do good. I also like multi-hyphenate celebrities who are not only singing, dancing, acting but are also out and working hard, positively impacting their communities. Cynthia is an advocate who takes every opportunity to better herself, and I love that.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Marshall Sandman Of Animal Capital 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Sarah Boisvert Of New Collar Network On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Sarah Boisvert Of New Collar Network On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Success is about people, not your product or technology, and it is most important to respect and value your team. People can read through slogans — Remember the Ford “Quality is Job 1” slogan when their products were being overtaken by Japanese quality cars and trucks? Fancy Christmas parties don’t make up for taking advantage of good, loyal people. Be genuine in your relationships and the benefits of an engaged team will fuel your success.

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

Sarah is the Founder & CEO of the New Collar Network that provides Digital Badge micro-certifications for New Collar Jobs like operating a 3D Printer or repairing a robot. Sarah came to workforce training from manufacturing, where she was a co-founder of Potomac Photonics, Inc. that invented and built lasers for micro-manufacturing, including the Laser used in LASIK eye surgery.

Photonics Media Press published her first book, “The New Collar Workforce”, in January 2018, and her 3rd book, “How to Get a New Collar Job” will be released by Art Guild Press in early 2022.

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”?

Well, my Dad was my inspiration! He was an entrepreneur and was always solving problems which taught me how to be successful in my own businesses. Most importantly, he believed I could do anything I wanted to do! He was a part of what Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation” that had achieved so much, especially fighting for democracy against Hitler in World War II. Many years later a French business executive said to me, “Of course you think everything is possible — you’re American”! I guess those GI’s made a huge impression on the countries they freed from the grip of the Nazis.

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

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
I try to remember that when things are tough. It does not help to wallow in self-pity and stop fighting. In order to succeed at anything, we must keep moving forward as any business that has survived hard times can verify.

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?

Marketing High Technology by former Intel Vice President Bill Davidow was written in 1986 but the principles are as strong today as they were then. His emphasis on market segmentation strategy starts with designing what he calls the Complete Product and that has been a guide throughout my career in building products that meet customer needs in every area surrounding the technical.

One of my best examples of how I used the complete product concept was with a laser marking application for Anheuser-Busch in which I was working with a joint venture partner. Lasers were failing from overheating and so our head of QC and I visited the huge production lines in the Los Angeles plant. Clearly the maintenance staff was not reconnecting the laser cooling system after routine checks and to the horror of the engineer with whom I was working, I asked if the staff could read the cooling warning labels. “Well,” answered the VP of production for the beer company, “we think most of the supervisors can read, but many can only read Spanish!”

I quickly saw that we needed a complete product that paid better attention to the actual user. The product design team installed a temperature sensor that shut down the production line when the lasers over-heated and the problem was solved. In addition, the cost of a line going down is astronomical in high volume production so our customer improved training of maintenance staff to avoid the problem in the first place.

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?

In my opinion, good ideas are a dime a dozen. The good ideas that succeed in the marketplace succeed because of great execution. Execution is tedious and boring to many, but when a process is followed, can bring stellar results.

Execution requires:

  • Identifying your target customer — no, they are not usually a Ph.D. in engineering or science and often are nothing like you! Who is going to use this product and learn EVERYTHING about them that you can without your personal filters!
  • Competitive Analysis — look at who else is out there and how successful are they
  • Competitive Advantage — do you have one? If not, why would anyone buy your product?
  • Product Differentiation — Whether or not you have a big competitive advantage, how will you differentiate your product?
  • Complete Product — if you want to conquer mainstream markets, be sure your product doesn’t just meet technical needs, but also addresses training, service, etc. at a high level of market acceptance.
  • Prototyping Your Product — prototypes confirm “proof of principle”, demonstrating that your idea is viable. But again, it’s a process: build prototype, often utilizing 3D Printing, test, evaluate results, iterate design, repeat. While at some point you have to stop and get to market, the more extensive your prototyping process, the better chance you’ll launch with success.
  • Designing for high volume production — think you will be successful and have to manufacture millions of parts. 3D Printing is getting so much attention today and is a great rapid prototyping tool but it is slow [read: expensive] for high volume manufacturing. Think through your volumes [consumer products for sure; aerospace not so much] and how you will build those products. This is a critical juncture since production method often impacts material choice.
  • IP — determine if strong IP is critical to your product and find a good patent attorney. Although VC’s usually are looking for a company with a strong IP portfolio, think about whether or not you can afford to defend a patent if a big player tries to copy it. Strong marketing starting with product development and being first to market — which a good prototyping process will ensure — are in my opinion as big barriers to market entry as patents.

Ok, I’m going to stop there, but you get the picture — be methodical in your processes!

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?

Today with the internet that is not too hard, but you have to remember to dig deep. Go beyond company websites and look at retailers, distributors and customers. AND talk to them! Retailers and distributors are always looking for new products so they are usually excited to help you design just the item they need to be successful.

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.

I’ve already talked a bit about execution but really it’s about working with good people, be they employees, mentors partners, or consultants. I’d highly recommend connecting with the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnerships if you have a physical product. They are in every state and give great advice.

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.)

Just 5? There are so many!

  1. Success is about people, not your product or technology, and it is most important to respect and value your team. People can read through slogans — Remember the Ford “Quality is Job 1” slogan when their products were being overtaken by Japanese quality cars and trucks? Fancy Christmas parties don’t make up for taking advantage of good, loyal people. Be genuine in your relationships and the benefits of an engaged team will fuel your success.
  2. While my partner and I genuinely respected everyone with whom we worked, it was not until I learned about LEAN, the continuous improvement program, that I saw how we could empower people to improve our operation. LEAN can be utilized in every function of the organization and while the goal is cost reduction through improved efficiency, the real power of well-implemented LEAN is creating an engaged workforce. Who knows a task better than the guy or gal doing it? So, trust that they really do want to make their own life easier and will come up with the best solution to improving tasks. As a great byproduct, people will feel empowered at work and that can only create a more satisfying workplace.
  3. Everything changes. So, be prepared to respond quickly to changes in every aspect of the business, but especially market disruptions. When Covid hit, the New Collar Network had a nice little business training workers in Santa Fe, NM as well as at about 12 remote member locations around the country. With the buildings in which we operated closing, we had to pivot to an online platform. I was not sure it would work but I had few options. We pride ourselves in our unique hands-on training on machines like 3D Printers but miraculously we found a $268 printer that could be drop-shipped to the customer and combined with our on-line digital badge micro-certifications! For less than $1,000 a student had a home printer and training to operate, maintain and repair it, as well as design in CAD software. I would not have made that move without the forced Covid shutdown and I now see the potential for a business that is exponentially larger than my original model.
  4. Entrepreneurship is more work than you can ever imagine! I often feel like the over-the-top government interest in fostering startups does not take into account that working as an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Despite well-laid plans, the unexpected will happen and the buck stops with you or your closest senior team. Employees get sick which is really challenging in a small startup, and someone has to make payroll, man a booth at a trade show, and so much more. So be sure you prepare your family and friends to understand when you miss Thanksgiving — again!
  5. There is never enough capital. My biggest mistake is always to underestimate how much money it takes to do anything. Anything and everything from product development to hiring a stellar sales closer costs much more than you expect. Plan for more funding than you think you need and then add more!

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?

Not enough product ideas are run past the end user…seems simple, doesn’t it? But I find inventors — like everyone — live in a little circle of like-minded people. You need to break out of your familiar mindset and talk with real potential customers to get honest feedback.

And most importantly, take their advice! Don’t sweep comments like, “Is it free?” under the rug.

Gather up data and most importantly, use ruthless critical thinking in evaluating what you have learned and how you should or should not change your ideas about the product.

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 find the most important consultants are on the technical side, especially prototyping a product that can be economically made in high volume production.

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

Bootstrapping is not easy without public funding such as the SBIR Small Business Innovation Research Grants. But that is how Potomac Photonics funded our lasers! All without giving up equity or having someone else trying to dictate your company’s direction. But it limits growth.

I’d advise bootstrapping to get some revenue generated and demonstrate that your business model and product works, and then to fuel growth you’ll most likely need outside funding.

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

During Covid, the New Collar Network students built 30,000 face shields for the Navajo Nation and Pueblos in Northern New Mexico. While people were running around trying to figure out how to 3Dprint PPE’s, my vast experience in manufacturing found a tried and true affordable old-school method could produce high volume quickly and cheaply. Going back to die cutting!

I also believe that we can bring back the middle class and bridge the wealth gap by providing digital badge micro-certifications for New Collar Jobs like running a 3D Printer or repairing a robot with NO college degrees. My non-profit work for the New Collar Network is bringing these trainings to people across the country.

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.

Aw…thanks for the kind words! Our digital badge micro-certification and 21st century US DOL registered apprenticeships are the start, and we now need to get more companies hiring based on skills rather than degrees. That is how true equality can happen in hiring.

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 think that Warren Buffett sees what has been lost in a rush for companies to make stellar profits.

I’d love to talk with him about how we can bring back the middle class and bridge the wealth gap. We all can’t be billionaires, but people need well-paying, engaging jobs to support their families.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Sarah Boisvert Of New Collar Network 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Keith Zivalich Of Magic Weighted Blanket On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Keith Zivalich Of Magic Weighted Blanket On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

If you believe in your idea AND you know prospective customers will believe in your idea, never give up. It took us nearly 17 years to get major press coverage.

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

Keith Zivalich invented the Original Weighted Blanket® in 1997, after his oldest daughter placed a beanie baby on his shoulder. Although early reviews for his invention at the local swap meet were not inspiring, Zivalich continued on, sure that he could find a market for his Magic Weighted Blanket. Today, millions of people around the world use his invention to improve sleep and relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism, and other mental health disorders. Zivalich’s motto is to “never give up” and his perseverance and eventual success has proven that his motto is well-founded.

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”?

Born on George Washington’s Birthday, February 22, in 1961. Both parents lived through the depression. As a result, their philosophy was to save your money and when you had enough, buy land. Save more money, build your house. Save more money, build another house and rent it out. Save more money, build an apartment building. Keep saving and keep building. Because of their experience with banks and the great depression, they had a strong belief that you start with nothing and the only way to have, and keep, something is to own it outright. They built a small real estate empire from nothing. These were the foundations planted in my childhood backstory.

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

My guiding ‘life lesson quote’ is to “expect setbacks but never give up.” This is what got me through the early days after coming up with the idea for a weighted blanket and deciding to start my own e-commerce business. Virtually everything was a setback. Virtually everything was a learning opportunity. But quitting was never an option. I taught myself basic coding to build our first website, which was filled with one set back after another. I never quit. Finding a sewing contractor willing to make a very time consuming product like a weighted blanket was filled with more setbacks. I never quit. Explaining to people how something so counter-intuitive as a weighted blanket could help you sleep better was filled with setbacks. I never quit. And today, weighted blankets are a global phenomenon with hundreds of competitors presenting many more challenges and setbacks, and I will never quit.

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?

One of the first books I read was Jack London’s ‘Call Of The Wild.’ It was a story about how bad things happen to a dog named Buck, who has to continually fight for his life against harsh and bitter injustices, but who is befriended by a kind man and this makes an indelible change on Buck’s determination to fight those injustices. Buck was literally the underdog, and something I greatly have an affinity for. After spending many years working in the button-down corporate world, I never got over feeling like the underdog — like I didn’t belong, Like Buck. And it was the need to fight the system that lead me to want to work for myself. I’m still the underdog, but now I’m the top dog too.

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 my daughter put a stuffed toy on my shoulder and it inspired me to come up with the idea for a weighted blanket, I instantly knew it was a good idea. But I knew I had to make it and show it around to see how other people felt about it. I envisioned the weighted blanket as a product for children so I showed it to parents with kids and their reaction was not encouraging. Again, the counter-intuitive nature of putting weights inside of a blanket was not looked upon favorably, and with a few laughs to boot. But when I gave a weighted blanket to a teacher who taught disabled children and asked her to try it with her students, many of whom were on the Autism spectrum and/or suffered from sensory processing disorder, everything changed. She told me that night that she needed more of those blankets, many more. It was at this moment that I knew my idea was a great idea and that I had a lot of work ahead of me. The lesson I kept learning as I slowly built my business was to ask for help. If I was up against a dead end, I would reach out to friends, vendors, customers, anyone who would listen and ask for help. When I could not find a sewing contractor who was willing to take on the arduous task of making a weighted blanket, I told a co-worker about my struggle and they introduced me the sewing contractor who has been my partner for over 18 years. Ask for help, and don’t ever, ever give 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?

When I came up with my idea in 1997, the internet was just in its infancy. At that time, all I knew for sure was that I had never heard of a weighted blanket. But I knew it was going to be huge, so if I was the first to come up with the idea, I wanted to patent the idea. After searching the patent database and not finding an existing patent for anything like it, I filed for the patent. Unfortunately, it was denied with the reason being it was not unique enough. Even so, I forged ahead. Today, my advice would be to do a google search. If it exists, it’s there. If it doesn’t, you’ve got something unique. But don’t apply for a patent yourself like I did. Hire a patent attorney, which I did for my next invention. The first thing the patent attorney told me was not to be discouraged if your claim is denied. The vast majority of patent claims are denied. But if you appeal and argue why it is unique and needed, then it becomes closer to a 50% approval rate. Don’t quit.

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.

Once you have an idea, the first thing you should not do is to reach out to other entrepreneurs or businesses and try to sell them your idea. They don’t want it. What they want is something unique that is profitable — a proven product. So prove that your product is profitable. Start by obtaining a provisional patent. That gives you one year to develop proof of concept. Most times, you will have to then make a prototype, find manufacturing, make a bunch, create an ecommerce site, run online marketing and PR, and sell a bunch of products. Where do you find someone to make a prototype? Google. Where do you find someone to make your product? Google. How do you build an ecommerce website? Google. Where do you go to market your product? Yep. Google. Now another way, thanks to crowd funding, like through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you can take your provisional patent and your idea and just talk about it on one of these crowd funding platforms. There are definitely some marketing tricks you’ll need to follow to get the word out and drive traffic to your crowd funding site. But you can get prospective customers to “pre-order” your product before you even make it. That is a form of obtaining proof of concept. Once you have money in the bank and manufacturing already lined up, all you need to do is start production and start fulfilling orders. As far as finding a retailer to distribute your idea/product, don’t! Become an ecommerce “retail slayer” and corporate retail will come looking for you. That is what happened with us.

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. If you believe in your idea AND you know prospective customers will believe in your idea, never give up. It took us nearly 17 years to get major press coverage.
  2. When you are starting out: Put as much blood, sweat, and tears into your business as possible; and put as little of your own money into it as possible. When I was taking my idea from concept to our first sale to our first $50,000 in sales, I reached into family savings and stayed out of debt. I knew I was not going to quit, ever. But I also knew that if I borrowed against our home or took out loans, and the idea failed, which you have to know is a high probability, you will end up an indentured servant. Quitting was never an option, but failure is. It’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to try again. Just don’t go into debt trying.
  3. When you have an idea that is a proven success, hand it over to someone who knows how to leverage someone else’s money into a lot of money. I talked about not using your own money to get started. But once you have a proven winner, get it out there in a big way. And it takes money to get it out there. And this time, not your money — let the money people who know how to make money make you lots of money. By 2016 we had been featured in Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Wall Street Journal and many others. We made our first million that year. The next year, a company sourced weighted blankets from China and did a Kickstarter campaign, generating nearly $5 million is sales — before a single blanket had been shipped. This company put significant money and leveraged connections to launch weighted blankets into the stratosphere. That company should have been me.
  4. Put your heart and soul into bringing your idea to life and into proving its viability. Then let it go. Find people who have experience taking successful start ups and making them successful small businesses. I am still to this day learning what I don’t know. And I’m learning that I don’t know a lot. Phase II of our little family business will be to bring in partners who have the knowledge and experience to take us to the next level. It took us 24 years to get here. The next 24 years are going to be off the chart.
  5. Get in and get out as early as you can. This is related to number 4. I wish someone would have told me that I was going to come up with a product category called weighted blankets and it would do over $260 million in global sales by 2020. If they had, I would have reached out to sell my business after it made its first $5 million for a factor of 5. Our family could live fairly well off of $25 million. I know that company that leveraged our idea with their Kickstarter campaign is doing quite well. Don’t get me started.

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?

Google search for similarities; obtain a provisional patent; make a prototype and show it around everywhere and to everyone; ask for help and ideas; get qualitative feedback; get quantitative feedback; and most importantly, get it out there and start selling it. If it sells, have an exit strategy so someone else can take it to the next level

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?

A consultant is going to tell you everything I just said and they’re going to charge you for services you don’t need or can’t do yourself. If you are passionate and believe in your idea, you are the best person alive to make it a reality. No one else will ever have your determination and drive to keep going when the obstacles and setbacks keep coming. Trust yourself. And never give up.

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

Do both. Bootstrap until you have proof of concept and significant sales to back it up. Then venture-capital-the-hell out of it.

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

We have helped over one million people all over the world enjoy better sleep and to experience less anxiety. And at a more personal level, we have donated hundreds of our Magic Weighted Blanket to veterans suffering from PTSD. We hear their stories every day and every day I am grateful that we have taken an idea from nothing and done something so good for those who need it the most.

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.

This is the easiest one to answer. I would want to inspire a movement where people would commit to doing just one kind thing for someone else each day. That one kind thing will inspire the person receiving that kindness to do one kind thing for someone else, and that will inspire the next person and so on. It’s almost 2022, and this world needs a little kindness more than ever.

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.

Mark Cuban. I love watching Shark Tank because of him. From what I can tell, he has no problem making lots of money but also has a good heart. A capitalist with a good heart. That’s me and Mark.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Keith Zivalich Of Magic Weighted Blanket 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.

Frank Wang Of Dreame Technology: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

The essence of a brand is in the products. The products are the core of the whole brand and should be the physical manifestation of the brand. So all the work needs to be carried out around the products, as they are the ultimate brand representative. Dreametech spent a lot of manpower, material, and financial resources on developing and researching products. Improving the strength of the products to do brand marketing is a safe choice.

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

Frank Wang, VP of Overseas Business and Director of International Marketing at Dreame Technology. Holding a doctorate from the Communication University of China, Frank established Dreametech’s overseas business system from scratch. He takes charge of the overall overseas marketing and branding, including product launching and brand collaboration. With his leadership, Dreametech has made constant breakthroughs and gradually established its brand position.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start things off, can you tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

The smart home industry has great advantages, especially in the world epidemic environment, many countries and regions have to experience lock down, more home time. And the demand for home cleaning has become higher. Our purpose in creating innovative channels is also to enrich consumers’ lives at home.

We want to use our R&D advantages to make this industry smarter. Overall, we can now call the cleaning robot as a robot in our general concept. The current sweeping or mopping robot can only do home cleaning. But in the future, it may become a home service robot.

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

I remember that when we were doing international brands, well it was not exactly a mistake, just a misunderstanding that we had to adjust for. When we entered the German market, we invited many media outlets and KOLs to evaluate our products. Some of them would give them scores. And we were surprised that we received many scores that seemed extremely low. What we didn’t realize initially was that in Germany, when they score on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 points represents the lowest score and 1 point is the highest score. It was definitely a reminder to pay more attention to cross-cultural communication, especially when it comes to branding. The ability to localize is important for a brand. That’s why we have colleagues from different countries on our team to promote Dreametech internationally.

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

What makes Dreamtech to stand out the most is its R&D DNA.

Yu Hao, the founder of Dreametech, had great enthusiasm for airplanes since he was a child, and he was recommended to Tsinghua University, one of the best universities in the country, due to his results in a physics competition. During school, Yu was not only the chairman of the student union but also established an aerospace technology team named “Sky Factory”. Although Sky Factory was a technical team composed of a group of academic high-achievers gathered together based on interest, their aerospace project received financial support from the aerospace giant, Boeing, under Yu Hao’s leadership. As the inventor of China’s tri-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle, Yu Hao impressed Boeing with his expertise in the field of technical research.

The style of the founder largely determines the style of a company. Yu Hao, who is obsessed with technological research, also instilled this kind of research and development foundation into the company culture of Dreametech. Dreametech has come up with a series of core inventions and over 150 core patents, such as the high-speed motor, monocular machine vision, SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), and the multi-cone cyclone separation, among which multiple patents are in a global leading position.

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

Yes, we are pretty much always working on exciting projects at Dreametech. There is a very high-tech project going on, however, I can’t tell you exactly what it is. But one thing is for sure, innovation will be a keyword for us in the next five-year period. We will expand more energy and time learning customer insights, which will also help us with our innovation and understanding of consumers’ needs. Dreame will remain deeply committed to delivering the most powerful product to create an easier cleaning experience for our global users. We’ve just concluded our 2022 Development road-map meeting, Dreametech will launch several products integrating the latest technologies, and there will be more cross-border cooperation in 2022.

