Dr. Christian Gonzalez: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

There might not be any existing Instagram pages for what you need, so create your own community. The beautiful thing is when you create with intent, you attract. So, for folks who want to build pillows, start your own blog, Instagram or Facebook. And then all you need is to meet 10 like-minded people and then you already have your sense of community. You can meet up with those people. It’s not only for the mental but it also addresses the physical.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Christian Gonzalez.

He is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in Integrative Oncology. Dr. Gonzalez completed a two-year residency position at the competitive Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s also the podcast host of Heal Thy Self, a popular podcast about holistic healing that has nearly 1 million downloads per episode.

As an authority on non-toxic living, his viral “product reviews” on his Instagram have caught the attention of some of the most prominent health brands such as Oatly, whom he’s advised on creating more consumer-education and less chemically-based products.

Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

I was going to be a dentist, and during my time in dental school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis led me down a path of being exposed to the huge deficit in understanding nutrition and overall holistic care — inside out, head to toe, and multisystemic when it came to cancer. And I saw that they were making nutritional recommendations that were really poor, especially because I knew enough about nutrition to understand that calorically-dense doesn’t mean “not healthy”. So for me, that was a big problem and it planted the seed. I saw how irresponsible the recommendations by the oncologist and the nutritionist were.

I started giving my mom calorically-dense foods and then when I went back to school for the other semester, I was reading a book on the plane that my mom gave me about a natural detox diet. The author was an ND. I thought the ND was a mistake, and it should have been MD. Then I realized ND was actually a real thing. When I touched down that night, I researched naturopathic doctors and then I was like, holy moly like this is exactly aligned with me.

So, I dove in and I made calls to different schools immediately. I followed my intuition and that’s sort of how it started. When my mom passed, it was really the catalyst for me going into cancer, and dealing with death and chronic disease. It made me stronger to do that, because otherwise, I would have just not dealt with the heavy stuff.

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

One thing that sticks out is when I started exposing Boost and Ensure, just putting it out there how crappy this stuff is, how it’s making people sick in hospitals, and how they’re giving it to cancer patients. Then I got a DM from the lead nurse at a hospital in Canada. She said that the head of oncology got wind of that story, watched it several times, and began the first steps to get rid of Boost and Ensure from the hospital. That was incredible for me because it was really interesting to see the reach and the power that I can have. Just from something little that you’re doing for your audience — it can have a ripple effect.

Now, this hospital in Canada is not is not serving Boost or Ensure, and in essence, putting their patients in a better place to heal after surgery. Who knows what the effect could be if they got more holistic nutritionists and naturopathic doctors, but I think that was really interesting and something that’s always stuck out to me.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Now this one’s kind of a hard one because it’s difficult to gauge something that’s humorous in medicine because a mistake of medicine can be a problem. I’ve definitely made some goofy mistakes in the beginning of my podcast where I like slipped up a few times.

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

I’m a co-founder of an online store that is going to sell the highest quality products and consumer goods. It’s not just supplements but also beds, pillows, blankets and hopefully furniture at some point soon — basically everything that can go into a home or anything that’s related to health.

It’s also going to be huge because it’s basically goop meets Thrive Market, because it’s subscription based. It will help people because it gives them a massive opportunity to have access to the best quality of each category of supplements. For example, the best quality magnesium. There’s going to be a score that we will use to score every product on there. And if it’s not an A or B based on certain criteria, then it won’t be on there at all. Basically, it’s going to be the only store around that has the best of the best. I think it’s gonna be a massive opportunity because it’ll also have online courses, like how to stop smoking, top three things for weight loss, etc. We have a team of few doctors, a microbiologist, and big influencers from Instagram signing up.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

When it comes to the Loneliness Epidemic, I think my angle may be a little bit different in two ways: I’ve seen the loneliness epidemic manifest in cancer patients, some of the worst outcomes come to those who were lonely. Loneliness is major because you don’t have a sense of “tribe” or community. It’s a known risk factor stronger than obesity, stronger than smoking. So, loneliness is massive when it comes to overall health outcomes. I’ve seen it when I was in my residency. I’d have people come in with no caregiver, and I just noticed a pattern that these patients didn’t do well with their symptoms. You always need a confidant, you need support, you need to feel supported — that concept of tribe and community is major. In how I avoided loneliness, the mental & emotional part of it and how things I needed to work on would come to the surface, that’s the whole personal side of it.

According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

I mentioned the importance of social relationships. Basically, they can help. And overall, they have an influence on health outcomes, so it’s not just a mental thing but it’s a physical thing as well. There was an article published in Science Magazine that showed that a lack of social connection is basically a greater detriment to health than obesity, lack of physical exercise, blood lipids, smoking, and high blood pressure. We also see it affects longevity. For about 30 years, we’ve known that folks with longer relationships, or more lasting and quality relationships, live longer than those who are isolated. There was a meta analysis in the Journal of Psychological Scientists back in 2010, where they reviewed 140 articles with close to over 309,000 participants. They analyze individuals’ mortality as a function of their social relationships, and they found that basically as I just mentioned, people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival and those were the weaker ones. And that was consistent across age, sex, health status and cause of death. So, it’s really important.

As I mentioned, the lack of social relationships increases your risk of death, and it’s comparable to well-established risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption, and actually exceeds the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity, and obesity. That’s incredible. There’s a few theories as to why. But really, we know that it can have a huge effect. We see that also with pain recovery, because the subjective experience of pain is more when they are lonely, versus when they are not. When they have a confidant, they feel connected and supported on a broader society level.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

You don’t have to look further than the Blue Zones, which have the highest number of the world’s healthiest people over 100. That’s in Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, Italy and Nicoya, Costa Rica. They have varying diets and varying amounts of exercise. But one thing that is consistent across every single Blue Zone, is that community, social support, social well-being, and connection. If you think about us psychologically and evolutionarily, we are social beings. We are predisposed to be part of a tribe. And the worst thing you can do to someone is ex-communicate them, which is what we do in jail. We isolate them and put them in solitary confinement. So it’s incredible to think that the healthiest people also have the strongest sense of community.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today?

Here’s a few examples that I can pick up on:

Social media has been mentioned and that’s interesting because, in one sense, we have a sense of community because we can follow all these random pages. For example, I follow this page that’s all about basket weaving, and your sense of community is there, but it’s false because it has a ceiling. And you’re not going to truly interact, because DMing, or texting, never takes the place of the energy we exchange face-to-face. So the importance of that can’t be understated — what we have right now is a false sense of community, a virtual community. You feel that sense of community when there’s like-minded people all under one roof. That’s why people love going to concerts, because it’s like-minded people who share the same interest.

The second one I can think of is the lack of community when it comes to living in places that don’t have “centers”. Think about when you go to Europe, and everything is right there. When I was in Portugal, everything was outdoors, there was always music in the town square, etc. The town square was where everyone met, and we have that a little bit in New York where there’s performers on the subway, sometimes Union Square or Central Park. But we generally aren’t structured like that in America. So I think that even the way we approach community as Americans, is really falling short. When you walk the streets of Italy or Portugal, you see that the energy is very different and charming, and that’s because everyone is interacting, everyone is outside. The American sense is very go-go-go, thinking for yourself, doing for yourself. You may see it in smaller towns in America, but in big cities like LA, it’s hard to find your true community.

And then the third one is medicine. If you look back to New Year’s, “community” was on my top five things that we need to address this year. It holds true, and I think that not enough medical professionals are speaking about it. If we have the opportunity to do that, especially with the knowledge that I just mentioned of how important social connection is to your physical health, I think there needs to be a massive intervention. This should be something that all medical professionals are talking about. Every one of my patients I asked, alright, what do you do, aside from your family? Do you have a community? Do you feel like you’re socially connected to these folks?

What are 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic?

Here’s five things we can do to solve the Loneliness Epidemic:

  1. In general, find your passion. Figure out what it is that brings light and fire to your life. But really start looking for that small community — start with virtual to make friends, attend meetups, etc.
  2. Set up dinners. So instead of going out to eat twice a week with different people, have a big dinner. Those are important because for me, I’ll have these dinners and sometimes we don’t even talk about wellness, we just connect. We just want to connect and feel like we’re vibing. Even if someone’s talking about something random, we could still vibe because it’s a passion that’s overriding.
  3. Go to your neighbor’s house. Go talk to them and see how open they are about building a community in your own neighborhood. When I lived in New Jersey, I didn’t even know my neighbor. Get out of your comfort zone, go next door to say hey, and offer them something. And I think that’s something really powerful we can do to help foster community, just every day in our own neighborhood, and they don’t even have to be like-minded people.
  4. If you can’t meet up with your neighbor, then go to a centralized part of your town. For example, if you have a dog, go to a dog park. That’s the best way to go. When I went to PA school for a little bit, I would take my dog to the dog park, and then I’d meet so many new people because by default, you already have a common interest — dogs. So having that common interest opens up a safe space for folks to talk about other things, like what part of town they live in, or what’s their favorite restaurant. It’s hard for people who are super introverted, or don’t like being out of their comfort zone. But these are times that we can really make a massive shift.
  5. Lastly, it might be hard to find your community. There might not be any existing Instagram pages for what you need, so create your own community. The beautiful thing is when you create with intent, you attract. So, for folks who want to build pillows, start your own blog, Instagram or Facebook. And then all you need is to meet 10 like-minded people and then you already have your sense of community. You can meet up with those people. It’s not only for the mental but it also addresses the physical.

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 can definitely inspire a movement, and you never know what an idea can trigger. What we’re doing is a “swell” score, which is a “science of wellness” score, and that can do a lot of good for people because now they have access to really good quality information. They don’t have to do the research, or be at risk of buying something on Amazon that doesn’t serve them. So really it’s all about empowering people, and it’s aligned exactly with the message on the podcast, which is informed consent and empowerment.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Oh my god, Jim Carrey. I would love to sit down and just listen to everything. I’m such a talker so he would be the one person that could shut me up. I could absolutely listen to his perspective on life, spirituality and reality, his own struggles in ascension, and what he thinks about ego and spirit — that would be really amazing to have a conversation with him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@doctor.g_ on Instagram and my podcast is Heal Thy Self available for listening on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Google Play here.


Dr. Christian Gonzalez: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: “Pushing The Limits Of What An AI Assistant Can Help With” With Saideep Gupta of

The Future Is Now: “Pushing The Limits Of What An AI Assistant Can Help With” With Saideep Gupta of Wing

Imagine being able to say, “hey Wing can you walk my dog and make sure the dry cleaning is picked up and schedule a meeting with the dentist for tomorrow and maybe also order a cake for dad’s birthday” — and voila — consider it done. Wing is really pushing the limits of what’s achievable and stepping into this new era of automation. Imagine what this can do for our differently abled friends, for our senior citizens, for working moms and dads, for the nurses and the doctors during this crisis, and for the millions others who need help, somebody that can just take some things off their plate. Well now — they have Wing.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saideep Gupta, CTO at Wing.

Saideep is a technology enthusiast, ambitious entrepreneur. and a passionate leader. As Wing’s CTO, it is his responsibility to lead the company forward with cutting edge technology and innovative solutions to add more value for Wing’s customers. Saideep and his team are at the forefront of AI revolution, always striving themselves to be better than ever before

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

Ever since I was a young kid, I have always been really fascinated with creating. I absolutely love to create and innovate, to use my technology to make the world a better place, and to find solutions that would usually be termed as crazy. Started coding when I was like 10 years old, very early trying to find simple and easy ways to learn and teach myself. I originally hail from India and grew up in a normal home with limited access to technology. I remember going to the computer store near my house and spend hours, just trying to use the internet, something that was new and emerging at the time, that nobody understood exactly, but everybody wanted to be on it. There was just this crazy drive to know it all, to click every possible link on google (trust me that list of links was shorter back then :D). My parents were amazed by this passion of mine and supported it with an unstoppable force. Their energy to push forward still drives me. And finally the day came — I woke up to see my dad standing next to a new computer. MY NEW COMPUTER. It was this huge and heavy box with wires going in and out of it and a million other things connected to it — would probably find it down the road at Silicon Valley Computer Museum :D. But yes. The computer was here and I was, unsurprisingly, jumping.

I think this one project of mine was the game changer — the sense of satisfaction was unreal. I must have been 13 or so. There was a major problem and I just had to find the solution. So problem — our water tank for the house would overflow every day as there was no way of knowing when it was full and cutting off the water pump. Can’t forget my mom’s face worried every day about how full the tank was. So I decided to do something about it. All I needed was 1 motion senser, 1 small bell, and 1 cheap arduino board (and definitely the box of a computer to write code on). Some 12 hours and 100 lines of code later — I had a solution — my mom would now get alerted by the bell ring which would get activated as soon as the water touched the motion sensor placed an inch from the mouth of the tank. Such a trivial solution to such a painpoint. By this point — I think my parents had seen me do everything from making them play the weird games I would code, or having them drive me to a hackathon 3 hours away, or even taking the computer apart and putting it back together. There was no turning back from that point on. So I think the water-tank-overflowing-sensor-ringing project is definitely at the top of my hall of fame :D.

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

Oh it’s interesting stories after interesting stories. Trust me, running a startup is a rollercoaster where you dont know whether the next move is up or down — you just go with the flow screaming with excitement and holding on :D. There’s definitely the occasional story of not knowing that we have a scheduled demo in the morning with a billion dollar fund and then spending the night putting the demo together — killing it always :D. But I think the most interesting story, for me atleast, would have to be from the early days of Wing, back at UC Irvine when Wing was just a baby. The big launch was coming up, we were in the deep end of development, working 80 hour weeks, while creating buzz around Wing. I remember in order to sustain our tech costs and marketing expenses, my co-founders and I would buy a bunch of cheap Costco pizza and sell it outside the bars down in Newport Beach — people coming out would be willing to pay upwards of $5 for a slice :D. I think looking back to that and seeing how far we have come — that’s what makes it really interesting for me.

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

My goal is simple — I want Wing to be able to leverage our highly advanced and skilled Hybrid Intelligence concepts powered by proprietary technology and be able to solve the toughest of problems, to allow us to be free of the boring and tedious tasks in life, and to spend time with the ones that matter most to us — our family and friends. We have gone to great lengths in order to ensure that everything we do at Wing is to enhance our customers’ lives and to add value at every step of the way. My teams are working towards further perfecting our systems thereby increasing our AI’s success rate — which could really open up the world at our fingertips. Imagine being able to say, “hey Wing can you walk my dog and make sure the dry cleaning is picked up and schedule a meeting with the dentist for tomorrow and maybe also order a cake for dad’s birthday” — and voila — consider it done. Wing is really pushing the limits of what’s achievable and stepping into this new era of automation. Imagine what this can do for our differently abled friends, for our senior citizens, for working moms and dads, for the nurses and the doctors during this crisis, and for the millions others who need help, somebody that can just take some things off their plate. Well now — they have Wing.

How do you think this might change the world?

Every tech entrepreneur likes to say that they want to change the world and that their tech will change the world. I guess at Wing, our ideology is more oriented towards maybe not so much as changing the world but rather more towards changing the way the world works. We still anticipate all the billions of things continuing to happen as is — you are still going to want to get dry cleaning and the dry cleaning shop is still going to do the dry cleaning, your cat will still need her food and the grocery store is still going to sell that food, and yes — you will still have your birthdays and anniversaries and will still visit your favorite places to celebrate — things are as is, but what we want to do is change the interactions and the processes of doing things. Rather than collecting all your dry cleaning from throughout the house, bagging it up, taking it down the stairs, stuffing it into your car, driving to the dry cleaner through a 30 minute bumper to bumper, maybe have to get gas on the way, and then arguing with the shop over rates and pickup date (oh and repeating most of this again when you have to go pick it up), why not just ask your friendly assistant 😀 “Hey Wing can you drop off the dry cleaning at the usual place and have it picked up? I need it before the end of the week”. Trust me — its that simple. And this simplicity is I think what makes it so interesting.

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

Trust me, there is nothing terminatory in this technology. I think over the years, Hollywood has thrown such wild and vivid imaginary about this alter universe where AI has taken over the world, robbing us of the opportunity to see what it can do for us, the kind of wide scale benefits it can bring. I understand the concerns that all of us have, but I can assure you as a tech professional — we have designed and developed our technology from day 1 as a secure vault, investing numerous hours of engineering time to ensure safety of our customers’ identities and privacy of their data. Wing olds itself to the highest standard of security and as such we use the latest in-class technologies like Google Cloud’s Secret Manager to store user information (using banking level encryption) and Stripe enabling us to securely make purchases without exposing user payment data. Checkout our YouTube channel or even the website, we have a 10 minute long video explaining more things 😀

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

Theres always that tipping point, that one moment when you feel it from within, like the entire universe is telling you to do it, like this is everything that you were working towards but did not know what it was — until now. We had that too. This goes back to our freshman year at UC Irvine. Karan and Martin, my two other co-founders, were roommates and I used to live across from them. We were all hanging in their dorm room this one silly night at like 2am when Martin realized that his parents were going to drop by in the morning. And the room was, for lack of a better word, trashed. Oh we were so worried. And hungry. We just wanted someone to get us some Jack in the box from across the campus. Oh, and clean the room too. We tried looking online for cleaners but no help. We even tried posting on our residential hall facebook group offering $20 for cleaning help but to no avail. Oh, and still no food. This was a problem, one which we couldnt find a solution to. We even saw something interesting — our “Cleaning Help; $20” facebook post got a lot of comments — but not of people offering help but +1ing it as they wanted cleaning help as well. We began thinking — how many others wanted cleaning help, or food delivery, or a car wash, or homework help, or dry-cleaning pickup, or the tons and tons of other chores we all take on everyday. We were just a bunch of young kids with a desire to help I guess. That was where Wing was born — the tipping point of everything.

