Makers of The Metaverse: Zach Schleien Of Filteroff On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality…

Makers of The Metaverse: Zach Schleien Of Filteroff On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Aside from dating, the metaverse will provide people an environment to stay connected with family and friends in a more intimate experience than a FaceTime.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zach Schleien.

Zach Schleien is the CEO & Co-founder of Filteroff. Zach launched Filteroff as a way to meet people, not profiles. Filteroff has now raised $2.5M from a Fortune 500 company and has run over 14K virtual speed dating events as well as in-person singles events for a variety of communities.

Zach’s passions lie in technology, health, and creating authentic connections. When he is not working, Zach loves to travel the world, listen to podcasts, and work out.

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

I grew up in Westchester, New York. For college, I went to Syracuse University. I started working on my first startup in my senior year of college and fell in love with building startups/technology. After graduation, I started working for Johnson & Johnson in IT while working on my startup in the evening and on weekends.

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?

Tim Ferriss book The 4-Hour Workweek played a significant impact on me. I realized building a business is all about being efficient, outsourcing when needed, and putting your health first. I really learned to work on the most important things versus just staying busy.

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

I would go on dates that I met from Tinder or Bumble, and literally 60 seconds into the date, I realized I didn’t want to be there as we had zero chemistry. Soon after, I would ask the dates that I would match with if they’d be open to video chatting. The one’s that agreed to chat over video was a valuable experience. I could tell if we had chemistry and whether we were attracted to one another. Video dating is the most efficient and authentic way to meet people prior to the first date.

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

We had a Jewish Syrian community contact us when we first launched Filteroff. They asked if they could run their own private event for their community. At the time, we didn’t have this capability. After coming to an agreement, we built the functionality for their community to run their private events. From that community alone, we created five marriages. We soon started introducing this self-service model for any sort of community to host virtual speed dating events for their members. Since then, we’ve added a slew of features such as ticketing, video introductions, custom branding, and more.

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 we hosted virtual events for a large community. Long story short our servers were not having it. I had to get on the phone with the organizer to try to calm him down. Luckily, our app is much more stable now and supports thousands of attendees at an event at any given time.

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

I’m very grateful to my co-founder, Brian. He provided me with a ton of coaching while I was raising our seed. He had been through the process in the past, so he had some valuable insight on questions to ask investors and how to present to them most effectively.

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

Right now, my focus is on Filteroff and helping people connect authentically. On the side, I have a PR course to help people learn how to get press. The site is PRFastPass.com

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?

For the next generation dating in the metaverse won’t be optional. There will be a blurry line between an in-person date and being on video. The audio will be spatial. The video will be immersive. And video dating will change as we know it.

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?

Addiction to dating in the metaverse and not dating in real life, cheating in the metaverse, using avatars in the metaverse (leading to a ton of catfishing).

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?

Dating in the metaverse will help singles improve on how they date. It will provide singles practice so they can then use their skills in the real-world.

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

Aside from dating, the metaverse will provide people an environment to stay connected with family and friends in a more intimate experience than a FaceTime.

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

Online dating works! People care immensely about shared values, passions, and meeting like-minded people.

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 truly believe in the power of video. Whether or not you use Filteroff I highly encourage that you hop on a quick video chat before meeting up in-person. It’s a great vibe check and allows you to get to know someone briefly prior to the first date. This can prevent catfishing, will save you time, and will lessen bad first dates.

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

I’d love to have a breakfast with Tom Brady. He comes off as extremely authentic, has always had a chip on his shoulder, and brings his best self everyday. I admire his discipline and determination to be the best.

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


Makers of The Metaverse: Zach Schleien Of Filteroff On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Dzhangar Sanzhiev Of MatchFamilies On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up…

Meet The Disruptors: Dzhangar Sanzhiev Of MatchFamilies On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

“Do the right things and the results will follow,” which was once said by one of my very first managers early on in my career. I’m still following this advice, which helps me be persistent in what I’m aiming to achieve.

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

Dzhangar Sanzhiev is the founder of MatchFamilies, a recently launched app designed to help families make new friends with other families. Dzhangar has lived and worked in Thailand, Russia, Germany, USA and knows how challenging it could be to form a new social circle from scratch, especially as a family. From these life experiences, he launched MatchFamilies to help millions of families worldwide make new social connections, find like-minded people, socialize and make friends. Before founding MatchFamilies, Dzhangar had been focusing on growing better leaders within international HR consulting.

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 moved to Germany in 2016 with my wife and two daughters. We needed to build our social circle from scratch, and we found it to be quite challenging. Of course, you meet some people along the way and it’s mainly through kids — as kids make friends quickly and then you connect as families. But this process takes a lot of time and effort. Meeting like-minded families that completely match yours may take years. It depends on luck. So I thought, how can I help other families find their best friends quickly and easily using technology? That’s how the MatchFamilies app was born.

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

In our individualistic world there are very few social platforms that are focusing on families and their needs. For example, you could use Facebook to find some family friends, but it is populated with profiles of individuals, so you don’t know if a person is married, has kids or not, what are their interests etc. What’s special about MatchFamilies is that we are the first platform where people register as a family and can connect with other families based on their location, age group, family interests, kids’ age, languages they speak — details that are important to figure out if another family matches yours. We (married people) also want to socialize and make friends! There was no solution for families before we launched. Additionally, we are building more features to cover more needs families have — helping them save money and socialize offline with other families at our family-friendly events, where parents can chat while kids are being taken care of as well as help them connect with their best matches in their travel destinations. We are the first socialization and community platform for families worldwide.

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

I created our first logo on my own. On the logo icon there was a kind of a typical family of four people, just like my family, inside a heart. Some people were asking if the app is a medical app solving heart problems. 😊Also, it was not reflective of our app’s inclusivity because it’s actually for families and couples of all genders, with or without kids, and for single parents who just want to socialize and find their village. So I hired a designer to create a more inclusive logo.

The lesson — don’t only rely on your own thinking, even in early stages. It’s good to involve more people, get more opinions, and feedback.

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 have a mentor who has been helping me along the way. His name is Tom Deutsch and he has been instrumental in expanding my network and finding the right people to talk to, as well as providing feedback and guidance, challenging my thinking and helping improve. Also, I participated in a startup accelerator program in NYC called Starta VC. Their mentors and coaches have shaped my thinking and provided incredible impact on where we are now — as a startup and on our strategy.

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 think the disruption of the automobile industry could be an example of when it’s not so good, especially when considering climate issues and the Earth’s pollution. But that’s short-term. I hope moving forward the production of electric cars will not cause a negative impact on our planet even while they are trying to help save it. I think there are more positives in disruption than negatives, if it is executed wisely.

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

  1. “Do the right things and the results will follow,” which was once said by one of my very first managers early on in my career. I’m still following this advice, which helps me be persistent in what I’m aiming to achieve.
  2. The classic Steve Job’s quote, “You have to work not 12 hours a day, but with your head” made me laugh when I first heard it, but I think it’s a good reminder to stay focused and thoughtful in what you are doing.
  3. I think all parents, just like my parents, should teach their kids to “never give up”, if you really want something.
  4. In my past roles in HR consulting, I used to get a lot of advice related to the importance of effective interactions, emotional intelligence, empathy, and building trust — all which provided tremendous impact on my success as a leader.
  5. I’ve recently came across advice (somewhere on LinkedIn) directed to startup founders who are looking to raise venture capital investments. The advice was for startups to focus on growing their business and to spend less time on the search and outreach to investors, because if your business is doing well, they will find you on their own. I’m following this advice and hope it’ll bring the results 😉

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

We are building the most value-centric platform for families. And families have a lot of needs, so we have big plans. We are currently looking for investors to help us execute on that vision.

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?

A TED Talk by Harvard’s professor Robert Waldinger provided a lot of impact on my thinking. They conducted the biggest research on adult life and found out that “close relationships with friends and family” is what makes people the happiest, more than money or fame. These close relationships also help people live longer lives. Imagine you don’t have your friends and family nearby, because you moved to another city or country. That means that you don’t have what’s most important in your life. How crazy is that?

I thought that this problem is big enough for me to quit my old job and launch MatchFamilies.

According to research every 4th American feels lonely and isolated, so we have a lot of work ahead!

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

“Pursue your dream no matter what!t”) It helps me stay focused, positive and dedicated.

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

A movement to support changes in education systems worldwide, so that kids learn subjects that they will really be able to apply in the real world in the future.

How can our readers follow you online?

Download the App in the App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/matchfamilies/id1545588883

Download the App in the Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.itech.matchfamilies

Website: https://www.matchfamilies.com/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MatchFamilies-App-173230091481102

Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/matchfamilies/

LinkedIn Page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/70883392

Dzhangar’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dzhangar-sanzhiev-b3923931/

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


Meet The Disruptors: Dzhangar Sanzhiev Of MatchFamilies On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Angelo Ciaramello Of The Funded Trader On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up…

Meet The Disruptors: Angelo Ciaramello Of The Funded Trader On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. Anyone that is working towards a goal can be considered a success.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angelo Ciaramello of The Funded Trader, a proprietary trading firm, that’s gamified trading. The company works with experienced traders and allows them to purchase a challenge to display their profitability. The company includes an evaluation, and if they are able to pass, The Funded Trader will fund them up to $600k. The company has some traders making upwards of $100k in a single month, and they’ve paid out over $10 million in the past year.

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?

At 21, I found myself tired, burnt out and lacking the clarity to see the vision of what my future would be. I was finishing up an internship at my university, and realized I needed to prioritize my own well-being first in order to shape what my future would include. Upon graduating college, instead of taking a job like every other college student, I took 1 year off focusing solely on working out, doing yoga, reading books and finding the niche that he would be passionate enough about to build a business. In the 12 months to follow, I became certified in kettlebell training, read 50 books, and discovered the niche of retail trading. It was not all roses from there, as I needed to get a job in order to pay the bills and decided to start driving uber.

Upon meeting a sales rep while driving uber, I got my first job as a sales development representative for a shipping company. This is where I learned the foundations of email marketing and sales which would later be an asset to me in building his social media company.

Fast forward to 2021, I left my job in corporate America with one goal, to gamify the retail prop trading industry. In less than 12 months the company has paid out over $10 million dollars to retail traders across the world and I’ve gone from an entry level IT role to becoming a millionaire.

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

The Funded Trader is disruptive because we’re leveling the playing field when it comes to retail traders approaching the market. Too often, traders fall victim to undercapitalization, which leads them to take big risks and ultimately fail. By providing traders with capital, we are solving this problem and empowering traders to take a professional approach to trading the financial markets.

We have turned the retail trading industry into a true meritocracy where anyone with the necessary talent and discipline can make it.

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

One of the largest mistakes I made when we first started was related to trading. Looking back on it, it was comical but at the moment it was not as much fun. Long story short, we made a decision which caused us to lose $100,000 in one day. In the span of hours! It was a pretty epic failure at the time, and the most I had lost in one day. The lesson I learned lied in how we handled it. We looked at it as an expense to the business and that if we were in position to lose that much comfortably, we were doing something right. In the end we have been a lot more focused on our risk!

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

One of my mentors outside of business was a fitness instructor of mine, Phil Ross. He inspired me to instill discipline in my everyday life, and that it was not something that was a chore, but rather a tool to unlock the freedom and goals I set. It really changed my thinking to be a better person.

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 would say that any time you are shifting an industry that brings more opportunity to its members, it should be seen as a positive shift. In our company, we look to bring more opportunities which will result directly in money made by our clients and at the core of this we believe that anyone can truly change their situation and leverage our platform to end up in a better position than they started. This is changing the game for everyone involved.

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

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. Anyone that is working towards a goal can be considered a success.

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

The plan for us is to really start to focus on broadening the market. We have grown at an exponential rate within our niche. The goal is to grow the entire industry through reaching new people. By introducing new people who are completely unaware of the opportunities that are available this could be an exponential opportunity for us and them to grow.

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?

The number one book I ever read, The Magic of Thinking Big. This book made me realize that it’s not about where we are presently or where we’ve been. It’s about how we choose to show up to our current situations and where we BELIEVE we are headed.

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

The movement I hope to inspire is embedded in thought. I believe that the society we live in is scared to chase their dreams. More specifically they are scared to bet on themselves when there is so much pressure to conform to what someone else tells them is a good life. You can be anything you want to be. We only get one shot at life and to waste the opportunity to actualize your dream is scarier than the risk to get there.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find us on all social platforms at thefundedtraderprogram.com

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


Meet The Disruptors: Angelo Ciaramello Of The Funded Trader On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Sean O’Neill Of Toast! On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Believe in science, and follow what it says. The nice thing about science is that even if you’re wrong the first time, you just learn and adjust!

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

Founder of Toast! Supplements, Sean O’Neill has created a supplement to help you enjoy a night out while thinking about your health! A wrong diagnosis sparked Sean O’Neill’s desire to understand the effects of alcohol on the body and how hangovers aren’t really caused by dehydration but how our bodies metabolize alcohol. Focused on changing the way we view drinking, Sean O’Neill is here to debunk our theories and toast to our health!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

When I was in my late 20s a routine physical picked up elevated liver enzymes. I was told it was probably nothing, but follow up tests were required. Sitting in my home one evening, I got a call from my doctor’s office telling me I had “cirrhosis of the liver, because of your drinking”. Now, that turned out to be entirely wrong. I did not have cirrhosis. My liver was fine. But it would take months of frustration and fruitless theories to find that out, and in the meantime no doctor could explain how someone my age could possibly end up with cirrhosis, particularly given I wasn’t much of a drinker! So I started looking into research about alcohol and the liver, and found that a lot of clinical research had been done in recent years showing how natural compounds like milk thistle and green tea could help reduce alcohol’s damaging effects, while ingredients like prickly pear even showed effectiveness at reducing or preventing a hangover. This made me particularly frustrated when I’d ask a doctor “what can a drinker do to stay healthy” and get told “not drink”, because while that was certainly one solution, the research seemed to indicate that it wasn’t the only one. Once I got healthy I ended up in business school surrounded by a largely international class who often took various products before drinking, to reduce hangover effects. The international business students were willing to test out the ingredients I’d read about in clinical research. Soon thereafter, I decided to start Toast!.

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

Most people still think hangovers are caused by dehydration, and the majority of products are still based on that belief as well. However, clinical research has completely disproven that theory. Instead, the Before You Drink Gummies are based on the latest clinical research from our scientific advisor Dr. Joris Verster, founder of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group. His research has shown that a hangover appears to be caused by our immune system responding to alcohol’s inflammatory effects, with our individual genetic ability to metabolize alcohol playing a significant role as well. Unlike other products, we also recognize that people drink predominantly to socialize, relax, and have a good time, and we’ve based our products accordingly. Rather than pills, powders, or drinks, we’ve developed our solution to be an appealing and tasty gummy bear that’s shareable and fun; just like drinking. They’re the perfect toast, before you drink!

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?

While we ended up with gummies, it took a while to get there. We started with pills and powders, and it was always a challenge to convince people to try them. They were intrigued with the idea, but strange pills and powders caused a lot of understandable skepticism. So our first solution was to say “hey, why don’t we make a little drink like 5 Hour Energy”? Boy was that a mistake. We didn’t know how to make drinks. We ordered flavoring powder from a company and got powdered versions of our active ingredients and tried to make a drink and it was disgusting. Seriously, the single worst smelling, worst tasting, weird bubbling orange concoction ever. We quickly learned that it’s not as simple as throwing some flavoring on top, there’s a reason that people go to college for food science and learning how to flavor things. In making our gummies, we’ve partnered with experienced gummy candy makers to create gummies that aren’t just effective, but also have that gummy quality taste and chew people expect. We learned not to try and just go at it alone when you can work with experts!

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

Disrupting an industry is good when it’s not working right, or can be improved. One simple example is ordering an Uber versus a taxi. With Uber, you just entered a destination and someone came to pick you up, usually pretty quickly. No waving down taxis on the street, hoping they were empty, or sitting on hold with a dispatcher. That innovation by itself made Uber superior to other taxi companies. Of course, Uber disrupted a lot more than that, and one “not so positive” disruption was the impact on drivers. Driving a taxi has historically been a pathway for immigrants and other poorer individuals to move up to middle class; you start renting a taxi, you get up to owning your own, then owning your own medallion, then buying more, etc. There is no real ladder to climb while driving an Uber. You make what is often a sub minimum wage. You get no assistance with insurance. Worse yet, ride sharing apps like Uber have caused a huge increase in congestion and traffic, as they’re not just replacing taxi rides, they replaced lots of walks, bike rides, subway trips, etc. Disruption can be good, but it can have lots of unintended consequences.

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

“You learn best by doing”. When I graduated college, I thought I was going to go into investment banking. I wanted to start a company eventually, I even had an idea, but I felt I needed more work experience first. Then I had an interview with a Venture Capital firm. I didn’t really know anything about startups, and my interviewer gave me a crash course, and told me that if it was something I wanted to do, taking a different job just for experience wasn’t the best way to go about it. I needed to just do it, because nothing would teach me what I needed to know faster or better. You learn best by doing.

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’ve always been a bit of a history nerd, and one book that’s always stuck with me is Xenophon’s Anabasis. It’s the, mostly, true story of a group of Greek mercenaries who lose their leadership and are forced to fight their way out of the heart of the Persian Empire. It’s really a story about leadership. How to lead, build morale, instill discipline, when to work by consensus and when to lead individually, and a lot more. Lots of people write books about leadership. Xenophon faced the most adverse circumstances possible, and successfully came out the other side.

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

Without revealing too much, I’ll just mention that our scientific advisor Dr. Verster doesn’t just research hangovers. He also has been researching sleep problems for a number of years…

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

There’s no better way to learn than by doing. When I started my first company, I had no experience, no idea what I was doing, and I was starting a company in a field (tech) I had no background in…but I learned. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, and I made plenty, but you’ll learn more and faster than you possibly could any other way. If you have an idea, just go for it.

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

Believe in science, and follow what it says. The nice thing about science is that even if you’re wrong the first time, you just learn and adjust!

How can our readers follow you online?

Toast! can be followed across social media @AlwaysToast. I personally don’t have social media, but I frequently contribute to our social media and newsletters.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Sean O’Neill Of Toast! On The Five 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.

Melanie Hicks Of Inked Elephant Publishing House On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective…

Melanie Hicks Of Inked Elephant Publishing House On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Practice but not too much. Practice is a key element to giving a quality presentation. But so is spontaneity and connection. If we practice to a point where we become robotic in our delivery, we will lose the energy and the connection with the audience will be lost.

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

Dr. Hicks is an empathy driven leader with more than two decades of experience in workforce, education and nonprofits. Focused on the areas of human centered leadership, strategic planning, employee engagement and organizational culture, Dr. Hicks has worked with hundreds of clients over the course of her career including small to midsized companies, education institutions and nonprofit organizations.

Dr. Hicks is the author of the upcoming book Incongruent; Travel, Trauma, Transformation. Writing her first book at 10 years old, she has now been published in numerous magazines and websites including Forbes.com, Humanity Wine Co., The District, Doctor’s Life, Journal for Research Administration and Moc Ideja, a grassroots policy manual for lawmakers in Bosnia funded by the US Department of State.

Dr. Hicks holds a doctorate from the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University, a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Miami and bachelors in Organizational Communications from the University of Central Florida. She is also a SHRM Senior Certified Professional.

In addition to her formal degrees, Dr. Hicks also holds two Diversity, Equity and Inclusion certifications and a lean six sigma yellow belt from the University of South Florida. As well as a Business Analytics certificate from Harvard Business School.

Her awards include the Rod Rose Paper of the year award for the Journal of Research Administration, the Joyce Keller Volunteer of the Year Award, the Florence Bayuk Scholarship for academic excellence; the University of Miami Outstanding Scholastic and Public Service Achievement Award.

Dr. Hicks formerly served as the Vice President, Education Solutions Group at MGT Consulting where she leads business development for PK12, Higher Education and Education Transformation Practice areas. Prior to joining MGT, Dr. Hicks served as Assistant Provost at the University of Tampa where she created UT’s first Office of Sponsored Programs and oversaw the University’s 52 department budgets, and all grants and contracts. She also taught courses in Social Entrepreneurship, Environmental Policy, Public Private Partnerships, among others.

Prior to joining the University of Tampa team, she served as the Director of Research for the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, an advocacy organization, and concurrently as the Managing Director of the Florida Independent College Fund, a 501c3 foundation. While at ICUF/FICF she implemented a four‐prong system for federal and state grant funding applications resulting in enhanced collaborative partnerships and led ICUF’s governmental affairs research for advocacy in Tallahassee and Washington, DC.

Dr. Hicks began her career as the Aide to Mayor of Tallahassee, a special projects coordinator with the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability and as an adjunct professor of Public Administration for Florida State University and Barry University.

Outside of her professional activities, her hobbies include writing, paddle boarding, biking, hiking, and is a certified yoga instructor. She also enjoys spending time with her husband Randy, stepdaughter, Lauren, and her fur babies, Eva & Molly.

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

I had a fantastic childhood. I grew up in a small, middle-class, beach town in northern Florida. It was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone. Where multigenerational families were the norm. Where kids went off to college only to return to rinse and repeat the family legacy.

To look at me you would believe I am a walking carbon copy of my mother, a true mini-me. But to know me is to know I have my father’s stubborn nature and love of solitude. My father a career police officer, my mother a career teacher, we were the Webster definition of middle-class Americana. My brother joined the Marines when I was three years old, and my earliest memory of him was a family visit when I was thirteen.

Good fathers are always perceived as the backbone of the family, and mine was no exception. Stern, strong, quiet, and endlessly organized, he was the planner of great summer adventures that are still the most important parts of my childhood. If my father taught me to have a plan, my mother taught me to toss it out. Never-ending energy, generosity of spirit, and laughter that echoes long after it ends — these are the legacies of my mother. It was her influence that had our family pulled over on the side of a mountain in Colorado so I could touch — not just see — my first patch of snow. From my father, I was taught integrity, discipline, and hard work. From my mother, kindness, openheartedness, fearlessness, and football.

Love was abundant in our home and community. It overflowed daily with both words and acts of kindness from my mother and grandmother. My homelife held the kind of stability and care that so many can only dream of. We were far from monetarily rich, but what we lacked in finances was made up in love.

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

Artistically talented as a dancer and singer, I spent my younger years in dance, theatre and voice lessons. I was ironically, unequivocally shy when out of a stage spotlight. But after first stepping onto a stage at age 3, I was hooked. And I have spent my life chasing stages ever since.

Over my career the look of those stages has varied. As a speechwriter and public policy advocate in my early career, to a professor and education consultant, to eventually a writer, workforce coach and motivational speaker. For me the venue or topic never mattered, it was about using my authentic voice. Sharing with others some version of how I saw the world, and hoping that lens helped them see the world just a bit different as well.

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

I have a natural talent for improv, to “wing it” so to speak. More often than not, this strategy works just fine for me, but every so often, it is my downfall. Early in my career I was asked to be the Master of Ceremonies for an event where my boss, the Mayor, would be a keynote. Doing far less audience research than I should have, I planned an entire opening monologue which I envisioned would be both humorous and inspirational. Upon arriving at the event, I realized the audience was international dignitaries from our Sister City, none of my humor or local community references would be understood. I spent the 30 minutes before I went on frantically rewriting everything, I had planned on saying. The speech, while not a disaster, was certainly not prize-worthy. It was a lesson I will never forget. Knowing your audience is the absolute most important thing about being on stage. I might can “wing” the content but only if I know who will receive 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?

I simply can’t narrow to one. I have had two mentors in my life that were absolutely life changing; Bob O’Leary and Fred Seamon.

The humblest man I have ever known, Robert O’Leary, is a tower of wisdom, experience, and grace. A Georgetown graduate, he began his career working on Capitol Hill on initiatives of societal importance like supporting the work of the National Organization for Women and the Equal Rights Amendment. Back in his home state of Michigan, he was the chief deputy director of the Commerce Department and later served as Governor Blanchard’s deputy chief of staff and the president of the Michigan Accident Fund. Recruited to Florida by Governor Lawton Chiles, his humility and authenticity made him a masterful change agent and the reinvention and restructuring guru of the Executive Staff. He was responsible for closing the Commerce Department, restructuring the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, creating Enterprise Florida and Workforce Florida, Redesigning the Labor Department, merging the Departments of Administration and General Services into DMS, and much more. But if you were to ask him, he’d simply say he was a guy in a closet office under the stairs.

I met Bob in in 2005 on my first day at ICUF. For our introductory first six hours, we sat in the glowing florescent light of the dreary office building on Monroe Street while he painstakingly walked me through the last fifteen years of ICUF policy stances, and I incessantly flipped a highlighter out of boredom and general fidgeting.

As the years ticked by, Bob and I developed a natural rhythm of working together. He was the big idea man; I was the practical implementation specialist. He would boldly devise plans well ahead of their time, and I would work tirelessly to translate those plans into a language to gain buy-in. He would think nothing of it if it were ignored while I would reel from perceived rejection. He would impart knowledge, and I would eagerly push the envelope. He would humbly push all the credit my way while we both knew I could never have completed the project without his guidance. His presence in my life loomed large both at work and in the chaos of my second marriage. I never felt judged, even when I failed, no matter which arena. We simply assessed the damaged, gathered the lessons to be learned, and focused on the next move.

As a big-picture thinker and future-focused leader, Bob was always ahead of the curve. He conceived problems and their subsequent solutions before others even sounded the alarm. His words and actions provided a powerful example of forging through doubtful voices of others and instead remaining steadfast toward the greater good ahead. Throughout my career, I have harkened back to this sentiment often. Work hard for what you believe in, even when no one appreciates it. They will eventually. Leaders often must perform the hard work of digging the trenches of new ideas, processes, or paths so that others may follow. In the end, if your desire is to leave this world a better place, then you dig, not with resentment of the extra work but with great exhilaration and pride, for you alone can later stand on the bank and revel in the water that flows behind.

While we stayed in touch after I moved from Tallahassee to Tampa, a decade later I still mourn the loss of our daily interaction. The six years we worked directly together did as much to mold my perception of life as any other chapter. He taught me to be steadfast but humble; to be fearless but grounded; to believe in what is possible, even if no one else does.

There is a distinct shift in the energy of the room when Dr. Fred Seamon walks in. It is unclear if it is his mile-wide smile or the warmth in which he greets everyone he meets like an old friend. Either way, Fred is a legend to anyone who has the pleasure of knowing him.

He began his career in late 1960s in the juvenile court system, and over fifty years later, he is still fighting for equality and diversity. While on the graduate faculty at Florida State University (FSU) and at the Pepper Institute on Aging, he conducted several major research studies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in public employment and social and economic disparities among minority elderly populations. His experience includes providing diversity training to law enforcement personnel via the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Senior Leadership Program, the Florida Department of Highway Safety Management Fellows Program, and the Department of Insurance Executive Institute. He was recently an invited participant in the White House Conference Call for African American Stakeholders on COVID-19 and the CARES Act, April 2020.

Fred and I first crossed paths in 2002 when I arrived in Tallahassee as a bubbly doctoral student at Florida State. Active in the campus and broader community, his reputation of kindness-driven leadership proceeded him. However, it was more than a decade later that his impact on my life truly began. In 2018, I joined the consulting firm where he was a legacy employee. While the firm turned into a wilder ride than either of us ever imagined, Fred’s steady guidance was a constant calm I desperately needed. Even after I left the firm, his regular check-ins would bring a smile to my heart knowing I was cared for and cheered on.

All of Fred’s accomplishments pale in comparison to the living, breathing example of leadership he is as a man. He is the first to say yes to any opportunity that will add value to those he cares for, be that his family, company, community, or church. He will never ask of you what he will not do himself. He is the cheerful rally to a team that is down. He is the insightful influencer in times of controversy. And he is a voice of reason during times of distress.

Upon seeking his steady council for a decision weighing heavy on my heart, he was all too willing to put aside his busy schedule to listen, comfort, and reflect. The lessons he shared were powerful reminders. Be confident in the value you add. Set and keep limits on what you can healthily give of yourself. Be willing to walk away from what doesn’t serve you. There is always another door to open.

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

Remember that life comes in chapters. There are no hard and fast rules about when you start something new or when you decide to change directions. Often, we attach far too much self-importance and self-worth to a title or an idea of who we want to be. And then we feel hesitant or ashamed if we want to make a change to that image. But the best parts of life are lived in the fluidity of the moment. Not to say don’t give your all to what is at hand, but rather be self-reflective and self-aware enough to know when a change is warranted and make it. Don’t waste time spinning your wheels in places or on jobs that do not serve you.

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

Empowering women is at the core of my passions. Not only are we subject to many repressive external forces in society and the workplace, but we often have allowed those messages to permeate into our psyches and use them as excuses to have self-doubt and imposter syndrome. I want all humans, but especially those who feel the most vulnerable, to be confident, proud versions of their authentic self. The world would be better for it.

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

I have three really exciting things taking off right now. First, I recently launched my own publishing house called Inked Elephant. In addition to bringing a more encouraging outlet to authors looking to publish their work, Inked Elephant Publishing House, is a social enterprise. I have a personal mission to use the tools at my disposal to make an impact and in this case that is writing and publishing. So for every paid client we have, we also tell pro bono stories of others doing good in the community and the proceeds go back to those causes. We have a goal to tell 10,000 stories by 2025.

Second, my memoir Incongruent; Travel, Trauma, Transformation is in the final editing stages and set to be released in Spring of 2023. I am thrilled to share this very personal story of global travel as my own healing method.

Finally, my consulting firm InPursuit has developed three new workshop series for businesses of all sizes honing in on the new normal in the modern workplace. From Human-Centered Leadership to Understanding the Multi-Generational Workplace, these workshops are highly interactive, full of the latest research and trends and FUN!

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

“We hold the keys to the cages we build around ourselves.” — Me

This phrase was uttered casually, without contemplation, when I was put on the spot for a signature piece of advice. It was a chilly hotel ballroom at a speakers’ conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While I did not know it at the time, this phrase would come to serve as my personal mantra, helping me leave a toxic job, relaunch my company, begin speaking on stages again, and fulfill my passion of writing. When I remind myself that I already have the tools to overcome any obstacle or reach any goal, I can stay calm and keep pushing forward.

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

Be all In. If there is one thing I know for sure about being on stage, it is this. You must be all in. An audience can intangibly feel when you are holding back. When you are not giving them the full version of yourself or your message. I learned this very early in my childhood. I was fortunate to be cast in key roles for most of the productions I auditioned for. Until one day, I was not. I was given a very small part and young ego being what it was, I contemplated quitting. But then I had an instinctual thought, what if I play this small role so well that it is all the audience can talk about. And that is exactly what happened. Every night for weeks, I was the boldest version of that character possible, and the reviews noticed.

Say Yes And… The first rule of improv is to always say yes, and. Never say no. When an actor says no, they shut down the energy and the scene dies. This same concept can be applied to speaking on stages as well. It’s an attitude and a belief that you have the power to overcome any challenge that happens to you on stage. If you forget your words, just say “yes, and” and dig into your expertise to find a new way to connect you back to your words.

Practice but not too much. Practice is a key element to giving a quality presentation. But so is spontaneity and connection. If we practice to a point where we become robotic in our delivery, we will lose the energy and the connection with the audience will be lost.

Tune into your intuition. Speaking of audience, remember they are who you are there for. Their needs and what they WANT to hear should be your focus, not what you want to say. Use your audience research in advance and mingle that with your intuition when you reach the room. Do they need a laugh to lighten the tension? Do they need you to pull pack the curtain and show vulnerability? Get an authentic feel for what the audience is really needing in that moment and give it to them.

Be yourself! Trust me when I say, people can smell a lie from a mile away so just be yourself. I am a full body presenter. I use my arms and hands, I walk back and forth across the stage, I vary my voice, volume, and tone. That is who I am off the stage so it has to be who I am on the stage. I can make small tweaks based on space or microphones but in the end, I strive to always be my authentic self when I am on stage.

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

Outside of the tips above, I would say the most important thing to remember is never let the 1 overpower the 100. In speaking, as in life, we are never going to please everyone. We must keep perspective. It is our natural inclination to focus on the one bored person in the audience playing on their phone. But we can train ourselves to overlook that person and focus on the other 100 in the room. They are with you. They are loving you. Don’t let the 100 down because you are distracted by the one.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would tell people to go out and get dirty. Lots of people talk about impact, but few actually make the time in their lives to get out and do it. Throughout my life, I have followed a guiding principle of outcomes driven, impact focused. Roughly translating to work hard and give back. To that end, I have participated in more than 50 service projects in 20 cities and 3 international locations, not including the thousands of miles I have run or cycled in charity races.

From building houses in Nicaragua to building handicap ramps in Florida; from working on urban farms in Baltimore to working in an Ashram in India, there was no location too far or job too dirty to turn me away if I had the opportunity to help.

And along the way I have worked to be available to mentor others. I have helped mentor more than a dozen successful social enterprise businesses, and dozens of students, writers and speakers. And as much as I hope I have helped others, the truth is, these experiences have enriched my life more than I can express. They have made me the woman I am today.

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

As a fellow author, traveler, childless woman, and survivor of trauma, I have always wanted to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are reading this Elizabeth, I will meet you anywhere in the world and lunch is on me!

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

You can find all my social media, as well as, the InPursuit and Inked Elephant websites at my Linktree https://linktr.ee/MelanieSueHicks

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


Melanie Hicks Of Inked Elephant Publishing House On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective… 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: Sachi Singh Of Rootless On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Pace yourself! You can only lead effectively if your cup is full. Leading from a place of emptiness, burnout or stress behooves no one.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sachi Singh, Rootless Founder and CEO.

With a decade of experience in international climate change solutions across non-profits, academia, and philanthropy, Sachi is well aware of what we’re collectively up against. In seaweed, she found a rare bright spot: a timeless ingredient with transformative potential for health, climate, and local economies. After a year of experimenting with different recipes, she became the founder and CEO of Rootless with the Daily Bite.

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”?

Absolutely! I grew up in Bangalore, India and moved to the US for college when I was 18. I continue to be very close with my parents (who live in Bangalore) and my younger brother (who recently moved to San Francisco, where I currently live). I recently realized that my mom and grandma have influenced the way I think about food and health. Growing up, I never paid much attention to Ayurveda, but I’ve started to think more deeply about it these days. I love and subscribe to the philosophy of food as medicine, consistency, and doing a little bit of good for your body every day.

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

I’m inspired by this quote by Helen Keller — ‘A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.’

This quote reminds me to disentangle the “pursuit of happiness” from “pursuing a life without adversity” and build the muscle of resilience.

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 read Overstory by Richard Powers as I was quitting my job to start Rootless: that book could not have come at a more serendipitous time in my life. Centered around nine human stories, the book gives you a unique insight into the expansive lives and secrets of trees. As I embarked on this journey to reimagine the future of food, this book injected me with deep inspiration — about the resilience of nature and the kindness of the human spirit. Most of all, it made me feel hopeful. After a decade of working in the doom and gloom of climate change, Powers made me realize that stories could inspire people to think and behave differently — maybe even unselfishly.

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?

Reflecting back, I think naivety and passion were the two most powerful tools in my toolkit when I started to build Rootless. I spent a decade of my professional life in the climate and oceans space, so my startup-CPG-food-regulatory learning curve was terribly steep. But when I quit my job, I knew I wanted to get more people to eat and grow sustainably sourced seaweed — with the belief that if we do this right, seaweed could be the future of food and farming. So I just built.

I started with consumer research and mapped out the landscape. Seaweed is such a potent source of nutrition, I wondered why more people don’t eat it in the US. This led me to a few design principles for our first product, The Daily Bite; I actually stumbled upon the base recipe for the bite pretty quickly. I then worked with a product team to commercialize the recipe.

The second big unlock was brand. I knew early on that I wanted to use the power of brand and digital marketing to reorient the customer from thinking about seaweed as only a snack or in sushi, to a real potent source of nutrition. In month 2, I wrote a cold love letter to Emily Heyward at Red Antler, which is arguably the best branding agency in the world. Soon after, we started to work together and built a compelling and coherent brand that I’m very proud of.

With the two brand and product foundations in place, I spent the next few months commercializing the product and working on a go-to-market strategy. After just one year, we launched to the market in January 2022.

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?

  • Step 1: Find a starting point. I would argue that more often than not, entrepreneurs solve for problems they face themselves. This gives them a unique vantage point as they can be “their own first customer.” I would also encourage budding entrepreneurs to try to solve real problems instead of starting a company for the sake of it. It is a hard, fraught journey, and being deeply committed to your starting point will help you weather the storms.
  • Step 2: Talk to google, talk to people. I think diligent and extensive market research is critical. Define the pain point sharply; who else is experiencing this pain point? What is the profile of this person? Where do they live? What would make their lives easier etc.
  • Step 3: find your unique POV. This is where step 1 comes in handy. If you do enough market research, and you are solving for a problem you experience yourself, you will likely have a unique perspective on how to solve it. Successful innovation is about the idea of course, but it is equally if not more in the execution. Even if someone has “had the idea” you have, you can still be successful if you bring the idea to market and/or scale innovatively.

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.

Launching a physical product, especially food, is understandably more complex and takes more time than a tech product. Here are a few broad buckets:

  • Legal: First off, ensure you incorporate your company, register in the state you plan to do business, file a trademark for your brand name and wordmark.
  • Product: once you have a base recipe, you might have to work with food scientists to commercialize the recipe if you’re selling a consumer-packaged-good product that needs to be shelf stable.
  • Feedback and more feedback: highly highly recommend force feeding friends, family, anyone who is willing to try your product to get feedback while you’re in product development. Fun fact: if you’re successful, you will always be in product development!
  • Commercialize: once you feel good and ready with your product, you will likely need a manufacturing facility where you can either make the product yourself or one that will make the product for you. Finding the right co-man is key, as they are ultimately responsible for the product you launch with.
  • Packaging: this has the longest lead times, and always takes more time than you think it will. Ensure you run your final packaging by a lawyer to ensure you’re FDA compliant.
  • Go-to-market: All the while, you will need to think about how you want to sell your product. We decided to sell direct-to-consumer, so put a lot of time and energy into building our brand and website. Shopify is a great plug-and-play option for entrepreneurs looking to launch a digitally native brand. There is a lot that goes into a go-to-market strategy, but primarily, I would recommend: mapping out your customer persona (who are they, where can you find them, who do they trust), deciding the marketing channels you’re going to launch with (Instagram? Tiktok? Influencer marketing? Referrals? Facebook ads) and set aside a budget to test and learn.
  • Launch! Easy peasy. And this is just the beginning…

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

  1. Treat your naivety as an asset and not as a liability. I’m actually grateful for the naivety I went into this Rootless with; if I had known how difficult it would be, I would’ve thought long and hard before taking the leap into entrepreneurship.
  2. Physical packaging and product take a LOT more time than you think they will take.
  3. Feedback — especially the critical feedback — is a gift. As a founder, you need to take time to learn what your customers like and do not like about your product and brand.
  4. Nothing will be easy, but nothing will be more fulfilling. When you decide to start a company, you are running from one fire to the next. Get comfortable putting out the fires with the least amount of damage done.
  5. Pace yourself! You can only lead effectively if your cup is full. Leading from a place of emptiness, burnout or stress behooves no one.

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 I’ve answered this question above.

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?

An early piece of advice I got when I was trying to commercialize my own recipe was: you don’t know what you don’t know. I think it is critical to surround yourself with the appropriate expertise when you’re starting to build a company or product. This can be in the form of paid consultants or mentors and advisors, but it is incredibly important to ensure you’re designing and deploying with technical experts.

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

Ah this is a tough question but it is entirely dependent on who the entrepreneur is, what kind of business they’re building, and what kind of access to capital they have. IF you have access to personal or family financial resources, bootstrapping is one way to build a prototype of the product and find product market fit. You can build what and how you want because you’re building with your own money. Early stage venture capital allows you to hire the right people to help bring your idea to life — but the expectations around growth can be shaped by your investor.

I think there’s no right or wrong way to do it, however the real issue is that not ALL people can access either form of capital to get their business off the ground. Women, and especially women of color, are notoriously underfunded by venture capitalists. Bootstrapping presumes some level of financial comfort.

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

It’s only been seven months since we’ve launched, so I can’t claim to have had huge success or impact just quite yet. That being said, I am extremely proud of the company we’ve built. We are hearing real feedback about how the Daily Bites are impacting peoples’ health — from improved energy levels and digestion to better thyroid health. Despite our size and stage, I believe we are a key player in the hyperlocal seaweed economy in the United States, and have the opportunity to shape the future of the industry. This is incredibly exciting to me.

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 are trying to inspire people to think differently about food, their health, and planetary health, all through seaweed. Seaweed is a uniquely abundant and nutritious crop that actively regenerates the environment in which its grown — making the ocean healthier for marine flora and fauna while potentially mitigating the impacts of climate change. However, less than 2% of the seaweed we eat in the US comes from within the country. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and shape this burgeoning blue economy and avoid the mistakes we made with land-based agriculture. We hope anyone reading will join us in this movement to make seaweed the future of food and farming!

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 love to have lunch with and learn from Kirsten Green, Founder and MD of Forerunner Ventures. I have been following her career and forecasts for a few years now — she has always been on the cutting edge of next-generation consumer concepts. I would love to pick her brain about how to build a brand that can inspire a true food systems transformation.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Sachi Singh Of Rootless 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.

Dr. Cindy McGovern Of Orange Leaf Consulting On Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved…

Dr. Cindy McGovern Of Orange Leaf Consulting On Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Examine the core values behind the company’s brand. It is increasingly important to customers to buy from businesses that share their values and to employees to work for an organization that has compatible values.

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

Dr. Cindy McGovern is the founder of Orange Leaf Consulting, which helps organizations, entrepreneurs, and individuals create dynamic and robust sales processes. Before launching her business, McGovern was a college professor of communication as well as a successful sales professional. She has worked with hundreds of organizations of all sizes and specialties across the globe and is now one of the most sought-after business and sales authorities.

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

I actually started my career as a college professor. That was my goal and why I went to grad school, but after a few years of teaching, I decided to take my experience in the fields of communication and education to the next level and joined a consulting firm. One day my boss told me he wanted to move me into sales, and I literally said, “Ick!” But he convinced me to give it a try and I realized that I had been selling my entire life. I just didn’t know it was “sales.” A lightbulb went off and I realized I needed to help others to come to the realization that sales is not just a business skill; it is a life skill. Eventually, I started my own business consulting firm to help companies grow by enlisting their entire teams as salespeople and as ambassadors for their businesses. That led me to write my first book, Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. As I traveled around the country speaking on that topic, I often talked about creating a personal brand as a way to sell yourself — in a decidedly “non-icky” way. That led to other speeches about empowering people to live their personal brands. That brought me to write a book on personal branding. It just came out. It’s called: Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live, and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand.

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 thought I could look back at this story and laugh one day, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. So this is more of a cautionary tale than a funny story. Personal branding, at its core, is a sales and marketing tool. When I was working on my Ph.D., I didn’t really have a personal brand. Or, I should say, I thought I didn’t. I have long, blonde hair, and I enjoy getting dressed up and trying to look my best every day. Just weeks before I was set to graduate, one of my favorite professors pulled me aside to tell me that some of the people I had worked alongside for many years as I earned my degree might have stereotyped me into sort of a “dumb blonde” mold. I was so stunned; “dumb blonde?” I was about to get Ph.D.! They weren’t basing that impression on anything I did; it was all about my appearance! But that was a true a-ha moment for me. I realized that I needed to control the narrative about who am I and what I can do. I had never thought about a personal brand back then, but I quickly realized that if I didn’t create one for myself — and live it every day — others were going to decide for themselves what my brand is. So I created a personal brand that focused on how I always have been: professional, prepared, smart, educated, serious.” I didn’t cut my hair; I cut out the middleman when it came to deciding who I was and what I was I was “selling.” I never want anyone to even think for a second that I am a dumb blonde.

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

The thing that makes my company, Orange Leaf Consulting, stand out among our competitors is my own personal brand. I do a lot of coaching with company owners and their employees. As part of my practice, I strictly adhere to my personal brand, which includes, among other qualities, “honest, helpful, kind, in it for the client.” I am kind to people, and sometimes that means being willing to tell someone that their baby is ugly.

Some clients want me to come in and coach one or two times and that’s it, but I won’t do that because in the end, that really won’t help the business grow. Coaching is a process that begins with an evaluation of the company and its staff — and with coaching for the leaders, not just the employees. I could have agreed take these shortcuts and then sent my invoice and washed my hands of it, but I won’t do that. I’ve turned away potential clients because they’re not all in — and I know I won’t be able to help a business grow if the owner/leaders aren’t committed to it. I’d rather walk away from the sale than sell them something that won’t work. If there’s one thing that sells, it’s honesty, helpfulness, kindness and a focus on the client. That’s what sets me apart.

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

I’m so very excited about my new book, Sell Yourself. I wrote it because I wanted to help people with all the changes in the world right now. During the worst of the pandemic, millions of people quit their jobs as part of the Great Resignation. Now, those people are returning to their old jobs (the Great Regret), finding new ones, starting businesses, changing fields — basically starting over. Whenever someone is starting out or has new goals, it’s so important to create a powerful personal brand (the Great Rebranding?). Personal branding helps us sell ourselves during job interviews, for promotions and raises, and even to new and old friends and co-workers. This book will help readers realize that selling themselves actually involves making a sale. The most important sales tool we have in our effort to sell ourselves is our personal brand. Sell Yourself takes readers through creating a brand that is authentic, thoughtful and easy to live day in and day out. Then it stresses the importance of living that brand very consistently. And finally, it convinces readers that they need to use that brand to sell themselves — which is the most important sale they’ll ever make. So the book teaches them how to sell using the strategies of sales professionals.

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

Product marketing focuses on the features and benefits of the product or service you are selling. Brand marketing, to me, involves the story we tell about the product, the company or even ourselves. Stories sell. A great example is advertising for SUVs. I’ve seen ads for the same car that tell two completely different stories about it because the manufacturer wants to sell that car to two different audiences. In both ads, the maker is selling how roomy the vehicle is. But one ad shows an outdoorsy friend group fitting their mountain bikes into it while the other focuses on a young couple with a baby, a car seat, a stroller and a diaper bag. Same car — different story. Stories sell, and that’s an important truth not only for selling stuff but for selling people. Company leaders with thoughtful personal brands know how to present themselves in the best light to their own employees; to tell stories about their experiences, values and goals, and to use their personal brands to reflect well on the company. People — including employees — like to “buy” from people they know, like and trust. A company leader who presents as knowable, likable and trustworthy will have an easier time keeping employees loyal and motivating them to move the company forward than a leader with no stories to tell.

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

I’d like to talk about why it’s important for individuals and employers to invest resources and energy into building their own personal brands. I’m being asked more and more frequently by business owners and leaders to coach their employees about personal branding. Businesses are realizing that the way their employees present themselves both on and off the job has a lot to do with their companies’ bottom line. An employee who complains on social media about a bad day at work can scare potential employees away. One who publicly disagrees with company policies can sour customers on the business’s brand. On the other hand, those who use their personal social media to be a brand ambassador for their employers does the opposite. And workers who talk up the company to friends, or other parents at a child’s soccer game — while keeping any negative thoughts to themselves — are building goodwill for the company in the community. Businesses can hire personal branding consultants to help their employees create personal brands that incorporate the company’s values and missions and that include “brand ambassador” as one of their own brand qualities. That strengthens the business’s brand.

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

First, examine the core values behind the company’s brand. It is increasingly important to customers to buy from businesses that share their values and to employees to work for an organization that has compatible values. Second, teach employees how to become brand ambassadors for the company. Create social media policies that ensure employees either do not post about work on their private accounts or that encourage them to promote the positive aspects of their jobs and the company’s brands. Third, recognize that every job is a sales job, no matter if the word “selling” does not appear in an employee’s job description. Train employees to make “unofficial sales” for the company by incorporating the company’s values into their own personal brands. Fourth, tell stories, and not just about products. Tell the stories of employees and customers who bring something special to the company’s brand or who have benefitted from it. Finally, ask every supervisor, manager and leader to live the company’s brand day in and day out. If the bosses do not model the company’s vision and values, employees and customers won’t buy into the brand — which could reflect poorly on product sales.

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?

Trader Joe’s is a great example of a company with a powerful brand. Ask anyone who works or shops there and they will recognize the grocery chain’s brand as “fun, quirky, easy to navigate, specialized, high quality, generic, red and reasonably priced.” They didn’t copy other grocery industry leaders, whose products are similar but whose brands are very serious and blander. But what I love best about Trader Joe’s brand is that it revolves not only around making happy customers but around employee satisfaction. It’s often mentioned as a great place to work by magazines. It expects employees to make the customer experience fun and in turn focuses on employee engagement. Think about it: Have you ever seen a Trader Joe’s commercial? Nope … because you don’t need to advertise a good party!

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?

It’s different. You can measure the success of your brand by the number of people you help and influence. You can measure it by the number of people who understand your mission, values, goals and philosophies. Success in branding is not as much about sales as it is about awareness. Do people say what you hope they will when they talk about your company and its products? Do they say what you hope they will say about you personally? Pay attention to that. When what you intend to present to others about your company or yourself is what others mirror back about you, that’s a true measure of success.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

I brand myself in two ways: as the founder and CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting and Orange Leaf Academy and as the author of two books that I hope can help people live happier, more successful lives. So I have two social media footprints: one to let everyone know about my consulting services, which contains content to help my clients grow their businesses; and the other to promote my books and help readers grow personally and professionally. I post on both frequently and I stick to my personal brand of “professional, qualified, helpful, kind and client-first” on both. I use social media not only to promote my services and books, but to offer tips, articles and retweets from others who can help them in business and in life.

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

I would change the way people look at sales and take the “ick” out of it. Sure, some sales professionals are manipulative, pushy and even dishonest, but most absolutely are not. The reason it’s important for people to embrace sales is that if we all knew how to sell — even those who are not in the field of sales at all — we could use those skills and strategies to sell ourselves, sell our causes and sell for our companies — in an unofficial capacity. The fact is, everybody sells all the time. When you convince your child to eat vegetables, you have made a sale. When you request a raise at work and you get it, you’ve made a sale. When you ace a job interview and land the position, it’s a sale. When a client of your company who can get your product cheaper elsewhere but sticks with your business because of the way you treat her, you’ve made a sale. If everyone were comfortable selling themselves based on a personal brand that showcases their superpowers — the things about them that most others don’t have — we would all be happier and more successful. We are a stronger world when everybody brings their superpowers to the table.

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

I say all the time that nobody does this life alone. Everyone needs help with something, some time. Most of us need a lot of help from a lot of people. We need friends, colleagues, employees, relatives, neighbors, experts — so many people. But too many of us refuse to ask for help. Part of my personal brand is that I’m the first one to ask for help with projects that require different skills from mine, with expertise that is in a different field from mine, with technology that is more complicated than I have the skills for. I work with editors, social media specialists, videographers, webmasters and on and on. I don’t have the knowledge or the time to do everything myself. My motto: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I encourage everyone to ask for help often. Your product will be better if you do, and the people whose help you enlist will appreciate your asking them.

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. 🙂

Dolly Parton. She also has been accused of being a dumb blonde — and there’s not a dumb bone in that woman’s body. She even wrote a song called “Dumb Blonde.” I love this lyric:

“Just because I’m blonde
Don’t think I’m dumb
Cause this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool”

Dolly Parton has perhaps the most visible and reliable personal brand of anyone in the world. When you think of her, you think big voice and bigger hair. Sparkly outfits. Funny and kind. When you see her on talk shows, that’s what you get. When you go to her concerts, same thing. Every single time. She has been quoted saying that she doesn’t wash her makeup off her face before she goes to bed because in case of an emergency that forces her out of her house or hotel room, she doesn’t want the firefighters and onlookers to see her looking like anything other than the Dolly Parton they know and love. She lives her brand, even in her sleep. I respect that!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DrCindyMcGovern/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/1stladyofsales

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/1stladyofsales/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaDspQq6WXDPJq3IAMAs9pg/featured

TikTok: @1stLadyofSales

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


Dr. Cindy McGovern Of Orange Leaf Consulting On Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Grant Powell Of Curios On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t be afraid of failures and don’t lie to yourself about when you have failed. Embrace that failure as a new notch on your belt in terms of knowing what not to do and directing you on a narrower path that is more certain to be successful. Don’t try to hang on to something that’s failing and let it go as fast as possible and move on to the next thing. For example, the original vision for Curios was to not only be for digital collectibles, but also physical collectibles. We realized that the two don’t mesh well, so we pivoted to only focus on digital assets.

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

Grant Powell is the Founder of Curios, professional numismatist, and an ex-Googler. An expert in developing some of the most innovative technologies and digital products, some of Grant’s highlights include the first-ever live streaming platform for YouTube (for concerts such as U2, Alicia Keys, Coachella) and the first-ever application to integrate with Spotify’s web API for matching people based on their similar tastes in music. Grant is knowledgeable in a wide range of programming languages as well as being an expert in design and artistic direction.

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 been a technologist since forever, 20 plus years now and as far back as the days when we used to have things such as “interactive agencies.” I started almost entirely self-taught and was able to get an internship early on at a company called Vision Art Interactive. Ever since then, I have been addicted to not just technology, but turning technologies into viable products that people enjoy using. I’ve incubated and launched several startups over the years, including Curiously (not to be confused with Curios), which is a music dating app and was the first app to ever integrate with Spotify’s Web API. I also built the first ever peer-to-peer lending platform called YouPawn, and the first ever live streaming experiences for YouTube –

which featured Alicia Keys, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Paul McCartney and many more live performances.

I am also a very serious collector and numismatist. In fact, I am the number one numismatist in the U.S. on Google searches (look it up). As a collector, I was very excited to learn about NFTs, and the ability to collect digital things. but, I was dismayed at how difficult it was. So I decided to build my own platform that would make it easier for people to create, sell, buy, and collect NFTS. That’s why I started Curios.

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

Our purpose is to drive mass adoption. We want anyone and everyone to be able to participate in Web3, blockchain and NFT experiences. It seems in this industry; people prioritize things such as the illusion of decentralization over inclusion and ease of use. Everything that we are building is for the purpose of lowering the barrier to entry, and making it easier for people to either create, or integrate them into their business, or invest in them.

We were one of the first ever NFT platforms to accept fiat or credit card payments as a means of purchasing NFTs and storing those NFTs in custody wallets so that users don’t have to go through the extremely complicated process of setting up their own crypto wallet. Many people pushed back on our implementation of these technologies initially, and now it seems literally every software or platform in our space is doing the same.

Ultimately, the most disruptive thing that we are doing is our vision itself — our vision of making things easy. One of our most disruptive features is our multi chain support. Using our simple web back end, anyone with zero knowledge of programming or blockchain can create / mint NFTs across six different blockchains in a matter of minutes. Our most powerful tool that anyone can use is our REST API which, for example, enables anyone who understands basic programming to be able to mint NFTs across the same blockchains with one simple API call. There is no other platform in the world who can offer that.

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

I’ve been doing this a long time and one of the blessings I’ve experienced in growing Curios, compared to the other startups I’ve been involved in, is that we have made very few mistakes.

I guess you might call it a mistake that we used to pitch potential customers on things that we had not built yet and our vision of those things were often half-baked. For example, we used to talk about “private blockchain” functionality and how that was an important feature of our platform. And what’s funny is that I don’t even think a private blockchain is really a thing. Or maybe it is, by someone’s definition, but certainly not something in the that way we were pitching it. In the long run, I don’t think this was a mistake, as it was valuable for us to be constantly pushing out new visions for features that we intended to build into our application; whether or not you stick with those initial visions does not matter. In fact, much of what you originally envisioned for your company will not happen — you will pivot, and that is good.

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’m always amazed by how much people are willing to help. And oftentimes, they ask nothing in return. We would have nothing if it wasn’t for our incredible advisors, mentors, and investors!

Jenny Fielding (co-founder of The Fund, and former managing director of Techstars NY) has been a guiding light for us since day one. In the world of tech startups these days, it’s not just about the technology — you need to make sure that you are building a product for the future. Jenny has seen hundreds, probably thousands of company ideas over her tenure in the startup world, and she knows exactly which things you need to focus on to build for success. There is no replacement for her level of experience and her lending us that experience has helped us stay focused and has largely contributed to our success to date. Jenny was the one who nudged me into the NFT space.

Dan Rice (co-founder and CTO of Bling Financial) is not only a technology genius, but an incredible problem solver. He has this uncanny ability to look at problems and situations from multiple perspectives, and offer a way forward that is unprecedented, efficient, and will ultimately leads to winning. Dan and I chat regularly and about once every three months, he’ll just drop a golden nugget of an idea into my brain that will lead to a great path of success. One time Dan even joined an early sales call with us to answer technical questions that we were uncertain about — we won the pitch!

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?

It’s true that disruption is not always positive. However, you can’t have the good without the bad. Disruption is necessary and we must endure the downsides of bad disruption in order to be able to reap the benefits of good disruption. It’s hard to know what type of disruption will be bad until it has occurred, as hindsight is always 20/20. Instead of asking whether you’re doing “good” disruption or “bad” disruption, try asking yourself “What problem are you solving?” One of the classic mistakes by startups is that they’re creating a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. If you are disrupting something, make sure you are doing it with the intention of solving an actual problem that does in fact…exist!