We have multiple new projects that are under serious development, to not only optimize our existing product lines, but also to develop innovative products to help our customers with their daily life. At the end of 2021, we launched our latest scientific and technological achievement — the W10 self-cleaning robot vacuum and mop. The reason I think this one is so exciting is because traditional robot vacuums have difficulty in dealing with wet or dried-on messes from hard floors. That’s why Dreame’s robots all combine vacuuming and mopping. W10 takes this a step further by automating the process of cleaning the mops. I mean, cleaning the mops and drying them are considerable issues with mopping robots. First you take them off, scrub them, wring them out, air-dry them, and reattach them. This takes quite a bit of time and effort. And air-drying mops is kind of an issue because moist cloth is a breeding ground for bacteria and it easily mildews. Well, since it’s a 2-in-1 vacuum & mop the W10 easily handles wet messes, dry dirt, grime, and dried on stains. Plus, the mops are automatically washed, scrubbed, and then dried with hot air to ensure they are clean and fresh for the next cleaning session.

I really like that about the W10. It allows you to be pretty hands off with your cleaning by washing and replacing mops. I think that is a significant upgrade. We are also developing innovative products to enrich people’s lives, especially during COVID lockdown. It really seems like getting along with this virus will become a long-term thing, which means that we, at least for the foreseeable future, will spend a lot of time at home. Ensuring that a space you spend so much time occupying is clean and healthy is a very time-consuming and energy-intensive activity. Hopefully, we can complete these new projects and launch them soon.

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)?

The word “brand” is called “Pin Pai 品牌” in Chinese. The Chinese language uses two characters for this, and each of the characters has a specific meaning. So breaking down the term “Pin Pai 品牌”, would be the most comprehensive way for me to explain my view.

The first character “Pin 品” is about the product. The premise of product marketing is the product, and we need to get the product quality right before we can actually “market” something. Although Dreametech was founded in 2017, the founding team has been developing core technologies since 2015. The vacuum cleaner category is the most outstanding category of Dreametech products. At the time, vacuum cleaners already included hand-held vacuum cleaners, sweeping robots, dry and wet integrated vacuum cleaners, and a few other types. In recent years, many brands have embedded AI obstacle avoidance technology, automatic dust collection, and other new technologies into traditional products. The overall home cleaning industry is also becoming more competitive as the frequency of replacement increases with the adoption of these technologies, just like the current situation of the big 3C category. During the two years of preparation, we have been making breakthroughs in motor speed, and the target is to have the motor that powers the best vacuum cleaner on the market. Dreametech has been focusing on research and development from the early days up to the present.The most obvious manifestation of a company focusing on R&D is a high proportion of R&D personnel. At Dreametech, R&D personnel accounts for 70% of employees and R&D expenditure generally accounts for 15% of the revenue.

The dimension of the product is, horizontally speaking, a series of household cleaning products and personal care products extended from the core technology, which is motor technology. But vertically speaking, the product power of Dreametech originates from user experience, and that is the second core competitiveness. Dreametech is based on real usage scenarios to find users’ demands, to make product upgrades. And the second competition barrier will be erected. For example, indoor living scenes in Europe and Asia have significant differences. European families often live in a house that has more than one floor and a lot of cleaning robots may be prone to falling down stairs. Therefore, obstacle avoidance technology and anti-fall sensor technology needs to be improved to account for this aspect. Additionally, European families have the habit of laying down rugs, so we apply ultrasonic carpet recognition technology to our products.

That’s why the product, or “Pin 品” is of such important to marketing.

so I’ll move on to “Pai 牌”. “Pai 牌” is about unique qualities, it is a trademark and symbol that distinguishes from similar products. But it’s not simply about qualities that make Dreametech different from other similar products. Branding is like telling a story, and characters are the key to the story. Every brand has its character, and the formation of character comes from consistency and stability. So if Dreametech has any personality, he would be a young man marching steadily forward. Since its establishment in 2017, Dreametech has set up the vision of “becoming a world’s top technology company that constantly seeking and growing”. Brand marketing Dreametech has done or will do is based on its research and development ability and product strength. Engineers at Dreametech are from world-class universities, comprised of leading experts in aerospace dynamics. The R&D department hosts science and tech seminar events every week for product evolution, non-engineers are most welcomed for practical applications from the lab. Besides engineers, people who work at Dreametech also share similar values. They are always enthusiastic, positive and open. More than work, we are explorers traveling toward a common goal and the grand goal that is to use technology for the benefit of all humanity. Dreametech is making steady progress in this context.

With characters, the plot is also very important if a story is to be engaging. One scenario we often see in stories is meeting people that have sung the same songs. A partner is like a mirror, it reflects the qualities in you and the qualities you want. In 2021, Dreametech become the official partner of Borussia Dortmund (BVB), one of the most successful Football Clubs in Germany. With 270 million fans worldwide, BVB is ranked as the most powerful brand and the most likable club in Germany. The Dortmund team has won eight German league championships and five DFB Cups. In 1966, BVB became the first German club to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup and won the 1997 UEFA Champions League title. BVB has made many significant achievements in their respective fields, and we really respect that. Dreametech recognized many of its own traits in BVB, such as being young and powerful, and advocating teamworks. The collaboration between Dreame and BVB not only represented a convergence between sports and technology but also a chance for Dreame to better serve customers in the European markets.

We’re still going on to tell stories about Dreametech, but it’s not going to happen in an instant. Product marketing or advertising is always sales-oriented for different needs, such as Black Friday marketing campaigns. We will have a target ROI for advertising, which is an exact number, and we also have a lot of specific forms. Advertising is about conversion rates in a short period, however, brand marketing is long term.

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?

American advertising executive, Leo Burnett always inspires me a lot. He had a sentence that impressed me very much, “Advertising cannot perform magic for an unwanted or undesirable product. But a skilled advertising man can present previously overlooked virtues in a product in a way that will make people reach for it.” Advertising or marketing is the microphone which can make your voice louder.

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

Ok, what I’m about to say is only the preliminary work of brand building, and does not involve specific operations and work development. Or let’s just say they are my personal, humble opinions for reference. The most important thing is the product itself, around which I have a few points to share.

First of all, the essence of a brand is in the products. The products are the core of the whole brand and should be the physical manifestation of the brand. So all the work needs to be carried out around the products, as they are the ultimate brand representative. Dreametech spent a lot of manpower, material, and financial resources on developing and researching products. Improving the strength of the products to do brand marketing is a safe choice.

After you select a product, comes the second step. Which is to determine the industry attributes of the product, which is mainly because the different consumer groups have different characteristics when they purchase a selection. Only determining industry attributes can help the decision-maker target your consumer base.Third, I would recommend that you refer to many existing brands and identify your brand innovation. What are you doing that others don’t? What makes you unique? It doesn’t need to be a big change, just a micro innovation is enough.

The fourth thing is to establish your brand positioning. A very small number of unique products have strong scientific and technological attributes or irreplaceable capabilities, so their position in the market is as an “industry pioneer”. Putting these exceptions aside, most products already exist in the market. That is also the reason why branding is so important; to go beyond the difference between individual products and establish expectations for everything your brand does that makes it more familiar and known than other products in the industry. All subsequent marketing activities need to revolve around this identity. This can help consumer groups quickly understand you. Good positioning can bring a lot of loyal consumer groups. Dreame Technology is a technology company built around innovation. As mentioned earlier, Dreametech’s products rely on R&D, which enables us to attract customers who have a desire for technology and want a high quality of life.

Finally, the most important one is that the brand is both nothing and everything. It matters a lot how it’s expressed, and it’s expressed in everything that people interact with in relation to you. If there is no brand, the product is the product. You will probably never care about the brand of a bag of oranges, But if the oranges said that it comes from Pluto or something, then it becomes something unique and exclusive. It still comes down to a matter of product and positioning.

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?

First of all, excellent product design and stable product experience is what I think the most important element for a believable and beloved brand. From the product level to meet or even exceed consumer expectations.

And, if a brand does not want to be limited to the local market, it wants to have a broader market share, then it should respect multiculturalism and treat every consumer equally. We’ve had too many debates about race, about human rights, about fundamental issues about some peoples, that have led to the image of some brands being damaged in a certain area. If a brand wants to be trusted and embraced by consumers, it do needs a universal value and a harmony culture. Do relatively localized product development, consumer experience maintenance and user operation according to the cultural needs of different regional countries.

It’s easy to be a hero for a while, but it’s hard to be a hero all the time. The gene of innovation is the driving force for the sustainable development of a brand, and it is one of the fundamental reasons why a company can achieve long-term excellent results and be loved by the world.

From these perspectives Tesla is a brand that I really preferred. Tesla has changed the definition of a car. And the sales model, the consumer experience model as well, Tesla make the issue returning to the core and the root.

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?

“To build” is not an instantaneous verb, it takes time, money, and human resource. The effectiveness of a brand-building campaign is hard to quantify and not particularly valuable if it can be evaluated at all. Branding should be a long-term, ongoing activity. In this long period, decision-makers need to ensure that each period of brand building activities creates a consistent brand image. All the energy comes together, when a consumer needs to buy a home robot, the first brand that comes to his mind is Dreametech, that’s what we want.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

The environment of the overseas market is much clearer. Overseas, the entire traffic system can be worked backward, so that we can determine how the total amount of traffic is distributed to various dimensions. Dreame Technology has built a BI system, combining first-hand data and data from reliable organizations. It is accurate down to even the city now. In addition to data, another point in social media marketing is that Dreame always does content innovation based on the tone of different platforms.

TikTok is a channel with a strong ability to drive traffic. However users browse TikTok for leisure and relaxation. Dreametech tends to conceal overt product marketing when content is released on TikTok. We don’t want to make the hard sell, there. We often produce interesting content on TikTok to interact with users, if they are interested, they can jump to the official website for more information.

On YouTube, besides the influencers who do home and lifestyle, I have tried to cooperate with content producers from other industries. Cars, technology, and other fields. Some of them have worked very well. We had a video collaboration with an Italian car influencer who had 400,000 followers at that time, and the video has been viewed more than 100,000 times. The audience is not put off by this kind of contextual advertising. On the contrary, it will enhance the brand image. Many audiences commented that it was the most interesting vacuum cleaner advertisement they had ever seen.

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

These are just a few of the problems I pay more attention to in brand marketing. Take your product seriously, draw a clear and long-term plan for your brand, and please treat yourself better: )

“Take your product seriously”. This is incredibly important for consumers and for the long-term development of the brand. After all, if you don’t think highly of your own product, how can you expect customers to do so? “Draw a clear and long-term plan”. This means,be responsible for your team members, your time, and the money you spend. And “Treat yourself better”. As a worker, everything is consumed. A good leader should ensure that he has a nutritional intake, enough rest, exercise, and knowledge intake.

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

It is my belief that Dreame is that movement. Our vision is to create more than a marketplace where people could get tools to meet needs, but to create a community hub where everyone could learn and discuss the next technology, and how they can have an impact for making better things happen.

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

There is a motto from Warren Buffett, “Seize an opportunity while you can.” Self-growth and change require endogenous motivation, as well as external factors and opportunities.When someone forces you to break through yourself, don’t scare but be grateful to him. Perhaps you will change and transform as a result. When no one is pushing you, please push yourself. Always make some change to yourself. Making a difference is painful, but every metamorphosis will come with surprise.

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

I’d like to have a breakfast with Elon Musk, at any time. Let’s talk about universe and future of the Earth: )

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I hope you pay more attention to Dreametech than to myself.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And our website if you want to know more about our technologies, please visit:https://www.dreame-technology.com.

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


Frank Wang Of Dreame Technology: 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: Alexander Skalabanov Of Intellectsoft On How Their Technological Innovation Will…

The Future Is Now: Alexander Skalabanov Of Intellectsoft On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Build motivated and ambitious surroundings, deal with those who stand ready to invest heavily — paying either with their time, or effort — hand-in-hand with you. Not just because you pay them, but owing to their commitment, because they believe in your work. From my experience, I remember some hiring decisions that I would regret here and now, definitely. I’m convinced that when making a decision, soft skills come first and foremost. Any other skills, qualifications, or hard skills can be easily obtained over time.

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

Alexander Skalabanov is the co-founder and CEO of Intellectsoft, the technology partner of Fortune 500 organizations. With deep roots in software engineering, Alexander leads the team behind innovative software solutions in the healthcare, fintech, construction and hospitality sectors. As a technology visionary, he is an active investor and mentor to startups.

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

I founded Intellectsoft right after graduation from university, so it is true to say that entrepreneurship is my true passion and dedication. I had the rather bold goal of founding a company that would use the power of technology to make a real difference in the world — and I did it. It has been nearly 15 years since we started, and the company has seen tremendous success. Our great ambition helped us serve like-minded companies such as Jaguar, EY, Land Rover, Walt Disney and other Fortune 500 organizations that look to introduce cutting-edge technology into their business processes.

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

Having moved to England at the age of 21, I immediately started building my professional network and soon enough started working with one of the largest retail companies in the UK. We were working on enhancing their internal software and had regular status update meetings where we would all present the progress of our work. Each time we received modest and neutral feedback. Obviously, we figured that we didn’t quite meet the client’s expectations and worked on providing an even better service. At some point, we received an email from the company’s Chairman, stating that our software had increased the effectiveness of specific departments by 300%. We then learned that the client was indeed pleased with our work all along, but expressed their gratitude differently, given their culture and etiquette. This occasion taught me to invest time not only in digging into the client’s technical requirements, but also their cultural code.

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

We’ve recently rolled out a massive financial analytics solution to one of the largest investment management conglomerates in the world. We have built a system with a set of capabilities that includes disaster recovery, data replication, managed service identity, and a web application firewall. This makes it possible for the company to become truly flexible and quickly adapt to the ever-changing market. The process of data collection and analysis is fully controllable and disruption-free, even in the case of violent fluctuations on the market.

The ability to move business actions proactively and make better decisions is what helps our client effectively stand out, saving tons of man-hours and directly impacting their bottom line, especially over the longer-term. Fintech is actually a sector among our main expertise and this project helped us further establish a leadership position in the market as we join up with outstanding companies to revolutionize the financial and investments sectors.

How do you think this might change the world?

With all the above-mentioned technical enhancements, the company gets the working tools to quickly react to market changes and remain stable. New entries and data processing operations we’ve described significantly facilitate data management and analysis, providing firms with the much-needed level of control over their IT infrastructure. The data inputs come quickly, the updates happen automatically, and notifications to all the stakeholders are sent instantly. In the long run, this investment enables companies to establish a proactive approach to serving clients, and improves the quality of their data-driven decisions. And all this comes for far fewer man-hours — and with real enhancements in the bottom line!

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

I don’t see any dark sides of the product from a security point of view. No employee has full access, so there is no option for data leaking.

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

At the very beginning of my career I realized this world needs changes. When I first came to London, I realized one day I needed to exchange some cash and, looking back, there was a big problem to find the right place on a Sunday, I must admit. There was a need for a single universal currency you can use in every corner of the world, with no need to look for cash exchange — and here is when cryptocurrencies came into play. The topic is my sharp interest and I was personally involved from the very beginning, that’s why Fintech has been initially among the key areas of software development working here at Intellectsoft.

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

Both Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are already becoming commonplace in many spheres. The biggest block to further adoption for now is the fact that there is a lack of specialists with sufficient experience implementing these technologies. At Intellectsoft, we solve this issue by recruiting world-class engineers with different tech skills and motivating them to learn new technologies. We actively invest in the education of our people, and this approach is working, as evidenced by the team’s dedication, engagement, and results.

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

As we are a service company and we don’t make any product of our own, we focus on showcasing our clients’ projects in which we participate as technology partners. We prefer to educate, rather than aggressively promoting our accomplishments and leverage the power of content and social media to tell the story behind the projects and inspire others to innovate and adopt new technologies.

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 would say this person is my business partner and co-founder of Intellectsoft, Artem Kozel. In fact he was the first CEO at Intellectsoft and was in close contact with all employees on a daily basis. Artem’s opinion is very important for me and I am always consulting with him. As we both graduated from technical universities, we were sure that the only possible option for the future is a digital future, so we decided to speed up the revolution and founded our company.

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

Being a technology partner to industry giants is beneficial as we are not limited to any sector. For over 14 years, we have introduced new innovative concepts in healthcare, fintech, construction, hospitality and other sectors. Our solutions have helped non-urgent patients receive treatment only during strict lockdowns. Other solutions allowed us to streamline and forecast treatment outcomes months, or even years ahead. We created solutions that helped automate and enhance business processes in other sectors, subsequently increasing Return On Investment and saving jobs. You name it — we’ve seen it. And if not — challenge us!

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

1. Think “big and bold”. Never be scared to start a large-scale business. While some are still hesitating whether to get started, or rather to put it on hold, the truth is — the best time to act is now.

2. Build motivated and ambitious surroundings, deal with those who stand ready to invest heavily — paying either with their time, or effort — hand-in-hand with you. Not just because you pay them, but owing to their commitment, because they believe in your work. From my experience, I remember some hiring decisions that I would regret here and now, definitely. I’m convinced that when making a decision, soft skills come first and foremost. Any other skills, qualifications, or hard skills can be easily obtained over time.

3. Think about your health (good things, bad things) and energy level before you start. You should be energized to inspire others and drive your joint effort to a conclusion. When you are out of power, there is no good chance to win. So, I like modern trends for mindfulness and a healthy lifestyle very much, and I think these two are the two main pillars of success.

4. Choose what you like and listen to your heart. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you should follow your passion — and this works both at home and in the office. When driven mainly by cash compensation, we all tend to burnout, simply because we don’t see a true value in what we do every day.

5. Think about your “ideal” work-life balance, better do it early, in the very beginning. Sharing lessons learned from my own mistakes, I would like to highlight this — giving all of yourself to your business is never the way to go. There should always be a balance. We don’t want to miss your kid’s graduation just because of the heavy daily workload, do we?

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

I would say it’s education for children. There’s no secret that our current system is rusty and outdated. The kids grow up in a world that is changing faster than they grow and many of them cannot catch up. They should learn how to find their passion in life and have no boundaries. It is hard to do so for yourself, I am a kind of “product” of an old education system. We learned how to count, write essays. We know why the sun goes down. But what about Finance, or at least the very basics of bookkeeping? After graduating from school, we seek to find the best job right away, but do we actually know how to make up an impressive CV? With all this in mind, I’m doing my best to avoid this with my own kids, trying to show a full picture with more opportunities.

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

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” Is a fantastic quote from ‘The Light in the Heart’ by Roy T. Bennett.

This is a perfect quote for all tech enthusiasts out there. No great invention has ever been created easily. Being afraid to fail is completely normal. Just don’t let it stop you.

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 know how to transform the present for a better future. We help companies catch up with all modern technologies and make their lives more interesting. They can encounter any challenges and so-called “black swans” and thrive — despite any crisis. We are already trusted by the best, so join our circle of innovators and let’s change the world together.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Let’s connect on LinkedIn! https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-skalabanov/

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


The Future Is Now: Alexander Skalabanov Of Intellectsoft On How Their Technological Innovation Will… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Setti Coscarella Of TAAT Global On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Setti Coscarella Of TAAT Global On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

I will never forget the wise words of my high school math teacher — I was struggling a bit and his advice was to, “do every question in the book … twice.” That way there would be nothing he could ask me that I didn’t know. So, I did. I got an A and I carried that with me for the rest of my life. Put in the time, do the work, challenge yourself and you will achieve anything you want.

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

From Big Tobacco to Big Disruptor, Setti Coscarella is moving the goal post on his former peers. As the recently appointed CEO of TAATTM Global, a publicly traded zero tobacco and zero nicotine cigarette company, he has been laser-focused on educating consumers on a product that is not just superior in quality, but a pioneer in a category that did not exist until now. Setti’s bold approach and expansive resume as lead strategist with Philip Morris International, speaks to his industry notoriety as the insider needed to tip the scale.

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?

My backstory is simple, learn as much as you can, which I did — I earned a BSc in Math and Physics from the University of Toronto and my MBA from the Schulich School of Business. My plan from there was to then grow up, get a job, and turn into one of these businessmen in suits that I used to pass on the streets when I was a little boy. Now as CEO of TAATTM Global, I am able to live that truth and pass on this lesson to my children.

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

Everyone loves using the word disruptor nowadays, but for me, it is less about being a disruptor and more about the evolution that is necessary in this business, or business of any kind, to meet the demands of the current marketplace. If that makes me a disruptor, then so be it.