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

That’s a very interesting question — something my team and I try to answer everyday. I would say its not a single entity or a 1-D model but rather a system of components that all work together to allow adoption. Wing works very hard to ensure the highest levels of quality service through next generation proprietary tech that has been battle tested. Wing’s business model is setup from a customer-first perspective — we rely heavily on our trusted partners (which also go through a rigorous onboarding process as well as internal rating algorithms) to render services to our customers. A hurdle that we at Wing are actively chopping away at is having qualified partnerships for our list of 100+ services in every corner of the country, and then eventually the world. As far as what can help enable adoption easy? Customer education. Most of us out there have never experienced having somebody always there to help, having someone who can take things off your plate, having an actual assistant. As a result — we are very used to doing everything by ourselves, without asking for help. But this is exactly what we eliminate through Wing. You now have this superhuman assistant with all kinds of superpowers to help you within the palm of your hand. Need groceries? check. Need to renew your car registration? check. Need to make a reservation? check. Need to cancel a reservation? check. Need your dog walked? check. I can keep going on and on. But this right here. What I am doing right now is exactly what we need for widespread adoption — for people to realize the potential we are offering at just $10 a month (or $20 a month for the plus plan) to have a personal assistant (which would otherwise cost thousands of dollars) to get anything done.

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

Definitely. My marketing team is working round the clock — writing and pushing out articles on a whole list of topics to public forums as well in-house publicly-viewable blogs, increasing our social media presence on all platforms including instagram and tiktok, as well as coming up with new and innovative ideas for ad series that can be features on platforms like YouTube. I have in-house creative teams whose full-time job is to create more and more videos that allow us to educate our customers while presenting the value proposition in an entertaining way. We just created another great piece on one of our newer product offerings — Wing for Business. You can check it out on getwingapp.com/forbusiness and click to play video. We are also doing alot of various different marketing campaigns including digital billboards, google ads, facebook ads, and a whole series around user testimonials and how Wing has been instrumental in helping them get through these past few months. We have also been receiving alot of media attention — Wing was just recently written about in Forbes as well as Business Insider. I just recently got published as well in TechPanda as well as StartupBeat magazine. So I would say we are definitely making a splash and seeing traction as well.

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?

Couldnt agree more. I have always believed in the fact that my success has never been of my alone — but of all the people who have helped mold me into the leader that I am today, both personally and professionally. However, the most impactful person, or rather group, has been my family. Their support is the fuel to my fire. Their faith in my success has been nothing short of a blessing. Over the years, we have seen lots of ups and downs — trust me — running a startup is not easy :D. But they are always there to lift me back up during the lows, pumping me with the belief that success is right around the corner, and also always there to support and celebrate my wins. Their unending faith in me drives me. It always has. Oh, and it fills me with happiness when I see them actually using Wing. I built something to make their lives better :D.

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

My culture we believe in goodwill, in the act of karma, and of giving. When COVID hit, Wing was one of the first tech companies to respond. We immediately launched a platform, “Wing in Crisis”, that was solely geared towards providing assistance to not only our users but to anyone visiting the platform, without any associated fees, by letting people post their needs and then our AI systems working to connect them to those goods and services. We had testimonials coming in calling us a “savior” as well as “essential”. I remember I myself was deep into the trenches. My engineering team and I spent 48 hours of nonstop development to code, test, deploy, and promote the entire product. We also geared our customer apps to offer COVID support including providing directions and information for the nearest relief center, sending supplies to your loved ones, arranging masks and other PPE items for yourself, as well as partnering with Postmates to offer fast and easy delivery of food and grocery. We also had our corporate partnership teams starting to look for more ways where we can be of support. And we found the answer. The frontline healthcare workers, the doctors and the nurses, were the ones under heavy fire and pressure during this time, risking their lives everyday to help the rest of us in need, and we wanted to help. Wing partnered with Kaiser Permanente as well as John Muir Medical Group to offer Wing absolutely free to all their staff. That was magical to see how much pain Wing could ease in these times.

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

  1. I wish someone told me that “its not going to be easy” to chase your dreams, to actually become the next big thing in tech, and to achieve success. We are all so deeply invested in looking at the success that we never think about the grunt work and the long nights that go into achieving that success. There are days when you wont get to have a meal for 20 hours at a go cause of back to back meetings, when you would just lose a contract and the world seems to be crumbling down, and when it would seem as if all efforts are futile. You have to keep pushing forward and focus on the next day.
  2. I wish someone told me that “leading is tougher than it looks”. Being a leader at Wing, I have a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders, I have people who look to me for direction and mentorship, I have teams who are following a roadmap I have built, and I have stakeholders who have have entrusted their faith in me to lead the company forward. Part of being a good leader, as I have come to learn, involves not one but many functions — listening to your team’s concerns, creating an open work environment, trusting your team members that they are acting in the best interest of the company, trusting your gut as your decisions could impact the entire functioning of the company, and sometimes even acknowledging that you may not be right about something. Its fun 😀
  3. I wish someone told me that “team work makes the dream work”. At the end of the day, it is the team that has to stick together and make sure the trains keep moving forward. Running a company is not a one man show. People come together, form ideas, and that’s how you create a billion dollar company. As a founder it is important for me to make sure that the value of team work is something we set from the top down.
  4. I wish someone told me that “you have to focus on the big picture”. Running a startup and then leading it to become the next unicorn (or decacorn) is not about “I got us here” but “we got here” — that’s what matters, and something that I have learnt is that you cannot only focus on the small things. Celebrate the small wins definitely but dont make it an issue about who gets credit for that small win. That is the single most deteriorating thing to success. Everybody deserves to get their moment — if they have worked hard for something, then I make it my personal duty to make sure they get rewarded for it.
  5. And last, I wish someone told me “to never get emotionally attached to a product”. We are running a business and part of it is developing products for others, not just for yourself. Something that may fit perfectly into your world may not fit into the broader’s group’s world. And being able to accept the truth and letting go of something that you may have been working on for days — that’s I think the hardest challenge for a developer. It is never an easy call to make, but as a leader, sometimes even the toughest and critical of decisions are on me to take. Everything we do at Wing is to add more value to our customer’s lives and to make their lives easier.

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. 🙂

That is a really excellent question. There’s definitely something that I have been wanting to do for a while, and have even kinda undertaken in the past — I want to enable younger kids — between middle and high school — to pursue “something” in tech. There’s a specific reason i use the word “something” — its because most kids who might even be very interested in learning more about or even passionate for tech but may not know where to start or what to do. I think as young professionals and leaders of tomorrow, we have the power to have the most impact on them. I think these young adults are able to connect really easily with lets say someone like me. Late last year, in pre corona times, Wing actually organized a hackathon where we opened ourselves to all high schoolers as well as freshmen to come try their luck at winning a Wing internship. The quality of work that we see pursued by ambitious ideas was really empowering. Most of my colleagues will tell you how excited I get when a teenager applies to Wing for an internship role. One of my current interns, really brilliant guy — hes currently a high schooler, buy you will be amazed at what all he’s worked on, pushed entire projects to finish, in the past couple months.

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

Steve Jobs, one of the greatest of our times, somebody who I and millions others look upto, during his “Crazy Ones” speech said something that has stuck with me for years at this point. It was the tail end of his words, but the most impressionable ones — “the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”. I dont know what it was about what he said, but it still fills me with a sense of drive. I think the reason may be that in my mind, I can picture myself as one of the “crazy ones” or as Jobs says, “the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently”. I am never the one to settle for the status quo, to accept things as is. I have always been a sucker for innovation and for bringing a change. Trust me, when we started Wing — it wasn’t all rainbows and stars (it still isnt :D) — we did meet with lots of criticism and push back — from investors, from friends, from professors, from colleagues, from incubators, from banks, even from strangers — things like “this wont work”, “can you really build this”, “why would this work”, “you will get crushed” etc etc. Earning people’s belief that what we are doing is not only going to work but actually become the next big thing was challenging, but it starts with believing in yourself. And I think those words really resonated with me. It was kind of like, “yeah you think I am crazy, wait till I change the world”. And here we are 😀

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 🙂

Imagine having a superhuman with you 24/7 to take things off your plate, to free you up of the mundane tasks, to have somebody always there that you can count on. Need groceries or food? done. Need your dog walked? done. Need someone to babysit the kids? done. Want someone to go wait in line for you at the apple store? done. You can literally get anything done with the tap of a button. We have had people ask us to book private jets, to buy homes, to get their parrot’s toenails cut, organize events, setup appointments, and anything else. Its like having thousands of specialized assistants jumbled into an app, powered by proprietary AI and technology of course. And for a fraction of the price — just $10 (or $20 for the plus plan) a month. If you are a wing user, you can access us through the mobile apps, through chrome extensions and the web, through slack, or even directly through text and phone. We launched February 7 on Product Hunt and were immediately crowned Number 1 globally — we had thousands of people visiting the websites and about 2500 requests flow through in the first 3 hours. Shortly after we became part of Berkeley Skydeck, one of the top accelerators in the country, and have been growing crazily ever since. We also recently just launched “Wing for Business”, a product geared towards small and medium sized businesses to help as an office assistant at only $1000 a month (⅕ of what you would have to pay someone to do these chores) and have already onboarded many paying businesses. There’s so much more to talk about. Just shoot me an email or a LinkedIn message, and I would be happy and excited (trust me I get very excited talking about Wing — I am sure you can tell) about chatting further.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin is definitely the best way. Am always down for a fun chat as well. https://www.linkedin.com/in/saigupta/

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


The Future Is Now: “Pushing The Limits Of What An AI Assistant Can Help With” With Saideep Gupta 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: “A Faster Way To Communicate With Emergency Dispatchers” With Steven Raucher of…

The Future Is Now: “A Faster Way To Communicate With Emergency Dispatchers” With Steven Raucher of RapidDeploy

RapidDeploy is on the forefront of technology innovation in 9–1–1 and public safety. “Bleeding edge” in public safety is not necessarily bleeding edge for other industries. Public safety is one of the final frontiers when it comes to digital transformation. We are helping public safety agencies digitally transform so that the communities they serve can interact with 9–1–1 in personalized ways. We are implementing text-from-911 and text-to-911; we enable language translation via SMS, so that non-native English speakers can easily communicate with dispatchers; we are working with industry leaders to tap into IoT data that lives in the cloud like weather, traffic, location, etc.; we have embedded intelligence into our analytics tools so that agencies can better predict staffing surges.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Raucher.

Before co-founding RapidDeploy, Steven had a 20-year career in investment banking at SG Warburg, UBS, Credit Suisse, ICAP, and Sunrise Brokers. He started designing trading systems but then spent more than 12 years broking derivatives and emerging markets businesses. Steven was born in South Africa, but spent his career in both London and the U.S. He currently serves on the Board for the African Federation of Emergency Medicine.

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

One of the most tragic moments of my life was also the biggest turning point — when I lost my brother in a horrific accident at sea. Ten years later, I decided to move my wife and three daughters from London back to Cape Town, where I had grown up, to reset my life. While investment banking afforded me a great lifestyle, this tragedy inspired me to pivot and focus on giving back. In Cape Town, I trained to become a Sea Rescue First Responder with the organization that had tried to save my brother. Inspired by the first responders that I worked with, I knew from that point on that I wanted to help those that serve on the front lines. Since then, I have been working to up-level public safety technology and use data and technology to give first responders better tools to do their jobs.

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

In August 2016, I met my business partner and RapidDeploy’s CTO, Brett Meyerowitz at a dinner party in Cape Town. We hit it off as soon as we realized that we were both volunteer first responders. Brett is a developer and systems architect and he’d been working on a cloud-based Emergency Response platform to help improve emergency response at the Agency he was volunteering at. He invited me to stop by and check out the work that he had been doing. The minute I saw it, I was hooked. We agreed on a deal a week later!

It’s incredible how one’s life can change on a decision to attend a dinner party.

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

RapidDeploy is on the forefront of technology innovation in 9–1–1 and public safety. “Bleeding edge” in public safety is not necessarily bleeding edge for other industries. Public safety is one of the final frontiers when it comes to digital transformation. We are helping public safety agencies digitally transform so that the communities they serve can interact with 9–1–1 in personalized ways. We are implementing text-from-911 and text-to-911; we enable language translation via SMS, so that non-native English speakers can easily communicate with dispatchers; we are working with industry leaders to tap into IoT data that lives in the cloud like weather, traffic, location, etc.; we have embedded intelligence into our analytics tools so that agencies can better predict staffing surges.

How do you think this might change the world?

It’s pretty simple. There are 240 million 9–1–1 calls every year. Providing 9–1–1 telecommunicators and first responders with more real-time information and situational awareness will reduce overall response times and save more lives. On top of just innovation for the sake of innovation, building a cloud-native solution for 9–1–1 will truly democratize public safety. We believe that a life in Boone County, Arkansas is just as important as a life in Chicago. Every 9–1–1 agency, regardless of geography or budget, should have the ability to access the most innovative technology solutions.

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

While frustrating that public safety is not further ahead when it comes to digital transformation, the good news is that the technologies that we are implementing have been tried and tested in other industries and we can learn from them.

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

As a volunteer paramedic, Brett has been blown away by the lack of data and context that was provided by the telecommunicator to the first responders. He started to peel back the layers and realized that he could make a huge difference by providing better tools.

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

While there are some early technology adopters in public safety, the industry overall is still evolving and transforming. Widespread adoption will ultimately be driven by industry leaders that are curious and agile, and open to calculated risk. Too many agencies are still not comfortable with the ‘cloud.’ We are seeing more openness; for example, RapidDeploy now has four statewide deals in the U.S. including California, Arizona, Kansas and Minnesota and we expect that momentum to continue.

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

We are working to establish a new category within public safety technology. We believe that the only way for this industry to evolve will be through an open and collaborative ecosystem. We are establishing this ecosystem with big name partners like AT&T and Microsoft. We have some really exciting ecosystem announcements happening this Fall.

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 early days of 2017–2018, we were bootstrapping the business with personal investments and a few customer contracts. We knew we had to raise money to scale the business, yet the typical Silicon Valley investors did not believe that a South African tech company could succeed in U.S GovTech. A friend of mine introduced me to Great Point Ventures and helped organize a face-to-face meeting with Ray Lane. Ray is a legend in Silicon Valley and has been the COO of Oracle and he is also an HP board member. I almost didn’t make it to that first meeting with Ray, because of an unexpected turn of weather and no available ride shares. In desperation, I offered $100 to anyone in the lobby to drive me to the meeting. Luckily a volunteer got me to the appointment just in time, because in that initial meeting, Ray immediately understood the industry problem that RapidDeploy was trying to solve and jumped in with both feet! He led our Series A investment and continues to serve on our board. There is no greater gift for a founder than a seasoned operator as a backer. He’s become a great friend and mentor.

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

We are a purpose-driven company, so I see the impact of our work every day. We hear stories from agencies that now have better location accuracy, better situational awareness and lower response times. Our technology is lifesaving for the communities we serve. Additionally, cloud-based solutions mean that 9–1–1 agencies are more efficient and can repurpose dollars earmarked for legacy infrastructure to process improvements and staffing. I firmly believe we are using technology for good and are having a huge impact on citizen’s lives.

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

  1. Anchor on the industry problem that you want to solve, not the possible solution. Staying focused on what we knew we wanted to fix, enabled us to better frame our Northstar and to become a more agile, curious and risk-taking organization.
  2. Protect your equity at all costs. Giving equity away to friends and family might be fun in the beginning but can cost you a considerable amount if you hit it out of the park.
  3. Get the best legal representation you can afford. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. We now have world-class counsel representing us and it has made a massive difference.
  4. Corporate structure is everything. Spend the time making sure your legal entity is properly set up, as this will save you huge headaches down the road.
  5. Hire slow and fire fast. In the beginning we were struggling to be viewed as a serious employer. As a result, we compromised on quality and culture fit. Now we take a different approach to make sure that there is a mutual fit with the employees we bring on, and that we build the most diverse team.

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. 🙂

Joining the National Sea Rescue Institute in South Africa (NSRI) as a volunteer first responder was a game-changer, not just for my career but for my life. I believe that everyone should carve out meaningful time to volunteer within their community. Personal growth drives professional development.

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

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” I have found that to be true. From 2000–2002 I rode a motorcycle from London to Australia, and the vast majority of this journey was through the poorer countries in Asia. I spent most of my nights in a different city in another stranger’s house, being fed by them. As I arrived back in the western world all this humanity disappeared. I learned that the less people have, the more they give. We need to remember that, and let that ground us, otherwise we will be swept up in our first world lives and risk losing our humanity.

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 🙂

RapidDeploy is disrupting the way emergency services does business. Public Safety is the last enterprise vertical to move to the cloud, and we have built the dominant ecosystem, setting us up to be the category leader of public safety.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/company/rapiddeploy/

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


The Future Is Now: “A Faster Way To Communicate With Emergency Dispatchers” With Steven Raucher 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: “Now You Can Buy Buy Fractional Shares of Alternative Assets” With Joe…

The Future Is Now: “Now You Can Buy Buy Fractional Shares of Alternative Assets” With Joe Mahavuthivanij of Mythic Markets

Alternative assets like rare and appreciating vintage comics, collectible cards, and fantasy art have been outperforming traditional asset classes like the market, gold, and real estate over the past 10+ years. However, due to their high-value and rarity, these assets have only been available to an elite select few.