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

Make your first dollar! One of the biggest reasons why we were able to raise money fast at a good valuation is because we have revenue and traction. But even more important is the fact that by pursuing that first dollar, you’re getting over the hump of building something that someone is willing to pay for. And that is a critical validator.

Progress, not perfection — many people will spend months or years envisioning what their product could be and want to have the perfect vision before they start building their product. I do the opposite. I start writing code and when my face is in the mud because what we built was built completely wrong, then I know with certainty exactly how it should have been built…and then I go rebuild it that way. If you were able to look at the past version of our website, it was embarrassing! Even our current website has a lot of room for improvement, but I don’t care. I could spend six months perfecting the next version but by the time I launch it, it will be outdated and irrelevant, and we will have to start the process again. Take baby steps to always improve and iterate infinitely.

Fail fast — this is a popular and important one. Don’t be afraid of failures and don’t lie to yourself about when you have failed. Embrace that failure as a new notch on your belt in terms of knowing what not to do and directing you on a narrower path that is more certain to be successful. Don’t try to hang on to something that’s failing and let it go as fast as possible and move on to the next thing. For example, the original vision for Curios was to not only be for digital collectibles, but also physical collectibles. We realized that the two don’t mesh well, so we pivoted to only focus on digital assets.

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

Oh man, there is so much to do! As a Web3 suite of tools, our toolbox is never full. There are new tools that will be needed that we can’t even imagine yet, and I really look forward to building them in the future!

The way we are shaking things up is by bringing back democratization to digital assets. The future of blockchain, NFTs, metaverse, etc. is inclusive, easy to use, and open.

I often describe an NFT marketplace or a metaverse as a “walled garden.” Each of these walled gardens can only operate within itself. They often have their own currency, their own information format and any asset that you buy or collect within their ecosystem is stuck there — and cannot be taken anywhere else. We’re working on building open protocols that would create interoperability between each of these ecosystems so that digital assets could move freely — thereby significantly increasing their value and utility. So far everyone is telling us this can’t be done, and I think they are wrong.

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 don’t have a book or podcast specifically that I would recommend. However, I do believe that it is paramount that you are always reading, listening, absorbing, and learning. But don’t always take what you read or hear as truth. You must take everything with a grain of salt and formulate your own ideas and paths forward. It will be these unique ideas and approaches of your own that will differentiate you from everybody else, and lead to your success.

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

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch! It makes me cringe when I hear people talking about something as if it’s already happened when I know in fact that there are a lot of ways in which this thing could not happen. Even something as simple as selling a house — if someone has made you an offer on your house, it is far from a done deal. Don’t bank on it.

One example of this for Curios is that we way overestimated our growth predictions initially and signed up for some services that we needed to use and ended up paying a huge amount of money up front in order to get a discount on a high-volume implementation. When that growth did not happen, we ultimately spent money for nothing. Lesson learned. In simple terms, consider licensing something monthly instead of paying for an annual license at a discount. You may find out after a couple months that you no longer need that thing.

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. 🙂

Of all the problems in the world, the one thing that keeps me up at night is the destruction of our own planet. We need to protect nature and one idea that I have for that is to continue to build vertical cities instead of horizontal cities. If we can centralize humans into smaller regions, we can limit our impact on the rest of the world and leave nature alone to flourish. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation in the way of building efficient, highly populated, vertical cities. Have at it!

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/grantpowell

https://www.twitter.com/grantpowell

https://www.grantpowell.com

https://www.curios.com

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


Meet The Disruptors: Grant Powell Of Curios On The Five 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.

Meet The Disruptors: Joe Ferrer Of Mailbox Money Community Foundation On The Five Things You Need…

Meet The Disruptors: Joe Ferrer Of Mailbox Money Community Foundation On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

I personally also think about my own faith and focus on that, and I value the people around me, who help me make this bigger and better. And we just do the work, together.

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

Joe Ferrer seeks to enrich the lives of others through micro-philanthropy. After years of giving and then hosting his own ‘random acts of kindness day’ on his 40th birthday, Joe identified a gap in the philanthropy world. People wanted to give, especially towards kindness, but they didn’t believe their donations would make an impact. He sought to fill that gap by making it easier for people to amplify their giving through a nonprofit called Mailbox Money Community Foundation (Mailbox Money). As the founder, he has helped distribute random acts of kindness to over 550 people in 18 months by engaging over 400 individual donors. This community of like-minded individuals has given away over $50K.

In his professional life, Joe is a Financial Advisor, celebrating 20 years in the profession. His successful career and personal journey inspired Joe to become an author. Joe shares the secrets of his success in his best-selling book Mailbox Money and he talks about living a life of purpose in the best-selling sequel, Journey to the 5th.

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 came from humble beginnings. I moved a lot. Sometimes money was super tight at home. I saw credit used as an extension of a paycheck rather than a tool to be careful with.

I knew from an early age that I didn’t want to have to fight to make ends meet and I didn’t want to struggle the way my parents did, so I learned how to be a frugal person.

Fortunately, I worked hard and ended up receiving a full football scholarship to Notre Dame. I’m really proud of that honor, but outside of that feeling I got on the field, I was able receive an incredible education. Another football player that is a Financial Advisor reached out to me and that’s how I chose my career, Financial Advising — because it spoke to my passion to be financially free and help others realize that gift as well.

Over the past several years, I’ve seen an explosion in my career and that led me to doing some wild things like authoring two best-selling books, and founding a nontraditional nonprofit, Mailbox Money Community Foundation aka Mailbox Money.

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

I admit, it’s not uncommon for a Financial Advisor to get into nonprofit work. Many are philanthropic givers and volunteers.

I think the difference is that I founded a nontraditional nonprofit that is truly disruptive. People are tired of giving the same way old, rich people give. But who said you have to be rich to be a giver? No one. It’s a lie people tell themselves! You don’t have to be rich to give. And people are looking for a way to give that speaks to them. So, this nonprofit, Mailbox Money, helps the “I’m not rich” people amplify their giving through micro-donations.

You asked how it’s distruptive. We shake things up.

First of all, members donate $10 every month. It won’t break the bank. Secondly, if anyone can give, then anyone can receive a random act of kindness. Why? Everyone needs kindness. So, we don’t only give to people in need, which is what most nonprofits do. Third, we don’t have a specific cause. Today we may surprise an animal shelter with $2,000 worth of supplies from their wish list. Tomorrow we may end up crashing someone’s home closing with a $500 gift. We give to all kinds of causes. Mailbox Money members are changing the world $10 at a time with impactful random acts of kindness.

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?

Ha! I remember thinking everyone would see a $10 monthly donation and automatically join the Mailbox Money community. I didn’t realize that even doing good is a competitive landscape and getting people to understand the impact and want to join would be so difficult.

The lesson I learned, is just do the work. The right people will find you when they’re supposed to.

Too often we get caught up in “right now”, but that’s because social and really society now, teaches immediate gratification. It’s just not reality when you’re running a nonprofit.

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?

We do all need help along the way. I’ve had a lot of people pour into me.

I think about Kevin Swan, Titus, Geoff Voorhees, Jerry Abbey.

The biggest thing is that you need to believe in yourself, but when you see someone else’s belief in you, from their vantage point, that’s an encouraging and motivating gift. I don’t think people understand the value of a mentor. When they give you their time, energy, and spend time with you, giving you access to their brain… Man, it makes a difference.

I remember one situation where my mentor drilled into me that you gotta keep your eye on the goal, even when it’s hard. Even when it feels like you can’t dig anymore, you dig harder and deeper. But that only works if you believe in yourself more than anyone else. That accountability and belief makes a difference. I’m encouraged when I see the faces and hear the stories of recipients of our acts of kindness. And when our members see those stories and know they helped make that happen, it just reaffirms what we are doing. It encourages me to keep digging.

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

Disruption can be good, and it can be bad, based on the long-term effects.

Disruption is good when you give people access to experience something they couldn’t before — and that thing is good. So Instacart, Mailbox Money, etc. It’s cool that your average person can have someone else grocery shop for them, right? It’s cool that we’ve been able to show people that they can give even if they’re not giving thousands of dollars. They can still make a difference.

Now, of course disruption can be bad when you break down a system to make it cheaper, but you also decrease the value of the service, product, or quality of life. For example, our patience and attention are growing smaller. Why? Because we have disruptions in industries we don’t think make an impact — but they do. Like being able to binge watch a TV show. Once a week, my youngest son and I sit down and watch the new episode of Bel-Air. My son knows we are gonna watch it and then talk about it. It’s one of our weekly times spent together. But if we sat down and watched it in one shot over two days, that weekly experience goes away, and it’s cheapened by just getting through the show. Even Netflix seems to be reigning some of that back — they did two releases of the new Stranger Things season. Disney+ is releasing episodes one at a time too.

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

When I think about best words of advice I’ve gotten, just a couple come to mind quickly. Someone once told me to “just do the work” and I think about that all the time. Sometimes we want things to happen in a certain way we’ve imagine or at a certain time, but if you just keep your head down and do the work, things will happen when they’re supposed to.

I personally also think about my own faith and focus on that, and I value the people around me, who help me make this bigger and better. And we just do the work, together.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is kind of crazy because I have not thought of it like this until now. I think Mailbox Money has made me a better giver and a better person, because I’m trying to be that kind person, and do good for others, and make a difference. Like I’m embodying the change I’m pursuing in the world. I wonder if when we are pursuing something, in our personal or professional lives, if we end up changing to embody that goal or greater good we seek.

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

We want to go global. We’re in 19 states right now. However, I think we are made for more. I think Mailbox Money will make a massive difference, especially in areas where our money goes further. I think about the impact $10 can make in an international environment and how that will feel to the givers. Being able to see what your giving can do is important.

So, I want to speak to the global community of people that are looking for a more affordable way to give. I want those people to understand there’s an opportunity for them with us at Mailbox Money.

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?

Oh man, I’m a reader. I love a good book, one that really tells a story and gives a lesson. Actually, Mailbox Money was a book before it was a nonprofit. The sequel to Mailbox Money is Journey to the 5th, which really digs into community giving. So yeah, I would say a lot of books influenced me on this journey — the journey of becoming an author and the journey of creating this disruptive nonprofit.

I think about The Alchemist, Celestine Prophecy, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Who Moved My Cheese? These are crucial books that bring you on a journey and tell a story. I really enjoy that style of writing, it makes me feel like I’m on a trip, my own journey and I’m learning these crucial, life-changing philosophies. Even with Rich Dad, Poor Dad, man, it’s just teaching in a unique way. I think I’ve retained a lot of what I learned because of that style of storytelling. Even the way I parent, the way I coach kids in football…

So, it’s not just the lessons I’ve learned…and there’s lessons in each of those books. For me, it’s about the storytelling in each of those books. That’s how you impact someone. You have to capture them with your storytelling and take them on that personal journey.

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

“What the mind can conceive, it can achieve.” The idea of believing. Having faith.

See it. Think about it. Believe in it. It may take a long time but it’s within your grasp.

The beauty of mastering your mind and training it to take you to where you want to be and then FURTHER. That’s the beautiful part of it when you go even further.

Think about Walt Disney. I’m sure a lot of what he envisaged has come to life, but I bet there is so much more now than even he imagined. Did Walt Disney imagine Disney Cruise Lines? Ya know? Did he imagine owning a private island for Disney’s cruise guests? His vision propelled the brand even further than his mind could fathom.

So, yeah, see it, think about it, believe in it. What the mind can conceive, it can achieve.

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 Mailbox Money is that movement for me. That’s why I founded the nonprofit. We help people amplify their giving because we truly believe in a world where everyone can be a giver. And I genuinely believe we can get there by organized micro-philanthropy, but the best part is that if we can accomplish that, we will create a happier, more generous, kind, and united society — and we need that now more than ever. Not just here, but everywhere.

Think about it. Members of one global organization committed to giving in kindness, from the United States, Denmark, South Africa, Australia, Japan, India, Brazil, and the list is endless. Everyone contributing to random acts of kindness all over the world. That’s the vision. And someone here is doing something incredible for someone in Romania. And someone in Romania is doing something awesome for someone in Mexico. That’s the synergy we’re going for. That’s the potential.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Instagram @Global_Mailbox_Money, on Facebook and TikTok at @GlobalMailboxMoney

That’s where we post our giving videos, and our fireside chats where we really dig into giving, mailbox money and micro-philanthropy.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Joe Ferrer Of Mailbox Money Community Foundation 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.

The Future Is Now: Locke Brown Of NuID On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech…

The Future Is Now: Locke Brown Of NuID On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Not only do we believe the verification incentive is a good strategy, the rollout of the token itself is a way to get NuID into the hands of individuals globally.

As a part of our series on cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Locke Brown, CEO and Founder of NuID.

Locke’s passion has always been pursuing greater efficiency in society’s most elemental interaction: exchange. It’s what drove him headfirst into mining Bitcoin in 2013, and to join the trading desk at Bill Gates’ private investment office, BMGI, in 2014.

While obtaining a B.A. in Mathematics and Economics and an M.A. in Finance from Claremont McKenna College, Locke developed software at Google and served countless roles at a multi-asset class-emerging market fund in Mongolia. He went on to co-found the blockchain working group internal to BMGI, which ultimately led him to recognize digital identity as the key area for foundational improvement necessary to usher in the next paradigm of global exchange.

Locke’s founding and leadership role at NuID has earned him board positions at a number of early and mid-stage startups in biotechnology, healthcare, and higher education. His earnest drive for efficient exchange extends to knowledge transfer and experience sharing across organizational boundaries, which he finds the key to effective exchange of the most valuable resource of all: time.

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

My pleasure. There’s definitely not a single defining story that led me here — it was the culmination of many things including my interests and focus in math, finance, technology, and probably spending too much time in the crypto world in its early days. A lot of armchair philosophizing as well. But the most relevant story I guess, and I’ll keep this short, was serendipitously meeting Nolan Smith in Seattle when hiking one day. He was college friends with a high school friend of mine who came out to visit and ended up bringing us together. The rest is history. I was working at Bill Gates’ family office. He was at Microsoft. We ended up going down countless rabbit holes multiple days a week to the point we built out my basement and acquired four or five whiteboards — that’s where the magic happened, no question. That’s where the vision was born: in the cave, as we called it. Not sure if the best stories are PG though.

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

Definitely not… I’m joking. But really there are so many crazy things that have happened in the 5.5 years since NuID began and even more going back further. I can share some of the stories from my time in Mongolia at another point because those are probably the most interesting. Honestly though, this is a tough one because something interesting happens in my life almost every day (ask anyone I work with!).

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

So our core innovation/technology, “the NuID protocol”, provides what we call “zero knowledge authentication”. But I should back up for a second and give a tiny bit of context: our goal is to return data ownership to the individual by providing the tools for ordinary people to use cryptography in such a way that is easy and allows them to control their information online. We’re effectively a digital identity company, paving a way for people to have a self-owned — or sovereign — single digital representation of themselves that’s portable from service to service and allows them to control what and with whom anything is shared. Now this comes in many steps but our core tech (or secret sauce) is our approach from the authentication vector. If I could authenticate myself as someone else online, then that digital representation is useless because it can be compromised. So in solving digital identity, we first have to fix the way individuals are authenticated, which is what our core tech accomplishes.

The solution generates user-owned web credentials by converting authentication credentials into public ZKP parameters and persisting them using a blockchain. The solution is so-called “zero-knowledge” because no one, not even NuID, has the ability to see people’s login credentials: they never leave the user’s device. We’ll get into the broader implications of the solution, but people stand to benefit as it creates a portable and user-owned identity platform. We’ll talk a lot more about this in a few minutes. We’ve got a couple of whitepapers on our site that go into the detail, the code in our repo, and if you’re really curious you can look up our patents to see how it all works.

How do you think this might change the world?

I know it’s bold to say but the core of what we are trying to do will upend so many aspects of life: not just for industries but it will fundamentally change the way everyone interacts with the internet and digital services. At the most basic level: say goodbye to “forgot my password” sloggery and the chance of getting that cringeworthy email “SO AND SO HAS HAD A DATA BREACH AND YOUR DATA IS COMPROMISED”. Imagine having a handful or less of secure passwords that you know aren’t sitting out there somewhere waiting to be compromised, and being able to use them for everything.

I look at what we’ve built as a foundational protocol fit for giants to stand on. It’s a utility, much like your water or power providers in that it will work, you can rely on it, and you won’t have to think about or worry if it is going to be there for you in the morning. Even the way it’s designed is such that if for whatever reason NuID as a company disappears, the technology and credentials by it will persist.

Now it also has the wonderful benefit of unlocking so many other efficiencies: it’s really the missing piece (trusted user owned and portable identity) for so many other things: think digitized real estate titles (sorry, title search companies!), digital voting, and it’s the solution to the regulatory issue of the moment in the crypto world: NuID provides a solution for privacy-preserving accountability and audibility. Think KYC for decentralized exchanges and the like. This is a long answer but I’ll stop there for now.

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

For sure. And really that’s why I’ve dedicated the last almost six years and as much of my future as it takes to it: it’s to ensure this is done the right way. It’s past the point of no return that we are moving to have all the operational processes of life supported in some manner by digitization. That’s just happening. And ultimately someone, or government, or many of them, are going to be enacting solutions — quick fixes or not. But ultimately what we don’t want is it done wrong. If it is done quickly in a way that leaves open the possibility not just for compromisation or unintended consequences, what we don’t want is inequality baked in. The beauty of the decentralized method is the ability to be transparent, community driven, and fair. And that is at our core ethos. We don’t even have to be trusted. Don’t want to use our API for authentication? Fine, you can re-roll it yourself. Fuckery is amok and I want to put an end to that growing any further, particularly when it comes to my individual rights to information, sovereignty and so forth. What it’s really all about though is ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ACTIONS. Accountability for regulators, for people, for businesses, for overseers, and the like. But not sacrificing privacy to do so.

But aside from that, my biggest worry on this front is GROUPTHINK. Now I don’t have time to go into the depths of this here today, but ultimately the biggest risk I see is that some false “truth” is upheld by certain influencers, let’s say, and other people just go along and perpetuate it. This could cause the widespread upholding of something not really wanted. Anyway, I’d elaborate but that’s happening now already and I think — I know — this is a better solution than we’ve got. So we’ll take it a step at a time.

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

I think there have been many. The first tipping point to going all in was meeting Nolan Smith. The second was having our idea deemed feasible by one of the world’s greatest cryptographers. Really there have been so many tipping points. One of them was probably when the IRS told me my birthday was a day different than it is and wouldn’t accept my tax return. And they are still happening: every single time I get locked out of something and can’t get back in. Or when I need TWO forms of ID to do something at the bank (But I am me: why do I need to have all of this?!). Or when the bank deposits my cash into a different William Brown’s account despite providing two forms of ID. I guess I’ll say it’s been a super-long drawn-out tipping point and I’m trying not to be fully inverted at this point.

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

Education, buy-in, understanding… it’s all coming. And people are feeling the pains of the issue more and more. While we have been around since early 2017, we haven’t been ready to bring it to the world until just recently. That’s because unlike a commonly held mantra of “fail fast”, with authentication you can’t fail. It isn’t an option. And so we were meticulous. We were thoughtful. And we want to do things right. Like I’ve said: we want to offer a foundation for giants to stand on. And so now we’re here. And anyone that has looked for and tried to follow me on social media and things like that: you probably didn’t find much. So it’s interviews like these, it’s the launch of our five-years-in-the-making crypto token Kii coming in late September, and the identity-optimized ledger the KiiChain thereafter, that’ll help propel this into greater adoption. Couple that with the scaling out of our developer portal, our planned channel partnership initiative, and next year enterprise authentication sales: we will be bridging not only the web2 to web3 gap, but the traditional enterprise to crypto individualist to regulatory gap as well.

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

Our core authentication protocol is applicable to so many different services and fields. We face a chicken and egg dilemma: the more services use it for authenticating users, the more valuable it becomes to users — and more users relying on it will make it more valuable for services. The goal right now is to get as many people as possible to register a NuID credential and to have an attestation associated with it representing that they have verified their identity. (To make it clear here: I could authenticate using my NuID credential with service ABC and they could go through the process of verifying my identity. But instead of then having to go through that process everywhere else a service requires my ID to be verified, service ABC could issue an attestation claiming Locke is Locke based on these factors on this date and so forth. Then when I go to service XYZ, instead of me having to provide them with all my sensitive information to go through the process again (and they face cost and liability to do this), they could request that I authenticate the attestation from service ABC, and if XYZ trusts the process of ABC, accept that — this is the essence of the portable identity).

So anyhow, we need folks to want to have a verified NuID credential. One unique way we are approaching this currently is by offering an incentive for folks to verify their identity in the form of 10 free Kii. As I briefly mentioned, we are in the midst of launching our long-awaited token Kii and built into the token itself is an allocation whereby the first 10 million people to verify their identity and receive an attestation for it will have 10 Kii issued directly to their NuID credential (which I hadn’t mentioned but has the happy benefit of serving as a crypto wallet since it is built on PKI and your auth secret is the private key to the public identifier being the public key. You can learn more about all this at kiichain.org where you’ll find a Kii-specific paper and other resources).

Not only do we believe the verification incentive is a good strategy, the rollout of the token itself is a way to get NuID into the hands of individuals globally.

On the authentication service side, we’ll be rolling out a channel partner program where developers and contractors will be able to earn up to 20% of the cost of the service for any of their clients they deploy NuID with. But more on that to come early next year.

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?

Nolan Smith. After I had dragged him from Seattle to SF to NYC to Alabama at the start of this year, he has taken some time for himself but he deserves as much credit as I and has been my biggest inspiration. I want to also just mention Sam Meadows who was one of our biggest champions and a large motivator for me who recently passed.

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

Haha, well I would say I’m in the process of having that “success” and true success will be bringing this all, which I think is good, to the world.

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

There’s really nothing anyone could have told me to prepare me for this journey. Not that I would have necessarily done anything differently as I tend to find myself learning lessons for myself anyway (that’s half a joke). But in all reality, the few things I do wish someone had told me before I started are not things I’m going to share here — and I don’t want to not be candid.

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’s all Nu baby! I’m not trying to influence people. I’m just trying to help alleviate the biggest inefficiency and informational asymmetry I feel exists in the digital space right now. People will want what we are building because it is going to help them remove at least some of the frustrations they face over and over again. The internet should be a tool for us as humans, to organize processes and heighten our experience in the real world and through our relationships.

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

I have two: one is by Alan Watts: “Planning for the future is only useful for those who live in the moment” and the other is “Be stubborn on vision and flexible on the journey” — it’s unclear who to attribute this to. The first one helped me find the balance between living in the now and constantly trying to plan for my future self. The second one is core to how I approach NuID and has a place in my mind whenever I’m making a tough decision that others may not understand. It’s easy to get caught in the immediacy, especially in this day and age. But it’s important to keep the true goal in mind and understand the sunk cost fallacy: just because we’ve been doing something doesn’t mean it’s the optimal thing to continue doing if a better path forward has presented itself.

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’d say to reach out and ask me about the “development fund roundtable” I’m launching.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I personally have spent probably less than a day engaged on social media in the last 10 years or so, but at NuID we’re active on Twitter and Discord: https://twitter.com/_NuID and https://discord.gg/akhBbEc8. Though I’ll probably refresh and begin posting some content on my website toward the end of this year at lockebrown.com

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


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

Meet The Disruptors: Sean Dickerson Of MADE Nightlife On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Sean Dickerson Of MADE Nightlife On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Pretend that money doesn’t exist, decide what you would enjoy doing every day for free — and then figure out how to monetize that. If you find you like spending 8 hours a day on photoshop making clothing designs and you’re fulfilled by that process, not the result but the process, then designing clothes is the thing you need to figure out how to be paid for.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Dickerson from MADE Nightlife.

Sean Dickerson, a well-known name in the Los Angeles nightlife scene, has paved the way in Hollywood as one of the top social industry curators. Dickerson has been hustling in the nightlife industry for the past 11 years while also playing a key role in hosting concerts and after-parties for notable celebrities and VIP guests in the city. Over the past decade, Sean has made his mark in the industry by leveraging his strong rapport with nightlife venues and personalities to create memorable and sought-after events. Currently, Dickerson hosts exclusive weekly parties and pop-ups, that offer one-of-a-kind curation and living innovation. Today, Dickerson plays an integral part in the MADE executive team. His accomplishments include curating guest lists that guarantee memorable nights and engaging a global audience with his efforts.

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 moved from Baltimore to Los Angeles when I was a teenager. Both of my parents had been actors for a time. They divorced when I was a baby. My father was a playwright, and I was raised my whole life around the theatre. I began acting at a young age, with aspirations to write and direct. You get introduced to an artist’s life, which is one consisting of late nights, and I was a child that was routinely up long past his bedtime. The adults would want to go out after a rehearsal or a performance and hit a bar or restaurant/lounge and here I am, an only child, with my single parent who couldn’t afford a babysitter, tagging along with the grown-ups.

As early as seven or eight years old I remember being too young to be in some nightspot, surrounded by musicians, actors, and writers while they argued about novelists or debated Meisner and Strasberg over scotch and sodas. There was always an excitement to this type of social environment that I remember being very drawn to. There was a romance to it. I loved the way it made me feel.

As I became an adult, I was attracted to the idea of not just hanging out in those settings but being in control of those settings, and how I could use my own inspirations to craft rooms where different types of interesting people could cross paths in and form a connection.

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

I think all creativity is disruptive when it’s introducing new thoughts and experiences.

It forces you to accept new feelings, and it will continue to until one becomes numb to it, until it’s been copied enough that everyone is doing it, and then it becomes stale and formulaic. At which point, you must create something new again and disrupt the monotony.

I think we’re seeing that currently with both the Drake “Honestly Never mind” album and the Beyoncé “Renaissance” album. I look at everything that’s artistic, from music, to film, to curating an evening as, “How do we guide you towards feeling greatness, whether that feeling is rooted in something that’s revolutionary, or it’s a feeling that’s rooted in nostalgia.”

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

I had managed to get myself in with a bar owner in West Hollywood who had a gorgeous space that I wanted to do a weekly Wednesday night party in. I really hadn’t accomplished much at that point so for all my big aspirations around what I wanted this party to be, I didn’t really know how to execute it properly. I’ve never been interested in just having a party with club promoters. I reached out to some friends of mine who were managers for a couple of high-profile actors, and I offered them up the idea of us throwing this party together. These guys knew a lot of famous people and I thought “We don’t even need any promoters; the bar isn’t that big, just the three of us, and our relationships will pack this place out with beautiful women and celebrities” and all the other cliché fantasies that people have when they’re trying to throw a party in Hollywood.

Our first night was decent. Enough people

came to check us out that it wasn’t a complete waste of time, and we could build momentum for the next week. Surely the next week would become the magical, enchanted evening I was manifesting.

It wasn’t. We failed miserably. Not only did we take an L, but the three of us and all our “relationships” also couldn’t even fill that 100-person capacity room with more than 30 people the whole night. After giving us a chance with those first two weeks, the bar said, “Thanks but we’re moving on.”

What I learned was there’s a big difference between throwing a party somewhere versus starting a successful weekly event where you need to both look great and make money. You have to overkill a night if you want it to work. You think you only need to bring on two people to work with you, you need twelve. Really you need twenty. And you need club promoters. Men and women, do this for a living. Getting people to show up somewhere for you is legitimately one of the toughest jobs in the world to perform. And doing it nightly, weekly, is nearly impossible to do without burning yourself out. Try corralling human beings in a town of ten million that has endless options for places to eat and drink. You need more than just a cool rooftop or a celebrity entourage to see success. You need a team.

A big team. And that team needs infrastructure.

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 so many people make substantial contributions to this journey I’m on. Creatively, my father probably made the largest impression on me. I’m positive that my outlook on most things comes from his influence and I’m very grateful for him. In the hospitality space, I look at my partners at MADE; Mark Tung, Devrin Anderson, Milton Pittman, those guys have been dominant in that business for so long and their knowledge about how to do that successfully for decades is unmatched. I would point to guys like Tony LaPenna and Brian Toll at H. Wood Group and Pavan Pardasani at Tao Group also. They’ve always been so generous with their time, their resources, and their experiences, to guide me in ways that go beyond what most folks are willing to help you with.

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 think all disruption is necessary and it may seldom be comfortable. At would point does disruption become destruction and when is destruction necessary? Destruction of prejudices, destruction of institutions. Those may be instances where we have to collectively go a step beyond disruption in order to eradicate them.

I guess the line has to be drawn somewhere in the sand between disruption and destruction, and whether over time you can have one without it becoming the other. I think you can, but we need both.

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

The best advice I’ve ever received or given is to pretend that money doesn’t exist, decide what you would enjoy doing every day for free — and then figure out how to monetize that. If you find you like spending 8 hours a day on photoshop making clothing designs and you’re fulfilled by that process, not the result but the process, then designing clothes is the thing you need to figure out how to be paid for.

My father wrote every day. Whether he was being paid for it or not, he wrote.

He used to joke that a powerful film producer once said to him, “Remember, a writer writes.”

It was nonsensical in the context that it had been said to him but as a general life rule it applies so simply. Whatever you enjoy the process of should be what you give all your bandwidth to. I believe if you do that then the money will follow. Life is too short to spend it doing something you’re unfulfilled by for money.

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

Right now, we’re working on Wale’s next album, and it sounds amazing. He’s genuinely one of the most talented people I’ve ever spent time with, and he belongs in the conversation with the greatest songwriters of his generation. I also did some work with Major League Baseball over the summer when the all-star game was in LA. That went well so we’re looking at future collaborations between us and that’s exciting for me as a lifelong fan of the sport.

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?

There are so many books out there that have impacted me; pretty much anything David Simon has ever written is at the top of the list.

Geronimo Pratt “Last Man Standing”

William Goldman “Which Lie Did I Tell”

Peter Gatian “The Club King”

Joe Bastianich “Restaurant Man”

The Dalai Lama “How To See Yourself As You Truly Are”

Steven Pressfield “The War Of Art”

and the Insight Timer app. Heavy on the Insight Timer app.

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

The thing that the entertainment business and the hospitality business share in common is they’re both incredibly cutthroat. These people aren’t your friends. At least not the overwhelming majority of them. I remember being told once, “When you can accept the transactional nature of these relationships, then you’ll find peace.” That’s the best lesson I’ve ever received.

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 normalizing meditation and teaching it as early as preschool, the same way we teach math and language, would have an overwhelming impact on how human beings process the trauma we experience. I wish I had found it earlier in my life and I feel the difference in how I process things when I’m practicing regularly versus when I’m not.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter/IG @sean_dickerson

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


Meet The Disruptors: Sean Dickerson Of MADE Nightlife On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Making Something From Nothing: Will Chen Of P.L.A.Y. On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

… Do not underestimate the challenges and the time it takes to get your business off the ground and to break even. Of course, it is good to be excited when starting your own business, but don’t forget to be realistic as well.

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

Will Chen is the Founder and CEO of P.L.A.Y. Prior to founding P.L.A.Y., he spent several years as a management and strategy consultant working across different industries where he advised companies on executive matters such as business turnaround, competitive benchmarking, financial and operations modeling, sales and operations planning, and lean manufacturing, etc. In 2009, his life changed when a very special pug named Momo entered his life, and the determination to find a dog bed good enough for her soon turned into feelings of disappointment. So he set out to design stylish pet beds that truly met the needs of modern pet parents, while helping stores stand out from the competition. Momo was the inspiration for P.L.A.Y. — and is now the company’s CPO (Chief Pug Officer) — which has since expanded into an empire of pet products. That same spirit to never settle for less when it came to his own pup inspires everything here at P.L.A.Y. That’s why he’s still focused on the essentials after 10 years of business! Better beds. Higher quality manufacturing. Great designs. Planet-friendly materials. All at a reasonable price. It might sound like a lot of work, but to his team, quite honestly, it feels like P.L.A.Y.

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

I was born in Hong Kong and later went abroad at age 12 to attend boarding school in Singapore. I came to the States to attend college in Michigan, and later made my way to San Francisco. I’ve been able to travel and live all around the world, and for someone like myself who loves traveling and sightseeing, that has been a real privilege.

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

My favorite life lesson comes from Michael Jordan when he famously said, “I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.” For me this encapsulates my belief in the necessity of motivation and ambition, as I believe that in order to attempt something or to make something happen, you must have no excuses.

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?

A book that left a real impression on me and my trajectory would be Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, Phil Knight. I felt like this book was a great window into seeing how an empire like Nike started from humble beginnings as a small business, and how Knight was so candid about the stress and struggles of running what he didn’t know at the time would become a global empire. One of the themes I took with me from this book is that there are no objectively wrong or right ways to make the best decision for your business, and that there are many differing ways that all depend on you and how you want to develop your business.

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

The first piece of advice I would offer would be not to get stuck dwelling on high level ideas. It might not be as alluring as pitching an out-of-this world idea, but you must first spend quite a bit of time on logistics. Is your product new? If it is, what niche does it fill? If it isn’t, what sets it apart from competitors? You must also be prepared to work heavily with numbers, be prepared to pour over finances, expenses, and profit margins. And finally, it is good to have some realistic perspectives, you may not break even or turn profits for some time, that is all part of the growing pains of getting a new idea or business off the ground.

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?

You will need a good team of people who you trust and are in tune with the current market. Together, you can research more thoroughly and confirm what is out on the market. A piece of advice: think critically about if no one has done this, is it a good concept?

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

This can be quite a long process, as you will often need to go through product development a number of times. This means taking an idea into product design, creating and testing samples, taking and reworking edits into the design, and repeating these steps as many times as it takes for you to reach the quality and style that you are hoping to achieve. The process becomes more complicated after this stage, where you will need to find trustworthy and reliable attorneys, manufacturers, and your core startup team. When all is said and done with product development and the building of your trusted team of coworkers and manufacturers, you can then begin marketing your product with tradeshows and listing it on wholesale platforms to finally get it in the hands of your consumers.

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

There are only two things I wish I had been told prior to starting my own company. First and foremost, would be to not underestimate the challenges and the time it takes to get your business off the ground and to break even. Of course, it is good to be excited when starting your own business, but don’t forget to be realistic as well. The second is to be trusting, but always independently verify. This is mainly for logistical reasons, as you want to trust your manufacturing, fulfillment, back of house, and front of house teams, but it is best to also verify their capabilities to ensure that you do not experience delays/problems in one of these areas, which could then cause a domino effect.

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, ask yourself, “Does this product solve a problem or help others?” If the answer is yes, then you can start moving from conception, to logistics, and begin researching how much your product will cost to make, and what would be a fair asking price. I would also highly recommend looking into the U.S. Patent office to make sure that before you begin developing, you are not infringing on existing patents. Finish this initial stage with a thorough business plan on paper before you start to take things further.

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 cannot speak to this question, as we did not use consultants when starting this business. I would recommend considering how much time you will be devoting to starting your new venture, and factor in whether you want to start off full time or part time into your decision about whether or not to hire a consultant.

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

There are pros and cons to both approaches. On the one hand, by bootstrapping it, you will be able to maintain more control over your processes and products, but will experience a more organic growth i.e., slower growth. With venture capital, you get that faster growth, but you may feel that there are certain expectations around growth. Of course, there is no wrong or right answer, but for many businesses, developing fast and capturing the market shares they need/want is a big priority, so make the choice that suits your business plan best.

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

Our products bring humans and their pets happiness, comfort, and warmth, and to me that in and of itself makes the world a better place. We are also very proud to be one of the few pet industry brands to be B Corp certified, meaning we must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. We are dedicated to making the world a better place through our company-wide environmentalism and charity efforts, including recycling over 11 million plastic bottles and founding our own charity and scholarship initiatives (Warm Bellies Initiative and Scholars Helping Collars Scholarship). We are pleased with our robust donation program, which spotlights 501c3s that benefit animal welfare organizations, and provides thousands of dollars of in-kind product donations each year.

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 truly believe in the B Corp mission of people using business as a force for good, and would love to see other business move towards this mindset. I believe that by transitioning to more environmentally friendly practices, investing back into the community, and fostering a respectful and equitable workplace, a business can create real good in the world. I also believe that the more companies who adopt these policies, the more informed consumers will be to make ethical choices.

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.

If I can pick a celebrity whom I can meet with, I would love to meet the tennis legend Roger Federer. He was a big part of why I fell in love with the sports in the 2000’s and besides his countless on and off-court achievements (to me he is without doubt the G.O.A.T.). I am also a fan of his sportsmanship, work ethics, longevity, and the ability to balance between family and professional commitments. More importantly, I am an admirer of how he uses his influence and reach to help the less fortunate children in Africa through his foundation.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Will Chen Of P.L.A.Y. 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: Olivier Roy Of Leav On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t trust all the advice’. When we started to pivot into retail from the restaurant industry, everyone advised us not to. Had we listened to people, we would not be where we are today. Some other best words are: take risks, trust your instincts, It’s your journey so take ownership and don’t share too much!

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

Olivier Roy is Co-Founder and CEO of Leav. After working with a number of organizations in Canada and abroad, he combined his passion for technology with his experience in marketing, and created Leav, a solution to a problem faced by most in-person shoppers: long retail lineups.

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 entrepreneurial journey began at age 16 when I was started a video production company with a friend. We spent three years traveling across the globe directing commercials and building our client roster. I then went on to work with a Montreal-based technology firm, and that is where I developed a passion for tech. Just before starting Leav, I had the opportunity to work in video production once again, this time for the Quebec government and foreign nations, with my high school friend Evgeny Grachev.

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

We created Leav, a revolutionary tech solution that offers a comprehensive mobile shopping platform giving customers the ability to manage their purchases in-store by simply scanning a QR code. It takes five seconds to checkout with Leav as compared to an average of five minutes with the traditional method, making the experience 10x faster.

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?

Making mistakes and learning from them is a part of any and every entrepreneurial journey, especially in the initial phase. An example of a funny story was when we opened our first store in Montreal. We ordered very expensive tech products from a vendor without researching them. We realized that all of the products were extremely overpriced after having committed to buying them. While we saw the light side of our mistake, it came a huge cost and had we done more research, we could have saved a lot of money!

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?

We have had many mentors who have helped us in some way or another along the journey but there are two that stand out: Charles Sylvestre — He was our first advisor and has been guiding us from the get-go. We discuss every critical decision with him, from plan of action, how to maximize cashflow and minimize expenses, how to raise funds etc. In fact, we still have a weekly call with him to seek his advice as to where we should focus our energy and next steps. The other mentor that deserves a special shoutout is Carl Boutet. He is a retail expert who was really amazed by the Leav technology we developed. He gave us great insights into the retail industry, connected us with more retailers, and informed us about the existing technology in the market and a great deal of other support.

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

Disrupting an industry with a revolutionary idea which opens doors for a conversation is always good but we need to be thoughtful about the impact it will have on the said industry. Sometimes it might not be in lines with our expectations and the specific industry we are targeting might not be ready for it. We always need to think what we are doing, if we are taking the right approach towards it and if it is solving a current need. In our case, we are working towards a very critical pain point of in-store shoppers today — checkout lines. But had we done this 7–8 years back, it would have been too soon for this kind of technology and at that time, it would not have been relevant and ‘positive’.

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 trust all the advice’. When we started to pivot into retail from the restaurant industry, everyone advised us not to. Had we listened to people, we would not be where we are today. Some other best words are: take risks, trust your instincts, It’s your journey so take ownership and don’t share too much!

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

Leav will revolutionize the landscape of in-store shopping by providing an extremely smooth Phygital experience!

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 mostly listen to retail podcasts. Feel free to reach out if you want my top list! For books, I would recommend Zero to One by Peter Thiel. Other than that, I simply follow investors and industry influencers on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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

Just do it — Nike

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. 🙂

From personal experience, I never went to school. So, if you’re someone who feels that you want to do something of your own, do it! Create your own job and make sure to put your heart and soul into it. Even if you want to be a good student, do it part-time. It’s the best way to learn in life.You are going to fail multiple times but when you succeed, you’ll be a better version of yourself.

How can our readers follow you online?

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThisIsOlivierR

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


Meet The Disruptors: Olivier Roy Of Leav On The Five 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.

Making Something From Nothing: Patricia Kayanga Of Ohhs On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Always remember our mistakes can be our greatest teachers.

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

Patricia Kayanga is a first-generation immigrant from Uganda. Her family came here under unfortunate circumstances but was blessed to know a better life. They wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for the sacrifices of Patricia’s mother after her father’s murder. Beyond getting Patricia the training and education to be the woman she is today, her mother is also the brain behind the business idea. After complaining about the many expensive underwears, Patricia ruined because of her unpredictable cycle, Patricia’s mother encouraged her to create something that works for her that she could dispose of. Patricia started dreaming and created Ohhs, biodegradable disposable underwear made from bamboo and non-woven fabric. Patricia wanted to create a product that felt good with a business structure that served a greater purpose. While researching the market, Patricia found that millions of girls drop out of school due to menstrual stigmas within their communities or simply a lack of resources. Patricia realized that if she didn’t have the opportunity to come to the states, she might have been one of those girls. As Patricia remembered her past and purpose became to make a difference in a girl’s life one day at a time while creating something simple for every woman. Patricia’s business motto is, “we are inspired by women for women.”

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

I was born in Uganda. For the most part, life was good and easy. I had no worries I could think of besides trying to fit in at school. That’s until the age of 6, when my father was murdered. Everything changed. It was the first time I remember feeling like an adult. Very few children don’t see images of their slain father and manage to maintain their innocence. With no clue who killed my father, my mom took us to live with her relatives in a different region, and she fled to the United States with a few dollars to her name.

For four years, she worked and saved to bring us to the states. When we came, we didn’t have much. I remember some family friends bringing us their old clothes. I struggled to fit in at school for some time. Somehow, I convinced myself that if I practiced sounding American enough, the kids would stop teasing me about my accent or calling me “ an African booty scratcher.” I would go home, watch Fresh Prince of Bellaire, Full House, and Moesha, and practice my American accent. The kids at that school never forgot, but we changed addresses which meant a change in school, so I put my new accent to good use there. The kids in my new school were much likable, and I wasn’t the only African in school. There were many others like me. In high school, I learned to stand tall in my identity as an African Immigrant, and in college, I celebrated it and shared my culture with others. Today, I’m a naturalized American from Uganda. I call America and Uganda my homes. One made me, and the other raised me to be who I am today.

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

My mom often said to my siblings and I, “banna bange muli banaku” when one of us misbehaved or got out of line. “Banna bange muli banaku” roughly translates to “my children, you come from sorrow.” She was telling us to be better, do better, because where we come from, there’s nothing to fall back on but pain and sorrow. This quote has pushed me every time I felt like I couldn’t make it and helped me focus on the road ahead, not behind me.

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?

Becoming by Michelle Obama via Audible is a book that significantly impacted my life — listening to her story resonated with me because I don’t come from much like Michelle. I also had many thoughts of self-doubt and wondered if I belonged. In front of that doubt was the future first black FLOTUS. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people we look up to are human, and they share similar stories to us. If she can persevere through Princeton and Harvard, then the White House, and still rise to the top, so can I in my journey. I love her story.

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 the early stages of launching my business, one thing that motivated me to create my product was that I wanted to have a say in what was being invented. I understood that the disposable underwear line didn’t need to be perfect, and I couldn’t afford to wait for someone to start anything for me, so I took on the challenge. My career in IT has taught me about the beauty of iterations where one can continue to enhance a product throughout its lifetime. I constantly had the mindset of “what’s the worst that could happen,” and any rejection I got, I saw as an opportunity to climb above it. That truly helped me get through the early stages of inception to manufacturing.

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?

Google should be everyone’s first starting point. Once you’ve exhausted everything, your next stop is the Trademark and Patent repository. It’s important to review each piece that may seem close to your idea and document it. Doing thorough research will help you identify what is missing for you to start innovating. If you do not have the time to do the research, I’d suggest hiring a trademark or patent attorney to take on that responsibility.

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 meditated on the idea of my business for about three years before I decided to take a leap and commit. After a long trip to Bali for my birthday, I was triggered to commit to bringing my idea to fruition. The journey to Bali was long, and I wanted a change of underwear to feel mildly fresh, but I didn’t have a lot of options while in transit. That trip inspired me to stop waiting. I quit my job and focused primarily on researching and developing my business. Having the idea was the easy part.

After I had a prototype complete, I began the process of patenting. At first, I thought I could do it on my own. After all, I quit my job to focus on this full-time. But after hours and days of research on whether that was a good idea, I decided it may be best to speak with a lawyer. I’d gotten a subscription with legal zoom and used the service to meet a lawyer for legal advice. Paying someone specializing in patents was optimal because it removed my worries so that I could focus on the business. I could not begin to imagine how I would maneuver the entire process by myself. My lawyer help me to create a patent in the US and is now in the middle of securing a patent in China.

The process of finding manufacturers has been an interesting one. A SCORE mentor advised me to go to Trade Shows. I attended my first one last year, and it was pretty informative, and I got a lot of leads. So I’d recommend trade shows as an avenue to start getting your feet wet with manufacturers. I also recently joined NuOrder. It is a Business to Business (B2B) marketplace where you can find multiple buyers for your products. It’s been such a phenomenal experience learning all these things from inception to now, but I honestly would not have known these things had it not been for me getting out of my way, researching, networking, and listening to what matters. Tuning out the negative has also been integral to my growth as an entrepreneur.

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

  1. Always remember our mistakes can be our greatest teachers.
  2. Trust and believe in your goals.
  3. You don’t need to know it all, nor do you not need to have it all.
  4. Rejection is part of the journey but not a determinant of the end.
  5. Every investment should yield a tangible ROI.

There’s a blueprint for starting a business, and then there’s the reality. The reality is much rawer and filled with vulnerabilities. When I first launched, many people had ideas of what I should do and what I needed to change. The pandemic had just hit, and suddenly, what I had envisioned was gone. I felt lost and defeated. I was beginning a business venture in an industry and climate I did not quite understand. I just had a business plan with a vision. Over time, everyone’s input seemed to make more sense than mine, and I began to lose trust in myself. Imposter syndrome started to show up. Suddenly, I was no longer an expert in my own business. Everyone else was besides me. I felt my world crumbling. That’s a time I never want to relive, but through my business coach Jeffrey Shaw, I learned to pick myself up, trust and believe in my journey. I reminded myself that I didn’t need to know it all, have it all figured out, and that rejection was a part of the journey, not a determinant of the end.

When I started this journey, I felt I couldn’t handle the business alone and needed partners. So I recruited a couple of my friends to join me. I was so excited, and running Ohhs didn’t feel like such a daunting task anymore. Pretty soon, I realized that my dream differed from thoe of my partners. While they had great intentions for me, their priorities were elsewhere. I started seeing my motivation diminish through their lenses and knew I had to sever ties. I lost a friend and maintained the other business partner as a sister in the process. The loss hurt, and it still does sometimes because I wish it could’ve ended on a positive note for all of us.

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 recommend two vital steps. The first step is to research what is out there and determine how to improve it. The second step is to understand your market. The third step and most important is to learn how to market to that target audience. Your marketing strategy doesn’t have to be perfect, and you can always enhance it as you grow.

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?

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of an invention development consultant or used them to say otherwise. I firmly believe that if you have an idea, find a way to make it a reality. If it means finding a mentor, do that. If it means hiring a consultant, then do that too. However, you must note who you surround yourself with and what they will influence.

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 complex but can be rewarding. The benefits of bootstrapping are straightforward; of course, it’s 100% yours, and you own all of it, but it’s your money. I suggest you ask yourself, “what will I sacrifice to fulfill my dream?” With venture capital, you have the backing of another entity and its funds, so you are bound by the rules they set forth. But the same question remains; what will you sacrifice to fulfill your dream? Ultimately, one has to decide what will get them to their final destination of meeting their goals (monetary, mission-based, or both).

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

When I started Ohhs, I knew there was a gap and need for the product I was creating but didn’t fully understand the massive opportunities and ventures this product could create until I dove deeper into my research. Millions of school-aged girls drop out because of their periods. Data also shows that “80% of female students have missed all or part of a class or know someone who had to miss class because they did not have access to menstrual hygiene products.”

Had I not been fortunate to come to the states from Uganda when I did, I could have easily been one of those girls who dropped out of school because of period stigma. This stigma is why part of our brand’s mission is to partner with nonprofits that provide menstrual resources to school-aged girls and women.

So far, we’ve donated to 17 organizations across the globe. Additionally, for every box we sell, we donate a pair to a local women’s shelter in the DC, Virginia, and Maryland areas. Our goal is to extend our reach across the nation and the globe.

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 would be for people to help us provide Ohhs to all shelters and refugee camps worldwide. Every purchase gets us closer to that, but a partnership with organizations in the humanitarian sector would be a dream come true. Underwear is a basic need that people should not worry about during hard times.

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.

If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with Sara Blakely, I’d be at a loss for words and in awe. I recognize neither seems like a good recipe for a good lunch for her, but I imagine I’d be out of my shell of pure mystification after a few glasses of Prosecco. I’m often told that my story reminds people of Sara Blakely Spanx’s story. Her story has inspired me in so many situations that I felt like I could not concur. It would be an honor to speak with her in an intimate setting.

If I were allowed to sit down with two people, my other choice would be Meghan Markle. It would be a dream to meet her. Her work as an ambassador to the UN is one of my dreams. Her ability to stay on the course even when it feels impossible is captivating. Watching her face adversity and scrutiny from the media during these past few years and still maintaining her smile and air of warmth has been inspiring. I often wonder how she does it — being in front of millions where some profess disdain for her but barely know her. She faces it with grace, and I aspire to be like her. Whenever the fear of rejection plagues me, she’s truly an inspiration to persevere through it. I’d love to pick her brain about the humanitarian sector over a few drinks.

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


Making Something From Nothing: Patricia Kayanga Of Ohhs 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: Drea Groeschel On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

“Please and Thank You” — really, I know it’s basic, but if your mother were listening to you in the business world, you’d want her to be proud right? I can certainly say that maintaining a level of politeness through all business dealings can be a game changer. It is likely that things will go wrong at some point, and sometimes relationships can get tense, with a supplier, an investor, or even an employee. By maintaining a level of polite protocol, you can be sure that you have put your best foot forward, even in a discussion that can get away from you. Wrap it up and close with a thank you. It’s just right.

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

Drea Groeschel is a lifelong entrepreneur and pioneer, most recently spearheading and co-founding Better Than Booze, a revolutionary social beverage company featuring a line of flavor-forward, buzzy mocktails with hemp-derived CBD and THC. As an ardent advocate for healthier and non-alcoholic ways to relax, she is shaking up social drinking ideals and showing that plant-based beverages offer a mellow buzz but without the dreaded hangover. Groeschel, holding multiple patents for her inventions in consumer products and awards for her merchandising, jumps into the beverage industry with a diverse background. From the gift/home business to the beauty industry, where she most recently led a subscription company and licensed her products, she now puts her talents towards creating her new favorite bubbly beverage. Rooted in her belief that daily life should be filled with simple joys that make life better, Groeschel finds her passion in creative product development, supply chain transparency, consumer goods marketing, and choosing partners who share her vision of sustainability and female empowerment.

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 been an entrepreneur all my life. I grew up in a family who owned their own businesses, so from a very early age I saw the creative journey that my father and mother went through launching businesses. I understood, even as a child, that it was very difficult to own your own business, but it was also about creating your own destiny, which was appealing to me. I’ve gone from selling lemonade on my parents’ front lawn at 8 years old, to developing a clothing line manufacturer, to launching home products and even a beauty products subscription company. Now, I’m full circle back to selling beverages. It’s not lemonade, and I have a lot more experience! I simply love the challenge of starting something new. There are 4 main steps that I go through each time I start something: 1. the creation of the brand, 2. development of the product, 3. manufacturing of the product, and 4. taking it to market. I just love each phase!

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

There are two things that are disruptive about my work. The very ingredient structure of this beverage line we’re launching is inherently disruptive. We’re launching a Hemp derived CBD beverage that contains THC, the amount of which is under the legal limit of .3%. We live in a country where we have villainized cannabis, and this has led to a prohibition structure not dissimilar to the 1920s with alcohol. The regulatory structure is difficult to follow and there are changes every month as states determine their own legal stance under the federal 2018 Farm Bill. Much of my work is looking at the future landscape of retail distribution and how we can become a leader and good partner for retailers and distributors under such challenging regulatory conditions. In order to disrupt, we must be selling something that people want and, at the same time, be a leader in a shifting culture. I think we are there. People want to positively change their perception of cannabis/hemp, what products we use it in…and who uses it. The other disruptive aspect is that I’ve taken a space mainly dominated by men, marketed to men, and unfortunately often stigmatized for “the stoner culture” and I’ve completely changed the way we are positioning this market. We’re really the exact opposite. We speak about our brand differently with a level of sophistication and maturity, and present ourselves to the market with a more toned-down visual presentation. It’s more elevated, geared towards the working professional. We aren’t shouting at people to get high and party all night. Instead, we’re encouraging those who are looking for a way to unwind to enjoy a safe, quality, super tasty beverage, like they would their favorite glass of wine or cocktail. It’s no different in my eyes. So, we’re literally doing the exact opposite of what is associated with marijuana and the stoner culture. You won’t see our brand in smoke shops. We won’t have pot leaves on the packaging. We are focused on what it’s like to be a working professional who wants to enjoy libations with friends and family to relax…and not worry about getting a hangover. That’s a bonus!

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

I have been involved in multiple start-ups and, in my eyes, one of the most dangerous things is not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know what it is that you should know, then it’s hard to set out to learn and ask questions… because you didn’t even know you needed to know it! This has cropped up over the years for me and I have a great sense of humor about it. I’m industry agnostic so I’ve dealt with a lot of different types of products. Having two decades of experience in product development has given me an edge in understanding how supply chains work and manufacturing, but every time I launch into a new category of products, I’m back to the learning curve, because, let’s face it, developing a makeup brush is different than a beverage! One of the funniest things I continue to do is Googling industry speak on the fly while on a conference call. Every time I start a new venture in a new product category, I have come to expect that there will be a whole new lingo. It’s like a new language! I often have to write down all the acronyms that go along with that specific industry. Recently, I was on a conference call with two gentlemen for a production planning meeting. The co-packer asked if I had a pal. A pal? I couldn’t think of what that was, time was ticking, and the airwaves were dead silent while I searched furiously online for a “pal” in the food and beverage industry. After a long, awkward silence I had initiated by not knowing what he was talking about, the other man chimed in and said, “Don’t worry Drea, I’ll be your pal”. They then explained they were asking for my Process Authority Letter. Which determines and certifies the amount of pasteurization needed. We got a good laugh out of it. Yup, I’ll never forget what a PAL is now!

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?

We all DO need help along the way, which would lead me smack into Mark Montgomery, the co-founder of NuSachi Inc, chairman and multi-exit entrepreneur. Mark is an over-the-top high-energy, high-level thinker, one of these people that is 10 steps ahead and you’re still back on step 1. Mark is truly unafraid of pushing boundaries and talking to people about his strategy and vision. He’s committed to the business vision and is relentless about networking that vision to those who can support the journey. He understands that it takes a village to raise a company, that you can’t do it alone. He’s a big reason why I decided to join forces with NuSachi and co-found the Better Than Booze brand. Whenever I’m looking to play it safe or take my foot off the gas for a moment, he is right there to push me ahead and keep the momentum. I’m not great at asking for help — many of us aren’t — and every week during our weekly call, Mark will ask “how can I help you?” This simple question snaps me out of my “not asking for help mode” and I’m encouraged to actually ask for help. No one gets big without a lot of help along the way. Mark understands this and is my catalyst to get out of my own way!

Of course, I can’t count out my parents as the best mentors of my life. They’ve stuck by me through all the different paths I’ve chosen on my entrepreneurial journeys. They’ve seen me fail, they’ve seen me succeed, and whether I’m up or down they are my confidantes. It’s nice to have a mentor that you can expose and reveal yourself to, no matter the circumstance. Only then, at your most vulnerable moment, when you speak the raw truth are you getting true raw feedback. We don’t worry about hurt feelings. My parents will just tell me how they see it. I think that’s an important mentor to have, because sugar coating is exactly that, just a coating, and wears off eventually. I’d rather have the hard opinions right up front. Thick skin is part of the job.

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 general I think disrupting is great. But when people are disrupting just for disruption’s sake, I think that’s when it goes bad. A lot of time and energy can go into a product or service business and the true disruptors are not trying to break a mold just to be disruptive, they are looking to solve a problem, to shift life as we know it. From Bezos to Musk and even smaller companies like Sistema.bio, which is working to provide renewable energy methods in third world countries, they are all pushing the idea that life doesn’t have to be as we’ve known it to be, but can be better, and innovation can be utilized for positive change. Therefore, I would argue that the leaders of disruption are pushing a mindset and a new way of life. Disruption falls drastically short when the person pushing the disruption is simply doing it for attention or to be considered a “disruptor.” Social media has created an ecosystem of people desperately trying to gain acceptance by pushing how unique or unusual they are, constantly trying to be different. This is a faux, or manufactured, sort of disruption. There is a famous quote “nothing is more common than a man’s quest to be unique.” — unknown. So true!