Everything I’ve always done is focused on my belief in that moment. I’m driven by a challenge and challenge almost always includes change. Our ability to adapt to change is what defines us as a modern society. Some brands do it sooner and better, some brands are happy to be second or third, I personally prefer first.

So, to answer your question, no I don’t view myself as a disruptor, but the vision for TAATTM certainly is. We are trying to disrupt the legacy tobacco business with TAATTM, a zero-nicotine and zero-tobacco cigarette that provides the same user experience as the traditional cigarette but created to culminate a new wave of alternative products that actually work for smokers. With over 1 billion smokers in the world, the big-tobacco industry generates over a trillion dollars a year globally, profiting on its customers falling into the void of addiction.

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?

It’s funny when you’re young, you think you know everything. Fresh out of school with my masters, I knew more than anyone else. Until one day in a meeting, with much smarter people than me at the time, I was told to just be silent and just to listen and learn. Of course, none of that happened. I interjected with some earth-shattering data I read somewhere thinking I would impress them all with this tidbit of new information up my sleeve. Turns out, one of the very important people in that meeting was the author of that data. It was a quite humbling experience. In hindsight, it was very funny, but very much a mortifying experience.

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?

My parents for sure, they always pushed me to do my absolute best and instilled a rigid work ethic in me to get things done to the best of my ability. Also, they taught me that if I don’t know how to do something, then spend the time to learn and don’t be afraid to ask for help. This wisdom has given me a breadth of knowledge and interest in a variety of different subjects with experience I can leverage in many different facets of business.

I like surrounding myself with successful businesspeople. There is a lot of learning that comes from absorbing the stories of the deals that went wrong or listening to the different ways people digest failures. In my mind, progress comes from refining errors. You don’t learn anything from always doing things right, that is just plain luck.

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?

I believe in the free market and that Darwinism exists in the context of business. The best ideas may get funding, but the best execution will win the day. Disruption has been happening since the dawn of time. There is always a better way to do things and it is through the ingenuity of the human condition that we progress as a society. It can be scary at times, but just like time, we must always move forward, whether we like it or not.

A little trivia, Alexander Graham-Bell is credited as the creator of the telephone, but a little-known fact is that Elisha Gray and Antonio Meucci invented the first version of the modern-day telephone, called the ‘talking telegraph’. However, Alexander Graham-Bell knew the process that was required for his invention to succeed which included receiving the first patent awarded for his invention, and obviously had better PR.

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

I will never forget the wise words of my high school math teacher — I was struggling a bit and his advice was to, “do every question in the book … twice.” That way there would be nothing he could ask me that I didn’t know. So, I did. I got an A and I carried that with me for the rest of my life. Put in the time, do the work, challenge yourself and you will achieve anything you want.

About a few years ago, I attended a seminar that changed my outlook on communication in the workplace forever. The speaker advised, “Don’t just hear what somebody is telling you, but listen. Authenticity is infinite in this world while Imposters have a finite finish line.” If you sit back and listen to not just their words, but your instincts and inner voice, it is amazing the clarity it can provide.

I also always admired the Lion speech Christopher Walken gives in his 2002 film, Poolhall Junkies. Walken says, “It’s too late to be nervous.” And that resonated with me, especially now as a CEO. You must prepare and you must be ready for anything because anything that is predictable, never takes flight.

A wise woman once told me, never go to sleep angry. She was right. And I married her. Every day is a new day.

Lastly, a professor in my master’s program used to tell us, “Success is not measured by just dollars or figures; the most successful people in the world are those that have impacted mankind for the better.”

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

I’m not a fortune teller, but next for me is watching TAATTM take the lead in the industry.

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?

My favourite book is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I’ve probably read it cover to cover hundreds of times and continue to. The 1937 book is a publishing of Hill’s hundreds of case studies he performed on self-made millionaires. There is great power in devoting time and resources to understanding the people around you, whether from a corporate standpoint or at home.

I also often watch skilled orators speak, both from a content standpoint but also to learn from how they are able to command an audience and communicate their message in an easy yet impactful way… for example, Tony Robbins, Les Brown, Zig Ziglar, even comedians like Ryan Reynolds preach that delivery and timing are key in purposeful communication.

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

I am most motivated when someone tells me I can’t do something. I once heard a quote by Theodore Roosevelt in my undergrad that rings in the back of my head whenever I begin to succumb to criticism, “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”

I’ve been told that I wouldn’t get my MBA, wouldn’t become an investment banker, wouldn’t work in Private Equity, wouldn’t become a CEO of a publicly traded company…. And I have achieved all of that by believing in the big picture. Don’t let others’ insecurities or shortcomings affect your life or your willpower to become a force for change. All that matters is what you believe you can do. Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t… you are right. Choice is yours and it is all about mindset.

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

The world is much bigger than a company, a consumer product, or a political movement. The world is a living breathing entity of billions of people that will surely outlast me, you, and everyone we know. For me, it would be providing opportunities for those with great ideas. There is a global inequity to access opportunity. Some of the best ideas that have yet to be revealed are waiting in some child’s mind who may not have the means to go to a fancy college or build a prototype. That’s the kind of opportunity I’m talking about.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn: @SettiCoscarella

Facebook: @TAATGlobal

Instagram: @TAATGlobal

Official TAATTM Website: https://TryTAAT.com

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


Meet The Disruptors: Setti Coscarella Of TAAT Global On The Three 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: DeJuan Ford Of DeJuan Ford Productions & Faim Film Entertainment On…

Making Something From Nothing: DeJuan Ford Of DeJuan Ford Productions & Faim Film Entertainment On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Bet on yourself! People invest in the person behind the project, be the best you, that’s what the people want.

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

DeJuan Ford is a former “cable guy” turned serial entrepreneur and executive director/independent film actor with six years in the industry. Telecommunications company, 20 + subcontractors. Stock market investor turned. Non- Profit, The Anthony Taylor Foundation targets at risk youth 6–17 through mentoring through life coaching, financial literacy and athletic programs in Detroit, MI.

Growing up in Detroit and falling victim to the streets That motivated him to begin his journey as an entrepreneur and stepping foot into the independent film industry. As a serial entrepreneur DeJuan has created jobs for the community and decided upon an interaction with a filmmaker, Dennis L. Reed II, through his Dennis L. Reed II Productions, that he would like to act and then became a investor in movies. Investment led to creating his own projects at Faim Film Entertainment.

DeJuan is a native Detroiter, currently residing in Orlando, FL. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration-Finance. He is married with 3 children, DeJuan Jr., Mila, & Liam Ford.

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 really appreciate you interviewing me, thanks for the opportunity. I am really excited to be a part of this interview. I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. I have 12 siblings, 8 sisters and 4 brothers, I am number 11/12. My mother worked at a movie theatre, we spent a lot of time there as kids, and I believe that is what really sparked my interest in movie production. My parents were blue collar workers who installed a great work ethic into our lives.

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

“Collaboration over competition.” I live by this quote daily. We have to understand the power that we possess if we work together. Too often we try to do things alone. Naturally we are competitors and even through competition is great we have to know when to turn it off and collaborate with each other for a greater cause. It is the only way for us to make a difference in our community is by working together

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 believe that family is the most important thing in life. With your family in tact it allows you to be better at what you do for your career, business or job. The book, Better Dads, Stronger Sons: How Fathers Can Guide Boys to Become Men of Character

Book by Rick Johnson. The one thing in my life that I take the most pride in

is being a father. This book gives a unique perspective of the relationship between a father and son. I was blessed to have my father around, I learned a lot from him, but I want to take it to the next level with my two boys and become the best dad possible.

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?

The hardest part is starting. Start by getting over your fear and making a plan of action. Create your tax id, incorporate your business name, research what you will need to get the business going, secure funding and most importantly, bet on yourself! You will face some barriers but keep pushing, your breakthrough will come.

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?

In my industry, it’s a little different. It does not matter if someone has thought about the idea before, you can add your own twist to it and make it your idea. To research go to WGA, Writer’s Guild Association, and search. Protect your actual project not an idea. Ex. If you have a script, treatment, book, content of any kind register with WGA West and Copyright Office. You can always create and find out what is out there after you create. Focus on creating and the rest will follow. It is ok to make changes but starting is the first step.

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 step is creating the idea for the movie. Write it down. Then submit it to a writer to create the script. Once you have the script you can get into the preproduction phase by creating a budget, finding a production crew, casting, scouting and securing locations, have table reads and rehearsing.

Now it’s time to shoot the movie, if you handled pre-production properly, shooting the movie should be a breeze, so they say lol. Proper planning and preparation eliminates a lot of stress and will help things run smooth. Once the movie is shot, it’s time to get into postproduction, editing, sound, color, marketing, public relations, finding distribution and everything else that leads up to the premiere.

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.)

Have fun, remember why you started. Sometimes we get caught up in the financial side of things and it takes the fun out of it. It makes your life more stressful. Have fun, you are great, the money will come!

Bet on yourself! People invest in the person behind the project, be the best you, that’s what the people want.

Keep pushing, don’t give up! You are going to face countless obstacles and barriers, find ways to overcome them.

Build your network, they say your network is your net worth. In this industry, having a strong network will go a long way.

Maintain a work/life balance. You will burn yourself out if you do not. Make sure you make time for yourself and your family.

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?

If you have an idea for a film, contact DeJuan Ford and I will get you to where you want to go lol. No, I would recommend reaching out to several writers, make sure you have them sign NDAs. Your next step will be to secure funding. I initially used funds from my personal savings account for my first film, but there are several ways you can go about it.

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 you have an invention, then definitely consult an IP lawyer. Entertainment lawyers are good to have in order to consult or create agreements for potential first look deals and overall deals with production studios and distribution.

I wouldn’t recommend a development consultant for the film industry, there is not really a need for it. I believe starting on your own is the way to go. As a filmmaker you have to be involved in the process, you have to understand your market, what they want, and deliver it to them.

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 tough, I am more of a bootstrapping, go all in, bet on yourself type of guy. So, if you have the resources to do so, that’s the best route in my opinion. You maintain full control and when your project becomes profitable, you keep the entire pot!

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

I have used my success to mentor many people in my community. Giving them advice not only about business but just life in general. I also give a lot of opportunities to individuals that are passionate about the film industry, directors, actors, photographers, production managers, etc. I also have classes for the youth where I give them insight on the industry.

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 like to start a collaboration over competition movement. Someone else’s win shouldn’t mean your loss, Collaboration shifts us out of the belief that everything must be hard fought, and instead allows joyful co-creation to show us what is really possible for us to achieve. If we share resources with one another, the sky is the limit. We are always taught to never share your secrets, never share your contact information. But what makes me feel the best is collaborating and connecting with others, helping them achieve their goals.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, 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.

One individual I would like to have a private lunch with would be independent film producer/director Shatara Michelle Ford, her film Test Pattern is arguably one of my favorite films. I would like to meet with her to discuss her process, share some resources, collaborate and build more content that reaches the masses.

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


Making Something From Nothing: DeJuan Ford Of DeJuan Ford Productions & Faim Film Entertainment On… 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: James Katz Of Humankind Investments On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

If you aren’t passionate about your idea, then don’t go for it. If the idea isn’t burning you up inside, then you may lose steam during the long haul of implementation and execution of that idea. I’ve had other startup ideas before and toyed around with them in my spare time for a bit, but I ultimately lost interest in them because I wasn’t especially passionate about them. When I got the idea for Humankind Investments it basically consumed me.

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

James is a veteran quantitative equity analyst and data scientist with a passion for socially responsible investing. He founded Humankind Investments in order to bring a more analytical and metrics-based approach to the field. Before founding Humankind, James worked in the ETF industry as a quantitative equity analyst and data scientist for Vanguard. He holds a PhD in Business Administration from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and a BA in Psychology and PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) as well as a BAS in Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania. James is a CFA charterholder.

Humankind Investments is a quantitatively driven investment manager focused on socially responsible investments that was founded on the premise that it would be better for all of us if we widened our perspective and paid close attention to how our investments impacted humankind. Our mission is to give investors concrete and measurable ways to invest in a manner that generates rewards for themselves and for humanity. We offer socially responsible portfolio management services for high-net-worth individuals and institutional clients as well as exchange traded fund products.

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 mom was born in Colombia and my dad was born in Hungary. I was born in Miami, FL. Neither of my parents were American so we never celebrated thanksgiving until one day when I was old enough to realize I told them that since we lived in America we really should celebrate. My mom agreed. I was excited. Finally, Thanksgiving came around and we sit down to dinner. Turns out my mom made duck instead of turkey. When I asked why she made that choice she said that duck was a tastier bird than turkey. I actually agreed with her on that, but of course that wasn’t the point.

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

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but one that I really like is: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” The message that I think is relevant to me, and probably lots of people, is that in life things don’t move forward linearly from success to success, leveling up as you go. So, when you meet the inevitable failures in your life, if you take them in stride and keep moving forward, looking for ways to continue learning and growing, then you can be successful.

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?

When I was in middle school, I read the book Foundation by Isaac Asimov. The premise is basically that there’s this guy who uses science to understand the world’s problems and ultimately save the world. That book initially inspired me to pursue a career in academia, but ultimately led me to found the firm that I’m currently working on — Humankind Investments.

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?

Often having a good idea for a business is like looking across a canyon. You can clearly see the other side, and it looks beautiful, you just don’t know how to get there. The key is to design and build your bridge, bit by painstaking bit, so that you can reach the other side. It can take years to build that bridge. During that time many people might give up on their idea. But if the idea is good enough, and your will to execute it is strong enough, then you might have a good chance to build that bridge.

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?

These days a quick google search should do the trick.

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.

Once you’ve got the idea, and you know you want to pursue it. I think creating a business plan is a key first step. A business plan basically is an outline of how you will operate for the first few years — how many people you will need to hire, how much money you need to start, and what the steps are to making your first sale. Then you need to secure startup funding for your idea, whether you’re self-funding, getting help from friend and family, or going to VCs. Then you can go about executing your business plan step by step until you’ve made your first sale.

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.)

I can’t think of 5 right now, but I’ve got one big one that I think is worth 5 little ones. If you aren’t passionate about your idea, then don’t go for it. If the idea isn’t burning you up inside, then you may lose steam during the long haul of implementation and execution of that idea. I’ve had other startup ideas before and toyed around with them in my spare time for a bit, but I ultimately lost interest in them because I wasn’t especially passionate about them. When I got the idea for Humankind Investments it basically consumed me.

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?

I think speaking with friends and family about it, using them as a sounding board is super helpful early on. They can give you honest feedback on whether you’ve got something worth pursuing and may be able to introduce you to people in that field who can give you advice that can be helpful in starting your company.

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 have no experience with invention development consultants.

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

Some ideas are so complex and long term that you pretty much need venture capital to get it off the ground. Others are simple and straightforward with quick turnaround times — those might be easier to bootstrap first. The longer you can hold off on using venture capital the more developed your company will hopefully be and you may be able to get a better deal from VC firms later with a better developed company to show them. On the other hand, bootstrapping can be slow-going; VC money can act like gasoline for your company.

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

I hope that Humankind Investments helps make the world a better place every day by working to help people invest in the manner that’s best for humanity. That’s the mission of our company.

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 honestly hope that Humankind will bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. Money seems to make the world go round, so I think that choosing to invest it in companies making a positive impact on humanity and engaging with companies to improve their impact on humanity has the potential to make a big positive impact for lots of people.

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.

Nobody comes to mind immediately, but if any of those big names that you’re talking about want to get lunch with me after reading this interview I’d certainly be happy to make that happen 🙂.

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


Making Something From Nothing: James Katz Of Humankind Investments 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.

The Future Is Now: Hikari Senju Of Omneky On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Hikari Senju Of Omneky On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Listen to customers. A large amount of time and money is wasted early on building things people don’t want. As much as entrepreneurs need to be stubborn in their vision, it’s also critical to be able to build what your customers actually need.

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

Hikari Senju Founder & CEO of Omneky: Hikari Senju studied Computer Science at Harvard with a focus on AI. While at Harvard, he founded an edtech startup which was later acquired and where he became the acquiring company’s Head of Growth. In that position, he saw how much money was being spent on inefficient content. Utilizing his background in AI, he saw an opportunity to quantify design and to generate creative content to increase Return on Ad Spend. In May 2018 he founded Omneky, an AI platform that generates and optimizes personalized ad creatives at scale. Omneky’s mission is to empower human creativity and democratize growth with AI.

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

I grew up in Westchester, New York and since I was younger, I’ve always been passionate about technology and design. My dad is an artist so I grew up in an environment that had an obsession with communicating via design. I remember spending time in my dad’s studio and drawing artwork alongside my dad, learning how to choose colors and shapes. Additionally, my grandfather worked at IBM, so I also grew up around technology. I often went along with him to research labs to see the latest product demos, which really embedded a fascination for technology in me. I would deconstruct and reconstruct all the hardware we had at home, and was really into robotics competitions.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, I studied computer science with a focus on AI. While in undergrad I started my first company called Balloon, a friend meetup app that went through DreamIt Ventures. with my college roommate. I then founded an on-demand tutoring app called QuickHelp, which won the Harvard Innovation Challenge and received venture capital financing, which meant I could work on it full time after graduation. I later sold QuickHelp to Yup.com and became the company’s Head of Growth. During my time at Yup.com, I saw how much money was being spent on inefficient content. From here, I was inspired to build Omneky by combining the ability of AI to quantify design and to generate creative content. I started with a pure analytics product to gather data and grew the company into a tool that helps businesses grow by generating and optimizing ads at scale.

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

In 2016, while working at my previous edtech company, I was in Beijing for an education conference. While there, I was invited to pitch MorningSide Venture Partners, which led Xiaomi’s Series A. The pitch was actually a lunch in their office with the managing and executive directors. We had oranges, rice, soup and vegetables that were brought in on metal trays and they showed me bobbleheads of themselves that they had on their desks. I’ve been to most of the top venture capital offices and pitched many of the top investors but this was something else. The meeting was entirely focused on who I was as a person and not the business.

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

Omneky uses AI to tap into audience demographics and consumer insights to generate hundreds of thousands of personalized ads that increase Return on Ad Spend. We have an analytics dashboard that aggregates data across all advertising platforms for customers to get up to date creative insights. We use computer vision to break down each ad creative into its set of features (color, phrases, sentiment, etc.) and find predictive correlations between those features and sales for each audience segment. We then use these insights to generate hundreds of thousands of new ad permutations per week to drive sales and get additional insights regarding what drives customer engagement with the brand. These insights can be utilized to create not only better personalized ads, but also landing pages, emails and other marketing material. As a result of this, our average customer sees a 2.7x Return on Ad Spend.

By lowering the cost of advertising effectively online, we are democratizing growth and empowering small businesses to grow. By lowering the barrier to entry for advertising, any compelling business can effectively connect with customers online, even if they don’t have a massive advertising budget. By helping the growth of small businesses, the backbone of the American economy, we will create more jobs in the country.

How do you think this might change the world?

Omneky changes the world by making advertising as easy as clicking “approve.” Customers connect their advertising data, which our platform uses to generate hundreds of thousands of creative iterations per week based on what’s working in real time. All design and marketing teams have to do is click “reject” or “approve” on each base creative component. If they don’t like something about the creative, they utilize our image and video annotation tool to provide specific feedback about changes for each creative or provide general feedback on the batch. This way we can make sure every personalized creative is on brand. Customers also submit their brand guidelines and submit requests for future creatives or submit creative themselves that our AI can iterate against. This way, creative teams can utilize the full power of AI with real-time data while maintaining control of their brands.

What this means for the average consumer is that ads are going to get better. I think one of the reasons why people dislike ads so much is because it’s intrusive and not socially aware. But with smart ads personalized by AI, ads are going to feel less like strangers shouting at you but a close friend recommending you products that they think will help you. And with better ads, we’ll see better distribution and success of new innovative products and better financing of new media experiences.

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

There are drawbacks in any new technology and corporations have a profit motive that needs to be kept in check with regulation. We have seatbelt laws and smoking laws to keep consumers safe. There should be laws regulating data, privacy and AI. We must develop our AI according to democratic principles in order to ensure it will have future benefits in society. One such way to achieve this is the creation of an ‘AI Bill of Rights,’ a list of standards that any new or current AI technology must adhere to in order to protect individuals and promote its advancement in an ethical way.

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

At Yup, I wrote a script to automate key-word bidding on Google Search that drove down acquisition costs 90%. I tried setting up a similar automated system on Facebook, but realized that most of the performance gains were based on the creative. Around the same time, I was playing around with GANs to generate images and considered that perhaps there was an automated way of A/B testing creative. Combining GANs with computer vision to quantify design seemed like an opportunity to automate the creative testing process, which got me started on the idea for Omneky.