We’re democratizing investment access to these beloved pop-culture artifacts, making it possible for the fans who love them to engage deeper into the fandoms they love.

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

Joe is the co-founder & CEO of Mythic Markets, an investing platform that turns high-value, geeky assets like vintage comics, collectible cards, fantasy art, and e-sports teams, into stocks that almost anybody can buy.

Prior to co-founding Mythic Markets, Joe worked in venture capital, investing in fintech and enterprise SaaS startups,. He’s a serial entrepreneur across various industries, headed product and growth at startups of all stages, and was the host of the VentureForth podcast.

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 never went to business school, but I was always surrounded by business one way or another. My parents owned a string of small businesses, including a couple of restaurants and a video store. There were good times and times when we struggled…

I learned pretty quickly that trends don’t last, that you have to adapt and always keep an eye out for opportunities, sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose. We thought we were flying high with the video store until Blockbuster came to town. Then Netflix happened. You just never know. All you can do is work hard and stay vigilant, and not take failures too personally.

I thought I was going to own a small business when I grew up, because that’s what I knew. I spent my formative years at the video store rewinding VHS tapes, then graduated to my version of a lemonade stand, selling booster packs of Magic cards on the schoolyard. Over 20 years later I’m still running my own business and playing the game!

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

In my very first job out of college, I worked in marketing at a mid-stage startup in the events industry. It was a poor fit and I was fired less than a year into the role. Shortly after, I joined a tiny, 7-person startup. The relationships and experiences from that one company would become the foundation for the rest of my career.

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

Our investing platform leverages new regulatory rules (Regulation A+) to make it possible for fans to buy fractional shares in assets that were previously only available to high net worth investors. This is done through a legal structure that creates a mini company that owns each asset, is split into shares, and securitized. This structure provides a strong legal framework and corporate governance, protecting shareholders from fraud and disputes with other investors.

How do you think this might change the world?

Alternative assets like rare and appreciating vintage comics, collectible cards, and fantasy art have been outperforming traditional asset classes like the market, gold, and real estate over the past 10+ years. However, due to their high-value and rarity, these assets have only been available to an elite select few.

We’re democratizing investment access to these beloved pop-culture artifacts, making it possible for the fans who love them to engage deeper into the fandoms they love.

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

In a completely dystopian world where everything is publicly owned and traded, it’s possible that soulless markets form where all intrinsic value of these beloved assets is commoditized and traded, leading to the erosion of any real connection to these fandoms.

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

In April 2012, President Obama signed a piece of bi-partisan legislation called The JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act into law. The JOBS Act expanded entrepreneurs’ access to capital, allowing them to publicly advertise and raise money from the public.

Prior to The JOBS Act, private companies could only crowdfund from accredited investors, basically the top 1–2% of Americans. On June 19, 2015, three years after the JOBS Act was initially signed into law, Title IV (Regulation A+) of the JOBS Act went into effect, allowing private companies to raise up to $50M from all Americans, regardless of accreditation.

Coupled with the Series LLC corporate structure, Regulation A+ makes public offerings like ours possible.

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

As a brand new technology and concept of ownership, building trust and education is a challenge. We’re making progress on this front and working to help our investors be successful on Mythic Markets.

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

Through a cold email in our earliest days, we were really lucky to partner with Jon Saso, Founder & CEO of ChannelFireball. This opened amazing opportunities that included access to assets, their online platform, live events, and prominent figures in the Magic community — all of which we needed to get the word out and build credibility.

Press coverage is another great way to get the word out and build credibility. We got some nice bumps in traffic when TechCrunch, The Hustle, Bloomberg, and HYPEBEAST wrote about us, but you can’t rely on getting steady press. Day to day, we focus on partnerships, content marketing, word of mouth, direct sales, and email.

After our first and second offerings, we sent all of the investors a special care package and thank you card signed by the whole team. People really loved them and posted about them on social media. We just launched our third offering and are finding that a lot of the same people are coming back to invest with us again.

We’re constantly asking for feedback and learning about our users. We use our newsletter to keep in touch, ask for feedback, and share surveys. We want it to feel personal because even if we can’t talk to each user directly, we’re grateful for each one of them.

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 parents were the most important influence in helping me get to where I am today. Although most Asian parents have only three definitions of career success (doctor, lawyer, or engineer), my parents achieved their American dream through entrepreneurship. I’ve been fortunate that they supported my dreams of following in their footsteps.

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

I love leveraging my experience to work individually with entrepreneurs, helping them to solve problems and see around corners. This allows me to have a deeper impact and involvement versus working broadly.

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

  1. Entrepreneurship is hard…like, crazy hard
    Although my parents did eventually support my aspirations to follow in their footsteps and become an entrepreneur (instead of a doctor, lawyer, or engineer), it wasn’t without a fair bit of grief. They always told me that they came to this country and worked their butts off as entrepreneurs, so their kids wouldn’t have to. Although I could never compare my challenges with my parents’ (theirs were far greater), I’ve come to experience many of the things they’ve described. There are far easier ways to make a living than being a founder. Instead, do it because you love it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out
    Our team started off building a blockchain version of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. In retrospect, it was a service that few people wanted, was never going to be 10x better than its competition, and that none of us were passionate about. It felt terrible to scrap what we’d built, but once the team internalized this understanding, we quickly pivoted into a project we loved working on together. We all happened to share a love of geeky things, and already had a talented team who wanted to switch gears and pursue something we all loved.
  3. Talk to people about your idea — especially the critics
    It’s a common misconception to keep ideas a secret. After all, we don’t want anybody else stealing our billion dollar opportunities! The truth is that ideas are cheap; execution is everything. Instead, our team talked to as many people as possible to understand what people liked and disliked, how our prospective customers behaved, and what problems they faced. If people like your idea, ask them why? If they don’t, ask them why? The very best insights often come from the most dissenting opinions and counter-intuitive conversations.
  4. Embrace your competition
    Although we’re pioneering a new investing framework, there are several major competitors fighting to grow as quickly as possible. We try not to let them distract us from our team’s mission, and instead let them keep us on our toes. By focusing on innovations that differentiate our business, we can validate our customers’ decision for choosing us.
  5. Work with quality partners
    We all need partners and specialists to help move our businesses forward. However, not all partners are equal. Under tight time and budget constraints, it can be tempting to work with the first person to come to the table. However, it’s absolutely worth vetting several partners before making a decision. Making the wrong partner decisions can cause devastating delays and expensive setbacks in your business.

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 major aspect of Silicon Valley’s startup success is the culture of founders helping founders. In many other regions, the willingness to share ideas, help with intros, giving without reciprocity, and investing in each others’ success is much less common. By shifting to a sharing mindset, startup communities can tap into some of Silicon Valley’s “secret sauce”, and help each other grow and thrive.

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

Bear the bitter. Savor the sweet. — Dad

On a trip to Thailand, my Dad brought me to a local shop where I was asked to drink two small cups of tea. One was bitter and the other was sweet. Being a young kid at the time, I immediately went for the sweet tea and finished the entire cup in one gulp. Then I sampled the bitter tea and immediately wretched due to its foul flavor. I didn’t want to drink it, but we weren’t leaving until I finished the tea. We ended up sitting in this shop for a half hour while I watered the bitter tea down to make it drinkable. When I finally finished it, my Dad explained the purpose of the lesson.

The entire experience could have been incredibly pleasant had I held my nose and quickly shot the bitter tea, ending the dismal experience quickly. Instead of gulping down the sweet tea, slowly sipping it would have offered a pleasant, long-lasting experience.

Ultimately, I learned that, when facing difficult situations and unpleasant tasks, powering through and overcoming them quickly ensures the suffering is only short term. When times and experiences are great, embrace the opportunity to enjoy and prolong them.

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 🙂

As alternative assets continue to out-perform the market and the social concept of ownership changes, Mythic Markets will be ready at the forefront of the future of finance and fandom.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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


The Future Is Now: “Now You Can Buy Buy Fractional Shares of Alternative Assets” With Joe… 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: “AI To Help With Medication Safety” With Dr. Ram Subramanian of PerceptiMed

At PerceptiMed we are working on harnessing the cutting edge AI techniques to make a mark on medication safety. Be it in a pharmacy, hospital, managed care facility, our products are focused on eliminating medication errors. Over the years our products have eliminated thousands of potential errors, avoiding adverse drug events (ADEs). We have been able to develop machine learning models to identify thousands of medications with near 100% accuracy, which can prevent medication errors in pharmacies and managed care facilities. This technology will assist pharmacists and nursing staff to focus on patient care and less on medication dispensing and administration.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ram Subramanian.

Dr. Ram Subramanian is the CTO at a quintessential silicon valley startup, PerceptiMed Inc. His efforts have been focused towards the healthcare space for nearly 20years. Where he has been developing hardware-software solutions for medical diagnostics, automation, and safety. His expertise is primarily in computer vision and machine learning. In addition, he has developed new products, prototypes, launched hardware-software solutions and scaled them up to meet enterprise requirements.

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 believe in happenstance and in perseverance. I have had the urge to invent or develop something that would be of use to the general population. I started work in this direction 22 years ago by talking to doctors to develop diagnostic aids for corneal diseases. I have progressively sought out opportunities be it in academic life or in my professional life. After graduating with a PhD, I started my career in a large firm with a pitch to innovate and incorporate machine learning and computer vision into an existing product line. I quickly realized that I needed to switch gears and be a part of a more dynamic and faster paced environment. I sought out early stage startups in the medical devices and diagnostics field. I joined PerceptiMed as the company’s mission, geared towards medication safety, was something that resonated with me, personally.

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

One interesting story that I can recollect happened recently. I was at a trade show talking to potential customer who was, on the first day of the show intrigued by one of our products. I ended up talking to them 3 more times and finally as the show was closing, they made up their minds to purchase. But they had one condition, I had to be the one to do the install of the system. They have been happy with the product and subsequently have stopped by our booth at other trade shows and even recommended other customers to purchase our product. It is always nice to see that the product we have created at PerceptiMed is making an impact at pharmacies every day. It just goes to show that it’s not enough to have the best or latest technology. It really matters to connect with customers, make them feel confident about their investment and make sure the product is supported well. I make sure that all engineers participate in customer support activities, which includes me as well. Our customers find this very refreshing; they sometimes take time to talk with me and provide valuable feedback and provide new ideas as well. This has the added advantage of providing an avenue for our customers to add value to a commodity that they use. From a product and company growth perspective, I feel this has been very good for me and the company.

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

At PerceptiMed we are working on harnessing the cutting edge AI techniques to make a mark on medication safety. Be it in a pharmacy, hospital, managed care facility, our products are focused on eliminating medication errors. Over the years our products have eliminated thousands of potential errors, avoiding adverse drug events (ADEs). We have been able to develop machine learning models to identify thousands of medications with near 100% accuracy, which can prevent medication errors in pharmacies and managed care facilities. This technology will assist pharmacists and nursing staff to focus on patient care and less on medication dispensing and administration.

How do you think this might change the world?

With more innovation pushing this technology, we would be able to ensure patients would better adhere to their prescription medication with an assurance of safety. Allow care givers and prescribers to monitor medication therapies more closely. Overall, we would shift to a more patient centric care. We would reduce medication errors and the complications associated with adverse drug reactions.

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

The biggest concern would be how adherence data get used by healthcare system and insurers, etc. E.g. If insurance companies decided that they would not cover complications or certain healthcare costs because the patient did not follow a strict medication regiment. This could be yet another piece of personal information that if in the wrong hands can be misused.

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

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

Have more pharmacies see the benefits of the technology and the solutions we provide, so that they can realize their true potential to be more patient care focused. We also need to have a end consumer/customer product to allow better tracking of medications, especially very high value drugs.

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

I take every opportunity to talk to people about medication safety, from ordinary conversation to talks at conferences, booths at tradeshows, marketing materials in trade journals. I try to publish research work in machine learning conferences, take part in panels at trade shows and extensively talk to customers and investors.

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

There is no one single story, event, or anecdote that I can attribute my current status or success. I would think of it as a series of events, inspiration from people and being at the right place and the right time with just a touch of luck. If I had to start talking about the help and opportunities I have received, I would have a long list and need a lot of time. I believe that personally and professionally all success stems from teamwork.

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

I would like to think that my role and work at PerceptiMed has not only helped me to grow professionally, but also allowed me the opportunity to help develop a line of products that potentially saves lives. Until date our products have processed over 7 million prescriptions in pharmacies alone and have prevented thousands of potential medication errors. But I do not believe that I have made a big enough impact, there is always room for improvements and space to do more. I have but hit the tip of the iceberg.

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

1. The amount of time commitment that would be demanded — I didn’t realize the amount of commitment that would be needed at an early stage startup. Where we as a team at times have spent days without leaving the office to solve a critical issue.

2. No product is perfect — No matter how rigorous we implement reviews and test plans, there is always an issue that will crrep into the product. No matter how hard we try. There was a time once where out product was to ship out to our first customer. As we were moving the boxes to be shipped we noticed the devices were failing and sending an error signal. After everyone in the entire company spent a day reviewing the devices we found that the packaging was causing a short circuit making the devices fail.

3. Even the simplest of products have complications — Even with the simplest of features that get implemented, with in a few iterations based on suggestions and recommendations from different sources, the feature becomes complex enough that it becomes hard to support. It then needs to be reworked or rearchitected.

4. Never take no for answer — When a new concept, feature or design is conceived there is always resistance to change. If you really believe in it, you need to do what it takes to convince everyone, and it wont be easy. But if we truly believe in the new feature or concept we need to collect collect the data to prove the point, and its never easy to convince people.

5. Selling even the best product is not easy — Even when you have the best product in the market it still takes a lot to convince potential customers to make a sale. I have had to talk to potential customers at trade shows and sometimes I would have to talk to a potential customer 3–4 times in a 2 day period to close a sale.

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 great, if we can bring people to realize the criticality of medication safety and medication adherence. With around 4 billion prescriptions that are sold in pharmacies every year in the US alone. There are approximately 16 Million errors that occur, where many thousands are potentially fatal. If we can get people to be more aware of the medications that they take and provide them and others in the health care chain tools to facilitate safety, we would be able to save many lives.

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

Never be afraid of failure, it helps reveal one’s self-imposed limits. Many will choose to live with them and never move past them. Other will venture with big leaps beyond it. There may be pit falls and sacrifices along the way, but if we never try or push ourselves, we will not have the innovation we see around us.

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 🙂

Our current health care system focuses on efficiency through rigorous process control, incentivizing throughput to increase revenues. But this has led to system that has dehumanized health care. We need to use innovation and technology to add the human element back into the system. We need use technology to free up the health care providers so that more attention can be placed on the care aspect of healthcare. Products and solutions that aid the pharmacies, hospitals and managed care facilities, e.g. freeing up the pharmacist in a pharmacy from counting and verifying pills being packaged for a patient or customer and allow them more time to interact with the customer/ patient to better understand their needs, aid in medication therapy management, help increase medication adherence. This will in turn allow better therapy outcomes for the patient. It will reduce overall health care costs by reducing / prevent ADEs and complications due to errors in medication dose, skipped medications, negative drug interactions, etc. Our products also allow the busy pharmacy to be assisted by a pharmacists remotely from another pharmacy, this will allow communities that are remote and currently do not have a pharmacy to be serviced by a remote pharmacist.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes

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


The Future Is Now: “AI To Help With Medication Safety” With Dr. Ram Subramanian of PerceptiMed was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Dr. Eugene Izhikevich of Brain Corp

Embracing clean as a new brand value: Before COVID-19, cleanliness was a concept that was more or less assumed as standard by consumers, with less bearing on overall brand equity. Moving forward, however, brands will need to embrace cleanliness as an essential attribute that is not only expected by consumers, but one that can actually enhance overall brand value. When retailers make an investment in cleaning robots, they address consumer health and safety concerns stemming from COVID-19, and visibly demonstrate to their customers that cleanliness is a core value.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Eugene Izhikevich, a world-renowned computational neuroscientist, is the co-founder and CEO of Brain Corp, a San Diego-based AI company creating transformative core technology for the robotics industry.

The BrainOS® platform and its cloud-connected autonomy service are used by global manufacturing partners to successfully build, deploy, and support fully autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) at scale. Robots powered by BrainOS navigate autonomously, avoid people and obstacles, adapt to changing environments, manage data, generate reports, and seamlessly interact with operators. Brain Corp and its partners have deployed over 10,000 robots for floor care, in-store delivery and other key applications within retail, grocery, malls, airports, hospitals, warehouses, and other industries.

Eugene is an expert in the field of AMRs. His vision is to create a world where intelligent and autonomous machines make our lives safer, easier, and more productive.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent my academic career studying computational mechanisms of the real (biological) brain and after 20 years I decided to build an artificial brain for robots. I was approached by Qualcomm in 2009, which supported this idea, and I went on to build a computer based on the human nervous system to investigate how mammalian brains process information. Qualcomm funded Brain Corp and gave it a number of R&D projects in computational neuroscience and machine learning.

While exploring different product directions, I realized that the robotics industry of the day looked just like the personal computer industry before Microsoft — dozens of small companies all designing their software and hardware. Back then, lots of different types of computers existed, but they were all very expensive and did not work well. The same problem exists in the robotics industry — many robotics startups designing their own software and hardware. This is why robots are very expensive and not useful. A “Microsoft of robotics” is bound to appear and I decided that Brain Corp will be such a platform company.

I brought together a close-knit group of scientists and engineers and we saw the value in creating an operating system for robots that would unite all of the disparate robot solutions under one cloud-based AI software platform. Our goal became to help build out the emerging category of AMRs by providing autonomy software that others could use to build their mobile robots for a variety of strategic applications. We decided to focus on making a hardware-agnostic operating system for AMRs. The idea was simple: to enable builders of robots, not build the robot ourselves.