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

“Keep showing up” — My dad always used to say that, if you’re not there when it’s not there, you won’t be there when it is! He was using fishing as an example for how to handle showing up in life, and it’s just so true in all phases of my evolution. Back when I lived in LA , practically a lifetime ago, I was struggling as a musician. I really wanted to be a rock star…who doesn’t? I ran into a famous studio engineer who had dealt with all the big acts and I had asked him for his advice. He told me that, whether I was pursuing a dream of music, or other career or family relationships, to just keep showing up. He then went on to tell me how many people stop showing up — they are late, they bail, when things get hard, etc. I’ve applied “just keep showing up” to just about everything in my life. Because more than half of the competition will leave when things really get tough. But just showing up is half of the equation and probably one of the easier things to do. So, motivate yourself to show up for one more day, show up for the call you don’t want to take, show up for the anniversary party that is an inconvenience, just keep showing up!

“Please and Thank You” — really, I know it’s basic, but if your mother were listening to you in the business world, you’d want her to be proud right? I can certainly say that maintaining a level of politeness through all business dealings can be a game changer. It is likely that things will go wrong at some point, and sometimes relationships can get tense, with a supplier, an investor, or even an employee. By maintaining a level of polite protocol, you can be sure that you have put your best foot forward, even in a discussion that can get away from you. Wrap it up and close with a thank you. It’s just right.

“Say no” — this is a classic one and I think it takes people a while to get it, but when they do, they are empowered. If you are constantly saying yes to others and committing to things outside of your priorities, you will likely fall short of your own personal happiness goals. Saying no to additional commitments is ok, and you’ll find that when you do say no, other opportunities will open for you. It’s a great word!

“Don’t be too attached to the outcome” — this is a great one. Often, we can get so attached to an outcome that we begin to build expectations that are unnecessary. We then feel like failures if we don’t achieve the planned outcome. However, if we don’t carry the anticipation of the outcome being the only way forward or the concern that the desired outcome is the only path, we then find additional paths and other opportunities that we otherwise may not have considered. Changes in the expected outcome can actually yield a better outcome sometimes! So just because something doesn’t go as planned, it’s ok, regroup and try again!

How are you going to shake things up next?

Oh, I have big plans! Recently I reduced my alcohol intake by quite a bit. I switched to non-alcohol and hemp-based beverages. By lowering my alcohol intake, I feel better, my body is happier, and it certainly gave me pause to think “why am I drinking this alcohol stuff that doesn’t make me feel good and has negative known consequences?”. So, I’m advocating for a healthier way to relax and enjoy oneself with libations that aren’t using alcohol. It just makes sense. This is especially true for those of us over 40 who are seeking new ways to relax while still maintaining a level of control in our lives. I mean, I can’t roll into work with a hangover and sunglasses. Those days are long gone. We can’t do what we did when we were in our 20s, nor do we want to. We have important careers and many of us have families. With my new brand, Better Than Booze, I’m going to shake up social drinking ideals and show people that a plant-based beverage can be super delicious, better than your regular cocktail — you’ll still get a little buzz, and yet you won’t suffer the downsides of the booze. Let’s make better choices, be healthier and still have fun! Yes, we can!

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?

This is a tough question, I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a ton of articles. I don’t think there is one that is specific but there is a subject that gets my attention: AI. With technology continuing to disrupt our lives, it will be up to us, as the human race, to determine in what ways we use it and in what intentional ways we decide it is not for the best. I think these conversations are important. We’ve seen that there are two sides to the coin with social media and AI inclusion will be no different. I’m certainly a capitalist, but at some point monetary gain can’t be the only goal, I think it will be paramount to the planet and the people who populate it, to think clearly about the choices we are making and when we let go of the reins and let technology steer the bus. I look forward to the future and hope that we can be responsible shepherds for generations to come.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? How is it relevant to you in your life?

Hands down “The Man in the Arena” — Theodore Roosevelt. This quote is relevant to probably just about every entrepreneur out there. We often feel misunderstood in our quest to build our vision, and so it’s a fight every day to achieve something great, but ultimately it is you and you alone who must bring it to fruition.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would inspire people to roll their sleeves up and get going on whatever it is they are trying to achieve. Too many people are spectators. So, it could be a degree, a healthier life, home ownership, a new business, really anything that is eating up head space. Dreams are achievable. Often people don’t know what to do first, or where to get help. Even the smallest of steps will eventually build a path, even if you’re not sure how to get there. You don’t need to achieve public accolades or put up a faux appearance or other mechanisms of “I’ve made it” before you have. Social media is a constant pressure to appear successful, happy, and well-achieved. But I’m here to tell you that you do not need to gain approval from others to pursue what is meaningful to you. Align your energy to where you are most happy, and yes, this can be a daunting task. Just put one foot in front of the other and each week try to do one thing that will help you move the needle in the right direction, even if it is a seemingly small thing to accomplish. It’s still a step forward and that’s what it takes. You can do anything! So, get going!

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me @dreagresh or follow our beverage journey @betterthanbooze and our official website at drinkbetterthanbooze.com

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


Meet The Disruptors: Drea Groeschel On The Five 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.

Meet The Disruptors: Nick Falcone Of Rentyl Resorts On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Nick Falcone Of Rentyl Resorts On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Loyalty; Every mentor I’ve had that was someone who I felt was good had a consistent trait of being loyal and instilling trust.

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

Nick is an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the hospitality industry. He is skilled in Budgeting, Sales, Customer Satisfaction, Hospitality Industry, and Team Building. Nick is a strong business development professional with a Bachelor’s degree focused in Business/Managerial Economics from Florida State University.

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 grew up with my biggest mentor and hero being my Father, who is a very successful real estate developer. He started his career in the hospitality industry and taught my brothers and I that without those experiences he would’ve never progressed to what he was able to accomplish throughout his career. With these inspirations my brothers and I started our career in food and beverage and have now expanded into resort hospitality.

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

Our business Rentyl Resorts is one of the first to position homes in a resort setting versus a standalone home listing. This experience provides guests with a full resort experience while being able to stay in large homes versus the traditional hotel room. For example, imagine walking out of your house and down to the resort water park while some of the family is at the resort spa and the rest is at the house ordering in home dining from the restaurant, Rentyl brings this experience to life. We are also one of the first companies to work with developers to create “built for rent” and resort amenities specifically for short term resort rentals versus long term rentals. We also have a very unique loyalty platform that will be a trailblazer in the loyalty industry by allowing users to gain points for their largest purchases in life such as real estate and utilize these points on daily transactions or vice versa.

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

I remember that when we first started our resorts, we were so excited for our first guest to arrive. I was personally at the home to inspect and make sure that everything was perfect. We received a call the night of the arrival with a complaint and the guests were very upset about not having water to drink in the home. We were confused at first because we knew we stocked the home with bottles of water and the fridge has a water filter. It was explained that the country these individuals were from only drank boiled warm/hot water and we didn’t have the best device for heating up the water. That night we went to the store and bought the new items to accommodate these guests and made it a standard for future homes. We received a great laugh over water temperature and getting so excited, to worried, to happy after the guests were positive with the recovery. We learned that every guest has unique needs and the importance of knowing our guests so we can accommodate better. This is a big area in which we now develop software in house to enhance the business by having more customer data to make better service decisions proactively.

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

One of my best mentors is my Mom. I don’t know where to start with all of the ways she’s made an impact on my life. She is always there for my family and my brothers, and their families and I’ve never really appreciated all that she does more than now since I have kids of my own. The way she has provided us with love, care, and guidance is something that inspires me both in my personal and professional life.

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 think when you utilize the term disruptor in a business conversation its usually talking about a company that has come up with a breakthrough way of doing something that has been done before but in a different way that leads to much better performance, efficiency, and/or consumer satisfaction. Disruptors can lead to a negative connotation when those efficiency’s led to layoffs of people, price gauging, or the business model is one in which it effects other industries negatively.

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

Loyalty= Every mentor I’ve had that was someone who I felt was good had a consistent trait of being loyal and instilling trust. Persistency= My mentors have told me to stay persistent and that things are never as good or bad as they seem so stay the course and never give up. Strategic= I’m a huge believer that situations are won or loss in the planning phase which leads to better execution. This is one of the hardest things to keep consistent as a company grows. Teamwork= The best performance I’ve seen is when there are clear roles and responsibilities that come together in a unit to produce maximum results. Innovative= Again, I’ve had mentors push be outside my comfort zone to innovate the business and take to another level of creativity on how we can strategically position for future growth. I do believe that technology will lead the way for the future of business, and we have invested into this space by having an internal software development team to create and customize our software to the specific needs.

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

As stated in one of the previous questions, we have a loyalty platform we’ve developed and are currently launching in small phases that we believe will revolutionize the loyalty industry. We are very excited about that and we are also really excited about a few great brand partnerships that we are going to announce in the near future for the Rentyl Resorts Brand.

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 was around 8 years old and my Dad had brought me to a restaurant where he was having a lunch meeting. I remember that he was negotiating a deal with someone, and they had agreed to the deal by the end of lunch of had a handshake that would lead to quickly turning documents the next day. Today, this may not be the reality anymore but what this taught me was to treat my partners correctly and if we both come out on top it can lead to a lot more future business together.

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

“Be brave enough to write every one of your goals down, but I’m going to tell you something, life is going to hit you in your mouth and you gotta do me a huge favor, your WHY has to be greater than that knockdown.” By Eric Thomas. I love this quote for multiple reasons: 1. I’m a big believer in having the proper motivation to wake up every day consistently with the goal of being the best at what you do whether that is personal or professional. It’s one thing to do something for a short period of time but with the proper motivation you can turn that into a consistent effort. I also love this quote as it has its background in boxing which is something that stems back to my Grandfather who was a boxing coach and a sport my family loves to do for exercise and watching as fans.

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 believer and advocate in investing in children. There are so many children in our country that are without health, parents, education, proper influences, or opportunities and if I could start a movement, it would be for people to take time and money to provide more for children in need. I also think it’s important to inspire youth to have an attitude that anything is possible.

How can our readers follow you online?

I have a LinkedIn account https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicholas-falcone-7b4713107/ And they can follow @RentylResorts on Instagram

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


Meet The Disruptors: Nick Falcone Of Rentyl Resorts On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Jung Lee of Fête, Jung Lee NY, and Slowdance On The Five Things You Need To…

Meet The Disruptors: Jung Lee of Fête, Jung Lee NY, and Slowdance On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be authentic and Be you — As a creative, one of the most important things is being yourself and letting that come through. I think about this every day in my work.

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

Jung Lee is one of the most sought-after event designers in the world, creating spectacular celebrations for a discriminating roster of clients–both corporate and private. Since establishing FÊTE in 2002, her events have been admired by guests and industry peers for raising the standard. Born in South Korea and raised in New York City, Jung comes from a humble background, citing her family’s work ethic as an elemental part of her personality. She found her footing in design by building high-end gourmet shops; later, refining her eye as a residential real estate developer. Aware that the modern sensibilities driving interior design had yet to infiltrate events, Jung knew she could put a fresh and modern spin on celebrations. She continues to be deemed a best wedding planner by VOGUE and BAZAAR. Her eponymous home decor store, Jung Lee NY, offers inspiration for everyday living and entertaining. Jung is also the founder of Slowdance, the preeminent luxury wedding registry on the market. Her eponymous home decor store, Jung Lee NY, is a reflection of her everyday lifestyle. A curator of joy, Jung is also the founder of Slowdance, the preeminent luxury wedding registry on the market.

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?

For over a decade I have traveled the world designing my clients’ most sacred events, from intimate parties to milestone celebrations.

I entered the event design industry in 2002 as a way of offering an inspired alternative to run-of-the-mill events. I have a passion for design — the individual for whom it reflects, the mood it sets and the experience it creates. I first discovered this when I became involved in residential and commercial construction. I noticed that I saw balance and proportion differently than most, and had a knack for combining visual beauty with efficiency and function. I see a space and immediately understand what it should be. So we took this approach to event planning. We tap into our customers’ individual tastes and interests to create an extraordinary environment.

I remember as a child going to Pottery Barn and Gimbels (which is no longer around) and watching my mother carefully select the perfect bowls and serving pieces. Later in life I got into my family business and led our food store buildout. This included projects like selecting logos, signage, layout, how customers would experience the store and seating area, and more. After I went into home spec building construction and loved that. I love to imagine how families would live and enjoy the spaces that I create.

Now, I have decided to share my passion more broadly for your own entertainment and lifestyle at home. With a concept store in New York and an online store, I am delighted to now offer you inspiration for everyday living. Whether you are ordering takeout for two, or cooking a holiday meal for twenty, the fundamentals are the same: make it personal and have fun. From lighting and ambience to tabletop and decor, a keen eye for balance and proportion can transform any space…even your own!

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

I think it’s how we think about interior spaces in a unique way. For example, using art beach towels — framing that as the artwork in a pool house or anywhere. After doing this for so many years, we know what looks good and continue to figure out clever ways to achieve that aesthetic and impact. The way I entertain is not prescriptive — it’s organic and effortless, but fun!

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?

Our first event in Southern Italy, I had asked my Italian vendor where our shipment was, he replied in Italian and said it’s in the “Deposito “. Of course I didn’t speak Italian and thought he kept asking where our deposit was. I replied saying that we had already paid and just needed our shipment. So here I am panicking thinking they didn’t receive our deposit, and our shipment was delayed. Come to find out that deposito in Italian means storage area, and he was trying to tell us that’s where our shipment was located.

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’m lucky as there have been so many but specifically two of them have made the greatest impact. The first is Sylvia Weinstock. She was a mentor and total badass disruptor. The second is Mark Ingram who also is a badass disruptor!

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’m fortunate that in my creative industry, being a disruptor is usually a positive thing. I understand that this may not be the case in all industries though. For me, one example of this is Fine China. I think Fine China feels unapproachable to most couples but the way we present it makes it desirable and a must! This allows us to be a disruptor in the space and present something in a truly unique way.

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

  1. Be authentic and Be you — As a creative, one of the most important things is being yourself and letting that come through. I think about this every day in my work.
  2. Loyalty — Be loyal to yourself, your work and those around you.
  3. If someone or something is not working, cut the losses once you know. We’ve all been in positions where you know something isn’t working. Trust your gut.
  4. People will always remember how you make them feel — Maya Angelou — Kindness goes a very long way
  5. Be creative — there are always ways for you to stand out, you just need to think about how you can be creative in what you do.

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

I want to open another Slowdance in another market and build a hotel from there! I love the curated experience of a hotel along with the hospitality. Owning a hotel would allow so many people to experience this curated experience in a unique way.

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 was listening to Deepak Chopra telling a story of how he gave everything up, shaved his head, had to beg for food, and didn’t have shoes. He said one of the hard things was walking in the streets barefoot. His teacher said that when he is walking, he should focus on the foot that’s up, the one not in pain. This was really impactful for me. It’s so important to focus energy on the positive and draw strength from that. It’s such a simple thing of the discipline of focusing.

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

“There is always a solution to a problem, there is no such thing as we can’t figure it out, yes we can”. Throughout my events I’ve made the impossible possible. When there is a problem you can’t just quit and I’ve implemented this into my life, there really is something you can do even if you have to improvise. Also, it never hurts to have a plan A, B, and C.

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 there are SO many things I’d like to do to better the world around me. It feels limitless as long as I’m adding joy to every element and creating memories that last a lifetime that’s what’s important

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you! Feel free to follow me on instagram @Jungleeny

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


Meet The Disruptors: Jung Lee of Fête, Jung Lee NY, and Slowdance On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Prasanth Nair Of Double Gemini On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Prasanth Nair Of Double Gemini On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t fake it until you make it. That said, I’ve spent a long time thinking I was an imposter. Be the sun, and the entire solar system will fall into your orbit. In the same vein, be authentic, because if you’re anything else, you will never be.

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

Prasanth Nair is the founder and product architect of Double Gemini, a productivity transformation company that designs processes to improve productivity. He is an expert in the fields of productivity processes, project management, and change management. His creativity, determination, attention to detail, and ability to connect with people at all levels, puts him in high demand in the productivity marketplace.

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 always had a knack for processes. I’m good at taking complex things and simplifying them to help people and processes move forward. Going back to my university days, I had the mentality that if I am going to use my time, I should use it wisely. So, I would build processes for studying, and figure out the most efficient way to take an exam.

This desire for maximum efficiency and productivity followed me throughout the various jobs I held post-college, from pizza delivery driver to produce stock boy. I’d ask myself, “what’s the most efficient way of moving this produce around?” I always found it fun to work these types of problems out.

When I moved to New York in 2000, I started Double Gemini, which at the time was primarily a project management firm. Simultaneously, I was working on launching software companies, but as the contracts and projects for Double Gemini got bigger and bigger, it soon became clear that project management was my sweet spot. In 2004, I built my signature email organization process the Stack Method, when I felt overwhelmed by the number of emails constantly flooding my inbox. Email was killing my productivity and stressing me out. I needed a better way.

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

Essentially, I’m advising workers to take the way they traditionally conduct business — from how they view and respond to emails to how they schedule their day — and completely turn these processes on their head. For example, the program I developed, Stack Method, views emails as actions, not messages, and focuses on organizing emails into action type to help workers tackle their tasks in the most efficient way.

My philosophy is that whatever I do in my personal and professional life should also be helping to move humanity forward. To that end, our vision at Double Gemini is to accelerate humanity’s ability to solve the world’s greatest problems. We exist to create environments that improve productivity. And when we work with a team or organization, we can help them accelerate the pace at which work is done in a really significant way.

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

As I previously mentioned, Double Gemini started out as a project management firm, and we were managing initiatives upwards of $60 million. Along the way, I built out a set of techniques to help me and my team stay organized and productive — techniques around writing emails, managing meetings, spearheading projects, organizing files, etc. I had clients periodically ask me to teach them these techniques, but it never occurred to me that they would be valuable as a stand-alone solution.

That is until one day, my colleague Micaela said, “maybe the universe wants you to move in that direction.” A lightbulb went off, and I realized I had completely missed my calling. It wasn’t project management, but productivity. I took her advice, and 11 years later we are a thriving productivity transformation firm helping people across the world. It’s ironic how the things that are most valuable are sometimes the things we take most for granted.

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 many — maybe even countless — mentors along my journey. I truly believe that everyone has a little bit of genius to offer, if you get out of the way and listen.

Here are just a couple of those mentors who truly made an impact.

Joe Coughlin, former CEO of Coughlin Logistics, proved you can completely shift an organization’s trajectory by buying into a philosophy. While all organizations boast a “customer first” viewpoint, he truly lives and breathes it. He wove this philosophy into the DNA of his company and it changed everything.

Mike Gustafson, president of Search Discovery, reads and studies more than anyone I’ve ever met, and he’s extremely humble about it. What’s more, he has created a learning organization. His employees are required to regularly learn new things, take exams with 100 percent pass rates, and apply what they’ve learned. As a result, he’s built the strongest team of data analysts, scientists and engineers on the planet.

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?

The word “disruptive” is thrown around a lot today, but I think to truly be disruptive, you not only have to do things differently, you have to do things better — and in the process create positive societal change.

One example I’d consider to be a positive disruptor is 3D printing in medicine. While the application of 3D printing hasn’t become as wide-spread as perhaps originally predicted, the technology is game changing for the health care industry. 3D printing has allowed doctors to offer more personalized medicine, provide better patient care and realize more positive outcomes.

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

Humble. I’ve seen over and over that once your ego gets in the way, your progress stops. Stay humble and you’ll always learn.

Joy. To so many people, everything is serious and their work and lives are reflective of that. I think that viewpoint constricts us. It’s so much more rewarding — and you produce remarkably better work — when you start from a point of joy.

Attention. Attention makes everything better. Attention to listening makes your relationships better. Attention to your work improves the quality of your output and outcomes. Attention to yourself gives you deeper insights on who you are and what you can become.

Grit. I once took an honors college calculus course. A good portion of the students were smarter than me, but I outworked them and got the only A. Grit and determination are more important than intelligence.

Be. Don’t fake it until you make it. That said, I’ve spent a long time thinking I was an imposter. Be the sun, and the entire solar system will fall into your orbit. In the same vein, be authentic, because if you’re anything else, you will never be.

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

Our mission at Double Gemini is to help the world move forward by making it a more productive place. Looking ahead, we’d like to partner with organizations that are trying to solve the world’s most pressing problems, from climate change, to health crises, to food and water shortages. We’ll offer our transformation services pro bono and train their teams on how to work in a more accelerated, efficient and lower-stress way.

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 identify with Andy Raskin’s view of organizational success. I regularly read his column in Medium, and one such piece that particularly resonated with me is called, “How Great Sales Narratives Drive Urgency.” Within it, he discusses one way of creating a sense of sales urgency, which he calls the “Undeniable, Relevant Change in the World.” The idea is that while businesses may be OK with the status quo, what will happen to them if the world around them is evolving, but they don’t adapt?

This is a philosophy that guides me in the work I do every day — sure, the processes your company or your employees are using may work now, but are they being pushed to their maximum potential? And are they agile enough to adapt to changes, or are they so set in their ways that a change in process could be their downfall? Our hope is that by helping businesses achieve productivity transformation, they’ll be better equipped to handle changes to their industry, or to the world at large.

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

“From the point of view of one who creates, everything is a gamble, a leap into the unknown.” — Yayoi Kusama, contemporary Japanese artist.

It means don’t be afraid, because creators must be fearless. Focus on creating, not on the results. The outcome is out of our hands, and that’s OK. I find it particularly inspiring. It gives me license to try and do things that have never been done before.

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.

Thank you for the kind words. I have always been driven by the desire to create a better world — and I’ve found that my way of doing that is through what I call a productivity movement. The workforce is experiencing massive productivity losses due to the destruction of attention and the lack of collaboration. Employees are expected to multitask to an impossible degree, which only leads to a decrease in productivity. And with companies moving to hybrid or remote workplaces, models of collaboration have completely changed.

There is a productivity void that needs to be filled, and the mission of Double Gemini is to help create environments that improve productivity by designing processes to maximize individual attention and team collaboration. We’ve seen that when organizations overlay these processes, they achieve a complete productivity transformation by maximizing employee knowledge and output and creating equal access collaboration between employees working inside and outside of the office.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Prasanth Nair Of Double Gemini On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Ben Conway Of VNTANA On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The…

The Future Is Now: Ben Conway Of VNTANA On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Trust your gut and act quickly.

As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Conway.

Ben Conway is co-Founder and COO of VNTANA, a SaaS platform that makes 3D asset management and distribution incredibly easy via the industry’s only fully automated 3D optimization and content management platform. Ben has delivered “world’s-first” mixed reality experiences for brands like Microsoft, Intel, Adidas, & Nike across the globe and has been working in the mixed reality space for over nine years. Ben was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018, with VNTANA named to the Inc. 500 list the same year. As COO, Ben oversees all operations and sales for VNTANA’s software platform with a particular focus on retail & apparel clients like VF Corp, Diesel, & Hugo Boss.

Prior to co-founding VNTANA, Ben was District Manager at Fortune 300 human resources management software company ADP, where he became a top sales performer. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, with a BS in Business Administration-Entrepreneurship.

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

One thing is sure about VNTANA, the journey has not been straightforward. I’ve always been drawn to building things — complicated things. When I was a kid all my Christmas presents were erector sets, Legos, or K-Nex. As a grown-up, that turned into holograms and interactive 3D experiences. In our first iteration of VNTANA, we were building life-size interactive hologram experiences for brands like Lexus, Nike and Adidas. To create those experiences, we would receive massive, 3D models of each product. They were way too big to run in game engines, so we would have to manually optimize every file. We realized there was an even bigger opportunity — what if we can figure out a way to automatically optimize these 3D files and provide a content management system to manage and distribute them? What I love about this industry is that there’s always something new to learn and I get to work with companies that are building the technologies that will change the way we interact with one another and the world around us.

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

A story that I tell all the time is about our very first paid job as a company. I don’t know if it’s the most interesting, but it certainly is the most memorable. We had been hired by an agency whose client was Microsoft to put on a hologram concert at a venue in Chicago. We had never done this before. On the day of the event, nothing was working, and we were drowning. I spent the entire day rehearsing how I was going to tell the client that the event wasn’t going to happen, and we had spent all of their money, but we put our heads down and just kept going. 5 minutes before doors opened, we got everything to work. When I pressed the play button on the computer, it was one of the best feelings I had ever had. It felt so good to have imagined something just a year ago and see it come to life, despite many at the time thinking we definitely weren’t qualified to be working at that scale. I think it inspired me to keep pushing the boundaries and tackling new and harder problems.

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

One of our core technologies is our patented optimization engine, which allows us to automatically reduce 3D file sizes by up to 99% while still maintaining ultra-high visual fidelity. The goal here is to be able to optimize 3D assets for any platform and any channel automatically, without requiring a human to visually inspect the assets. To date, we have made huge breakthroughs in the fashion industry, and we are continuing to expand into other verticals while adding the ability to optimize more file types in more specialized ways. This saves 3D artists hours of time and also allows brands to deploy their products in 3D and augmented reality on e-commerce BTOB channels and the meta-verse. Scaling the production, optimization, and distribution of 3D content is critical for brands over the next decade as they begin to access and deploy more immersive digital experiences.

How do you think this might change the world?

There’s been an enormous amount of discussion around the metaverse and the future of immersive technologies. A critical component for the development of the metaverse is having digital versions of physical products. In the same way that Netflix or Youtube will adjust the quality and resolution of a video that you’re watching depending on your internet speed and device screen size, 3D models of products will need to be optimized for the device you are accessing the metaverse or another immersive experience from. Our technology is truly the only fully automated solution that can handle the automatic optimization & distribution of the millions of 3D models that will populate the metaverse.

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

The biggest thing that people need to worry about is too much of a good thing. Having access to the internet on your phone is great, but I think we all agree that spending all day mindlessly scrolling is not healthy. The same will be true of immersive 3D experiences.

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

I’d say that the tipping point for us came in the middle of 2019. For years, we were trying to build a business that would scale and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with 3D experiences. We were on track to have our best year yet and were generating millions of dollars in revenue, but it felt like we were pushing a boulder up a hill. Although we had automated much of the process of creating an interactive hologram experience, there was always customization involved and we always ended up spending a good deal of time manually optimizing 3D assets. The lightbulb moment for us came after a difficult project where we spent a lot of time looking for a more automated solution that could help us, but we couldn’t find anything. That’s when we realized there was a massive void in the market that was only going to become more pronounced over the next few years, and our team was perfectly poised to fill it.

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

We are already quickly heading in the right direction. The more compelling end use cases there are for 3D content, the faster brands will move towards developing their products in 3D. Massive conglomerates like VF Corp (Vans, Dickies, The North Face) have made enormous strides in their digital product creation process, which has allowed them to create novel experiences in Fortnite and Roblox that are paying real dividends.

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

We’re finding that having genuine conversations on social channels is working really well for us. There is so much noise and frankly nonsense right now in the 3D space. There are a lot of big promises being made that are going to lead to disappointment, because in some areas the technology just isn’t there yet. Having authentic conversations that are grounded in what’s possible today has been resonating with our customers. People are looking for actionable information that they can trust.

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 extremely grateful to my mom. More than just advice, she has always been there to listen to me and pick me up when I’ve been knocked down (and you get knocked down a lot in entrepreneurship). She has also jumped right in to help. Many years ago, when we were initially trying to figure out exactly what VNTANA would be, we had a demo scheduled to showcase some of the technology we were working on. We had almost no money at the time and were attempting to build our own projection screen and freestanding projection rig on a very small budget. We were literally pouring concrete into buckets in the garage and my mom was right there to help. When the day of the demo came, she helped us load into the venue and then, like the good mother she is, she went out and got sandwiches, so all the guests were fed.

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

I try to provide mentorship whenever I can to other founders. I often don’t have the answers, but I know what mistakes I’ve made in the past and what I wish I knew when I was starting my career. Being an entrepreneur can be incredibly isolating. You often feel like you need to be positive all the time and constantly keep your foot on the gas pedal. The reality is that you’re a human and you get tired and discouraged and burnt out just like everyone else. Having a peer who has been there has been so important for me personally and I want to pay that forward.

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

  • This is going to take way longer than you think. Take care of yourself.
  • When I started the company, I thought we’d be an overnight success. I was wrong. I often treated the journey as if it were a sprint rather than a marathon. This has led to burnout in the past, which can be really difficult to overcome. Life is short and outcomes aren’t guaranteed. It’s important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you can stick it out for the long haul.
  • Say no more often.
  • It’s so easy to get distracted and trick yourself into thinking that you can do it all. I have wasted lots of time and effort trying to tackle multiple markets and customers at once. Focus is so powerful. You really need to understand your customer to be successful and the only way to do that is through focus.
  • Trust your gut and act quickly.
  • Almost every time my gut sensed something was wrong, it was. It’s super easy to rationalize inaction, whether it’s with employees, investors or something else entirely. The longer I’ve waited to act on it (firing someone, having a difficult conversation, etc.) the worse things have gotten. When your gut senses something is off, it is.
  • Breathe deeply, not everything is an emergency.
  • In the world of start-ups, where you are trying build the plane while you’re flying it, everything can feel like an emergency. Hastily made decisions have almost always come back to bite me. Don’t let emotions cloud your ability to make clear decisions. Not everything requires you to send an email right away.
  • A good mentor is worth their weight in gold.
  • Going it alone is really hard. Make finding mentors and peers who have the right experience a priority. A good mentor can accelerate your development way faster than you would be able to do by yourself. An important caveat here is that a mentor isn’t just someone who is more experienced than you. If you don’t trust them or connect with them on a personal level, move on. Bad advice is way worse than no advice.

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 just encourage people to ask themselves in every interaction, “am I acting from a place of fear or a place of love?” I think so much bad behavior is driven by fear. Whether we make a negative comment about someone else because we’re afraid that we’re not good enough or smart enough, or we try to exert control over someone because we’re fearful of change. I think fear is at the heart of a lot suffering in the world. If we all took a deep breath before we acted or spoke, asked ourselves this simple question and answered it honestly, the change in the world would be dramatic.

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

“I am what I am. I don’t worry about anything that I can’t control.” Tom Watson

There are so many things that we cannot control, and I have spent many late nights worrying about them. Letting go of what I can’t control and focusing on the areas where I can have an impact has made me happier and more productive. I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on my deficiencies but instead try to find what I’m naturally good at and improve.

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 🙂

Covid accelerated everyone’s need for 3D content management, but IT infrastructure was built for 2D only. Every platform requires different 3D specifications, which is expensive and time consuming to enable. VNTANA solves this with automated software. VNTANA is a first-of-its-kind 3D Infrastructure Platform, which can add 3D capabilities to any platform (including PLM, DAMs, and marketplaces) at a fraction of the cost and time. VNTANA’s fully automated, patented 3D optimization software reduces 3D file size by up to 99%, instantly converting existing 3D design files into the file types and sizes needed for any end use case and delivering those optimized files through the industry’s fastest-loading, highest-quality 3D web viewer. We are trusted by brands like Hugo Boss, Diesel, VF Corp and others and are on track to grow over 300% this year.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Those who are interested in following VNTANA can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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


The Future Is Now: Ben Conway Of VNTANA 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.

Dr James O Rodgers, The Diversity Coach, On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Manage yourself. I am responsible for understanding and managing my own bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and reactions to differences.

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

Dr. James Rodgers is recognized as a thought leader and the leading strategist in the field of diversity management. He provides high-end executive coaching, D&I advice and counsel to senior executives and offices of Diversity. His major clients have included J&J, Prudential, IBM, Southern Company, Coca-Cola, and the High Museum of Art. He is a fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants and the co-author of Diversity Training That Generates Real Change.

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

After graduating from Howard University, I started my career as a fast-track executive in the telecom industry. I worked in nearly every function in that industry from engineering to marketing to project management to executive education. I had the privilege to work directly with a number of the highest-level executives in the company. I learned a lot about how to run a major global enterprise. I left corporate life and started a consulting practice at first focusing on issues like TQM and management training. I eventually was invited into the field of diversity management and have been a leader in that field for over 35 years.

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

After I got my MBA, my boss came to me and asked me to facilitate a meeting of the entire department where we would decide how to position our role in the company. He called it a strategic planning session. I had never done such a thing, but I said yes. It was a huge success. I discovered that facilitation was a gift I had, and it led me to pursue a career as a professional facilitator and coach. Years later, one of my colleagues who was a part of that session, told me that was the best and most productive planning session he ever participated in and he was then a state President.

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

There is an old South poem called Keep a goin’. It reminds me constantly to stay with my life path despite distractions, downturns, or barriers. At one point early in my business I was near broke, no contracts on the books, and no viable prospects. But I just kept a goin’. One month later, I was introduced to a client that led to one of the biggest contracts of my consultancy.

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?

Three women come to mind. My wife Sharon stayed with me and encouraged me during the lean years. Dr. Maureen Hunter provided professional grounding when my practice was staring to take off. My co-author for the new book, Laura Kangas has been an advisor and encourager as well as a business partner for over 25 years.

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

Especially in the field of D&I, my company is acknowledged as the leading strategy provider. We maintain a business-related posture even with so-called soft skills work. I am one of the only CMC, technology geek, and politically agnostic practitioners in the field. I know business and I know what senior executives need.

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

I have published three books; two in the business genre, one in the spirituality genre. I see direct parallels between those sectors. Inspired by my friend and mentor, Marshall Goldsmith (author of Triggers, and the Earned Life), I am planning a series of personal growth books based on my years of observation of people grappling with the toughest most vexing issues humans may face. I anticipate titles like Seeking Similarities and Finding Truth by Paying Attention.

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

I feel good that I have been able to hear back from people who have been touched by my ministry. Laura (Kangas) and I comment in the new book that we have witnessed people make life changing discoveries, cathartic transformations, and release of faulty conditioning as they experience our learning sessions.

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

D&I has to be presented as a practical discipline if it ever hopes to penetrate the business community. My experience with TQM, Six Sigma, LEAN manufacturing, and other sound management principles reminds me of what it takes to get the sustained attention of business managers.

  1. Make it simple
  2. Make it practical
  3. Make it outcome-oriented
  4. Make it work
  5. Make it go away

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

I was asked 25 years ago what we need to do to make the workplace more diversity friendly. I said then that we need to develop better people managers. If you want to get real value from diversity and inclusion efforts, focus on front line managers. We tend to put the burden on executive leaders to transform the work environment so that everyone feels a sense of belonging and feels free to contribute to their fullest potential. That is not their role. That is the role of managers. Remember, when people quit, they are not leaving because of the company MVVS or culture; they are leaving because of a toxic relationship with their manager.

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

D&I is a team discipline. Teams are made up of individuals (not groups). Treat every individual as an individual. There is no formula for managing women versus men. In my first book, I outlined seven principles for managing a team of diverse composition, They are:

  1. Believe they can. I believe every employee can give 100%. It is my responsibility to help them do it.
  2. Get to know them. I bear the greater responsibility for developing positive relationships with my employees.
  3. Manage yourself. I am responsible for understanding and managing my own bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and reactions to differences.
  4. Adapt your style. I must adapt my style and behavior to get the best from each employee.
  5. Use your power. I have the power and ability to provide what my employees need.
  6. Ask! Each employee knows how he/she wants to be treated. If I want to know, I have to ask.
  7. Be fair. I understand that treating people equally does not mean treating them the same.

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 🙂

Jerry Jones, business investor and owner of the Dallas cowboys. To me he exemplifies what effective leaders do. When the NFL is under pressure for high profile missteps, Jerry never skirts the issue. He comes on TV and states or restates the direction the league is going. He is not distracted by media hype or frustration. He very plainly states the direction and invites people to follow.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn (James Rodgers)

Website (jamesorodgers.com)

Book page (Diversity Training That generates Real Change)

Newsletter subscription (Mailchimp)

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


Dr James O Rodgers, The Diversity Coach, On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Luke Fleury Of Fleury Properties On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Luke Fleury Of Fleury Properties On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Think Big

Be Accountable

Have Integrity

Be Passionate

Adapt

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

Luke Fleury is from Newport Rhode Island. He attended The University of Rhode Island where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics in 2017. After graduation, he started his own Real Estate Development Company — Fleury Properties where he purchased homes and flipped them for a profit. Shortly after he joined a local Country Club — The Aquidneck Club where he met successful investors who would lead him to create the vision for Dibbs.

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 first learned that I wanted to pursue a career in real estate back while attending the University of Rhode Island. I was an economics major and in my free time, I’d watch HGTV. I found that I was constantly inspired by house flipping shows and seeing the transformations that those homes would undergo. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset — when I graduated in 2017, I purchased my first flip. Throughout this time, I found that I was paying high-interest bank rates. I decided that I would seek investors who would work with me as a mutually beneficial relationship while cutting out those high costs. I met Rob Desantis, a serial entrepreneur and former co-founder of Ariba. In our many conversations, he inspired me to want more than just real estate developing and investing. He pushed me to find an issue in my industry and come up with a solution — this is ultimately what lead me to create Dibbs.

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?

During my first house flip, I underestimated the costs involved in renovating the home. There were surprise issues with the house (as there are with many older homes) that I did not anticipate when budgeting for the project. Also, I purchased my first house with little money down and at a higher interest rate. It being my first time, I made silly mistakes that could have been avoided looking back. Thankfully it all worked out and I still sold the house at a profit from what I purchased and put into it but had things been even slightly different, I could be in a completely different place in my life than where I’m at now. My suggestion is to do your research. Account for higher than expected costs, research the market trends, hire trustworthy contractors or employees, and have enough time available in your investment. Projects can take longer than you hope for and it’s good to have prepared yourself for it.

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 have been lucky enough to have multiple mentors throughout the different stages of my career and life. My dad has and will always be my biggest mentor. He is a well-respected member of the community and watching him help and lead others has truly impacted and pushed me to be the best I can be both in my career and personal life.

In recent years, I have been extremely fortunate to connect and be mentored by some of the best.

Rob Desantis. Rob was one of the original founders of Ariba and helped propel Ariba from zero to $250 million in revenue in just four years. I met Rob while playing golf at The Aquidneck Club in Rhode Island. I joined the club because I was hoping it would leverage my networking opportunities and allow me to connect with investors for my real estate and development company. While it did this, the conversations I had with Rob is what led me to create Dibbs. He understands firsthand how to scale start-ups and has been instrumental in bringing the vision for Dibbs to life. Rob is now a co-founder of Dibbs and truly has been a mentor I can learn and grow from.

Rob has been nothing short of generous in connecting me with his network of advisors, investors, friends, and colleagues. Shortly after meeting Rob, I was introduced to Zack King. His background in software engineering has helped our development team create a scalable product with an easy-to-use interface for the construction industry.

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?

They say “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” however, I am not sure that is true anymore. Today technology has allowed people to do things faster, easier, and with more knowledge. If the old way is causing you frustrations why not find a solution?

Our app — Dibbs is disrupting the construction industry. The construction industry for years has been bidding and finding materials manually. It’s a time-consuming process but no one has looked to change it. A study by Visual Capitalist found that 70% of companies in the industry believe that those who do not adopt new technologies will go out of business and 62% admit that the industry lags behind others in adopting new technologies.

Although difficult, change is something that should be embraced especially when it comes to technology. It’s time to disrupt.

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

Here’s a few that we’ve integrated into our core values.

Think Big

Be Accountable

Have Integrity

Be Passionate

Adapt

These words have been comforting when facing major decisions. It helps to go back and think of what we are really trying to do and sticking to our values as a business and team.

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

Growing Dibbs nationally. I want nothing more than for every contractor and tradesman in the US to use Dibbs as their go-to tool for construction projects. The same goes for homeowners, I want Dibbs to be a recognized household name and resource for renovation services. I truly believe that our product makes people’s lives easier and better.

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?

There are a few that have really resonated with me in my personal life as well as with my business. Firstly, the Bible. There are so many thoughtful life lessons and best practices that I often go back to in my personal life. Grant Cardone, a top real estate investor has a podcast that I listen to often. He is brutally honest in his advice and really gets you to think big and think creatively. Thinking big has become one of our core values at Dibbs. Lastly, one of the books that has truly helped in my business career is one of our advisors, John McMahon’s best-selling book — The Qualified Sales Leader. This book has a ton of amazing sales strategies that get you to really think about your product as a whole and how to create actual value for your customer. This has helped me tremendously to focus on automating every aspect of the bidding process for the construction industry. Without doing this we would only provide a small value to our users.

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

There are a few that I live by — especially when I am feeling negative or down which in the entrepreneurial life does happen.

The first is actually from Meek Mill “On your worst day, you’re still living better than somebody on their greatest day” This is something I am consistently reminding myself of when I am feeling down. When the going gets tough, someone else in the world would happily trade places with you and deal with your current struggles compared to their day-to-day struggles.

The next two are quick quotes that really push me to be better and positive in my everyday life:

  • “Try and fail but don’t fail to try” — John Quincy Adams.
  • “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” — commonly attributed to Lance Armstrong.

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

My nonprofit dream has always been to open up a charter school for children and young adults up to college with physical and social disabilities. I would start it in elementary up to college by providing sports programs for them, social gatherings, helping them get into the workforce as they get older, as well as housing and to help with their overall social skills to help them in a society that can be so difficult for them otherwise. I would want to raise money for the first school and then charter them all over the country from donors all over.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am not very active on social media but I regularly post company updates, industry insights, and advice on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/luke-fleury-5010a3215/ or check out Dibbs at: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dibbstechnology/

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


Meet The Disruptors: Luke Fleury Of Fleury Properties On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Makers of The Metaverse: Tsvetta Kaleynska Of Merse Advisory On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed…

Makers of The Metaverse: Tsvetta Kaleynska Of Merse Advisory On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Believe the unbelievable, have a great imagination and always think big pic.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tsvetta Kaleynska.

Tsvetta Kaleynska is an internationally recognized marketer, TV commentator, SaaS consultant, and author on the topics of A.I. and technology and their impact on international development and safety. She is a founder of two boutique consultancies with headquarters in New York — RILA GLOBAL CONSULTING and Merse Advisory. Kaleynska has won multiple awards for her work, including a silver Stevie Award for “Women Helping Women Globally”; she works closely with the Peace Corps, the European Commission, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, focusing on establishing a safe online environment for adolescents, promoting female empowerment, and equality.

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?

Thank you so much for virtually having me! I was born and raised in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria — a beautiful town in central Bulgaria, surrounded by beautiful mountains filled with centuries-long history. Born during the last year of communism, I was named after my grandmother and as unique as my hometown, my name means “flower” in Bulgarian. I graduated from the language high school in my hometown, where I studied French and Spanish and had the unique opportunity to pursue my higher education in the United States. In 2008 I moved to New York City on an academic scholarship. I graduated from St. Francis College with degrees in Marketing Management and International Business and Economics. After that, I completed my Master’s in Public Administration at Baruch College and started my dynamic career in the business world right in the heart of New York.

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?

A book that shaped my mindset in my early 20s is the famous book called “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. It truly had a significant impact on my life as a quote stuck with me ever since I read it. The quote reads: “Instead of focusing on the world’s problems, give your attention and energy to trust, love, abundance, education, and peace.” The moment I read that line I felt a strange feeling of both agreement and disagreement with it. I felt likeI had to take care of my mental health but also realized I would never abandon my drive and passion for helping people. I always followed the motto that if we don’t strive to change the world, no one else would. This is why I was beyond honored to start my work with a nonprofit for female empowerment in the Balkans. The GLOW camp, abbreviated from “Girls Leading Our World” is a Peace Corps initiative that aims to unleash the full potential in adolescent females between the ages of 14–18 and to develop them as future leaders. I have been part of this organization for almost two decades now and always strive to encourage adolescent girls to believe in themselves.

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

I have always been fascinated with Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, analytics and software. I have also always believed that AI and Virtual and Augmented Reality would be the future of the world and our generation’s impact on world history. The Metaverse and VR/AR, robotics were the only interception where I was able to combine my passion for technology and helping advance society through technology. Prime example of how VR/AR can improve life-saving fields is medical education — one can literally learn to become a doctor from anywhere in the world and learn from the best live. This is also why I chose to co-found Merse Advisory, a boutique consultancy helping brands make sense of the Metaverse.

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

For many years I worked at a large media agency in New York City, which offered various products and services. At first, my work involved a lot of writing, which was somewhat unnatural to me, given English is not my first language. I knew that in order to build my career from the ground up I had to step up my game, my English skills and to prove myself in the Big Apple. Since I began my career, I have been able to translate a client goal into a strategic framework and business strategy. The best outcome and story from my work has been the launch of virtual and augmented realities which have benefited people in impoverished countries. It was an incredible honor to be able to understand the client’s vision, create the strategy for it, and then be able to tell the story through visual and augmented boards, as well as a story which was shared online.

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

I wouldn’t even know where to start. Throughout my career, I have received numerous lessons and made funny mistakes. One of the most memorable one I can share was the time I set up a fundraising page with the goal of raising a few thousand. The thousand I had placed was in the wrong currency though. Of course, we hit our campaign goal in no time as the exchange rate was 1 to 1000. The lesson I learned then was to pay attention to detail as excellence can only be achieved through the small details. Although I am the type of person who doesn’t like to make mistakes, I somewhat enjoy it now, as every mistake makes me a better person, friend, and professional.

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

When I was younger, I always thought my strong motivation for my achievements will never leave me. But moved abroad things drastically changed. I then realized how important it is to have a trusting and experienced mentor by your side. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by remarkable mentors, cheerleaders, and to have a great support system and the best mentor I’ve had has been my loving mom. I am incredibly thankful to her for the amazing example she has given me. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without her in many senses of the phrase. She is also the strongest person I know, who has built her career up during communism when females were mostly expected to be housewives. Women like my mom, who have managed to be a successful mother, wife, entrepreneur and a dreamer are the ones we really need to celebrate!

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

With the extraordinary advancement of technology, the Metaverse, and virtual reality will inevitably be a part of our lives very soon. With the multitude of possibilities in Metaverse applications come the many complex questions. That is why I co-founded Merse Advisory — to provide clients with the best possible technologies and global experts in the virtual space. We work across a few super interesting projects both in virtual and augmented reality, however I’ll have to come back to Authority Magazine in a few months and share them once we’ve completed them!

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?

With our world becoming more and more digitized every day, new changes, improvements, and innovations are awaiting us at every turn. In the last couple of years, technology has developed so rapidly that no one would have believed we would live in such a digital life. But innovation never stops and Web3 and the Metaverse can begin a new era of revolution. Being online and digital can make our lifestyles and work way easier.

Firstly, I believe that the VR, AR, and MR industries bring a whole new level to simplicity in our digital journeys. I think the rapid innovation of different apps will inevitably make our lives easier even more than they are now. For instance, VR technologies can be a key element in the social life of some, especially for those with physical incapabilities. By entering the VR world, they can feel more freedom by accomplishing undone activities. Secondly, these technologies will not only be a new provider of highly interactive social life, but also a huge opportunity for businesses. VR, AR, and MR technologies can provide companies with important data circulation which will arise new paths for entrepreneurship developments. Thirdly, this industry will bring more potential in terms of advancement of education and medicine. This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about it as technologies can bring new paths for human development in terms of not only social interaction and entertainment but also learning and teaching.

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?

As many others in the industry, a concern I have is related to human interactions and how the Metaverse can affect those in the future. In that light, I am also proud to be a builder of the Metaverse in order to ensure that I help evolve human interactions and not hinder them. I can list many more concerns I have related to technology, but they are mostly related to both [physical and digital safety.

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

As we saw with the Covid-19 pandemic, the whole world had to adapt to a new digital environment and online workplace. This showed how valuable VR, AR, and MR technologies can be. We discovered ways to be more productive and efficient both at work and in learning / education. When speaking about the latter, VR, AR, and MR advancements gave new opportunities to teach audiences virtually in a digital, safe, and interactive environment. Think of students who do not have access to education or who are in countries where that is not accessible — VR, AR, and MR can provide an amazing opportunity for education to evolve and be implemented anywhere. For instance, nowadays thanks to inventive and innovative technologies, doctors can practice and improve techniques and surgeries virtually. This could give a huge advancement in the development of medicine.

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

The possibilities are beyond our imagination. Besides the ones I mentioned before, another aspect that VR, AR, and MR can improve our lives is saving the planet by reducing carbon footprint. Nowadays you can literally visit any place you wish to see, even if it is on the other side of the world. One can travel using VR tools and preserve the planet and carbon footprint.

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

It is normal there are some misconceptions about the industry; a common myth to dispel is that the Metaverse already exists and is fully functioning. I am happy to share that is not the case and the Metaverse is in the process of being built 🙂

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”

  • Having a stellar tech stack knowledge.
  • Understand and stay ahead of Industry trends.
  • Being flexible and open minded as the industry changes nonstop.
  • Believe the unbelievable, have a great imagination and always think big pic.
  • Be positive and think big!

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

As the times we live in aren’t easy, I think it is vital for us to save humanity in terms of caring more about our planet and people in general. This is why I believe in volunteering and helping poor regions improve their infrastructure, access to food, technology, among others. If I had the power to bring a movement with that force, I would definitely fight for establishing a stable and effective educational access in poor regions and empowering the young generation.

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 🙂

Among the top people I would like to have breakfast with is Sara Blakely. What an inspirational leader she is! I am amazed by how intelligent, fearless and hard-wrking she is. A true female leader who built her empire all by herself and now strives to help those in need. 🙂

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

Thank you for the opportunity!


Makers of The Metaverse: Tsvetta Kaleynska Of Merse Advisory On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed… 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: Dr Vivek Lal Of ResBiotic On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

After you analyze and validate your idea, one of the most important things you can do is surround yourself with successful people you trust who have your best interest in mind. Build a team of advisors who are experts in their field, ask them questions, and listen to what they have to say. You’d be surprised at how far a LinkedIn message could go in these cases.

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

Dr. Lal is a physician-scientist entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in lung research, clinical management, and healthcare entrepreneurship. He is the founder and CEO of ResBiotic and serves as the Director of the Pulmonary Microbiome Lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which is funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and American Heart Association (AHA). A neonatal intensivist and pulmonary biologist by training, Dr. Lal has authored more than 100 original scientific publications, chapters, and abstracts, including groundbreaking articles on the critical role of the microbiome in chronic lung diseases.

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”?

Absolutely. I was born and raised in Andaman Islands, India, where my mother and father instilled in me the importance of hard work and success. My journey into medicine started when I was 17 years old. I moved to the U.S. to pursue research and higher education in the field of medicine. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, and it was my mother’s dream for me to become a doctor one day. I hadn’t exactly envisioned that for myself, but helping others quickly became a passion and led me to where I am today: an ICU physician and pulmonary microbiome scientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the founder and chief executive officer of ResBiotic.

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

“If you ever wonder how to do something, just start and you’ll end up looking back wondering how you did it.”

I’m not sure of the source, but this is a quote my father always told me, and it has pushed me to accomplish things I would have never thought possible. Throughout my life, I’ve found it true that if you have an idea, the key to success is getting started. As I look back on the milestones I’ve achieved as a physician-scientist and entrepreneur, I realize so much happened because I dared to take action.

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?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is a book that I often reference. Many business books tell you things you probably already know, but this one gives a raw look at what it takes to build a company from the ground up and get it to survive. Being the CEO of a company is rewarding, but it doesn’t go without serious challenges. As Horowitz says, “The only thing that prepares you to run a company is running a company.” You don’t have to own a company to benefit from this read. It’s an excellent book for anyone who wants to grow as an entrepreneur.

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 really believe that ideas are a dime a dozen, and frankly, the greatest idea could be worth nothing if there’s no execution. Everyone has an idea and an opinion, but few take action to make those ideas come to life. You don’t have to knock it out of the park with the idea, but you just can’t sit with it. As I said, the key is actually getting started. A moderate to good idea complimented with an excellent execution plan will get you far.

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’s critically important to do your due diligence in the research. The internet has everything these days, making it extremely easy to discover if someone is already working on your idea. Patent searches go a long way in the beginning stages, and this is something you could do on your own. Subject matter expert interviews can also be helpful. In other words, find experts in the field and see what they have to say. This is also a great way to start making connections. Nevertheless, you’re not disqualified if someone else has done something before you. Ultimately, it’s about execution and your solution could be 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.

After you analyze and validate your idea, one of the most important things you can do is surround yourself with successful people you trust who have your best interest in mind. Build a team of advisors who are experts in their field, ask them questions, and listen to what they have to say. You’d be surprised at how far a LinkedIn message could go in these cases.

Once your idea transitions to invention, you must act quickly to protect your work with appropriate patents. The resB® Lung Support formulation was the product of years of research in my lung microbiome lab and our Chief Medical Officer’s lung protease biology lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, so we were fortunate to have the support of the university in securing a patent. If that type of resource is not available to you, there are good patent lawyers who can help.

Choosing the right manufacturer is also a critical step in safely getting your product into the hands of consumers. Hold every company you outsource to the highest standards with manufacturing is at the top of that list. This is where LinkedIn outreach was really key for me in the early days of ResBiotic. I didn’t have any experience in this space, so I reached out to industry leaders to learn more about my options. I found some incredible advisors who helped us navigate the process — avoid potential missteps, adopt best practices, hold ourselves and our partners to the highest standards. I’ve taken similar steps for distribution as we are now securing local and large chain retailers to distribute resB® Lung Support.

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 you should always complete your own analysis of the process before making moves to bring other parties into the conversation. Getting validated expert help early in the process rarely hurts, but you must have a foundational understanding that you’ve developed independently. At the end of the day, it is your idea, and you will eventually know more about it than anyone else.

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

Deciding between the two is very business and founder specific. It depends on your goals: how fast do you want to grow, what is your exit strategy, and what is the timing of it? Bootstrapping is extremely important for a startup in the initial stages, but there should not be a fear of equity dilution and venture funding if you want fast growth. Both bring their benefits to the table, and there’s no wrong way to do it.

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

As a pulmonary physician scientist, I often ask myself, “how do we improve the future of respiratory health globally?” My definition of success is making the world a better place. So ResBiotic is a mission driven business, introducing what I believe is a better paradigm for lung health. In a time where respiratory risks lurk behind every corner, we need a way for people to care for their lungs proactively and holistically. We need to destigmatize respiratory issues and normalize a level of care for our respiratory systems. The innovation that makes all this possible is our understanding of the airway microbiome and the dynamic connections between gut and lung health.

ResBiotic began at the bedside by observing that the airways exhibit a microbiome as early as a baby’s birth. Since then, there have been years of research at my lung microbiome lab and our Chief Medical Officer’s lung protease biology lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. We explored the gut-lung axis concept and how gut bacteria communicate with different organs, including the lungs. From there, we created what is now resB® Lung Support and acted quickly to make our innovation available to anyone who actively thinks about their respiratory health.

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

One of the most important things to me is making the world a better place for those who will come after us. When I think about breathing, I think about how air pollution could affect the future generations. There’s the saying “leave it better than you found it,” and I believe that to be true for our planet.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S, 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.

Several people come to mind, from world-renowned physicians to some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, but there is an athlete who always has more than impressed me, and that is Michael Phelps. His work ethic and drive for success are nothing short of admirable. He is quoted as saying, “If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.” He leads by example in this; not only does he own swimming, he is the most decorated Olympian of all time, and he did it all with asthma. I would love to sit down with him to ask a few questions and hear about his journey as an athlete with respiratory disease. Who knows, he may be interested in giving resB® a try!

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


Making Something From Nothing: Dr Vivek Lal Of ResBiotic 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.

Monique Nelson Of UWG On Why Diversity Is Good For Business

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Organizations that increase levels of inclusion in their culture are proven to increase levels of engagement which directly impacts workplace safety, reduces employee turnover, improves employee productivity, customer loyalty and profitability.

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

Monique Nelson is an Experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the marketing and advertising industry. Skilled in Digital Strategy, Integrated Marketing, Advertising, Event Management, and Strategic Partnerships. Strong business development professional with a MBA focused in International Marketing and Finance from DePaul University.

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

I was born and raised in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. I attended LaGuardia High School performing arts as a voice major. In my senior year I was awarded the Posse Scholarship, and Inclusive Leadership Scholarship, to attend Vanderbilt University. I left Nashville, TN and moved to Kaukauna, WI where I was an Account Rep at International Paper, Nicolet, Specialty Paper plant. After a few years, I took my talents to Chicago, where I joined Motorola’s Global Brand Strategy Group and travelled the world. I spent significant time in Korea, China, Brazil, Italy, UK and UAE. This time, as you can imagine, allowed me to see and truly understand that culture mattered and as a marketer, I needed to be constantly informed about culture and how our product would be having both a positive and negative impact.

During my time at Motorola, I obtained my MBA from DePaul University in International Marketing and Finance.

After almost 8 years at Motorola, I returned to NYC and began my career at UWG as an Account Director and Head of Brand Integration and Entertainment. This role allowed me to learn the client service part of the business along with bringing my mobile and digital first knowledge to the agency and our clients. Both Byron and I knew that digital would drive the engagement of communities and would need to be culturally relevant.

I loved the business so much that my family and I bought the controlling stake in UWG in May 2012 when founder Byron Lewis retired, and I have been Chair and CEO for 10 years. I am so proud of the heritage of the agency, but also of the innovative, smart and empathetic team I have built to take on the challenges and the triumphs of the communities we serve for today and the future.