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

Widespread adoption of autonomously GAN generated imagery for advertising is probably a couple years off. All the pieces are already there for widespread adoption of our solution. We’re using GPT-3 for generating text and are utilizing human creators for the final assembly of the ads. The average creator makes less than minimum wage and we make opportunities for them on our platform to have a steady income. Quantum computing may revolutionize AI generated content, and we’re constantly integrating state-of-the-art machine learning into our product. But even still, there may always be an opportunity for human creators in the creative process.

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

Our biggest growth channel has been referrals. Separately, we also run our own ads. One of the benefits of building an ad tech product is that we can dog food our own product. We run ads across all digital platforms (Facebook, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat) and newer channels like CTV (programmatic television) to generate leads. Improving our technology results in both better growth for us as well as a better product for our customers.

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 Naguib Sawiris, the founder of Yup.com, in 2016 via an introduction from Desmond Lim (founder of Worksteam). Yup acquired QuickHelp and brought me on board as the Head of Growth. It was at Yup that I learned an incredibly large amount about the marketing industry.

I had met Anne Dwane, a partner at Village Global though the Harvard Innovation Lab. She invited me to attend Erik Torenberg’s On-Deck events, where I got to know Erik, another Village Global partner. I was incredibly lucky to receive my first investment days after leaving Yup from Village Global. They incubated my company for the first six months, and if it wasn’t for them, it would have been a lot harder for me to get Omneky off the ground.

Richard Socher has been an amazing angel investor. He is a legend in the AI community (for co-authoring the ImageNet and GloVe papers) whose advice on AI has been incredible regarding Omneky’s core ML product.

My Co-Founder, Aaron Surloff, who joined last year to help scale the business at a very critical time. His passion for advertising has been critical for our growth.

And so many other angels, advisors and investors, many of whom participated in our most recent fundraising round. It really does take a village.

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

We’ve signed the 1% pledge to donate 1% of our time, profits and product back to the community. We’ve done pro-bono work for a non-profit, Nomi Network, which combats human trafficking by creating pathways to safe employment, empowering women and girls to break cycles of slavery in their families and communities.

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

  • You’ve got to care about the problem and your customer. Startups are really hard and you’re going to give up unless you genuinely care about solving the problems of your customers.
  • Listen to customers. A large amount of time and money is wasted early on building things people don’t want. As much as entrepreneurs need to be stubborn in their vision, it’s also critical to be able to build what your customers actually need.
  • Companies die when they run out of money. The first priority of a founder is to keep your company alive. This means fundraising and sales but also managing spend effectively. Only by staying alive can you take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
  • (Free) Cash (flow) is king. Get cash flow as soon as possible. As soon as you can get cash flow, then free cash flow (unit profits) you can use to grow your business, is when you have your destiny in your hands.
  • A large part of success is going to depend on hiring the right people and getting them in the right roles.

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

I’m a big fan of effective altruism. Effective altruism is a data driven approach in giving back to maximize positive outcomes. I am singularly focused on creating the largest, most positively impactful technology company I can during my lifetime. And giving as much back to the community as possible along the way. I agree when Andrew Carnegie said “a person who dies rich dies disgraced.”

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 Abraham Lincoln, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” An entrepreneur has to create something from nothing based on a vision. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had to hustle my entire life. Always be hustling.

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 🙂

Omneky is an AI platform that generates, analyzes and optimizes personalized ad creatives at scale. Omneky is utilizing data and AI-driven ad generation. With 47% of sales attributed to ad creative, our software has the power to propel a business’ growth. Omneky aims to democratize the advertising industry by allowing customers to optimize their content generation and distribution in less time and for lower cost. With the help of Omneky’s software and ad optimization system, any business can grow effectively by generating personalized ads at scale.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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


The Future Is Now: Hikari Senju Of Omneky 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.

Belma McCaffrey Of Work Bigger: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Belma McCaffrey Of Work Bigger: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Have a vision. Know what you stand for and what you’re building. My vision to redefine work keeps me anchored in my values.

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 Belma McCaffrey.

Belma McCaffrey is the CEO and Founder of Work Bigger, a career coaching platform for dissatisfied high-achievers who want to find their purpose. Through coaching and community, Work Bigger helps individuals connect to their mission and step into their purpose and full potential.

Belma’s work has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, Thrive, and other media platforms. She has a B.A. from Syracuse University and an MBA from Baruch College. Belma is also a refugee from Albania, a mom to two boys, and prior to Work Bigger, she spent 10+ years working in media and strategy roles at companies like the Associated Press and Conde Nast.

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 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 made so many mistakes when I was first starting out! It’s challenging to think of one that’s funny, but looking back I see I made so many wrong decisions that seem obvious now..

One of the earliest mistakes I made is trying to apply a lot of the theories and frameworks I learned in business school to starting a company.

I tried to take everything I learned in accounting, marketing and strategy — lessons and theories based on large, established corporations — and apply the learnings to a business that didn’t even exist yet. I was eager to build something scalable with impact!

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 who have helped me get to where I am. One specific person who comes to mind is my coach Jess Geist. I worked with Jess for 2+ years, and the work we did together transformed my life and my business.

I met Jess in 2016 when Work Bigger was just a blog and while I was still working full time at the Associated Press. Work Bigger was still just a dream. She offered a bonus call for a referral, and I remember how powerful that call was for me. It opened up memories and experiences I hadn’t thought about in years, but these memories were deeply shaping the journey I was on and the decisions I was making.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to work with Jess then. I kept going, regardless, and eventually I got to a place where I could work with her for 9 months. During that time, I started making big decisions and taking massive action in my business. I took Work Bigger from beta to launch with two sustainable revenue streams. That was really the beginning of creating a business that has impact and soul and is also profitable.

I continued to work with Jess after that. She supported me in developing a customer journey that takes our members from finding their purpose to fully stepping into their purpose and potential.

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 vision has always been to redefine work. I see so many people leveraging work as a way to check off boxes or climb a ladder that society has created. I see so many people making unconscious decisions about their lives and work, and as a result, there’s a lot of suffering.

Instead of pursuing this unconscious path, individuals can leverage work as a vehicle that leads to creativity, growth, impact and creating a life full of meaning. This means learning to work from a conscious, healthy place and understanding your own purpose and mission as a leader.

Because of this, we first support our members with finding their purpose, then we help them through their leadership journey. We support them with stepping into that purpose by developing healthy mindset habits, deepening their confidence and also supporting them with prioritizing their wellbeing and life.

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 think the past two years have been full of difficulty and uncertainty for everyone. The way I lead my team here is to treat everyone as a human first. Many of my team members have experienced grief, loss, illness, and so much more.

For example, in a span of two months, my executive assistant lost her brother and had several family members hospitalized from COVID. We’re a small of team of 4. We stepped in and took on her workload so she could be with her family.

As a team, we always prioritize life. I give my people space to process what they need, and I think that’s really important in allowing them to feel seen, heard and supported. Nothing is more important than one’s health and wellbeing.

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

The only times I’ve ever considered giving up is when I’ve experienced burnout. When you’re burned out, you’re so exhausted that continuing to build a business feels very daunting.

Burnout doesn’t happen often for me because I’ve done a lot of work personally in this area, and it’s something we also support our clients and members through. However, I’m human and I do think burnout can slowly happen without realizing.

This past December was a really challenging time for my family and me. We recently moved from the east coast to the west coast and have been adjusting to a new life. My husband and I have two small kids (ages 1.5 and 6.5). Our kids, especially our youngest, were sick repeatedly in a 3 to 4 month period. And our oldest has been missing family back home. Add a pandemic to the mix, and it’s been a lot physically, emotionally and mentally.

I’m still coming out of this challenging month, and I don’t know that I’ve “motivated” myself to keep going.

What I did do and what I’m doing is allowing myself to be exhausted. I’m not pushing myself to do all the things. I’m scaling back some work projects and pivoting. I’m letting go of the pressure to do it all. Unexpected family demands happened that were out of my control, and I have to pivot as I go.

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

The most critical role of a leader is to lead by example. I’m very vulnerable with my team. I let them know when things are tough and when I don’t know it all. As a result, they also open up with me and let me know when they’re experiencing something challenging.

My Program Liaison who is in charge of our program enrollment and I especially have a great relationship. She shares with me when she makes a mistake and directly asks for feedback to improve. It’s amazing! The trust we have in each other allows us to pivot and learn quickly.

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 best way to boost morale during uncertain times is to hold both space for the uncertainty and the vision. It’s important to acknowledge the fear and the uncertainty. It’s there. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

At the same time, encourage your team to hold on to the purpose and the vision of what you’re all building. Always highlight the impact. The impact isn’t about you, it’s about what you’re all working on together as a team, and it’s important.

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

I’m a big fan of nonviolent communication. There are limitations to this method and it’s quite complex, but what I love about NVC is that it encourages us to share facts rather than stories. Communicating data is a powerful thing, and we often don’t know how to do it. NVC also allows us to connect to and share our feelings. There’s a vulnerability element that’s really important.

Overall, I think leveraging parts of NVC can build empathy and understanding.

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

We have to focus on what we can control. If we focus on what’s unpredictable, we’re going to operate from a place of fear.

There’s this exercise in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that I love to use both for myself and with my clients, which is called the Circle of Influence. The Circle of Influence consists of everything that’s under our control — how we show up, how we react to the unexpected, and the work we do on ourselves to be conscious, healthy leaders. It’s an empowering way to lead.

At the same time, we acknowledge what’s in our Circle of Concern — everything that’s creating worry or stress. We can then choose consciously to focus on what we can control.

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

Anchoring yourself in your purpose can help a company navigate turbulent times. Your purpose is your north star and is rooted in your values. And if you’re truly connected to the deeper aspects of the business — why you’re building it in the first place and the impact that you want to make — you can find the faith to get through difficult times.

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?

  • One mistake is to not listen to customers, team members or ourselves. During difficult times, there’s a lot of fear. And when there’s a lot of fear, we’re in fight or flight and we tend to make decisions that don’t serve us. To avoid this, slow down. Take time to acknowledge the difficulties. Let yourself — as a leader — be with the fear of things not working out. Once you’ve given yourself some space to do this, you can shift and continue to make decisions from a place of possibility.
  • Another mistake is making decisions from a place of burnout or exhaustion. This is similar to the first point, but leaders are often exhausted. And when they’re exhausted, they’re just trying to get through the day. You can’t be creative or innovative or serve your customers from this place. When this happens, stop. Take note of what’s going on in your body and give yourself the space and care you need to start operating from a healthy place. One way that I process my burnout is by journaling. I spend time just writing out what I’m feeling and thinking.
  • Another mistake is putting profit before people. To me this is a short-term view of building a business. Great businesses are led and created by people. I truly feel that people are our greatest resource. To avoid putting profit before people, anchor yourself in your values and why you started this business. And consider the impact you have outside of yourself.

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’s very important to me that I’m building a business that supports my life goals and my family. This is contrary to what I’ve learned in business school and what we hear in the media, but I focus on paying myself first. I have specific percentages allotted for operational expenses, profit, income — and I try to stick to that. I consider it a healthy business when I can pay myself what I need to support my family.

Also, I’m building a reserve fund for slower months. This gives me the peace of mind I need when we need to shift strategies.

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.

Have a vision

Know what you stand for and what you’re building. My vision to redefine work keeps me anchored in my values.

Have clarity of purpose and values

This is so foundational. Without clarity of purpose and values, making difficult decisions will be impossible. You need your north star and you need to be connected to why you’re doing this. It will keep you going when things feel impossible.

Heal your trauma

We are human beings, and many of us have a lot of trauma that’s unprocessed. As a result, we bring this to the workplace and in how we lead. I believe healing ourselves is one of the most responsible things we can do as leaders. Healing my own trauma and making this part of my leadership journey allows me to be a better listener and coach. And I can hold the challenges that come with building a team and business because I have the capacity to do so.

Learn to listen actively and deeply and work on your communication skills

If we all slowed down and listened instead of talked, we’d learn so much about each other, including our needs and our struggles. Learn to listen to your customers, your team and also yourself. You’ll be much more equipped to build a business that serves all stakeholders.

Be quick to pivot

Learning to make decisions quickly is so important. Time is our greatest resource, and the faster you can pivot when things aren’t going well the better. This applies to who you hire or fire and what you need to do to grow the business.

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

This too shall pass.

This helps me remember that painful, challenging times are temporary. I go to this quote when things feel challenging in my personal life, and when I’m dealing with a disheartening, stressful work situation.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Go to www.workbigger.co and @workbigger on Instagram

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


Belma McCaffrey Of Work Bigger: 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.

Meet The Disruptors: Rebecca Balyasny of Bande On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Rebecca Balyasny of Bande On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Focus on what’s most important to driving the business and don’t get bogged down in the details.

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

Rebecca has always been an athlete. From her earliest sports experiences to days playing tennis in college and moving into adulthood, fitness has always been a source of joy and fulfillment.

When the COVID pandemic hit, Rebecca — like so many others — yearned for connection and inspiration. As a working mom, she needed to make the one hour a day she had to herself count. After trying countless fitness programs, Rebecca found herself still missing the connections she had formerly enjoyed in person, working out with the instructors and friends she loved.

Bande was born from Rebecca’s desire for connection and community in this ever-changing world. She created a beta version of the concept and invited some of her best friends from all over the world to attend a virtual barre class with one of her favorite instructors. Then something amazing happened:

“There was a magical micro-moment in the beginning of class, where I waved to my friend and knew we were sharing the same experience. Then more magic came when the instructor called my name, taking a real interest in what I was doing and helping to push me along and coach me. At that moment, I knew I was on to something that was going to change the way people experience and connect through fitness.”

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?

Sports and athletic pursuits have always been a central part of my life. I played competitive tennis growing up and Division 1 college tennis. After college, I took up basketball and made some of my best friends and memories playing on teams throughout my 20s. In the following decade, I went on to raise six kids while also working. I couldn’t find the time to play sports or get to a gym regularly, so I started working out at home. These workouts were okay but were not inspiring me.

When the pandemic hit, I was craving connection more than ever before. I also started to realize that I wasn’t’ as strong as I aspired to be. My family had moved to Jackson Hole, and I wanted to feel strong in order to climb and ski mountains.

A neighbor recommended I go on a live class with an instructor named Bergen who was based in NYC. BOOM! I got on the line and felt the pervasive energy of Bergen and the 50 others in the “room”. Bergen called my name and told me not to drop my weights. I was dying, but these other people were crushing it, and Bergen kept calling my name and pushing me harder. I ended the class feeling high and connected like after a basketball game.

I continued to look around for platforms that were focused on live, two-way interactive workouts, and there were none out there. I knew that there was an opportunity to create a platform in the live two-way interactive space where people would leave feeling exhilarated and connected.

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 the initial weeks of our launch, I logged on to class and everyone in the room was named Bergen, the instructor’s name. Somehow, everyone was on the instructors’ account yet the instructor, Bergen couldn’t log in and lead the class. I had to stall and lead the class.

With technology in general and in particular, building new technology, issues will always arise. Have a game plan in place on how to solve tech problems as quickly as possible, make sure a communication strategy is in place, and try to always have a back-up solution.

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?

I’ve organically developed an inspiring group of female founders who include Suzanne Yoon, founder of Kinzie; Kendra Butler, Alpyn Beauty; Lela Rose, Lela Rose; Jacq Tatelman, STATE Bags; Coral Chung, Senreve; Jess Bielgik, Paceline.

I go to these women for advice on many levels. The impact these women make is that I have a front row seat, watching them persist and succeed in building fruitful businesses. I hear about their ups and downs; and they are so honest about their downs. But each one of them gets back up, persists, and have built really successful businesses. They give me the strength to push forward.

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

We are focused on optimizing the live, interactive workout experience through a combination of technology and instructor training. We have built our own video platform that changes the way online fitness is experienced and makes it truly social. Moreover, we are focused on being real. Real social interactions. Real feedback. Real progress.

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 is positive when it improves people’s lives, creating efficiencies, optionality, and ultimately, happiness. In our industry in particular, the advent of virtual options has created significantly more accessibility to getting your best workout whenever or wherever one is or lives. People can feel good and improve their lives at almost any given time. The disruption is also positive for the network of instructors who have more flexibility to work from anywhere and spend less time commuting and more time with family, for one example. On the not so positive side of the coin, brick and mortar fitness and wellness studios have struggled. That said, there are significantly wider audiences and a larger pie to attract new consumers.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

  • You need to be an optimist when you are building a start-up.
  • Look to hire people who are passionate about your mission, first and foremost.
  • Focus on what’s most important to driving the business and don’t get bogged down in the details.

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

We are expanding with custom programs for corporates and seniors. Everyone has different needs, but they all share the desire for live connection through fun workouts without worrying about going to a gym.

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?

Atlas Shrugged always motivates me while telling an amazing story. The determination to make a change in the world and the grit needed to rise to the challenge.

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

Live and learn. Starting a company is an exercise in humility. You’re always making mistakes that are glaringly obvious in hindsight, but tough to avoid when you’re moving fast with a new company.

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

Everyone should do something entrepreneurial at some point in their lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s starting a non- profit, a small business, a soccer team, or the next huge tech company. You learn so much about yourself, the challenge of creating something from nothing, and you grow tremendously as a result.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am a pretty private person, and focused on family and business, but please follow Bande and our amazing instructors @webandetogether!

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


Meet The Disruptors: Rebecca Balyasny of Bande On The Three 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: Ashley Bush Of The Chameleon Collective On How To Go From Idea To…

Making Something From Nothing: Ashley Bush Of The Chameleon Collective On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

You can never be too generous. Or too kind. Or too honorable. Always err on the side of caring for people instead of money. My goal is to make sure every sale, customer, employee, co-worker knows how seriously I take the responsibility of their trust. They have all trusted me with something — their money, their website, their project, their career, their investment. At the end of it all greed and self-preservation never win.

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

Ashley Bush is owner of Ash Bush™ calligraphy brand and one of the founders of the Chameleon Collective, a 10,000 NFT project turned metaverse company. She’s a professional artist from Memphis, TN who has birthed two creative businesses alongside her husband, Zach, as well as 3 tiny humans. Last year the couple set out to ‘check out what these NFT’s are all about’ only to find themselves, months later, with 1.2 million dollars sitting in their business wallet, after selling 10,000 jpegs of goofy chameleons in just one week.

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 an overly-normal, middle class home, in the Blue Ridge mountains of South-west Virginia with my mom, dad, younger brother and sister. As a young girl I was not interested in daydreams of marriage or mothering, nor was I captivated by the pretend world of house and babydolls. Instead I passed the time forcing my younger siblings to be students in my college lecture, co-anchors on our family news channel, or stand-in actors as I directed an award-winning screenplay. This infatuation with big city life, CEO-level meetings and ‘high heels that click down the halls’ never subsided, even as the season of childhood blurred into adulthood.

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

My all-time favorite quote was given to me 8 years ago when I started my first company. A client came to me with a creative vision after having multiple failed attempts from other artists to manifest it for her. Upon finally capturing her vision, she sent me a message that I’ve found has only become truer with time — “If you want something done, give it to a busy mom.”

At the time I was only one child in, now 8 years later I have 3 small children circling my legs — despite my disinterest in the domestic life. The quote not only gives me strength and confidence on days when I feel like I’m drowning in all the responsibilities, but also serves as a reminder to look where no one else is looking. To not follow the traditional paths, systems, resumes or protocol. The next great employee, client, partnership may not be stepping out of his town car in downtown Manhattan, but might be working three jobs in South Memphis while attending night school.

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?

One of my favorite authors is Toni Morrison. All of her words are embedded in my soul, her raw honesty and writing style transported me to the inner struggle of her characters in ways I’d never experienced before. This practice of extreme empathy and others-mindedness drives much of who I strive to be.

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?

Don’t overthink it and just start — with each business venture I’ve embarked on I can honestly look back and say, “If I had known what this would entail or how much would be involved I don’t think I would have started.” If there’s a big dream you have, chances are the road is not going to be even remotely easy, but the grace of life is that you don’t have what you need to cross those bridges now, because you haven’t gotten to them yet. When you do, you’ll be ready.

One step at a time — in the age of the internet there’s no shortage of training and information. Find the balance between overwhelm of where you are versus where you need to be and instead break it down into easy to manage steps. There have been many days where “Make a to-do list” is the only thing crossed off on it, and that’s okay… at least the list was made.

Connections are (almost) everything — Don’t burn your bridges or write anyone off as unnecessary. Even if you can’t see their value to you now, life has a way of flipping things upside down and turning tables very quickly and those random connections might just be the make or break that you’ve been waiting on.

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?