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

I have a PhD in pure mathematics and spent my career studying the brain, writing peer-reviewed papers and textbooks on brain modeling. However, after starting Brain Corp and deciding on the first robotic application — commercial floorcare robots — I became an expert in commercial floor cleaning. I got to know everything about different floor types, different brushes, squeegees, and the types of cleaning, such as sweeping, scrubbing, and burnishing. I would have never thought I would be an expert in that area. However, for the CEO to be an expert not only in AI and robotics, but also have sufficient understanding of different robotic applications, is of paramount importance to the success of the business.

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

I started Brain Corp as an academic business, focusing more on research than product development. However, after the first five years, I realized that we would never be successful unless we built and scaled a product. I should have realized this sooner because when we started to build the product — a brain for robots — we saw the real value and success. Today, I am proud to say that Brain Corp powers more than 10,000 robots in retail, malls, airports, hospitals, and more, and the fleet continues to grow with each new deployment. This represents the largest fleet of AMRs operating in public indoor spaces in the world.

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

We have a lot of projects and products in the works that leverage our technology to develop new applications beyond commercial floorcare. This is exciting for the company because it shows the progress we are making in bringing our vision to reality.

Our latest robotic application is an autonomous delivery tug, powered by BrainOS, that seamlessly moves stock carts and loose-pack inventory from one point to another. A major ongoing challenge for retailers — one that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 health crisis — is maintaining adequate stock levels in the face of growing demand from consumers, particularly in grocery. The delivery tug automates the safe movement of up to 1,000 pounds of goods from the stockroom to store shelves, enabling faster restocking and reducing the strain on employees who no longer have to haul heavy, stock-laden carts back and forth.

Based on initial tests, we estimate the autonomous delivery tug will save retail employees 33 miles of back-and-forth travel per week, and increase productivity by up to 67%.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Don’t do anything that you are not enjoying.

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

I’m very thankful for my co-founder and serial entrepreneur Dr. Allen Gruber, who has been a big influence in my professional life. When I was starting out, I knew everything about technology, but nothing about business. Allen taught me what I needed to know to successfully start Brain Corp. He guided me through the first few years of transitioning from research to developing our first successful robotic applications.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important it is to maintain a safe and clean environment for public spaces and commercial businesses. There has been a particular focus on grocery stores, airports, hospitals, malls, and commercial buildings — places we all go during our daily living. At the time of this writing, BrainOS powered robots are providing 11,000 hours of autonomous work each day. I never thought that our robots would be indirectly saving lives by keeping these public areas clean, supporting frontline workers with restocking shelves, and giving them back time to focus on other critical tasks such as disinfecting high-touch areas.

Of course, the real heroes of the pandemic are retail workers, custodians, and other employees in essential businesses. They have shown their commitment to their communities over the last six months by working tirelessly to ensure we continue to have access to the services and supplies we need. We are committed to supporting their efforts by providing the technology that powers advanced robotic equipment (e.g. autonomous floor scrubbers, autonomous delivery tugs) to help them in their jobs.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 3-5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

  1. Embracing clean as a new brand value: Before COVID-19, cleanliness was a concept that was more or less assumed as standard by consumers, with less bearing on overall brand equity. Moving forward, however, brands will need to embrace cleanliness as an essential attribute that is not only expected by consumers, but one that can actually enhance overall brand value. When retailers make an investment in cleaning robots, they address consumer health and safety concerns stemming from COVID-19, and visibly demonstrate to their customers that cleanliness is a core value.
  2. Using robots to enhance productivity at lower costs: Retailers are focusing on the in-store customer experience more than ever, prompting them to adopt systems that allow workers to be more customer-facing. The idea is that these systems free workers’ time, allowing them to focus on high-value, customer experience-centric tasks. This approach creates more work hours for stores at a lower cost. While workers focus on tasks only humans can do, robots can focus on the “dull, dirty, and dangerous” work they are designed to perform. This work includes things like cleaning floors, moving inventory or goods, and scanning shelves to check prices and available inventory levels. This type of automation will be a major focus for retailers in the next several years.
  3. Leveraging data and insights to optimize operations and improve customer experience: We believe, and analysts agree, that this pandemic is accelerating the adoption of robots. Brain Corp and our partners have seen the interest in AMRs among retailers heating up. The appetite for operational insights on things like cleaning performance, shelf stock levels, and movement of goods in the store is also increasing as retailers see they can collect data they have never had before. As this trend continues and multi-robot deployments in a single store become a reality, retailers will need to centralize fleet management and data processing from these robots or risk becoming overwhelmed with processes and data that vary by manufacturer. To solve this problem, you need a common platform that connects robots from different manufacturers that are owned and managed by a single end customer. Brain Corp took this approach with BrainOS, a cloud-connected robotic platform that different OEMs use to turn their machines into robots. This gives retailers flexibility and choice while having a unified way to manage the robots, collect the data, and understand operating performance and impact. We believe this greatly simplifies things and lowers the barriers to adoption. At the end of the day, retailers benefit because they get the best of both worlds: proven equipment combined with world-class AI technology to run the machines. And most importantly, this approach enables them to leverage robots not just to perform a task, but to gather insights that help them improve store operations and the customer experience.

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

We’ve already started a movement with what we are doing now — building brains for robots that are making our lives better and support us by doing mundane tasks like cleaning or delivering goods. The Internet allows us to touch every piece of information on this planet; robots allow us to touch every physical object on this planet. I believe that the impact of robotics on our lives will be bigger than the impact of the Internet and I’m excited to continue driving innovation in the field.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on Twitter @braincorp, LinkedIn, and Facebook. We also share company news and industry trends on our blog.


The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Dr. Eugene Izhikevich of Brain Corp was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Feeling connected to your team — Zoom isn’t the same and nonverbal communication can get lost in emails. One of my planners came into the office often and we connected on a regular basis. She rarely called with problems, we talked them out in person instead. When we went remote for COVID, she began saving up her questions for a call. Before that call happened, she became so overwhelmed with all this pent-up anxiety that she wasn’t able to get off her shoulders. She called me in a ball of tears over something silly that put her over the edge, which never would have happened if we were not working remotely.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nora Sheils.

With over 18 years running award-winning planning firm, Bridal Bliss, founder Nora Sheils possesses an intimate grasp on the ins and outs of the wedding industry. In her time working with countless couples and leading a team of 30+ women, she recognized a need for a more effective, streamlined approach to the often-daunting contract and invoice process. Thus, in 2018, Rock Paper Coin was born in partnership with her sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and the two have been committed to bringing together event professionals and couples ever since.

Nora’s industry experience has led her to become a thought leader in the way of project management, operational efficiency, business expansion, and team dynamics. Her expertise extends to event professionals who discover increased productivity through Rock Paper Coin, as well as those who hear her speak onstage. As a well-known and sought-after speaker in her local speaker circuit, including with associations like ILEA Portland and Seattle Business Babes, Nora is always prepared to share her favorite strategies for simplifying, refining, and refreshing business workflows. She was recently recognized by Portland Business Journal in its 40 Under 40 series.

In her spare time, Nora can be found spending quality time with her family, often over a long family-style spread of food and a glass of great sparkling wine. She also appreciate the chance to explore the vibrant culture and food scene of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in her beloved hometown of Portland.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I am a true Portlander, which is hard to come by these days. Born and raised in the City of Roses! Born to Iraqi immigrants, I was raised in a culture of over-the-top celebrations and, from the beginning, event planning was in my blood. After graduating from Gonzaga University (Go Zags!), I started Bridal Bliss in 2002, slowly growing the company to become a team of 30+ women who produce upwards of 120 weddings and events each year. In 2016, my sister-in-law and I noticed a gap in the planning industry and developed Rock Paper Coin, a forum that brings together event professionals and couples to streamline the often-daunting contract and invoice process.

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

An interesting story is how I first got my start! Had it not been for Gonzaga University’s Hogan Entrepreneurial Program’s Business Plan Competition in 2002, I’m not sure I even would have started a business. I was a psych major and business minor, so I wasn’t confident in my abilities to start or run a business without any experience. It felt like a pipe dream until I entered the competition with a friend and my wedding planning idea. I received the support of professors and local businesspeople and we won! It provided me with my startup costs right out of college and, at that point in my life (22 years old!), I had nothing to lose. I hit the ground running, filled my days meeting local event professionals and booked my first few clients. The rest is history!

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

This story absolutely wasn’t funny at the time, but here goes. In my early years of wedding planning, I was working with a client on their invitations. We fine-tuned the design, then focused on wording and adding in all of the information. However…there was a huge oversight made on my part. The address listed for the church was the church’s business office address, not the actual church address! Thankfully, the business office was only a few blocks away and we were able to station a planner on-site to guide guests in the right direction day-of. Because, of course, it wasn’t discovered until the day-of! I was absolutely mortified! That mistake was certainly never made again and has now become part of our new planner training.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Nothing kills an employee’s morale like being micromanaged. Provide them with the tools and resources to do their job and then give them the autonomy to learn and grow. Mistakes are how people learn and we’ve all made more than we can count throughout our careers.

In addition, give your employees flexibility for when and where they work. As long as they provide good customer service and do their job well, why does it matter when and where they work? Give and encourage use of vacation time — recharging is important for everyone from the highest level executives to your entry level employees.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

We expanded Bridal Bliss into a new market ten years ago. It was at this time that I began managing a remote team and have done so ever since.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. Feeling connected to your team — Zoom isn’t the same and nonverbal communication can get lost in emails. One of my planners came into the office often and we connected on a regular basis. She rarely called with problems, we talked them out in person instead. When we went remote for COVID, she began saving up her questions for a call. Before that call happened, she became so overwhelmed with all this pent-up anxiety that she wasn’t able to get off her shoulders. She called me in a ball of tears over something silly that put her over the edge, which never would have happened if we were not working remotely.
  2. Work environment — At the office, we can control the environment. However, when someone is working remotely, their environment impacts their work but it’s something I don’t have control over. Several of our team members have mentioned that what changed their remote experience from negative to a positive was finding a space in their home that was a designated work space. Not the kitchen table, not a couch, but what felt like their office. It had to be cozy, styled, void of distractions and a place where work would get done.
  3. Tracking productivity — I am absolutely not a micromanager, but I do appreciate formal monthly check-ins with updates on each planner’s progress. If work is being completed in a timely manner and clients are happy, then I’m happy. However, for those employees who need a little more of a nudge, there are many time tracking tools to keep them on track. For employees struggling to complete their tasks on a regular basis, it is so helpful to have a history of their productivity as we brainstorm solutions or as a worst case scenario have to terminate the relationship.
  4. Team building — Without face-to-face interactions, building interpersonal relationships between the team is tough. We tried to combat this by planning step challenges, treating our team to ice cream deliveries and playing a guessing game to determine which flavor fit who best, or even hosting a virtual drag event. Sure, we are not all together in a room, but we are still laughing and bonding together as a team.
  5. Hiring a remote employee has its challenges as well. During COVID, we hired three new key employees. Without being able to train in person, we had to do our best with Zoom, screen shares and multiple meeting times to get the basics across. Each employee has a mentor that is holding their hand through the process in such a weird learning environment. As a firm believer in learning by experience, this was a bit difficult to achieve. However, we made sure with what little action there was at the time, our new employees took part.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

  1. Walk and talks — During check-ins, encourage your team member to be on a “walk” with you. People can open up, talk more freely when walking outside as opposed to sitting at a desk. This could happen in person or over FaceTime as well! Just moving while talking will open up the conversation.
  2. Connect with everyone to see what they need to make their work environment successful for them. If that means providing more tools, you can know early on and set them up for success.
  3. Plan regular check-ins. Make sure your employees are happy, healthy and feeling supported.
  4. Plan team experiences! In person or digitally, there are so many things you can do to keep your team connected personally and professionally.
  5. Lead by example. Your team tends to follow your lead, so if you don’t show your face during a digital meeting, neither will they. Or, if you show up dressed sloppy/unprofessionally, so will they. Your actions will reflect your brand and your expectations, so walk the talk.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Honest communication with examples is best. Instead of going over work that has been done in the past, focus on what should be done in the future. Concrete, actionable items are key to a successful deliverable. In addition, start with the good! Build your employees up by giving them good feedback first, and then sharing the areas in which they need some attention.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Constructive criticism is actually best shared over the phone. An email can be sent to open the conversation or set a meeting. Send an agenda and give your employee an opportunity to discuss anything on their end as well. An email is also a great tool for a follow up and reference to the conversation. This being said, the bulk of constructive feedback should be done verbally. This is absolutely a conversation that could go sideways if tone is lost.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

The transition from working in an office to working remotely is more difficult for some than others. With so many distractions at home (spouse, kids, chores, snacks…so many snacks), it can be hard to focus. Give your team some time to build their own routines and get used to the new normal before scheduling regular meetings or requiring constant communication. Scheduling regular check-ins or virtual team building activities can help, but it cannot be too much. Once the team has a better sense of comfort with this new way to work, you can expand the expectations placed upon them.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Open communication and team outings. Even if the “outings” are in each person’s home, you can send ice cream before the meeting, cocktail kits, or schedule an Airbnb Experience for team building. You don’t have to discuss work or have an agenda — these events can be just for fun to allow your team to let loose and build relationships.

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

I’m not sure if this is necessarily the most amount of people, but it would certainly be significant. I would love to start a movement advocating for more female-owned businesses. Rock Paper Coin has not one, not two, but three women at its core as founders, which is incredibly rare.

I will be honest and tell you that starting out in a male dominated industry was incredibly daunting and intimidating. Elizabeth and I are moms with young children and between managing our families, responsibilities at Bridal Bliss and then a brand new tech startup, we were exhausted. The support isn’t there for women and certainly not for mothers. Successful female executives have strength, resiliency, and grit, but they are also empathetic, flexible and willing to go the extra mile for the good of the team. We need more of this in our lives and in society as a whole!

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

I love the quote from Jim Collins from his book Good to Great:

“Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”

This really sticks with me and proves to be true over and over again. If you would have told me Bridal Bliss and Rock Paper Coin are where they would be today, I would not have believed you. But getting the right people into the right roles on the team allows for us to have a team that works well together, respects each other and believes in the core of the product.

Thank you for these great insights!


Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Lindsey Boyd of The Laundress: 5 Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

The Product Is Hero: Making the best possible fabric and home care products was always our mission. We never wavered from that and today our top sellers are the products that we launched 16 years ago. We tested every single one ourselves, reformulated to make them perfect and up to our standards, and if we were not satisfied, we did not launch it. You have to focus on making something exceptional that you can stand behind. Otherwise, why does the customer need it? It is a simple philosophy that a lot of brands miss from the beginning.

As a part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Lindsey Boyd, The Laundress.

Lindsey Boyd is co-founder of The Laundress, a premium collection of eco-friendly laundry and home cleaning products.

A powerhouse entrepreneur, Lindsey founded the Laundress after she identified a gap in the fabric care industry. With a degree in textile and fiber science from Cornell University and experience working in fashion at Chanel and Brooks Brothers, Lindsey knew there were alternatives to dry cleaning that were better for fabrics and did not involve toxins or exorbitant bills. After years of researching and developing detergents, fabric solutions, and home cleaners, Lindsey and her business partner launched The Laundress in 2004.

Lindsey’s role at The Laundress melds her textile expertise with her entrepreneurial mind and steadfast commitment to sustainability. She spearheads all sales, product development, marketing, brand partnerships, and ecommerce and sustainability initiatives. Notable achievements include taking The Laundress global in 2006 and securing permanent partnerships with renowned perfume house Le Labo and artist John Mayer.

Lindsey is also a popular speaker and panelist at private and public events across the country, leveraging her knowledge as a female entrepreneur, thought leader, and wellness expert. She has made appearances on national news outlets and has spoken on numerous podcasts. Lindsey was named a top female founder by INC as part of their 100 Female Founders list in 2019.

The Laundress was acquired by Unilever in 2019, where the brand fits seamlessly into Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. Since then, Lindsey continues to oversee brand strategy and is the face of The Laundress, creating educational content for its social platforms, blog, and website and connecting with clients and retailers.

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

I was working at CHANEL and spending an exorbitant amount of money dry cleaning my wardrobe, only to have items returned ruined and just not clean. As a solution, I started handwashing my items in the bathroom sink of my 5th floor walkup apartment — I knew from my background in textile science at Cornell that up to 90% of fabrics could be washed at home, meaning there is very little you actually need to be dry cleaning. There were no detergents on the market that allowed you to care for delicate items without the dry cleaning process, so my business partner and I decided to use our expertise to develop a line of consumer-centric, plant-based fabric care that anyone could purchase. I also wanted to create an amazing, unique laundry experience for people that would transform a mundane, everyday task into a luxurious experience. We launched the company with 13 products in 2004.

At the time, eCommerce was just getting off the ground, so I had to put in the legwork to get our products into retailers. I secured our first key account, Bergdorf Goodman, during my lunch hour at CHANEL. My experience in marketing and sales really helped us get picked up by retail locations — US and international boutiques and speciality retailers — very early on.

My parents were both entrepreneurs, so it’s in my DNA to be forward thinking and business-minded. I had a ton of ideas prior to The Laundress — clothing lines, makeup lines, but The Laundress made the most sense because it was fulfilling a big need for people. I’ve always been enamored with product experiences, from branding and packaging down to the scents. I traveled a lot and always returned with arsenals of product that inspired me, be it deodorants, soaps, creams, or baby colognes. It was really important that I translate that special feeling to The Laundress. I thought, there’s no reason why laundry shouldn’t feel luxurious.