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

While I was launching the Motorola Rokr E1 we worked with some pretty amazing artists like Common, Questlove, Iggy Pop and the unbelievable Madonna, it being the first mobile phone with music embedded with 100 songs from Apple in September 2005. Madonna was releasing new music and we decided to use her song for the campaign. Well, we were only supposed to use a snippet of the song and not the entire song but somehow the entire song was released worldwide during the launch event. Needless to say, a lot happened to get the music down and relaunched. Lesson here “Don’t leak an unreleased Madonna song ☺ ”. Very stressful moment and I truly recognized that closing the communication loop is imperative to have excellent outcomes.

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

Decisions about are made in rooms without you! Everywhere you go, there you are!

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

There are so many but here is a short list:

Jonathan and Dorothy Nelson — Parents, what more do I need to say?

My husband and two boys — My “why” for making the future better for 3 Black men.

Elena Panizza — My fantastic boss in Milan Italy taught me to truly be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Michael Ainslie — My Mentor from college, Former CEO of Sotheby’s, continues to show me the ways of a CEO.

Byron Lewis — Founder of UWG, he taught me vision and mission is critical to sustainability and purpose drives everything.

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

We were purpose driven before purpose was a thing! We are consumer/customer- centric, and our relationship is always reciprocal with the communities we engage.

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

I am excited about working with student athletes and am proud to be working with the first NIL Summit in Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame, June 13–15th. I am excited for these young athletes to be equipped with tools and resources to become content creators, investors and hopefully entrepreneurs. It is important for them to know their worth now that they can monetize. Helping young people succeed is paramount for our future and college athletes are a special community of dedicated, talented, smart and savvy people that deserve our support after years of denial.

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

I certainly hope I have. I am oversubscribed but it is so hard for me to say no, especially when it comes to our community’s youth.

I serve on the following boards:

DPAA DEI Board — I recently did a webinar on how to attract and retain diverse talent

Posse Foundation, NY advisory Board

Eagle Academy Foundation

Brandeis University — DEI committee and Academy Committee

Member of the Brooklyn Links, Incorporated- Fundraising Chair for Salute to Youth Scholarship Program

UWG has a long history of giving and community. We support HBCU’s, minority businesses through supplier diversity, and support nonprofits in any ways we can.

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

  1. Risk Mitigation 1 — effective diversity programs can serve as a mitigant against lawsuits and other costly compliance related issues.
  2. Risk Mitigation 2- effective diversity programs can protect a brand against costly “Public Blemish Incidents.” In the case of Cooper v Cooper and the Central Park Bird Watching incident, Franklin Templeton lost over $12B in market cap in under three days.
  3. Organizations that increase levels of inclusion in their culture are proven to increase levels of engagement which directly impacts workplace safety, reduces employee turnover, improves employee productivity, customer loyalty and profitability.
  4. For complex business challenges (not run of the mill issues), teams with diversity of demographics and culture/backgrounds consistently provide superior solutions when addressing these complex business issues.
  5. In B2B and B2G Sales, corporate, government and other buyers are demanding suppliers to have strong diverse workforces, supplier programs, and are also now demanding that client service teams have diverse representation; those organizations lacking these fundamental requirements are not even being afforded the opportunity to compete for RFP deals.

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

During this time employees are asking for environments that are inclusive and safe. Creating safe space for employees to express themselves and create community is so important. Whether you have ERG’s clubs, buddy systems, mentorship programs, happy hours or safe space hours — it is important especially in this hybrid environment that we understand where people are not only with the work but with their complete selves. Lastly, being very thoughtful, that mental health is real!!!!

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

Large teams must be managed in smaller teams. The best thing to do with large teams is to understand what is common and should be addressed universally as well as what is special and should be managed at the department, competency, or regional level. Once this is established, insert a feedback loop so best practices, innovations and learnings can be shared at both the large team level and small team level.

This allows for better metrics, faster problem solving and stronger performance.

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 🙂

Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka. I am so proud of their strength, resilience, and brilliance. They are truly inspirational, and it would be an honor to spend time with them.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://uwginc.com

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


Monique Nelson Of UWG On Why Diversity Is Good For Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeremy Chou Of Marqeta On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Culture in its most basic definition is how employees experience their leaders, policies and each other. Generally speaking, most tech companies are below talent benchmarks in terms of balanced representation and diversity in their employee base. This means there should be some efforts underway to correct that representation gap, from both hiring and retention angles.

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

Jeremy Chou currently leads Marqeta’s core Recruiting and Sourcing teams, in addition to heading up DE&I for the Oakland-based fintech company. Prior to joining Marqeta, Jeremy spent eight years at Google, where he built and led a series of technical sourcing and recruiting teams. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Stanford and lives in Danville, CA with his wife, Celina, and their 1-yr-old Bernese mountain dog, Francis.

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

As a first-generation immigrant to this country and now a Bay Area resident for over three decades, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to break into the tech industry and Silicon Valley very early in my career. After graduation and a short stint in IT Sales, I stumbled into the recruiting field, initially specializing in sales and executive search before moving to engineering-focussed roles. I then embarked on a 5-year tour inside Google’s recruiting organization, holding a wide range of sourcing and recruiting leadership roles. This ultimately led me to find a niche at the intersection of diversity and technical recruiting. It was the start of a 3-year journey helping build Google’s Diversity Staffing function from the ground up, alongside some of the brightest and most impassioned diversity leaders and thinkers in the industry.

After wrapping up my 8-year anniversary at Google, I made the bold decision to start a new journey, in a new industry here at Marqeta. I came to Marqeta to build out a new team and function by leveraging my experience in recruiting and diversity. I learned quickly that I would be the one gaining from the company, its sets of leaders and people. With brand new challenges in a new environment and a completely different pace of execution, the journey has been fast and like nothing I’ve experienced before. Now, a year in and with an unbelievably powerful team in place, we’re marching forward on our mission to write the future of global money movement.

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

A few years ago, my team and I were signed up to participate in an intern and new grad career fair. As I was entering the hall and headed toward our booth, I struck up a conversation with a student headed the same way. They asked me “…so, which graduating class are you in?”. Being mistaken for a student left me amused and yes, slightly flattered. But it also strangely transported me back to when I was, in fact, a student like him, wandering the hall at my first intern fair. I remembered so vividly the anxiousness and nerves but also the excitement of being in that state of mind.

The majority of hiring I’ve led over the years has involved some element of intern and university recruiting. Often overlooked by companies, establishing an Early-In-Career program that’s in tune with this growing, and constantly changing, talent pool can really accelerate your corporate brand. It benefits your culture, internal mobility/progression, and investing in the next generation of leaders for your industry.

I’ve learned that early career recruiting and the candidate experience you create must be uniquely different in terms of approach and structure. Many in our field have deep subject matter expertise in building and scaling these programs. A staffing organization isn’t complete without one.

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

“If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind.” -Lao Tzu

Of all the wonderfully inspiring quotes about drive and persistence, this one speaks to all of the competitors out there. The undersized athletes, the underestimated talent, the undermined and underscored. Through sports, academics and now my career, I’ve always worked to prove myself and chase the impossible. I believe you’ll never show up hungrier or more determined than when you play with a chip on your shoulder. This message of staying humble and focused while being unapologetically relentless in your pursuit has served me my entire life, especially in the last several years of my career. In a valley of over-achievers and industry bar-setters, standing out and setting yourself apart can be a long and trying journey. The recipe I’ve followed is simple; find those who are the best at your craft…learn how they set their bar…then set an even higher one for yourself. It may take you years to reach but it’s all the motivation true competitors need.

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

There are far too many names on this list but one I’ll be forever indebted to was the leader who first gave me my first shot at managing a team. I couldn’t be more grateful for how she kick-started an unbelievably rewarding career as a people leader. Being far from the obvious choice for the job, she saw the potential in me and risked her own reputation in order to give me a chance. I’ve tried my best to follow her example and make her proud. She knows who she is…Thank you, J.

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

At Marqeta, we back up what we say we’re going to do with action. For example, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, our leadership team immediately rolled out our new healthcare policy to support every Marqetan, no matter where they lived in the US. Instead of simply communicating our support to employees, our leadership team took action and ensured employees knew they would have their certain travel expenses covered. Through examples like this, I get a sense of how we strive to live by our “Marqeta Cares” corporate value. We continue to take action to support the diverse needs of our employees, customers and communities.

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

I’ve dedicated my career to helping break down barriers in tech for new and emerging talent pools, specifically talent that had been historically excluded from the tech industry. Silicon Valley still remains an insider’s club in many ways, as many tech companies struggle to sustain progress with diversity efforts and programs. However, despite the nominal improvements in workforce representation, the establishment of a central DE&I function and practice has finally become a standard for companies, and this is a very good thing. I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of that change. And while we still have a lot of work to do in the years ahead, being able to watch our practice grow and mature beyond a novelty gives me tremendous hope for the future.

Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.

Having seen and been a part of operationalized DE&I at both a big tech giant (Google) and now a recently IPO’ed high-growth fintech like Marqeta, I believe the bottom line impact really does vary based on company size and sector. That said, there are a few constants that I hold true across all players, large and small, in tech: Impact on your Customers, Corporate Culture & Communities

Customers typically want to work with companies whose values, operating principles and viewpoints are not in direct opposition to their own. This is especially true for the suite of publicly-traded, high market cap companies most often sought after by B2B tech players. In the B2C space, ‘customers’ are obviously the end users of that particular tech and they, too, will spend their customer loyalty points on businesses who will provide the value(s) they need and support. A company’s commitment to DE&I and how that commitment is messaged, sponsored and operationalized now frequently sits at the center of every company’s value(s)-based branding and ethos. This can have a direct impact on every aspect of the customer experience, from acquisition and satisfaction to retention and loyalty.

Culture in its most basic definition is how employees experience their leaders, policies and each other. Generally speaking, most tech companies are below talent benchmarks in terms of balanced representation and diversity in their employee base. This means there should be some efforts underway to correct that representation gap, from both hiring and retention angles. A firm commitment to DE&I, along with a well-published strategy is no longer the same choice or matter of opinion, as it may have been 10 years ago. It is now almost considered a minimum requirement of any company’s mission statement and set of values. Not to mention an expectation of its leadership and executive teams. Variance is found in how that strategy is funded and the extent to which the employee base truly believes it’s as important as their leaders tell them it is. I see better culture equal to better and more efficient hiring, a better employee experience, and better retention rates. Transitively, lower talent acquisition and retention costs equal an improvement to bottom line.

Communities have more influence over customer spending and decision-making than ever before, and we don’t expect this to change anytime soon. Previously known as the “word of mouth” effect, the modern consumer experience is now impacted by various spheres of influence; from social media sites/groups and alumni associations to professional organizations and identity-based collectives. These emerging communities of consumers will often elect to buy products and services that don’t just address their individual and community needs but actually caters to them, their beliefs and values. Having an employee base as diverse as the users a company aims to serve is a great starting point. Next, is building a go-to-market strategy that is specifically tailored for that diverse customer/user base. Finally, a user experience that retains that base against competitors and alternative choices. In a world where users belong to multiple communities and are paying close attention to how businesses cater to those communities, it becomes highly important that businesses understand how to engage, support and maximize their community brand and reach.

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

One of the best pieces of feedback and advice I ever received as a leader was to check my own assumptions. As leaders and people managers, we’re often expected to have the answers and/or guide our teams to growth and success. The problem is that the advice we give is often rooted in a core set of assumptions and truths that we rarely examine ourselves. Sometimes, an experience or outcome can shake these assumptions- and it’s critical in those moments to zoom out and observe what may have become a blind spot for you; or even worse, an unconscious bias.

I remember first hearing a senior executive admit, in a public forum, that they had made a huge mistake, driven by an incorrect set of assumptions. It gave me chills. Not only did I gain a tremendous amount of respect for that leader, but it allowed me the space to examine and admit my own mistakes. Continuously checking your assumptions, and admitting when they were wrong and needed to be changed is a vulnerable but powerful moment. It can be extremely difficult to identify, change and admit, but it can also inspire deep trust and unshakable followership.

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

Someone once took a chance on me and hired me for a role above my experience level. I’ve tried to adopt that same faith in people as a leader and it’s yet to steer me wrong. My advice, especially when building a new management layer, would be to take chances on people who appear motivated to take on more. While it may be tempting to hire an external candidate with 10 years of role-related experience, take a thorough and continuous inventory of the talent you already have and be willing to bet on those who may be itching for an opportunity to stretch. The ‘less risky’ candidate from outside may serve you well in the short term- but that rockstar leader on the bench may be a key in unlocking the entire team’s potential. A culture infused with internal mobility and progression drives loyalty, motivation and results.

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 🙂

Any of my closest friends would tell you I’ve been an avid Lupe Fiasco fan since I first heard his first mixtapes decades ago, so it’d be hard to pick anyone over my favorite musician of all time. That said, I’d love to sit down with Adam Grant and pick his brain over breakfast. Having learned so much from his writings and talks these last few years, I have no doubt I’d leave a better leader and person.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremy-chou-72981a5/

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


Jeremy Chou Of Marqeta On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Mary Haddock-Staniland Of EverCommerce On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Enabling our people: When our people can be their real and authentic selves, they perform better. This has been demonstrated time and again. We know through our engagement surveys that when our team members feel safe and valued for who they are, they are more engaged, they have a sense of belonging and loyalty to the wider team. They want to do right by a company that does right by them.

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

Mary has worked for decades as an executive helping to ensure diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are not simply add-ons for culture but are woven into the fabric and DNA of a business. Mary is an expert in talking about how adopting a ‘beyond binary’ approach and being proactive about DEIB, can not only benefit businesses, but allow companies to connect more with their customers. Mary is believed to be the first to hold the executive role in DEIB throughout New Zealand at Timely, an EverCommerce solution. She has since been promoted to the role of the first Global SVP of DEIB at EverCommerce.

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

Well, as I get older of course the backstory gets longer. I was born in small town New Zealand, in a region called the Taranaki.

I grew up in a family where my mother accepted me and supported me as best as she could with limited resources, and a father, who didn’t accept me and was abusive, and he fortunately left us. I still haven’t connected with him, so that’s an unresolved issue that I have come to terms with. I battled through secondary school, I couldn’t hide who I was, it was there for all to see, and I was bullied for that. It was the 80’s and it was a completely different landscape then.

I think those experiences, with my father and at school really tested me, and made me a lot tougher. It was either going to do that or break me. We then moved to Auckland (the big city) and I eventually started my professional career as an Executive Assistant. I was so very lucky to have a boss who saw beyond who I was, and looked simply at what I could do, what I had to offer. Working for him, I learned so much. I ended up being his point person on the ground immediately after the Christchurch earthquakes, organising logistics for our Company in an extremely challenging environment. I stayed down there for months with that work and it was a once-in-a-life time experience.

I then spent time in a global advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather leading HR and People Experience, before being given the opportunity to become the head of membership for the NZ national body for workplace diversity and inclusion.

That brought me into contact with Ryan Baker, one of the founders of Timely and he was just amazing to work with. He quickly made it clear he would like me to join the Timely team and help them along the DEIB journey, and I haven’t looked back. I think the reason I have stayed at Timely and now EverCommerce is because they are totally genuine and committed to this work and that excites me.

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

I think the interesting thing I have experienced over the years is that often it’s the people you’d least expect who accept you and perhaps the ones who you’d expect to accept you, who don’t.

That amazing boss I had as an EA, was ex-Navy, a man’s man, self-made, and quite a drinker. But he was one of the most accepting people I’ve come across. On the flipside I had an experience in a 5-star hotel a year ago, in my capacity as a customer, where despite correcting the concierge, he would continue to use the male pronoun when addressing me.

In a customer centric industry like that, I was amazed at how ill-equipped their people were, the lack of awareness that was present, in that environment. And that concierge has quite literally cost that hotel a good customer.

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

One of my heroes is Oprah Winfrey, and I was fortunate enough to meet her when she came to New Zealand. She says “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism.”

I choose to expand on that and believe excellence is the best deterrent to discrimination of all sorts. Because of this, I have always tried to be the best I can be at whatever I am doing. By giving my “all” I prove to the world that I deserve my place in society.

I am not asking for any favours for myself, and I’m not asking for favours for any minority, I’m asking for everyone to be given a fair chance, an opportunity.

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?

That is absolutely true, I have been fortunate to have four significant people in my professional life who actually valued the contribution I could make by bringing my unique perspective and abilities to a role. Indeed, these individuals placed a value on my unique identity, and I think they knew that through my life experience, being me, I would not take anything for granted, I would be giving it my best shot.

I think as leaders, one of the great privileges we have is opening doors, creating opportunities for minorities, and adding that uniqueness and different perspective to our operations.

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

I think what makes EverCommerce stand out in this field is that we are working to weave DEIB into our very fabric.

This work is not viewed as a bolt on, or a specific project. It is viewed as how we do business, how we are. I guess what illustrates this most clearly, is that this work is very much being led from the top.

In my role as Global SVP of DEIB, I work closely with our CEO, and he demands tangible progress along this journey. He also understands that there is no endpoint to this work. The world changes, new issues of equity and inclusion eventuate, there is always something that can be done better.

One of the challenges we do have is that we are spread across different countries with different cultures and values.

It is not enough for “headquarters” to impose DEIB policy on these solutions. Our duty is to engage and bring these different people along on the journey.

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

This year we did a huge push for Pride month. We publicized it and we held a discussion panel. We made Pride a real opportunity for engagement with our teams.

We did a similar piece of work with a multi-denominational calendar earlier in the year. What we find is that we are not only making a connection with a particular minority group, but we are also improving the connection between other team members as well.

The positive nature of this type of engagement, with the underlying message that all are welcomed and valued, applies to everyone.

In parallel with our efforts for a Pride message, within Timely, we launched the pronouns feature in our app, allowing our customers and their clients to choose the pronoun they want to be recognised as when they visit our customer. This was and is seen an incredibly progressive step in the right direction to achieving true inclusion and adding real value for our customers.

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

I am a big believer in telling the message. Increasingly in this role I am being given the opportunity to speak to audiences, do an interview or write an article. These are fantastic opportunities to engage and bring more people on the journey. Open eyes and improve understanding. Once people realise this isn’t a zero-sum transaction, that everyone gets to win from this work, it takes a lot of the reservations away.

Certainly, western society has made great strides in the area of DEIB over the last 30 years, and that has happened because champions have been out there talking to it, raising the issues and doing the policy work that underpins change. I am hugely optimistic about future progress and want to be a part of continuing this work.

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

Bringing a broader perspective: Adding diversity of thought and experience to the decision-making process equals better quality decisions. A good example of this is a company my husband operates in, that has often had a fractious relationship with the Union representing their workers. That company brought in a lady to head up their industrial relations, and the tone changed almost overnight. The “them vs. us” mentality went away, and that relationship is now much more cooperative. It’s not perfect by any means, but there is a huge improvement.

Customer engagement: Certainly, with a lot of EverCommerce clients in the hair and beauty space, there is a lot of diversity. People from all different parts of the gender/sexuality spectrum, and a wide variety of ages. These clients want to see that their suppliers reflect who they themselves are. At its most basic level, this means their interactions with EverCommerce are through relatable people, but it also shows through in the culture of EverCommerce. Our diverse teams tell the story that we are accepting, and that we value difference. This shows through strongly in our customer loyalty. I know a certain hotel that could benefit here.

Opportunities to recruit the best: Because EverCommerce embraces and values difference, we recruit from the broadest pool of talent. And it’s not just about us being willing to hire, it’s also about being known as a safe and accepting space that values the unique contributions that are made by people with different backgrounds. We become a place that a wide variety of people want to work at.

Enabling our people: When our people can be their real and authentic selves, they perform better. This has been demonstrated time and again. We know through our engagement surveys that when our team members feel safe and valued for who they are, they are more engaged, they have a sense of belonging and loyalty to the wider team. They want to do right by a company that does right by them.

Retention: EverCommerce exists in a competitive recruitment and retention space. We know that it’s not enough to recruit good people, we also need to retain the good people we already have. High retention rates are so much more beneficial than high recruitment rates. Increasingly people are concerned with the whole employment package, not just the money. This goes to a company’s culture.

I have experienced the effect of developing a strong DEIB culture, followed by improved engagement, followed by improved retention and loyalty.

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

“Doing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging in the workplace well, means we will do well because of it.”

Embracing a culture rich in DEIB is crucial to securing the future, the people who make up any organisation’s teams are by far, their most important asset. Enabling that human resource is essentially what we bring to the table.

A strong DEIB culture, through having a reputation for embracing all our team members as their authentic selves, we not only attract a wider pool of talent, but we become an employer of choice as well.

‍Not only is it the right thing to do: Everyone should have the right to work in an equitable and inclusive environment. Regardless of any business benefits, it’s just the right thing to do and reflects the world we want to be a part of.

Inclusion is not complex. Inclusion takes work. It takes personal reflection, unlearning and relearning.

It takes a growth mindset and a commitment every day to be a better human than yesterday.

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

Understanding the importance of what DEIB means is key to a solid foundation.

Diversity is a fact: People and communities are by their very nature, distinct and different.

Equity is a choice: Equity (of opportunity, of respect, of differences) does not occur magically. We all tend to gravitate towards what we know, but when we do this, other people become excluded. To counter this tendency, a conscious choice needs to be made.

Inclusion is an action: Once the pursuit of equity is chosen, we need to make real change.

Belonging is an outcome: And as far as I’m concerned, this is the most important of the letters to understand and appreciate. I know what it’s like to feel like I’ve not belonged. The point I’m making here is where minorities no longer must feel gratitude for being included, or where the majority have to make a conscious decision to include them. This is a culture where minorities are simply an integral part of the tapestry along with everyone else.

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 🙂

For me personally, Michelle Obama is a person who inspires me. Her amazing ability to connect and make everyone feel valued. I think her time as first lady was just an amazing example of what can be achieved when you grab the opportunity. So yes, Michelle? If you are out there, I would love to share lunch.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Either on LinkedIn or Twitter. Search for Mary Haddock-Staniland

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


Mary Haddock-Staniland Of EverCommerce On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Richard Dávila II Of Livingston Hearing Aid Center On The Five Things You Need…

Meet The Disruptors: Richard Dávila II Of Livingston Hearing Aid Center On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Everyone needs development. Some people need more than others. You must be confident that when you put someone in a teaching role they can do it effectively. If you choose the wrong person it can be damaging to growth.

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

Richard and his wife and kids live in Lubbock, TX. He is the President and owner of Livingston Hearing Aid Center and is based at the Gainesville, TX location. He received his education from the University of Texas, McCombs School of Business and Texas Tech University. Received training from Texas Board of Examiners in Fitting & Dispensing of Hearing Instruments, New Mexico Speech, Language Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board. Richard is Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences and Audioprosthologist. He is a member of the IHS, International Hearing Society.

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?

Well, that’s an interesting story. My backstory is a story of commitment and discipline more than a story of entrepreneurial spirit and blazing new trails. When I was 17, my father, who owned Livingston Hearing Aid Center, died of a massive heart attack. Never had a sick day in his life; just woke up one morning, while driving to work, and had a heart attack at the wheel.

That was it. Gone in the blink of an eye.

It was the summer before my college entrance, and to say I was shocked would be an understatement. I had plans to head into pre-med, but what I thought would be my plan turned out to be someone else’s plan, and my plan fizzled into empty aspirations because when my dad passed away, I went to work.

As a teenager responsible for supporting my mother and two sisters, I knew I had to learn about the hearing industry fast. Looking back, I realize that the urgency and pressure were a gift. It accelerated my progress and fueled my curiosity. I poured my love of science and objectivity into hearing science. Instead of believing or thinking that the grass was (or might be) greener on the other side, I believed the grass was greener where I watered it. And that’s what I did.

We had two offices at the time, and working in those offices taught me people would never accept the solution for better hearing (a hearing aid) if they didn’t accept that they had a problem, to begin with. For the first 10 years of my professional career, I focused on influencing patients to experience the gift of better hearing.

Eventually, I realized I could only help so many people by myself — there were only so many hours in the day, so I shifted my focus of influence from patients to other hearing healthcare professionals. I first expanded in my backyard.

We were all in the same locations, and I began to learn how to overcome the challenges of managing other professional team members. Once I learned how to manage/influence others in my own office, I expanded to another city, another city, and another city. I spent the next 10 years opening offices and working with other hearing healthcare professionals as far as I could drive and get home on the same day. My sister eventually joined the family business after she graduated with her Doctorate in Audiology, and we worked together expanding into the Southern United States.

We started in Albuquerque and El Paso then moved into the Dallas market shortly thereafter. We’ve spent more than a decade dedicated to increasing access to hearing healthcare for older adults.

Livingston has grown from two locations in the West Texas panhandle to now, having 93 offices in 4 states and a team of over 300 people, all of whom are living into our mission to serve better than anyone so that we can fulfill our purpose to enrich life through better hearing.

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

We are committed to valuing the hearing healthcare provider’s role in the success of a patient’s hearing journey. Not only that, we believe in total hearing healthcare. We invest in state-of-the-art technology and testing equipment that you would not find in a traditional hearing clinic.

We are excited to be moving into new territory with cognitive screening as we identify the connections between audition and cognition. We are facilitating conversations with patients and their primary care physicians and other specialists surrounding the patients’ overall health.

Recent studies show hearing impairment is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia and that early management of hearing loss may delay or slow the onset or advancement of the disease. So, as hearing healthcare providers, we are on the front line when it comes to identifying risks and certain medical conditions that may affect your hearing or cognitive health.

But how do you get people interested in their hearing health? Through our innovative hearing technology and online social media presence, we have been disruptive to our industry, to say the least.

Let’s start with TikTok. Anytime you can generate 70 or 80 million views for one video while in the hearing healthcare and hearing aid business, you are disrupting! It has given us a surprising platform to bring awareness to hearing health, and the value of communication, and hopefully, open the door for future conversations about the connection between audition and cognition to millions of people worldwide.

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

I don’t know if it was funny but given where I am now, I think looking back I certainly could classify it as funny so I will go with this one: I traveled to Austin to take a licensing exam shortly after my father died. It was right after I turned 18. You had to be 18 to be licensed in Texas. While taking the practical exam I realized I was not prepared. I had no idea what they asked me to do in certain parts of the exam. Rather than fumble through it, I simply said, “Well, I have never heard of that so that is my cue to pack up and head back home.”

And that’s what I did. I just packed my bags and headed home.

My uncle, who was in the same business, was also my mentor. He told me after my father died if I ever needed anything to call him and he would help me. Well, I had not done that during my preparation. I had elected to do it all on my own.

And the result? I fell short. I called my uncle and he told me, “Come to my office and spend some time with me and I will prepare you for your next exam.”

Well, the experience changed my life. You see, my uncle was a teacher. He explained things most simply. When he spoke, knowledge transferred. It was unbelievable. He was the very definition of a teacher. He taught me all that I needed to know to pass the exam.

I learned two lessons: One, that I needed to be comfortable asking for help. I needed to be less prideful. Two, I learned that the cure for the fear of failure is a failure. After I failed the exam I learned that I survived and when I arrived more prepared the second time. I gave it another try and succeeded. Lessons learned.

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 didn’t make many mistakes early on in my professional career. In fact, for the first 12 years, I would claim that I did not make any mistakes–not one. Zero.

I don’t say that with arrogance. I say that because I had a true mentor in my uncle, who was willing to share his knowledge with me. He told me, “Call me if you ever need anything” after my father passed away and every time I called him, he would take the time to teach me. It began with patient management. Every time I ran into a patient management problem, I would call him. I would provide him with the testing information and he would tell me what to do.

It was incredible. He had 25 years of experience at the time and every time I called him he would say, “Oh this is what you need to do. This is what you need to say.” And it worked. It worked every time. Needless to say, I called him every day. Yes, every day for 10 years. The questions changed over the years. I became proficient at understanding and practicing hearing sciences and managing patients. Soon I was calling him about business decisions. For example, when people would come to my office and try to sell me a certain type of advertising campaign and I would call my uncle and he would say, “Don’t do that. I tried that in 1989 and it doesn’t work.” I would immediately call the representative back and say, “Sorry, can’t do it.”

As my team grew, I would call my uncle and ask him about each obstacle I encountered when managing people. He would say, “Oh yes, that happened to me also and this is what you need to do.” What he told me to do was work every time. You see, while I was learning hearing sciences, my uncle was opening new offices.

He had more than 20 offices by the year 2000 when I started my expansion. So, leaning on my uncle’s expansion experience, I spent the next 10 years expanding all over west Texas and eastern New Mexico. My uncle was right by my side the whole time.

It is why I can say that for the first 10–12 years, I didn’t make any mistakes with confidence because my uncle was always there for me. My uncle retired in 2013. I talked to him almost every day up to his retirement.

I miss talking to him. He never stopped sharing his knowledge. He is the reason I am where I am today. He gave me the blueprint for success. All I had to do was follow the blueprint. I will, and do, take credit for the execution and there is something to be said about that.

Over the last 10 years, as I have become a mentor to others, I have realized that there is a big difference between knowing what to do, and doing it! Doing it is the hard part — so again, I’ll take credit for the execution, but without his influence, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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?

Let’s look at the positive. I discussed our social media impact earlier. Using TikTok to highlight hearing healthcare to tens of millions of people is about as positive an impact as you could ever imagine. I mean, let’s be honest, hearing aids have had a negative stigma for years. It has been a very common obstacle that we have had to overcome. So getting a conversation started about ears and hearing with these wax videos and then providing patient testimonial content that reveals the life-transforming benefits that occur with hearing aids is a needed tipping point to highlight our most “social” of the five senses; our sense of hearing.

The added attention to the industry and real people talking about their experiences with hearing aids in real-time is about as positive as it gets.

This new method of sharing content is pretty disruptive and I think very positive.

It turns out that for a disruptor to be “positive” for any industry, at a minimum, it must be positive for one segment of those within the industry itself. It is most effective and most positive when the segment benefiting is the patient/consumer.

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

1. You will never learn anything more thoroughly than you will if you teach it:

Have you ever taught a Sunday School class? I know I’m supposed to be answering the questions but follow along with me on this one. When you read the Bible it is usually broken down into chapters in each book. In each chapter, there are stories told. These stories are usually made up of several verses. When you read the verses the first or even second time they can be very confusing. The passage may be talking about a vine and how it grows. As you begin to dive deeper and gather information from commentators you come to realize that the vine is not a tree at all–it is talking about Jesus; he is the vine.

It isn’t until you teach it that you obtain the deepest knowledge of the subject. I believe that if you can’t explain something in simple terms, in a manner that almost anyone would understand, then you do not truly know the material.

So, I have always believed in teaching at all levels of business. Teaching hearing sciences. Teaching patient management. Teaching sales. Teaching Marketing. Teaching, teaching, teaching.

2. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean you know how to teach it:

Not everyone is a teacher. Like most things, teaching requires skill, and not everyone is cut out to be a teacher so be very cautious about whom you allow to teach others on your team.

Everyone needs development. Some people need more than others. You must be confident that when you put someone in a teaching role they can do it effectively. If you choose the wrong person it can be damaging to growth.

3. A positive attitude is a choice:

Look, life comes at us sideways sometimes and we get to choose what our attitude is when we encounter difficulties. A positive attitude matters when dealing with problems and the circumstances of life. I always feel like I’m going to be parking in the front row. I always feel like the dice are going to come up 7 or 11.

Having a positive attitude is half of the battle in life.

4. Luck favors the well-prepared:

My uncle taught me to never let the other guy work with me. He was the hardest working guy I ever met. He always got up at the crack of dawn. So guess what? So did I. Every morning I felt like it was a race to see who would contact the other guy first. I knew that if I mimicked his work ethic I could be successful like him. There were times when I would hear my phone go off at 5 a.m. and I would jump up out of bed and get to my computer to respond (as if I was already at the office). I remember one time he emailed me at 5 a.m. with a simple question: “You up?”

I leaped out of bed and responded. “Yes sir, I’ve been here for about 15 min.” And the day began. I have never asked him but I felt like he might have been doing the same thing at times. If my memory serves me correctly, I feel like if I ever messaged him super early he always responded the same way, “Yep, I’ve been here just a few minutes longer than you.” Hahaha!

5. If you are sleeping like a baby each night, you don’t have enough on the line:

I spoke about being well prepared and sometimes preparation comes to you in the middle of the night in the form of sheer terror.

I think my uncle and I both experienced it; your body would just wake you up and you’d immediately think, “What if there is a median at that location in Albuquerque? What if customers can’t get into the parking lot from both directions? Did I check that? That could be a deal breaker.” It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m up now. I have to go to the office and check that out.

When you are growing a business everything is on the line.

The more you grow, the more there is on the line. When the Christmas party was a single 5-top table at Outback Steakhouse, I could count on one hand the number of people who were depending on me. As you grow, the people depending on you multiply exponentially. Subsequently, that leads to many nights when you wake up in a panic because of something racing through your mind. At that point, there is no chance of going back to sleep unless you act.

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

I am going to stay focused and do what we do best.

We are going to deliver experiences for patients that can’t be replicated online or through the mail. We are going to continue to create unsubstitutable experiences and great relationships with our patients, and we are going to do it in more places.

We have no plans to stop our expansion.

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?

The best book, or rather the book that has had the most impact on me over the last two years, was Tools for Titans, by Tim Ferris.

This book has had a big impact on me. The book is a compilation of the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. It turns out the routines of people who perform at the highest levels have certain similarities. Much like with my uncle, I feel like mimicking the actions of high-performing individuals can lead to similar outcomes; successful ones.

I can’t recommend a book right now any more.

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

Hang a lantern on your problems.

I believe in talking about shortcomings. You see, I dislike strongly (hate) falling short. I do not like when we fail as a company. When we do, though, there is an opportunity to get better and I love getting better.

I can look at shortcomings or failures positively, which is in my nature. You will very rarely hear me talking about our successes. I talk mainly about where we are struggling, and where there is room for improvement.

It is this focus on failures and shortcomings that keep improvement right in my line of sight at all times. So when I find a problem, I shine a big light on it until we improve, and then work to ensure we have processes in place to protect against it from happening again.

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

The movement I would like to inspire is one where we all believe that people, at their core, want to do their very best and they want to succeed, they just need to be empowered to do so.

The best feeling in the world is waking up and realizing that you have reached higher than you ever thought you could reach. It is waking up and feeling like you have accomplished more than you ever dreamed you could have accomplished.

I know it is the best feeling in the world because I feel it daily. I’d love to start a movement where people are focused on empowering others to feel this same way. All people are capable, they just need to be empowered, they just need to be inspired.

Someone just needs to believe in them.

How can our readers follow you online?

@livingstonhac on Facebook

@livingstonhac on Twitter

@livingstonhac on Instagram

@livingstonhac on TikTok

@richarddavilaii on Twitter

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


Meet The Disruptors: Richard Dávila II Of Livingston Hearing Aid Center 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.

Makers of The Metaverse: Adam Sidwell Of Future House Studios On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed…

Makers of The Metaverse: Adam Sidwell Of Future House Studios On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Creative Mindset — You’ve got to have some kind of artistic eye and some kind of ability to tell a story that would work well in VR. You’ve got to understand how to use the medium and understand how it differs from film, video games, commercials and mobile games. You have to think in VR and have that ability to say “How do I use the medium in a way that it’s never been used before?” That is exciting.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Sidwell, Founder of Future House Studios.

A storyteller, technologist, and entrepreneur with expertise in multiple mediums, Adam Sidwell is the Founder and Creative Director at the Future House family of companies. Future House Studios and Future House Publishing work in concert together to develop creative content for the Metaverse: virtual reality, real-time content creation, animation, games, books, film, television, and more.

With over 15 years experience building iconic CG for major motion pictures such as I,Robot, the Academy Award-winning King Kong, Pirates of the Caribbean III, I Am Legend, Speed Racer, Transformers II, the Academy Award-winning The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Tron, Thor, Ender’s Game, Pacific Rim, Warcraft, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II at world-class VFX studios such as Industrial Light + Magic, Weta Digital, Digital Domain, and Mirada, Adam’s roots are in building and directing the art and technology so that teams can bring animated characters to life.

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?

Thanks for having me! I was born and raised in Modesto, California — A tiny town in central California, famous for being where George Lucas went to high school. The high school was across the street from my Dad’s office and I loved Star Wars growing up, so it was really cool to know that I was in the place where Star Wars was born. That was always on my mind. I grew up loving art and became inspired by what George Lucas did with the Star Wars franchise, until one day I lived out my dream by working for George at Industrial Light + Magic.

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?

It would have to be Star Wars. In addition to the hometown connection I share with Star Wars, the technology that went into that story, and building those roles has always resonated with me. Walt Disney and the work that he did on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to bring the first animated films to life was incredible. Bringing those impossible things to life made me want to be in that industry.

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

Honestly, I’ve always just had a fascination with turning the impossible into the possible. I have an appreciation for the way that engineering, technical aspects, creative aspects, and storytelling all have a place in the VR/AR industry, and ultimately wanting to be someone who successfully merged all of that together is what inspired me to pursue a career in the VR and AR industry.

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

I worked on the second Transformers film with Michael Bay. Michael Bay has exceptionally exact standards that he requires when directing movies. That gives his films such a unique visual look. I was working on the Pretender bot Decepticon in Transformers 2, and had to go through several iterations until he finally approved it. The animator next to me was on version 136!

It was then years later that Future House Studios had the opportunity to work with Dave & Busters, VR Studios and Dark Slope, and we had to go through some of the same iteration process to hit the G1 original Transformers look that would match the aesthetic that Dave & Busters was looking for. I was able to recall all of those creative moments and the ability to execute creatively years later. But this time instead of on the big screen, it was in VR in an immersive Metaverse Experience. It’s fascinating how certain parts of your career come back to you later. It’s a culmination of the film, art, character creative and technical work all coming together in one — which is fantastically fun.

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

When I first started out, I was at a Digital Domain working as a Pipeline Technical Director and my role was to write tools for the iRobot character pipeline. I was writing scripts and tools that were being used by an army of animators on the show, and they all had to process their animation work through this one tool. One day, I left out a backslash which made the whole facility and animation publishing come to a halt — we were all working in this large warehouse and suddenly you could hear shouts and frustration as things began to break down.

I quickly made a fix and things were back up and running again. I learned that you need to be very exact about checking your work — I had people counting on me and the clock was ticking. The big thing I took away from that was that what you do matters; it always affects other people.

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

One person that immediately comes to mind is a Technical Director and VFX Supervisor named Steve Preeg — he was one of the guys who would yell at me if my code broke. He was tough as nails, and he shouldn’t have had time to tolerate the rookie that I was at the time, but he taught me incredibly well. The whole time I thought he hated me, but at the end of the year he recommended me for a job as a Character Technical Director at Weta Digital and told me if I worked there, I could work anywhere. I certainly would not be where I am today without his help — it was incredible that he helped me so early on in my career.

I need to also mention a producer named Chan Park. He hired me for my first real-time VR job at a company called Within, working under Chris Milk. I had to convince Chan that I was the right guy for that job as I was pretty far along in my career but didn’t have any real-time VR experience in a professional sense, but I knew I would work hard and could solve the problems if given the opportunity. He took a chance on me, hiring me for my first VR role and we worked really well together. A couple of years later, when Chan started to work at Wave, he gave me a call to work together again on some of their virtual concerts and that is part of what helped launch Future House Studios — so I’ll always be very grateful to Chan for that.

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

We are in the midst of some very exciting AR and VR projects, and we’re excited to share more when we can on our LinkedIn page.

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?

  • Technologies Are Merging: One of the things that is most exciting to me now is the merging of these technologies — we’re seeing pass-through on headsets. AR and VR are starting to merge in the next iteration of the Oculus. What I’m excited to see is the version beyond that, where we’re walking around with a headset that we can use for VR but then it can switch to AR seamlessly, allowing incredible experiences that make the two into one, and give us immersive worlds at a moment’s notice.
  • True Immersion: I love the way that we can go into worlds, and unlike a film or video game on a screen, we feel like we’re there. The sense of presence and awe when you’re playing together with other people is remarkable. I still get excited to bring someone into a headset who has never seen VR before. It’s that WOW moment that is still impactful and mesmerizing. I love having people over to my house to try new experiences and you see grown men screaming, because they’re so terrified of the reality that VR gives to them — everyone comes away with this adrenaline and euphoria, sometimes the two combined, because they have just transported themselves to a different world. What’s really exciting to me is that as Unreal engine gets better, as the hardware gets better, we’re going to see a lot of opportunities for us to make even more realistic and immersive worlds and then play with them in a very cool way.
  • Metaverse Interoperability: The next thing that excites me about AR/VR/XR is this whole idea of the Metaverse and the interconnectivity with each of these things. To me, it’s fascinating if I can have a shared avatar that walks from world to world and experiences all of these different worlds that different people have created, just like we hop from web page to webpage with a hyperlink, I would love to feel like all of these worlds are interconnected and interoperable in a way that really feels like we’re going from planet to planet. That to me, means that we have an entire universe to explore.

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?

  • Big Promises for Tech Still In Its Infancy: Having the tools to be able to create what is actually possible. There’s so much of a promise on what the Metaverse is, but the technology is still in its infancy. When sci-fi writers sit down to write about the grand metaverse, or we read about “Ready Player One,” it’s easy for everyone to construe what that is but it is so much harder to actually build it and we just don’t have the tools for it right now. We have tools to build miniature slices of it but not the full thing and people are really starting to feel like the metaverse isn’t real. We’re still several years out from what has been promised; however, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of fun experiences that can happen already and a lot of things that are very very worthwhile and exciting in the Metaverse. Are we going to have a photo-realistic experience where we have 30,000 avatars simultaneously in battle with a giant robot outside of Anorak’s castle? No, that’s not going to happen right now because we don’t have the processing power or the algorithms worked out to make that happen. I worry about people getting burned out on this idea of the metaverse before they realize that it is still several years away from being the level that has been described in fiction.
  • Will It Be TOO Good?: Second worry I have is that if we make it too good everybody will want to spend 24/7 in a headset — that would change the way we interact with people and change the way we connect with others.
  • Egalitarian Utopia Dream World: My final concern would be that there has been such an idea in many descriptions of the metaverse that there is this grand, perfect egalitarian utopia, where everyone gets along and everything is free — it’s wonderful. I’m concerned that in some of these grand visions and dreams, we’re actually not acknowledging human nature, we’re not acknowledging that there has to be some kind of economy that develops. There will be, for better or for worse, just like in every other system, some levels of hierarchy that develop because there will be people that are experts, people that own the tech, people that are better at building than others. I think if we try too hard to remove human nature from the equation, then we will end up breaking the whole thing. There has to be a commercial, economic incentive from brands — things are going to have to cost money somewhere — otherwise we won’t be able to pay for the metaverse and the creators behind it, and there needs to be money from it, for that. We have to develop a fair economy so that creation can thrive and creators can earn money for themselves.

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?

Definitely. So I think one of the main examples that is very clear, which the pandemic taught us, is that we can use VR/AR/XR to interact with each other, when we couldn’t before. Future House Studios has been able to bring people together from all over the world, which we have done with multiple companies, where they haven’t seen each other for years and we can put them in the metaverse, and they feel like they are there together, playing and laughing with one another and getting that emotional connection of being present with each other when they haven’t had that in a long, long time. We recently developed the interactive environment for NICE Interactions Live which helped business executives connect in the metaverse — and even featured appearances from former President George W. Bush and George Clooney.

I think some of the things that Microsoft is doing with the Hololens and their mixed reality is really fascinating because you can have digital twins. For example, let’s say you’re examining a car engine, and you need to have a meeting with the engineers to discuss the car, but the engineers are on the opposite side of the world. The person dealing with the actual engine physically in the garage can wear a hololens to project what he sees, which is then being represented as a digital version in VR to someone who is far away. At the same time, the person who isn’t physically there can have his avatar, which matches him, in the AR version of the headset for the person in the garage. VR/AR can all mix together and help us be geographically agnostic, meaning we can overcome some of those communication issues that would otherwise occur. This technology is as amazing and promising as email was at a time when we were sending letters via snail mail.

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

Commerce. Human connection. Work.

One of the best ways to do that is to be able to communicate and be present with those friends and family that we haven’t seen, that are far away and that we can sit down with them. There are a lot of people that aren’t able to see or be with their parents, yet they could put on the VR set and be in the same room and sit next to them on the couch. It has a lot of the same emotional and body language cues that we recognize as humans, how close someone is, how close they are to you, which you don’t get with Zoom or other systems.

The way we shop can be more convenient and immersive. Video games have proven to have an incredibly high level of engagement. The metaverse allows those same levels of engagement with brands. The way we socialize can bring together those who are far apart, yet it feels like they’re right next to you. The way we work can allow talent from all over the world, where before it was limited mostly to just geographical areas. We’ve even built our physical office in 3D to allow our team members from across the world to visit and meet there, just like the local team members. The way we play can put us into these amazing worlds more than ever! The possibilities are endless.

The public is going to encounter a tipping point where devices and applications will become so ubiquitous, and so convenient, they will need and want to use AR/VR daily to enter the metaverse. It may be the way they interact with customer service, or test out a new travel location before they book, or view an overlay of a city block to find directions to their destination. The expansion of AR/VR will only come as the devices are simple to use, comfortable, and necessary. You can see that with some of the smart AR glasses in development. VR Headsets are getting smaller and more comfortable. Convenience will drive mass adoption and make them part of everyone’s lives day to day.

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

People are going to assume that the Metaverse and VR is already hyper-realistic and that it is already at the level of Call of Duty video games — it’s not there yet, we’re still a ways off.

Other rumors I could dispel are the fact that a lot of people who haven’t used VR before are worried or believe that they are going to get sucked into VR and AR headsets and never want to take them off, spending all day on it and getting sucked into the matrix, as you could say. Ultimately, I think that’s a non-issue as most VR experiences are only made to last 20–30 minutes, if that. You’re going to find that VR is highly exciting and interesting, but it’s not currently designed to keep you in the headset all day long — imagine it like a 20 minute matrix and then you go home. Games tend to be something you can play all day whereas VR doesn’t usually lend itself to sucking you in all day. It’s about diving into the immersive experience to feel something different and then removing yourself from it. Most experiences are not designed for full-day experiences, especially because there are a lot of limits on how nauseous and disoriented you get after a while so most people want to take it off after 20/30 minutes. However, right now there are a lot of smart engineers trying to find solutions to combat those problems, so maybe there will be a time where you do want to stay in it all day — but we’re certainly not there quite yet.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”

1. Curiosity — You’ve got to want to learn how it all works. You’ve got to want to try different games, want to learn the technology, you’ve got to learn to code and how it works, you’ve got to learn how the animation works, the game engines. How does Unity work? How does Unreal work? How does this version of a headset differ from another? What does foveated rendering mean? What are the things that need to be improved upon and what can be improved upon in the headsets and the games? You need to ask questions and want to find out answers because you love it.

2. Tenacity — You have to have the ability to stick to it. It takes long hours to find out those answers, read your tutorials, do tests, and download the software. You have to be willing to put the time in to truly do great work. When you get it wrong, try again and iterate. You may fail 1,000 times, but you might find success on trial 1,001.

3. Creative Mindset — You’ve got to have some kind of artistic eye and some kind of ability to tell a story that would work well in VR. You’ve got to understand how to use the medium and understand how it differs from film, video games, commercials and mobile games. You have to think in VR and have that ability to say “How do I use the medium in a way that it’s never been used before?” That is exciting.

4. Analytic Mindset — In the analytical sense, you have to think like an engineer and break down the problem. You can have a great idea but you have to think how you would convey that idea and make it work. That’s a huge need currently as we have creatives and clients come to us saying “we want to do this and that with our brand” but at FHS we breakdown for them what is possible currently, and help match the scope with the engineering ask so that we can actually get to building them an experience as quickly as possible.

5. Connections — You can’t work all alone in your room on this! You have to get out there and get experience, find work and make yourself enticing to an employer. Whether you want to start a company or be an artist within your career you need to get that first job/experience because you will suddenly meet 20/30/40 people who are in the VR industry. They will remember you if you do good work. They will become a part of your network and they can and will help you out later in your career — it’s critical for success.

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

I think if I could inspire a movement it would be to inspire people in VR to realize that there is a gap between who we are and what we can become. When we’re in VR and we start our imaginations working on what it would be like to be a hero, to do good in the world, to do good for others around us — that’s why we game, we game because we want to become something more than what we are. If through VR we could tell the stories that inspire people to become good things, that in real life are going to make us the best humans we could possibly be and take on that responsibility, that’s what I believe VR could become and that’s what I want to see it become.

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

I’d love to sit down with Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games. Aside from Epic Games being such a powerful influencer of change in the gaming community, I think Tim is incredibly forward-thinking in terms of how games affect our lives. From the young preteen who loves to play Fortnite up to how Unreal engine is going to support and enhance our work, our play, our learning and the automation of things, he’s consistently ahead of the curve. He sees Unreal engine not just as a game engine, but as a reality development engine, and I am impressed with how he’s able to see a vision of the future and that he’s actively helping transform that into a reality.

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


Makers of The Metaverse: Adam Sidwell Of Future House Studios On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dani Ticktin Koplik Of dtkResources: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

… Especially in a remote environment, poll employees as to their preferred mode, whether it’s zoom or phone or…other. For maximum impact, let the managers and reports arrive at this together, giving them a shared goal, building trust and infusing the remote process with a measure of autonomy.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dani Ticktin Koplik.

Dani Ticktin Koplik is the founder of dtkResources, a boutique executive coaching /leadership consultancy in New York City. As a CEO Whisperer, she partners with senior executives to grow their leadership practice, equipping them with the skills and insight to create dynamic, innovative, resilient, regenerative and humane cultures built to withstand uncertainty, ambiguity and crisis.

Deploying a growth mindset and her marketing sensibility, she’s known for her bold, strategic, critical thinking, her ability to see through obstacles and her fearlessness in interrogating legacy assumptions.

A long-time champion of diversity, equity and inclusion, Ms. Koplik — differentiated by her training in the neuroscience of leadership, bias and racism — is a potent and ‘wholistic’ resource, fortifying leaders committed to embedding DEI, not as a program but as a cultural lens.

Ms. Koplik elects to work with leaders of agile and entrepreneurially-minded firms/organizations/associations, boards and mid-stage start-ups resolute about effecting change in real time. As a thought leader, she shares perspectives in posts, articles and her upcoming podcast ‘Against the Grain.’

All engagements and programs, customized to meet the unique needs of each client or organization, are designed for maximum take-away, immediate implementation and sustained impact.

Among industries served: accounting, advertising, banking, data analytics, entertainment, higher education, law, non-profit, pharma, private equity, real estate, venture capital.

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

I took the ‘scenic route.’ The family business was law and that’s where I was headed. Until it wasn’t. I switched gears, honoring my creative side and ventured into the movie industry, doing advertising, marketing and research. In that business, bad behaviors and bad bosses abound so I turned it into a learning opportunity about business plus the idiosyncrasies of human behavior, what motivates people, what engenders cooperation or conflict, what gets them to ‘yes’… or what shuts them down.

This incubated while I stepped away to raise my children. Fortunately, my curiosity about how to move through those human behaviors led me to what I was meant to do: executive coaching, leadership consulting and professional development. When I left the corporate world, it was partially my bailing out: at that midpoint in my career, I didn’t have the skills to double down and advance. So I poured myself into helping women take control, advance through ranks and assume board assignments. The lane got crowded so I organically expanded my scope, offering the same neuroscience based skill development to other historically marginalized or excluded groups. The 1:1 work was satisfying but my impact increased, as I added public speaking, a more systemic approach and created proprietary professional development programs.

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

A few things. My:

  • understanding of the hard science — the neuroscience — of why we act as we do.
  • creativity — ‘I don’t even see the box;’
  • dot-connecting; gap/obstacle spotting.
  • entrepreneurial sensibility.
  • business acumen; truth-telling; agile thinking.
  • bespoke (not homogenized) work, and…
  • growth mindset.

These distinguishing assets are critical in helping clients navigate constant uncertainty, crisis and tectonic change,

Often, this lands me in the future that others don’t yet see. Fifteen or so years ago, large corporations commissioned research to determine how to stop hemorrhaging women mid career. It’s a 10 year saga so, briefly, the researchers initially recommended institutional changes designed to retain women. Because I bailed from my career, I saw it differently: it wasn’t about palliative tweaks — table stakes, really — it was about skill development and executive readiness, which I raised with some corporate sponsors of the research. My thinking was sidestepped so when they gauged progress five years later, the needle hadn’t moved off the meager 17%. Next interval, same results but another new ‘solution.’ No change. Finally, after getting it wrong twice, they came around to the concept of executive presence. Voila!

I suppose there’s validation in my early idea eventually taking root but validation should be beside the point. Better: keep probing what’s missing and why.

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

About eight years ago I was retained by a financial services company, working first with a handful of investment professionals. As the engagement expanded, my aperture widened, giving me different perspective of what was at stake: this was not just about individual coaching but very much about understanding the host context, the culture, the ecosystem. This ‘wholistic’ approach was so effective and so much more comprehensive that it’s now baked into all my engagements. Coaches are taught to bet catalysts, that change is reserved for the client. Not in my experience: every engagement teaches me something, supplementing my tool box and expanding my value.

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?

Instead of a funny mistake, I can cite one rookie error. I attended an HR association meeting, expecting to prospect for HR clients but found the event filled with other coaches there for the same reason. In those early days, I felt very insecure among potential competition so I shut down. Scarcity mentality at work. Over time, I realized there are infinite slices of pie, growth that impacted personally as well as professionally. I can chuckle now!

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

We’re still in the time of Covid which requires CEOs, business leaders and employees to pivot rapidly, often in unexpected ways. The changes, combined with rampant uncertainty are experienced in the brain as depleting threat. To allay threat and avoid burnout, leaders must supply what employees have most missed: autonomy, social connection, clarity, transparency and compassion. In order re-engage employees so they thrive-not-just-survive, employers must ensure physical and psychological safety; prioritize employee experience; embed a growth mindset; provide time and space for reflection and mitigate bias and micro aggressions to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture. While crises might subside, the human issues still gather speed so to succeed, leaders have no choice but to evolve their leadership practice. So much is new but it’s still lonely at the top. Get support, it’s out there.

How do you define Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership, formerly strictly about commanding and controlling employees to accomplish objectives, had to respond to changing needs and younger generations. In recent years, the model has softened and expanded, allowing leaders to create more human and humane workplaces. Leaders who build great, complementary teams no longer need subject matter expertise or to rule with an iron fist; in fact, today’s successful leaders understand, incorporate and deploy a vital set of social skills, including EQ, vulnerability and compassion. We’re still living through crises that continue to impact all so remaining transactional and failing to respond to the needs of their most valuable asset — their people — will result in poorer collaboration, innovation and performance as well as setting them back in the war for talent. Employees are savvy consumers who vet potential employers based on leadership behavior, corporate missions and social responsibility.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

This is about regulating emotions and metabolism to enable perspective-taking. Breathing — slow, measured and deep — is an on-the-spot, grounding option. If there’s room and/or privacy, folks can siphon off nervous energy by actively shaking out their limbs. I former client always panicked prior to presenting, even when the stakes were low. The psychological causes are above my pay grade but attending to the physical and metabolic restored his composure: once the nervous system cools, emotions reset and a sense of cognitive control returns. Another strategy is an ‘if-then’ plan: if they challenge this assertion, then I will counter with… If I start to lose my audience, then I can walk around, I can pause, I can reboot, rethink and most importantly, gain perspective.

Another strategy is to reframe the negative self-talk; for example, I was booked to address a women’s economic conference about confidence. My perspective was unorthodox and I was confident this would open eyes. Except, just prior to my talk, a world-renowned poet did her kick-off thing and what happened to me? Ironically, confidence pooled at my feet. Momentary panic: how can I ever follow that? After her, I got nothing. I took a breath, slowed my heart rate and reframed: she had expertise in poetry so brava. I, on the other hand, possessed a different expertise. She owned hers and I could own mine. Result: this real experience of two minutes ago became my intro, modeling the lesson with vulnerability (often thought to be the antithesis of confidence) and authenticity.

Ok, lets jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Back when, I was a new director with responsibility for a small team. I seriously knew nothing from nothing and likely had poor management skills, including how to give feedback. I did my best but always felt lacking. Eventually, I shifted gears and set out to understand and acquire the skills I lacked; teaching and coaching around them became the core of my practice.

Since I had been the lab rat, the learning was personal…and very sticky. Now, not as a manager but as an advisor to managers, execs and leaders, I teach feedback skills and offer best practices for both the giver and the receiver.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Simply, all leaders — those responsible for successful outcomes and difficult decisions- have blindspots and so, must depend on reliable, direct feedback not just from metrics but from trusted advisors. Successful leaders solicit feedback early and often for additional perspective and as a hedge against their own blindspots. The key, though, is that if leaders depend on direct and honest — not sycophantic — feedback they must create the space for others to offer it without fear of retribution.

To expand, the same applies

for example, instrument panels are feedback, the mirror is feedback, the scale is feedback. We may not like what we hear or see but, in these cases, the feedback is without judgment: human brains use shortcuts to assess friend or foe, making givers vulnerable to snap or unfair judgments and receivers prone to shutting down.

But to open the discussion:

The traditional feedback practice is so often loathed by giver and getter alike. But the truth is, it’s essential in everything we do.

For leaders, honest and direct feedback is essential both for their decision making and in developing a productive and engaged workforce. Still, feedback can be honest and direct…yet ineffective.