If you’re about to enter a new space as a retailer you need to spend an adequate amount of time on the consumer side of it. Research, don’t just visit it, become immersed in it. Learn the struggles, the gaps, the big name players, the audience. Search patents, trademarks and copyrights, and then see how you can merge your new idea with who you are to differentiate it from the others. You’re an asset in and of yourself, so don’t force something unnatural — take an idea and make it your own.

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.

  1. Ideation — We start in our sketchbook and with vision boards. I have a plethora of secret Pinterest boards where I collect ideas, inspiration, articles and images.
  2. Prototype — we’ve sculpted things out of clay, glued plastic together, put out small collections for feedback from other professionals and consumers within the space.
  3. Design — After we have a working prototype and solid idea we make a 3D build of the product or more finalized concept. We then disseminate these to beta-testers.
  4. Print — We 3d print our models, we might send that off to a manufacturer for a quote, make molds or pitch it to an audience, team or investor. Or we might invest in the technology to manufacture it in-house and hire employees.
  5. Patent — Filing a patent takes time and there’s a couple ways to do it. You can get in contact early on with a lawyer who specializes in trademarks and copyrights who will walk you through everything, or you could use an online filing system like Legalzoom, or you could even submit it yourself. Whatever avenue you choose just expect it to take at least 9 months from application to finish.
  6. Retail — nowadays there are so many amazing retail options outside of brick and mortar. We sell our products all over the world using online shops like Amazon, and Etsy. But we also wholesale our products to other online and physical shops — my favorite site for finding and selling wholesale has been Faire.com.

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. Figure out your core motivators — Money? Passion? Time? Purpose? I took Shanna Skidmore’s Blueprint Model course 4 or 5 years ago, and it completely changed how I focused on my business. I found that for me passion and time are my top motivators. I work and create things that bring my passion alive, and I love the flexibility to stop whenever I want or to bring my kids along with me.
  2. Outsource, outsource, outsource. It’s so tempting to do it all — either because we feel we’ll do it best or because it will be cheaper. But I promise you, neither is true. With my first business I did it all — website management, packing orders, social media, marketing, product photography, taxes and it burnt me out and stalled my growth. With my second business I’ve learned to stay in my lane. I love creation, ideation, branding, design — if I spend my time on that and leave the rest to others whose passions align with that work — there’s no stopping what we can do together.
  3. You’ll work way more for yourself than you ever will for someone else. And it makes sense, but be prepared for it to consume your whole life. As amazing as the entrepreneurial journey is, I do miss the days of shutting down the PC at 5pm and leaving work at the office.
  4. So make strong boundaries — In a similar vein, get your priorities in order because time will become your most valuable asset. For some reason I’m constantly surprised at my human-ness… why do I expect myself to be excellent at everything? It’s an unrealistic standard. And I found that when I’m trying to do too much, instead of doing anything with excellence I just end up doing 10 half-assed, mediocre things.
  5. You can never be too generous. Or too kind. Or too honorable. Always err on the side of caring for people instead of money. My goal is to make sure every sale, customer, employee, co-worker knows how seriously I take the responsibility of their trust. They have all trusted me with something — their money, their website, their project, their career, their investment. At the end of it all greed and self-preservation never win.

For example, Zach and I recently sold out our 10k NFT project and we noticed a trend with other projects — fractionalizing all of the initial sale to those in charge. The artist gets 50%, the developer gets the other 50%… and plenty of projects where the one founder just takes it all. These founders are now less and less invested with the success of the project, as they pull away from it with the money they made, the project dies. We decided instead of taking everything we COULD, we would only take what we need. Zach and I took 17% of the initial sale combined, and the rest of it sits in a community wallet to pump back into the project. This alone gives our project a year’s runway to create all kinds of new developments and innovative tech. I could take the million and run, or I could turn it into millions for me and others with patience, wisdom and sober-mindedness.

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?

Ask yourself all kinds of questions — does this solve a problem? How does this add value to someone’s life? Why do I want to make this? What do I want my life to look like? What is an ideal day? Could I spend 12 hours a day talking about this? What does my ideal customer look like? Where does she shop? Where does he spend his time online? Internal research, market research, all kinds of research.

But I think the most important question I’ve had to ask myself is, “what does success look like for me?” After 8 years of inventing and manufacturing calligraphy products I had a notebook full of ideas for my shop, they were on brand, unique, sell-able… I found the seasons of my life changing and with it the realization that I don’t want to work 10 hours a day designing, marketing, 3D printing, emailing and packing orders. I want to get back to just the creation, the art and so I decided to hone in on the only things that give me passion and either scale back, or pass-off the other tasks to someone else. Do I make as much money as before? No. But do I have more time for the things I love? Yes. And since time and passion are my core motivators that means I’m running a successful business.

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?

This depends so much on your skill set and circumstances. Lots of people don’t have the luxury to even consider invention development consultants, me included. My only option was striking out on my own, but would it have been much easier, more successful much quicker with a consultant? Probably.

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

Personally, I’m team bootstrap. We’re a scrappy team from the ‘worst’ zip code in Memphis so the struggle and the lean-ness is almost second nature to us. We also have a no-debt rule, we pump all funds back into the business slowly and gradually and if we don’t have the money for something in particular we find a way around it.

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

As I’ve mentioned before Zach and I live in S.E. Memphis, willingly, cheerfully. We love it for many reasons, but a quick google search will show you that Memphis is the most dangerous city in America with 400% more gun violence than the national average. Our neighborhood is very near and dear to our hearts and the minute we saw the financial projections for our latest project we knew we wanted to harness the power of NFTs to solve IRL problems. So we made our first year of business goal to give away $250,000 to our local community!

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.

To not just donate to or do good things for marginalized communities, but to become associated with them. Make poverty, gun violence, school to prison pipeline, wealth gaps, discrimination YOUR problem, not just someone elses. I would love to see a movement of not just talking about how to make the ‘bad’ neighborhoods ‘good’ — but how to bring out the good that is already present in them. Make that community you care about, your community. The ‘bad schools’ matter more now because your kids go to them. Those neglected streets and over-policed neighborhoods are more important because you drive that road every day, and watch neighbors you love wrongfully targeted. We must bear each other’s burdens, sometimes at the expense of our own comforts and ideas of ‘safety.’

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.

Michelle Obama. She’s a woman full of integrity, ambition, self-lessness, compassion and genius. I would just love to sit in her presence and soak in her wisdom.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Ashley Bush Of The Chameleon Collective 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.

The Future Is Now: Gil Rabbi Of Storycards On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Gil Rabbi Of Storycards On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Do not rush to do what others tell you. It’s important to listen to everyone, but they do not always know better than you. What’s more, in order to lead and produce things that don’t already exist, you will usually find yourself against the current. You need to keep going your way. Get feedback along the way, but do not stop because some people have given you their opinions about what you’re doing.

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

Gil Rabbi is one of Israel’s digital pioneers, founder & CEO of Storycards, the first no-code platform for engagement products, and founder of Rabbi Interactive. He was chosen among the most influential people in the Israeli “40 under Forty list for 2018”, and for one of the 100 most influential people in the digital fields in 2016. His focus over the past decade has been developing interactive technologies that make users stay longer on sites and apps. Each month, Rabbi products are used by over 5 million people, including products that accompanied the Eurovision and the Rising Star TV format that enabled millions of viewers to vote in real-time from their homes around the world. He’s been featured in International Business Times, Entrepreneur, Israel National News, and more.

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

I started writing code as early as the age of 8 when my father brought home an IBM computer. At the time, most people had no idea what it was. Creation for me was a kind of escape from the everyday life, as I didn’t like school. I think technology and code helped me deal with my stress and thoughts, and still does today. I learn everything on my own, and even now, after all this time, I still have the passion to be a pioneer revealing new technologies.

Later, I joined the Israeli army like all teenagers in Israel. As a part of my military service, I presided over the planning and development of the digital platform for my base’s enlistment process. I think it was the first time I discovered that my code could help not only me, but also others. It swept me away when I realized the power I had to make others’ lives simpler or better using technology.

In 2005 I founded a technology agency that focused on engagement and interactive products. After a few years, the agency became one of the top 5 technology agencies in Israel. It went on to become a groundbreaking firm known for its innovation.

In recent years I have tried to streamline our working methods, I decided to develop an internal platform that could help us create our products faster. We worked on this platform for 3 years and then began testing it with our existing customers.

It was successful and the products we formerly developed from scratch for each of our customers were now being created without any code. Our clients didn’t notice a difference in quality and it changed the way we were able to work.

After seeing how much it helped us, I realized I must share it with the world and developed Storycards as a SaaS product. This allowed anyone without any technical knowledge to set up exactly the same products I have been developing for years.

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

Honestly, it’s hard for me to pick just one, but I’ll choose the last one that touched me.

In preparation for the European Eurovision Song Contest, I was invited to serve as a mentor at Hackathon where startups offer ideas for technologies that can enhance Eurovision broadcasting and the experience for viewers. There I met two 17-year-old teenagers, talked to them and felt like I was talking to myself at the age of 17.

I connect with people who are engaged in something out of love and passion and who are not motivated only by money or a career. These are the same people who will not leave the chair until they can create the product they dream of.

And in many cases, these people are children just like I was, who have found a place to relieve the tensions and pressures of everyday reality.

Luckily, these 17 year-olds did not win the hackathon, which meant I was able to offer them the opportunity to do a startup with me. After a year of working together, we were the first in the world to establish a technology and algorithm that enables communication between mobile devices using only sound waves — and independent of cellular reception or internet connection.

From this innovation, we were able to transmit information to about 600K people’s telephones in the largest festival in Israel. After the media coverage we received in Israel, I felt that if there was someone who believed in me at the age of 17 the way I believed in these children, maybe I would have gotten to a better place. I remembered how at that time, no one gave me a chance. In the end, what humans need, especially at young ages, is someone who believes in them and gives them confidence.

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

Storycards allows anyone to produce digital products that creates engagement with its users, without any coding. We’ve taken all the knowledge that we have accumulated over the years in our technology agency and put it into creating this platform.

I’ve seen several startups that have tried to create similar products, but they’ve all stuck with fixed templates, which prevents brands and big sites from using these platforms and forces companies to spend a lot of money to develop engagement products every year. Our concept is the opposite, you can create whatever you want, with any visual quality you choose. At the end of the day, Storycards will look like an integral part of your website, as though it was custom developed for you.

So, what makes Storycards unique is that we let the editor create any design they want, but in addition we also have a nascent technology of artificial intelligence. The platform provides feedback on how to improve itself as well as how to increase the level of engagement with the site users. Storycards assigns a score for each product created on the platform, which shows the website or app owner what users are doing with it and what should be improved, in real-time.

How do you think this might change the world?

For a long time now, the web is not only where we passively read content, but where we take an active role, finding ourselves involved and influencing a great many things. If WIX or WEBFLOW revolutionized the website building industry, we’re already doing it in the world of engagement.

Digital agencies and development companies will be able to make a hundred times more profit once they use our product. They will be able to create the same products they currently produce for their clients quickly and without the need for developers. These same clients will also be able to decide against using development companies, and to instead manufacture the products themselves using Storycards.

We are basically making a technological solution for customer engagement accessible to everyone. The only thing clients who use our software will need to do is create content that will be attractive and interesting enough to their users.

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

Luckily, I know the realities of our world even before technology has changed our daily routines. In the early years I was so amazed at how the things I created helped people. It instilled a lot of motivation in me to keep going when I saw how my products positively impacted others. I like to do good for the people around me and I put these beliefs in the products I make as well. So, at every stage, I always think about what could happen, and check all possible uses of our product to ensure they cannot be misused.

We have developed Storycards closely with security experts and performed full penetration tests. The data of our users is kept in a secure and encrypted manner even beyond the accepted standards for today. Our platform allows content creators or publishers to create digital products for themselves, but in the end, the responsibility for the products they produce is theirs. However, we go over every product created on our platform to ensure it cannot even accidentally hurt someone. And fortunately, we have the knowledge and ability–using technology and artificial intelligence–to keep doing so even once we have hundreds of thousands of customers on the platform.

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

In 2014 I got a call from the manager of the biggest broadcaster TV channel in Israel. He told me that they sold the main commercial of the “Big Brother” finale to Orange’s 4th generation technology, and we had only a few days to create something that would engage people watching the commercial in live time.

I answered quickly that I was going for it, and that we knew how to produce it, even though I had no idea what my plan was.

We worked sleeplessly for 3 days and developed a unique mobile game. The game launch was synchronized with the commercial, so people at home needed to wait for the live commercial of “Orange” to play.

This was the first time we created a synchronized product for live TV; we didn’t have enough time to create a scalable server environment and also the technologies at that time didn’t contain smart solutions to create scalable products. So, we found ourselves opening hundreds of servers in AWS to handle the amount of users.

A few things happened in this broadcast that led to our future. The amount of people who played from home–hundreds of thousands– was unimaginable, even in terms of prime-time TV ratings. Everyone in the industry talked about this interactive commercial and wanted to know who the company was that created this experience.

On the other hand, a few minutes after this live commercial break, I got a call from the AWS team. They wanted to check who the crazy person was that opened hundreds of servers for a few minutes. I realized very quickly that we had produced an excellent result in an unorthodox way.

Everyone was talking about us, but I knew we had a lot to learn. From there and within a year, we became a world leader in creating engagement products that supported millions of concurrent users.

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

Our product is already successful in my country, with satisfied customers and users who are creating high level products with the help of our platform. All we need is exposure on a larger scale.

Storycards is such a quality and unique product that it has been really easy for us to bring in new customers. But as everyone knows, exposure costs money and money is always limited. So, we need to set up a smart marketing department that will know how to target and reach customers who can produce the most successful products using our technology. One of our advantages is that we’ve supported every language and every territory from day one.

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

I believe that being unique and having a good product gives you leads. In that case, you don’t need gimmicks or complex programs to advertise it because you and your product are what’s special, not your campaign.

Our advantage at Storycards is that customers who use our product for the first time are so happy with the results that they talk about us right away. Designers are happy that they can build the product on their own at a pixel-perfect level and don’t need the help of the developers. Content editors are amazed at how easy it is for them to create impressive products without the need for any technological knowledge, and lastly, financiers are happy because they didn’t realize how much money they were spending on development before they adopted Storycards.

Besides, I’ll tell you a secret, I’m not a proponent of fast marketing. Our way, although slower, allows us to refine our product, better understand our customers, and learn and improve. Once we decide it’s time for a quick distribution, we’ll know how to do it.

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

There were many who helped me along the way and who played a significant role in my path, but I prefer to talk about those who did not help, for me, they were actually more significant.

These are the same people I approached who screened my calls, tried to stop me, or even deceive me. It was precisely thanks to them that I learned more. I had to face the question of how to better engage other people, how to encourage people to respond to my requests. They helped me in business, but also in the products I released — there is a lot of psychology in the products I produce, and to encourage users to participate and be involved in the product, you must incorporate a lot of psychology.

It took me many years to realize how people react ultimately depends on my actions, too, and I have tremendous control over that. This is a very good place to be, because then any fear you may have becomes insignificant and it’s easier to take risks.

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

I’m still working on it. I regularly deal with this question: am I doing enough to help others? I try to get to as many meetings and Hackathons as possible with teens to guide them, give them confidence, and share with them that when I was a teenager, no one believed I would become anything. Luckily my parents supported me, but I sometimes meet kids that don’t have that support either.

In addition, I try every year to use our technology to allow charities to raise money for people in need, but it never feels like enough to me. Talking to the guard at the entrance of the parking lot feels no less important to me than other things. Hundreds of vehicles pass by him every morning, and no one bothers to open the window and ask how he is doing. These little things grab my attention more than the big titles of bringing good into the world. One word can improve a person’s mood for an entire day.

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 not rush to do what others tell you
    It’s important to listen to everyone, but they do not always know better than you. What’s more, in order to lead and produce things that don’t already exist, you will usually find yourself against the current. You need to keep going your way. Get feedback along the way, but do not stop because some people have given you their opinions about what you’re doing.
  2. If you fail and fail again, you will learn on your own after some time, and you’ll at least know that you have tried. It is not bad to fail and learn from the path. It’s worse to stop doing something because someone threw you a comment. All the good things I created came after someone told me to stop. On the other hand, whenever I stopped because of someone else’s opinion, I’d later feel remorse when I saw others with similar ideas succeed.
  3. You have to study certain subjects even if they do not interest you
    Although I was told this all the time as a child, I kept doing and learning only what really interested me. I understand today that diversity in knowledge allows for a larger scope of action and topics of conversation with people.
  4. Do not try to be someone else.
    Every person has weaknesses and strengths. In the first years as a professional, I would come to meetings shy, scared, and insecure. I kept trying to fight it until I realized that it is precisely these qualities that give me success in meetings, because when I say something, everyone is more apt to listen. They appreciate more of what I said, and for some reason, they believe in me more than others in the meeting. It is important to accept your flaws and also know how to use them as an advantage.
  5. “In the end you will be sorry you did not experience more “
    While my friends went out to have fun, I did not leave the computer and I continued to create things; I was not interested in anything else. Today I realize I missed one of the most beautiful periods a person has in their life, and I now find myself trying to force these missed experiences into my current years. Life is short, and what is left for us are the experiences. It is necessary and important to create more of them.

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 for there to be more jobs and employment opportunities for older people. I see people who have led companies to success, who are very talented, who do not even need money, but at a certain age they have become irrelevant to companies. Employers do not give them a chance and they find themselves at a late age with nothing to do.

When a person has no daily responsibilities, they may actually lose their purpose to get up in the morning. They feel they are no longer relevant in this world. When this happens to people who have been so busy and successful, it is even harder.

Appreciation for these people and understanding that we, too, will eventually experience this, should change the thinking of society. After all, most of them do not need a lot of money at this age, just the feeling of belonging and that someone needs them. Even once or twice a week.

Until that happens, I ask everyone to go visit the older people who are important to them. Sometimes, a few minutes of conversation can give a person a lot of strength to keep going.

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

“Something To Do, Someone To Love, Something To Look Forward To,” Alexander Chalmers/Elvis Presley.

When I have something to do and I’m busy, my head is not free to think and worry. This is one of the reasons why I work so many hours. Every time I take a vacation that is a little too long, thoughts of what I have done to date, how much good I’ve done for the world, and many other worries fill my head.

Love, every person needs it.

And something to look forward to is the reason to get up in the morning, or even go to sleep. I had a few moments in my life where I finished or sold a product, and then when I got up in the morning I wondered, what now? I had no purpose. So, I always think of new things I’d like to have happen in the future, plans for products, or things I want to achieve. It helps me fall asleep when I plan way ahead, and also gives me motivation to wake up with energy.

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 🙂

I don’t really need 60 seconds for that. A quick look at my successful technology agency and you’ll see that since we launched Storycards, 77% of the projects we previously developed for our clients are now being produced by the clients themselves–all through the Storycards platform, without the need for developers or resources, and with huge financial savings.

There are hundreds of thousands of development companies still working hard to set up these products and hundreds of thousands paying millions of dollars to develop and create these products. With Storycards they can create better products that communicate with users more successfully, with minimum resources and at the same time save a massive amount of money. In the end, I founded Storycards from our need as a technology company to save money and time in creating our products, with an emphasis on improving our capabilities within the company.

How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on my social media platforms — Instagram, Linkedin, and Facebook.

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

Thank you for having me, it was a pleasure.


The Future Is Now: Gil Rabbi Of Storycards 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.

Adedayo Akande Of the University of Health Sciences Antigua: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly…

Adedayo Akande Of the University of Health Sciences Antigua: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be optimistic — There is nothing worse than a leader who is a “Debbie Downer.” No matter how difficult things might get, it’s always best to remain positive. Your attitude has a direct impact on your team and their performance.

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 Adedayo Akande.

Dr. Adedayo Akande is a Chicago-born/Antigua-raised businessman. He is the Chairman and President of the Caribbean-based Medical University, the University of Health Sciences Antigua. Dr. Akande became Vice-Chairman of UHSA upon the passing of his father, Dr. Yele Akande, the founder of the 40-year-old organization. In 2018, Dr. Akande became the chairman and president of UHSA. During his tenure as President, UHSA has witnessed numerous developments, even during the pandemic, including expanding its international programs and venturing into new areas of business such as psychedelic research.

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 started my career working for a Fortune 500 company, building my career in the corporate world. Although one of the primary reasons for this pathway was my intent to eventually bring my experience to my family’s business, I was not in the medical education space. However, after the sudden passing of my father, my plans were cut shorter than anticipated. Suddenly I found myself in the unfamiliar medical education industry. However, after quickly learning, I was able to bring my experience to benefit the organization.

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?

One of the funniest mistakes that I made when I first started was having somewhat of an inferiority complex due to being in a new industry. However, I soon realized that everyone on my team values my guidance as a leader, so I soon recognized the importance of having the necessary experts around me to provide their knowledge. Over the years, I’m proud to continue surrounding myself with those who have the essential skills that allow us to venture into new projects as needed.