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

From the very beginning, sustainability has been a core value of The Laundress. We are really looking forward to taking it to the next level with formulas and packaging that contribute to even less waste.

We also just launched our first scent in over 6 years, №723 Laundry Detergent, a spicy rose that’s meant to pamper your senses and your laundry. Laundry doesn’t have to feel like a chore and there’s no reason it shouldn’t feel a little luxe!

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?

Marketing is so important! It is a scalable way to get your brand out there. It would be fantastic if I could physically get to every market we are in, but that is impossible. Being able to share your story in a cohesive way — globally — can only be achieved by strong marketing and advertising efforts. When we first started The Laundress, our first $10,000 went to public relations efforts so we could be in key editorial spots like New York Times, Real Simple, Domino, Lucky magazine, Wall Street Journal, Oprah, InStyle, Vogue where they were able to tell our brand story. This was vital in driving brand awareness and, ultimately, sales.

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.

The Product Is Hero: Making the best possible fabric and home care products was always our mission. We never wavered from that and today our top sellers are the products that we launched 16 years ago. We tested every single one ourselves, reformulated to make them perfect and up to our standards, and if we were not satisfied, we did not launch it. You have to focus on making something exceptional that you can stand behind. Otherwise, why does the customer need it? It is a simple philosophy that a lot of brands miss from the beginning.

Find Your Purpose: This is so important. We were our first customers and developed the line because of needs that we had that were totally missing from the marketplace. From day one, education and sharing our knowledge and insight with our customers was always part of our communication strategy. We were never just selling product, we were also giving them the intel and confidence our customer base needed and wanted to care for their fabrics and homes better.

Give Back: I have always been very cause-minded, so this naturally extended to my professional life. Whether it’s giving to local charities or offering products and services to those in need or implementing a donation component to our business, like our The Laundress x John Mayer Out West collection — 50 percent of proceeds go to Montana Association of Land Trusts (MALT). We have always given back and that has always been part of our corporate responsibility.

Value Your Customer: Listen to what your customers are saying and use their feedback to make your brand and product better. They are your best critics.

Have An Honest Voice: Honesty and transparency are everything, and even more so today. Customers want to support brands that not only provide them with good products, but that are genuine and have strong values, too.

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?

Patagonia because they lead with purpose and thoughtfulness. I also love that over the last decade there are more and more smaller brands (like The Laundress!) that are doing a fantastic job. One of my favorite small brands is State Bags.

I think it comes down to having a clear mission statement and brand ethos. Also, you can’t be everything for everyone and that is ok, and really important to know.

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?

Sales and growth are important quantitative metrics you obviously need for your bottom line — that will always be a mainstay. But we look at other qualitative metrics too, like our customer feedback. We love hearing how they learned about us and how we have made a difference in their day-to-day life. Those are the little “pats on the back” that keep you moving forward. We can also track brand building success through increased awareness holistically. New opportunities open up with brand partnerships, new wholesalers request to carry the brand, and more social media engagement.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

For us, social media really plays a pivotal role in connecting with our consumer; telling our brand story and communicating with our community. Social media lets you connect to customers a lot faster than we ever have before. You can’t be a brand today without having a social media strategy.

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

You have to stay absolutely passionate about your business. There will be ups and downs. You have to really believe in your brand purpose, stay inspired, and never waver.

Always come back to being grateful every day for the opportunity to do what you do and do what you love.

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. 🙂

This is a tough question because I’m passionate about a lot of things! I rarely say no to helping others, especially if I believe it will make a difference. I am proud to be a part of and contribute to Glass Wing, Self Help Africa, No Kid Hungry, and Black Girl Ventures. These incredible organizations are working to empower communities, end child hunger, and address causes of poverty and violence.

Prior to COVID-19, I was chatting with my husband about creating a foundation where kids could be part of “after school” activities like PE, sports, art, and drama year round — mainly during major holidays and summertime when schools are out. So many children in America depend on school programs and when schools are out, this is hard for them. I know there are community centers and ways in which this is done but it’s not state-wide. I think this would create a more level playing field for the success, health, and happiness of children. After all, they are the foundation for our country — the next generation.

I would also eradicate homelessness, teach people how to love and have tolerance for others that are not exactly like them, stop world hunger, and get people to commit to at least one change in their daily lives that would help save our planet.

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

You can resist or push forward. Pushing forward may seem harder at first glance, but the reward and journey is always worth it in the end.

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

I never have just one person or one item on a wish list. Business-Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault, and Mickey Drexler. Entertainment-Alycia Keys and Kate Hudson.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@lindseyjuliaboyd


Lindsey Boyd of The Laundress: 5 Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rob Collie of P3: Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

In my experience, the first thing to do is just to accept that the differences go much deeper than just replacing face-to-face with video calls. It’s just a structurally different way to operate, and if your plan is just to take your in-person methodologies and translate them to remote, I think you’re asking for trouble. It’s kinda like that “hope isn’t a strategy” thing — if you’re just hoping it will work out, you’re just waiting to find out that it doesn’t.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Collie the founder and CEO of business intelligence consulting firm P3. During his 13 years at Microsoft, Rob led the BI-focused capabilities in Excel and was subsequently one of the founding engineers on Power BI. Through that insider’s perspective and experience with Microsoft, Rob developed successful and groundbreaking strategies that can be utilized across almost any industry. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team are relentlessly committed to “the new way forward,” making P3 a leading consulting firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology that bucks the traditional BI company model.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I was a product leader at Microsoft for 13 years, primarily building software for the analytics and BI (business intelligence) markets. In the early 2010’s, I recognized that the new generation of BI software was going to trigger mass disruptions in the BI industry:

The duration (and therefore price tag) of the average BI implementation was going to decrease dramatically.

Demand for BI was going to skyrocket in turn. Previously only affordable at the upper levels of the world’s largest companies, industrial-strength BI was now going to be within reach of the small and mid-markets, as well as at the departmental level of the Enterprise.

The existing breed of BI professional services firms was ill-equipped to move at this pace, and would struggle to adapt, leaving a massive void of unmet demand.

This advance perspective on led me to start my own professional services (consulting) firm from scratch, with the mission of filling that gap.

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

From the Microsoft days: I was coincidentally in a meeting with the VP’s of the entire Windows and Office divisions on the exact day that the US Government sued to stop the release of Windows 98 (at the beginning of the landmark antitrust case). The meeting had been tensely anticipated and was the bitter culmination of two rival initiatives (and factions) within the company, each of us trying to get the other canceled. The VP’s constantly leaving the room to take phone calls with the attorneys was quite anticlimactic, and the two factions who’d been fighting for a year were left to once again make their arguments to each other, without any sustained attention from the executives who we’d been expecting to bring closure. It was absurdly silly.

From the P3 days: In the early days of P3 (2013), a Fortune 500 company had identified, at the C-suite level, a crucial strategic BI project need. Their traditionally oriented internal IT team estimated it was going to take three years to execute. Due to a chance internet encounter with one of their executives, we were given a crack at it instead. We completed that project in three months of part-time effort, and the resulting scorecards drove $25M in additional profit per year once they were deployed.

That was a validating moment for us — that our approach could scale all the way to the highest levels of the Enterprise, as well as the mid-market and departmental level. We weren’t exactly surprised of course, because we already knew it could, but to see it happen gave us that extra confidence to double down on our bet and ignore the skeptical voices from the traditional corners of the industry.

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

In the early P3 days, even though I knew it was the central challenge ahead of us, I still managed to underestimate the operational complexity of running a consulting firm that feeds itself on a diet of smaller projects. In parallel, I also overestimated my own aptitude for solving those problems. The company really took off once I accepted that the idea guy slash CEO (me) needed an equally strong COO to drive the creation of software and processes to manage such a high-velocity environment with so many moving parts.

Today, those internal operational processes/systems are so robust and crucial that I consider them to be a form of intellectual property. We simply couldn’t exist at our current scale without them, and they were non-trivial to discover and develop.

It reflects a theme I’ve encountered many times: valuable innovation often requires the marriage of strong ideas with strong execution. Just having one or the other won’t cut it.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I personally believe that burnout is much more of a problem with elite teams than average teams, so in that sense, worrying about burnout is a good problem to have! Not all businesses require an elite team, of course, but our business model absolutely relies on hiring the very best, so burnout is a concern for us.

So, assuming you have an elite team, my advice would be as follows:

It’s a cliché, but even when you’re doing the most MBA-style things, you must continually view your employees as people rather than simply as nodes in an org chart. Whether you’re developing a quarterly business plan or reacting to a crisis, it’s tempting to model the employees as two-dimensional pieces on the board and focus your attention solely on the overall nervous system of the business. You have to resist that and remember that there’s as much (or more) complexity at the individual level as there is in the overall whole.

You might develop a great plan that absolutely works as a business model, but if that model ends up burning out your employees, well, then it actually WASN’T a good business model, and that’s on you as CEO. It’s much harder to try to compensate for such things after the fact, and elite teams tend to see through cheap attempts at improving morale.

So, you have to do the extra work. You have to “wargame” every operational change through the eyes of your team, and what impact it’s going to have on them. That’s just as important an input as what it’s going to do to the P&L. If you develop a track record of leading this way, it has the added benefit of building trust with your team. Inevitably, you will still slip up from time to time, and it’s a lot easier to fix a problem when everyone believes you sincerely want to fix it.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

We’ve been 100% remote since our inception. We knew we needed elite talent, and we weren’t going to find enough in a single geography. So, we deliberately chose to ignore location, and instead, we cast a nationwide net. It turns out we make offers to less than 2% of our applicants, so the largest possible candidate pool has been a must.

We’ve never had a central office, and we now have employees in 14 states. Even though we’ve been around for longer, we started seriously hiring at scale in 2015, so let’s call it five years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the main challenges are regarding managing a remote team?

In my experience, the first thing to do is just to accept that the differences go much deeper than just replacing face-to-face with video calls. It’s just a structurally different way to operate, and if your plan is just to take your in-person methodologies and translate them to remote, I think you’re asking for trouble. It’s kinda like that “hope isn’t a strategy” thing — if you’re just hoping it will work out, you’re just waiting to find out that it doesn’t.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress those challenges?

We’re a bit of an outlier in that for us, remote management is even harder than it is on average. Our consultants need to be highly autonomous, because big teams and heavy oversight aren’t compatible with the high-velocity, zero-waste approach that is our key differentiator. But with such a large percentage of the work taking place between individual consultants and their client(s), the majority of our business “happens” in places the management team cannot see. That’s highly unusual!

That said, I think that it’s been a blessing for us, because we were never tempted to just think the usual methods would work. We were forced, from the beginning, to approach our business in non-traditional ways. Years ago, I read an essay by Charlie Munger (of Berskshire Hathaway) in which he talked about the power of incentives, and it stuck with me. We’ve leaned very aggressively into the idea of variable compensation, and closely aligning employee incentives with the success of the company. It’s taken a lot of thoughtful effort and iteration, but it’s been worth it many times over.

Our employees have access to dashboards which give them real-time feedback on what their bonus is going to look like each month. Big bonus checks only go out when the company is winning as a result of employee efforts, so even as managers, we’re hoping to pay more. This goes back to my point about cheap morale tricks — it’s one thing to say “we’re all in this together,” but so much more impactful when you actually are.

I like to say that the incentive dashboards are like virtual managers. I sincerely believe that the dashboards (and the incentive plans behind them) provide half of our oversight and are equally as important as our interpersonal management touches, and I think we’re more successful, as a company, because we were forced to lean into this. We grow faster and retain people better than we would if we were in-person and using traditional management techniques.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

I would suggest not using email for this. If you wouldn’t use email for this purpose in an in-person environment, it’s probably not a good choice for remote, either.

There are definitely ways to do it well over email, but the risks of getting it wrong are too high — for every time you get it right, you’re likely to get it wrong at least once as well, and it’s too important to take that risk. This is even more important when you take this to scale — if you have a management culture that regularly delivers feedback over email, you’re going to have some real trouble spots in a hurry. Even if 90% of your org is exceptionally talented at it, the 10% who fail will cost you dearly.

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

Wow, what a thoughtful and unexpected question!

I would love to see US politics and government take on precisely that theme: “how do we get the most good for the most people?” We’re fundamentally just so much stronger together than divided. The evidence for this is everywhere. A 50-pound bobcat views a lone human as easy prey, but twenty humans with pointy sticks were such a force that the wooly mammoth went extinct.

I look at posters produced by the US government in the first half of the 20th century and I see an understanding of this. The “propaganda” of the day was often things like “make sure to get your children’s vision checked.” We used to get it. We used to at least partially understand that a country is nothing more than the sum of its people working together. Now it’s more like a sport, with teams that we root for, red and blue, without any critical thought or discussion of pragmatic policy.

Fundamentally, your neighbor might root for the other team, but your actual interests are 99% aligned as human beings. And if your neighbor is not doing well — health-wise, jobwise, whatever — that absolutely comes back to cost you in some subtle but important ways.

I could actually write quite a bit more about this, but by default I’ll stop now. If I wrote more, it would tie in themes I’ve mentioned elsewhere — even when thinking like an MBA, you need to remember the people. Incentives (which are ALL broken in our country right now). How an attitude of “we win when you win” doesn’t just work for companies, but for countries as well.

If I weren’t so focused on my work right now, I would be writing about precisely this, and doing my small part to shift mindset, on a daily basis.

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

I’ve stolen lessons and wisdom from so many people, and it’s hard to choose a single favorite. I’ve mentioned the Charlie Munger incentives thing already, so let’s go with the only valuable thing I learned in college, which is the fundamental attribution error:

“the tendency people have to overemphasize personal characteristics and ignore situational factors in judging others’ behavior. Because of the fundamental attribution error, we tend to believe that others do bad things because they are bad people. We’re inclined to ignore situational factors that might have played a role.”

Once you understand this and learn to start resisting it, it actually gives you a lot of flexibility. More room to operate. More options to deal with problems. When you’re not locked into a rigid, binary view of people as good or bad, you have more potential pathways to get them to cooperate, which is another way of saying “getting what you want.” What could be more valuable than increasing the chances of getting what you want? And that applies to your personal and professional life.

Thank you for these great insights!


Rob Collie of P3: Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Beth Doane of Main & Rose: Why Brands Should Focus On Social Good

Focus on social good: Today, as our society is coming to terms with issues of racial and health injustice, viable brands must focus on goals beyond themselves. Since we launched our firm, we have made a commitment to help all of our clients pursue and share work in the social good space. When you show what you care about and how you are making the world better, you’ll establish yourself as a values-driven brand, consumers will respond and you and your employees will feel good while doing it.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Beth Doane, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Main & Rose, a global creative agency. With nearly a decade of experience creating, growing, and selling several companies by the age of 30, today Beth serves as a trusted advisor for some of the world’s most innovative CEOs, nonprofits, and governments. Previous to founding Main & Rose, Beth established one of the first sustainably and ethically produced fashion brands on the market, as well as founded and later led the private acquisition of Parlor, the first open marketplace for freelancers in a diverse set of industries. Beth also speaks frequently about branding, social impact and the importance of mental health initiatives in the workplace.

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

I have always had a passion for how products and companies can create a positive impact on a global scale, and I founded my first company when I was 22 years old. It was one of the first fashion lines that was manufactured sustainably and launched at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles. The success of the line led me to consult for several brands on how to make their lines more sustainable. My love for consulting and creative thinking eventually led me to start advising more on branding, marketing and design, and I launched an agency. I eventually met Kelly Gibbons, my business partner a few years later and we created Main & Rose together.

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?

While it’s nice to be able to learn (and survive) from past mistakes, rather than being funny memories, my mistakes have helped guide my decision-making. They continually serve as powerful reminders of how much I’ve learned as a business owner and leader. Among the mistakes, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars from failing to do enough market research. Today, this lesson helps me see where my clients may take a wrong turn, and steer them away from the same mistake I had once made. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that when people have an idea, they go full-steam ahead and invest too much money into something without testing the idea or investing in a GTM strategy. It’s too easy to think something may work, and then lose everything along the way. My advice is market test, A/B test, get advisors, hire experts, and don’t invest a fortune. Leaving room and capital for mistakes is key to success.

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

At Main & Rose, we believe that we are the design firm of the future. What sets us apart is that we’re intention-oriented and committed to working with impact-driven brands that truly make a difference in the world. We believe that commitment to diversity, inclusion and change starts internally, and we take great pride in being women-founded and women-led, with communities of color and LGBTQ people represented at our highest ranks. With offices around the globe, including in the Middle East where we have a strong female presence, we’re dedicated to building a team that is strengthened by our strong workplace culture, top management, and values-based brand.

I’m proud to say that Main & Rose is an award-winning global creative marketing agency that works with some of the leading brands and non-profits around the world, from the United Nations to YouTube and Disney. We run multinational branding, design and marketing campaigns that are values-based and evidence-driven, striking the balance between cutting-edge and time-tested, to harness the power of data and beauty of storytelling to shape and share a narrative that always puts our clients above the competition.

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

We’re working on several exciting projects. Recently, our team was hired to design and launch a rebrand for Oceana, a stunning luxury hotel in California and the first Hilton LXR property in the United States. As a company, one of the industries we specialize in is the travel, real estate, and hospitality sector and we’re proud to take the lead on campaigns and initiatives that will help drive the evolution of the industry forward.

We also focus on governments and emerging global markets, and have a strong presence across the MENA region. We recently partnered with the United Nations to raise awareness around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in support of the UN Agenda 2030. As we work to mobilize a new force of activists that’s largely focused on GenZ, we’re creating shareable grassroots campaigns to drive unprecedented change and measurable impact in the world.