For greater efficacy, consider the following:

  1. delivering feedback is a skill that can and should be taught (it’s a function of great communication.) When delivery is unskilled, it can and does backfire.
  2. There’s an outsized focus on error over improvement. As Marshall Goldsmith suggests: why focus on the past…especially a failed past. Instead, focus forward on development and improvement. This doesn’t mean neglecting lessons of the past or sugar coating realities, it just means errors or transgressions should be framed so the recipient understands the feedback as constructive, as in their best interest rather than punitive.
  3. To optimize the feedback process, it’s critical for managers to gut check their own and the system’s unconscious biases. It’s also important to understand perception lags behind reality: the recipient may have already made some changes but because we see what we expect, reviewers may be assessing from old information.
  4. Everyone benefits when feedback is valued as a cultural norm rather than a once-a-year horror. Eight years ago, I developed Dynamic Inquiry, an alternative to the annual review and designed to make feedback less threatening but more useful and timely. Ideally, feedback conversations should be baked into the day-to- day. Some of the benefits: issues are surfaced in real time, citing recent, not year-old, examples; the threat level for both parties remains low, so productivity is improved not impaired; the frequent exchanges build trust, increase engagement and motivation, assist in retention and most importantly, result in smaller, immediate course corrections, again, benefiting everyone.

In short, it behooves leaders to professionally develop their teams by offering candid and direct feedback. Of course, there are caveats because unskilled feedback can backfire, throwing an employee into a threat state and causing the leader anxiety: the truth is that feedback, as typically delivered, is anxiety-provoking for both the recipient and the giver. In the end, this is counterproductive, often negatively impacting the trust, allegiance, motivation, engagement and performance of an employee and the authority/popularity of the leader. It’s a truism that employees often leave companies because of a ‘bad boss,’ who is tantamount to a poor leader. This is particularly significant as we try to lead through the double whammy of the great resignation and the war for talent.

Historically, the process of feedback has been top-down but that has necessarily shifted: now, offering just-in-time feedback through employee surveys, polls, town halls has become an essential tool in the push for, among other things, corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Measuring progress along the DEI front can be elusive and will take time to play out so companies are using these feedback processes to take the pulse, to get a directional idea of what might or might not be working.

More generally, upward feedback — objected to strongly by some — is a topic for a whole other article. I just like that it’s being used diagnostically for matters of real importance.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Regrettably, preparation for delivering quality feedback is given short shrift. In fact, giving feedback is more often thought of as a chore, a ‘comes-with-the-territory’ than as a skill. But it it’s absolutely a skill and a critical component of effective and conscious communication. Above all else, keep feedback succinct, specific and generous.

Some suggestions:

  1. Treat feedback as the skill it is, both emphasizing that it’s a critical component of effective and conscious communication and respecting its power. With great power comes great responsibility. One quick anecdote from the annual review chronicles: I had to talk two investment executives off the ledge when raw verbatim feedback was forwarded to them in error. Aside from that being a feedback no-no, the subjects, struck in the solar plexus by pointed, gratuitous remarks, were unable to process anything constructive and were left with resentment, hostility and desire for retribution. Words are powerful.
  2. Have the person with day-to-day responsibility for an employee deliver the feedback. When more senior executives get involved, both employee and executive are at a supreme disadvantage: the employee goes in already in a self-conscious threat state and the more senior executive delivers feedback without benefit of context, complexity, personality. There needs to be a connection — rapport as well as trust — for any feedback to be meaningful. As an example, I worked with a professional service firm where the partners delivered feedback across levels, including to the most junior positions. Always lots of complaints from below: they don’t know me, they don’t see my work, they don’t see how I interact with colleagues or whether I show team leadership, etc — all of which is deemed less useful and ‘unfair.’ They have a point, especially in a remote environment where bridging distance is both a matter of place and connection. The closer the connection delivering the feedback, the more natural the intimacy and the more candid the conversation.
  3. Especially in a remote environment, poll employees as to their preferred mode, whether it’s zoom or phone or…other. For maximum impact, let the managers and reports arrive at this together, giving them a shared goal, building trust and infusing the remote process with a measure of autonomy.
  4. Always operate from a growth mindset which importantly focuses on progress as much as performance (critical in times of crisis and emotional stress.) Nothing succeeds like positive reinforcement so it’s best to acknowledge improvement, discuss what the employee could be doing more of and set achievable benchmarks. I might then ask the employee, given what they should do more of, which of their habits or practices might be impeding their forward momentum. The best learning happens when the subject makes the suggestion themselves. In the event that something egregious is committed or there is a major error, great leaders and managers deal with it on the spot.
  5. Ditch the traditional annual performance review which belongs in the trash heap of bad ideas. When feedback is given in real time rather than at 6 or 12 month intervals, it results in enhanced trust, more truth-telling, more vivid examples, much smaller, more effective course corrections and more immediate benefit for the individual, the team and enterprise.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

It’s not really answering the question but relying on email to deliver developmental feedback is a supremely dangerous and damaging proposition. Email is an imperfect, often errant, means of communication, as it — yes — misses visual cues but also carries no tone and or inflection, making it so easy to misunderstand and misinterpret intent. And don’t even try humor which tanks more often than it hits. Bottom line, If the goal of feedback is to interrupt a negative action or effect positive change, email is a poor, detached and often cowardly vehicle. It’s ok for a quick congratulatory note but if there’s more serious feedback to be shared, at the very least, pick up the phone. Better still, would be zoom.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Let’s start with the worst times to give feedback: just before a weekend, just before a vacation or if something is very raw. Especially over the last 2+ years, employees are threatened by tremendous uncertainty and the loss of autonomy. It’s just not humane to give difficult feedback or a critique at a time when an employee should be restoring and replenishing. Besides, there’s nothing to be done until work resumes.

If the issue is sensitive and raw, best for everyone to take a breath and agree to discuss at a later date. That said, I argue strenuously for eliminating anything that looks like annual feedback which has distinct liabilities and the potential to negatively impact employee, leader and enterprise. Of course, just the idea of an annual review weighs heavily on all — on the feedback receiver who has to hear and process a year’s worth of (negative) stuff in one gulp and on the giver who has to: 1. recall potent examples that may be in the distant past and 2. devote a ton of time to re-creating and commenting on a year’s worth of performance.

So, while this can cause discomfort for both parties and often serve to demotivate rather than motivate, the enterprise suffers too: think of all the lost time between the transgression and the conversation and then the conversation and the remediation.

But the Dynamic Inquiry I referenced takes a different tack, making frequent and timely feedback part of daily culture. When feedback is routinely offered — or requested -in real time, the issue is fresh, with current examples but more importantly, it provides for smaller course corrections right away. Everyone wins — the employee sees feedback not as something to be feared but as something to welcome, the boss benefits from a less arduous task and increased trust and the enterprise benefits by increased productivity and engagement. Defensiveness fades away as feedback is normalized and becomes part of the daily practice. In developmental terms, it’s almost impossible to measure change in a day so I recommend complementing the daily practice with in-depth quarterly conversations to track progress on articulated goals.

How would you define what it is to be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

What it takes to be a great boss has been shifting under our feet even before our recent crises…but the crises accelerated the change. Now, in the biggest shift, great bosses must start by knowing themselves, tolerating discomfort and uncertainty, owning their fallibility and vulnerability, modeling behavior, communicating early and often and so importantly, transparently communicating fairness and genuine compassion. All this plus maintaining vision (in today’s parlance, the purpose) and company ethos.

Sadly, it’s probably easier to rattle off a list of poor or un-evolved bosses but I do think crisis and adversity made space for very courageous bosses to rise like cream to the top. A recent example is my colleague, Janet M. Stovall, Global Head of DEI at Neuroleadership Institute. Always a ‘diversity pragmatist,’ a radical inclusionist, a TED talker and a truth-teller, she saw an opportunity — in the wake of the murder of George Floyd — to set the record straight, leading the way (publicly and within the organization) on this defining issue. She’s smart, a fabulous communicator, straightforward, fearless and compassionate with a deep understanding that for us to approach equity, we must both accommodate and celebrate difference.

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

The movement would not be one of action — actions come and go -but rather one of rest, reflection and release. We’re all trying to cope with and prevail over so many challenges — personal, political, professional — that we can’t be our best as a person, a leader or an influencer if we don’t step back, recharge and get right with ourselves.

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 very potent and remarks so simply on our shared humanity: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ — Eleanor Roosevelt. Drop mic.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I share my often provocative thinking on LinkedIn, on my website dtk@dtkResources.com, on my upcoming blog and podcast ‘Against the Grain’ and in my occasional newsletter ‘Covid Bites.’ Readers can also reach me at dtk@dtkResources.com. Conversation is always welcome

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.


Dani Ticktin Koplik Of dtkResources: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Peter Quintas of SOMA Global On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Peter Quintas of SOMA Global On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up E-Commerce

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

People & Culture is EVERYTHING — Great people drive a great culture. A great culture drives great products and customer service. Great products and customer service create happy customers. Many may say “your customer comes first”, but I believe that “people come first”.

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

Peter is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of SOMA Global, responsible for driving product and platform development, defining business goals and executing through growth, and for general operational and financial health. Over the past 20 years, Peter has held executive and CTO positions in several technology companies such as Nomi, InterAct Public Safety Systems and True Systems. His experience and expertise has been focused on high-growth businesses in enterprise software and launching innovative technology solutions.

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 around technology. My dad was in tech, my brother was in tech, which naturally led to my interest. My high school had a computer science program, I continued with Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A lot of my classmates there were trending toward working for the big consulting firms — I was severely allergic to that corporate culture and joined a startup my senior year.

After running through a few startups, I was part of a group that acquired a public safety technology company, which is where I got my start in this space. After spending a few years working on that project and almost a dozen years later, I got back into the space, knowing that law enforcement and first responders were underserved due to aging technology and legacy vendors. They deserve better.

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

That’s a tough one. Every week brings a new, interesting story.

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 bringing a new era of critical-response technologies to public safety and government agencies. SOMA Global is the only company that has built a truly cloud-native, robust, configurable platform that addresses the nuance of state and local policies and procedures. Our partner agencies can access our applications from any device, anywhere and share data inter-agency with ease. Future innovation is accelerated on our modern platform allowing for low/no code development, interacting with rich media and devices and leveraging artificial intelligence to automate tasks. The SOMA Platform (as a whole) IS the cutting edge breakthrough.

How do you think this might change the world?

I’m not sure about changing the world, but domestically our law enforcement and first responders deserve cutting edge technology to help better serve their communities and serving them is our mission.

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

I don’t watch “Black Mirror”. Sorry!

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

The roots of how the SOMA Platform and how it led to being a differentiating breakthrough started in the first month of founding. We partnered with 4 large agencies of varying types (State, County, Local, Campus) and built the SOMA Platform to serve all types. Coincidentally this has much broader implications rooting back to our country’s founding. The Tenth Amendment says that the Federal Government only has those powers delegated in the Constitution — If it isn’t listed, it belongs to the states or to the people. This created a divergent and complex set of requirements to support that nuance of state and local laws that we think the SOMA Platform solves.

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

Time. The widespread adoption is happening more quickly than I had originally thought. The next 18–36 months will fly by quickly.

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

Until 2021, we had largely grown through word-of-mouth. With our first outside investment, we recently started building a stronger go-to-market presence and will be continuing to invest over the next 18 months.

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?

Hands down my Dad. He taught me tenacity. He taught me hard work. He taught me kindness.

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

I’d like to think that the mission of the company results in a better world. Internally we pride ourselves on our culture, health and wellness of our team. Externally, I believe the number one thing I can personally do to bring goodness to the world is be a good husband, father and role model for my kids.

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

  1. Just Do It — SOMA Global is my first role as Founder and CEO. Although I played very entrepreneurial and principal roles in several startups, this is the first that I started (with my Co-Founder Nick Stohlman). I should have done this a decade earlier.
  2. People & Culture is EVERYTHING — Great people drive a great culture. A great culture drives great products and customer service. Great products and customer service create happy customers. Many may say “your customer comes first”, but I believe that “people come first”.
  3. Kindness Wins — In the long game, kindness wins over “cut-throat”. It also feels less stressful to stay kind in a cut-throat situation.

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

Respect and treat our law enforcement and first responders with kindness. They have an unbelievably difficult and dangerous job protecting our communities. They are largely overworked and underpaid. Appreciate them.

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

“Genuine kindness is the ultimate strength” — @garyvee. I have a “no-assholes” rule and it has served me well both personally and professionally.

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 🙂

Hahaha. Interestingly, I don’t think about this much. I think more about how to continue to build a good team and culture, innovate on our platform and serve our customers best — value is inherently created from that. If you do it right, the value is obvious to VCs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@peterquintas on Twitter

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


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

Agile Businesses: Adrian Pyne Of Pyne Consulting Limited On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant…

Agile Businesses: Adrian Pyne Of Pyne Consulting Limited On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Keep your eye on the ball: A key part of the philosophy of agility is focus on the value you are after. In complex Transformations its common for influential stakeholders to crawl out of the woodwork to add bits of scope to their advantage without using their budgets. And even within the valid scope some requirements are more important than others.

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

A project professional for over 30 years, Adrian has led organisational transformation in 11 industries and in the public sector, in the UK and abroad. The author of books on programme management and agile governance and assurance, he has contributed to the evolution of programme, portfolio and PMO standards and is a regular speaker, visiting lecturer, blogger and researcher. Adrian is a Fellow of the Association of Project Management. More on his work and writing at his Agile Beyond IT newsletter.

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?

My start in the 1980s was thankfully the result of a disruptive technology. Software development had been via punch cards — a bit of technology archaeology. They were slow to use, cumbersome and prone to simple mistakes if you punched just a single hole wrongly. I had not the patience, so the advent of computer terminals and early networks opened the door for software engineers like me. I could code online; simple mistakes took seconds not hours or even days to put right.

Eventually I moved to managing software projects then telecommunications engineering. Digital telecoms emerged as another disruptive technology and companies shed thousands of engineers and managers, so I went freelance. Since 1996 I have led or rescued transformation programmes and built project delivery capabilities in more than 11 industries from aviation to mining to coffee! And in both commercial and public sectors. I see myself as a project professional.

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?

Funny? Well, I suppose we laughed afterwards. As a rookie software engineer, I used a language called Cobol. Yes, I am that old. Without boring readers, a Cobol programme had four divisions (parts). Three which identified the programme, the data and the files to be used and the fourth comprised the logic. The accepted coding technique was to write the first three then put a single logic statement in the Procedure division (logic bit). You could then ‘compile’ the programme and its data stuff to ensure it is correct before coding the logic bit. I did the first stage and all was well. I did the logic coding and checked through it and again ‘compiled’ successfully. Beaming I ran the programme. It duly ran to end, opening files, processing the logic and closing the files. Unfortunately, no output data was produced.

To cut a long story short first I checked the logic, then a colleague, then my boss. Dejected I went home and the next morning at once discovered my schoolboy error. The first line of logic remained ‘stop run’, which was the single line of logic used to test the data bit at the beginning. So of course, the programme ran to end, opening and closing files. But the ‘stop run’ first line meant that all remaining logic was ignored, and the programme did nothing.

It took some weeks to live that one down. I was far better at dealing with people than code, and probably explains why I moved into project management quickly! A valuable and long-lasting lesson.

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?

Of the many I could pay tribute to, the late and much-lamented Geoff Reiss stands out. The father of programme management and designer of project management software, Geoff was my guru from the early 1990s when I joined the Association of Project Management and ProgM, its programme management Specific Interest Group.

Back in the day Geoff would have been described as one of nature’s gentlemen. Today I will simply say that he was a superb, humane person. He led ProgM as an inspirational, collaborative leader. A single story cannot do him justice. Suffice to say that under his understated leadership he attracted some amazing people who were instrumental in the early evolution not just of programme management, but also portfolio management, project/portfolio offices and benefits management. Geoff especially supported my ideas on stakeholder management and communications planning.

He also facilitated collaborations between ProgM and other bodies such as the British Computer Society’s PromsG group. Ultimately, he brought together Malcolm Anthony, John Chapman, Geof Leigh, Paul Rayner (also much missed) and I to write the first edition of the Gower Handbook of Programme Management. Without Geoff I could not have been part of those amazing and innovative times.

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 am going to cheat in this interview because as an agent of change in one sense I am invisible. My company is not relevant, its what my clients and I do together that is important. It may seem strange but not all organisations are purpose driven, or rather, there are lots of purposes, sometimes conflicting and sometimes more important and beneficial to some executives than perhaps the organisation and its shareholders.

As a change agent my role has in part been to achieve focus on the value to be delivered through change then sustain that focus and energy — Kotter is still right about creating AND sustaining the energy of change.

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?

I mentioned earlier that I went freelance as a project management consultant in 1996. Until about twelve years ago I led transformations or the building of project management capabilities for organisations. Then I changed the business model to purer consultancy. Analysing project delivery problems, advising and helping my clients to deliver projects more effectively by creating environments in which projects can succeed.

At the same time, I increasingly saw ‘agile’ being thrown around as a buzzword. Like Ecommerce some years earlier it was seen by some as the coming thing, by others as the magic bullet. And like the early days of Ecommerce a lot of people were getting agile expensively wrong. Having always maintained an interest and a watching brief over development methods, and of course managed them. Understanding the Agile Manifesto and its developments into Scrum etc. were easy enough to grasp.

Where my interest and commercial opportunity combined was where agility was being adapted — mostly disastrously — to project management. So, I set out to make getting project agility right the core of my business. It also became my professional focus with many lectures, blogs, articles and ultimately my book Agile Beyond IT as outputs.

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

Not all disruptors are technological. Given my previous answer perhaps not surprisingly the disruptor relevant to me is Agility. Although agile working predates it, the 2001 Agile Manifesto gave shape to agile software development approaches such as Scrum, XP and so on. It remains the most coherent description of what agility means, in four values and twelve principles.

Agility has almost become ubiquitous for software development. Evidenced by it being core to the UK Government’s Digital Strategy. But agility has long moved beyond IT, today you can find agile marketing, agile engineering, agile construction and agile project management. Whole companies have adopted and adapted to agile business operating models. Just look at sector disruptors such as Amazon and Tesla. They have agility running through them like words in a stick of rock. Non-agile organisations in threatened sectors need to adapt or go the way of buggy-whip makers.

Just one other word, agility runs in parallel with another key trend that is impacting business models. I refer to the projectisation of work, even of business-as-usual activity. Put these two together properly and you have a powerful new operating model. How’s that for disruption?

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

Being a consultant and in my fifties it was easy. I had reached a point where I was fortunate in being able to pick and choose the people and organisations I wanted to work with, and the type of work I wanted to do. So, I decided to align my passion for getting project agility right, with my commercial model. Work should be fun if possible and mostly, it has been.

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.

My brain seems to be wired to adapt, I LOVE change and dealing with it. I had always maintained an interest in methods and how to flex and adapt them for different projects and organisational settings.

Agile software development engaged my attention in 2008 while consulting to the UK Department of Work and Pensions. Some IT suppliers were using agile software development methods and I became very interested in both them and the Agile Manifesto. Then in 2011 I read the UK Institute of Government report System Error, which paved the way for agile software development to become key to the coming UK Government Digital Strategy. It was not so much a light bulb moment but a warning siren. I could see how misinterpretation of agility could lead to mistakes, which alas rapidly transpired.

One quote that worried me was in the section ‘Agile projects’ which said Projects should be “modular, iterative, responsive to change and have users at the core.” Most of this is fine even fantastic, but the seeds of confusion between project management with software development agility had been sown. Just for example, saying that agile projects should be iterative is strongly implying — if not defining — that agile projects can ONLY have iterative life-cycles. Which is dangerous rubbish. Agile software development usually is iterative. But IT enabled projects don’t just deliver software but do something with it. E.g. train people, change operating processes and so on. These activities are commonly serial, or to put it another way, waterfall.

I was both enraged and energised by the opportunity to help organisations not waste investment in agile projects.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

More than 10 years on it still forms the basis of both my client work and professional interest. I suppose you could say that both have culminated in my recent book, Agile Beyond IT. I have poured my own experience and that of colleagues, plus much observation and research into it.

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

Ah now that is a difficult one, mostly as I am lucky enough to choose who I work with, and I have worked with some talented business leaders and professionals. That said let me tell you about an airport which I think is still the busiest single runway airport in the world. The COO wanted a higher performing and leaner project delivery capability. When we discussed the organisation and especially the leadership culture he had built, agility immediately sprang to mind. Unfortunately, the airport’s owners previously had bad experiences with Agile and the ‘A’ word was taboo.

Our answer was to build an agile delivery capability but not labelling it as such. In this case Shakespeare was right, this agile rose by any other name smelled as sweet.

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

Without doubt to establish, communicate and maintain both a clear vision for the needed Change, to sustain the energy of that Change and to build Trust so that even the skeptical or fearful will follow.

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?

After graduation I worked in retail management with a company called Rumbelows for a while. My role was opening new stores and rescuing failing stores. One day I suggested to the Personnel Director that sales would increase if staff felt they were valued, or words to that effect. The prevailing culture being the opposite. He looked at me as if I was a malignant alien life-form. I soon left for IT and am still enjoying a great career. What of Rumbelows? Well, they disappeared not many years later. Funny that.

And if Covid 19 has taught us anything it is that even if they are working remotely you have to engage with your people, not just manage but lead them, albeit in different ways than before. Let them know they are valued, keep them focused on what they need to be doing — and why. Let them know they are being actively managed but also being looked after.

How? Keep talking to them, individually and as teams. Discuss how what they are doing is contributing to the goal, helping customers and so on. Listen to their ideas and their grumbles and take them seriously. If you don’t agree with something let them know and explain. Remember the old exchange.

‘You are not listening to me!’

‘I am, I just don’t agree with you…. because….’

That ‘because’ is important.

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

You only have to look at history to realise that adversity is when great leaders truly shine. Whether it is Julius Caesar outnumbered almost 10–1 at the Battle of Alesia (in modern France) 52 BCE, Winston Churchill for the UK in the second world war or the numerous examples during the Covid 19 pandemic. Always remember that even great leaders make mistakes. What is important is how they respond to them.

And I must cheat again by saying a two-part principle that also happen to reflect agility very well; keep your eye on the big picture and your feet on the ground.

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?

Fear is a big factor in disruption. Carol Osterweil in her new book Neuroscience for project success: why people behave as they do, explains how we are hard wired to react fearfully to Change. Such fear often makes even Boards behave irrationally, or in a knee-jerk manner, or not in an integrated way, perhaps even in a scattergun manner. E.g. blindly cutting costs instead of focusing investment.

If you don’t believe agility is a major disruptor, remember what I said earlier about agility, Amazon and Tesla. Add to that evidence such as from PA Consulting in 2021 that agile businesses are more profitable. These suggest that a considered, deliberate, integrated move to an agile business model is not just defensive, but for survival.

Such transformations bring two other gurus to mind. Kotter and Abrahamson. Kotter has long shown that it is not enough for a Board to start transformations. Board level people are busy, their attention may be taken elsewhere and a crucial investment in Change languishes in favour of something in their operational comfort zone. A Board MUST sustain the energy of Change, i.e. maintain their leadership, their engagement. Remembering also what I said about the increasing projectisation of work. Boards, and those aspiring to them MUST become more familiar and comfortable with project-based working.

Another common behaviour when faced with major change, arising from disruptors or just strategic change, is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I have seen two companies merge and the management of one simply thrown away. Abrahamson suggests you should find out what works, what is good and build on it. The response to the merger should have been to seek out the best talent. Intriguingly, within a year a significant number of those made redundant were brought back as consultants. I wonder what that did to the bottom line?

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.

A simple question with so many possible answers. But my five are:

Share the vision: In 1962 John F Kennedy shared an incredible vision with the American people and the world; “to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.” He went on: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we’re willing to accept. One we are unwilling to postpone.”

It excited people, their pride and raised morale, Greatness is not a catchphrase. His vision stimulated technology and industry and sparked much controversy. The space race was well and truly on.

Contrast that with this; “I feel just like a mushroom…kept in the dark and fed on manure”. Its an old company joke but well founded on the bitter experience of many. Such behaviour by so-called ‘management’ is pretty much guaranteed to demotivate people, reduce their morale, creativity and productivity. Its true that sometimes the outcomes of disruptive change can be unpleasant, e.g. redundancy for some, but consider this. You are on a train which halts in the middle of nowhere. 5 minutes pass then 10 then 15 with no announcements.

How do you feel?

Now consider this, you are on a train which halts in the middle of nowhere. Immediately the train manager explains there is a hold up, what it is, what is happening and that the delay could be 15 minutes, 20 at most. Updates and confirmation of the delay time are given regularly.

How do you feel?

The hold up is the same but passengers are far less disgruntled, thankful even for the briefings.

Even bad news can be sweetened. Which leads me to…..

Communicate intelligently: When I started out in projects people simply did not figure. Project management was about plans, risks, finance, change control etc. But it is people who deliver projects or not. And in the environment around a project there are people who may help…or hinder it. Managing stakeholders, mostly through communications, is best done with intelligence, in a systematic way. This is an old but still great story.

On 16th April 1995 a single digit was added to every phone number in the UK. A goal as simple to state as Kennedy’s Moon goal. BT’s PhONEday programme was the biggest of the providers and cost about £80m over four years. I was its communications lead, both internally and externally. We had a clear stakeholder and communications strategy and extensive and necessarily dynamic (agile?) plans. I spent £11m of the £80m preparing both our commercial and residential customers, and our people internally. Also to gain support and reduce criticism from the ‘influencers’ of the day, mostly in the media. Come PhONEday, awareness was higher than we dared hoped. Two postscripts. Firstly, one month after PhONEday we held a post programme party. The Group Managing Director made a brilliant and short speech. He said: “do you know what I have heard about PhONEday for the past month?………Absolutely nothing, WELL DONE!” Secondly, and more recently a social media marketing consultant friend re-worked my external communications plan for social media. He estimated that my costs would be closer to £4m rather than the original £11m (1995 value, about £20m today).

Keep your eye on the ball: A key part of the philosophy of agility is focus on the value you are after. In complex Transformations its common for influential stakeholders to crawl out of the woodwork to add bits of scope to their advantage without using their budgets. And even within the valid scope some requirements are more important than others.

Some years ago I helped mobilise a major Transformation programme for a supermarket, to be managed Agile. We established a Business Architect leading the Change panel. Together they ensured there was no scope creep and prioritised requirements from the outset.

Embrace Change during the journey: The Agile Manifesto is clear that change during delivery should be embraced. Quite right but adapting for projects I add a caveat……embrace change so long as it at least maintains or at best enhances value delivery. It sounds a bit of a platitude but I mean it.

As head of the Programme Office for a major retail bank’s transformation programme, I found that the IT project manager was struggling with some very active users who raised a high volume of change requests. Now you could say we were being agile as we developed requirements as we went along. But in fact there had been significant discovery activity. Our solution was twofold. [1] all change requests had to include justification and not just be a wish list, and, [2] there was an initial triage to match and prioritise requests against the programme’s goals. The volume was greatly reduced, and the project manager had more time to actively manage the project and its people. We lived agile change control.

Keep control like a parent teaching their child to ride a bicycle:

Agile leadership, sometimes called hands-off is a bit like a parent teaching their child to ride a bike. You may remember that point where the stabilisers were off and you had just taken your hand away from their back, or the saddle. Off they went, a little wobbly but growing in stability and confidence. What were you doing? Certainly you were not just standing there as they went into the distance. Perhaps to encounter another child on a bike, or a dog, a jogger or holly bush. Of course not, you are jogging along behind. Close enough to intervene if they call or at your judgement. Or to let them get on with it if no help is needed.

I had a small involvement in an agile managed nuclear engineering programme. Yes, agile nuclear engineering, you heard it here first. The programme was to solve some complex, highly dangerous engineering issues not encountered before. The executive level realised they had to allow the engineering team to be largely self-selecting, drawing esoteric expertise as needed, and to be self-organising. But management kept in touch in a hands-off manner.

If you give a team formed of the right people, a clear goal and clear operating parameters…..TRUST them and keep in touch.

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

I would pick more daisies”. There are a few versions of this but the relevance to me of the whole text is that its OK to make mistakes if you learn from them and that work-life balance is vital for health , a good life and your employer.

For the first, I was for many years fearful of error until a great boss coached me about learning from them. I am still learning, from mistakes and from experience.

As to balance, I found in my 40s (I am now 65) that you can do well for your clients and yourself by balancing work and personal/family time. I found I enjoyed work more, did better for my clients and felt so much better in body, e.g. though regular swimming and mental health.

Given the evolution of ways of working during and post-Covid 19, this is current but I won’t claim it’s the zeitgeist.

P.S. Don’t actually pick the daises or other wildflowers but definitely make time to walk among and enjoy them.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I mostly write articles and blogs on LinkedIn, including my Agile Beyond IT LinkedIn newsletter. Plus of course there is the book Agile Beyond IT.

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


Agile Businesses: Adrian Pyne Of Pyne Consulting Limited On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Agile Businesses: Jay Mozo Of TEKsystems On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of…

Agile Businesses: Jay Mozo Of TEKsystems On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be more transparent with your team: Transparency plays a vital role in the digital transformation journey. It helps keep your employees invested and motivated in the enterprise vision. Define clear goals and communicate openly while simultaneously welcoming any constructive criticism of your vision.

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

Jay Mozo, Director — Transformation Services, TEKsystems.
With over 20 years of experience in the tech industry, Jay Mozo has spent most of his career mastering cloud and DevOps. Prior to TEKsystems, he founded a small IT firm and also worked as the lead architect at State Farm. More recently, Jay was a leader at AWS’s professional services organization and helped build out their DevOps practice. Jay is passionate about cloud, DevOps, business modernization and helping customers get delivery done faster and more efficiently.

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?

I am a Filipino American from Detroit, MI, born and raised. My parents migrated from the Philippines in the late 60s and settled in Detroit as there was an emerging Filipino culture. I started in IT as a Junior Systems (Unix) Administrator, SUN Solaris Administrator, to be exact. With the many automotive suppliers in the metropolitan Detroit area, the Unix/Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) landscape was thick to support computer-aided design, computer-aided engineering, and computer-aided manufacturing systems common in the auto industry. I moved quickly up the System Administrator route and became a Senior Unix Administrator/Consultant in a fast-flying two to three years. By this time, I had started working for a defense contractor to access cutting-edge technologies. My passion in the Department of Defense world switched to enabling better software engineering environments. This grew into what I love today: helping our customers modernize their business with software and technologies.

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?

About a decade ago, I designed a fully automated server configuration management solution that managed an entire end-to-end deployment for a large insurance company. We had a team that focused on developing the Infrastructure as Code modules but occasionally, I would get into them and make some edits. We had scheduled an automated release one day, and the deployment failed so we had to auto-roll back. The team quickly started troubleshooting but was unable to visually see where the code was giving us some merging conflicts. When updating some of the modules, I used “tabs” versus “spaces.” Those who understand coding know precisely the problem here. I think this is funny for a couple of reasons. First, it sparked tons of debate on our team because it is funny to think we were arguing over whitespaces. Also, this is a considerable debate in the industry. Later, there was a scene from that HBO show Silicon Valley that discusses it in a very humorous way! What did I learn? Coding standards are mandatory!

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

In late 2005 I started a consulting business with a good friend and colleague. His name is Warlito Guerra, or Warly for short. Warly and I were a great pair. I focused intensely on technology solutions, and he focused on our business’ future. I would often get wrapped up in the chaos of our customer’s environment, but I wasn’t looking at the problems with the proper mindset. Warly told me, “Jay, with chaos, comes opportunities.” Obviously there is no secret recipe there, but it was more about the conversation that followed that changed me. It wasn’t the typical opportunity-based greed conversation. Basically, it was to focus on the word “opportunity” vs. the word “chaos.” Chaos feels and sounds negative, which is not always the case. Either way, if your mindset is focused on the opportunity and the potential outcomes, it is a much healthier place. We see this as a part of the Cynefin Framework as well, overall, better decision-making will come from the right mindset. As I think about how to help our customers through this chaotic world, I stay focused on the opportunities for our customers.

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 strive to be the number one transformation partner for our customers and number one career destination for our people. At TEKsystems, we join our customers on their transformation journeys — wherever they may be — to determine how to achieve their business goals and then we stick with them throughout the journey. Customers partner with us for our full-stack capabilities and speed, strategic guidance, commitment to service, delivering on our promises, hands-on collaboration and help on capitalizing on change. We build tomorrow for our customers by creating sustainable business growth.

Additionally, we know our people are what make TEKsystems what it is. We keep our people top-of-mind to ensure that our value of relationships resonates throughout the organization and then to our customers.

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?

At TEKsystems we’re obsessed with technology. It’s our mission to accelerate the business transformation to solve complex technology, business and talent challenges for our customers. We work with over 80% of the Fortune 500 across the globe, delivering tailored technology solutions that span from business modernization and cloud migration to workforce development and talent solutions. Our goal is to help our customers move into a continuous transformation mindset that focuses on how organizations approach, sense and respond. We aim to help customers align business and IT so that business goals are in the driver’s seat, and IT is the enabler in meeting these identified endpoints. In short, we help people by owning change, our tagline that encompasses the work TEKsystems delivers.

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

Over the past two and a half years, the COVID-19 pandemic upended industries, and, for those focused on technology, we were directly challenged in operational architecture and infrastructure. While some organizations could move immediately to a resilient mindset, others struggled and lagged setting up tight restrictions that often left them unprepared to adapt to sudden changes. One example is modern cloud computing platforms such as containers and serverless technologies. These platforms helped customers achieve faster time to market and opened new market opportunities for organizations that were previously unattainable due to underlying infrastructure needs. Each organization can now aim to become a global scale organization without spending large sums of money on enterprise IT needs. The modern cloud era is forcing organizations to rethink their enterprise IT strategy from the ground up to ensure they stay ahead of the competition. As we learned during the pandemic, companies must be able to pivot quickly to avoid business risks and financial burdens.

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

We pivoted by advising our customers to sense and respond, a strategy involving actual business and delivery agility for their organizations and customers. We noticed throughout the past few years that genuinely agile organizations expect changes and have created a foundation based upon anticipating new hurdles and opportunities. It started with three essential functions: people, processes and technology.

Organizations must address their culture, following a “sense and respond” mindset with their people. It starts with leadership, ensuring that leaders understand their role and serve as “mission command” rather than “commanders and controllers.” Enterprises need to develop an environment that encourages meaningful feedback and cultivates a culture that’s open to all ideas. Then it’s the people, as incorporating various backgrounds and experiences can drive outcomes that increase confidence and safety.

We then see “sense and respond” invoke processes, where new value streams are created to align with this vision. Here, we must view new processes in business and delivery agility instead of implementing those that can be recrafted depending on customer needs.

Last is technology, otherwise known as the most significant enabler. Once organizations have the culture and processes, planning out system architecture becomes vital. We’ve noticed that data analytics and user experience are critical for sensing and responding. They become primary differentiators in emphasizing how businesses develop the agile mindset to continuously improve capabilities, including end-to-end automation, to modernize business functions.

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

I think I am lucky as I have had many “aha moments,” but a few stand out to me for different reasons.

Back in 2005, the consulting company that my colleague Warly and I created was born during a long conversation at a bar. The night ended with us realizing that many great people would benefit from the right chances and training. Our mission statement would have been to help as many people as possible with better career opportunities and growth. Yeah, we made money, every business still needs to do that, but overall, we accomplished our goal. In 2015, we celebrated our success. By this time, dozens of people came into our organization and left with far better opportunities. Many of them are leaders today and operate with the same mindset of helping others.

As a technologist, I was always confident that we could make anything happen. My problem was I stayed so focused on technology. What is beyond technology is people, customers and how technology is consumed. It became clear that what matters is how the outcome improves or benefits the other side. This was my “aha moment,” when my passion quickly turned away from how to leverage technology and instead what value is needed. Also, I realized this value is necessary for professional services, but we needed to ensure that our customer’s clients, business and IT were deeply aligned.

Here is when I joined TEKsystems, after learning about who they are as an organization, precisely one that is embedded in people and culture. After joining, I was allowed to focus on my passion for aligning business, delivery and organizational transformation with technology. Since I started at TEKsystems, we have worked with companies and IT departments to deliver quality results. The exciting part of this work is that our customers engage us with maturity. First, their business leaders are aligned with our approach to continuously focus on the value that must be delivered. Also, we are seeing many IT leaders that are business savvy, given the natural value’s message. This results in a high level of business agility which we believe is the foundation for success.

These moments stick out because it provides my two biggest passions and a place to live. I’m incredibly fortunate that I work for an organization with the same passions, and it’s even in our TEKsystems’ core values. We exist to be the number one transformation partner for our customers and the number one career destination for our people!

So, how are things going with this new direction?

We are more customer-focused than ever before. We have a great suite of offerings that resulted from our push to become the number one transformation partner for our customers, and they are specifically targeted toward increasing business platform and delivering agility. Our business modernization framework and curated service offerings allowed our teams to reach more customers in significant verticals. We continue to evolve by building new sets of service offerings based on trends we see in the industry.

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

The number of opportunities and work we managed to secure after we made the pivot is astonishing. We work with many legacy customers with ancient technology stacks, platforms and ways of working and are willing to modernize due to the business modernization framework we have put in place.

For example, our teams at TEKsystems focused on helping customers in their enterprise modernization journey by creating programs targeting key foundational areas in digital transformation. We built programs such as modern computing platforms, enterprise operations, application modernization, data-driven enterprise and enterprise site reliability engineering (SRE). These programs focus on setting up a strategy and roadmap by identifying the current state of people, process and technologies and then laying down architectural foundations that help accelerate modernization while delivering incremental value to achieve enterprise “north stars.”

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

I would say the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period is to stand by the go-forward vision and decisions around modernization initiatives. Another important responsibility is maintaining business continuity while the enterprise is in a hybrid state. The modernization journey is disruptive across people, processes and technologies, and the leader’s responsibility is to motivate and effectively communicate strategic objectives and enterprise north stars to everyone in the organization.

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

There are a few things that I recommend leaders must do when an organization is going through a period of uncertainty:

  • Open and regular communication is a key to ensuring the team’s morale stays high during an uncertain period. Leaders should proactively engage in more conversations with the team to ensure they feel valued, informed and included. Sharing your vision, goals and expectations clearly and acting on the feedback received from the team help increase employee engagement.
  • Create an inclusive environment where the team can speak freely and contribute to solving business challenges, which helps increase participation from the group by engaging them further.
  • Promote team growth and upskilling. Modernization initiatives require the adoption of new technology, tools and processes leaders need to ensure that the team feels confident in achieving enterprise objectives by providing them opportunities for growth via upskilling and training initiatives.

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

Focusing on business agility would be one principle that can help guide a company through turbulent times. Business agility requires you to adapt based on changing environments. In a world where data is the new oil, leaders have access to many analytics that provide insights into where they are heading. Use these insights and proactively build strategies to ensure you are prepared for any downturns. Don’t focus on how much data but rather the innovation that realizes the value of the data. Data-driven value is critical for all business transformations.

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?

We must gauge this answer with a bit of historical context. We’ve worked with organizations that have attempted to work through modernization efforts three or four times, and they often fail due to a lack of internal alignment. Usually, the organization has minimal alignment or no direct path forward in determining its business goals.

One of the most common mistakes we see when organizations embark on digital transformation journeys is a lack of strategy. Leaders often become more tactical in solving short-term needs without understanding the implications of their choices in the long term. Digital transformation initiatives disrupt fundamental ways of working across people, processes and technologies and require a well-defined strategy covering all enterprise IT areas.

Another common mistake we see is a lack of skills and capabilities. Organizations often embark upon modernization initiatives without a plan for upskilling their workforce to support it. This results in delays in achieving the goals and increases cost exponentially.

Lack of leadership support, unrealistic timelines and organizational inertia to adopt a change are other common pitfalls encountered when businesses are on their digital transformation journey.

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.

Be adaptable: The technology sector is rapidly evolving, and many great products and technologies are coming into the market. Leaders must be more flexible than ever due to the constantly changing environment to ensure their organization stays relevant to the industry trends.

Focus on your people: While navigating a hybrid enterprise state during your transformation, ensuring your employees are in a continuous learning phase is essential. Leaders must ensure there are upskilling opportunities for the employees in the organization.

Focus on significant trends in the industry: Trends today become standards tomorrow so focus on trends that are rapidly adopted in the industry and evaluate if you can leverage them to give you an edge over your competitors.

Be more transparent with your team: Transparency plays a vital role in the digital transformation journey. It helps keep your employees invested and motivated in the enterprise vision. Define clear goals and communicate openly while simultaneously welcoming any constructive criticism of your vision.

Celebrate milestones: Digital transformation journey is a multi-year initiative as a leader acknowledges your team’s efforts when key milestones are achieved. Recognition is a great motivator for employees to keep moving forward.

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

“Be the servant while leading. Be unselfish. Have infinite patience, and success is yours.”

― Swami Vivekananda

Vivekananda was a great philosopher and reformer in the 18th century in India. I feel it’s essential for a leader to stay grounded and make the success of others his, hers or their priority. This quote helps me keep my priorities as a leader in check.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Readers can check out some of our work, mission and more at TEKsystems.com and by following us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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


Agile Businesses: Jay Mozo Of TEKsystems On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Scot Duncan On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up HVAC Systems

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Clear communications are the key to widespread success. You could have the best widget in the world, but if you write like an engineer (like me), it will take a lot longer to succeed.

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

Scot is the Founder and President of Conservant Systems Inc, and the inventor of the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DoE) and California Energy Commission-award-winning High Efficiency Dehumidification System (HEDS).

Scot started working in this profession as a “trained monkey” at the age of 12, working with technicians on the Honeywell Delta 2000, making $0.50/hour (Cash!!!). At 15, he was on the Honeywell payroll as a part time control system field technician assistant. At 18, he was a full time Honeywell engineer. At 27 he started a consulting engineering firm specializing in high efficiency HVAC systems and chiller plant designs.

Scot has been an HVAC Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the DoD since the 1990’s. He invented the Load Based Optimization System (LOBOS) & High Efficiency Dehumidification System (HEDS). Three times Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) award winner, plus winner of the DoE “Call for Innovation” and “High Impact Technology” global competitions. HEDS was the only HVAC equipment to make it through the USAF AFWERX “Base of the Future” technology challenge. His technologies and designs have won multiple awards from ASHRAE, the DoD, the DoE, the California Energy Commission, General Services Administration (GSA), USAF AFWERX and others.

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

So, I got started down this career path when I was 12 years old! My dad was a long time Honeywell engineer and in 1972 computers were just starting to make it into the heating ventilating and air conditioning, HVAC, world.

They were very slow and very primitive and they needed to have operators at the main control panel and also out in the field when they were checking out the equipment.

Honeywell brought me in to sit at the operator’s consul and listen to the radio and do what I was told — essentially punching buttons and telling them what I saw.

They told me it was a choice between me and a trained monkey, but I was much more cost-effective because I did not need diaper changes as often as the monkey did so that made me less expensive! I was getting paid $0.50 per hour (cash!) and they later told me I was overpaid!

When I was 15, I was actually on the Honeywell payroll getting a paycheck as a field technician assistant and when I was 18, I went full-time as a Honeywell engineer in the controls division.

So, it seems like I was predestined to go down this path.

One thing about air conditioning is that there are an unlimited number of problems that need to be solved, and I love solving problems!

If you go to any commercial building, most complaints about the building are based on poor air conditioning system operation. I spent a career learning how to solve people’s HVAC problems, and that was a blast!

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

Maybe not most interesting, but definitely the most exciting! When I was 17 or 18, I was in the field helping check out a Superior Courts HVAC system in the middle of summer during a heat wave. I accidentally shut down the cooling system, and the temperature in the building skyrocketed. Judges don’t like it hot! It was not the highlight of my career.

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

At the request of the Department of Defense, we developed a very simple, reliable, efficient, low maintenance, energy recovery HVAC system that can control relative humidity and help electrify and decarbonize the HVAC process and provide highly purified air to the facility occupants. It is called the “High Efficiency Dehumidification System” (HEDS for short).

It is so simple that the first patent took over 4 years to get approved! The Patent Examiner kept saying “this is too simple, I know someone must have done it before you!”

The technology can help dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of commercial office buildings, pharmaceutical, logistics centers, schools, colleges, universities and industrial facilities as well as hospitals, laboratories, and other large energy intensive facilities, including large yachts and ships.

HVAC systems have gotten so complex that they are very difficult to maintain, and with the pool of skilled trades people dropping every year, these complex systems can lead to large facility problems including comfort complaints, biological growth, the spread of infectious diseases via the HVAC system, corrosion, excess energy consumption, and an excessive carbon footprint.

Fixing these problems is helpful in itself and one of the larger benefits is that when people are more comfortable they are also more productive.

A 1% improvement in worker productivity can create more revenue than the entire utility bill costs for many facilities.

Most people don’t know about the link between worker comfort and worker productivity, and the huge benefits that a properly operating HVAC system can drop to the corporate bottom line.

How do you think this might change the world?

Lives are lost and climate change is made worse by many installed HVAC systems, HEDS can help stop those issues. HEDS can be a big part of the “E” in the ESG equation.

The carbon footprint of HVAC systems is huge on a global basis. HEDS helps to electrify the HVAC process in an energy efficient manner that can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases, mold and corrosion. These benefits are significant to the world.

The technology is so simple and so easy to maintain it can be deployed in developing countries that really have the need for it. Most of the growth in air conditioning loads, and the electrical demands that go along with it, will be coming from developing nations. Setting the efficiency bar high now will help ensure that the future is not wasteful of peoples limited resources.

Just looking at the Healthcare industry, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 75,000 people die in the USA due to Healthcare Associated Infections. Many of those deaths are caused by the HVAC systems spreading infectious diseases and biological pathogens. If it is that bad in the USA, can you imagine the number of lives lost and the damage done to survivors in less developed parts of the world?

HEDS can help bring healthcare and HVAC equity around the world. As an example, many hospitals have problems with their air conditioning systems either growing or circulating mold, fungus and infectious diseases. HEDS can reduce those problems in a significant manner without requiring a huge maintenance work force. If HEDS is brought to the healthcare sector on a global basis, think about how many lives can be saved by the reduction of healthcare associated infections and the airborne spread of infectious disease and biological pathogens. Too many people die each year from preventable causes inside the healthcare system.

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

So, I am struggling to come up with any drawbacks to this technology. There will be an impact within the HVAC manufacturing community as some overly complex HVAC designs will be displaced, but new jobs will be created to build HEDS units at scale. Equipment manufacturing or assembly plants can be built in developing nations, creating jobs.

There will be reductions in healthcare costs, sick days, maintenance and equipment replacement. Until AI becomes sentient and starts messing with the air-conditioning systems, I think we are all pretty safe from any downsides!

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

There was a definite tipping point that led to this breakthrough! I have been a subject matter expert for the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy since the early 1990s, and around 2005 the Army Corps asked me to join some teams and go out and do energy audits on military bases around the USA.

What I found at many locations was very heartbreaking. You have seen this problem brought up in Congressional hearings, where there are significant mold growth and biological problems in facilities where our Armed Forces live and work. During my travels, I witnessed this firsthand, and I investigated the different methods that the Public Works departments were using to combat the problem.

Make no mistake, the people on the bases all the way up to the top brass hate the fact that biological growth occurs, and they do everything possible within their means to try to fight it. Unfortunately, many air-conditioning systems were not designed to control relative humidity, which is the cause of much of the biological growth problem. When an installed HVAC system is trying to grow mold, there is not a lot that can be done, unless changes are made, and changes are not free.

Energy codes have gotten stricter over time, and this has led engineers to design some very complex systems that cannot be maintained by the operating staff on the bases. There are just too few people trying to work on too much equipment that is too hard to maintain.

At every base I went to I talked to the operating staff about these problems and my questions were always the same: “what have you tried?”, “how has it worked?”, “what has caused the failure to continue?”.

They really tried everything that was available at the time. When the Army Corps asked me if I could help solve the problem, my first response to them was “no, I can’t solve this problem, there is no equipment out there that is available that actually does the job and can be maintained by the limited staff and limited funding that is available on DoD bases.”

It made me very angry that the problem could not be solved. On another base, we ran into barracks that had significant biological growth issues and again I was asked to come up with a system that was simple, reliable and maintainable and that would control relative humidity in a wide variety of environments with little to no maintenance required.

In my anger, I caved in and said “yes, I will come up with a solution.‘

Right after I said yes, I smacked myself in the head asking myself “what were you thinking when you said yes!? This problem seems unsolvable! Everything has been tried, thousands of engineers have worked on this to no avail!”

So, then I had to get back to the basics what causes the problem, what do I need to do to solve the problem and how can I solve the problem in the simplest manner possible.

Thankfully, God has put me in many very problematic buildings and I have been able to come up with solutions that work, and I was able to draw on that experience to develop what we call today the High Efficiency Dehumidification System or HEDS.

The DoD, DoE and California Energy Commission have been very supportive of the technology, funding or co-funding technology demonstration projects and helping with the technology transfer process.

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

Outreach to those that can influence where ESG funds are spent, getting the attention of those that write energy and healthcare codes, getting licensing agreements set up with a few of the major global HVAC equipment manufacturers, getting Congress to allocate infrastructure and climate change funds for HEDS technology to replace the failed/failing HVAC systems at DoD installations, and other Federal facilities, this would be a huge long term win, because the HEDS technology saves a ton of energy and reduces maintenance needs and overall lifecycle costs, so it is an investment that provides a financial return, so the burden going forward is diminished for the next generations.

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

To publicize the idea, we have been entering technology competitions with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, the General Services Administration, the California Energy Commission, and the USAF AFWERX program. HEDS has been winning these competitions and projects are being implemented because of these wins.

We have worked with and are working with the US Army, the US Navy, the US Air Force, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the Electric Power Research Institute, (EPRI), UC San Diego Health Thornton hospital and even the Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park, San Diego.

We also have projects in progress with several utilities using the Utility Energy Services Contract (UESC) method of Public Private Partnership financing for projects.

Admittedly we have focused the vast majority of our time on helping the military better protect our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines because that is what triggered the technology — I simply cannot tolerate the fact that HVAC systems being designed in the past and even being designed and installed today are overly energy intensive and complicated and are carbon heavy for the summer dehumidification season as well as the winter heating season.

The healthcare sector seems to be really chasing the HEDS technology right now. As described earlier, there are a lot of HVAC-caused problems in healthcare that the HEDS technology addresses, and more hospital systems are learning about HEDS.

99% of the hospital folks we have talked with are in the process of evaluating or developing HEDS based projects.

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?

Wow, that is a big question! I have needed so much help along the way, there is no one person that has been able to get me to where I need to go, it has taken a big team of people to help me out!

I am thankful that God gave me a very inquisitive brain, that keeps digging until I find answers that make sense, I am thankful for my mom and dad that worked with me for 20+ years creating some of the most energy efficient and comfortable buildings in the world. I’m thankful to Al Perez and Craig Hofferber for being my mentors when I was a young man, and throughout my career. They taught me so much about how systems work and how they are supposed to work. Most recently I’m thankful for Craig Hale, Jeff Kuhl, Galina Kalika and Chris Roman who have the strongest faith in the technology and that who are helping create a market for it.

I’m also thankful for the DoD and DoE teams that have evaluated the technology and found it to be worthy of widespread adoption. They have been especially helpful, as their influence carries significant weight around the globe.

Lastly, I’m thankful for Mary Kersey, my friend of 30+ years and my office manager for over a decade, she keeps the wheels on the road and deals with everything I can’t deal with!

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

We are trying to help as many people as possible live better, healthier lives via the HEDS technology and cleaner air.

The end game goal, when the company is sold, is to create a foundation that helps disadvantaged kids and kids of military families get better educations, as education is the key to generational change.

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

If you are truly passionate about helping others, people can sense that, and they will come alongside you to try to help, to the extent of their abilities.

I literally get angry when I talk about the failed HVAC systems and how that affects our Troops and their families. Most people see that I am doing something about it and want to help stop that problem going forward.

Pay more attention in your English/writing classes in high school and college!

Clear communications are the key to widespread success. You could have the best widget in the world, but if you write like an engineer (like me), it will take a lot longer to succeed.

Learn how to write so your audience will understand what you are saying.

If you have very creative solutions that are worthy of a patent, and there is a market for the patented technology, you should consider going after it (see response below)

Getting patents can be incredibly expensive and time consuming!

Be sure you have the funds to carry you through the process! The first patent took four years and tons of cash. I think we are around 10 patents in now with a bunch more on the way. Each patent comes with its own set of expenses and timelines.

Engineers can be really stubborn and locked into the “we can’t try that because we’ve always done it a different way” mentality.

Most engineers are excited about the simplicity and effectiveness of HEDS, calling it “an elegant solution”, others don’t believe that the Laws of Thermodynamics can work to your benefit sometimes.

No many how many facts are placed in front of them, they will not change their direction.

The good does outweigh the stubborn, but is it still sad to see people locked into the past, especially engineers.

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. 🙂

Figure out how to improve the education process and recreate the “shop” classes that teach people trades, starting in high school, or even earlier. The future belongs to skilled workers, whether they be mechanics, plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, engineers or programmers.

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

Not so much a quote as real life actions being a life lesson. Growing up, my parents sacrificed a lot financially so that my brother and sister and I could have a great life. That selflessness, putting others before oneself, has stuck with me my entire life.

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 🙂

You can help us save the world and save a lot of lives along the way. There are not many technologies that can help stop climate change, decarbonize and electrify buildings, purify air, save energy, stop HVAC caused spread of viral and biological pathogens, reduce airborne transmission of infectious diseases that cause Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) while improving worker productivity, health and happiness.

The annual market for HVAC systems is expected to be close to $250 billion by 2025, and specialty HVAC systems like HEDS should be $20 billion and growing. The technology is protected by a bunch of patents and can be licensed for manufacture by pretty much every HVAC equipment manufacturer around.

There is no need for investments in factories, the factories are already built all around the world — HEDS can be built on their standard production lines — no need for any changes, other than to train their sales teams and update their equipment selection software. HEDS is an IP play, with no major capital expenditures in bricks and mortar required. Manufacturers may want to build factories in the countries where sales will be spiking, but that is not a prerequisite for success.

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210616005501/en/Global-Air-Conditioning-Equipment-Market-Report-2021-Market-is-Expected-to-Reach-247.54-Billion-in-2025-at-a-CAGR-of-7.4—Forecast-to-2030—ResearchAndMarkets.com

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This is where my engineering single-mindedness is a huge drawback! I am only on LinkedIn, and I really don’t publish much!

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

Thanks for reaching out, I appreciate the opportunity to get the word out on the High Efficiency Dehumidification System technology, and the benefits it can bring to mankind!


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

Meet The Disruptors: Leslie Dotson Of Swiss Precision On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Leslie Dotson Of Swiss Precision On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Desire. Always do something that you desire in the heart that makes you feel like you are giving back to humanity. That leaves a footprint of responsibility, duty, and honor to humanity. I only like to do things that will make me a better person or allow humanity to evolve. The desire drives me and fuels me to be the best of the best.

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

Leslie Dotson is co-founder and CEO of Swiss Precision, an Eco HealthTech apparel brand for the medical scrub, uniform, and accessories market. He is a designer and innovator with almost 30 years of experience and an award-winning product designer. He has invented or developed over 500+ products and won the Good Design Award in 2007 and 2008 for the SwissGear Mouse design and the Editor’s Choice award for the ChillCase in 2010.

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’m a father and a grandfather. My daughter is in the top 40 in the industry for marketing, which she does for Mattel, Inc., running the Disney toy line for Target. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

As for me, my backstory is all about developing products and services for humanity by understanding what people’s pain points are, then providing a solution. That allows them to have the best customer experience they possibly can. I believe that to be the best inventor, I have to be the best humanitarian so that I can understand people’s lives and help them become peaceful and tranquil. I always think of this in the design. How can this make somebody’s life better? How can this take the pain point away?

I found my career path in an interesting way. I used to work in the marketing department for Seiko watches, and one day I was to approve the golden samples from our artists. They were from Taiwan and were in an exclusive area of the factory that I had access to. I was 23, and it was the first time in my life that I had seen such complex artistry. I was fascinated by the discipline among these people making Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck watches by hand. It gave me the bug to understand how it all worked — how marketing worked, how production worked.

The company decided to move to the East Coast from California, and I didn’t want to live 3,000 miles away from my family. Luckily, they had an opportunity with a sister company, so I went for an interview. There were 600 other people in line for that job, with only 10 openings. I was one of the 10 who got it, and they told us that out of 600 people they interviewed, we had one unique trait: the ability to see a situation and find the solution. They said that less than one percent of the people in the world have that sort of vision. They wanted to take us into a new organization called Epson Direct and start this new entity, and that’s how I got into the IT and consumer electronics business. I saw the first laptop. I saw how networking was structured years before Compaq and Dell and Gateway had even formed. It was a fascinating journey, and if I hadn’t seen those Taiwanese artists making watches, I might never have found this career path.

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

Swiss Precision was founded in 2010. At that time, I vowed to give back to humanity and only create sustainable products that allow people to be healthy in their minds, bodies, and souls. The work I’m doing now is disruptive because it’s affecting the $94 billion medical scrub and uniform industry, the $70 billion sports market, and the approximately $80 billion leisure market. Many in those industries use synthetic, man-made materials because they’re cheaper and easier to produce. That allows them to manufacture things quickly, but as we’re all starting to learn, those materials aren’t beneficial. That’s why you’re starting to see people return to cotton, bamboo linens, and other organic materials that are breathable, good for the environment, and good for the human body.