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 credit my mother to getting us to this point. Although she had a different way of leading the organization, I do recognize all that I learned from her during her tenure as Chairman since the passing of my father. I will say that operating a family business comes with its challenges, particularly if working with a parent. However, since her retirement from the organization, much historical knowledge has been passed on, which is useful for future decision-making.

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, our motto has been “medical school to the world.” This not only stands for the fact that our students come from many parts of the world, but it also stands for the impact that our organization makes. Students who graduate and enter the workforce can positively impact future generations on a global scale. Our graduates treat mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, which is unbelievable when you really think about it. Sure, graduating as a physician is impressive. But when you think about the impact these individuals can make on the lives of the public, it’s quite unbelievable. All from a medical college based on a small Caribbean Island.

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?

Not long after becoming president, our institution lost a source of student loan funding. Although out of our control, it impacted business operations and affected student enrollment. We worked to get past this matter. However, we soon experienced COVID-19 like the rest of the world. As a result, we were forced to change our business processes entirely, as we moved a portion of our academic programs online since travel to our campus was not possible. This transition was difficult, but we were able to quickly make this change primarily due to my technology background. During these times, it has been a matter of not just keeping open communication with our students and our team, but focusing on our next steps. With the variant looming on the horizon, the changes we made may be more permanent for the time being. However, adapting to change and the “new norm” is just something we must do, and our team has done a great job throughout all of what we’ve been through.

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

I honestly have at times, but knew despite any hurdles, that I couldn’t. I credit my wife for the motivation to continue through these challenges. Oftentimes, she is the voice of reason for many scenarios. I also rely heavily on my faith. The reality is that leaders may not always have an outlet to voice their concerns, so it’s important to find that source, whether it be a spouse, mentor, or even online advice, as a means to find balance. I also believe the position I serve is much bigger than just me or my family. There are many who are relying on us to allow them to make a positive impact in this world.

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

Being a leader is not an easy task during challenging times. I would say a critical component is the ability to be transparent, yet empathetic. Those two particularly go hand-in-hand when it comes to decision making during uncertain 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?

Take a step back and realize all that has been accomplished. When you are working towards a common goal, there will be challenges. The goal is to focus on the big picture at all times. The pandemic might be the most uncertain thing experienced for most organizations, including ours, but knowing the past and what we aim for in the future significantly impacts morale positively. Also, celebrating minor accomplishments is essential.

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

The best method to communicate news is in person or in a pandemic world, via conference is now satisfactory. However, during this process, leaders need to understand why a problem has taken place and thoroughly understand how this might impact their team. Simply delivering bad news without really understanding how it will affect others can distort your message and oftentimes cause a negative outcome.

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

The only constant in life is change. Plans will change, and that’s the reality. At the end of the day, leaders should have a vision of where they want to go. Without vision, there is failure. Of course, there may be hurdles, but I believe if you keep making steps towards your ultimate goal, it will be achieved.

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

Although communication with your team and clients is essential, the ability to make decisions and move forward quickly is a necessity.

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?

  • Not communicating enough and moving too fast without consulting key individuals. This is an easy mistake, particularly in a small business, where oftentimes decisions must be made quickly and while there may not be too many individuals to discuss ideas with.
  • Lacking empathy for employees. Difficult decisions are never easy to make with employees. Particularly during times of uncertainty. When making decisions, it is always important to recognize why the decision was made and how it will affect others.
  • Not adapting to change. I personally believe that this is a common mistake in any organization because change cannot be avoided. The negative effects of organizations not adapting to change has been seen in all industries.

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?

A primary strategy is “cut your coat according to your size,” which is a statement my father often said. It stands true in all scenarios. For instance, in successful times, it’s important to be wise about expansion because things may not always go as planned, as we have seen in recent years. For example, we have been able to operate our organization without the need for outside capital. Of course, this has its challenges, such as growing slower, etc. However, it has helped to avoid putting ourselves into situations of uncertainty. As we revise these decisions and now seek assistance to grow, it is still important to maintain certain principles to avoid mistakes while expanding quickly.

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.

  • Lean on your team — Although a leader’s job is to guide others, your team is where things really happen. People are in position to do their job and share their knowledge, take advantage of that.
  • Be proactive — If there are things on the horizon that either don’t look right or if there might be opportunities, make the decision to act.
  • Find balance — Life is already stressful and being responsible for others, particularly during challenging times, is even more stressful. Despite what occurs, always remember that life is to be enjoyed no matter how negatively things might seem.
  • Seek out positive/meaningful relationships — One would be surprised about where great advice comes from. I’ve received valuable advice from individuals from an array of different backgrounds and industries. Much of that has been extremely valuable to me and my organization.
  • Be optimistic — There is nothing worse than a leader who is a “Debbie Downer.” No matter how difficult things might get, it’s always best to remain positive. Your attitude has a direct impact on your team and their performance.

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

I rely heavily on a bible scripture quote, which is “All Things Work Together For Good.” I believe this in all aspects of my life and business, particularly during challenging times. There is always light in challenging times and once you come out on the other end, your experience will simply make you a stronger leader.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I can be found through our University’s website, www.uhsa.ag. I am personally on LinkedIn as well.

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

Thank you for the opportunity!


Adedayo Akande Of the University of Health Sciences Antigua: 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.

Andrew Witkin Of StickerYou: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

I never quite appreciated podcasts. I did a few podcasts and had people say they really wanted to come work for SY, felt more comfortable with us, and that our values spoke to who they were. They’d heard me on the podcast and decided we share values. People can judge your character in a more natural setting when you share yourself. Attracting great talent is easier by doing events and interviews that project your personality and values. Especially important with people working from home, it’s good to have a tangible connection.

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

Andrew has always had a passion for business and branding. He founded StickerYou in 2008 after an inspiring trip to California where he noticed the important role that stickers played in LA life.

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

After working for big companies, enjoying being entrepreneurial within them, and acting on what you thought were good strategies to build a business, you get your own idea for something the world would embrace. Some entrepreneurs get impatient not seeing certain ideas unfold in a larger company and think it’s important to pursue this idea.

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?

As we entered the digital era from the print media era in the early days of StickerYou, we had many brides ordering party favors and wine labels. We thought we wanted to tell brides more about SY, and went to a bridal magazine with a circulation of between 2 and 5 million. We ran a really nice ad with an insert containing a coupon code. The results were abysmal. Our worst uptake in promo code usage — maybe six brides used it. You can do beautiful ads in traditional media, but I’m not sure that many people buy magazines anymore. We find digital to be quite successful, but traditional media did not perform well. Working with bride bloggers got far more clicks.

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

We just seem to matter a lot to our customers in terms of what they order from us. Intangible concepts like cloud computing are hard to get a handle around, but with all these physical products such magnets and really cool holographic stickers, you hear stories about how our products really help our customers. Decals make your office a unique place, labels help a new item sell, and so on. We feel like the custom product we’re making really matters. And it matters for our business to see how our work resonates. Tangible things have a more meaningful importance.

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

We just launched product visualizations where customers can see samples in front of more options than solely against a white background. What’s really cool now is they can press a visualization button within the editor to see the product in someone’s hand, see decals on a wall, or a tattoo on someone’s arm, and get a greater sense of how it will actually look. We consider it a good step toward augmented reality.

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?

On the brand level, it has to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — on the lower levels, what is the immediate need of a person, the fundamental, daily necessities to get by? Product advertising is selling people something more fundamental to their immediate needs. If someone needs stickers, then advertising speaks to those needs, but it’s a one-and-done interaction. If a person really wants to feel unique, we can run a brand ad about expressing yourself. A brand ad needs to work on that ongoing, pulsing purpose, the need to express yourself higher up on the pyramid. These two forms of marketing complement each other. Discover early on whether you need a pure-play product or a brand ad.

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?

We say to ourselves, people don’t always know what they need. If you can run brand ads that speak to a high purpose, it will resonate with people on an emotionally truer level than the immediate need to solve a problem. If you want to attract people very early on to your brand, our brand ads go a long way to setting an emotional connection between what you stand for and what makes other people tick. It gives them comfort over time that the brand they work with stands for something they relate to. You forge a natural — as opposed to a transactional — relationship.

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 never quite appreciated podcasts. I did a few podcasts and had people say they really wanted to come work for SY, felt more comfortable with us, and that our values spoke to who they were. They’d heard me on the podcast and decided we share values. People can judge your character in a more natural setting when you share yourself. Attracting great talent is easier by doing events and interviews that project your personality and values. Especially important with people working from home, it’s good to have a tangible connection.
  2. It’s important that everyone in the company understands the good and bad in the customer experience. If your staff understands the essence of the company, they do a great job expressing what your company stands for. So much of the company is shaped by your customer experiences. The more we share the full picture of what our company does well and poorly, the more we can use those insights as guideposts of what to improve. That makes a much better company that customers would trust, where people see you celebrating the things you do well and try in earnest to improve what you haven’t done well.
  3. You may not hire everyone that’s passionate, but you, as a brand overall, should be passionate about what you’re doing. We try not to just hire a smart person who is unemotional and difficult to get to know. It’s harder to believe that person. Passionate people are authentic whether positive or negative, and when they’re expressing themselves, it’s infectious. It resonates for your brand and helps attract people. Passion starts at the top and is important to getting people to trust you.
  4. Put your money where your mouth is! We’re investing a lot of money into creating a state-of-the-art facility to make our stickers, and our headquarters is designed to encourage cooperation. Lots of comfort, color, and stimulation. As the world goes virtual, even if people only come once a week or once a month, we want magic to happen when people have meetings and come to work. We want people to cherish that time. With so many companies going virtual, we think having something physical where people can congregate and create great work will make people want to stick with us as a company. Show that your headquarters, small or large, mean something, and create a great environment for your staff.
  5. Many of the best ideas for our marketing showcases come from our customers and how they use our platform to create great custom products. It’s the truest sense of authenticity: showing people what customers have done. Even if the products are a little raw, that’s truer to people’s experience. We love showcasing our customers’ successes in our marketing.

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

Apple has been the gold standard because much of their marketing and the essence of the company has been about making the product unbelievable and showcasing the cool way people experience it. They show that all the fine details make them excited about their products, and how that creates a celebratory environment for their customers. They’ve set a high bar that a lot of companies try to reach, and it was great to see them use stickers on their products in their marketing.

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

A promising sign is when you’ve got people talking about you and sharing your content without being paid; and where people advocate for you and share their experience with you. If you get enough of that, you’re going to be a pretty successful company.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media helps crowdsource, especially as younger people do their searches, canvassing their friends. You want advocates, because if they like and share your brand, that can be really authentic; we try to create great content for social outlets.

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

Get a lot of sleep, stretch in the morning, eat healthy foods, and surround yourself with people you like and who like you. People who will tell you how you’re doing, personally and professionally. People have go-go-go business plans and will let five to seven years go by without a way out. You want to keep healthy and give back to society, which is very fulfilling and makes some of your business issues seem trivial. Even if it’s not successful, you’ll be healthier. Healthy stress is good, so give yourself challenges and work hard, but balance that with what will keep you invested long-term.

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

If I could enact any change, it’d be promoting better diets and eating right on a global scale. Health, both mental and physical, relies much more than we think on having the right diet and sleep! And that starts with making sure everyone has fair and easy access to food, and to the right food. That’s something that could really do a lot of good in the world — just eating right!

But that doesn’t have a lot to do with StickerYou or what we can provide. Here’s a quick story: I used to ride to work on the subway, and I’d ask people “if you could have one free sticker right now, what would it be?” I found a lot of amazing answers — and I realized how everyone loves stickers on some level. If we could get everyone in the world to wake up one day with their own personalized sticker, it would spread a lot of joy.

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

Every ten years I try to watch Lord of the Rings to hear Gandalf’s quote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” What matters is what you do on the journey, not the destination. How do you conduct yourself on your journey?

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

I’m reading Andre Agassi’s book “Open,” and have been very impressed with it. I’d also love to meet Brad Pitt or Jeff Bezos.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/stickeryou/

https://www.facebook.com/stickeryou

But the best way to stay updated is through the website — https://www.stickeryou.com/

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


Andrew Witkin Of StickerYou: 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: Sergey Voynov Of G-71 On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Sergey Voynov Of G-71 On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

To always be ambitious — I always want to do more, to sort of jump over my head.

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

Sergey is a serial entrepreneur in the booming cybersecurity industry and the founder of several successful companies EveryTag and G-71 with annual turnover in excess of $2 million. Sergey has been working in IT since 2001. He started as a consultant and project manager, then worked as a top manager of several large and international companies, such as Robertson & Blums Corporation, Microtest and others. He then founded his own cybersecurity company EveryTag in Europe and followed by G-71 in the US. Today, more than 110,000 people use solutions developed by Sergei’s companies. Among Sergey’s clients are the world’s largest oil, energy and industrial companies, as well as medical and legal companies that work with sensitive information.

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

It so happened that I got into consulting being a radioelectronics engineer by training. I started off as a junior consultant working on implementation of information systems, and was gradually promoted first to senior consultant, then to project manager…

But I was always somewhat bored in my job, because routine and cyclical work is not exactly my cup of tea — and this continued until I reached a level where my position didn’t have a job description and I began to deal with management issues and solve problems for large companies related to services and IT-infrastructure. This is how I came to hold a position of chief information officer in a large telecommunications company, where I had to apply all my knowledge, erudition, and expertise in various IT products, systems, including information security, to resolve the tasks and ensure security and day-to-day operations of a large corporation.

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

While working for a large corporation, I encountered a problem that basically gave me an idea for G-71. It was there that I first encountered a document leak through photography. A new CEO and a new team came into the company — and as usually happens in large corporations, there were many employees who didn’t quite like the changes. They had access to confidential company information, and someone started taking pictures and leaking it. The leaks put the CEO’s reputation in question by distorting the situation through interpretation of internal documents: they were taken out of context and given a different interpretation. There was no way to cure the situation.

That was when the question first arose: how can we make sure that we can identify who leaked the compromised document? We knew that we had to find a solution that would enable definite identification of offenders, emphasizing inevitability of punishment and thereby stopping the number of offenses and crimes committed.

So, you could say that I learned my customers’ pain first-hand, and that enabled me to find a solution to their problem.

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

We are working on our product LeaksID that makes it possible to keep confidential documents private. It’s a question of personal space. No one wants to live in reality where nothing is personal, intimate. Today, all of your actions are evaluated through the prism of social perception: it governs what you do and what people think of you. I would like secrets to remain secrets. I’m not talking about covert operations or villainy, but rather quite mundane, human, private things, be they commercial or personal, that should belong either to their owner or to a very small, trusted circle of people. In our customers’ experience, using our solution reduces leaks in organizations by up to 100 percent. Moreover, we had cases when a company hadn’t even signed a contract with us yet, but as soon as we negotiated it, the number of leaks decreased dramatically or completely disappeared. We even started joking that we should introduce a new product to our lineup — just placing the company’s G-71 logo on the customer’s site.

How do you think this might change the world?

At G-71, we believe that using our LeaksID technology will make the world a safer place for people, enabling them to trust each other more.

The technology has to be available — not just to the super-rich or to the market monopolies, but to everyone, to every person on the planet. This is why we wrapped this technology in a cloud service, so that our solution doesn’t require an installation, and we created a free plan so that everyone can secure their documents. We’ve made sure it’s available to anyone. Try it for yourself.

After all, if I send some document to some organization, and that document later pops up publicly somewhere, how can I tell that it was that organization that let me down? I want organizations to be responsible for the documents that are sensitive to me. Here’s an example. Imagine the following situation: you hire a messenger to deliver documents. There’s a copy of your passport and some other documents that are important for you, such as a contract to buy a house and a copy of your bank account balance statement. And then these documents turn up in some kind of fraud or are otherwise used for illegal purposes. All the while, you have no idea where these copies of your documents came from. If people everywhere start using our technology, there will be an unspoken understanding that if the documents resurface somewhere, the source of the leak can be found. We put our technology at the service of anyone who wants to keep their documents safe from leaking. Take, for example, a trivial case when a person sends their CV to a potential employer, this information gets out, and the person loses their current job. Or remember the situation when Quentin Tarantino’s script was leaked online?

We want to give everyone an opportunity to protect their sensitive information. This, of course, requires that we make it known to everyone that this technology exists and is available.

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

The trendy story today is fake news, and we have an answer to that. The marking that we make is invisible and used to identify the source of the leak. The same technology can also be used to protect documents from counterfeiting and creation of fake copies, because for now, the cheapest and the most reliable way to authenticate a document is with an electronic signature. The electronic signature enables you to validate the document’s authenticity. Just like the cash bills are protected against counterfeiting, we can protect any document. With our technology, we can mark a document with invisible anti-leaks marks and provide a tool for determining its authenticity. Even a fragment of such a protected document is enough to perform the authenticity check. We can determine the source of the leak using only fragments of the leaked document, and we can use the same technology to determine whether a document is fake or not.

This is the solution we plan to offer in order to reduce the number of manipulations through planting of fake information and spreading disinformation aimed at influencing the public and the public opinion.

There’s not a lot of money in this market yet. We have offered such a solution to our customers. But it’s more of a mindset problem. And there’s also a dilemma: who should buy this technology and put it to work, those who suffer or those who are responsible for this suffering? I believe that major organizations should take responsibility. If some important newsmaker were to automatically run all its documents through our system before publication or before signature, enriching them with anti-fake marks instead of anti-leak marks, it would make the task of manipulation harder. This is obviously not a panacea, but it’s definitely a component of this common struggle. And our technology is there to help.

I also want to note that like any other technology, the LeaksID solution has no emotional connotations, but we understand that any technology can be used for either good or selfish purposes. If you buy a firearm, you can use it to protect yourself, or you can use it to cause harm. But the firearm itself is just an object, it doesn’t have any emotions. Banning firearms will not make the world a safer place. What matters is how people use them.

Any technology can be harmful if it is perverted. If it is used with good intentions for the common good, it will be perceived positively. Which is why we have formulated the basic rules that guide us and serve as our internal ethics code.

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

There were three turning points.

The first happened when we were just a startup, doing many different things at once. We played the role of a classic integrator, implanting ourselves in other systems and developing our expertise related both to our product and to major vendors. For example, we had very strong expertise when it came to IBM solutions. So, what we had was a systems integrator consulting business. But we also had our own product. But since we did not position ourselves as a vendor, there were not active sales of this product.

At a certain point we said: “That’s it, we are no longer a consulting company. We are now a vendor.” We ceased all the activities in this sphere, removed the whole consulting component from our business plan, and focused on a single technology that we developed and patented. Using this technology, we developed a product and began to position ourselves as its vendor. The sales model had changed. The company’s internal model changed as well, because we began to establish our own sales channels. We found distributors and partners who added our solutions to their portfolio. Due to the change in focus, we began to collect feedback from customers related specifically to our technology. We were focused on the product, not on the opportunities to make money. When we understood the customer pain and realized that this solution doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, we decided that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to working in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and we went to the U.S. market.

The second turning point came in 2019, when we entered the U.S. market only to realize that it was radically different from any other market by the virtue of its very philosophy of information security. On the one hand, there is an obvious understanding of the importance of information security, but at the same time the focus is completely different, the pain points are different, and approaches to work are different too. We had to change our thinking and to reformat our strategy that was quite successful in terms of selling this solution on the Eastern European and Central Asian markets for the globalized American market.

The third turning point was the Alchemist accelerator, where we got access to a network of contacts, advice on business development, and communication with international investors. The Alchemist accelerator showed us that demand for our LeaksID product is real but that we need to re-formulate it to ensure successful marketing.

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

The biggest challenge for us today is to explain to people why our technology works better than other labeling systems. In fact, we have no competitors, because no other solution on the market can recognize the source of the leak from a document passage containing only five words. Moreover, LeaksID makes over 200 trillion unique copies of one page of text. Speaking of our solution’s effectiveness, our first customer hasn’t suffered from any confidential information leaks in the two years since we implemented our system. Moreover, all the employees and counterparties involved were made aware of the system’s implementation, and this had a clear preventive effect.

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

When we began developing LeaksID and entering the U.S. market, we ran into the same problem time and time again. People responsible for protecting information or those who need to protect their valuable information simply don’t know that this technology exists. And when we tell them about it, they all have the same reaction: surprised, wide-eyed, “We were not even aware that such a thing was possible, because we were protecting ourselves in somewhat different ways or means.” So, one of our main tasks today is to popularize the technology itself. Simply letting potential clients know that there is a technology that enables you to protect confidential information and documents from leaks with the help of invisible markings, and in the event that a document does become accessible, to identify the source of the leak almost instantly. After all, to want something, one must first know it exists 🙂 Today we are actively working with Influencers, we have strengthened our PR team, and are putting a lot of effort into sharing information about our technology.