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

Brand marketing tells us the story, the mission, the underlying values of a brand, while product marketing should tell us what something is. Think about Nike, and its tagline “Just Do It.”and the iconic swoosh symbol. It’s brand marketing enables us to instantly recognize all Nike products because it’s constant. What makes it impactful is that the swoosh and tagline have remained the same, while promoting the company’s underlying mission around innovation and inspiration.

Yet, every year we see Nike release new products. Advertising and marketing enable Nike to continually change and evolve its products without having to change its original branding and mission.

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

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. If done right, it can take years and may involve a large amount of investment in advertising, marketing, and design. While people often hear about a start-up company that “took off” over night or went viral, it’s important to know that that’s usually a one-in-a-million story. To establish a recognizable brand, it’s going to take time and investment. The reality is that any brand is going to have to compete with competitors that can spend millions of dollars more on marketing and advertising. To stand out, you’re going to have to realize the importance of strategically planning, building, and launching a campaign that helps you tell your story and sustain your 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.

1. Tell Your Brand Story Well: Most agencies and companies make a fatal mistake by focusing on new products and services, rather than the story behind the person making those products or services. My philosophy is based on the truth that humans have a natural urge to connect with people and want to share powerful stories. To build a trusted and authentic brand, focus on having a strong, relatable identity and brand story that resonates.

2. Focus on social good: Today, as our society is coming to terms with issues of racial and health injustice, viable brands must focus on goals beyond themselves. Since we launched our firm, we have made a commitment to help all of our clients pursue and share work in the social good space. When you show what you care about and how you are making the world better, you’ll establish yourself as a values-driven brand, consumers will respond and you and your employees will feel good while doing it.

3. Balance Timeless & Trendy: One of the toughest challenges for both new and old brands is figuring out how to offer a service or product that is trendy and current, but also feels classic and enduring. I advise my clients to study trends without copying them, which risks coming off as inauthentic, and is the quickest way to cause issues. I urge clients to find a balance between timeless values (reliability, creativity, honesty, service, e.g.) and more modern methods of branding (social media, video content, earned media, e.g.).

4. Create Communities: Brands are strengthened by having many enduring ties across customers and audiences. I encourage my clients to not only foster traditional relationships with their target audiences, but to also create communities centered around their personal brand, and a shared ethos or lifestyle. Create social media environments where your followers can interact and share their stories, or go offline and organize hikes, dinners, or retreats for your customers and your team. The point is to offer something more than just a product or a service — and in doing so, you can gain a major marketing advantage.

5. Be inclusive: For years, we have been saying that inclusion is the new golden rule of branding. Gender equality, diversity, and inclusion are not only morally important, they are also absolutely imperative to your brand if you want to succeed. Modern customers prize these values: regardless of what industry or market you’re in, any business leader who wants their company to be able to compete and thrive in the modern era needs to embrace the values of equality and inclusion. 21st-century clients and customers overwhelmingly consider these to be non-negotiables, particularly millennials, who grew up with a greater appreciation for diversity and tolerance. Inclusive brands will help your company tap into new markets and tend to financially outperform their less diverse counterparts, especially because they lead to better, faster, and more innovative thinking.

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?

There are so many unique brands that I have fallen in love with over the years. Some are smaller brands like Ila products, Aromatherapy Associates, TKEES, and Opal + Sage who I think have all done a beautiful job with their products, brand story, and more and have a loyal customer base which really speaks to their success.

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?

Advertising and branding go hand-in-hand, and sales also capture the success of branding. Like advertising, with any branding campaign, we can measure impressions, and base measurable impact on how a person views a branded campaign. Perception plays a huge role in the success of branding campaigns, and can impact loyalty, trust, and ultimately, the survival of a company.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media plays a massive role in our branding efforts and understanding its value is key to our clients’ success. Many agencies today don’t understand how to use social media or how true creativity plays such a role for it to really “work.” The key is not simply consistency or even posting nice images, but rather, knowing your audience, it’s interests, and how to engage them. At Main & Rose, our clients count on us to advise and execute their social media and digital marketing strategies. Whether that means creating plans or posting daily, just as we do with creating a branded campaign, we prioritize strategic and creative thinking in order to truly understand a brand and its target.

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

Thriving and burnout go hand-in-hand with mental health, which is something that’s personally close to my heart. Discussing my own experiences with mental health and the support systems I created has helped my team and business relationships grow. A challenge with working remotely that many organizations are facing today is identifying and managing the balance between work and home life. It can be very easy for the lines between personal/professional lives to blur and to create an expectation of being “always on” for your team, which leads to burnout quickly. As a leader, you set the tone for the rest of the team — so it’s important to be intentional about 1) setting appropriate expectations among the team that they aren’t expected to be dedicated their lives to working around the clock and 2) walking the talk and leading by example. If I am intentional about prioritizing my mental health and that of my team, they’ll follow that lead.

At Main & Rose, as a fully distributed and remote team due to the nature of our work, we’ve cultivated a transparent, open, and communicative culture that helps team members be seen and heard during challenging times — whether it’s about a personal or business matter. Several of our team members, including me, cite meditation as a key practice for success when it comes to taking a break. This break allows us to “turn-off” the noise, and thrive in our own controlled environment. In fact, many studies have proven meditation can increase productivity and even empathy. Taking time to practice wellness that can help relieve burnout can be as simple as taking a 20 minute walk every afternoon, or making time for an evening run or virtual yoga class. You’ll be happier, healthier, and have an easier time filtering out the chaos and finding the spark of inspiration you need to succeed during this challenging time.

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. 🙂

Luckily, the work I do each day involves building movements. Our clients are some of the most recognizable and impactful brands in the world. We’re honored to work with brands like The United Nations and TED and help build movements that drive monumental change, help spread innovative ideas, and inspire and impact millions of people.

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

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

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. 🙂

There are so many people I would love to meet and who greatly inspire me. I’d love to sit down with Michelle Obama, Marc Benioff, and Rose Marcario, former CEO of Patagonia.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I encourage you to follow everything Main & Rose is doing by visiting our website and our Twitter page.

https://www.main-rose.com/

https://twitter.com/mainandrose

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethdoane/

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


Beth Doane of Main & Rose: Why Brands Should Focus On Social Good was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A First Responder Tracking Map” With Andy Bozzo of Tablet…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A First Responder Tracking Map” With Andy Bozzo of Tablet Command

The “Big Idea” is called Tablet Command. As working firefighters in the field, we’ve worked hard to create a digital platform for real-time emergency incident management. Think about the games of “Risk” or “Battleship,” which are modeled after military battle simulators. Tablet Command resembles these simulators, but in real-time with real-life assets, existing on a platform where the incident commander can deploy and redeploy resources to handle the emergency.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Bozzo Co-Founder of Tablet Command.

Andy has 22 years of experience in fire service in California and Washington State. He is currently a Captain in Contra Costa County, CA. Andy has a visionary mind and has provided many of the conceptual aspects that are foundational to Tablet Command. Andy is passionate about continuing to improve the Tablet Command solution by using it in the field, learning from other users’ experiences, and sharing his experiences as part of the training team. Andy has a BA in Biology from Middlebury College, and prior to working in the fire service Andy was a science teacher.

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

With firefighting, there was just an allure that had been present since childhood. When I was about four or five, growing up in Central California, the simple preschool visits to the fire station were enough to hook me. But one specific event really drew me in: I spent part of my childhood growing up on the back side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and one summer, the mountains surrounding our house went up in flames! I was on my front porch all day and night, watching the feverish but deliberate battle; retardant drops by large bomber-like airplanes and helicopters dipping in to make precision strikes, so that the hand crews below could march in to cut swaths of fire line and make forward progress on stopping the fire. This was all very seductive to me. I was a war movie nut with my dad, so to me this was like war without having to kill anyone. Years later, I was doing pretty well in the sciences in school and sort of talked myself out of becoming a firefighter. But ultimately, I needed to make money for graduate school, so I fought summer fires to sort of “get my fix and get it out of my system.” But, of course, I ended up falling deeply in love with the profession and dedicated myself to becoming a professional firefighter.

What does this have to do with Tablet Command software? Flash forward 20 years later, and to me, as a career firefighter in the field — or “on the floor” as they say in some parts of the country — I was keenly aware that there wasn’t really a modern tool capable of tracking our whereabouts and progress during an emergency. A horribly tragic event that happened about eight years into the job, sort of thrust this problem to the foreground. But, when I look back, I’d been dreaming up this idea in some form since the day I got hired.

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

Anytime you’re dealing with people in need of emergency assistance, it’s all pretty interesting. I’d say one of the most interesting times in my career was during the Wine Country Fires in Napa, which is not too far away from where I’m based. That fire, along with several others in that five-year span from about 2013–2018, were mind-blowingly big, erratic, and seemed to take on lives of their own. When a division supervisor (the boss on a particular slice of the fire) tells you, “Don’t let any sparks or embers across this road or we’ll lose another town today.” it gets your attention. Again, the massive coordination of resources — equipment, people, aircraft, food, tools, fuel — we’ve been doing it for so long on paper, and there isn’t really a modern way to see live-action intelligence or situational status. But now that’s coming into view with Tablet Command’s technology. Several members of our company have been at the tip of the spear as working firefighters, and see how information (or lack thereof) can make situations better or worse. We’re making something practical for all of those ground-pounders out there who are fighting fires and dealing with emergencies everyday.

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

I think you gotta be real and honest with yourself. It’s not easy becoming a firefighter, but even still, once you become one you can hide in a station on the quieter side of town and still call yourself a firefighter. You can still have the tee-shirt, and you can still impress plenty of people with the title. However, that’s not enough for most, and that mindset can be dangerous.

I’ve always done my very best to work in environments that really represent our society. I’m turned off by the high-rent areas. To me, that’s not real, and it’s pretty homogeneous, although you don’t tear your body up as much. The real people are in the tougher parts of town; the tough neighborhoods where lots of things happen. I’m attracted to those environments where you’re going to get the most amount of reps on the job. It will expose your weaknesses pretty quickly, and it’s REALLY important to acknowledge them.

The type of person who becomes a firefighter is sometimes averse to being vulnerable, but it’s really important to say, “I suck at this particular part of the job,” or even more daring, “I’m afraid of this part of the job”. But then you fling yourself into it and challenge yourself to get really good at it, because it’s going to happen: that thing you feared or resisted or hid is going to lay itself right at your feet someday. You don’t like emergencies in long dark tunnels? You’re going to get that exact call someday. We can’t pretend to know everything, and we rely on those closest to us who know us the best to every now and again show us a mirror and challenge us to get better.

I think this is true when you’re building a business from nothing. You can’t strut around and pretend you know everything, and you also can’t be afraid of falling on your face and looking vulnerable. The type of people with false bravado don’t belong in the fire service, frankly, and they don’t belong in leadership positions of business. You have to be brave enough to surround yourself with smart people, and then trust them — that’s how a team really soars.

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

The “Big Idea” is called Tablet Command. As working firefighters in the field, we’ve worked hard to create a digital platform for real-time emergency incident management. Think about the games of “Risk” or “Battleship,” which are modeled after military battle simulators. Tablet Command resembles these simulators, but in real-time with real-life assets, existing on a platform where the incident commander can deploy and redeploy resources to handle the emergency. The perimeter of the emergency is like a battle map, and the resources (firefighters, fire engines, helicopters, ambulances, police cars, etc.) are like game pieces. Tablet Command is a real-time intelligence tool with access to the most accurate map overlays, helping the incident manager to deploy their resources in the safest and most efficient manner.

How do you think this will change the world?

We are proud to say that Tablet Command has already changed lives by saving lives. Because of Tablet Command, four firefighters were able to escape being burned up during a “blow-up” (when fire behavior becomes explosive and erratic) in the massive 2018 Carr Fire that scorched Northern California.

We’ve been successful in enhancing situational awareness and creating a shared common operating picture with real-time incident viewing ability for our first responders in North America. And we’ve created access to information that has never been available to responders in the field before; every rank can participate in the information stream, and that’s a big change from just a few years ago. Combine this with faster notifications and alerting for emergencies where first responders are getting out the door quicker, and with a clearer mental picture of what’s going on.

We’re responding to every type of emergency faster, with better information, and making a tangible difference in people’s lives. And that’s a BIG DEAL.

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

Tablet Command is a first responder tracking system in that it tracks assignments, time on task, and location of apparatus. At some point we’ll track individual personnel, too. We also have the potential to aggregate live drone footage, which could conjure up fears about “Big Brother,” surveillance, and the militarization of civil services.

In addition, we provide access to information and data that could be considered sensitive and personal, although we’ve taken stringent measures with regard to data and user security to ensure that this information will never fall into the wrong hands.

Today we have the ability to consume and display map data from multiple sources, including predictive fire behavior modeling. And we also have the potential to aggregate sensor data from multiple sources, including humans. So again, fears of us adding to a society governed by AI where the human factor is further removed from the decision loop, could raise fears. Currently, Tablet Command allows for all members of a fire department to view an incident being managed by an individual or team of people. That kind of real-time scrutiny has raised concerns about too much information being available to onlookers.

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

I’ve been a firefighter since 1998, and as I stated earlier I’ve always tried to work in the busiest areas that my department covered. I had personally been to several fires and had a couple of close calls leading up to 2007. In July of that year, my department lost two of our own in what was thought to be a standard or “bread and butter” house fire. Shortly after this tragedy I began working on that Engine Company where our firefighters had lost their lives. Every day I came to the station, I thought about that accident — it haunted all of us like a ghost. During that time, our fire department was doing a deep dive on operations as well, and I was tapped by one of my department’s chiefs to gather info on a firefighting tracking system that I had used in my previous department. Spoiler alert: It was totally analog.

On my days off I began digging out the materials for this tracking system, and it was spurring a lot of thoughts about the tragedy our department had suffered and how we could do things better. I distinctly remember taking a break from thinking about that incident and this tracking system, and picked up my NEW iPhone 2 and started playing a game called “Words with Friends.”

The game is essentially digital Scrabble where tiles populate 7 at a time (coincidentally, about the same number of emergency apparatus that show up to a fire). I realized I was playing with someone from somewhere else in the world, and it hit me that I was essentially exchanging information in a certain arrangement (specifically, arranged tiles) with that person. To me, the tiles looked like the same tokens we used on white boards to represent fire engines or fire crews on our analog makeshift command boards: think World War 2 battle maps where personnel with wooden wands push tokens around a battle map.

It was at that moment I realized that if we could keep the interface recognizable for the old fire commanders out there, and build some timers behind each action, we might be able to easily convert the fire service from analog to digital when commanding fires and tracking resources. We’d have a more accurate account of the emergency with respect to strategic and tactical movements of crews. After a few storyboard drawings, the concept of Tablet Command was born!

There had been a lot of talk about larger tablets coming out in the future, which essentially meant that this command map could happen on a larger scale that was shareable. This idea needed to live in the world.

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

We need more forums for our currently successful users to evangelize and refer prospective users toward our product. The idea of implementing new technologies in public safety still has obstacles, and these are mainly psychological with some physical barriers. We perceive ourselves as “blue-collar” technophobes when we’re wearing the uniform, yet we’ll book plane tickets on Kayak, find a restaurant on Yelp, and navigate with Waze. It’s a tricky paradox, but our current customers really help us get the word out. We just need more of that more often.

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

  1. Be really clear about what you want the technology to look like, and how you want it to act. We made assumptions about what we saw in our imaginations versus what others heard and produced. It took us a while to find a dev group who “got” us (ie understood the workflows of public safety).
  2. Don’t get “big leagued” by big money. We knew we were developing this concept in a small but reliable market. Money people would nod their heads but wanted quick turnarounds on money. Because that component was missing and this was a longer term play with lower returns (than Twitter), they would cast doubt on the idea. “Screw that, screw them, and move on to a believer,” is what we told ourselves. We stopped wasting time with VCs and went for smaller, more agile investors.
  3. 0% Churn is a very important statistic: As we continue to build a customer base, we have 0% churn and positive income. That should be worth a lot to a potential investor. We had investors that would poo-poo us because we sell to the government, but what they failed to see, and what we failed to tell them emphatically, is that once we were installed it was going to be a tough prospect to get us out. To this day we’ve had 100% contract renewals and growth within current accounts, year after year.
  4. You don’t need an MBA. Our domain expertise was all the education we needed, even if we were initiating this in a small market. If we own the market, then we win. We’re on that path now.
  5. Clearly define milestones early in the process: As brand new co-founders in a tough market, we kept our heads down and worked pretty hard for the first few years. We weren’t necessarily pausing to celebrate some of the early wins: The first enterprise customer, the first integration with 9–1–1 software, the first contract renewal. That was probably a function of being “in the weeds” while we built a company. As we’ve matured, we’re able to look back at our tremendous accomplishment — we built a company from a blank piece of paper and put something new in the world. We didn’t do this alone, however. The growth of our team has been proportionate to the growth and success of our product, and we’re proud of that. Early on it felt like ancient mariners fearful of sailing off the edge of the world, but eventually we found a new world across a vast unknown, and have been building momentum ever since.

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

One word comes to mind when I think about this question: Perseverance. Starting something on a blank piece of paper, even when it’s right in your domain, takes lots of time and effort. And there’s no exact recipe for success. The edges will be very ragged and the road is really really bumpy with lots of turns and switchbacks and detours. You will not be perfect and you will lose some battles — just be in it to win the war.