Swiss Precision’s formulation of copper, cotton, or any other organic material combine at the DNA level of the yarn strand. It’s not a spray-on or an infused process that goes on top of polyester or any other synthetic material — it’s formulated at the molecular structure of the yarn thread itself, so it can’t be washed off or degraded. It’s blended in with organic cotton and bamboo, certified organic materials. That’s disruptive because giving a protective bond to the apparel and the human body represents a significant break from how many of these other companies make their products.

Copper has been known for thousands of years as a metal that protects the human body from bacteria, fungus, viruses, and other harmful microorganisms. Copper is used in jewelry, and it’s already used in the pipes in our houses because it does not degrade like galvanized steel or zinc. It’s also used in electronics because its conduction is very clean. We even have copper inside of us as we’re born, so the copper compound that’s inside the human body is God-given.

Using these organic materials will disrupt the reliance on synthetic and toxic materials, which are unsuitable for the planet. It will also disrupt large consumer markets because people are more conscious of harmful toxins, bacteria, and viruses — especially nurses, doctors, dentists, medical assistants, and other frontline workers. No one has made apparel yet with the structure to fight disease. We’ve tested with the number one testing company in the world, SGS, and they found that when these deadly hospital-acquired bacteria are exposed to this material, they die in 24 to 48 hours, even after 40 washes. That is very disruptive to the synthetic market, which doesn’t have these properties. Bacteria and fungi use these synthetic materials as a living space, so eliminating them will help suppress the transmission of these pathogens from one place to another. We believe testing will show that the Covid-19 virus cannot live on copper apparel, so having it in the clothing will be highly disruptive to the market.

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

The funniest mistake I made came from not fully understanding the culture in the country where I was working. I was in Colombia because I wanted to offset some of the manufacturing from China and diversify the supply chain. I was like, “Great. Manufacturing in Latin America is going to be awesome.” It’s closer to the United States, the tariffs are very small or nonexistent, and the freight cost is much lower. I wanted to motivate the workers based on my perspective from working in China, and I made the worst mistake possible. I told these Colombian workers that I was proud of them and that one day, they could be better at production than the Chinese.

It turned out that I had insulted the workers by saying this because they didn’t want to be like the Chinese. They wanted to be like Colombians. Colombian people love to talk, and they love to interact. They love to be on cell phones, texting and chatting while they’re on the production line. In China, that would never happen, but that’s not the culture of the Colombian worker. Colombian workers love to communicate and flow with each other, and for me to come in and say that they want to be like the Chinese was an insult.

I paid the price for that mistake. Some people left and said they were very disappointed by my words, so I had to apologize. I provided them with lunch and a bus from their homes to the factory and back, so they wouldn’t have to take public transportation. These are tiny things that you learn in a particular culture. To them, lunch and a bus ride were more important than an extra $10. They were grateful for the lunch and the bus, but they definitely, definitely didn’t like being compared to another culture. So what I learned from my funniest mistake was that you need to understand the culture when you’re going to another place, whether it’s business or pleasure. Not doing that will cause many problems that will take time, money, and goodwill to undo.

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 some great mentors over the years, but three stand out as the ones who caused a shift in my career. The first is Francine Farkas Sears, the second is Scott Bercu, and the third is Keith Braesch. Francine is a business veteran; her history shows she was always a real trailblazer. She was the only woman out of 26 people who were the first to go back to China in 1972, one of the first women on Wall Street, and a disruptor in the apparel retail business with Alexander’s department stores. She understood how to be a businesswoman in the 1980s and 1990s when it was a man’s world, and she still made the time to be a wonderful mother.

Scott Bercu is a forensic accountant who understands how to look at numbers and see what no one else can see. He also understands the projections and futures of a company, what makes it strong, what makes it weak, and how to identify the weakness and turn it into a strength. He was also very even-tempered and able to flow with the company owners and explain what was wrong, how to fix it and when, with absolute precision. I learned these methods of finance and structure from the best of the best.

Keith Braesch is an unbelievable business analyst. His calculations and business proposals are the best of the best. His guidance on structuring a business has been invaluable to me. He’s also just a very good friend. I can talk to him about any situation under the sun, and he always offers perfect input. I respect everything he says because he has the experience, knowledge, education, and family to back it up. In fact, I’ve known his wife since I was five years old. We were born to be partners, business associates, and friends, so I’m honored that he is one of my mentors.

Francine Farkas Sears has affected me to be a leader. I learned from her the value of showing results and standing up for what’s right for everyone. She showed me how to step back and see the whole picture before acting. It doesn’t matter if it’s 24, 48, or 72 hours — stall that decision until you have a complete perspective, then move into action, knowing that you have analyzed all the scenarios. The decisions I made from a calm, dispassionate place after weighing all the evidence have usually been correct.

My mentors greatly impacted me in terms of financial intelligence, business structure, and upper management dealings. Peace and tranquility have always been important as well as having a good work-life balance as I’ve gotten older. I thank these mentors for the experience and knowledge they passed on to me, and my ears were wide open to listen to their experiences and respect and honor them. This was the impact that they had on my life.

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 think being disruptive is a positive. It brings change, it brings newness of thinking, and it carries humanity to the next level. It allows us to be free and prosperous and expand our technologies and way of life. Being disruptive changes the mold of the times, and the times change based on new information or opportunities. So, we must push past the dug-in processes or the “This is the way we’ve always done it” mentality. That allows us to move into a “This is a better way to do it” mentality. We use that voice in a disruptive way to make change. In my over 30 years of working in the IT and consumer electronics industries, I’ve seen how diversity can change systems or structures for the better. The change in IT from the 1980s to the 2020s has been remarkable. The change in the structures, the change in the speed, the change in social media, the impact of the internet, and how people are now relying 100% on phones — those structures from the past had to change to allow us to be more advanced in our communication and share information instantaneously. Things from the past that we thought would stand the test of time have changed because of new technologies, new thinking, and human evolution.

When you’re positively disrupting an industry, you see that it’s best for humanity based on their health and on the structure they live in. It’s giving back in a positive way that helps people be more efficient, more effective, or more healthy. On the other hand, you can tell that you’re disrupting an industry negatively when you’re putting toxins back in, when you’re allowing people to be suppressed and unhealthy in the mind, body, or soul. It’s when you purposely disrupt the flow of a system and structure to control and manipulate others. This is the difference between positive disruption and negative disruption.

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

1. Patience. The advice that I’ve gotten over and over in my career is to have patience in the decisions you’re going to make because that decision can adversely affect the outcome of what you want to do. My mentors instilled a rule in me: don’t make critical decisions based on anger or expediency, but wait 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, and think about it the whole time. A week’s patience is the key. It’s the virtue of the outcome.

2. Innovate. God has given me a gift: my will to see a solution in my dreams and then wake up and execute it from the business plan to the ideation and manufacturing. “Always innovate to the next level” has been my advice to myself. Don’t settle for mediocre. Don’t settle for so-so. Look at the design, look at the innovation, and provide the best experience for the consumer.

3. Desire. Always do something that you desire in the heart that makes you feel like you are giving back to humanity. That leaves a footprint of responsibility, duty, and honor to humanity. I only like to do things that will make me a better person or allow humanity to evolve. The desire drives me and fuels me to be the best of the best.

4. Communicate. Communication is the key to everything in tantra. The third chakra is the throat chakra, the voice. It allows you to open up and speak about the existence of the idea, the technology, or the solution that will enable humanity to be better. Clear communication in all aspects of life is essential through voice, intimacy, touch, seeing, and hearing. The movement of communication has been controversial because today, you have 15 seconds to communicate to the consumer. It’s essential to be able to communicate precisely what you want. So, get to the point and let people understand what you want.

5. Love. We are all as one, we are all part of one existence of energy, and the energy of what we were born into is love. If you are a business person, leader, or CEO, people look up to you based on your words, presence, and leadership skills. If you’re doing it right, you’ll hear them say, “I love that CEO. I love the way he thinks, and I love the way he takes care of his people. I love the way he invented something that cured someone.” It’s always about love. So as a CEO, businessperson, and leader, always control your company with love, and you will be successful.

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

We’ll start with the medical scrub and uniform industry, a $94 billion market. Next, we’ll go after the sports market, because today it uses many synthetic, man-made materials. The clothes have great marketing tags all over them, but if you look at the molecular structure of the synthetic materials, they’re toxic. Consumers are not necessarily aware of that because the marketing messaging overshadows the effect on the body. Next, we’ll make a side-by-side comparison with data and testing to show what synthetic material does to the human body, as opposed to organic material, based on microorganisms that can affect it or how it interacts with the body’s function through different activities. I cannot wait to have a marketing campaign depicting a yoga class in a beautiful studio, with everyone sitting in yoga positions with plastic bags on their bodies. Next to that page would be our material, which has flowers and trees and beautiful plants around it, to highlight the organic materials that came from the earth. This will shake up this multi-billion-dollar industry that we’re seeing today.

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?

The best book I’ve ever read was Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It profoundly impacted my thinking, and it’s an outstanding blueprint for any businessperson who wants to be in leadership. It talks about more than 100 of the most successful people in the world from the past and how they all had these 13 to 17 different principles that allowed them to be successful. It goes chapter by chapter to enable you to think deeply about how people should interact with their inventions, how they should interact with the people they do business with, and how they should collaborate and gain information and data to make the best decision for the product or service. Interestingly, the DNA characteristics of these successful entrepreneurs are all the same. You can learn from them how to make decisions based on experience, knowledge, data, and your gut telling you what’s right and wrong. It teaches the reader to have no fear and cross the finish line no matter what obstacles might be there. Some of these inventors were considered crazy, and some people wanted to haul them away from their families in straitjackets. It was a good thing that didn’t happen because these inventors went on to create the light bulb and the automobile, among other things. Without those breakthroughs, we would not have the things we have today. We would still be in the dark. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill profoundly affected my thinking and gave me a blueprint to follow for my thoughts and desires and examples of why that blueprint works. Every person who wants to do business needs to read it.

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

Don’t celebrate early. Wait until the task is truly finished. This is a life lesson quote that I live by. It’s a mantra for me. I have always found that early celebration can be disruptive to the outcome of a goal because it distracts people from seeing what is truly there. Those unknowns, those gotchas, those “Uh oh, what just happened?” moments usually show up in the last 10% of completing a task, the home stretch. It’s generally because you celebrated too early and took your eye off the prize. You thought you already had it, which is not the time to celebrate. The time to celebrate is when it’s boxed up with a nice bow at the top and shipped off, you’ve already done your war room analysis, you’ve had feedback from everyone involved in the situation, and you have data to show that it is successful. That’s the time to celebrate. So celebrating too early can make you lose sight of what is happening and how you need to fix it. It’s something that I learned the hard way by celebrating too early, but it’s also something that I learned to remain steadfast about. People ask me, “Les, why aren’t you happy about this outcome?” I usually tell them, “Because it’s not finished. Some things still need to happen, and it’s not the time to celebrate.” Give it some time, be patient, listen to the results, listen to the feedback, and then once we hear all of the input over a particular amount of time, then and only then are we going to celebrate.

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 want humanity to get back to using organic products and services. It’s already started, but I think it needs to move faster. People are starting to go from farm to table. People are wearing or using organic products, services, or medicines, which will eventually get us back to nature, and allow us to be healthy and whole and peaceful. It will enable the earth to heal itself because we will not be polluting it with synthetic or toxic products. I’m hoping that I will be able to bring this as a movement for the good of humanity and allow our children’s children to be here in peace, joy, and health. I’ve always said that the movement of small ideas can trigger change. If you look around you, you’ll see that it’s not these super complex technologies that move or change people. It’s usually the very, very small inventions that make people say, “Wow, that’s so simple. I wish I would’ve thought of that.” There are many examples of this, like Q-Tips and Post-it Notes, little ideas that helped people and changed how they use things or communicate. It’s exciting that an idea can trigger a movement like that.

How can our readers follow you online?

I can be reached on my LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/in/les-dotson-7083543/.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Leslie Dotson Of Swiss Precision On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Kristina Paider: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Start from a place of love, respect for the person or work or thing for which the feedback is being given.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristina Paider.

As a Hollywood screenwriter, giving and receiving superb feedback can mean the difference between a hit show and a shit show. There is a way to give feedback that acknowledges the good, and opens the receiver’s capacity to hear the notes in a constructive way, and Kristina Paider has been living and breathing the feedback loop for decades. Kristina has worked in board rooms, living rooms, and Hollywood writers’ rooms with 600+ writers in 34 countries as a writing collaborator, coach, editor.

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

It’s great to be here! I started my career in TV journalism at an NBC affiliate. I quickly realized it wasn’t for me and pivoted to advertising, then marketing and PR. At age 27, a headhunter I worked with was convinced I should write movies. So, in a friendly way, she stalked me until I agreed to sign up for a class. Then I began moonlighting as a marketing executive for hotel companies by day and a screenwriter by night.

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

What makes The Hollywood Approach stand out is the intersection of neuroscience, goal-getting and play through movies examples. I help people live and tell their best story.

When my first assistant was getting the beta version of my masterclass up and running, I invited her to participate in the exercises. She had never owned her own home, and tried out the principles I taught on this “wild and crazy, out there, idea.” Not long after, she bought her forever home with a gorgeous garden, yard and spacious rooms and office. It’s truly magnificent. She is so dear to me, and I didn’t even know she was doing the work, so when I learned of it, I was as excited as if it was happening to me!

I love helping people see and access their own potential to get what they want. I got to visit Laura’s magnificent home last summer on a road trip. It was amazing to witness it and her success — her leap — in person.

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

It’s hard to pick one. But in 2021, as I was preparing to launch my book, which is always hectic, I received a message asking me to audition for a JLo movie filming near my home. In my gazillion tasks each day, I had forgotten that the audition included singing. Yikes! I’m not a singer, and I was on limited time, so I just did it. And I was offered the part! Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept, because of timing. But it was a red-flashing-light reminder that literally anything can happen at any moment.

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?

At age 23, having just moved from Milwaukee to Phoenix, I had the chance to write a feature for Tribune Newspapers on women and success. I wrote, edited, refined, and edited some more until I thought it was perfect, and then turned it in. When the business editor returned it to me non-chalantly, marked up in red, I was floored. It really freaked me out. I was devastated. I felt like I did everything wrong. I didn’t want to write after that.

Of course, years later I realized that was just the law of the jungle. I had not experienced the power of collaboration or the idea that the team was there to make each other’s work stronger. I felt criticized. I didn’t know feedback was a “thing.” I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

It wasn’t until a few years later in film school that I learned that not only that’s how things worked, but as a screenwriter, the feedback process was crucial to not blowing a chance at a six- or seven-figure sale if you made it up to bat. Feedback is needed to do your best work — for the good of the story.

Understanding what good feedback can do for the story, and for me as a writer was transformational. I learned to be more objective about my own work and how to tell a better story. But I’ve never forgotten that first red mark-up, and I take much care to manage client expectations of the editing and coaching process, and present notes and feedback in a very specific way because of it.

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

Take breaks and engage if flow activities. Figure out what self-care is to you and practice it. Focus on communication. Being heard and validated goes a long way in tense times.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is about setting the tone, being the example, and driving the boat.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

When possible — and let’s be honest, during times of stress, it’s not always possible — I try to be strategic and have a purposeful approach. I do try to think through my desired outcome and how I can set myself and my team up for success as well as feeling good throughout the process. That may mean scheduling more hands on deck, or more downtime, or simply extra time in the schedule so there are no crunches.

For talks, I try to find time to do morning pages, meditate and be still. Same thing for big decisions.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

Sure. As the senior vice president of marketing and research for a $15 billion hotel real estate team, I gave and received feedback to my team formally twice a year and with every research paper and written piece we put out. It’s not a one and done. It’s circular and ongoing, both on performance and on written work. It’s a collaboration, not a dissertation or a monologue.

For Hollywood screenwriters, feedback on each other’s scripts is the life force of elevating the work. Feedback is a regular part of a screenwriter’s existence.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Giving honest and direct — and I would also add: kind — feedback is essential to being an effective leader because communication makes or breaks an individual, a team, and therefore a company. With great communication, so much more potential is realized in every relationship and endeavor.

Angeles Arrien, the cultural anthropologist who specialized in transpersonal psychology and the wisdom of Indigenous people, had a unique take on it. In her work Gathering Medicine (The Warrior), Angeles talks about the collaborative nature of feedback and how in indigenous cultures, to “not to be able to come up with at least 10 creative solutions is below standard. And for most of us, three creative solutions is quite a stretch.”

Angeles says, “Shape shifting, or shifting the shape of our experience, really the invitation to leadership in the 21st century. We’re being asked to move out of description into prescription. Out of chronically describing what’s not working and moving into creative problem solving. To move out of reactivity into creativity.”

She describes her experience listening to an economic summit where a Navajo elder spoke. He began by acknowledging and giving gratitude for the opportunity to speak, and acknowledging all who gathered for the economic summit.

According to Angeles, the elder followed by describing what was working on the reservations. Then, then he shared what was not working on the reservations. Finally, he concluded by saying, “and I regret that I only have three creative solutions to offer.”

She thought this to be a wonderful standard for leadership — to begin with acknowledgement and gratitude. To state what is working first. To address what is not working. And to offer at least three creative solutions.”

Her work has always stuck with me, and guided me.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Start from a place of love, respect for the person or work or thing for which the feedback is being given.

Start with the good, especially if the feedback is unsolicited. Starting with what’s working puts the receiver at ease and gives them something to build on.

[Mention the “big picture” goal] “I know you want to pitch this story to Miramax, and I want to help you put your best foot forward. [let the receiver opt in] “May I share some thoughts? / Are you open to me sharing some thought on how to make it even better?” This aligns your feedback with their goal, and lets them know you’re on board with helping them achieve their goal.

Own your feedback. For me, the character seems incongruent.

[give more detail] when she says things such as sexual innuendos, aggressive cursing, and uncouth language, she comes across as incongruent with someone who wants to [bring it back to the big picture goal] run a church.

[offer a solution] “it seems the phrasing, gee whiz, Wally, might be more in line than “F&CJS this $#IT!’”

[close with a positive] — I think there’s a lot of potential, and I hope to take my whole family to see it on the big screen.

[if a particularly sensitive situation, repeat encouragement] — I hope this is helpful in you making a successful play for Miramax.

I think we want to strive for feedback expanding the conversation and the relationship. It’s about so much more than the notes. It’s about honesty, building trust, vulnerability, and providing validation and support.

Ultimately, the receiver has responsibility, as well, especially if they’ve requested feedback. They must be in an open position to receive it gracefully. And not everyone will. But 9 times out of 10, when feedback is requested, and given in a way that honors the person or the work, it will be gracefully received.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I would suggest allowing ample time to craft the feedback in writing, following the guidelines above.

Including the content of the big picture goal, starting with the positive, letting the person know you’re on their team, owning your perspective, giving potential solutions and closing on a positive, is universal guidance.

It may sound long, but honoring relationships and mentorship is important. When you endeavor to make people feel like you care and you are on their team, they remember that. If you rush and miss some steps, that quality of care may suffer, and ultimately the message may be incomplete, and the relationship or the company may pay the price.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

The optimal time to give feedback is when the recipient is ready to receive it. If it’s not at planned intervals where the receiver is expecting it, it may be good to set the expectation and maybe schedule a “feedback meeting,” so the receiver isn’t taken off guard. At a very minimum, seek the recipient’s buy in before launching into any notes.

With clients, I may say something like, “Rose, I know you wanted to have this proposal ready for a publisher this month. I see some opportunities in this current draft to help you move it in that direction. Would you like to set up a time to discuss my notes?”

With employees, if the feedback is more corrective in nature, I might say something like, “Jeff, I’d like to discuss how the recent Wall Street Journal interview went. When would be a good time for you?”

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”?

I think being a great boss is about finding the balance of providing roots and wings. Giving an employee enough latitude to experiment and try their own solutions, and enough access to provide constructive guidance to nurture their process and outcomes.

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

It would be a movement of love + gratitude, which are scientifically proven to wipe out fear, anger and self-doubt, the way light cancels out darkness.

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

My grandmother often said “give ‘er” as a way to say go for it: to play the hand or take the risk. Usually in cards, but also in life situations. It was such a fun thing to say, and I can still hear her say it. It’s an example of so many times when you have the choice to go for it or not — to say yes and go for it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am Kristina Paider on all the socials!

LI: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristina-paider/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/kristina.paider

Insta: @kristinapaider

TikTok: @kristinapaider

Masterclass: https://hollywoodapproach.thinkific.com

Book: https://www.amazon.com/Hollywood-Approach-Script-Movie-Wildest/dp/1989603556/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+hollywood+approach&qid=1650647682&s=books&sprefix=hollywood+approach%2Cstripbooks%2C166&sr=1-1

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

Thank you — pleasure to be here!


Author Kristina Paider: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brendan Kotze On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Cybersecurity…

Brendan Kotze On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Cybersecurity Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Above all, passion and curiosity are underlying necessities for success within the industry.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brendan Kotze.

Brendan is a highly accomplished security professional with extensive experience in the space. He is the CEO of Encore, a cybersecutiy platform that visualises information that can be confusing and often overwhelming, providing accurate and action-based reporting and visibility across numerous security controls, through one secure portal.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up? (Inspiring book & funny mistake)

I was born and raised in a small town in the Western Cape of South Africa and began my career by working for large telecoms companies in Cape Town. I broke into IT security through my work at NGS, where I was employed as Service Delivery Manager alongside providing Data Loss Prevention solutions at a global scale. This was my first foray into the world of cybersecurity, and I became deeply passionate about making people and companies safe. As NGS expanded into more security domains, so did I. Following this experience and seeing the huge demand for quality providers, I co-founded Performanta alongside my long-standing partners Guy, Lior and Attie.

My move into cybersecurity was inspired by a multitude of experiences. Coming from a fundamental network security base, moving into cybersecurity was a natural progression, as I was already working in Data Loss Prevention. At a more personal level, my passion for security only grew as I came across it in different mediums, including the short story by Isaac Asimov, ‘Let’s Get Together’. This is a Cold War-based spy story, focused on how the Russians created robots to look like US citizens, and the Americans must find a way to keep up with and combat this technology. Also, the movie ‘Hackers’ came out when I was young, which further sparked my interest in the field as it just seemed so “cool.”

A funny mistake I made when starting out in security centred around the concept of ‘Beta’ versions. When vendors release software for testing, they call it a ‘Beta’ version. In my youth I thought this meant a ‘better’ version — so I ended up deploying a ‘Beta’ version into a production environment. There is no substitute for experience, I guess.

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

Through Encore, I hope to help organisations understand and identify gaps within their security, speeding up reporting of attacks and increasing collaboration between teams. By integrating a company’s entire security stack into one simple interface, Encore provides a clear insight into security information and risk in real-time. Our goal is to give time back to security professionals to focus on genuine security, not spend hours compiling reports and data.

What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

For me, security has always been exciting. In terms of the current developments within cyber though, the fact that attacks are becoming a lot more widespread is concerning, but fascinating. These types of attacks are attracting a lot of media attention and are impacting people on an individual level, where historically they predominantly impacted businesses. This change in the scope of cyber attacks brings a lot of new, exciting challenges.

The Ukrainian war as an example is shaping a new age of cybersecurity, one which is directly impacted by personal values, beliefs, and politics. For example, the Ukrainian Cyber Army is a global outreach of hundreds of thousands of people who do not necessarily work in IT security yet are getting behind a political cause. This expansion of the cybersecurity landscape is leading to a new wave of attackers and defenders; the Ukrainian Cyber Army sharing tools and tactics with the wider public is a prime example. If you have a PC at home, you can download a tool they share with you, and your infrastructure can be used to perform denial-of-service attacks.

Skills that are collated over years of genuine experience are being transferred to a much wider audience. This is both exciting and extremely concerning. These skills may not be used for good. Instead, we could unwillingly be putting dangerous and malicious tools into the hands of the public. On the positive side, cybersecurity is becoming more accessible, with more people learning how to defend against dangerous attacks.

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

A big concern of mine in is the significant gender bias within the cybersecurity industry. Social media platforms are overwhelmed with content on how women are consistently treated poorly in the industry, perpetuating the perception that the field exists predominantly for men.

Secondly, there is a tremendous reliance on technology and regulation that does not necessarily support implementing effective security. Compliant does not mean secure. Most industry regulations should be treated as baseline security, implementation and application is what really counts.

Finally, the skills gap and recruitment crisis. The industry is full of skill and passion that is currently sitting on the bench thanks to a common belief that employees must have a degree and certifications to get through the interview stages. Media headlines are being dominated by the growing skills shortage, but the incredibly high gates being put up by organisations are preventing genuine progress. Personally, I would rather hire someone who’s got experience, and has played around with coding and used open-source platforms to learn and grow their skills and be self-taught, rather than someone who has shopped around for certifications.

The conditions for securing an interview are creating huge barriers to entry for the market, all while the industry complains about the widening skills gap. Training programmes should be implemented to develop the sought after skills, and hiring managers should communicate the need for genuine passion and demonstrated experience, not just a list of certifications.

You are looking for a skillset, not a validation that the skillset exists.

Looking ahead to the near future, are there critical threats on the horizon that you think companies need to start preparing for? Can you explain?

At a macro level, I believe that the same threats exist. The only thing that has really changed has been the attack landscape. The ability for an attacker to adapt faster than defenders means that organisations should keep an eye on threat intelligence and ongoing developments from an attack perspective. This has been driven by the surge in cloud adoption and IoT, which means that the problems that we had on-site have now moved to the cloud, and at an individual layer we are allowing IoT into our business and homes.

Similarly, there has become a shared responsibility model, between what the cloud provider does and the business’s own responsibility, which has not yet been defined throughout the organisation. Companies need to return to basics to an extent, rather than jumping feet-first into new technology. The foundations need to be laid, rather than frequently buying new tech which only resolves about 20 percent of problems.

Can you share a story from your experience about a cybersecurity breach that you helped fix or stop? What were the main takeaways from that story?

In my experience of cybersecurity, if there is a gap, it will be found. It may take years to discover and remediate, simply because an attacker’s feedback cycle is very quick, whereas a defender’s feedback cycle is slow. In other words, an attacker knows whether he has got in or not whilst a defender may be oblivious for some time.

Throughout my career, most breaches I’ve come across are caused by the basics being exploited — weak passwords; lack of multi-factor authentication; open ports; critical patching; lack of monitoring traffic out of the organisation, rather than traditional firewall models which block traffic coming in. Once attackers exploit the very basic defences at the perimeter, then comes the internal tactics, which can be very difficult to detect.

This comes back to the attacker model. You have what are called ‘initial access brokers’, who are the people that scan and spray all over the internet, and then sell access to a more advanced group. The chances of being hit, simply due to not having the basics in place, are therefore much higher.

As you know, breaches or hacks can occur even for those who are best prepared, and no one will be aware of it for a while. Are there 3 or 4 signs that a layperson can see or look for that might indicate that something might be amiss?

There are of course signs that any individual can be trained to identify, but ideally organisations should focus their defence efforts earlier in the cycle — by the time a layperson detects an anomaly, it’s already too late.

Companies need to focus on prevention, ensuring all employees working from home have patched devices, and are keeping all accounts secured, including personal ones. It’s becoming more common to see attackers exploiting users’ social media platforms and personal profiles, rather than going through their workplace identity. Adversaries are opting to attack an individual, instead of the whole organisation, to gain access to the network.

After a company is made aware of a data or security breach, what are the most important things they should do to protect themselves further, as well as protect their customers?

Above all, it is vital that a company follows a process that has been agreed beforehand and tested frequently, both within internal business and across the board. The very last thing you want to be thinking about during an attack is who needs to do what, who to get on the phone, and who you can trust in that situation.

Moreover, transparency with customers is key. Organisations often try to keep the news of a breach on the down-low, but they always come to light eventually. Our society has almost become desensitised to cyber breaches, to the point that news of one will not necessarily sway individuals from engaging with a company or using their services. However, companies are more likely to lose people’s trust if they try to hide breaches, as opposed to offering transparency around the risks.

What are the most common data security and cybersecurity mistakes you have seen companies make? What are the essential steps that companies should take to avoid or correct those errors?

First of all, not having a clear picture of what has been deployed and where. You cannot manage what you cannot measure.

Secondly, not trusting internal IT security. Companies hire expensive, external consultants to come in and write a report that tells you exactly what your internal team has been trying to inform you of for years. But because it’s been written on paper with a fancy letterhead, it somehow carries more value than the word of the people stuck in the trenches.

Another mistake is buying tick-in-the-box technology for services, and not investing in solutions that will truly benefit your business. The industry has taken advantage of perhaps ill-informed or regulatory requirements, for example the need to run an annual pen test. A pen test is a skilled adversary, or ethical hacker, who applies intelligence to attack your network and identify gaps in security. A lot of companies are instead trying to run vulnerability scans, which is an automated tool, in place of a pen test. Both are very different approaches and will likely deliver inconsistent results when swapping one out for the other.

My last one is blindly buying into marketing. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some fantastic services and providers out there. However, companies need to ensure that it is fit for purpose and aligns with the overall objective, and not buy it simply because it has AI on the tin, misguided by the belief that it will solve all problems.

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

To start, it’s not like in the movies! Attackers require a lot of time, effort, and skill to hack a network — not like the Hollywood personas who hack into governing organisations with the click of a button. Another big myth is that attackers only go after large companies, which is not the case at all.

From an industry wide perspective, there’s an assumption that you must be an expert in cybersecurity to make a difference, which links back to the recruitment crisis we discussed earlier. Furthermore, security needs to be a layered defence, which is delivered through trusted parties that actually know what they’re doing — not just a basic piece of tech wrapped up in clever marketing.

Thank you for all of this. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Cybersecurity Industry?

  1. Above all, passion and curiosity are underlying necessities for success within the industry.
  2. Secondly, relationships in your inner circle are as important in tech as they are anywhere else. Having a close network that you can call on, ask questions, and rely on for support is invaluable. When people buy security, they buy trust, and trust comes through positive relationships.
  3. I also recommend not jumping directly into security because it seems ‘sexy’, or because you want to break into and hack things. Have a good understanding of basic IT, right down to operating systems and understanding networking. It sets you up to become a far more well-rounded IT security person.
  4. You must create an understanding of the opposite side. If you’re a defender, you need to understand attackers. If you’re an attacker, you need to understand defenders. Ultimately, you’re on the same team, but realistically, it’s much harder being a defender than it is an attacker.
  5. Be a sponge. You’re not going to immediately land your ideal job, particularly with current HR processes, but it’s important to learn and grow from every experience. This may mean putting your hand up during an incident, or simply asking somebody to give you an hour or two to help better understand their area. The more you know, the more knowledge and information you can leverage down the line.

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 🙂

Probably Elon Musk, I’d really like to get a deeper insight into how his mind works.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.


Brendan Kotze On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Cybersecurity… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Bill Hansen On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Love Your Audience. They are not your enemy; they are your friends. Show them you’re there for them and put your ego on the shelf. Make them feel important, make eye contact and engage with them if it’s a small group.

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

Bill Hansen is a 50-plus year industry veteran who celebrates 42 years of his company Bill Hansen Luxury Catering this August. Over the last four decades, this visionary has hosted four U.S. presidents, championship Super Bowl teams, countless celebrities and athletes. He has catered events for everyone from Pope John Paul II to The Bush family, The Reagan family, Michael Jordan, Usher, Kim Kardashian and the list goes on. Widely recognized as a giant in the catering industry, Mr. Hansen caters, coordinates, trains, teaches, mentors, motivates, manages, and writes. He typically oversees 400 events a year with 40 full-time and 200 on-call employees.

Bill Hansen Catering is the exclusive caterer for Villa Woodbine, a historic and award-winning, early 20th century Mediterranean Revival estate in Coconut Grove in high demand for weddings, corporate and social events. His company is a preferred caterer to a collection of 100 unique venues from the Palm Beaches to the Florida Keys. In addition to being an in-demand speaker at catering conferences where he speaks to over 3,000 caterers a show, Bill is frequently engaged as an expert witness for foodservice and hospitality legal disputes and has worked on major cases against Costco and American Airlines.

In 2020, the catering brand merged with Lovables Catering + Kitchen and added a new dimension to Bill Hansen Catering by offering expanded culinary offerings for budget-conscious clientele. Bill Hansen Catering also acquired Eten Catering, a full-service catering and event company to expand the brand’s presence to an even larger market, specifically on large scale yachts in South Florida. Additionally, the brand merged with Alexander Event Catering and Different Look, two leading brands that have served South Florida’s wedding and special events market for more than 15 years, to receive expertise, guidance, and support from Bill Hansen and his team. The partnership brings a new standard of luxury to South Florida events as a whole.

Additionally, Bill Hansen and his team recently launched an opulent extension of the catering brand, Bill Hansen Luxe to tap into the upscale client market to produce star studded events.

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

I grew up in a small town called Holland in New York with more cows than people and one redlight. They called me Honker since I played the trombone quite well. I also loved to make money, so I sold Christmas wreaths, mailing labels, and rose bushes that my dad grew for the holidays. From there I attended Cornell and graduated in 1967. I joined the Navy as an officer and managed Navy clubs and hotels until 1975, when I moved to Miami, where I worked as a food manager for Burdines (now Macy’s.)

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

In 1980 I started my own catering firm, offering food and service to the rich and famous during events. I had the opportunity to host U. S. Presidents and Pope John Paul II. In 1990 I started teaching Catering Management and began to hone my speaking skills, a passion of mine.

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

While going the extra mile for a client in desperate need for a venue, I discovered Villa Woodbine, a historical home in Coconut Grove where I’ve catered since 1983 and since then thousands of couples have wed there. Bill Hansen Catering has an exclusive partnership with the venue, and it’s one of the top wedding destinations in South Florida.

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

There are many mistakes and I like to call them learning experiences and go by the motto, “Every Setback is a SETUP for a COMEBACK.” A funny mistake I can recall was when I was working at Macy’s. A customer had asked for Worcestershire sauce, and she brought him a Booster Chair.

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 had several mentors but Ted White, my former boss in the Navy, supported and encouraged me in my early years. He hired me in 1971 when I was near bankruptcy from a failed consulting business venture and supported me for decades.

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

At Cornell I cut speech class on the days I was supposed to speak. When I started teaching catering management, I was so nervous that I arrived early and put all my notes on the black board as a reminder of what I was about to say. The only way to overcome your fear of speaking it is to JUST DO IT. Come prepared and remember that FACTS tell but STORIES sell.

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

It’s simple. Do everything with love and kindness, but still mean business. There’s too much hatred and bitterness in the world today. We need to replace it with love and kindness.

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

I’m acquiring other catering and hospitality businesses and growing my Bill Hansen Hospitality Group to become the leading concierge service for anyone planning a party, wedding, corporate event, quinceañera or bar mitzvah.

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

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. I care for my team members at all my companies. I’m there to create an amazing culture where they wish to show up every day, engaged and excited. The only way you can do that is to treat your team like family and love them.

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

  1. Do at least 10,000 hours doing what you’re speaking about. It’s easy for me to talk about catering since I’ve catered at least 100,000 parties, weddings, and events in my career. I have the stories to back up my key points.
  2. Love Your Audience. They are not your enemy; they are your friends. Show them you’re there for them and put your ego on the shelf. Make them feel important, make eye contact and engage with them if it’s a small group.
  3. Keep things fun with humorous stories that your audience can relate to. People relate to stories. They don’t want to be spoken at, but to.
  4. Remember that there are three speeches. The one you plan to give, the one you gave, and then the one you wished you had given as you review your talk afterwards. Every time you speak you will discover minor things that you could have said and done in a better way. Continually hone your talk or talks and realize you can always deliver your next speech better than the last one.
  5. Move around and make eye contact with your audience. I do not like standing behind a podium on a stage. I prefer to be on the same level as the audience and walk up and down the aisles to further engagement. I like to arrive long before the audience so I can welcome them as they arrive. It helps me to get over whatever nervousness I have at the time.

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

Just do it. Come overly prepared. Remember your bullet points. Use PowerPoint as a reminder of where you are. The more you do it, the better you get. If you’re not nervous before you speak you will deliver a lackluster performance. I like to exercise before I speak to calm the nerves. Robin Williams used to do push-ups before he went on camera.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My current passion is an inner-city faith-based non-profit. Touching Miami with Love which helps kids in Miami’s Overtown who come from poverty and distressed homes see that there’s a future for them in this world.

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

I would love to have lunch with Bill Gates who I’ve actually catered for in the past but did not have time to talk to. I would ask him for business advice, connections and money to support my nonprofit, Touching Miami with Love.

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

@billhansenluxurycatering

Bill Hansen Catering blog

Bill Hansen Catering & Events Productions

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


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

Dan Gingiss Of The Experience Maker On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public…

Dan Gingiss Of The Experience Maker On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

You need to practice in a way that makes sense to you. For some people, that means scripting out every word and practicing over and over again until it’s just right. For me it means constantly trying new things, knowing what I want to say but not being afraid to say it differently each time, being willing to improvise, and not over-rehearsing lest I start worrying about missing a bullet point.

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

Dan Gingiss is an international keynote speaker and customer experience coach who believes that a remarkable customer experience is your best marketing strategy. And he doesn’t just talk about experience; he creates one for the audience every time! His 20-year professional career spanned multiple disciplines including customer experience, marketing, social media and customer service. He held leadership positions at McDonald’s, Discover and Humana.

Dan is the author of The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share and Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media. He also co-hosts the Experience This! podcast. He earned a B.A. in psychology and communications from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Dan is also a licensed bartender, a pinball wizard, and he once delivered a pizza to Michael Jordan.

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

I grew up in a town that unfortunately gained international recognition for the wrong reasons on July 4th — Highland Park, Illinois. I went to school there, worked my first job there, and still visit frequently. It’s a wonderful community that is still picking up the pieces. In college at the University of Pennsylvania, I was the managing editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper, though I never thought seriously of becoming a journalist. I majored in psychology and communications, though I never thought seriously about a career in either. However, after several years as a marketer, I realized that psychology + communications = marketing.

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

I remember exactly when I began working in customer experience. I was recruited by the Chief Digital Officer at Discover Card to a role called head of digital customer experience and social media. I asked him at an introductory lunch why he had chosen me for the role, given that I had never worked previously in either digital customer experience or social media. What he told me next changed the entire direction of my career: he said, “I’ve been watching you in meetings, and no matter what the business problem is, you always try to solve it from the customer’s perspective.” He was right of course, but I had honestly never perceived that trait about myself. That role taught me about the power of customer experience and how it can actually become the best form of marketing — word of mouth. Today I like to joke that if I never have to run another marketing campaign again, it will be too soon. Instead, I teach companies how to focus on their existing customers, who are the best marketers in the world.

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

One of the things we focused on at Discover Card was what the Harvard Business Review called the number one influence on loyalty: reducing customer effort. In one particular case, we learned from website analytics that the top reason for visiting the Discover Card site was to review recent transactions. But it took several clicks to get to that page. We decided to create a Facebook-like feed on the homepage, immediately after people logged in. It showed each customer’s 10 most recent transactions. What happened next surprised everyone: tens of thousands of customers logged in and logged right back out without clicking on anything. In an e-commerce environment, this would be a colossal failure. But at a credit card company that understood that nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to visit their credit card website, this was a huge win. We were delivering exactly what customers wanted simply and immediately. It was not a coincidence that we won the coveted J.D. Power Award for Customer Satisfaction for the first time that year — one of my proudest career accomplishments. It is also not surprising that virtually every other credit card company now does the same 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?

I hate to throw a colleague under the bus, but this mistake wasn’t mine. At my first job out of college, there was an unwritten rule that you could make any mistake once. As long as you learned from it and didn’t do it again, no one would get mad at you. My buddy who sat next to me placed an order for full-color printed brochures that contained an extra zero in the quantity. This was a costly error that likely cost the company more than his annual salary. Sure enough, our boss walked by and said out loud, “just don’t do it again.” And guess what? None of us ever made that mistake again!

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?

In the story above about recognizing my knack for customer experience, the Chief Digital Officer was Mike Boush, who now works for Goldman Sachs. He also encouraged me to “get out there” and start speaking at conferences. He clearly didn’t know at the time that he was unleashing a beast! But I still credit him today for helping me fall in love with both public speaking and my chosen topic, customer experience.

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

You have to start somewhere. I started speaking as a “side hustle” while still fully employed. I remember having to beg my way onto panels at events. After being a panelist a few times, I started to get invited onto panels. Then I had to beg my way onto the stage for my first solo presentation. After some time, I started getting invited to speak solo. Then when I went off on my own and started my business in 2019, I learned how to get paid for speaking. Each step I learned along the way, and each time I got on stage I became more comfortable as a speaker.

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

I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love every day, so it’s become a lot easier for me to wake up each day and go to work. I like to say that I get to work for The Dan now instead of The Man, and that alone inspires me to work harder. I also love making a difference for people. I teach that a remarkable customer experience can be the best sales and marketing strategy. Everything I teach, from my proprietary methodology to all of the real-world examples I share, is put through three filters that I learned while working in Corporate America: simple, practical and inexpensive. So when audiences leave my keynotes or workshops, they feel inspired and empowered. I’ll never get tired of hearing stories of people going back to work the next day and changing how they do business. When we focus on our existing customers instead of always worrying about selling to new ones, our customers stay longer, spend more, and refer their friends and colleagues.

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

I am thrilled to be working on a new keynote with a co-presenter on how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is actually a customer experience issue. Much of the content around DEI focuses on it being a hiring issue, which it certainly is. We can’t truly understand our diverse customers without having a diverse employee base to help us interpret. Our keynote focuses on how companies can develop products and services — as well as marketing and customer experience — that is inclusive of everyone. After all, in almost every business the customer base is diverse in almost every way you can define diverse. But marketing, product development, and customer experience often focus on only on generic persona, ignoring the incredible intricacies of how different types of people look at the same product or company.

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

My favorite business quote isn’t a business quote at all, but actually a baseball quote. It’s “Do Simple Better” and it’s from former Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon. He was talking about making the basic plays every time so that you can afford to sometimes miss the more difficult plays. But “Do Simple Better” is also an ideal mantra for customer experience. The more we simplify, the faster and more convenient we make doing business with us, the more loyal our customers will be.

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

  1. Talk about what you know. The best way to become comfortable as a public speaker is to talk about topics where you are already an expert. I never get nervous talking about customer experience, but if someone asked me to talk about astrophysics I would certainly be more than a little afraid. I remember getting the chance to give a 5-minute presentation at an all-employee meeting at one of my jobs. I was sitting next to a very senior executive who was going on before me, and I noticed that he was very nervous. He was sweating profusely, and he was literally writing notes on top of his notes on a little card. I asked him what he was talking about, and then casually asked him if he was our company’s top expert on this topic, which I knew he was. Then I told him to just talk about what he knows, and to forget the notes-upon-notes. After all, no one in the audience would ever know if he missed a bullet point! He went on stage more confident and nailed his speech.
  2. You need an effective niche. Saying that you are simply a customer service or leadership speaker will get you lumped in with hundreds of other people who speak on the same topic it is important to differentiate by creating a ”niche within a niche.” For me, that’s about the intersection of customer experience and marketing — how to generate word-of-mouth marketing by creating remarkable experiences. This leverages my corporate background that makes me more credible, as well as my brand — The Experience Maker™.
  3. You need to understand what your clients and their audiences need from you. What problem are they trying to solve, and why are you the person to help them solve it? For me, it’s my corporate leadership experience that allows me to empathize and say, “I’ve been there” and to share both my own experiences and real-world stories that I know will inspire people to take action. I look for organizations that are bought into customer experience but may not know exactly where to start or where to go next.
  4. You need to practice in a way that makes sense to you. For some people, that means scripting out every word and practicing over and over again until it’s just right. For me it means constantly trying new things, knowing what I want to say but not being afraid to say it differently each time, being willing to improvise, and not over-rehearsing lest I start worrying about missing a bullet point.
  5. You have to be at least somewhat entertaining. Think about the best speakers that you’ve seen at industry conferences. They usually have effective content, and are good at communicating that content, but they’re also usually fun to watch. That doesn’t mean you have to be to juggle or sword-swallow or anything like that, but when I am teaching audiences how to create remarkable experiences, I look at it as my job to also create a remarkable experience for them.

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

Get on as many stages as you can. Every time you speak on a stage, you’ll learn something about yourself. You’ll learn which stories you enjoy telling, and which ones trip you up. You’ll learn what gets an audience reaction, and what gets them to start checking their phones. You’ll learn about cadence and timing and choreography. And you’ll get a little bit better every time.

Watch as many speakers as you can. I love learning from other great presenters, and on several occasions I have adopted attributes of other speakers that I found to be effective as an audience member. An “attribute” might be something like how the person stands on stage, how they interact with the audience, or how they design their slides.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would like to get everyone, no matter what their political beliefs, to start listening more to people who don’t think like them. We have all become entrenched in our own opinions, which are amplified in the media we choose to consume and the social media “friends” we choose to engage with. It has become popular to demonize the other side, to call anyone who doesn’t agree with us “the enemy,” to assume they are wrong before even understanding their point of view. Most political issues could result in a reasonable compromise if we’d all just listen a little more. For example, I read a statistic from a poll recently that showed that the vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in the middle on hot-button topics like abortion (i.e., not “100% ban” and not “100% allow”), yet the entire debate is being held at the far left and right edges. That leaves no room for compromise. By listening to others, we don’t have to agree with them. But at least we can understand them a little better, and they can understand us a little better. That’s the first step in learning how to compromise.

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

My personal business hero is Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks. I love what that brand is about, how it focuses as much on the experience of having a cup of coffee as on the coffee itself. I love how each store is a little bit different, bringing in design elements from the local community surrounding it. And I love all of the opportunities it provides for its employees, which is reflected back with how friendly they are to customers. After all, happy employees equal happy customers, every time.

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

I’d love to connect on LinkedIn and Twitter, and I publish a regular blog and newsletter on all things customer experience.

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


Dan Gingiss Of The Experience Maker On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Amri Johnson Of Inclusion Wins On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

If you don’t listen, if you don’t ask people what will help them thrive. If you don’t care, if you’re not open, if you don’t think about their safety — psychological and otherwise — where your teams and some individuals are concerned, you’re not going to have trust.

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

For over 20 years, Amri (say Ahm ree) Johnson has been instrumental in helping organizations and their people create extraordinary business outcomes. Johnson is the CEO/Founder of Inclusion Wins and the author of the new book “Reconstructing Inclusion: Making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Accessible, Actionable, and Sustainable.” An inclusion strategist, executive advisor, social capitalist, epidemiologist, and entrepreneur, Johnson’s mission is to create thousands of organizations that thrive via inclusive behaviors, leadership, structures, and practices. With an English and biology degree from Morehouse College and a Master’s degree in Public Health from Emory, Johnson is building a global cooperative of people-focused solution providers whose work is informed and enhanced by inclusiveness. He is currently based in Basel, Switzerland with his wife and children, and works with organizations around the world. Learn more at inclusionwins.com.

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

I grew up in Topeka, Kansas. My father was a mortician. He did everything — embalmer, funeral director, and all-around entrepreneur.

My mother was an educator. She has a Ph.D. in early childhood development and worked in various capacities in education from middle and high school levels through the college level. She currently still runs my late father’s mortuary. My mom is a jack-of-many trades. Her family dabbled in a variety of businesses, too. So we’re a family of entrepreneurs. That was what my experience was like growing up.

I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. The college of Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other great Black men. It shaped my views on what I wanted to create in the world.

I met an epidemiologist early in my career, and I didn’t care for him much at first. He irritated me. But he understood me and gave me so much affirmation about what public health could do that I could use it as a vehicle. Following college, I went to graduate school to study epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. My public health career followed.

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

I got a job, which was my second job out of graduate school. The head of the local health department asked me to take on the head of epidemiology or director of epidemiology and health promotion job. And I had a team of 10. A lot of them were older than me. Pretty much all of them except for a couple. One of them had a son born on the same day in the same year as me. So it was like I was working for my mother. But she was so generous with teaching me a lot. But what I found is, you know, I was young, and I was a poor manager. I was fortunate to have people around me that knew that I was green and looked out, including an assistant that had been an assistant for many executives in the state government. And she just knew leadership, and so she indirectly taught me that, along with many other senior people in the health department, contributing to my development. So I got so obsessed with my poor leadership management skills that I decided to make it into a career.

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

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still .” My father used to say that a lot. Some people attributed it to Ben Franklin, but we don’t know whom it came from exactly. I worked in this space of organizational change, and I always feel like it needs to come from people’s hearts.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion intersects with organizational development and change. You can’t convince somebody of something that they don’t want to be convinced of. So I spend more time in dialogue, seeing what’s of interest to people rather than trying to convince them straight away.

Once that relationship trust is built, I think there’s more willingness to be influenced by me even though I might not be somebody there are so familiar with. But I think when we can do that — and it’s something that I practiced — build that trust enough for people to engage with you in an open and vulnerable way, you can transform things, and it’s never against someone’s will.

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

There are many. And it depends on if we’re just talking about career. I don’t separate my personal and spiritual life from my work. I don’t go and talk about my spiritual life all the time during my work, but it’s there. It sits in the background.

So I had a pastor when I was young. His name was John T. Olds. He was the first pastor that I knew and he was the closest thing to Jesus that I ever had met at the time. He said something once from the pulpit that he repeated frequently. It is how can you appreciate people? It’s not just be thankful to them but how can you appreciate them and how can we show that appreciation? And so that’s something that I carried with me in the way that I engage in the world, engage with my team and my clients. It’s that level of appreciation for people’s uniqueness, as well as their greater humanity. So that’s really been at the center of my life. It really stood out. I’ll never forget that time that he said that from the pulpit.

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

I think it’s that we are really trying to do two things. And this is part of the work of creating an “inclusion system .”We’re trying to do it for all of our clients and then even for those who aren’t clients. We want to inspire this notion that we can create the conditions for everybody regardless of their identity or their background. We can create the conditions for everyone to thrive. And the only way we can do that is when we have the right dialogue on an ongoing basis and create the space for those dialogues. So that those things that help people thrive, that help them feel like they have a sense of autonomy and agency — that they are learning that they’re making their best contribution to the organization.

That’s really at the heart of everything we do. Now, because we work in diversity, some spaces are about getting people from various backgrounds in the door.

But for us, that’s only step one. Because even if you get those so-called people from diverse backgrounds or from more diverse backgrounds and you’ve historically had in, you have to do a lot to keep them, which takes more energy effort.

A more recent story is when we partnered with a university to do a racial equity summit. I haven’t been big in the social justice space. Ironically, I work in DEI and my social justice kind of lens has always been there, but I haven’t been kind of very focused on race like we’ve seen in the past couple years after the murder of George Floyd. Now it’s always there in the background. It’s always discussed, but it has led my work. But in this case, I got a chance to facilitate with some amazing practitioners.

One was the head of the diversity at the university, and then a couple other OD practitioners. We did a summit that was supposed to be 300 people, which was manageable. It was done online during COVID.

It was tough.

There was a lot of tension in this space. And we facilitated this event and all the things that came during and all that’s come after has been from the hearts of the people. The people drove it. At the heart of our work is the fact that we’re trying to create culture from the hearts of all the individuals in an organization. That collective kind of thread that goes through everybody is what we’re trying to create. Creating it and implementing it together is not the responsibility of a few. It’s a shared interdependent state of being and that’s what we try to foster all the time, and in that experience of facilitating that event with those colleagues, we were deeply connected in that experience.

The participants that we’re engaged in these dialogues — to really start thinking about an approach or strategy for equity in the organization — were connected. That’s been maintained so we’re really excited about that.

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

We have some projects that are ongoing. One of them is with a financial services company. They’re mostly algorithmic and digital in the work that they do. Most of the people are quants and engineers. They are really smart people.

But what’s been really brilliant about working with them is their leadership team. Particularly the COO & CEOs, they’re really committed to this dynamic conversation about equity, diversity, and inclusion, in a way that’s really unambiguously prioritized.

They’re putting the effort and the resources in. They don’t want this to be something that’s short term. They really want this to be built on the foundation of who they feel like they are and who they want their company to be. So that’s exciting because it’s atypical. They are so generous with what they’re trying to do with their folks, that it almost seems surreal. It doesn’t seem like that’s the kind of place that’s typical when you talk financial services. But they’re breaking the mold of what a financial services company can do. And we are reconstructing it in a way that I think is going to tell a really profound story to all the people that might seek to work there, as well as those who continue to help build this really dynamic culture.

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

I think the project with the financial services company will help the employees there. They have a passion about climate change and make significant contributions to such causes. So I think they’re really focused on making sure they have diverse representation in the organization and high levels of kindness and compassion with one another. That, in and of itself, I think, ends up going out into the world when people live and experience that every day. I think most of these people, the way I’ve experienced them is that’s a lens that they have. And they want to do work in the community as a result. So like there’s a kind of an edict inside.

And it’s being expressed in some of the things that they choose to engage in the communities where they do business. So I think that’s going to help people, in terms of my success bringing goodness to the world. I hope so. I’d say one thing that’s really important to me is to do what I can to make contributions to people that we’ve developed relationships with, and they want to thrive.

I’ve mentored a lot of women scientists. Science is a difficult space for women — science, engineering, STEM disciplines as a whole. And just negotiating and helping them look into the mirror to see their own power, while most of the time they’re looking out the window.

We let them see in the mirror to say, “Hey, here’s where your power lies, here’s your agency. Here’s how you can navigate sometimes tricky, and even sometimes hostile situations successfully.” I feel like I’ve done that a lot. I’ve done it, and I’ve seen the people that I’ve engaged with whether they were women in STEM disciplines or anyone else who wanted to navigate the world to make their mark. I feel like I’ve done that quite a bit, and it’s just kind of become natural over the years.

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

It’s actually Diversity and Equity and Inclusion. So I think, you know there’s plenty of research that says when you have diverse teams you have better outcomes. That’s there.

But I think sometimes that’s made kind of cliche that “diverse teams get better outcomes.” It’s not the diverse teams in and of themselves; it’s that difference coupled with the ability to navigate across those differences both cognitively, and with people’s identity. So we want diverse thinking among those diverse people and those things usually go hand in hand. And so when you bring people that are different together, they have more of a tendency to challenge ideas; there’s more dissent. Dissent is what you need if you want to really have unique solutions and to innovate, so that’s a real thing.

It’s also making sure that you bring diversity in, but give people the skills. When I say skills, I mean things like helping people learn better perspective-taking. People are able to recognize when there are value dynamics or value conflicts and they’re not attached to their own values or biases or preferences, traditions, and conveniences. As one of my heroes in the diversity space, Roosevelt Thomas, often talked about is the importance of giving people the space to understand how the diversity of their background might be in conflict with somebody else. So I’ll give an example there.

I had one client. They came to me and they worked in the safety element of drug discovery. I do work with a lot of health care and pharma-related firms. So, this particular group was a part of early, before-the-clinic safety. But the nature of their roles spanned all the way from the bench almost directly to the bedside, so they’re pretty well-experienced. So they were challenged because the drug discovery development team they were working with saw them more like a transaction. It was like they were a vendor, although they were internal employees.

And so they came to me and they were like, “I just don’t feel like we’re really integrating into the team.” So I asked them a little bit about the structure. And they said it’s more of a transaction. They have us come and talk about the safety issues, but if there’s a problem and we have to slow something down, it’s usually just a sign of disappointment. And we probably could have anticipated or done something to make sure we didn’t slow down, if we had been included more earlier.

And I said, well, that’s a really compelling argument. If I’m on a team and I want to speed stuff up or I want to be able to understand the safety data earlier and get early readouts in a way that allows me to anticipate what might come later on, even if we can’t get an early readout just because the nature of how you have to do the drug discovery process. But in any case, we can be anticipating what we could be learning, or how we could maybe even mitigate some safety issues while we’re thinking about our respective compounds.

So I said, well, why don’t you contract with them? This idea comes from Peter Block’s work on Flawless Consulting and Contracting. So they went to the drug discovery team leads and said, “Hey look, we really want to be able to provide you with the best safety data as early in the process as possible. We want to be able to tell you and give you some insights, before it can potentially slow the project down.

We feel like we can do that a lot better and we need from you to include us in the meetings in a more robust way. Meetings after the meeting, maybe even talking to us about crafting or giving some input into an agenda so that we could share where we are and maybe talk about some of these things earlier in the meeting, or sometimes in between meetings, to help form the agenda. And then if there’s meetings after the meeting, let us know.”

And so they did that, and the result was that the teams gelled more. They saw safety as a helping force.

The safety folks felt like they were listened to. Some of the people on the drug discovery teams got to spend more time with the safety people. They learned what to think about as you get later and closer to the clinic, which the preclinical safety people had a better idea of, than a lot of people that had been mostly in discovery in their scientific careers. So there were benefits everywhere. But the biggest benefit was to projects. Because the project timelines are historically slowed down, often because of safety issues, which you know you can expect. That got reduced across multiple teams in a variety of ways over a couple, three years when I was able to talk to them and observe. So qualitatively and anecdotally they shared that.