We’re also working with clients on an individual basis and showing them how our technology works. I’ll share the way we do it, and you can try it for yourself.

What is the best way to show how our technology LeaksID works?

It’s hard to tell with words how invisible markings work, isn’t it?:) We have special copies with identical text on them: one is transparent, the other one is just A4, a piece of white paper. And when they overlap, you can see the displacement of this text.

When we demonstrate how this technology works to our customers, we create three labeled copies of some document in our LeaksID system. We send them the copies with the following words: “Here are three identical documents, you can’t see any difference in them. Take a screenshot of any part of any copy and send it to us, and we guarantee that we’ll tell you which of the versions you sent us. It’s unmistakable.”

There are a total of three small documents, named A, B, C. The customer takes a photo of any part of document A, B, or C. When we come back after the examination and tell them which of the copies they sent us, the reaction is always: “Oh, cool, it works!” There’s nothing else to explain. You can also try it here, it’s free of charge. We even wrote such a letter to Elon Musk, but he hasn’t responded. I guess he hasn’t read it yet.

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 get really frustrated when I don’t know something… Like it was with a sailboat. I would say, “What’s that sticking out to the side?” And this thing is called a kraspic. And I got so frustrated not knowing what it’s called, what it does and why it’s necessary, that two days later I was already enrolled in a yacht club, taking theory lessons, and then going to practice. I got my yacht license, and now I know what it is, and I can sail a yacht.

And that’s how it is with me in everything. There is a well-known saying: “Whatever man has done, man may do.” I believe that any technology, any task, any industry is within anyone’s reach, even if it’s outside your professional expertise. If you get very enthusiastic about something and want to master it, you’ll have enough of this desire to learn, and to be diligent to get you through the study process. If the desire isn’t there, the skill won’t come easily. But when the desire arises, it is a motivation in itself.

This also applies to new business. No one can give you a universal recipe for success. No one can tell you how to achieve it. Everyone has their own way. In whose tracks must you travel in order to achieve the same thing? You can’t live someone else’s life, so live your own, make your own mistakes.

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

To always be ambitious — I always want to do more, to sort of jump over my head.

To keep a curious mind — I am always on the lookout for new information and knowledge.

To develop exploratory thinking, as it enables me to choose this or that way, makes me move.

If I lose interest in something, I look for new hypotheses and move on, studying a new subject or finding original tasks for myself. In business, everything is arranged in such a way that when you become the head of the company, you have neither a recipe for success, nor the scripts for achieving it. There is always some kind of hypothesis. Not even an intuition, but a conviction, a desire to change something, to search, to analyze, and to remain unsatisfied with the current result, when you are trying to find something, to do something. In the name of what? Everyone chooses their own motivation. Some do it for money, some for interest, some for success. Me? I do it because I don’t know any other way, I constantly need to create something new.

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. 🙂

Let me talk about cybersecurity: In our industry today, there are many different niche products that solve a certain problem. If customers need to protect themselves from viruses, they buy an anti-virus; they might need a firewall for some other purpose; and for data exchange they use some other IT solution. All of these solutions cover different tasks and are extremely difficult to administer. Corporations are already overwhelmed with these solutions, there are too many of them. That’s why it’s convenient to outsource IT services to the provider you trust.

In addition, there is an acute shortage of specialists in the market who can not only develop this solution, but also to install, maintain and use it. Enterprises would find it profitable to outsource the solution to a service that does not require implementation and maintenance in terms of engineering. Of course, such a service would have to meet requirements of the regulator and at all times comply with corporate policy.

Nevertheless, I believe that the future lies with such comprehensive all-in-one cybersecurity solutions that can be purchased by an enterprise and actually enable it to fully resolve the cybersecurity issue.

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

If you don’t know how to want something hard enough to achieve it, then don’t even start doing it. There is a certain order of priority hidden in that phrase. First, you want something really badly, and then you can achieve it. If you don’t want it, you may not have the strength, the empathy, the zeal. The second meaning of this phrase is that any failure means that your original desire was weak. You failed not because you didn’t succeed. You failed because you didn’t want it hard enough.

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 🙂

Did you know that three-quarters of all data leaks are inside jobs?

In almost half the cases, employees take photos of screens or make hard copies because they are confident no one can trace them.

Leaks stop when you can find the leaker without fail.

We add invisible marks on all documents, every time someone interacts with them. Damaging or distorting photos or printouts cannot hide our marks.

Stopping the leaks helps companies eliminate reputational risks and financial losses.

We can radically reduce annual losses from data breaches, which currently amount to $2 billion per year.

I would love to pitch LeaksID to such companies as Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, Forcepoint, and VC firms as Greylock, Accel and Bessemer Venture Partners.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sergey-voynov/
https://twitter.com/make_oneself

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


The Future Is Now: Sergey Voynov Of G-71 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.

Tony Pounder Of Intelligent Decisioning: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader…

Tony Pounder Of Intelligent Decisioning: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Set clear goals and expectation. Sit with the members of the team on a regular basis and set goals and expectations with the individual — gain buy in from the team member by discussing why those goals are being set, how they help the individual and the wider team.

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 Tony Pounder.

Tony Pounder is the CTO of Intelligent Decisioning (id), www.id-live.com. Id are a Microsoft Certified consultancy specialising in providing innovative and cost effective solutions to business problems using the Microsoft technology stack. Until starting id, Tony spent his career in enterprise software development, primarily in the financial sector and this included a 12-year spell in the R&D department of a global financial organisation. Tony now splits his time between id, distance running, organising UK based events for the Microsoft Office 365 community, his wife, 2 kids and 3 granddaughters, though not necessarily in that order.

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 was born in Sunderland which is a town on the North East coast of England Sunderland is 100 miles or so south of the Scottish border and 250 miles north of London. I originally left school at 16 with a few low-level qualifications as this was the thing to do back there and then. I spent a couple of years doing jobs I didn’t really like before deciding to go back to school and I spent the next 3.5 years at college and University where I studied computer science and learned how to develop software. I’d been into computers from an early age with the introduction of the ZX81 and this seemed like a good fit. My first development project was carried out on a terminal connected to the mainframe — a far cry from the ZX81 and later home computers I owned and the current computing platform. I then spent the next 25 years or so, having a family and developing software for financial organisations. I was presented with the opportunity to found Intelligent Decisioning around 2007 with a couple of colleagues and we set out to do our own thing.

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 funniest and the most painful mistake was when I was developing software in my first role. Even back then, I took project work home and continued to work on it on my home PC. I had no source control, nowhere to check in the code and I had been developing for a few hours without saving the code. My then 1 year old son, crawled into the room where I was working and managed to flick the power switch off — 4 hours down the drain but lesson learned. 😊

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?

While at University I spent 12 months with the then British Rail, on a work experience post — I met the Software Development Manager who gave me a great piece of advice “If you have a problem that you can’t fathom out, take a moment, leave your desk, tell the problem to the office plant — you will be surprised how this will help” — I still follow this advice to this day.

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?

We set out to create an organisation that would delight our customers, where our customers are defined as businesses facing problems that could be addressed with technology, specifically Microsoft technology, and using that technology to deliver cost effective, innovative solutions to the problems faced. We also wanted a “family friendly”

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

Yes I have but I consider the implications of doing so and it usually spurs me on. I ran the London Marathon in 2005 and again in 2010 — each time, at around mile 22/23 I hit the wall and thought that was that but my running partner said to me “Think about the tale you can tell next time we’re in the pub — the respect from those who haven’t started, let alone completed the London Marathon” — after a few faltering walking steps and a drink of water, I was off and running again and I completed the world famous marathon course with a 4 hour finish time both times. It’s a similar drive in my work — I think “this can’t be done”, “it’s too hard”, “too difficult”, ”it’s impossible” but I go get a cup of tea, sit down and tell someone what it is I’m trying to achieve and why (to support my business, the staff and my family) and the determination kicks in again.

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

A leader at any time, let alone challenging times, must show qualities of cool, calm decision making. The ability to pivot quickly to a difficult and rapidly changing environment is a key role during 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?

I find the way to boost morale is to ensure that the team have visibility into every aspect of the company and keep them up to date with the company values and plans. To achieve this we have automated processes that share projects lead/enquiries and wins with the whole company.

We share company information with the team and provide an “Ask Me Anything” opportunity every month so that the team can voice any concerns and fears — this is done via our Microsoft SharePoint intranet product Mercury (www.mercuryintranet.com) and Microsoft Teams due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

We encourage all employees, including me, to share praise of other employees using the Praise app within Microsoft Teams on a weekly basis. We also have a company Strava team and we award monthly and annual training competitions with vouchers awarded to the top athlete.

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

There’s a saying in the UK, and maybe beyond the UK, that you should “grasp the nettle” — this means you need to tackle a difficulty head on and I use this approach. As little preamble as is needed and then give the bad news. I stress that I understand why this is bad news and for who. I then offer as much help and assistance I can to ease the pain.

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

We need to make plans as always but they must be under constant review and may need radical rework as the unfolding scenario takes place — be agile and react to the changing landscape.

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

Keep doing what you can do and make sure you and your team always give it their best.

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 Covid and the UK lockdowns, it soon became clear that projects which had been planned with id for months slowed down and stopped. As sales started to slow down we set out to keep a close eye on our cashflow with weekly updates between directors. We have seen some customer organisations close down as they didn’t have the cashflow to keep them going.

Raising invoices on time and not chasing late payers are other common mistakes — if you’ve done the work you need paying for it so make sure you do it.

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?

Invest in marketing and lead generation — at the start of the pandemic we switched all our marketing activity off and that was a mistake as leads dried up and stopped. We realised this and went back to good quality marketing activity resulting in new leads appearing. As the previous answer, I firmly believe that you must watch your cashflow like a hawk, reviewing monthly and annual subscriptions for value versus cost.

Invest time and effort into new products and new ways of doing things to make them more efficient and reduce time and costs. In 2020 we used the slow down of projects to reinvent our 7 year old Mercury Intranet product (www.mercuryintranet.com) and take advantage of the modern SharePoint platform that Microsoft has introduced. The updated product has put us in a great place to increase sales and 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. Have honest and open communications with your staff and customers.

If a team member has not criticised an idea in the recent past then maybe your team are frightened to raise issues with you? Make sure that all team members feel confident that they can criticise and raise issues. Talk to your team members about subjects outside of the project and work, engage with them.

2. Encourage personal and professional growth.

Find out what your team want to do in terms of skills and professional growth and encourage them to get involved. Search out cost effective training options and hand on the information to your team. As a Microsoft partner we require certain skills in our teams and we encourage our team members by offering paid training time, provide training materials and pay for exams. We pay salary increments for team members who pass the exams required.

3. Stay positive.

It’s important for the team that the leader remains positive — that positivity will rub off on the team. Having said that, it’s equally important that a leader does not operate in denial of the evidence as the team will see through that.

4. Accept ideas.

A good leader doesn‘t have all the good ideas — listen to the team as they will have great ideas. When ideas are offered up, consider them and if it works, run with it. If the idea wont work, explain why and encourage the team to keep on offering up ideas.

5. Set clear goals and expectation.

Sit with the members of the team on a regular basis and set goals and expectations with the individual — gain buy in from the team member by discussing why those goals are being set, how they help the individual and the wider team.

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

We used to have a saying back when we started developing online transactional services at the start of the original dotcom boom whenever there was an issue “It’s always the comms!” — in my experience, it still always is.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I’m on the usual social media channels:

Twitter https://twitter.com/WorTony — this is not always SFW so beware 😊

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

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


Tony Pounder Of Intelligent Decisioning: 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Lisa Thee Of Minor Guard On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Clarity of vision. In order to lead, it is important to know your “Why” and make that transparent to your team. Your company culture should be aligned with that Why. Integrity in how you operate will lead to long term loyalty and growth for those who choose to join you on this crazy adventure of inventing the future.

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

Ms. Thee is a Top 50 Global Thought Leader for AI, Privacy, and Safety with demonstrated experience in delivering revenue and solving complex business technology, governance, privacy and risk challenges at scale.

Ms. Thee is a consultant to some of the world’s most innovative healthcare and global technology for confidential computing and digital safety. She is the CEO and Co-Founder of Minor Guard, an Artificial Intelligence software company focused on making people safer online and in real life. She is a keynote speaker helping business executives to “Embrace AI for Digital Transformation.” She hosts the Navigating Forward podcast. She has been named to the Top Health and Safety, Privacy, and AI Thought Leaders and Influencers and Women in Business You Should Follow by Thinkers 360. She was recently named to the 2022 “Top 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics” global list.

Ms. Thee currently serves as an advisory board member for Engineered Medical Solutions, Humaxa, Spectrum Labs and Marketplace Risk. She is also a Board of Director’s member for 3 Strands Global Foundation, a human trafficking prevention and reintegration focused organization.

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 the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan where my parents had a clearly defined vison of a path to success for me. Attend the University of Michigan, get a STEM-based degree, and build my career in the auto industry. I was 5 internships down that path when I graduated from college and took the right hand turn to move to California for a job in the tech industry.

As a figure skater, I was high on passion, but low on talent for the sport. My biggest influencer was Kristy Yamaguchi, but I knew I was not Olympics-bound. The love of the sport and the creativity it allowed for taught me a lot about failing as part of the process. I would fall trying a new jump 100 times before I would land it, this was a good training ground for entrepreneurship. It’s not about how you fall, it’s about how you get back up.

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

“Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. I was raised in an environment where gender equity was a lived experience. Although my dad retired as a VP of Environmental Engineering, he was also the person who took me to all my sports practices as a kid and had a home cooked meal on the table every night when my mom got home from work. My mom went back for an MBA when I started 1st grade and broke into commercial banking in the 1980’s, when women still had to get suits made for work because they did not sell them off the shelf in the women’s department. I did not know that this wasn’t how all houses functioned, since it was normal to us; I did not notice gender bias in school or the workplace until after I became a parent myself. I recognize that many people haven’t had both lived experiences, and as someone with a platform I needed to speak up to support others that face more overt discrimination. That is why I am outspoken about what needs to change in the workplace — to be more inclusive for all people to bring their talents to the table and lead.

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?

Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. We stand on the shoulders of generations that did not have the opportunities we have today. I am grateful to be born in the right place at the right time, to have the opportunities that I have today to bring influential leaders and innovation together to address social justice issues at scale.

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?

According to a recent survey from Forbes, 1 in 4 women surveyed are interested in starting their own business post-pandemic. Emily Kennedy and I are successful startup executives who have built our social justice software companies from scratch. We have released an Entrepreneurship 101 e-course series to help accelerate women towards success. Our course is titled Spark Passion, where we demystify the process of founding a company and provide guidance on free resources to launch your business, find your customers, and build your min Minimum Viable Product (MVP). We also help prevent burnout with community and wellness practices in partnership with Women in Data.

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?

Don’t self-select out before you even start. Most ideas start with a vision, but are quickly modified by the market demand. It’s good to get a sense of the competitive landscape, market opportunity, and some customer pain points before building a Minimum Viable Product. After feedback from your beta product, you may find your product evolves to fit a specific issue affecting the market. Don’t forget Slack started as a gaming company and that Twitch did not focus on livestream gaming until they were down to weeks of funding runway.

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.

It starts with clearly defining the problem you are trying to solve in the market, creating a minimum viable product to gain market feedback (if you are proud of your first product you launched too late!) finding your beta customers who will accelerate your innovation journey by solving sector focused problems, and making innovation a continuous process. Once you have something with product market fit, it is much easier to find the right path to scale adoption.

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. Clarity of vision.

In order to lead, it is important to know your “Why” and make that transparent to your team. Your company culture should be aligned with that Why. Integrity in how you operate will lead to long term loyalty and growth for those who choose to join you on this crazy adventure of inventing the future.

2. Fundable Executive Teams.

Most investors know that what an early stage startup thinks they need to build will not be the final product. It is important to showcase that your leadership team can react to changes in the market, customer feedback, and technology trends to stay aligned to a real consumer need. Investors are betting on Founder teams as much as they are on ideas.

3. Relentless focus on the customer.

Many technical founders fall in love with technology for technology’s sake. They don’t understand the need in the market or how to help potential customers become aware that they are addressing that pain point. There is much more to running a business than building cool stuff.

4. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

It is important to free yourself from the grinding tasks in life that will not get you where you can make the most impact, in order to bring your unique contributions to the world. Early in your career it is a great way to build and demonstrate skills, but what got you here won’t get you there as leader.

5. Look within for guidance.

It’s important to have consistent wellness practices that allow you to drown out the noise of the world to hear your own wisdom. Only you know all the competing priorities of your life: your goals and dreams, and what lifts your energy vs what drains you. It is important to get out into nature and see the tops of the trees to get grounded back into your body which will always help you identify the next right move. I use guided Breathwork and Meditation to help me.

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?

As a female founder of an AI focused software company it is important to me that we demystify the process for business leaders to launch their own businesses, which is why Emily Kennedy and I have created a training course called Spark Passion. In Spark Passion we have established a simple 5-week program to quickly validate your idea, so first-time founders s can move forward confidently with their idea to change the world.

It’s not rocket science, it’s about implementing proven strategies that can help determine whether your passion can become a business that brings positive impact in the long term. Emily Kennedy and I created Spark Passion to help innovative leaders walk through the steps to gain momentum and have an actionable plan to move their idea forward. Our first course “Free Resources to Turn your Idea Into a Business” is available on demand for free.

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?

Engaging a consultant once you have a lean canvas is not a bad idea, but if you don’t have your business plan on paper yet it may be expensive and premature. Leverage podcasts, books, and the small business association for free resources to jump start your exploration.

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 choose to bootstrap and raise a SEED round from angel investors. It really depends on how much fuel you need to grow your share of the market; that will be a company-by-company decision that needs careful reflection.

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. For 2022 I am measuring my OKR’s in lives saved, dignity restored, and trauma prevented. As a software company CEO, it is important to be that we relentlessly advocate for people’s ability to thrive both from a physical and mental health perspective. At Minor Guard, we will be launching IOT enabled software to create the “life alert for young people;” as a consultant I am focused on using Confidential Computing to accelerate innovation in healthcare and safety; and as a keynote speaker I am evangelizing business leaders to “Embrace AI for Digital Transformation.” I am energized at what this next year will bring!

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 am an “Arm Cherry” and would love to sit down with Dax Shepard for his Experts on Expert series. A book I co-authored ‘Demystifying Artificial Intelligence for the Enterprise’ just released, and I would love to discuss it with Dax and Monica! I love how they make innovation and complex topics approachable for large audiences and it would be an honor to work with them to bring more awareness to AI Ethics and how we can increase trust and safety in the digital world.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Lisa Thee Of Minor Guard 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.

Petr Malyukov’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

There are no things I think I would have wanted to hear before my start because my mistakes and successful decisions together created my next steps. I value my experiences, I read other people’s experiences, but I wouldn’t shift the prism of their success or failure to my path, as it is unique. There is no magic pill that can lead others to the same success.

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 Petr Malyukov, IT entrepeneur, CEO and Co-Founder of YOUS, a communication app with AI-powered translation.

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?

Thank you for having me!

I was five or six years old when my father introduced me to the world of computers. At that time he had built the first ZX Spectrum computer, which was connected to the TV, and you needed to insert floppy disks to run games. Then the first Pentium appeared and at the end of the nineties, I started using the Internet. My father worked in a telecoms company and I experienced that miracle in the phase of its creation.

At an early age, I was fond of creating Flash games, and even then I thought about monetization of such mini-projects. Now, these memories make me feel nostalgic! As long as I can remember, I have had a passion for entrepreneurship, finding problems and trying to find possible solutions in a new way that was not yet on the market. I have always had this groundbreaking entrepreneurial spirit in me. Over fifteen years of passionate entrepreneurship, I built a dozen projects, starting with offline businesses and then getting into the digital space. I’ve tasted glorious victories, just as I did shattering downfalls of entrepreneurship. This experience is priceless.

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

My life is fascinating, and it is a patchwork of amazing people and events, so it is impossible for me to single out one thing.

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

Sincerity, kindness, and honesty are the key principles for me in proper relationships in life and in building a business. I appreciate people for their openness and courage to admit personal mistakes, as I value the experience of defeat more than its absence.

Philosophy is that the whole world is interconnected and arrives in balance, and in order not to disturb the balance, it is necessary to replenish it with available resources.