And it’s ok to spend purposeful, thoughtful time figuring out the product market fit, as well as experiment with which strategies will work best. Then you’ve got to make pivotal decisions and have confidence that your product will stick, without trying to “boil the ocean” and be something you’re not. As we began to narrow our mission, deepen our understanding of our market, and focus on customer success, we really began to see solid momentum. It’s ok to stay on this tack for a while, if not for the lifespan of the company, if growth is continual.

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 🙂

Tablet Command is the most highly-recognized and best end to end emergency response and incident command platform being deployed in North America today. LIke never before, Tablet Command brings faster notification, enhanced mapping and navigation, and accurate and timely incident tracking to firefighters and other emergency workers around the continent. Tablet Command has successfully disrupted legacy incident notification and emergency response data systems from around the country, and replaced it with faster and more streamlined technology that better represents a modern, intuitive, and recognizable interface.

Our customizable platform can easily be adapted for non-emergency events in other vertical markets with expansion of our team, and would result in larger opportunities in nearby markets. Tablet Command has been deployed in non-emergency events like Superbowl 50, The Rock and Roll San Diego Marathon, and the Mavericks Surf Contest.

With a team of domain experts and industry veterans, Tablet Command has successfully positioned itself to become the largest and most intuitive response, mapping, and management platform in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram and Twitter: @TabletCommand

Facebook: @TabletCommandICS

Linked In: Tablet Command


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A First Responder Tracking Map” With Andy Bozzo of Tablet… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “AI-Powered Content Generation” with Robert Weissgraeber of…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “AI-Powered Content Generation” with Robert Weissgraeber of AX Semantics

We’re bringing the ability to scale writing to everyone at a time when content generation tools are a must for businesses that seek to succeed with perpetual business and cultural shifts. Everyone creating fact-based content can use AX Semantics to generate content. Our software is 100% SaaS-based. Everything is accessible via a desk or web browser with no programming or IT departments required. Imagine never having to update a product description, website or financial report just because the numbers may change. We’re really a solution for the digital age, and we’re giving companies ‘superpowers’ so they can effortlessly publish quality content and grow.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing CTO and Managing Director, Robert Weissgraeber, at AX Semantics.

Robert Weissgraeber is the Managing Director and CTO of AX Semantics, where he heads up product development and engineering. Robert is an in-demand speaker and an author on topics including agile software development and Natural Language Generation (NLG) technologies and a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He was previously Chief Product Officer at aexea and studied Chemistry at the Johannes Gutenberg University and did a research stint at Cornell University.

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

I’ve always looked for ways to solve really difficult challenges through the power of innovation and technology. Writing — and the way it has traditionally been executed — has not seen significant innovation since the advent of the typewriter 200 years ago. I knew this was one area I could bring about change and Natural Language Generation (NLG) was the key.

As companies increasingly embraced the digital age, they found there was no way to create the amount of content they needed in order to ensure they had a robust online presence. I wanted to help companies gain access to NLG tools so they can scale content in more than 110 languages. My work at AX Semantics fits that bill perfectly.

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

Written content is a big part of our everyday lives and interactions. Take Alexa, for example. Below Alexa’s voice output, there is text. One of our biggest challenges with NLG technology is that it can be used everywhere and across multiple verticals. So, the question became “Where to start?” It’s just not possible to dive into everything and ‘boil the ocean’ when you have limited resources.

We decided to take on the challenge by removing ourselves from making that choice. Instead, we opted to educate our users on why natural language generation is necessary, how it works and let them decide on the ‘what,”- essentially letting them tell us their needs, and then acting accordingly upon them. The approach worked well: we’ve already seen the creation of at least three new verticals from our product without us doing the innovation.

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

I believe that decentralized acting leads to innovation. Every single person on a team should be responsible for innovative thinking, not just one centralized person. Every single suggestion or micro-decision should be considered to bring about new ideas and areas for growth. This kind of thinking can increase innovation by a factor of 10x instead of the usual consensus-based 2x increase. In our case, it’s our customers as well who are enabling innovation by suggesting forward-thinking use cases for NLG and areas for possible expansion.

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

We’re bringing the ability to scale writing to everyone at a time when content generation tools are a must for businesses that seek to succeed with perpetual business and cultural shifts. Everyone creating fact-based content can use AX Semantics to generate content.

Our NLG software powered by AI and natural language processing (NLP) effortlessly creates content that can populate an entire website, fill a news section with earnings reports, generate product descriptions for e-commerce, expertly manage financial services and regulatory reporting, automate the writing of clinical study reports in the pharmaceutical sector and more. Our NLG software can do this in more than 110 languages, in a manner of minutes — with a streamlined translation process that makes it easy to enter new markets.

Our software is 100% SaaS-based. Everything is accessible via a desk or web browser with no programming or IT departments required. Imagine never having to update a product description, website or financial report just because the numbers may change. We’re really a solution for the digital age, and we’re giving companies ‘superpowers’ so they can effortlessly publish quality content and grow.

How do you think this will change the world?

The rapid expansion and adoption of the internet has changed everything and content generation is the latest seismic shift in the printed word. Where once companies had to hire writers and editors to manually create and edit content, NLG tools offer a real alternative where ‘hybrid’ content is born from a partnership between man and machine.

Journalists, for example, will be able to focus more on actual insights, background stories, investigations etc., instead of just creating mind-numbing, manual, repetitive content in existing structures. They’ll be able to focus on being more creative. Really this is the first innovation that’s happened to the written word since the Gutenberg printing press, typewriter and word processor. It’s exciting!

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

You have to use NLG technology to create precise, hyper-personalized communications; otherwise you just create more content with no real depth that just gets ignored. Content generation is not just about quantity: quality matters equally. On the other hand, mass-influence like propaganda and deliberate fact distortion is a thing, so we conduct screening of our users and use cases to avoid political or violent content.

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

This question actually goes back to my point on decentralization and how having ‘many minds’ on a project leads to innovation. There was a tipping point. A colleague was asked to write 1200 stories and 300 articles, for summer and winter each. He needed to write them in English and German, and it would be a monumental task. That was our main business at that time. In order to find a better way, he started writing a little code to help create that amount of content, which led us to the infinite possibilities and use of NLG and NLP technology.

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

We need greater awareness among people that NLG and NLP offer real solutions to generating the written word. Five-hundred customers strong — and growing- we are a market leader with four other vendors in our space, e.g. Arria, Narrative Science, Yseop and Automated Insights. That’s still five to six levels of magnitude, however, below what’s possible. Most writers and analysts are still only looking no further than Word and Excel, when they could be doing so much more, faster, easier and with better results.

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

  1. Don’t expect to be an overnight business sensation. Things will take longer than you think. We’re now in year four, and we’re still not Google.
  2. Remember after every big challenge there is another one waiting, so don’t promise yourself that after you solve a big issue everything is all ‘green.’ Make sure to also build structures and processes that last and act as a foundation to solve the next big problem that comes along.
  3. Hard problems make for hard pitches. If you don’t want to promise the typical magic, black box AI, you have to introduce transformational changes to your customers, which takes a lot of effort.
  4. Products are much harder to create and validate than services are. You miss the early validation of a signed project contract while building and your assumptions can work against you.
  5. You don’t have to check every box or fill every list. Work within the parameters set before you. Be agile and adapt when necessary.

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

Daily communication with your team is vital to success. No team can bring your vision forward or to fruition if you’re hiding in your office thinking and defining stuff by yourself.

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

“We are already successfully changing the world for our hundreds of customers in e-commerce, media, financial services and pharma, so let’s get AX Semantics out to more of them!”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I love connecting with new people and thought leaders. You can follow me on Linkedin or on Twitter — though be aware you’re bound to see lots of cooking and #food coma pictures.

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “AI-Powered Content Generation” with Robert Weissgraeber 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: “AI To Help You Buy An Engagement Ring” with Michael Pollak of Hyde Park…

The Future Is Now: “AI To Help You Buy An Engagement Ring” with Michael Pollak of Hyde Park Jewelers

We have disrupted an underwhelming, legacy business model with AI, Machine Learning, and Computer Visioning to reset the consumer experience and facilitate more personalized choices, dynamic pricing and customization. It is designed to help people navigate their purchase journey with data based insights and personalization that has never before been available under one cohesive platform.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Engage Founder, Michael Pollak, Chairman of Hyde Park Jewelers.

ENGAGE App Founder + CEO, Michael Pollak, has served as the Founder and Chairman of Hyde Park for the last several decades, with over 44 years in the jewelry business.

Michael started his career by selling turquoise and Indian Jewelry after class on the lawn of Denver University in 1973, where he graduated with a BSBA. Michael has spent extensive time in New York, Geneva, Vicenza, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong cultivating his skills, knowledge and expertise in the field of gemology, fine jewelry and Swiss timepieces.

With over 44 years in retail management, developing 10 regional, luxury jewelry and watch stores, Michael Pollak became Chief Executive Officer of Hyde Park Jewelers in 2007. Michael has received numerous industry awards including an induction into the National Jeweler Retailer Hall of Fame 2008, Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999. Michael has served on the Board of Directors for Diamond Empowerment Fund, Jewelers of America, Natural Color Diamond Association, Denver Health Foundation Board Chairman, and the Mizel Institute. Michael has also served in the past as a board member of the Anti-Defamation League, Co-Trustee of YouthBiz, and President of Luxury Jewelers Resource Group.

Michael founded Diamonds in the Rough, a non-profit organization to support the efforts of youth based non-profits and local charities in their quest to reach their goals. The Diamonds in the Rough Foundation has raised close to $4 million for more than 50 charitable organizations. In 2016, Michael and his wife of 38 years, Shereen, were honored by the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Regional Office at their 75th Anniversary Gala with the Community Impact Award. In 2017 Michael was honored by the Women’s Jewelry Association receiving the Ben Kaiser Award. Michael received the 2018 Wellington E. Webb Award for his Outstanding Achievement in Healthcare Philanthropy.

Michael has transitioned to a strategic advisor as Chairman with Hyde Park as the award-winning company by focusing on quality, value, selection and customer service. Michael has been essential in driving the expansion of Hyde Park into targeted markets by creating the presence of a full-service luxury jeweler, offering exclusive designers and timepieces. He has focused most of his resources on a combination of business strategy and vision, philanthropy and the omni-channel future of a disrupted retail marketplace. His greatest passion is his family and the heritage of the Jewish people.

Engage is Michael’s latest endeavor, officially launching for August 2020. The AI technology based App is sure to revolutionize the jewelry market, namely the engagement ring buying process. The innovation provided by the App changes the entire experience of ring shopping, bringing the experience to you.

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

It was 1973 and I was a student at the University of Denver. I was presented with an opportunity to get into the Turquoise and American Indian Jewelry business. I started from the ground up, literally! My first retailing venue was the main lawn outside of the largest classroom building.

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

I don’t know precisely why but a story from 35 year ago stands out the most. My Wife, Shereen was going into labor with our daughter Jennifer and about to give birth while across town at our first retail store we were being robbed. I guess in hindsight gave us a great perspective about work / life balance and reminded me to always put an emphasis on family first.

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

We have disrupted an underwhelming, legacy business model with AI, Machine Learning, and Computer Visioning to reset the consumer experience and facilitate more personalized choices, dynamic pricing and customization. It is designed to help people navigate their purchase journey with data based insights and personalization that has never before been available under one cohesive platform.

How do you think this might change the world?

I believe that we have the ability to modernize the Engagement Ring buying experience by turning the process upside down and delivering fundamentally better outcomes along the consumer journey. One area that we have been largely focused on which has plagued our industry is the notion of sustainability. To achieve leadership in this category we have embraced Lab Grown diamond alternatives and built the subset into our platform.

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

Quite the opposite! Our “Mirror” creates Transparency, Ethical Standards and Empowers the user in their quest to purchase the perfect ring.

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

After 45 years in the industry, I became tired of the overt salesmanship fueled by half truths in the Diamond business. Consumers are making highly emotional decisions based on branding elements or where they thought they could find the best deal. I routinely experience first hand people getting hustled under the cloak of buying from a “wholesaler” only to be sold at a lousy quality and a mediocre price point.Today’s consumer have created online profiles which each tell a one of a kind story. Our technology recognizes the defining characteristics which make us all unique and presents options based on those preferences.

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

We are taking advantage of modern communications channels and have a robust digital and PR push to spread awareness and educate consumers but nothing sells like word of mouth and our best marketing efforts always lead us to direct consumer referrals or testimonials.

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

Engage is currently leaning into the at-home consumption trend and fully optimized for mobile on-the-go transactions. With the majority of bricks and mortar establishments on hold or facing limited operations its actually a very timely opportunity for us to communicate the platform and give consumers a new option in their consideration set.

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 must admit I’m a diehard listener of Scott Galloway, he’s an NYU professor who hosts a few podcasts and newsletters and just someone who I think really understands how technology has and will continue to disrupt and improve our modern lives. Additionally, I would be remiss not to mention Elon Musk. The way he has successfully challenged major industries from FinTech, Automotive, Solar and Space is beyond comparison and I really appreciate his devotion to human exploration and invention.

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

I founded a charitable organization called The Diamond in the Rough Foundation that has raised and donated millions of dollars to organizations working in a variety of fields including children’s well-being and growth, health and human services, the environment and other civic organizations.

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

I have three gems that would always want to pass on to future generations, the first and most importantly is to never compromise your integrity or ethics regardless of the situation, the second is to always stay ahead of the power curve and finally to preserve capital and ensure you’re always in the game no matter what.

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 deeply devoted to an ancient biblical concept of Tikkun Olam, which calls on humanity to do their part to leave the world in a better place than the one they inherited. I think it has so many applications and is a guiding philosophy in both my work and my relationships.

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

Listen to others who have achieved success in their lives regardless of their personal endeavors, but above all believe in your intuition. You have to feel right in your gut and be willing to commit to the outcomes you’re seeking in order to achieve them.

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 🙂

Engage has reinvented the diamond engagement ring purchase experience for a modern consumer leveraging state of the art technology to redefine the entire sales process.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@EngageJeweler


The Future Is Now: “AI To Help You Buy An Engagement Ring” with Michael Pollak of Hyde Park… 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: “A Tech Tool That Can Help Identify Hidden Talents” with Nancy Parsons of CDR…

The Future Is Now: “A Tech Tool That Can Help Identify Hidden Talents” with Nancy Parsons of CDR Assessment Group

My hope is that it will change the world by helping individuals who are working age, including college students and veterans assimilating back to civilian life, to fully understand their own gifts, innate capabilities, talent, intrinsic motivators and inherent risk factors that can undermine their success. CDR-U Coach is also ideal for helping people find hidden talents and strengths that have been underutilized that can be developed to make positive career changes. What we have found too often, is that many people are unclear about the best career or education path for themselves, so frequently they pursue the wrong type of jobs and majors. This is not only frustrating for them, but it is costly. We can prevent these career and college major missteps by helping people gain a keen sense of self-awareness to make sure they are steering their careers onto the best path congruent with their inherent strengths, gifts and motivational needs. Also, when people are in the best-fit job roles, they are highly productive, successful and happy.

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

Nancy Parsons is one of today’s foremost experts in combining the science of assessments with the art of developing people. She is the CEO/President of CDR Assessment Group, Inc. that she co-founded with Kimberly R. Leveridge, Ph.D. In 1998, together they authored the break-through CDR 3-Dimensional Assessment Suite® an ideal coaching tool translated to five languages for global clients. With over 33 years of experience, Nancy has published two books and more than 70 articles on leadership and development. She works with global leaders to accelerate success by helping them identify and develop their true talent at the launching point of a coaching engagement.

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

Absolutely, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Once I moved into HR in the energy sector as a generalist that also handled labor relations, I started to gravitate more to leadership development and talent development. By the late 80s, I was designing 360 performance feedback instruments for an energy pipeline company where I was the HR director. I figured out that the best way to solve “people” problems in the workforce was to get ahead of them by helping leaders to be more effective. I grew weary of the fire fighting in HR, and shifted my focus to leadership development. In the ’90s, I moved into training leaders in coaching skills, and then became an executive coach. Once I was introduced to personality and motivational measures, I was hooked and saw this as the best way to revolutionize leader performance and development. In 1998, my business partner and I started CDR Assessment Group, Inc. and haven’t deviated from that vision since.

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

Years ago, we did a large redeployment project for an energy company. They were laying off employees on one side of the business yet had a few openings, and one was for systems analysts. We were hired to find, through our assessment, those who had the innate capabilities for these jobs that could be successfully trained.

Candidates who applied for these opportunities were screened solely based upon their CDR assessment test scores. Less than 20% of applicants made it past these test score hurdles. Keep in mind, our assessments are objective, diversity neutral with no adverse impact. Interviews of the screened through candidates were then conducted and whether candidates were successful or not, all were afforded coaching with their own assessment results.

Becky Warberg was one of the chosen candidates. I interviewed her about a year after being hired and she said: “This was personally the best thing I have ever done… The most impressive part of the redeploy selection process itself was the coaching feedback I received with my assessment results. It is something I recommend to everyone. I feel extremely fortunate that I was part of this initial group.”

Curious to see how she was doing 16 years later, I checked Becky’s LinkedIn profile and was thrilled to see how her career had soared within the technology field and in leadership. I sent her a message and she replied: “The value of your work has impacted my life tremendously in such a positive way. When I applied for the program, I was thrilled at the prospect but honestly questioned whether I would be a good match, and then your assessments boosted my confidence so much. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!”

It is so rewarding and encouraging to see these stories unfold from the hard work we have put into building and growing our business, and to be able to see how our work has positively impacted the lives of our clients over the years.