It also played out in the timelines that we had some quality quantitative data to look at. So that was one of the things I’m really proud of and something that I think you can take into account that there were differences. There was diversity there across disciplines.

They were all trying to achieve the same goal because they all work for the same company that wants to get the drugs approved that patients need.

They just weren’t on the same page on how interdependent they were, and that if they included each other — if they were open to being influenced by each other — that they would have the ability to really do great work in ways that they couldn’t have expected before they embarked on this one.

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

The biggest way to help your employees thrive is listening to them. To ask them, “What is enabling you to do your best work to make your best contribution?”

What can you do more, what can you do less of, what can you do differently with them — ask them that, and don’t just ask them once. Because those things change. If we can say anything about COVID — the way people were feeling at the beginning of COVID, the way they were feeling six months in, a year in, 18 months and even until today — how they’re feeling about the pandemic and all the things that have happened in between, including the deaths and dehumanization of people of color. Those things matter, and you have to ask people where they are. You need to do it regularly, and you need to do it with care.

When you do it right, you’re doing it with an openness. You’re making it safe for people to share, and you’re doing all you can to constantly build trust. So that’s an acronym: Care, Openness, Sharing, Trust. That’s the “COST of Inclusion.”

If you don’t listen, if you don’t ask people what will help them thrive. If you don’t care, if you’re not open, if you don’t think about their safety — psychological and otherwise — where your teams and some individuals are concerned, you’re not going to have trust.

So those things go hand in hand and then they’re bigger than just Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. They are critical to any organization, to any team, any leader that is committed to leadership. Those things are all costs that they would gladly pay if they really understood how to give their people what they need to thrive.

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

Large or small, I want to give people direction.

I don’t want to give it to them unilaterally. I want to say, “Here’s where we’re going.” So there is some vision to that. But it’s not a vision where I just kind of sat around and I’m the visionary and I’m going to tell you this. It’s an active vision that says, “Hey, here’s what we’re seeing, here’s what some of our clients are saying, here’s what is in alignment with who we are values-wise.” And start pointing in the right direction and leave it open from the outset. There will be times that there are some non-negotiables.

But for the most part if you’re going to do something that’s going to influence somebody, you want them to be involved in it. People commit to what they help to create. The more you can get people in a space where they can help you create something, the more that they can own it and say “Hey, based on what I know, this is not going to take two weeks. This should take me like two or three days.”

On the flip side, saying, “Hey look, I know we have this timeline that’s aggressive. But if we have to do this, we’re not going to get the return on it that we want, so we need to push back at least a little bit, as much as we can, to make sure we really thoroughly vet this.

I think that’s the biggest thing. Give people good direction, and then let them fly and let them make mistakes, and let them come back. Let them iterate with you. Let them ask you as many questions as they need to.

And know that you’re not going to be the only one with the answers. If they come to you with questions, you can say “Here’s how it occurs to me,” and they need to also go to other trusted people who are influential in their organization, people who are influenced by the work that’s being done, or who just have great insights based on their expertise or their experience.

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

I love Dave Chappelle even through all this controversy. I love Denzel Washington. I love the work of Jordan Peele, as a director. I’m a big fan of so many literary artists. I like Tracy Chapman. I just feel like she would be quite interesting. She just seems like she’s really deep and insightful.

I’d love to have breakfast with Alice Walker. I can think of quite a few people.

But one of the ones who keeps coming to mind is George W. Bush. There’s always been something about him. I didn’t always agree politically with him. But just as a person, I think he’s seen so much. And I think he has a level of compassion and a perspective that I think would be really one that I would get a lot out of.

I saw his dad speak years ago and his dad was a master storyteller. I think we’re in Palm Springs.

And he just told some amazing stories when I heard him speak. I imagine W’s similar so it’s just an ironic feat. I know it’s not a political statement, even though I grew up with a mother that’s Republican. But I would love to have a coffee, breakfast, or lunch with him. I think he would be quite interesting and have some great things to share.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please find us at inclusionwins.com. Here are links to pre-order my book, Reconstructing Inclusion: Making DEI Accessible, Actionable, and Sustainable. The release date is October 4.

https://benbellabooks.com/shop/reconstructing-inclusion/

https://www.amazon.com/author/amrijohnson

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


Amri Johnson Of Inclusion Wins On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Carol Lempert On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Frame your message from the audience’s point of view. Here’s what I mean.

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

Carol Lempert started her career as a stage and film actress. She now runs a boutique training and consultancy firm that helps supercharge corporate leader’s executive presence — and their careers — with the performance secrets actors use to light up the screen.

Currently, she and her team run in-person and virtual training programs for Fortune 500 companies on public speaking, selling with stories, personal branding, executive presence, and resiliency.

Fun fact: (shhh, don’t tell her mother) rather than a cup of joe for breakfast, Carol has been known to start her day with a cup of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.

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

I’m a lower middle-class Jewish kid from the ‘burbs who is the oldest of three. My brother Sheldon would tell you I was a classic bossy big sister. Which just goes to show I took my responsibilities as first born seriously. My dad was a plasterer and later a dry-wall repairman. My mom was, as she likes to say, a housewife.

Music and performing were everything to me as a kid. I loved to sing. I spent every Saturday afternoon watching Shirley Temple and Judy Garland movies. By the time I was nineteen, I was driving all over Metro Detroit performing in dinner theatres and musicals.

Both of my parents were children of immigrants. They enjoyed my performing, but insisted I have, “something to fall back on.” Education was very important to them.

I was the first kid in my family to go to college. I studied psychology, and theatre and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University.

After that I worked as a professional actor for many, many years.

Now I teach executives how to increase their executive presence by teaching them the skills actors use to have great stage and screen presence. This, of course, includes helping them write and deliver killer presentations.

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

I’m doing what I’m doing today because of my brother Sheldon. One of the skills I teach speakers is to tell stories, so here’s the story.

One day Sheldon phones me up and says, “Sis, get over here. Now!” So, of course I drive right over to his house. When I get there, I discover that his best friend, Lance, is in the washroom throwing up.

I’m like, Call 911.

Turns out Lance had just started a job at one of the big five accounting firms. He had been identified as a high-potential employee — only he didn’t know it.

Seven months into the job he was tapped on the shoulder and told to prepare a presentation about his current project. The audience for his presentation? The big boss. Lance had two weeks’ time.

Lance had never given a presentation in his life. Not even in college. The request sent him into a panic. He called Sheldon for help.

Now, my brother Sheldon had gone into the family business with my dad and was a contractor too. His whole life revolved around fixing things.

When it came to helping Lance, he thought, “I don’t know how to fix a problem like this, but my sister is an actress. She’ll know. A presentation to the big boss must be like going to an audition.”

He was right.

I helped Lance prepare for his presentation and it went better than either of us expected. Lance won a promotion.

That felt great. I did my brother’s friend a favor and I thought that was that.

Then, three months later I get a call from another guy. He tells me he got my name from Lance and asks for my help in getting a promotion too!

That was when I realized my acting skills could help people outside the theatre.

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

Of course. It happened recently. Out of the blue I got a call from a woman who had been a participant in one of my Executive Presence workshops eight years ago. She had just been hired as Chief Operating Officer at a large agency and realized her team needed some professional development.

It was lovely reconnecting with her.

During our conversation she stopped me midsentence and said: “Hold on, I have to go get my Carol Lempert book.”

I had no idea what she was talking about — because I haven’t yet published a book.

She came back to the Zoom call and showed me a little black journal with my name on it. Turns out she’s been following me on LinkedIN and receiving my newsletter for years. She created her own little Collected Wisdom of Carol Lempert notebook!

I was of course unbelievably flattered.

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?

My most embarrassing mistake — which is funny now but wasn’t at the time — was a wardrobe malfunction.

I was invited to speak at an event for three hundred people. The client hired a professional crew to videotape the entire conference.

During my onboarding call with the tech team I learned the backdrop of the stage was going to be blue curtains. My usual ‘go to’ outfit is blue. I knew from my film acting career if I wore a blue pantsuit in front of a blue background, I’d look like a floating head in the video.

So I went out and bought a new outfit.

Since I already have a few pantsuits in my closet, I decided to buy a dress. I went with something I thought looked sophisticated. A wool dress with an asymmetrical neckline.

For your male readers who have never thought about the ins and outs of wearing a wool dress, this is the kind of material that requires a silk slip underneath.

Fast forward.

I’m on stage in the middle of my talk and I hear a snap. The waist band of my slip had given out. I feel it sliding down my hips. I know if I move another inch it will fall to my ankles in front of the entire audience.

At that exact moment, one of the clients comes on stage to shake my hand. This requires me to walk stage left to greet him. I try waddling over, in a vain attempt to keep my slip above my knees, but next thing I know it falls to the ground.

Making matters worse, as I bend over to pick up the slip, my bra strap falls off my shoulder and is now fully visible through the asymmetrical neckline of my new wool sophisticated dress.

All of this captured on video!

Lesson learned: It’s not enough to rehearse your speech, you have to rehearse every aspect of the performance.

As an actor I should have known better.

There is a special rehearsal all theatres do before opening night called a ‘Tech Rehearsal’. This is when we put the technical elements of the play together. The lights, the sound, and of course, the wardrobe.

I now encourage all of my clients to ‘tech’ their talks.

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

I’m indebted to a wonderful woman named Louise Cohen. Over twenty-five years ago — not long after I helped my brother’s friend Lance with his work presentation — Louise interviewed me for the role of Job Finding Club Facilitator (JFC).

All JFCs are administered through local colleges and community groups. Louise’s organization had submitted an RFP to host the program, but their funding didn’t come through and they had to withdraw from the bid.

In the meantime, she had secured a spot at the JFC Train-the-Trainer program.

Even though her organization lost the ability to bid on the contract, she’d already paid for the seat at the training. She gifted me this seat. She was hoping her organization would win another contract in the future and I’d be trained and ready to go.

Unfortunately, they never did.

Because of Louise’s generosity I now had this special certification which enabled me to apply as a facilitator at other clubs. I eventually got hired by George Brown College in Toronto.

I taught at George Brown College for four years. I started out facilitating at the Job Finding Club and ended up running sessions on presentations skills for the college’s Job Search Skills program.

Louise and I became friends. We never worked together, but that training gave me a big leg up.

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

Don’t go it alone. Get a mentor. Join a group like Toastmasters. Or take some classes.

After I left George Brown College to launch my business, I studied with a woman named Judy Carter. She’s published a great book I’d recommend to any budding speaker. It’s called, The Message of You.

The title of her book is quite literal.

Judy says: “Your message is in the first four letters of the word. You can’t spell message without having made a MESS. And it’s the last 3 letters — AGE — that help you distill that message into something meaningful and inspiring for others.”

Your failures are the heart of what is going to inspire an audience. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of failure. Use your failures to propel you forward.

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

What drives me is knowing my thoughts and techniques have been helpful to others. Like the woman I told you about earlier who created her own ‘Carol Lempert’ book.

In terms of my message, I help people overcome performance anxiety and increase their executive presence by learning techniques actors use to have great stage and screen presence.

Actors know ‘being present’ is the core of having presence. In fact, the actress Sandra Oh (Killing Eve. Grey’s Anatomy) once said, “…being present is the actor’s main gig.”

The more aware you are of your surroundings, and of other people, the more likely you are to show up as your best self.

In addition to being present, I teach that Executive Presence has three other important dimensions:

  1. What people SEE when they look at you.
  2. What people HEAR when they are in conversation with you.
  3. What people FEEL after they’ve had an interaction with you.

Everyone can learn to get better all of these dimensions.

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

I’m building new curriculum all the time. As my client’s needs evolve, my business has to change too.

For example, when the pandemic hit, many companies realized they needed to build organizational resilience, so I created a course called: Building Resilience by Taking Care.

Soon after that other clients realized running meetings over Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, was very different than running them in person. To support them I created a course on how to run effective virtual meetings.

Right now I’m working on a program called: No More Death by PowerPoint. It’s an add on to my program on Executive Presence. Once people improve their presence, they still need to be able to create clear, compelling, and succinct presentations.

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

Oh! I love telling this story. My biggest “Life Lesson Quote” is from my dad.

I find myself telling a lot of stories about him lately as a way to teach important leadership competencies to clients; especially the competency of shaping team culture by sharing personal values.

My Dad would find it hilarious that I use him to teach a Business School concept. He never attended a leadership development workshop or had a 360-degree review in his life. He was strictly blue collar.

He came home from work every day smelling like a combination of cigarettes, Certs mints, sweat and dry-wall dust. As I mentioned above, he was a contractor. Small jobs in people’s homes. Like renovating a basement or installing crown molding. That kind of thing.

The first time he took me to work with him was the day he shared the life lesson quote.

I was around 10 years old. A lady named Mrs. Greenblatt had a big hole in her living room ceiling because a pipe had burst. My dad (and me!) were going to fix it.

Before we knock on the door to her house my dad puts these pink shower caps over his work boots and makes me do the same. At this point I’m thinking: “This is the best! You get to dress up like a clown when you go to work.” So fun.

Then we unroll the biggest piece of plastic you’ve ever seen onto Mrs. Greenblatt’s living room carpet. After that, in come all of dad’s tools.

At the end of the day, we carry the tools back out to the van, roll up the plastic, take off our clown shoes and drive home.

The next day I hop in the van and ask: “Where are we going today, Daddy?” He replies, “Back to the Greenblatt’s house.”

When we get there, we put the pink shower caps back over our shoes. We roll out the plastic, and we carry all the same HEAVY equipment back into her house.

When we’re finished, I look up at him and I say: Daddy, why didn’t we just leave all of this stuff here if you knew we were going to be coming back? Seems like a lot of extra work for nothing.”

I’ll never forget the look on his face.

He replies, “Carol, Mrs. Greenblatt didn’t just hire us to patch a hole in her ceiling. She hires us to leave her house nicer than we found it. That means every day, not just at the end of the job when we get paid.”

Leave it nicer than you found it. That’s the quote.

I took this to mean, be of service. Go out of your way to make things nice for others. That’s the highest calling in life, no matter what you do for a living.

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

1) Tell Stories

To be a highly effective public speaker you must know how to tell a good story.

Case in point. Your very first question to me today was, “Can you tell us THE STORY of how you grew up?” You asked me that question because you know people love stories.

When I was three years old my favorite bedtime story was The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. I made my Mom read that story to me hundreds of times. She’d finish the last lines and I’d cry, “Again!”

Ten years later, as a gawky 13-year-old, I clung to the story of The Ugly Duckling.

By then, I wore glasses and braces — when all the other kids were blessed with straight teeth and 20/20 vision. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was . . . ugly.

The idea I might one day become a beautiful swan got me through most of junior high school.

That’s the power of stories. Their messages give us hope.

I strongly recommend speakers include stories in their presentations because stories:

  • Build common ground with the audience.
  • Validate the speaker’s expertise.
  • Transform a commonly dry topic into one with humor and humanity.
  • Package the message of the speech in a memorable way.

You can open your speech with a story to grab audience attention. Or close your speech with a story to punctuate your main message. Or tell a story to illustrate a point within the body of your talk — but make sure to include some stories!

2) It’s Not About You. It’s About The Audience

My second tip is to frame your message from the audience’s point of view. Here’s what I mean.

Imagine you are a Broadway Producer, and you are promoting a show. What information would you put out to the world?

There are obvious things like the ticket price, the days and start times of the show, and a synopsis of the plot. But what else? What else might the ticket buying public want to know?

This is a question several Broadway shows have not asked themselves. I know because my Mom was in town visiting a few weeks ago and we were looking at different shows to go and see.

Here are some questions we had, but couldn’t find answers to on websites or ticket buying apps:

How long is the show? If you don’t know when the matinee ends, as well as when the matinee starts, how can you make dinner reservations?

The actual address of the building, not just the name of the theatre. If you are a tourist to New York, you won’t know that Second Stage Theatre is located at 305 West 43rd street. How can you order an Uber or a Lyft without an address?

Will there be an intermission? My Mom is 84. At a certain age you need to know when you will be able to visit the washroom.

I share this with your readers because these are the same mistakes, I see presenters make over and over again.

They sit down to write their presentations and only include information from THEIR perspective. They don’t think deeply enough about their audience.

Before you write your next PowerPoint answer the following questions to make sure you are providing information your audience cares about.

What does my audience already know about my topic? Don’t waste time telling them stuff they already know — unless it is to re-interpret the info.

What does my audience NOT know, but they probably don’t care that much about? Again, don’t waste time telling them stuff they won’t be interested in.

What are they curious about? Like my research into buying a ticket to a Broadway show, THIS is the stuff your audience cares about.

What are they worried about? These are the answers your presentation needs to provide.

What do you want them to do after the presentation is over?

A word of caution here. “I want them to understand my topic” isn’t a good enough answer. Once they understand the topic, what should they DO with the information? What decision needs to be made? What are the next steps? Who is responsible?

This preparation will help you create killer presentations. And if you happen to be a Broadway producer, it will help you sell more tickets!

3) Stage Fright Is Selfish

My third tip is a bit provocative. When clients ask me how to overcome stage fright, I share lots of techniques. Things like deep breathing, rehearsal, and visualization.

But the thing that works best is when I tell them their stage fright is selfish.

It signals they are so focused on themselves, and their own reputation, they are ignoring their audience.

Your job as a presenter is to help the people in the room learn something they didn’t know before they got there. Like I said in tip number two, It’s not about you. It’s about them.

You are there to help them.

When you shift your focus off yourself — and onto your audience — you’ll not only lower the level of anxiety you feel, but you’ll also do a better presentation.

4) Recover Gracefully

You will make mistakes. Accept that as a fact.

You’ll forget to say the most important line in your presentation. You’ll drop the clicker. You’ll trip as you enter the stage. Or, like me, your slip will fall off!

None of that will matter if you learn to recover gracefully.

5) Q&A Isn’t a Ping-Pong Match

The best presenters sabotage their success when they are not skilled a handling the question period.

Q&A is an extension of the message. It isn’t a ping-pong game where audiences ‘serve’ questions at a speaker and the speaker ‘hits’ their answer back at their audience trying to score points.

Skilled presenters know how to turn questions into conversation.

The first step is to uncover WHY the person is asking their question in the first place and not just hear the content of the question.

The second step is to be fully present and listen. If you formulate your answer while the audience member is still talking, you will likely miss an important detail.

The most important thing is to take charge of the question period.

Speakers do this when they realize they can ask questions back too. If an audience member’s query is confusing, or too long, or mixes two questions into one, the speaker can ask a question to clarify.

This is what turns dry Q&A into meaningful conversations.

For example, if you are speaking about your vision for the future of your company and someone in the audience asks, “How long will it take to hire fresh talent?” The answer might be, “6 months”

If that’s all you say, you’ve lost the opportunity to create a shared pool of meaning with your audience.

Better to answer the questions and then ask: “What is it about finding fresh talent that is important to you?”

You’ll be surprised what you learn when you start to incorporate this technique.

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

Oh, I have a lot to say about stage fright. In addition to what I shared earlier about it being selfish, here are some other techniques I’ve taught to clients.

First, smile.

Smiling is a simple, but powerful way to manage nerves, reduce stress, and look more confident.

Research from Penn State University found a forced smile is equally as effective as a natural one. They also noted that smiling is contagious. When a person smiles, other people will smile back, putting everyone into a more positive mental state. So, when you are feeling jumpy before the big presentation, remember to smile.

Second, breathe.

When anxiety hits, our breathing rate changes. We instinctively start breathing into our upper chest with shallow, rapid breaths. This is the body’s way of preparing itself to deal with real or perceived danger.

By consciously changing your breathing pattern you can interrupt and reverse the symptoms of this Emergency Response.

Instead of breathing into your upper chest with rapid, shallow breaths, deliberately take slow, deep breaths that push oxygen into your lower chest and belly. This kind of breathing will slow the heart rate, decrease blood pressure, soften tight muscles, and create a sense of ease in the body.

Next, harness the power of your mind.

Thoughts are things. What we tell ourselves — what we see in our mind’s eye — becomes our reality.

An Australian psychologist named Alan Richardson performed a remarkable study to prove the power of the visualization. He recruited volunteer students, divided them into three groups and taught them to play basketball. None of them had ever played before.

Group One practiced their free throws with the help of a coach every day for 20 consecutive days.

Group Two was the control group. They did free throws on the first and last days of the study, but they did not engage in any other additional basketball practice.

Group Three also did free throws on day one of the research, but after the first ‘test’ throw, they didn’t touch a basketball again until the end of the study. In between they spent 20 minutes a day visualizing the perfect free throw.

The results?

Group One, the group that practiced every day, improved by 24%. Not surprisingly, Group Two, didn’t improve at all. But Group Three, the group that didn’t practice with a real basketball, but only visualized one, did almost as well as Group One. They improved by 23%.

Our minds are powerful. Use this to your advantage.

Finally, remember, the audience wants you to do well. They don’t want to conclude they have wasted their time. They’re pulling for you to be great — so they can feel great about spending time with you.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have a talk called: Power Play: Why Everyone Should Take An Acting Class.

Theatre training is incredibly effective in helping people cope with their stage fright, or their boss fright, or their test fright, or their date fright, and even their Imposture Syndrome.

Theatre and Improvisational training hones tools to manage anxiety, as well as provides opportunities to practice deep empathy in a safe environment. When you play a character you step into their shoes.

We’d have a more forgiving world if everyone could learn to step into the shoes of another person and see the world from their perspective.

That’s what actors do and what I wish everyone was more skilled at.

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

What a cool offer. I’d be over the moon to meet and speak with the improviser, comedian, and host Wayne Brady.

First, he’s unbelievably talented and has made me laugh more times than I can count. I’d like to say thank you.

Also, I recently heard him speak on Variety’s Strictly Business podcast. He shared his plans to build a business consulting firm that will teach the tenets of improvisational acting to help coach executives and other leaders.

This marriage of theatre, acting, improv, and business is something I am also passionate about. I’d love to learn more about his plans and if I might be able to help.

So, hellooooo Wayne. If somehow you are reading this — you’ve a fan with common interests!

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

The best place is my website:

HERE is a list of my blogs on executive presence and presentation skills that people can read for free.

HERE is where people can sign up for my newsletter.

I’m also on LinkedIn. I post tips on public speaking, storytelling, and resilience every day. Your readers can connect with me HERE

For visual learners you can check out my YouTube page HERE

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


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

Zaundra Wimberley Of Dream Z Enterprises On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public…

Zaundra Wimberley Of Dream Z Enterprises On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

The best way to improve your public speaking skills is to speak on every occasion possible for practice. Speaking in small social gatherings, at church services, or in work settings are good options.

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

Zaundra A. Wimberley is the CEO of Dream Z enterprises, an author, career transition coach and speaker with expertise in human resources, public health and child nutrition. Dream Z Enterprises is a coaching and training firm which specializes in empowering women to become their professional best. The company offers workshops in career transition, workplace etiquette, customer service, personal branding and entrepreneurialism.

As an entrepreneur Zaundra was the first black woman to own a commercially sold baby food product in the United States. She founded Little Lamb Baby Food Company in 1997 and launched the line in stores in 2004. The company manufactured and distributed southern style baby foods in Michigan to multiple specialty food chains.

Zaundra has taken her quest to find purpose in life and turned it into a book entitled From Bossed to Boss It’s Never Too Late Reclaim Your Dreams And Live In Purpose. Zaundra takes the reader on her journey of questioning God about her existence to discovering that the answers she sought were already there.

Zaundra holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Michigan and a Master of Public Administration from Wayne State University.

She is a wife and mother of five. In her spare time, she enjoys movie night with her family, reading, writing, cycling and listening to her favorite collection of 80’s music.

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

I grew up on the east side of Detroit in a middle-class family. I am the youngest of three children. My brothers were my senior by 15 and 16 years so I was raised like an only child. I am a first-generation college graduate. My parents wanted me to go to college in an effort to secure my future. Both of my parents were in our home but my mother was the primary influence on my life. I attended private schools and enjoyed being a kid.

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

I have always had a love for storytelling. I love to listen to a good story, whether it is in the form of a book, poem, documentary, music video or any other means. Today I am a transition coach who teaches people how to transition from a job to their business or dream career. I share steps to make dreams come true via story telling during my coaching sessions and in my workshops and trainings.

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

I needed to secure capital to open a processing plant for my baby food company in 2004. I reached out to investors while offering them some shares of my company. One potential investor was Kourtney Kardashian. I met with her manager/mom Kris Jenner via a phone call to make my pitch. She thought it was fascinating but was not interested in making the investment.

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

The funniest mistake I made was having to take my baby to a business meeting. As a mother of five, I did not always have a baby sister. On this occasion, I had to take my daughter to pitch to a client. The lesson I learned was to only do business with people who understand and respect your lifestyle. There was nothing I could do. The ladies in the office were amused and it worked out.

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

My mother was my biggest supporter. She believed in my ideas and would support with encouraging words and financial support. She and my father invested in my baby food company and were proud of how far I was able to take it. I was often reminded by my mother that I was smart and could do anything if I tried and put my mind to it.

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

I believe that failures have a purpose. They teach lessons — what not to do and ways to do it differently.

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

I am inspired to get up every day believing that I may be able to help someone. I share my stories to encourage others to live in their purpose. My mantra is “life is too short to be miserable.” It is important to live in purpose. Many people are miserable because they have not found their “why” which motivates a person to get up every day and live.

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

I have launched an online Masterclass called “Pivoting to Your Boss Job” and “Pivoting to Your Boss Career.” Attendees will be ready to start their businesses or transition from their job at the conclusion of this masterclass. The classes can be found on my website: zaundrawimberley.com

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

“Life is too short to be miserable.” I learned that I was not happy in my job and I needed to make a change. I was able to find my purpose (which had been buried from childhood) and begin to do what I love — tell stories, encourage, inspire and empower others to make a change.

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

  1. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? To be a highly effective public speaker one must have an intricate knowledge of their subject matter. It is easier to speak on subjects that you know well.
  2. How can you improve your public speaking skills? The best way to improve your public speaking skills is to speak on every occasion possible for practice. Speaking in small social gatherings, at church services, or in work settings are good options.
  3. Practicing in comfortable settings with family members or friends is a great way to overcome fear.
  4. What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? To ensure that your talk is interesting and engaging speak on a subject that has been well researched and tie the information into something that will connect with the audience.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would start a movement called “Words Matter — Be Intentional with What You Say.” Everyone would be encouraged and taught to think before speaking words that bully, malign, destroy, brow beat, discourage or lie on others.

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

I would love to have lunch with life coach Lisa Nichols. She is a fantastic story teller and an outstanding coach.

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

Instagram

DreamZenterprises

Facebook

DreamZ — Zaundra Wimberley

Twitter

Prozaundraw

YouTube

Zaundra Wimberley

Linkedin

Zaundra Wimberley

www.Zaundrawimberley.com

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


Zaundra Wimberley Of Dream Z Enterprises On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: John T Carmouche On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

I love that I get to keep changing and evolving my work. I never worry about finishing because there’s always something else to be done, or an interest to explore.

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

John is a multidisciplinary creator, curator, and contributor in the entertainment, lifestyle, hospitality, film, radio and social impact spaces. Originally from Louisiana now residing in Atlanta. A rising force in his own right, committed to bridging the gaps and shining the light on his community through his practices.

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?

The true meaning of a multi hyphenate.. At my core I’m a creator, curator, and contributor. I always try to operate from my most authentic (as well as explorative) self. That place of genuinely being interested in whatever it is that I’m doing. If something is in my mind, Why not? That’s where the foundation of my interest stems from.. the goal was/is to shine the light on the culture, collaborating with like-minded people as well as what lead me to taking the raw version of my influences into a more refined flow, with direction and true substance.

Everything I’ve been involved in has kind of had a natural progression. I’m an observer. So, being introduced to people, places, and things always gave me a space to say — “Yeah that’s cool.. but I can do better.” For most creatives, it’s really just staying committed to that voice inside that told you who you were. Not a blueprint or crash proof path to follow.. keeping the composure, and that light.. until you the process of getting closer to “this feels right” that’s what leads me.

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

Disruption to me is the cousin of Intention. With time, I came to realize that being in the rooms was not just for the sake of being there. I understood the value of speaking for and on behalf of the culture I represent. The Creative House is the culmination of all those experiences that have shaped my tastes and world view and enabled me to see my work from a more aligned perspective. Whatever I do, whether it’s a personal project or contributing outwardly, begins there. Through high school and college, I promoted/hosted events, which led to a career in entertainment — First working in radio in my hometown, then Revolt, BET, iHeartRadio, and V.103 Atlanta, among others, while always considering myself an entrepreneur.

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?

All of it. But, that’s the best part. In other words, the opposite of what led us here. Regrets don’t sit well with me, so I take mistakes as they come and keep evolving.

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?

Yes, of course. I’ve had a few people who have added a real sense of color to my lens. I won’t ever be able to convey my appreciation to them in words that can express what I feel. It doesn’t matter whether it was intended or just a random talk, even watching from afar and saluting them with a “Well done.”

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?

When someone else wins it’s positive in my book. I think the times we’re in right now can create a sense of repetition even though there is disruption and change. Know what your message is or else the waves will water it down. We can do something temporary to gain glory, but there’s no comparison with becoming the real thing and not just the image, I’ve been on both sides of that energy so, I know it well.

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

“Because I felt like it.” — Jean Michele Basquiat. That’s the tweet. [Laughs]

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

I love that I get to keep changing and evolving my work. I never worry about finishing because there’s always something else to be done, or an interest to explore.

Over the last year I’ve found the flow space where I’m less into timelines and more into really doing what is in me, which will feel good to share with other minds soon.

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?

A ton. I’m notorious for deep diving when I find something that resonates, but It’s always worth it.. you can’t fake the funk!

I actually curated a digital archive of most of them, The Maison. As a point of reference. I knew that if the right person came across the collection, they would pick up something.

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

That’s a good one. Honestly, Virgil Abloh said — “I’d do anything at the right time, and I would also do things at the wrong time if they felt right.” That’s the energy I’m living on currently — less thinking.. more feeling.

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. 🙂

Thank you. Easy, “The Art of Living Well.” Prioritizing living a life that feels makes you look forward to Sunday turning into Monday. Especially now, life gets sticky daily. I realized that when if you can’t control what goes on around you, the inside is all yours. Living well is so important to the culture, we deserve it. For a little inspiration, I curated these sounds that kind of illustrate the frequency of remembering it’s in you, not on you!

Check out the latest here!

How can our readers follow you online?

JohnTCarmouche.com | @johntcarmouche

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

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share!


Meet The Disruptors: John T Carmouche On The Five 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.

Meet The Disruptors: Rodney Williams Of SoLo Funds On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Meet The Disruptors: Rodney Williams Of SoLo Funds On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

You need to have a vision to work toward in order to achieve your mission.

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

Rodney Williams is the President and Co-founder of SoLo Funds, the largest community fintech platform for everyday Americans, providing the opportunity to access and grow capital and establish financial independence. Rodney grew up witnessing his loved ones struggling to survive paycheck to paycheck, and has dedicated his career to bringing quality financial services to underserved communities. Prior to co-funding SoLo Funds, Rodney founded LISNR (Visa Backed Fintech) and led the company to over $40M in funding, numerous awards, and partnerships across retail and financial services, and currently serves as the company’s Chairman.

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’m from the kind of place where payday lending spots outnumber McDonald’s two to one. I became best friends with my co-founder, Travis Holoway, and he came from a similar background. We shared stories about how even though we were fortunate to be in a better financial position, too many of our family and friends were still struggling financially in our neighborhoods. We remembered being kids when our parents had bills due on Friday but didn’t get paid until Monday, so the lights would be shut off when we didn’t pay on time. That kind of experience is sadly very common for many Americans, so we wanted to create a solution that gave people a chance and didn’t punish them for being cash-strapped like almost everyone experiences at some point in their lives.

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

No one is doing the work we are at SoLo Funds. We are meeting the needs of cash-strapped Americans at this scale and doing it with a structure that offers optionality. We give people the tools they need to make smart decisions about who to loan money to and earn a return on their capital. At the same time, we give borrowers the power to protect themselves and set the amount and repayment date that they can actually manage. It’s unique that you’re able to make those kinds of decisions but SoLo Funds lets users borrow on their own terms. We also recently partnered with ESSENCE, an iconic brand in the Black community, to launch a new lending platform, Ese, built on our technology that brings financial empowerment to Black women.

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?

Of course, there are many mistakes made when you’re first starting out. Something that might seem funny now but definitely was not funny at the time is how many times I’ve accidentally emailed the wrong thing to the wrong person. That happened far too many times when I was early in the journey and I’ve had to learn from those mistakes. It taught me the significance of paying attention to the little things. Every small detail matters. Today, I double and triple-check things significantly to avoid any small miscommunications or mistakes.

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 many mentors along the way and to be honest, I probably need more. The most notable mentor to me these days, however, is one of my investors, Richelieu Dennis. He’s a successful entrepreneur, operator, and investor and I’ve learned a lot from him both professionally and personally. I’m currently at a place in my life where I believe mentorship means a lot more than just professional growth. I don’t think you get to any level of success without having a ton of mentors and I am always looking for more. I appreciate each mentor I’ve ever had and the lessons they’ve taught me along the way, and know that I’ll continue to learn from them throughout my life.

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

To truly be a disruptor, there has to be a little bit of both positive and negative disruption. When you’re being disruptive in an industry, you’re usually shifting things from one stakeholder to another. This could be the narrative, the power, the influence, or even the consumer value. What I would say, though, is that you’re also shifting who’s experiencing positive disruption and who’s experiencing it in a negative way. That’s how I see the work we are doing with SoLo Funds. We’re shifting the power from financial institutions to the people, and although the communities we are shifting the power to are experiencing a positive disruption with power being shifted to them, the previous stakeholders, like traditional financial institutions, are experiencing a negative disruption as the power is shifting away from them. So, I do believe in order to be truly disruptive, there needs to be a balance between the positive and negative.

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

1- Appreciation

2 — Self-care

3 — Persistence

4 — Consistency

5 — Vision

These five words of advice I’ve received along my journey all go hand-in-hand. It all starts with appreciation — for myself, my supporters, and my mission. I’ve always had appreciation but I’ve just recently reached a new level where I highly appreciate people who appreciate others and I’ve turned into a protector of those who do not. It’s important to treat people well, in addition to yourself. This leads me to self-care — you can’t make a difference if you’re not taking care of yourself. Additionally, consistency and persistence are similar words of advice, but to me they are different. While consistency is the act of being consistent, persistence is the act of being consistent no matter the obstacle — powering through to reach your goal. Lastly, vision is the one thing that you need in order to continue on. You need to have a vision to work toward in order to achieve your mission.

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

SoLo Funds started as a place for borrowers and lenders to find each other and lift up each other to grow wealth. Next up are several more levers people can pull to improve their financial health, use their financial history to build their buying power, and access more benefits for using SoLo. We are gearing up to host an event introducing the world to SoLo Funds and the work we are doing to bring financial independence to underserved communities. The event will be taking place this August in Los Angeles and we will be hosting industry leaders, community voices, journalists, and some celebrities to learn about the financial issues these communities face and how we can work together to solve them.

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?

As it relates to business, the most notable book that has had a deep impact on my thinking is “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone. As it relates to my own personal growth, “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz.

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

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” ― Maya Angelou

It is a quote that perfectly describes how I would like to live life. It sums me up better than I can sum up myself.

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. 🙂

Exactly what I’m doing with SoLo Funds. I really believe financial services need real innovation and not just a bunch of buzzwords. When we started SoLo, we went straight to the problem we were most intimate with, which was access to short-term capital. There’s a lot of money that leaves underserved communities and never makes its way back. We wanted to really fix those two things. Conceptually, we are helping shift more power to the people. It’s very disruptive. Each and every day, I really think we’re really making a difference in those communities.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter at @rodneybwilliams and SoLo Funds at @solofunds.

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


Meet The Disruptors: Rodney Williams Of SoLo Funds On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Adam Oakley of Express Writers On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC…

Adam Oakley of Express Writers On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Humility: Be open to new ideas. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be learned by listening to others. If you ask questions, you will be surprised at what others will share.

Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.

In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Oakley.

Adam has more than 20 years of experience in executive roles in manufacturing, technology, and professional service businesses. His leadership and management skills, together with transparency and diligence, have earned a reputation as a trusted partner among clients. Further, his experience running marketing for a large manufacturing company and leveraging the new world of SEO in the 2000s brought exponential growth to the business. Since then, he’s served on the leadership team of a global technology provider where he focused on business operations, scaling the worldwide group, and developing the client service model for a $30 million company. Now, he’s brought these skills to Express Writers as the CEO and owner.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have 20 years of sales, marketing, and operations experience. Back in 2001, I cut my teeth in the early days of SEO and digital marketing. I built Google Adwords campaigns, optimizing landing pages, and wrote keyword-rich press releases to improve rankings. These experiences hooked me on the power of marketing. The effectiveness of content and broader digital strategies is undeniable.

For the last 13 years, I was part of the leadership team that grew a technology consulting agency from less than $500k in revenue to over $30M with 250 employees globally. We focused on hiring the best technology team to deliver exceptional results for our clients. During my tenure, I was fortunate to be responsible for critical business areas, including business development, marketing, sales, operations, and recruiting. I am most proud of helping to build a strong culture that scaled worldwide. Our teams are global, and we make systems that help our people succeed in meeting our client’s goals.

Quality content is close to my heart. I have led corporate rebranding engagements, led website redesigns, designed marketing campaigns, developed industry case studies, and managed expert content creation. I have worked with in-house writers and freelancers and self-created when needed. Quickly I learned you get what you pay for when it comes to content. Having great people, paying well, and setting clear direction are all critical when working on creative projects.

After spending a decade building a world-class organization, owning Express Writers is a perfect fit.

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

Microsites were a big thing back in the early 2000s. At the time, I was doing marketing for an engineered parts manufacturing company. I went crazy and created over 20 different websites utilizing keyword-rich domains. It took a ton of work and ultimately led to a few of the sites getting blocked by search engines. I learned that even though tracking current trends is important, it’s more important to understand that they work and will support the growth of your brand.

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

I would be here without the support of my wife. Over the last two decades, I have worked countless hours, maintained a relentless travel schedule, and missed many family activities. As a busy educator herself, she has been my biggest supporter. She has been my best sounding board. As I looked at what was next for my career, it was her prodding to explore entrepreneurship through ownership.

I searched for over two years, evaluated hundreds of businesses, and made numerous offers before finding the right opportunity at Express Writers. We have been able to take a good business and are on the path to making it great together.

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

Our commitment to being driven by our quality and people-first is one of the best things about us. We want to develop relationships with the folks we work with and help. Behind the incredible content produced by Express Writers is a group of real people with unparalleled skills. We have our own stories, our own struggles, and our own passions for this work. Collectively, we are inquisitive — the status quo has no place here (although we do stick to the Chicago style guide, unabashedly). We won’t do something just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Instead, we dig in and find new and creative ways to deliver our best.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Flexibility: To be effective today as a leader requires the ability to adapt and learn new skills. This is true across every member of a team. As a business owner, embracing flexibility is key. Uncertainty is the new normal, and adaptation is the new black.

When we acquired the business in 2021, I had originally planned (and budgeted) to keep the existing technology platform in place and not make any significant changes until later in 2022. Once we saw the limitation of the platform and the impact on our clients, I knew we needed to make a change. It was not easy, but I am glad we accelerated our technology roadmap.

Approachable: I believe in the power of learning from others. At Express Writers, we have an amazing team with unparalleled skills. Each person has their own stories, their own struggles, and their own passions for work. As I look to the future, keeping our eyes on the people who contribute to our work is of the utmost importance. We aren’t the sum of our daily word output. We’re a collective of creatives who provide something of value, and we welcome others to join us.

One way I draw out learnings is to send a personalized email to everyone we hire. The last thing I ask in the email is feedback on the hiring process. In doing, I have discovered changes that have made our hiring better.

Trust: To run a successful business, it’s imperative to trust the team you build. That means I give my team the space to do their jobs well and creatively. Often, that can look like stepping back and setting clear expectations but knowing my team can handle the projects I give them or that they’re inspired to take on.

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

Currently, we’re working on an overhaul of our technology platform while focusing on simplifying the client experience. We already believe in the content we create for our clients, and now we want the way they interact with us the most to be just as easy to interact with as talking to a real person. This will help people access content faster and with a better understanding of what they’re getting. This is working in conjunction with marketing efforts we’ve been growing over the last eight months, so more people will be able to find a content solution that can help them manage their needs better.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.

They don’t focus on the quality of the things they produce, and they try to do too much all at once. The best thing you can do for your strategy is to focus on one thing at a time and really nail down how you’re going to do it and what it will look like. Your results are far more likely to be successful the first time. To build on that, quality is key to the content and other marketing materials you produce. Without high-quality, informational content, you won’t bring in an audience that wants to read your work and trusts you. At the end of the day, building trust should be a goal of your content and marketing efforts.

If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

Before starting any campaign, it is crucial to have a firm understanding of what makes your brand unique. I believe the most powerful type of marketing is high-quality content. This means understanding the steps that have helped others and then making them your own. We’ve got eight steps to a great content strategy.

1. Get Clear on the Purpose of Your Blog

First, you need to know why you’re blogging. If you don’t know why you’re blogging or how you’ll blog, you can’t figure out how your blog will help you reach other goals.

2. Determine Who Your Target Reader Is

If you’ve been in business for a while, then you probably already have a clear picture of your target persona. But if you don’t, you have some work to do before moving forward.

You can get to know readers more deeply with things like surveys or personalized emails to ask questions that help you develop more personalized content.

3. Assign Someone to Write for and Manage Your Blog

If you’re a solopreneur, then blogging tasks will likely fall on your shoulders. But if you’re lucky enough to have a team working alongside you, share some of the various blogging tasks among your team members. You probably have someone with unmatched writing skills and others well-suited for editing and fine-tuning content. If your team isn’t large enough for that, or you’re spread thinner than you’d like, you can outsource content.

4. Decide How Frequently You’ll Post

An important element of your blog content strategy is the frequency at which you post content. Consistency is key because you want to give people a reason to keep coming back to your site. And you do that by providing high-quality, valuable content for visitors to consume.

According to HubSpot, sites that publish 16 blog posts or more a month receive 3.5 times more traffic than those publishing less than four posts. That’s likely because many people will come back to check out every new post. Plus, the more content you publish, the more opportunities to rank in search engine results.

However, it’s understandable that you might not have the resources to publish 16 posts per month. It’s better to ask yourself how many high-quality posts you can commit to each month and make that your goal, instead of the quality of those posts suffering.

5. Conduct Keyword Research to Plan Topics

Coming up with fresh and exciting content ideas is arguably one of the most challenging parts of content creation. Since you may not know what a writer wants to see from you.

At this stage, you already know quite a bit of information about them. You know their interests and their pain points, which is a fantastic starting point. Put yourself in their shoes and think about the topics they’re likely to be Googling. Then, you can use various tools to gauge their popularity.

BuzzSumo is a great tool that allows you to enter a keyword or a domain (like your biggest competitor). It will then show you some of the most popular articles relevant to your search. The Google Keyword Planner is also a popular choice, but there are tons of other free keyword research tools to try.

6. Map Everything Out in Your Editorial Calendar

Once you’ve got some content ideas in mind, it’s time to begin mapping everything out in an editorial calendar. This allows you to create a flow from one piece to the next. Plus, you’ll always know which posts go live and when. It’s much more convenient to have everything planned out this way.

Airtable is a popular choice among content creators, and we’ve used it at Express Writers in the past. These days, we rely on HubSpot to keep our content organized and our team informed.

7. Start Creating Content

You’ve now made it to the all-important step of content creation. This task will either be something you take on yourself or assign to a team member or content agency. Either way, don’t rush the content creation process. Give yourself or your writers ample time to create amazing content.

8. Track and Analyze Your Content’s Success

The final step in your blog content strategy is to do a deep dive into your analytics to see how your content is performing. It’s crucial to see which posts resonate with your audience because it’s a good indicator of what to create more of in the future.

Pay attention to the topics that generate the most traffic. But also, it’s smart to note any other similarities with your top-performing content. For instance, does your audience prefer listicles, infographics, or in-depth how-to guides?

Review your analytics at the end of each month to gain an understanding of which posts are doing well. By doing this monthly, you can make changes and tweak your strategy faster than waiting until the end of each quarter.

Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?

We’ve found that platforms like Instagram and Facebook are great for visibility bumps, which can bring in more great leads. For B2B brands, we have found LinkedIn to be a great way to extend our reach and target leadership in industries that are important for our growth.

Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?

  1. Experts: We have selected partners that are at the top of the industry to help us build out the best campaigns. It’s important to have a team that understands each platform and how to get the most of your budget.
  2. Goals: Set goals for each campaign to guide decisions. Without establishing these in the beginning, paid advertising will not have focus.
  3. Adjust: Never “set it and forget it”. You need to look at the data to see what’s working. It takes time to understand if each campaign is delivering on your goals.

Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?

I would say that the first thing to be aware of is that, while you’re working to increase sales, you can’t forget that you’re talking to real people. Your campaign should be valuable to your audience — so are you considering what your offer is and if it’s helpful? And the last thing is understanding how a subject line will impact open rates. When you have a great subject line, your readers understand the value you’re bringing and are more likely to be interested, without that, the email can just languish in someone’s inbox.

What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?

SEO tools are a must. Things like SEMrush and Ahrefs are some of our personal favorites as Express Writers. These are essential for seeing how your online presence grows through keywords.

Additionally, Google Analytics is really helpful for tracking conversions and seeing which pages gather the most traffic on your site.

Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Desire to learn: There is a wealth of information about digital marketing that’s available to everyone. My recommendation is to pick a few topics and go deep. Good places to start are analytics, SEO, and email marketing. Start with online resources and test ideas to learn more about an area. Failing on side projects or tests can be a great way to understand what works and what does not. Even though I got my undergraduate degree in Marketing, I learned the most after I graduated. Continually learning is the key to a long and fruitful career.
  • Networking: I have found marketers are generous with their time and willing to share with others. There are so many ways to connect with others in the industry. Reach out online with specific questions. Be direct, and you will be surprised how often you will get a response.
  • Experience: The longer you work on the craft of marketing, the more successful you will be. You will start to see patterns that will help you make better decisions. Trends tend to be cyclical. The longer you’ve been around, the easier it is to spot them and take action.
  • Luck: This is a powerful thing. Luck could be a new person you meet or a job offer for an exciting role. Do not underestimate the power of luck in your career. I love this quote from Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
  • Humility: Be open to new ideas. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be learned by listening to others. If you ask questions, you will be surprised at what others will share.

What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet had a huge impact on my leadership style. In the book, he advocates for the Leader-Leader model that promotes extreme delegation. After taking charge of a failing submarine, he took drastic steps by giving an unusual amount of authority to members of his crew. It is a great lesson that teams are capable of more, and our job as leaders is to help them see what’s most important.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In my own life, I have seen the power of travel and working in new countries. International vacations are fun, but working in new places opens you to entirely different ways of thinking. I would like to expose more people to the power of living and working overseas. I love building an online community of people sharing ideas, resources and connecting over the joys of living and working abroad.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can find us on expresswriters.com. We post to the Write Blog every Tuesday. Or sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on content marketing trends.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


Adam Oakley of Express Writers On How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Keith L Brown Of 2020 Enterprises On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Use language that is inclusive and universal. As society and societal norms change, you want to adapt and not be offensive. I’ve learned not to use gender specific language, and I have learned to know my audience, geographical demographics and more. This is key, as you can lose your entire audience by not using language that is inclusive.

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

Keith L. Brown’s Biography: (Known Nationally and Globally as “Mr. I’m Possible, Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient, Keith L. Brown, knew early on that the mentality of, “I’M POSSIBLE” instead of impossible, would take him far. He has overcome systematic labels of, “Special-Ed,” and, “At-Risk” to become one of the most sought-after Professional Empowerment Speakers of our time. Named a, “World Class Speaker,” by International Speakers Network (ISN), and, “Social Impact Hero,” by, Thrive Global, Keith has served as a, “Client Referral Consultant,” for A&E’s hit series, “Beyond Scared Straight,” and has been a legislative Speech Writer and Liaison since 2000. He is a frequent guest on I-Heart, Sirius, Radio-One and other media outlets on issues ranging from Education, Motivation, Social Justice, Youth and Family Advocacy, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Maximizing one’s Purpose. Keith is also the Lead Coach and Trainer at the “I’m Possible Institute.” His latest book, “Talk I$ Expensive: Communicating Effectively to Expand Your Impact, Influence and Income, dispels the long held belief, “Talk Is Cheap,” and gives readers a fresh perspective, real life scenarios and tangible solutions.

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

I was born in historic Savannah, Georgia and raised in Jamaica, Queens, NY. I grew up in a blended family, with loving, nurturing parents. While my siblings and I were close for the most part, there was foreshadowing in terms of my career path. At family gatherings, I was very vocal and animated, often telling stories to aunts, uncles, and family friends. My older siblings would always tell me to “stop showing off;” in addition, I was labeled “special-ed,” in school, primarily because I talked to much and wanted to give all the answers. Still, I won the Spelling Bee at my school in 4th grade and participated in the city-wide spelling bee. In Junior High School, I won a district wide speak-out contest and in High School, I was on the debate team, in the drama club, was a Horatio Alger award winner for my community service and recitation of “Theme for English B,” by Langston Hughes at an all-borough speech contest. Although deficient in areas, I was still voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” by my peers. I was an athlete (Football, Handball, Bowling, and Wrestling); however, I excelled more in activities that required me to speak. I was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Springfield Gardens United Methodist Church, as well as the Youth Troupe at the Black Spectrum Theatre Company, where my Drama Coach, the late Whitfield Sims Jr. was my mentor and another father-figure. I spent my summers with family members in Savannah, Georgia and in 1985, when one set of my parents moved to Georgia, I remained in NY for my Senior Year, which was very pivotal, as in that one year, I matured exponentially, as I my twin cousins and I became independent as Seniors in High School. I also became a member of the NYU Players Theatre troupe, as a “guest actor.” Growing up in both Georgia and New York helped shaped who I am today. I grew up in close knit communities with friends who are still my friends today. The “village” was real back then, and my gifts and talents were nurtured, despite being labeled and mis-labeled in school. There were dark moments and uncertainty in my childhood too; however, I was resilient and am thankful for my childhood and adolescent years, for the most part.

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

I must share two. One occurred during my childhood when one of my paternal grandmothers would travel on the Amtrak train with me and encourage me to say speeches in front of the passengers on board. She would remove the cold chicken and sandwiches from the showbox that held them. I would take the shoebox and go from train car to train car saying mini-speeches and the passengers would place coins in the shoebox, which was my first pay as a speaker. While she was my first agent, she and one of my maternal grandmothers, who encouraged me to say Speeches in Vacation Bible School during the Summers, lit the flame of speaking during my childhood.

During the 1998–1999 School Year, I was teaching English, Speech and Drama at East Laurens HS in Dublin, GA and teaching Business English at the Heart of Georgia Technical College (now Oconee Fall-Line Technical College). During the Spring, we had an all-school assembly, with a very good motivational speaker. After school that day at Drama Rehearsal, my gifted thespians, called the “Eastside Players,” kept saying, “You do that every day Mr. Brown.” Little did they know, I was battling internally of whether to remain at the school or pursue another phase of my purpose as a Professional Speaker. They had no idea they were speaking life into my purpose, and although leaving the school was a very difficult decision, I ultimately left that great school, great scholars, and great community, to Educate and Empower nationally and globally. Another defining moment was the night I worked out at a local gym and on my way home, the song “You’re Next in Line For a Miracle,” by Gospel great, Pastor Shirley Caesar, was on the radio. I wept uncontrollably and a 10-minute ride home took over an hour. It was time. I was already speaking part-time around the state and even nationally, during the summer months and weekends; however, I took a leap of Faith at the end of the 1999 School Year and the rest is history.

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

I’ve had tons of interesting stories happen since I began my speaking career. One that stands out occurred early on in my speaking career. I was the keynote speaker for the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee. The event was held in a ballroom that was adjoined to another ballroom. When I was done, I noticed an Education Association was having its conference in the other ballroom and something rose in me to network with the attendees. I gave a gratuity to the event staff and asked for an apron, which they gave me. While the Conference attendees were on a break, I proceeded to get on the microphone and announced the following: Everyone please return to your seats; we’re about to resume our program. Everyone started moving towards their seats, even the Conference planning committee members, who were seated up front. When everyone was seated, I went to the microphone again, and began chanting, “G-Double-O-D…J-O-B…Good Job! Good Job!” Everyone joined in and when done, I said, “Give yourselves a hand.” Then I removed my apron, and said, “I am Keith L. Brown, Motivator of the Millennium,” which was before my “Mr. I’m Possible” moniker. I told my story of being labeled special ed and at risk. I then told of how I became an Educator and ultimately a Professional Speaker. Not one person questioned me, and no one asked me to leave the stage. I literally gave a 15–20-minute keynote, and at the end, I had the sound person play the song, “I’ll be there,” by the Jackson Five, which has been my signature closing song most of my speaking career. When I was done, I received a standing ovation. And I sat in the audience, as if I were supposed to be there. I took a huge risk that day, one that could have damaged my speaking career. However, it helped propel my speaking career, as I was invited to speak at schools throughout the Southeast. Nearly 20 years later, I am still connected to this Education Association. That risk reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “Sometimes we have to go out on a limb, as that’s where all the fruit is.”

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 happened in the year 2000, and it wasn’t funny back then; however, it became more and more hilarious through the years. I was hired as keynote speaker for the Georgia School Nutrition Conference. It was my first full year as a professional speaker, and I did not do my research on audience demographics, as many in the audience were elderly women who worked in school cafeterias. Instead of studying the audience members as they entered or getting audience demographics from my client beforehand- I remained backstage until I was introduced. When my name was called, I burst on stage, dancing to a rap song called, “Shake It Fast,” and these school nutrition workers were in shock, as they listened to a song focused on shaking certain body parts. It was downhill from there, and I could not wait to end the most embarrassing moment of my speaking career. If you could have seen the expressions on the hundreds of faces present, you would have balled over in laughter, much like I did years later, after getting over the trauma of the moment. I thought my career was over! However, in 2002, I got another opportunity with the same organization, and I opened with “Celebration,” by Kool and the Gang and “Taking Care of Business,” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The crowd loved it, and my speech went very well. The most embarrassing moment is equally the funniest.

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

Of course, I am thankful for my parents, especially my mom, who promoted my gift of speaking and placed me in extra-curricular activities, where I could excel as a speaker. I will, however, focus more on three men who were very instrumental in who I am from the standpoint of living my purpose. I mentioned my Drama Director/Coach, Mr. Whitfield Sims Jr. He used to get order in rehearsals by using the term “17.” I never knew why; however, for the past 28 years, as both an educator and speaker- I use that term in my messages when I want to bring order. In addition, there was Dr. Gerald Deas, one of my mentors at Springfield Gardens United Methodist Church, who started an organization called “The Power of One.” I was the President and he always empowered me to use my gift of speaking on local radio stations in New York, as well as among my peers around the borough of Queens and throughout the city, as an advocate for positive change. Finally, there was Dr. R.L. Stevenson, who was my mentor and Drama Director in the “Players By the Sea,” at my alma mater, THE Savannah State University. He was a no-nonsense individual back then, as well as one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He was no nonsense when it came to operating in excellence. He demanded his scholars to be top-notch, and he helped shape who I am today as a speaker and servant leader. Dr. Stevenson exposed me and my fellow thespians by ensuring we competed in prestigious theatre competitions nationwide. He wore three-piece suits in 90-degree humid weather and smoked a pipe. He is still one who I greatly admire, respect, and see as a father figure, even though we don’t talk often enough. These three men were my “three wise men,” outside of my family, and their examples at different stages of my life added much value to my life.

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

Absolutely. Treat daily conversations in small circles like a training ground. Those individuals who desire to pursue professional speaking must know their stage, event or conference is the daily one on one or small group conversations they are having daily. Speaking is a conversation, often had with small to medium to large audiences. In addition, do not operate from a mindset of failure. Operate from a mindset of this being a “calling.” When it is a calling, you don’t operate from a success vs failure mindset; you operate from a mindset of walking in your calling/purpose- and when you do that, you are already succeeding. I would also be bluntly honest and say there will be times when failure occurs; it happened to me at the School Nutrition Speech and others in my career; however, when it’s your calling- you don’t give up; you grow up; you get sharpened; you get a coach who can help guide your calling/purpose; you use your setbacks as lessons to share in your messages; you share your story and be transparent with audiences; finally, do not pursue this path for the applause but for the advocacy; while standing ovations are great; it is far greater to stand for a cause you can passionately share with others, many of whom are thirsting for inspiration and hope in their lives. When you do these, your impact, influence, and income will expand, as will your success and more importantly- your significance.