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

I describe my path to YOUS as going from a personal struggle to a big idea. Once I had to promptly find an interpreter for a Zoom meeting, who would help me understand the interlocutor and convey my thoughts to him. It took me two days to arrive at the solution. It included coordinating the date and time acceptable to the participants, paying for two hours of consecutive interpreting, as booking an interpreter for less time is not cost-effective, and finally finding a service that would ensure confidentiality, because you wouldn’t want to trust personal or business information to a stranger.

In my dreams, there was a convenient, affordable, and secure solution for what I needed, rather than what was present in the market. That was the moment when I started building YOUS, as I understood that the language barrier restricted international communication for me and millions of other people. This insight was fundamental to creating our platform.

I gave myself to the development of YOUS, and after a year our team launched the service which will become a connecting bridge between those people who previously faced communication difficulties due to the language barrier.

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?

I can’t think of any. We design YOUS as a kind tool that acts as a personal assistant in communication for people who previously could hardly understand each other without it. As of now, the app cannot transmit emotions or speak in your voice in another language, but we are working on it. There is a low probability of mistakes when recognizing your voice in conditions characterized by extraneous noise, or if a user speaks too fast or uses abbreviated words. So in a way, this teaches people not to interrupt each other, to listen carefully and to speak calmly, something that people often miss.

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

Yes, it was exactly that occasion when I tried to find a fitting translation solution for a Zoom meeting. 🙂

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

We live in times when the online world has taken over a large part of our daily lives, and the pandemic has definitely accelerated this process. Online communication will only gain momentum, and we will build communication bridges that will help us communicate without language barriers.

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

There are no things I think I would have wanted to hear before my start because my mistakes and successful decisions together created my next steps. I value my experiences, I read other people’s experiences, but I wouldn’t shift the prism of their success or failure to my path, as it is unique. There is no magic pill that can lead others to the same success.

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

I am learning to develop a mindset of a successful personality, so I am guided by matching beliefs: “the world is full of abundance,” “every day brings joy and pleasure,” “every aspect of life contains unlimited opportunities,” and “our success is in our own hands.”

There is one great truth on this planet: no matter who you are or what you do, when you truly desire something, you will achieve it, because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. This is your purpose on Earth.

In general, I believe in the materialization of thoughts 🙂

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 🙂

My name is Petr, I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of YOUS startup, an AI-based translator for meetings, phone calls, and messages.

Millions of people speak different languages and this is a problem for international communication. We help people communicate with native speakers of different languages using AI-powered translation technology. We make translation 8x cheaper and 30x faster than human interpretation. Our app now supports 16 languages. Available for mobile devices and via a browser. Are you ready to step aboard our startup and feel how together we can help millions of people?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://yous.ai/ — our brand-new AI-powered communication tool

https://www.linkedin.com/in/petrmalyukov/

https://www.facebook.com/pmalyukov

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

Thank you!


Petr Malyukov’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.

Wisdom from Women Leading in VR, AR and MR Industry with Erika Donalds Of Optima Classical Academy

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

You would think education would be one of the most innovative places. This is an opportunity to be progressive, and we are thinking of how we can do better with educating children. Many people are not willing to get outside of the box to try to do things differently utilizing the amazing technology available today.

As a part of our series called “Wisdom from Women Leading in VR, AR and MR Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Donalds.

Education entrepreneur Erika Donalds is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Optima Foundation and Optima Domi. She is a finance professional with a passion for education and has offered her expertise in business and policy to help further the expansion of high-quality school choice options and to improve accountability and governance in Florida’s public schools. Erika is launching the first virtual reality charter school, Optima Classical Academy. Additional information can be found at www.optimaclassical.org.

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

I am a fourth-generation Floridian. I grew up in Tampa with a single mom who worked multiple jobs and did not talk to me much about education or college. However, at some point in my high school years, I just knew that I did not want to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle financially. I decided to buckle down so that I could go to college and improve my future.

I went to Florida State University (FSU) and majored in accounting. I was very serious about my studies and graduated Magna Cum Laude, then went on to get my master’s degree in accounting and my CPA. Since then, I have been very driven in my career and other philanthropic, political, or church-related endeavors.

My husband and I met at FSU and have been together for 20 years. We have been involved in education causes for two decades, and about three or four years ago, I decided to make this my life’s work.

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

There is a book titled: Reinventing America’s Schools by David Osborne. David Osborne was vilified during the Common Core Era — of which I was a part of the anti-common core movement. But his book talks about education reform and all of the pieces that need to be in place for successful reform in different areas of the country, using them as case studies — places like New Orleans, Denver, and Washington DC. He explains the politics, policies, and other factors that must be aligned for education reforms to be successful. I think it is one of the best education reform books out there because it is not myopic in the view of how to be successful.

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

I specialize in classical or traditional education, so I never thought I would be involved in a virtual reality school, since our brick-and-mortar schools have no technology in the classroom. When we went virtual during the pandemic, we were able to keep the best things about classical education intact. Our students had live instruction from teachers every day, they were still reading classic literature and receiving the content-rich curriculum. We had such great feedback from parents, and they were asking us to continue this style of online learning.

When I started looking into virtual learning, I knew it would be challenging to do this effectively, and I happened to meet Adam Mangana, our executive director, who has been working on virtual reality classrooms for many years. The combination of the virtual reality classroom and the classical model of education was the perfect match to implement what our vision and to maintain the pillars of classical education in the virtual reality environment. I think it’s going to be the most successful education innovation in a very long time.

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

You might think that starting a virtual school in the middle of a pandemic is a great idea, because the demand is high. However, with chip shortages, uncertainty in the marketplace, looking for investors to embrace what has never been done before, and going through the government bureaucracy, it has certainly had its challenges. This entire endeavor, from January 2021 to today, has been one miracle after another as we overcome so many obstacles. The greatest thing about it has been all the people who have joined the team and are working to build this virtual reality charter school. They have embraced the vision that we have for what is ultimately possible and are getting on board with full energy and attention. I mean, that’s really a story in itself; to be able to gather such an exemplary team in such a short time to build a VR school, launch it, and welcome 1,500 students next year — it’s just going to be an amazing thing.

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 in the charter school industry, we went into a new area in Florida that was not so friendly to growth. We are thinking we are bringing this school choice into this community, parents are really excited, and everyone will love it, and then we ran into the brick wall called government. They held public meetings, and there were hundreds of people who showed up complaining about traffic, environmental impacts, conspiracy theories, and anything else that they could think of to block education choice. The effort to defend the education monopoly was stronger than we realized. It was a mistake to underestimate the opposition to reform and innovation, and we will not make that mistake again. Since then, the good news is that school choice, education reform, and school choice options have gained such support from the public, parents, and community members.

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?

Definitely my husband. We got married right after college, and we started our life together right after 9/11, both working multiple jobs. We had our first baby, and Byron was “Mr. Mom” so I could go back for my master’s degree and CPA. Then when he was studying for exams and advancing his career, I was taking up the slack at home. Just over 20 years together, and we work as a team to help propel each other forward. I could not do anything that I do without his support and encouragement, and all those years that he helped me achieve my goals and dreams.

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

My exciting new project is opening the world’s first virtual reality charter school! We are also building classical teacher and leadership training programs that we will offer both in-person and virtually. As we begin to open this virtual reality school, we know we are going to have to train a lot of teachers across the country and perhaps around the world to teach classically and to teach in virtual reality.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

The three things that excite me about the industry would all have to do with education. That is my focus, and that is where I want to see technology being able to take education to the next level. It is already involved with entertainment, which is wonderful, but education is what truly sets people free. Being able to utilize VR, AR, MR to bring classical education to students in rural communities and disadvantaged or underserved communities, that otherwise would not be able to get the same experience with the same quality of teacher. We will bring that right to them at Optima Classical Academy.

Secondly, studies show VR can help students who have attention deficits and other types of special needs. I am excited about the possibilities for those students to immerse themselves in an educational experience fully and not have the distractions of a traditional classroom.

Finally, I’m excited about training teachers in VR and allow them to interact with the greatest teachers from around the country. The possibilities for expanding and improving teacher training using VR are endless.

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

We must be careful that VR is used to enhance the world that we live in and not replace it, especially when it comes to our children. I think it will be great that kids can interact during virtual school with their teachers and peers, but it is not going to replace peer-to-peer interaction that they need, like playing outside with friends. I think kids still need to be out and about and interact personally.

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?

Training our teachers will be a tremendous aspect of our work with Optima Classical Academy. It is very difficult for a teacher to observe another teacher teaching. That is because they all teach at the same time throughout the school day, and they would have to leave their class and watch another teacher teach. Once we have the teachers teaching in VR and record those, another teacher can watch the video and ask questions. They can also be live and see how the teacher interacts with the students in the classroom. Also, just bringing the highest quality trainers into virtual reality with students around the country without having to travel and deal with other expenses. It is going to make high-quality, live training more accessible and more effective because you’re doing it in VR as opposed to in a webinar.

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

We host VR meetings with our team at Optima. This interaction is so much better than it is in 2 dimensions, and we can still share documents with one another in the metaverse. As more people have VR headsets in their homes, we will see more social interaction in VR. It is so much more fun to get together with avatars in the virtual reality environment where you can go anywhere and have an experience together when you cannot otherwise be face to face. It is going to change our relationships and our ability to interact with other people virtually in a more meaningful way.

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

I believe it is important that we encourage women and young people about their abilities in mathematics and science, but it starts with having capable teachers in these subjects. Often, teacher unions do not allow differentiation in pay for teachers in STEM fields, and it is difficult to compete with the private sector for this talent. As a result, we have weak STEM teachers in our schools, students do not receive quality instruction in these areas, and so they are not confident exceling in those fields. We need to incentivize skilled STEM teachers to come to teach in our schools, and inspire women, men, and other students into the STEM fields.

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

People who defend the education monopoly criticize school choice advocates as a ‘special interest’ and say we are in education for the money. We are definitely in it for the children. For people coming from the private sector, like myself, it was a calling to change careers and focus on something like school choice that has so many barriers. It is not as easy as working in the private industry, but you do it because you love kids, want to help families, and think it is going to make a difference in our country long-term.

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

I am relatively new to being a woman in Tech, aside from in the accounting and finance industry in my 20-year career, and I’m a lot more “tech-savvy” now that I’m the founder of a virtual reality charter school. So as a newly experienced woman in tech, I find that the one surprising thing to me is the kind of minority veto on innovation and technology in a multitude of areas, but certainly in education. You would think education would be one of the most innovative places. This is an opportunity to be progressive, and we are thinking of how we can do better with educating children. Many people are not willing to get outside of the box to try to do things differently utilizing the amazing technology available today.

Hopefully, I can be part of the solution in spreading the good news about utilizing technology in the right way and maintaining the efficacy of something like classical education or other traditional things that can be enhanced with technology, not replaced with technology.

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

If I could do one thing, it would be to bring universal school choice to every parent across the country. I would make education into a competitive free-market environment, which would raise the quality and accessibility of education for every child.

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 🙂

Elon Musk, of course! Because he is innovative, a risk taker and an incredible businessperson. I would want to learn everything I could about him, his success, and what is next for him in the future so I can invest in whatever it is he is doing.

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


Wisdom from Women Leading in VR, AR and MR Industry with Erika Donalds Of Optima Classical Academy 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: Ben Arbov Of Greatest Gift On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Consistency is key. Getting up every morning and putting in the work can be hard, especially if you don’t see the fruits of your labor immediately, but don’t despair. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, then another step and another one. Keep going, every day, every week, and don’t stop.

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

In the early days of the COVID pandemic, the day after he was laid off from his job, Ben signed up for an online coding bootcamp and set out to make his idea of investing in his niece’s future a real, live platform. Today, Ben is the founder of the growing startup Greatest Gift, the financial gifting platform for children’s long term savings.

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”?

Sure thing, thank you for having me!

I was born in Dallas Texas to Israeli parents and moved to Israel at two years old when my dad moved back to open his own small business. Growing up I always loved solving puzzles, figuring out riddles and building things (think Legos, school projects, and activities in the Israeli Scouts).

My parents have always been a huge influence on me. My mom taught me values of hard work and helped me get my first job at the age of fifteen, handing out flyers, then my second job in a flower shop, and the list goes on! Basically, I’ve been working at every opportunity I’ve gotten since.

My dad taught me the value of saving money and also pushed me to take on leadership roles, including becoming an officer in the army.

I enlisted in the army at eighteen and became an officer when I was twenty. Being an officer in the military taught me to make do with limited resources and accomplish the mission at all costs.

More recently, when the COVID pandemic hit New York, I was launching a coworking business for the company I worked. Naturally, demand for office spaces drastically fell when the pandemic hit, and I was laid off. Like many of the readers of this series, I had an idea for a business. The day after I was laid off, I began learning the skills I needed to make this idea a reality.

I think the combination of values, passions and the right timing set me up to make and launch Greatest Gift.

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

It’s hard to choose just one, but this is one of my favorites — “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater” — Albert Einstein. The quote really helps put things in perspective for me every time I find myself stuck or in a new challenging situation — there’s always someone with a tougher problem to solve. It reminds me that I’m not the first and not the last person to try and solve a problem.

Plus, as a math major in college, I was quite literally worried about my difficulties in math on a daily basis!

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 really loved reading Blue Ocean Strategy written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne and recommend it to everyone looking to innovate or start a new business. The book offers a structured approach to innovation and frameworks of understanding who your target users are and what your value proposition should be, while giving real life examples of companies that performed incredibly well with new ideas.

One specific lesson I learned from the book is that innovation is not only in the utility of a product, but it can also be in the business model. Products and their economic engines are inseparable, and identifying the right value add aspects of the product can help you reduce your expenses.

I particularly like the framework that guides you to eliminate, reduce, raise and create factors of your business or product to help you create an idea that doesn’t compete with your competitors and offers a true value proposition to your customers and end users.

The book helped me develop Greatest Gift’s value proposition — on the one hand a financial gifting platform that makes monetary gifting for kids fun and easy, on the other hand a resource for parents that helps them on their financial parenting journey by providing a curated collection of financial products, guides and tips. The combination creates a value proposition that is relevant to parents, kids, family and friends, while relying on a solid business model of affiliate marketing.

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?

Of course, and I hope I can help a few people execute on their ideas.

It really just starts with putting one foot in front of the other and putting in the time to work on turning the idea into reality.

Break down the execution into different work streams. Then break those down again. Keep breaking it down until you reach individual tasks and knock those tasks off one by one.

Consistency is key. Dedicate time to developing the idea, a couple of hours twice a week after dinner, an afternoon every weekend.

When you’re just starting out, your focus should be on fleshing out your idea and understanding how that idea can turn into a business that adds values to customers on one hand and has a viable economic engine on the other hand.

Focus on the potential customers and end users that your idea will help and figure out the details of how your idea can help answer their needs.

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?

Researching existing solutions or ideas is an important step in starting a new business, but just because solutions exist doesn’t mean your idea (or execution of it) doesn’t add value to the world.

Start by talking to people who would care about your idea and see if they know of other solutions that already exist. Don’t be too worried about sharing your idea, you said it in your last question — 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.

If there are solutions, that can actually be a good signal that there is a need for the idea!

A simple google search can help you find solutions, and if you really want to dig deep, look into online communities on Reddit or Facebook groups and search for your ideas.

If you find versions of your idea, try to understand if there is anything you can improve or differentiate from the existing solutions with your idea.

Think — what does your idea do better? Are you better situated to execute the idea? Workshop your idea to provide a better solution and figure out how to provide the most value to your potential customers.

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.

Absolutely, let’s talk execution. By now, you have an idea that answers a need or solves a problem, and ideally you spoke with a few people to validate that the need exists.

Whether you’re making an app, a website, or a physical product, you should always start with the drawing board. Make sketches of your product, first a high level skit, then deep dive into the details (I used Figma for my platform).

If you think your idea is something novel to the world that hasn’t been done before, look into patents. Google Patents has an easy to use search engine that helps find other patents in the field. After you see a few other patents, try writing a rough outline of the patent and then find a patent lawyer. A good patent lawyer will help you defend your new idea in the best way.

Now that you have a validated idea, sketches, and potentially a patent, it’s time to make your first product. In the tech world this is called an MVP — minimum viable product, while in physical products this would be a prototype. What they both have in common is that they have the least amount of features and sophistication, while achieving the main purpose of your idea, i.e. solving the problem at hand.

When talking about tech products, this step may take a few weeks or even months. You’ll need someone to write the code. This could be yourself if you know how to code or feel comfortable enough learning online (there are great resources and online bootcamps that can help you with this). In order to build my platform Greatest Gift, I took an online web development bootcamp on Codecademy, and completed my coding education with google whenever I had gaps.

If you’re not comfortable building out the code on your own, you have two other options. The first is to find a partner that knows how to code and build out the product and business together. Look for people in your network — friends, old coworkers, college classmates. The second option is to find a development house that builds out MVPs, but this option is probably the most expensive one. It’s hard to accurately estimate how much work will actually need to happen, and every change can get costly.

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. Some people won’t like your idea or product. Ten hardcore fans of your product are better than a thousand dispassionate supporters. I had a few people who were really excited early on that wrote great reviews about the product and shared it with their circle, leading to new customers early on.
  2. Things start out slowly. Give it time, and if you truly believe in your idea, remember you’re in it for the long run. Going from idea to a live platform took us almost a year at Greatest Gift. The first user was hard to get, but eventually things started rolling with a steady growth in users.
  3. Consistency is key. Getting up every morning and putting in the work can be hard, especially if you don’t see the fruits of your labor immediately, but don’t despair. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, then another step and another one. Keep going, every day, every week, and don’t stop.
  4. Celebrate your wins. There’s a long road ahead, so make sure to celebrate hitting those milestones along the way. I still remember the dinner I had with my fiancé when Greatest Gift went live! All our little celebrations help me recharge for the challenges ahead.
  5. Adapt your mindset as the company grows — from maker, to team leader, to CEO. When you’re just starting out with a new idea, your focus is on making the idea become a reality. Once your idea is a reality and you have a product that customers are using, shift your focus to building out your team. Finally, focus on building a company.

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?

First, check that the idea answers an existing need, for the reader, a family member, or anyone else.

Develop the business model and understand the unit economics. Make sure you understand how much it will cost to make on a per unit or per user basis.

Now that you have a solid idea that answers a need and has a solid business model behind it, make the first product and get one customer to buy it. Just one.

Focus first on making that prototype or minimal version of your product. Stay laser focused, don’t add the bells and whistles. This is your chief maker phase. If you don’t have the skills to make it, learn online. Learning enough to make your own prototype will help you manage the process later when you scale and handover the production to a team or outsource it completely. You don’t need to be the expert but knowing the nuts and bolts of your product will help you troubleshoot and manage it down the line.

Remember, all you need here is one product with one customer.

Now do the same with 50 other customers.

Whenever you hit a milestone, set a new one that’s more ambitious than the last and change your mindset as needed.

Getting one customer may be easy if you know a few people that could use your idea but getting a thousand customers may be challenging and might require a different approach.

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?

Making something new can be a costly endeavor, so in my honest opinion I would recommend saving your much needed funds for other expenses, like your own living expenses while you work on your idea, engineering, manufacturing, tech costs, and legal fees, just to name a few.

Instead, try finding someone in your network that has gone down this path of making something from nothing before and reach out to them for a coffee chat. No one understands the problems entrepreneurs face more than other entrepreneurs.

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 think it’s really a question of timing for your business. I’m a big believer of bootstrapping the beginning of the business, everything from idea to launch.

Bootstrapping early on will teach you to be disciplined with your capital spend. This is the time to be scrappy and develop your own skillset, problem solve and rely on your own abilities to adapt and grow.

It also helps you preserve your equity for later stages when you can really benefit from large capital plays to fund growth.

I think reaching the stage that you have product-market fit is a good point to go down the venture capital path. Having product-market fit means your idea (now product) is answering a need in the market and your business is growing rapidly. This is the time to take on capital to accelerate your growth even more aggressively.

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

I try to make the world a better place through my professional work and my personal life. In my professional capacity, my startup Greatest Gift helps power up children’s financial futures. We provide financial literacy for parents and children, and give family and friends the tools to invest in children’s futures.

On a personal level, I often help other aspiring entrepreneurs with their journeys of making something from nothing.

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.

Start early.

This is true for parents and families about saving and investing for their kids, but also for entrepreneurs or people with amazing ideas.

Starting can be the hardest part, but as soon as you start, you’ll be on the path to something great.

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’d really like to meet behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely and discuss motivation around saving and investing for our kids. I’ve studied psychology and economics in college and have been working on driving parents to action and encouraging them to start saving for their children’s futures early on.

Professor Ariely has had a major influence on my work, and I would love to meet with him to share the insights from Greatest Gift.

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

Thank you for the great opportunity! I hope some of these help readers start something of their own.


Making Something From Nothing: Ben Arbov Of Greatest Gift 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.