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

I am honestly driven by the opportunity to re-shape the mindset and change the paradigm of the hundreds of thousands of individuals I inspire and empower in person annually. I am driven by the gift I have been Blessed with, to stand before individuals and share my global messages of “not impossible-I’m Possible,” and “Talk Is Expensive,” both of which are my signature messages, and both are liberating and life changing. Both messages, when embraced, can not only shift the lives of individuals I address, but their families and communities as well. I’m driven by the opportunity to share my own story of resilience and the power of overcoming. I am driven by the many tears that flow in my audiences, as I know a purging and cleansing of thought will lead to not just motivation, inspiration, elevation, and education- but most important- implementation. When implementation occurs, lives are changed for the better. I am driven by an inner drive to change the world for the better by using my voice, the same voice that sat in Special-Ed classes yet excelled as a Speaker and Writer in all my years in School. Finally, I am driven by knowing I am a solution for so many who feel there are no solutions. This is my purpose, and it drives me daily. I desire for the entire World to know, their goals, dreams and visions are “not impossible,” but I’m Possible. The message of “I’m Possible,” is so liberating, as it empowers individuals to pursue their dreams and goals and take accountability for their own path to purpose. With that in mind, it is essential my listeners know, “Talk Is Expensive,” meaning their words can either positively affect or infect their present and future. While actions may speak louder than words; it is the WORDS that move people to action.

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

I am very excited about promoting the “Talk Is Expensive” book nationally and globally; it is already required reading in many schools and institutions of higher learning for freshmen. I am also excited about expanding our “Fathers not farther,” program, which aims to coach/train dads on how to effectively Reflect, Respect, Protect and not Neglect their children, while giving them the tools to be fathers who are connected to their inner emotions, which can lead to better mental health. We also work with young fathers, who may not be equipped to be an effective dad. I am also very passionate about expanding our coaching program and assisting those who have a serious desire to speak professionally. Finally, I am excited about expanding my gift of speaking by taking it to more aspects of the entertainment industry, offering more positive images that can be just as exciting as the many negative images on television.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is an original one: “Don’t wait for opportunity to knock; leave the door open so it can come right in.” I never waited on opportunity to knock; I left the figurative door open by networking with everyone I met. To this day, I never meet a stranger. I speak to everyone, which often opens opportunities for me. If I waited for opportunity to knock, I may have missed out on speeches and other opportunities to enhance my purpose and enhance the lives of others.

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

  1. Enthusiasm- If you desire to inspire youth and young adults for example- you must have enthusiasm for your craft and your message. While you don’t have to run around the arena or building like I typically do, your audience must feel your passion and see your enthusiasm, which will in turn make them more likely to listen to you rather than texting and being on TikTok.
  2. You should have a Story that Inspires and Empowers, and you must master the art of telling it Well. We all have a story, and audiences love to hear from those who tell stories effectively. Your story is not just something to tell; it is a tool that teaches life lessons. I often share my story of going from “Special-Ed to Specialty Speaker,” and it resonates with my audiences, many of whom are in Education settings. When you are an effective storyteller, you will be more relevant to those who are listening. Effective storytellers will open with a story to capture the audience early and end with a story individuals can take with them as they depart.
  3. Audience Engagement is key if you desire to be a highly effective speaker; you may achieve this by doing a call and response, where the audience repeats what you say. You may also be highly engaging by opening your presentation with music, as it is universal; songs such as “Celebration,” “Gonna Fly Now,” from the Rocky Soundtrack, “Ya’ll Ready for This,” from the Space Jam Soundtrack, and many others, will get the crowd engaged early. Music will set the atmosphere and get your audience up, moving, and excited about listening to your message. I begin and end my messages with music. I often end with the song, “I’ll Be There,” by the Jackson 5, and I use the song as a symbol of people being there to support each other.
  4. You should be spontaneous and flexible. Do NOT come with a readymade message. Why not? Atmosphere changes. People change during the speech/event. You can have an outline to guide you; however, what happens when one of the people in the audience has on sunglasses and is sitting up front. I cannot predict this and write it in my speech; instead, I may have this individual to stand and say, “I’m wearing these sunglasses on the inside because my future is so bright.” I have done these many times, especially with youth and young adults. I also bring volunteers up during my speech and I do life skills exercises, such as using “Uno Cards,” to show audiences the power of being able to “Reverse,” when going in the wrong direction or avoiding being “skipped in life,” by being prepared for opportunities. My Draw Four is typically having audiences repeat 4 affirmations that will inspire and empower them.
  5. Use language that is inclusive and universal. As society and societal norms change, you want to adapt and not be offensive. I’ve learned not to use gender specific language, and I have learned to know my audience, geographical demographics and more. This is key, as you can lose your entire audience by not using language that is inclusive.

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

With technology being so widespread, one of the best ways to overcome the fear of speaking in public is doing “Live” videos on social media; this will help individuals feel like they are delivering a message to an audience. In addition, when speaking in public- focus some on an area instead of the audience. This will help overcome the fear of speaking in public. Knowing your material is another way of overcoming the fear of speaking in public. When you know your material, you can deliver it with confidence.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

As an individual of huge influence, the movement I would inspire that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people would be the movement to “Have the Nerve to Serve.” It takes “nerve to serve,” as we must realize many of those, we serve may not appreciate our service. Still, if “service” and “servant leadership” were movements, we would be able to create a culture and climate of caring and rid society of many of its ills. If “Have the Nerve to Serve,” were a movement, we would see a universal shift that would place more emphasis on values rather than valuables, on a “peace of mind,’ rather than a “piece of mine,” on going from merely being human to being humane. Imagine a movement where serving was the rule, not the exception. I’d love to spearhead that movement.

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

I would love to have lunch with Tyler Perry, not simply because of his celebrity status or the relevant historic work he’s done in film and television; I would like to have lunch with him to hear his story and how he was able to transform pain into purpose and trauma into a trailblazing career. I would love to listen to him elaborate on how many of his female characters are symbols for and embody women in his family who were resilient and overcame being “invisible” in many instances. In many respects, I believe my own mother, a compassionate woman with a nurturing spirit, who taught school for over 45 years, prior to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, was somewhat “invisible,” as well, in many aspects of her life, as are many African American Women. While Trailblazing Tyler and I would talk about the Fine Arts, Theatre, Film and so forth- at the core of our lunch would be how this multi-media mogul, almost gave up on his dreams, and one sold out show, turned a “dream deferred,” into a global vision realized.

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

Your readers may follow me on:

Twitter via keithlbrown1911,

Instagram: keithlbrown_;

Facebook: keithlbrown/mriampossible;

TikTok: keithlbrown_ and;

via the web: keithlbrown.com.

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


Keith L Brown Of 2020 Enterprises On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Tammy Watchorn On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Collaboration — it’s not working together, that’s teamwork. It’s not aligning and helping each other, that’s coordination and cooperation. It’s not engaging with lots of people, that’s networking. Collaboration is about working out loud, just like scientists did in times of old to solve big complex mathematical equations. Sending their thoughts and insights to each other until together they solved the problem.

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

Dr Tammy Watchorn trained as a scientist before moving into the complex landscape of healthcare to lead change. After many enthusiastic starts that led to ineffectual results, she slowly began to realise that her hard-won accreditation in the process of change leadership was incomplete. She worked out that the only way to really achieve success was to focus on people first and not process. She learned to change how people worked from within the complex healthcare system without drawing undue attention, under the radar from those who were resistant to any change whatsoever. By using stealth-like “ninja” moves that focused on the people who were blockers and “naysayers” she was able to create a momentum of small but significant disruptions that led to some incredible outcomes.

www.tammywatchorn.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 more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started my working life as a life-sciences scientist, but I found I was far too impatient for the job. I got bored while I had to wait for cells to grow only to find the experiment hadn’t worked. I knew I wanted to do something that added back and gave real value and fast and so I moved into the National Health Service in the UK to lead projects and programs that would improve patient services and access to care. Being both impatient and easily bored I kept looking for new challenges and difficult things that required new thinking and a little disruption — this meant I moved from department to department frequently. Finally, they bestowed on me the grand title of “Head of Innovation”. There was little by way of objectives other than an instruction to “go forth and innovate”. I could easily have turned the role into a dull procurement exercise of buying trendy and shiny new gadgets and widgets that everyone “ohhh’d” and “ahhh’d” over but would never adapt to or even use. But that isn’t my style. Instead, I decided to use it as an opportunity to shake things up and to focus more on the how and not the what. I felt that it was the how we did things and how we worked that really needed disrupting. We needed innovation to shift us from a slow grinding bureaucratic, hierarchical and process driven organisation to an energised curious group of people who could respond to the needs of the service and patients at speed. Once we had a better way of how to work, we would then find the gadgets and widgets that might help these new services and would be ready to adopt them with open arms.

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

One of the biggest disruptive moves I made (and continue to make within organizations) was the introduction of a completely new way of working. I didn’t do what you’d expect and find some “amazing” software that would overnight magically transform us and push it as a big system rollout to change the culture, something that would typically take three years to do only to find out no one used the system! Instead, I focused on quiet, but determined, stealth or ninja-like moves that helped individuals and teams to lead their own small disruptions. I wanted to create a movement with momentum.

I had to persuade people to work differently. I had to provide education on how to do this. And I was in a risk-averse culture where people were scared to experiment in front of each other. So how was I to achieve this? By luck I happened upon a sandpit where I could get people to learn, try out new things and get real work done out of the glare of colleagues’ disapproving stares.

One of my biggest and most successful ninja moves was to lure people/teams, one at a time, into a three-dimensional virtual world where we could work differently without people in the real world seeing and criticizing. QUBE was created for executive education. This meant that learning new methods and working collaboratively were not just easy but the default. There was a culture you dropped into that was inclusive open and curious and people were empowered to participate autonomously. There was a library of People Engagement Tools that provided a ready “how to” for every objective from planning to decision making. This was supported by whiteboards, bean bags and sticky notes. Unlike normal virtual solutions each person was represented by a colourful, boxy avatar. Your avatar could walk around the rooms usually talking and sharing ideas as you would in the most effective and amazing innovative cultures you can imagine.

I did this long before Covid and the onslaught of Zooms or Mural boards and at a time when Video conferencing was still only used as a last-minute solution that most couldn’t access or work out how to use it even if they did have access. People assumed the only way to collaborate was to be there and that meant for many clinical staff an awful lot of time wasted traveling around the country. My disruptive ninja move was to take them team-by-team, project-by-project, bringing them into this new disruptive space and teaching them new ways to work. I quickly realized we could:

  1. Do things much more quickly and without the need to travel delivering the same outcome in 60% of the time.
  2. Be collaborative in the true sense by “working out loud” within teams and with stakeholders in a psychological safe space that encouraged diversity of thinking.
  3. Learn how to use new world tools that shifted us from bureaucratic project management processes to focusing on what we needed to do and engaging stakeholders as individuals to get them on board with the change.
  4. Put our new learning straight into practice to get the outcomes we desired.
  5. Have much more fun doing what we were doing and laughing more than ever. Work suddenly became much more enjoyable. (Often people working on QUBE from their main physical office would be told off by line managers for “being too happy and laughing too loud!”.)

It was so effective people quickly wanted to learn how to facilitate working in this space so they could start to deliver all their projects this way. Team by team behaviors, cultures and ways of working began to change without any “big” mandate and without any of the old-school managers really noticing what we were up to. It therefore became sustainable, easy to grow and was “sticky”. It worked so well disrupting from within that I went off to support other organizations in doing the same and haven’t looked back.

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

I remember one event we designed for all senior managers in the old-world days. The CEO wanted us to deliver something on collaboration which as an organization we weren’t good at. We were good at inviting others to hear our ideas and then we would expect them to go off directly and implement them. The event format was: pose a question, let teams discuss, then feedback the key points from a flipchart. Everyone knew what was coming and found it dull. No one ever did anything afterwards so it was pointless.

A few of us got together and decided to disrupt the format. We thought it would be a really good idea to design a lighthearted simulation exercise that would hopefully lead to individual insights that could then be put into practice. The exercise revolved around killer wasps escaping from an exploding volcano creating a national emergency. We set the scene with a video and then put managers into teams representing all the key organizations that would need to collaborate to respond to this emergency. What could go wrong we thought … it will be fun, different to the norm and they’ll get lots of insights and “a-ha” moments.

During the session they collected data having a choice of tweets, scientific data or newspaper headlines. Oddly they all pretty much chose tweets that were intentionally funny but useless and weirdly they all got pretty angry at the lack of usefulness of the tweets. At one point we introduced a vaccine for the killer wasp stings. The scientists in the room argued that we wouldn’t be able to create a vaccine that quickly but compromised on an antidote and were more than happy to accept the live volcano and giant wasps. And when it came to collaborating with each other they just didn’t. They hid data rather than sharing it, some turned it into a competition to see who could “win”, some just shouted, nay screamed, at other teams saying they should tell them what to do. Pretty much all of them, despite being senior managers and leaders decided that in such an event they would be “told what to do” by those really in charge. They were angrier than the angry giant killer wasps. It was a disaster. It was a complete disaster. Both us and the CEO were wide-eyed and dumbfounded.

But what was learning for me? First, never, ever, ever try and be just smart and funny as you could well end up with egg on your face and generate more problems than you started with. Our exercise essentially held a mirror up to the managers, showing them up for what they were. It wasn’t clever or fun. It had the opposite effect of what we’d hoped for. Second, before doing anything like this or any big decision think through what will or might happen next. If I’d done that, we likely wouldn’t have run the session. Third, imagine you are them and what you, as them think of the idea, what do you like or not like and build this into your idea to make it better. And finally work through what they might experience, feel and do next at each stage of the process before testing it on the grumpiest and most stubborn people you know. Developing disruptive ideas with this data and feedback will build a disruptor that delivers rather than just disrupting for disrupting’s sake.

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 been very lucky with mentors — possibly as I have the philosophy “if you don’t ask you don’t get” so when I meet or come across inspiring people I don’t hesitate to make contact. Sir Tim Smit (of the Eden Project) was one such person and he’s supported me over the years on a number of occasions. I was also lucky to have a lot of female leaders in the healthcare sector support me as I tried these ninja moves under the radar. They gave me the confidence and silent “nod” to keep trying to do what I was doing even though I was swimming against the tide.

But the biggest mentor, without doubt is Professor Eddie Obeng who completely changed how I approached and did things. He came to a leadership event and I was hooked by his approach. I then started using his teaching (and QUBE) to make the disruptive shifts I thought were needed. He was so generous with his time and mentoring despite being a high-demand thought leader. A year or so later I heard he was in town and arranged to meet for dinner and that, as they say, was that. I told him I wanted to do more of this great work and he invited me on to some training and a few months later I was working with him and his team helping others do what he’d done for me. Life-changing stuff. And then a few years later, when I was saying how much I’d love to write a book he told me to NEVER write a book as it burns so much time. But I like a challenge. And so I wrote a book which is out in August 2022 called The Change Ninja Handbook a multiple-choice story about disrupting by stealth from within. Eddie really is the ultimate Change Ninja though.

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’m a big fan of the #BeMorePirate movement which is about disruption and rule breaking, with the caveat that we don’t break rules that make sense and have purpose, but we do break rules that are archaic, make no sense and actually prevent good stuff happening. I think that’s what good disruption is about and what is needed within big organizations. The healthcare sector is a good example of something that really needs this type of disruption and rule breaking. Irrelevant of country and how health services are delivered we are in a time of unprecedented demand as we live longer, but have never been more unhealthy (physically and mentally), and have more potential cures and treatments than are reasonably affordable. Not only that, but often the workforce to deliver these services is in short demand. The National Health Service in the UK is often lauded as an exemplary model in that it is free at the point of care for everyone. This is a great value to have for a health service and I totally agree with it. But the underlying structure and delivery model is nearly 75 years old and we live in a very different world now. There are a great many people, like me, trying to change things from within, and this can achieve very good results but the processes and bureaucracy get in the way time after time. A great example is video consultations for patients. They work and save time but were only available in remote and rural settings. Trying to expand this to urban areas just never got through the decision-making bodies … until Covid. Then it was a necessity. And it works and works well. But the rules prevent these types of relatively obvious solutions being scaled up. These are the rules that need breaking but the reality is the entire system needs to be disrupted and designed from scratch based on how we now live.

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

Invisible leadership — you don’t need to take the credit for something if it’s achieving the outcomes you seek. Some of my best outcomes I’ll never be remembered as leading. Some of my ex-colleagues might balk at the idea I lead some of the work. But instead of shouting about my ideas and ploughing ahead I would instead find someone who could champion it. Someone who already had kudos that people would naturally listen to while I did the work behind the scenes that would credit to them. I knew and my close colleagues knew and that was enough.

Smart failure — allowing yourself to get things wrong and learning from it rather than passing it off as failure. It’s definitely the best way to learn and create new neural pathways. The example I gave earlier around the workshop with the killer wasps was definitely a failure in terms of what we’d hoped to achieve, but I learned so much about how I needed to really think about the participants, how to design products, and how to really get people to properly learn in a safe way.

Collaboration — it’s not working together, that’s teamwork. It’s not aligning and helping each other, that’s coordination and cooperation. It’s not engaging with lots of people, that’s networking. Collaboration is about working out loud, just like scientists did in times of old to solve big complex mathematical equations. Sending their thoughts and insights to each other until together they solved the problem.

Ignore the doubts — they are just thoughts to stop you doing what you need to do. You don’t need to know what will happen next. You don’t need all the answers. But if it feels right trust it and ignore the doubts. Sure, you can de-risk an unknown as much as possible, have a contingency plan if needed but trust your instincts, ignore the doubts and go for it. Just make sure you engage the right people before you do. Leaving a nice paid job where I had autonomy and where I was making progress in a system that was crying out for these disruptions but where the system did everything to stop me was a hard decision and I was full of doubts about an unknown future. But I instinctively knew I could do much, much more by leaving and doing it from the outside in where I was no longer party to the rules and regulations. It felt right, the doubts were just noise, I trusted that it would work out and it really did.

Curiosity — stay open and curious. Don’t limit yourself to one idea or one train of thought. If you keep all your options open you will discover new things, new people and new thinking that you might never have come across if you are single minded with a specific plan. It is likely I never would have come across the neuroscience elements of what is now a large part of what I deliver for change managers in healthcare without that curiosity. It also taught me how to “hack my brain” quite easily which means I now see everything, even the biggest of crisis, as a potential opportunity for something new and interesting

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

I really feel I’ve just got started. I now have a complimentary kitbag of tools to get others started on their journey to disrupt and #BeMorePirate. I focus on new ways of working (on QUBE), Lego Serious Play for whole systems thinking and Neuroscience for leading change to help individuals and teams shake things up a bit. The Change Ninja Handbook, I think, is a start of what next in regard to this stealth-like approach for disruption and I’m developing 3D interactive masterclasses and also have the idea to develop a board game. If I can build confidence and provide the right tools and support for small disruptions, and do this across organisations starting many small fires then a movement is created that can, Ninja-like, disrupt from within without anyone noticing how or what you did. And the outcomes will speak for themselves. I might not change the entire healthcare system in the UK but I’m having a jolly good crack at it!

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 know I’ve mentioned Eddie Obeng a lot but his World After Midnight video and TED Talk really inspired and motivated me at the start of this journey. It made me realize it wasn’t just me that thought everyone else was mad.

My thinking wasn’t wrong. And it gave me the courage to learn how to change things and then the tools to help me challenge things in the right way. I didn’t always get It right but there was a lot of very smart failure.

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

I love to run. I began when I was older. I now also do wild swimming and stay relatively fit. I remember before I did my first half marathon stating firmly that I couldn’t do it. And a friend disagreed replying, “You can’t do it yet!”.

Knowing that there is more possibility than you can imagine from growing is very heartwarming.

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. 🙂

Shake up the healthcare, pharma and food industry. The last two drive many of the issues our healthcare services are facing. The food industry is continuously pushing a poor diet, particularly in the west. The pharma industry is continuously pushing pills to fix us and when they make us unwell more pills to counteract the side effects. We have lost, at least in the West, at a societal level the energy, knowledge, motivation to keep ourselves well and instead use the health service to patch us up rather than fixing the root cause. We have outsourced our health to someone else.

If we could create a movement on a big enough scale to redesign services that were aimed at keeping us well, rather than patching us up, there would be far less demand on health services meaning the model would be more sustainable and those that did need treatment for unpreventable illness or accidents would get the best treatment possible.

It’s a massive change but with enough small fires burning, and a growing band of change ninjas to disrupt from within it might just be possible to accelerate it in the right direction.

How can our readers follow you online?

www.change-ninja.com or www.tammywatchorn.com

Twitter @tamwatchorn

Linked in tammywatchorn

I also write the PET of the week blog on Linked in

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


Meet The Disruptors: Tammy Watchorn On The Five 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.

Makers of The Metaverse: Sebastian Hohenberg Of McCombs School of Business On The Future Of The VR…

Makers of The Metaverse: Sebastian Hohenberg Of McCombs School of Business On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Business sense. There are many great ideas and inventions out there. However, only when a great invention and a good marketing plan come together, the innovation will diffuse in the market. This goes back to Everett Rogers, whose book I mentioned earlier, but it is true within the XR industries like never before: marketing can separate a “nice gimmick” from a profitable innovation and vice versa.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sebastian Hohenberg.

Assistant Professor of Marketing Sebastian Hohenberg is a marketing strategy researcher with The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, who strives to solve essential business problems related to the digital transformation of business and organic growth. Hohenberg’s research has been published in the leading marketing outlets, such as the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of Marketing Research, and the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. His most recent publication presents the first empirical study on virtual reality in marketing and one of the first articles on virtual reality in business research. In this study, Hohenberg and his co-authors examine how virtual reality can improve the new product development of durable producers.

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?

Sure, I would love to — thanks so much for having me! Today, I live in Austin, Texas, but I am not originally from the U.S. In fact, I grew up in a mid-sized city in the northern part of Germany, called Hannover. While I completed most of my education in Germany, I have always been able to follow my (other) big passion: traveling. As a student, I spent a year abroad in South East Asia as well as in the United States (Detroit, Mich.). As a young scholar, I was able to participate in a visiting scholar program in Houston, Texas. In addition, I have enjoyed multiple backpacking tours to various parts of the world, like Myanmar, Japan, China, Australia, and Mexico‚ to name a few. I love to explore new things and I guess that is the common ground of traveling and research: searching for new insights, and new ways of doing things — these are the most exciting activities for me.

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?

This is a tough question. Reading is an important part of my job and there are many books that come to mind. However, one book that had a particularly deep impact on me is “The Diffusion of Innovations.” In this book, Everett M. Rogers explains how new ideas manifest in innovations and spread via channels over time. This book made me realize how important marketing is for innovations: a new and better technology is not enough for an innovation to succeed in the market. In fact, the book is full with vivid case studies of successful new products, but also with descriptions of great technological innovations that failed. It was after reading this book that I wanted to get a Ph.D. It was this book that got me specifically excited about the interface of marketing, innovations, and new technologies.

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

I became interested in virtual, augmented, and mixed realities in 2015. I had just started my first academic job as an assistant professor at the University of Mannheim in Germany. As such, I also became involved in the training of Ph.D. students. One day, we interviewed a rather unconventional candidate, Nathalie, who did not check all the boxes at first sight: she did not come from a major research institution like most candidates and, importantly, she did not have a background in marketing, but instead had focused on computer sciences and international trade in her studies. But I saw something special in her personality and I was intrigued by her passion for one new technology that was on the rise, but I did not know much about at that time: virtual reality! However, in 2015 there weren’t many use cases for this new technology and it was very difficult to study research questions related to VR and marketing. Therefore, we ended up creating our own use case for Nathalie’s dissertation: a virtual reality forecasting approach for new durable products. Nathalie eventually crafted a very remarkable Ph.D. thesis on this topic, and the article based on her first dissertation essay was recently published by the prestigious Journal of Marketing. My collaboration with Nathalie during her Ph.D. studies was clearly my inspiration to start working with the XR industry.

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

Sure! Interestingly, this story begins with rejection. For our VR research project, my co-authors and I thought that we had the perfect business case: we would provide durable producers with user experience data for a new product and a pre-launch sales forecast. Such information is very difficult to obtain and market research companies can charge substantial amounts of money for such data — we were going to offer this for free. In exchange, we merely requested a 3D model of an innovation from the firm’s pipeline and a few market figures that serve as inputs for our VR forecasting tool, such as the planned advertisement spending. Despite this clear value add, it took us almost a year to find a suitable collaboration partner. This issue was mainly due to the skepticism towards VR we encountered: senior managers of leading durable producers described VR as a gimmick or a toy without many use cases for non-tech industries. Of course, we knew that this was fundamentally wrong! This is why we decided to actually engage even more in our use case development and worked even harder. Today, our research clearly shows that VR creates value for non-tech industries, right now, and not just in a distant time. After all, we were able to turn rejection into innovation!

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

I started in tech as an intern for a consulting company. Because our partner had an important steering committee call, she asked me if I could drive her BMW, while she would lead the call. Guess what happened: with the entire project leadership team on the phone, I hit a parked car, so that one of our exterior mirrors literally fell off. I was really ashamed and afraid of the consequences: financially, as I was still a student and far from being able to afford a BMW or its spare parts, but more so: personally — for sure, I was expecting substantial portions of gossip and smack talk. However, what actually happened was very different, namely: empathy. After the incidence, many colleagues reached out and encouraged me to cheer up and not to worry. In the end, this crash may have even worked to my advantage. Had I not hit the car with the entire leadership team as live witnesses, I wouldn’t have met so many important people. It took me several years since then (and hearing Brené Brown in Austin) to learn the real lesson from this mistake though: vulnerability connects you with others and can even spark innovation! People aren’t looking for perfection, but for someone to work with who dares greatly.

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 could not agree more! Of course, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to many academics, such as my Ph.D. advisor Christian Homburg and my colleagues and mentors, especially Texas McCombs Marketing Professors Leigh McAlister, Vijay Mahajan, Raji Srinivasan, and Andy Gershoff. However, I am most grateful to my wife Anne. We have known each other for over 15 years and have been married for five of them, and Anne has been the biggest support in my career. First, she encouraged me to follow my passion and pursue an academic career — which is a very generous move, because academic careers come with strings attached, such as geographic flexibility (e.g., it is very unlikely that the university in your favorite place to live has an open position when you are searching for a job). Second, when I had the opportunity to move to UT Austin, a top10 research institution, Anne gave me the chance to accept this dream job, although she had her own career. As soon as I showed her how lovely and refreshingly weird Austin is, she actually embraced the change and moved with me to Texas. Her ability to adapt and take on new experiences is truly inspiring!

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

Just a few weeks ago, we started exploring an interesting idea around VR and the role of space. In particular, we are trying to discover how VR can help to make workspaces more satisfying and productive. I think that this project can have high impact because the future of work will arguably take place in the metaverse, where space can more easily be configured and customized.

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?

  1. Fully immersive experiences. Even today, VR, AR, and MR technologies provide high levels of immersion, mainly leveraging head-mounted displays and motion controllers. Due to this immersion advantage, social VR apps, like vSpatial, Horizon Workrooms, VRChat, and ShapesXR are on the rise. Just imagine what these simulations will be able to accomplish once body suits and other highly immersive equipment become more available. To my mind, fully immersive experiences have the potential to revolutionize social life.
  2. User experience perfection. VR, AR, and MR provide fully digital user journeys and, thus, all user activity can be tracked automatically. This data advantage offers huge opportunities for businesses aiming to improve user journeys through utilizing the rich diagnostic information that VR apps and equipment can provide.
  3. The unexpected. As you mentioned, the XR industries are so exciting now and attract the smartest and brightest people from all over the world. Did you know for example that about a fifth of Meta’s employees are now working on VR and AR? Or that Accenture just invested approximately $30 million to equip its consultants with 60,000 Meta Quest 2 headsets? Likewise, Microsoft is investing billions of dollars in virtual-reality soft- and hardware, too. To me, one of the most exciting things about XR is this accumulation of brain power and new technology that will likely develop use cases and innovations that we can’t even imagine today.

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?

Some of the VR, AR, and MR advantages also bear substantial risks, which may offer some cause for concerns:

  1. Security. One of the biggest use cases for VR, AR, and MR technology will be the metaverse. However, much of the metaverse currently feels like the Wild West. For instance, did you hear that a woman’s avatar in the new Horizon Worlds platform was recently sexually assaulted? In addition, there are more and more reports of metaverse fraud, such as phishing scams, identity theft, and money laundering. These issues will amplify unless security leaders have innovative ways of enforcing cybersecurity. Without destroying the momentum around XR technologies, we will need more and better regulation in the metaverse.
  2. Social cohesion. While some segments of society get really excited about these new technologies, others remain highly skeptical and haven’t even tried VR goggles. Arguably, there is a risk of a societal divide, much bigger than with the advent of computers and the internet. Addressing this risk is essentially on all of us: we must try to enable as many people as possible to access and master these new technologies. Universities, like UT Austin, can take a key role in this mass education task.
  3. Responsible usage. From my own experiences with XR technologies, I can honestly say: there is a risk of losing track of the real world. When I am in virtual reality, I get transported to a different world. Sometimes, it requires my wife’s gentle taps on my shoulder to make me aware of the actual time and reality. There are many dystopian stories, such as “Ready Player One,” that focus on this threat and I believe that the risk is real. However, I also feel that it is still the right time to set clear boundaries, especially with our children in mind.

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?

VR, AR, and MR can effectively create social presence between individuals that are physically miles apart. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and social distancing, has reminded us of how crucial personal interactions are for our work and well-being. Separately, the globalized and hectic nature of today’s existence still restricts our ability to be physically close with our co-workers and friends. Thus, by creating social presence in a digital environment, XR technologies can help us to immerse ourselves effectively with others in the absence of physical presence and hence: make our work more efficient, while retaining its worth and effectiveness.

For instance, I have recently attended a high quality, fully immersive research presentation from my office in Austin through VR via Altspace. The presenter was actually in Europe but I could still be present and without the major time commitment related to international travel. Even very traditional B2B and manufacturing companies are starting to realize these potentials. For example, I have seen a VR exposition of a producer of packaging machinery. I have also talked to a B2B company that is experimenting with initial operations of their machines through a VR-AR solution. I do not think that VR will or should replace travel and in-person meetings entirely, but I think the technologies will help us to better allocate our time and resources.

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

As a professor, I see one more focal area of life — in addition to work and leisure — that will benefit greatly from these technologies, resulting in a very tangible improvement of our lives: education. Even today, leading business schools like Texas McCombs offer highly interactive online courses at all levels and across most subjects via Zoom. Digital course offerings have the advantage that they are a) more flexible and b) more affordable than in-person offerings, hence contributing to the democratization of education. However, what is currently missing from these formats is much of the social component, such as networking or even the usual hallway small talk. Well, this is different with education through XR technology! XR technology is a unique chance to leverage the advantages of digital education, without the disadvantages of education via Zoom.

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

Especially when meeting with some of the more traditional business leaders, I often hear something along these lines: “VR will have a great future someday, no doubt. However, today the technology is just not advanced enough,” or that “There aren’t any feasible use or business cases.” This is clearly a myth! I mentioned our research on VR forecasting earlier as well as the recent VR solutions related to machine operations, services, and trainings. All of this is evidence: VR, AR, and MR have real life impact, not tomorrow but already today!

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”

I would like to take a broader approach to this question. In particular, I would like to draw your attention to 5 Things You Need to Create A Highly Successful Career in the Time of VR, AR, and MR (in any industry):

  1. Business sense. There are many great ideas and inventions out there. However, only when a great invention and a good marketing plan come together, the innovation will diffuse in the market. This goes back to Everett Rogers, whose book I mentioned earlier, but it is true within the XR industries like never before: marketing can separate a “nice gimmick” from a profitable innovation and vice versa.
  2. Technological sense. I am thinking about the business students and managers here. While these individuals may not (yet) work with the equipment and algorithms on a daily basis, they still should be eager to try the newest technology solutions. It is difficult to just imagine some of these immersive experiences. When I give a talk about VR and marketing, one of my first questions is always: who in the audience has tried VR? Then after the talk, I try to get those people who had not tried it before, to test the VR. Using VR, AR, and MR effectively will be a baseline qualification like using computers today. It is time to build everyone’s personal XR skills!
  3. Analytical capabilities. Already today, business analytics are key. Some of the best students from our top universities’ Ph.D. programs get hired by the big tech companies to improve the algorithms and develop new ones. These capabilities will even be more important in the future when VR, AR, and MR reach the mass markets. Eventually, much more data in more dimensions will be available and we will need more, not less, analytics.
  4. Storylining capabilities. The downside of BIGGER data will be that it is even more difficult to make sense of it. What I have observed in recent years is that the capability to put complex analyses and results into a logical sequence becomes increasingly important. In other words, telling a compelling story from the data at hand — this will be even more important in the future.
  5. Relationship building capability. Our social interactions will shift more to the digital world and meetings with our avatars will soon be the rule rather than the exception. However, my recent research shows that some of the classical relationship building strategies, such as building trust, work differently across digital media as compared to the physical world. Yet, building relationships will remain key for success, even in the metaverse, so all of us will need to learn some new approaches related to digital relationship building.

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

I am part of a movement and I hope to inspire students, fellow academics, and managers alike to join me in this mission: the digital transformation of business. Within this realm, a segment that I would like to especially convince is traditional businesses and late adopters. My concern is that similar to the diffusion of the e-commerce or mobile internet many companies we know today will miss the “digital transformation boat” and may disappear. A related concern is that many individuals will miss that boat, too, potentially leading to a notable social divide. From a societal perspective, we should all have an interest that transition happens inclusively without too many individuals getting left behind.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. 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 🙂

Christina Raab (Accenture). I was her intern more than 10 years ago and could support Christina for a short time in her endeavors to digitalize the German automotive industry. Now, she is part of Accenture’s global executive leadership team and promotes the digital transformation of entire markets. I would love to talk to her about the opportunities of VR, AR, and MR technologies for manufacturing and B2B companies.

In the U.S.: Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. Of course, I have followed the FCC’s endeavors to create better regulation for the big tech giants. I would love to discuss with Chairwoman Rosenworcel how business schools, like at UT Austin, can contribute to creating a user-friendly and safe metaverse. Given the global reach of tech regulation, this meeting could even be together with the chairwoman’s European counterparts, Ursula von der Leyen and Margrethe Vestager.

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

Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity and look forward to the next stages of the digital transformation journey — these will be exciting times and remember, don’t miss the boat!


Makers of The Metaverse: Sebastian Hohenberg Of McCombs School of Business On The Future Of The VR… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Priya Chopra Of double shot and 1Milk2Sugars On The Five Things You Need To…

Meet The Disruptors: Priya Chopra Of double shot and 1Milk2Sugars On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

On any given day, you’ll find me sweeping the office floor or packing boxes — basically just doing what needs getting done. Ego has no place in my agency; we’re all here to help one another and uplift the team. I can’t expect anyone else to take on the nitty gritty jobs if I’m not willing to roll up my sleeves and lead by example.

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

Priya Chopra is the founder and CEO of double shot, Canada’s premier globally inclusive talent agency and the partner entity to her PR and marketing firm, 1Milk2Sugars. In launching double shot, Priya envisioned a talent management agency that amplified BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and underrepresented voices and gave them an equal chance to shine. Today, double shot is award-winning and credited as the first talent agency in Canada to make global inclusivity its raison d’etre.

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?

Though I spent the first chapter of my professional life working for high-profile companies, my ambition has always been to build something of my own that challenges convention and reflect my personal values. I’m a self-proclaimed “entrepreneur at heart” and always knew that one day I’d build my own team and be my own boss.

My goal in launching 1Milk2Sugars was to set a new benchmark for client service and creativity in the PR and marketing space. As we mark our 10-year anniversary, I’m incredibly proud of the success we’ve achieved on that front. Our unparalleled level of client care is frequently regarded as our biggest differentiator. It’s an accolade we wear with pride!

But carving out a reputation for exceptional service wasn’t my only objective in starting my own shop. I also set out to create an agency that set a tone of inclusivity and equality I felt was lacking in the industry. I can say with confidence that 1Milk2Sugars is now a market leader in that regard. To date, 42% of our staff identify as BIPOC — a benchmark we’re proud of but know holds space for improvement. Advancing diversity in the PR and digital space is one of our agency’s core values and remains a central focus of our recruitment policy.

That brings us to the present.

I knew there was a lot of insight I could share stemming from my experience developing 1Milk2Sugars and working with some of the world’s top brands and wanted to apply it in a way I knew would benefit underrepresented content creators.

That’s what led to the launch of my most purposeful initiative yet: a globally inclusive talent agency with a mission to uplift BIPOC and LGBTQ+ influencers and connect them with forward-looking brands.

It’s called double shot.

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

As the name suggests, double shot is a much-needed jolt for the marketing world. Our agency is doing the important work of making diversity, equity and inclusion the rules of successful brand building rather than the exceptions. And changing an entrenched status quo starts by identifying the problem.

For too long, lifestyle marketing has lacked meaningful representation from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities which has contributed to a culture of tokenism and perfunctory symbolism across multiple platforms. Content creators of color have also identified massive pay disparities in the industry between BIPOC influencers and their white counterparts. To this end, a primary focus of double shot is closing this gap and championing influencers from underrepresented communities to help them secure meaningful and fair partnerships with forward-looking labels.

To date, we’ve assembled a thriving roster of 13 BIPOC and LGBTQ+ content creators representing a spectrum of ages, orientations and ethnicities. We’re proud to have teamed up with marquee brands across a range of key verticals, including fashion (Wonderbra, Old Navy, Retimans, Marshalls); food & beverage (Dempster, Stoli Vodka, The Chopped Leaf, M&M); skincare & beauty (Keys Soulcare, Benefit, Organika, CoverGirl, Lancome, CeraVe); tech & home appliances (Telus, Samsung, SharkNinja, Lowe’s) and department retail (The Bay, Walmart, Toys “R” Us). In each case, we’ve equipped our brands with out-of-the-box content creation aimed at diversifying and enriching their digital campaigns.

These examples, while only a snapshot, underscore the raison d’être behind double shot: to inject authentic meaning and value into digital lifestyle marketing while advancing the greater cause of equity, diversity and inclusion in our world.

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 not a funny story in the traditional sense, but I started my first business way too young which led to seven (long years) of ups, downs…and even more downs after that.

Like I said, not a funny ‘ha-ha’ story but definitely one I can reflect on with a sense of humor and a smile. Now that my current company is thriving, it’s easier to look back on those early days and wonder “what the heck was I thinking?” and actually laugh at myself a bit.

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 didn’t have a mentor per se — at least not at the start of my entrepreneurial journey. I simply didn’t have access to the leaders or coaches who could provide the tools I needed to grow in my chosen career. My upward climb was a solo — and often lonely — journey, to be honest.

If anything, that experience of being largely on my own shaped the leader I am today because it gave me a firsthand look at the lack of access for BIPOC women in the areas of mentorship, career coaching and professional development. It’s a big part of the reason I’m so passionate about mentoring the next generation of young BIPOC female entrepreneurs; I was once in their shoes.

That said, I’m lucky that later in my career I was introduced to mentors and coaches who helped me get over specific hurdles, from operations to business development. I count on their guidance and expertise to this day.

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 think the term “disruptive” has been useful in our industry because abrupt change was needed to create a more authentic and inclusive digital environment. My goal, however, is for marketing to evolve beyond the need for disruption as it pertains to D, E & I.

It will be a major sign of progress for our industry when the act of being inclusive is no longer considered disruptive but is instead looked at as a fundamental pillar of successful brand building. That’s what we’re trying to achieve at double shot.

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’ve always been taught to never be too big for the small things. It’s a mantra I live by as an entrepreneur that keeps me grounded and humble as I forge ahead in business.

On any given day, you’ll find me sweeping the office floor or packing boxes — basically just doing what needs getting done. Ego has no place in my agency; we’re all here to help one another and uplift the team. I can’t expect anyone else to take on the nitty gritty jobs if I’m not willing to roll up my sleeves and lead by example.

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

Our next focus at double shot will be to uplift emerging BIPOC influencers and connect them with opportunities they might not otherwise have access to at this early stage of their journey.

I know firsthand how challenging it can be to break into a career when you lack access to the resources, networks and capital to get started. In addition to our more established roster of talent, we want to support those creators who are just starting out by mentoring them and putting them in front of brands as marketing opportunities arise.

Growing representation in lifestyle marketing is at the heart of double shot’s mission and we want to dismantle as many barriers as possible for as many creators as possible towards making that happen.

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’m a devoted listener of Jay Shetty’s podcast, On Purpose. I love how he applies the wisdom he learned while living as a monk to the modern world. His perspectives on personal development and finding your life’s purpose resonate strongly with me.

I also listen to New York Times’ The Daily on a regular basis to stay current on what’s happening in the world. Even though current events can feel overwhelming and at many times distressing, I’m a big believer in the importance of staying informed.

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

“Character is Destiny.” That was the quote in my high school yearbook and it’s as true today as it ever was.

The most impactful people in the world aren’t so because of their wealth, their privilege or their power. A person can have all the money on the planet but if their character doesn’t guide them to do something good with it, it won’t make a difference to anyone but them.

It’s not what you have but who you are that will decide the direction of your life.

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

I’m passionate about lifting up young girls to become the changemakers of tomorrow. Particularly in marginalized communities, young girls experience disproportionate obstacles to success. Being a mentor for them and helping build up their confidence as a BIPOC businesswoman myself is a big focus of mine and where I personally believe I can inspire the utmost good.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please follow @doubleshotagency and @1Milk2Sugars for all the latest buzz about our agencies!

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


Meet The Disruptors: Priya Chopra Of double shot and 1Milk2Sugars On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sheree Atcheson Of Valtech On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Perform better: An inclusive organization is more likely to exceed financial targets, be high-performing, be agile and innovative, and overall, achieve better business outcomes.

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

Sheree Atcheson is the Group Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at Valtech. She is a multi-award winner for her services to the D&I industry and was named one of the UK’s Top Most Influential Women in Tech. In 2013, she founded and currently serves as an Advisory Board Member of the U.K. expansion of Women Who Code, the world’s largest non-profit dedicated to gaining and retaining women in tech. Additionally, Sheree is the author of Demanding More — a book that aims to teach readers about how deliberate exclusion has been in systems and society, and how we must be purposefully and deliberately inclusive moving forward. For 10 years, Sheree has held global senior roles in diversity, equity, & inclusion for multiple companies, including Peakon, Monzo, and Deloitte.

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

Definitely! Let’s start way back. When I was three weeks old, I was adopted from Sri Lanka by an Irish family. I grew up in County Tyrone, Ireland, and I’ve openly shared what it was like being a child of color in a very white space, which has become an avenue for me to expand on the ability of being both underrepresented and privileged.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Queen’s University Belfast, I started my career as a software engineer at Kainos — a digital services provider in Northern Ireland. I worked on lots of different projects there, my favorite probably being a developer on government projects like the online Register to Vote application.

This technical background has significantly influenced my roles in the diversity, equity, and inclusion industry. For the last 10 years, I’ve been developing D&I strategies like I would approach developing a technology solution — using agile and embedding data in success/failure measures. I firmly believe this is the best approach, and something I write a lot about on Forbes. Simply put, data equals accountability, which equals action. Ones and zeros don’t lie, and it’s hard to disagree with what data is telling you. And when working with technology-rooted companies like Valtech, this approach resounds much better than if I was someone coming from an HR background without an understanding of how they develop their projects, see ideas, and bring them from ideation to execution.

My leadership roles in D&I over the past decade include Head of Consulting Inclusion at Deloitte UK, Global Head of D&I at Monzo Bank, Global Director of DE&I at Peakon, and now, Group Vice President of D&I at Valtech.

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

I think probably the most interesting story is being adopted and going back to Sri Lanka to find my biological mother. Whilst it isn’t something I’d do again if I could turn back time, it was still eye opening and it very much changed how I see things as a whole. The fun part of that was during my time there, lots of students posted about me as their inspiration, which was really humbling and kind. One group of university students even recorded my story, with their own actors! You can watch it here.

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

Don’t turn down good opportunities, because you never know where they’ll lead to. I know this is easier said than done, but where and when you can, if you have the energy or time to take on something new, do it. For me, that’s largely been the reason my career accelerated so quickly.

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

My answer is always the same. Jackie Henry, who I worked with at Deloitte and who paved the way for me by creating brand new, historic roles for me at the firm to allow me to make D&I my full-time role. She consistently opened doors for me, and let me find my own way, never forcing me down the paths she may have chosen, but letting me find my own leadership style and goals. We’re now more close friends and sit as colleagues, both working in senior leadership roles. I’m always very thankful to have met her.

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

One of Valtech’s key differentiators is its size, which allows the company to collaborate on D&I strategies and implement them quickly. Most organizations can’t do this unless they’re smaller in size.

At Valtech, we take a regional/local perspective to implementation. This is different from trying to whitewash the same strategy across an entire global company, which I still see all the time with other organizations today. For example, after the murder of George Floyd, I saw several companies take a North American approach to ethnicity and inclusion, even in EMEA, which doesn’t translate or make sense. The reality is there are significant differences across markets, and it’s essential for companies to have conversations about D&I that are relevant to each region, even if you’re unable to collect data there. Valtech strongly follows this approach, enabling and empowering its regions to do what’s best for their area, while keeping me in the loop so I can help guide them in the right direction.

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

Absolutely! One of my passions is being an advocate for gaining and retaining women in the technology industry. In 2013, I launched the award-winning U.K. expansion of Women Who Code and now serve as the organization’s Advisory Board Member. As part of our mission, we aim to create a local haven for women to learn about technology and the IT industry together, and feel confident as they grow their careers. We offer monthly tech talks, career trainings, hack nights, and more. WWCode is now the world’s largest non-profit globally dedicated to women in technology.

This experience inspired me to support a similar project founded at Valtech many years ago: tech_Girl, which is our initiative to empower and encourage the next generation of women in tech by showcasing inspiring role models and careers in the industry to young girls. Over 800 girls have been impacted globally from the initiative to date, and we run events in our offices worldwide.

For example, in partnership with VentureKids Canada, we hosted our first-ever ‘tech_Girl’ coding program in 2020 for young girls living in underserved communities. We designed the free program to teach young girls coding and entrepreneurship fundamentals and introduce them to diverse leaders working in Canada’s tech field.

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

As a global senior executive at various companies, I’ve worked in many regions and developed tailored, data-driven DE&I strategies, defining clear goals and accountability to embed success and inclusion that scales and lasts. Additionally, I’ve spoken at many global events, conferences, and leadership sessions and delivered countless trainings and workshops on allyship, privilege awareness, unconscious bias, becoming a D&I ambassador, empowering yourself to empower others, and much more.

At Valtech, I oversee, create, and lead the development and implementation of the company’s group D&I strategy — including the best practices, frameworks, and solutions for all their 20+ regions. I ensure they collaborate globally and build a sense of accountability, guidance, and advisory. Under my leadership, we’ve adopted several changes, including a reworked hiring process that’s trained on inclusivity, leadership programs to help underrepresented talent, and data-backed decision-making on D&I initiatives.

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

  1. Do the right thing: No further explanation needed.
  2. Perform better: An inclusive organization is more likely to exceed financial targets, be high-performing, be agile and innovative, and overall, achieve better business outcomes.
  3. Improve your offerings: When developing products or services, people typically don’t prioritize the inclusion that they don’t personally identify with, and considerations like standard mobility issues, speech impediments, and more can be left out. A proper D&I strategy embeds inclusion into technology processes from the start and offers checks and balances at every stage, including development, user testing, deployment, and support.
  4. Retain employees: The Great Resignation during the pandemic left many companies scrambling to fill in the gaps. A recent survey of over 800 recruiters revealed more than one-third of candidates (44%) turned down a job offer or even an interview due to lack of diversity in the company’s workforce. And this trend runs true with the next working generation as well. To keep current talent and attract new employees, it’s clear that companies must prioritize D&I.
  5. Friction before decision-making: All too often, we make decisions in echo-chambers that are riddled with assumptions and bias, largely because they’re not challenged. Having more diversity within our leadership rooms means we have friction before we make decisions that can affect 10s, 100s, or even 1000s of people.

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

It’s essential to implement a D&I strategy that’s effective. To do so, I encourage following a 3-step approach:

  1. Listening — too often, organizations go straight into action instead of understanding what employees want and are missing. For smaller companies, this might entail facilitated sessions or small surveys. For larger organizations, I recommend using an engagement platform like Peakon.
  2. Communication — be sure to share back what you learned from these sessions. It’s one of the best ways to engage people and makes them feel involved and listened to.
  3. Action — don’t build a massive strategy from the takeaways or try to fix everything at once. It’s easy to become passionate and rush ahead, but this steam can run out very quickly if you’re not seeing the desired changes, which could stem from being spread too thin or lacking resources. Instead, I recommend choosing one thing per quarter that you think you can do successfully and providing specific, regular updates as you move forward.

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

As mentioned before, one of the most important things for business leaders to focus on is nuances across regions. Regulation is in place to guide and provide a structure for D&I strategies, but that’s like having the title of a book but no chapters. What use is that unless you bring it to life? There are far too many scenarios today in D&I where companies don’t individualize their strategies based on their industry, the size of their company, and its global regions. Unfortunately, this unearths major problems like diversity gaps that take longer to fix due to the nuances not being addressed in the initial planning.

Additionally, it’s vital for businesses to prioritize embedding trust first and making sure people feel comfortable with sharing their thoughts. When you capture data, you’re asking people to share something they may not want to — even if it’s anonymous and aggregated. Be transparent about what you plan to do with the data, including initiatives you’re aiming to launch. It’s also important not to ask all your questions at once, as this typically leads to bad disclosure rates, and it takes longer to embed trust. Try starting with 2–3 focus points depending on the region.

Outside of collecting data and developing strategies, I recommend you implement mandated interview training that identifies the top six biases with hiring and provides guidance on how to disrupt them at each stage of the process.

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 🙂

Jacinda Ardern for her leadership, empathy, and directness.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m very active on LinkedIn and on my personal website. I’m also a Forbes contributor, where I frequently share stories on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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


Sheree Atcheson Of Valtech On How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Meet The Disruptors: Pinar Akiskalioglu of Punk Business School On The Five Things You Need To…

Meet The Disruptors: Pinar Akiskalioglu of Punk Business School On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

…Technology, the pandemic, the recession — the world is changing. In the future there may be fewer jobs, so we need more radical thinking.

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

Pinar Akiskalioglu is an entrepreneur who wants to make the business and beauty worlds put people and the planet first.

She is founder of TAKK, a personal care brand which sells a stripped-back collection of beauty essentials, and Punk Business School aimed at entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who want to become better, more empathetic and intuitive leaders.

Pinar was born in Turkey but is now based in London. Along with dividing her time between her two businesses, she is also a board member for Ricoti, a renewable energy business and a consultant at Oxford Garage, a mentor hub for new startups.

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?

For most of my early career, I was in a hurry to climb the corporate ladder. This is what you do in the emerging world: work hard to achieve the defined success ideal. I did what it took to be successful; delivered results, won the crowd and strategically negotiated my next steps until I was at the top of my game.

The moment I got there, I decided to start my journey all over again to find how I could use my skills, knowledge and privilege to create a positive social impact in the world.

Doing this is harder than I ever imagined. Leaving a powerful corporate position behind — for which you worked hard for — makes you feel vulnerable. I responded to this by immersing myself in prestigious business education before I started swimming in the entrepreneurial ocean. It was a way to manage my fear before I started doing my own thing.

One day during a class, I was praising an old CEO who would replace what he deemed ‘underperformers’ with more productive people to boost company performance when a fellow classmate called me out, remarking that ‘this wasn’t a CEO she would like to work for and how it was nothing to be proud of.’ This pivotal moment opened my eyes to a new world, one that is different from the culture I grew up in where the rules of the game could be confidently challenged.

Today, I am working hard to build companies that are financially strong to stand on their own and make a difference for a just world. In my years working in the corporate world I have experienced so much of what is wrong with business and I now want to work on ideas to right those wrongs. Global companies are too powerful — they make it impossible for smaller companies to compete and spend too much time on internal politics, impressing each other within the organization rather than focusing on creating value for our society. Capitalism has gone too far and it is destructive.

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

I am a serial entrepreneur, only involved in impact making businesses. My beauty brand, TAKK, sells a pared-back collection of bathroom essentials made from high-quality ingredients. It is very much a reaction to the ‘sell cheap, stack ’em high’ ethos of the big brands who compete for consumers by creating more and more products. This only leads to shelves groaning with ‘stuff’, mountains of plastic in landfill and to consumer fatigue — do we really need to choose from 200 types of shampoos, especially when most products do the same thing?

At TAKK there is just one product for each category — so, one face cream, one shampoo, one shower gel, one soap, one razor and so on. They are suitable for both women and men because the difference in skin types is negligible — there is no need for separate products.

We don’t overmarket or overpromise miracle ‘wonder cures’, because they simply don’t exist — it’s just marketing hype. We are working to create a robust circular economy to act on solving the climate emergency. We are also helping to create a workplace where our employees are happy, paid fairly and fulfilled.

I hope TAKK will make big beauty brands sit up and take notice. But I don’t just want to encourage the beauty world to be more ethical, I want the business world to be more considerate too. I believe it has lost its way, putting profits over people and the planet.

That’s why I have recently launched Punk Business School which aims to give practical and affordable philosophy education to business professionals. Traditional courses teach the facts such as corporate finance and marketing, peppered with an awful lot of unfathomable management speak and over-complicated business BS, but very few teach people the core tenets of what good leadership means today: empathy, collaboration and intuition. Punk Business aims to change that.

The world is changing, it’s becoming ever-more complex and many of the new problems can’t be answered by what you learn in textbooks. You need to know who you are and what you stand for, listen to your intuition so you can look at the bigger picture and make better decisions.

So, in a nutshell, I am trying to do for business what I am doing for beauty — strip out the noise and in doing so, do my bit to make it more humane.

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

I’m not sure it’s a laugh-out-loud story, but the biggest mistake I made when launching TAKK was about being too corporate in our language at the start. Despite being a direct-to-consumer brand, our website talked more about our corporate ethics than what our products did. As a result, in the first two weeks, we had more venture capital companies approaching us than customers!

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?

We often think about mentors being senior leaders but I would say my team members inspire me every day to be a better manager. I’ve learnt that being a nice manager, by stripping out the unnecessary layers of business — the presentations, the documentation, the overly-elaborate work systems — you can give people the mental and creative space so they thrive. When you let people be themselves, rather than making them comply with what an organization wants them to be, you will get the best out of them. If you don’t, you can run into problems with internal politics, perhaps blame culture and even bullying, which can ruin a productive workplace.

I also think some of the best mentors have actually been bad managers that I have worked for in the past — who have shown me what not to do.

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 good when it is used as a force for positive change, like what I am trying to do with TAKK — trying to stop the beauty industry selling more products than people (and the planet) needs. When disrupting is not good however, is when the motive puts profit over people and the planet. Take Uber. I believe this is just Wall Street cash flooding the market, killing off traditional taxis and without any concern for the social welfare or rights of their drivers. Pouring money into a market simply to hijack profits is not the right way to do business.

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

I don’t really listen to other people’s advice. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant as it’s not meant to be, it’s just not the way I learn. I prefer to plough on, make mistakes and learn from them. I do get advice from books though — I read philosophy. Philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russel have been great teachers since my twenties. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami I also find inspiring. He says: “a story begins when something that should be there isn’t, someone who should be there isn’t” — it’s a motto that reminds me of the beauty of life and gives me the strength to embrace challenges when things don’t go my way.

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

A few years ago I stumbled on US psychologist Barry Schwartz’s Ted Talk Paradox of Choice which basically changed my life. In it he talks about the paralysis of choice and how the more choices you have, the more unhappy and unsatisfied you are. I was still in the corporate world at the time and the talk was eye opening — it made me question whether my job selling personal care was actually making people happy as I told myself, and whether I was actually doing anything worthwhile to society. Schwartz’s thinking became the basis of my personal care brand, TAKK.

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

Bertrand Russel said; to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. There’s a lot of fear involved, especially in entrepreneurship, and I don’t think we talk about it enough. It’s important to embrace that fear, but not let it stop you from doing what you believe is the right thing to do.

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

I want to build companies where people are really happy, treated fairly and are successful and where we do focus on people and profits. If I can pull this off, I will set an example that people will know it is possible. I’d like to inspire other leaders to do the same — many successful people have the same urge, turning to consulting or writing books at the end of their career, but I’d like to be the one who does it while they go along.

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?

Firstly, I would like the world to share financial resources. This would be in the form of a universal basic income — giving everyone in the world enough money to eat and have a place to sleep. It’s an ambitious dream, but while critics say that it would only fuel lethargy, experiments from a two-year experiment in Finland in 2017 proved that it can boost mental health and can even fuel self-worth, confidence and aspiration.

People were even motivated to branch out and seek more expansive opportunities, often through unpaid work. The experiment showed how people have a desire to contribute to society — so let’s think higher of people and not assume they’re just out for themselves.

Technology, the pandemic, the recession — the world is changing. In the future there may be fewer jobs, so we need more radical thinking.

In the same vein, I would also like the world to start sharing knowledge — businesses often work in silos and don’t recognise that collective action can solve complex problems such as climate change.

I am often accused of being too romantic but there needs to be people in this world with aspirations. Hope is contagious. People are naturally drawn to it, and when they are drawn to it and come together, movements happen. And change happens — for the good.

How can our readers follow you online?

My two business websites: https://www.punkbusinessschool.com/

https://takk.co.uk/

Or on social media: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pinarakiskalioglu/ and https://twitter.com/Akiskali

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


Meet The Disruptors: Pinar Akiskalioglu of Punk Business School On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.