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

CDR-U Coach is a revolutionary product in the learning and development technology space combining existing technologies and creative technical programming while using personalized assessment data in a different way. CDR-U Coach provides an online, personalized avatar debrief to individuals based on the full results of the CDR 3-D Suite assessments. Because of the rich data source and complex algorithms, no two users have the same feedback. It is that personalized! CDR-U Coach offers a more comprehensive assessment that is completely personalized and connects results across three modules. CDR-U Coach gives users clear and candid language, providing examples and developmental suggestions along the way. It provides an AI-type experience for users because of the analytics involved. CDR-U Coach is completely virtual which is especially ideal today with so many employees working at home. This means it is available 24/7 to users. This is the first of its kind!

How do you think this might change the world?

My hope is that it will change the world by helping individuals who are working age, including college students and veterans assimilating back to civilian life, to fully understand their own gifts, innate capabilities, talent, intrinsic motivators and inherent risk factors that can undermine their success. CDR-U Coach is also ideal for helping people find hidden talents and strengths that have been underutilized that can be developed to make positive career changes. What we have found too often, is that many people are unclear about the best career or education path for themselves, so frequently they pursue the wrong type of jobs and majors. This is not only frustrating for them, but it is costly. We can prevent these career and college major missteps by helping people gain a keen sense of self-awareness to make sure they are steering their careers onto the best path congruent with their inherent strengths, gifts and motivational needs. Also, when people are in the best-fit job roles, they are highly productive, successful and happy.

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

Of course, there are aspects of this that could pose drawbacks that we are constantly testing, making improvements, and continuing to think about. Over the last 3 months, we have completed beta testing to gather specific feedback from users. Keep in mind, our assessments go very deep and are extremely comprehensive. They are nothing like the popular Myers Briggs or DiSC, which are tests that match you to a particular set of types. Our CDR 3-D Suite is more serious and far more personally insightful and useful. The virtual CDR-U Coach provides a debrief in three modules: CDR Character Assessment (40 minutes), CDR Risk Assessment (20 minutes); and, CDR Drivers & Rewards (20 minutes.). At the front end, it also takes the user about 45 minutes to complete the assessments. So, the first drawback is the time involved by the participant. We know from research that most people’s attention span for e-learning is about 5 minutes or so. However, our hypothesis was that users would stay engaged because it was “all about them.” Thankfully, our hypothesis has been proven true in our pilot testing phase.

The other potential drawback can be based on someone’s scoring configuration on the assessments used by CDR-U Coach. Without having a live coach to conduct the initial debrief, we wanted to be sure that there are language safeguards or reassurances for those prone to negative reactions. For example, if an individual has a very low “Adjustment” score, this means that they lack self-confidence, are hard on themselves and others, and are not resilient to stress. On the positive side, they often push themselves quite hard and are intense about getting things done. However, this individual tends to look at all their personal flaws and negatives rather than focusing on their strengths and gifts. So, our challenge is for CDR-U Coach to help them really get clear on their strengths and accomplishments, and to stop beating themselves up. They will always be tough on themselves, but often it is to their own detriment. So, we try to help them appreciate the positives and to find ways to look at these each day, rather than only seeing the negatives.

There are a number of personality-based CDR Risks that we identify that also need careful coaching and developmental analysis and suggestions that we provide or facilitate through CDR-U Coach. Last, we are providing a safety net option of three, one-hour “live” coaching sessions at a discounted fee so that those who might need it can talk to a live CDR Certified Executive or Career Coach. Longer term live coaching packages and team development are available too.

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

Clients regularly tell us that the CDR 3-D Suite accelerates success, drills deeper, uses candid language, and offers more relevant insights than other instruments. The problem has been, however, that delivery or coaching is very manpower intensive, expensive and not scalable. This meant that only the top executives and leaders were afforded their assessments with a coaching debrief, which made our sales and marketing limited within the tight, highly competitive assessment space. The tipping point happened a few years ago after some eye-opening client feedback from The US Army Civilian University’s CLO. She mentioned how wonderful, though not feasible, it would be for the organization’s 10,0000 employees to take the assessments and receive in-depth feedback. She wanted to know if we could come up with some kind of online multimedia debrief. I said, “Yes, I think we can.” So here we are today, thrilled to present the solution to this dilemma. Now, with CDR-U Coach, all levels of an organization can share in assessment and coaching feedback previously reserved exclusively for executives. The data can then be used for succession planning, custom training, capability analysis and more. It is great for both the employees and the enterprise.

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

We need more visibility in the marketplace. We need our new sales representatives to sell to prospective clients. We have hired two marketing firms, one for strategy and one for digital marketing and our website. We have also retained the services of a PR firm to publicize our launch and CDR-U Coach. We need articles, media interviews, and, mostly, opportunities to showcase CDR-U Coach and the benefits for both employees and their organizations. We need every opportunity for positive exposure that we can get.

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

We are working with a PR firm to execute a thoughtful and strategic media and social media plan for the launch of CDR-U Coach in a way that will both highlight the features and advantages of the product. In addition to widespread distribution of our press release announcing the launch, our PR team will be focusing on trade publications so that HR directors, employers and other leadership can be made aware of CDR-U Coach for their employees and staff. While strategic social media use is not typical for an assessment product such as this, we have planned a very social media-forward launch campaign that we hope will make CDR-U Coach more accessible to the new generation of leaders and innovators.

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?

Goodness, I’ve had many great managers and mentors on my journey. I think it is a blessing that early in my career in Human Resources and Labor Relations, hiring managers seemed willing to take a risk on me. I originally believed that I was an unconventional candidate, as it took me 10 years to earn my college degree. When I was first promoted into HR from a purchasing administrative role, I was selected over nearly a dozen college graduates at the time.

I had several bosses along the way who trusted me and helped me develop (Bob Howey, Rick Taylor, and Joe Swift) and I am thankful for their guidance. On psychological and motivational assessments, I was personally mentored in the mid 90s by Bob Hogan, Ph.D. and even assisted him on coaching projects. Last, my husband has been my rock and supporter too and no matter the ups and downs of my entrepreneurial challenges, he’s been nothing but supportive. Even with CDR-U Coach, where I invested heavily from our personal funds to form a new LLC, he has been all in with support. I am very lucky for my past bosses, mentors, and Bill, my husband. There are others, of course, but I save that for a book!

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

What I get to do by working in the leadership field is help people see what makes them shine. For 22 years, it has been so exciting to help clients realize and truly understand what is so good about themselves. We’ve helped a lot of coaches, nonprofits and churches to build strong leadership and workplace foundations. One of my favorite projects, that brought me joy, is our work with veterans to get their careers back on track. Through “Vets Coaching Vets,” which I founded, we’ve trained veterans to become successful coaches to other veterans looking to re-enter the workforce. What we do is help people find their own riches. Even before CDR, when I was in HR, I would always fight for fairness. Through my success with CDR Assessment Group, we were able to create CDR-U Coach, which makes it possible for us to reach and help all, not just the top of companies. That is by far the most exciting and rewarding part of it.

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

Since I have been an entrepreneur for more than 22 years, I have developed “business sea legs.” Fortunately, I took many classes on running a small business as I ventured away from corporate HR roles.

  1. Going into business is hard, takes a lot of work, and is not for everybody. You have to be flexible enough that when you get knocked down, you are able to get right back up and try again. Coming from a corporate workplace, my first business venture on my own was jarring, as I was used to being provided with all of the resources I needed, but now was having to play every role and anticipate all business needs.
  2. The second thing I wished someone had warned me of is starting your own company can oftentimes be lonely. Because it was just me, I found that I had to constantly reach out to stay connected — this was before social media days. I missed being part of a team and large organization
  3. The third, is that marketing your business requires a multitude of ongoing efforts, not just one, and you must be persistent.
  4. Fourth, you must protect intellectual property by filing for certified trademarks, copyrights, and patents as appropriate. In 1999 to 2000, CDR had to protect our copyrights in Federal Court. A couple of consultants used our copyrighted materials in their published book without permission, claiming rights to them. We prevailed in court because I had registered the certified copyrights with the government. If you do not formally register your copyrights, you cannot protect your intellectual property in court and receive damages. Had I not done this, I would not be here today, and CDR-U Coach would not exist.
  5. Fifth, purchase good business insurance.

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

If I could inspire a movement, I would it to be centered around making sure that others were keenly self-aware of their strengths, capabilities and talent. I want them to be clear about what they enjoy and love to do. Last, I want them to know their personality-based risk factors so that these traits that show up under stress and adversity do not undermine their success. I want people to find careers that tap into what is best about them and to do the kind of work they are passionate about and are happy to do. In 1998 when we founded CDR, we used this quote and it is still why we do what we do:

“ The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches,

but to reveal to him, or her, their own.”

– Benjamin Disraeli

(edited 2017 by CDR for gender notation)

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

“The question isn’t who is going to let me;

it is who is going to stop me?”

Ayn Rand

Early in my career, I always sought to stand up for what I believed in and to speak with candor. I remember once holding a position that was many levels below the president of the company when we wanted to fire someone. These terminations had to be approved by the president. We had completed a full investigation on this employee and the president questioned whether it was the right decision. To the shock of my bosses and colleagues, I pushed back and was confidently assertive about the matter with the president. I always thought, “I’ll just do the right thing and if they fire me, I’ll get a job somewhere else tomorrow.” Turned out that after standing up for what we found were the facts at hand, the president respected me more for speaking my mind and standing up for the truth.

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

We are shaking up the world of talent development. On July 15th, 2020, we launched the first of its kind — an online approach to transform how organizations develop talent, top to bottom. This virtual approach is ideal for post-COVID work flexibility. In addition, we’re proud of how this solution can accelerate diversity and inclusion efforts by getting past human biases and systems that too often do not let true talent shine through.

In-depth assessments and coaching are provided to top executives in organizations, leaving mid and lower levels without because it is considered too time and cost prohibitive. This means that more than two-thirds of an organization’s talent is left with only generic training resources that do not individualize learning or develop talent effectively. Our new scalable product, CDR-U Coach, offers personalized, always available, coaching feedback based on the results of the most in-depth assessments available on the market today. Driven by complex algorithms leveraging rich data and delivering predictive results, CDR-U Coach provides an A/I type experience for users with no two individuals receiving the same feedback — it is that personalized. CDR-U Coach is backed by 22 years of data history through CDR Assessment Group, Inc., who provides assessments and personal coaching feedback to the leaders of some of America’s best companies.

CDR has hired two marketing firms: one to develop the marketing strategy, pitch decks, and tactics; and the other to handle digital media and the website. We have also hired a publicity firm to support the launch, press events, articles and social media. We have hired one inside sales representative and two outside sales representatives with strong books of business in our industry.

Our five-year revenue projections are (confidential but terrific) and the market potential for CDR-U Coach is in the billions of dollars. Currently, companies are spending between two and four billion dollars per year on assessments globally. The talent development and leadership development dollars spent are 169 billion in the US and 370 billion dollars globally. Our target market companies spend $1,544 per employee annually. CDR-U Coach is priced at $650 per user with extra fees of $50 each for the action planning modules. The margins are exceptional on this scalable digital in-depth assessment and coaching feedback solution.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My linked in profile is at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyeparsons/

Our company website is: www.cdr-u.com and www.cdrassessmentgroup.com and my speaker website is www.nancyparsonsspeaks.com

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

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


The Future Is Now: “A Tech Tool That Can Help Identify Hidden Talents” with Nancy Parsons of CDR… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Dr Jean LaCour of NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recove

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Dr. Jean LaCour of NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recovery Education Is Helping The Workforce To Avert The Clutches of Addiction

I am inspired by the people who find us and enroll in our training and certification programs. Currently we have online students from 28 nations in our Professional Recovery Coach program. Most have a deep desire, even a calling, to serve people and families facing addiction. They are “addiction aware” and “recovery minded”. Collectively these people are a force multiplier in treatment services and make great Workforce Recovery Champions in businesses, schools, universities, healthcare, impaired professional programs, etc.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing International thought leader, Dr. Jean LaCour, co-founded NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recovery Education in 1996 to train professional addiction counselors and in 2014 launched a program to train and certify professional recovery coaches. Passionate about building bridges, she has led a coalition of 1,000+ people in 100+ nations, trained 1,000s of people in 35 nations and inspired change in Russia, Pakistan, Bermuda and Egypt. This fall, she and her team are introducing a new program to address Addiction in the Workforce, which has been dramatically exacerbated by the current pandemic. https://www.recoverycoachtraining.com/

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

My backstory : In 1989, I had recently sold my successful Montessori school and was trying to ignore my husband’s escalating drinking and clinical depression. A dear friend gave me a copy of Codependent No More and said, this is what WE are. The book nailed me. I needed help if we were going to make it. I found that help at a local treatment center that had a support group for family members even if their loved one was not in treatment. By the end of the year my husband lost his CEO job of 14 years due to his drinking and we lost our home and everything else. It took a few years to move from crises to stable recovery.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with Substance Misuse and Addiction?

One gloomy evening in July 1992, I arrived in Moscow, to assist a group of Russian professors for three months. Seated alone in an old taxi, I made my way across the vast grey Soviet landscape of that great city. Everywhere I looked my eyes locked onto massive public drunkenness, scenes of violence, and misery. I was struck to my core knowing this level of addiction was the future of my own country and those I love, if we ignored the heartbreak of addiction.

But how could one person respond to such suffering? In that moment, I made the decision, based on my own family’s struggles, to share everything I knew about addiction with anyone who would listen. That decision has led me to 35 nations.

In 1996, my husband and I opened a nonprofit Institute in Florida to equip everyday people with Addiction Counseling and Recovery Support skills that meet professional standards. This led me into the deserts of Egypt to establish a training program for thousands of people and today 60 NEW addiction programs treat people of all faiths across that region. The Institute has trained over 40,000 people worldwide and is part of a global addiction network in 100 nations, which I led for many years.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

Covid-19 induced stress levels are at an all-time high as more people are descending into the self-destructive world of addiction to cope with the unknown. I call it a pandemic within the pandemic. Overnight the US workforce has been redefined and redeployed into three main employee categories: 1) remote or working from home 2) working onsite with a reduced team and 3) essential workers such as healthcare, emergency services, food distribution, etc.

Individuals in these three major categories have been impacted in their roles, responsibilities, work product, use of technology, plus team support and dynamics within fluctuating routines, structures, and timetables.

Each one of us has different levels of resiliency, relationships, or resources to weather the intense storms and upheavals of life. It is not uncommon for someone to begin to use or increase use of substances like alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, or engage in behaviors like overeating, online pornography, gaming, or shopping to relieve the pressures of the unknown. From experience we know these substances and actions are effective to quickly “medicate” and numb the pain.

The current ongoing anxiety is very real and growing as we worry about getting sick, wearing masks, and adapting to the ‘new normal’ of working remotely, managing home schooling for our kids, facing loss of income and loss of social contact while the media amplifies political hostilities and civil unrest.

Statistics abound about alcohol sales being 55% higher in the first weeks after Covid-19 hit, and this stat is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that liquor stores were considered essential and therefore allowed to stay open during lock-down is a staggering commentary on our addicted society. Amid such circumstances it can be a quick progression from normal social use of these substances or behaviors to increased misuse to manage stress. This is when a person is most at risk for becoming addicted.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?

This fall my organization, NET Training Institute, is launching the International Center for Addiction and Recovery Education (I-CARE). This new program will address employee performance issues based on the concept of Emotional Sobriety and personal resilience. This approach will avert the hidden costs of employee misuse and addiction. It will be available for businesses intent on proactively addressing the needs and issues of remote workers, onsite workers, and essential workers. The Institute will train and certify workforce facilitators to support positive change and mitigate risk and healthcare costs through nonclinical services. We are currently attracting Wellness and Human Resource Professionals, Executive and Corporate Coaches, Counselors, and others who appreciate the power of proactive, preventive measures to help colleagues, companies, and communities recognize and avert the clutches of addiction.

Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your Workforce initiative?

Our interest in partnering with the business community began in 2008 when I was invited to a regional business networking breakfast meeting. I was told that many network members were planning to mentor or adopt a local nonprofit or social impact organization. To my surprise, the CEO of the network asked me to be the guest speaker at their next meeting. I tried to decline the invitation, assuming they would not be interested in one of my addiction lectures. I struggled with topics and settled on what has become my keynote talk called, “The Cost of Doing Business in a ‘High’ Society.” Everyone had on their public ‘game face’ and listened politely. I thought I had bombed big time with my brain scans and workplace stats, but then, one by one, people came up to shake my hand and privately tell me about their alcoholic father or daughter or their own recovery. I was floored! And the grinning CEO hugged me and booked me to speak immediately at four upcoming venues!

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

Besides my ongoing work in training addiction workers in developing nations, there is one incident I’d like to share with your readers from 2008. Our board hosted an open house to invite people from the business networks I mentioned earlier. We went to great effort to set up displays and photos at different places in our offices so we could tell our story and cultivate new donors.

After the short tour, we gathered everyone together for coffee and to ask for support. To our amazement people were quietly telling each other and some of our staff about their personal and family addiction problems. I quickly assessed we needed to intervene so these precious people could share and debrief years of feeling alone with their private pain. I divided them up and assigned our trained staff to facilitate each group — people raised in alcoholic homes, others struggling family members, and even a men’s group. It filled my team with gratitude and joy to see these business people who appeared so successful, responding to the safety and warm acceptance we offered. Addiction touches all of us regardless of our age, race, gender, economic, social, educational status. This is why we talk about the miracle of recovery.

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

Prior to Covid-19 the major public health catastrophe facing the US was clearly the opioid crises.

  • From 1999–2018 approximately 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.
  • In 2018, 67,000 people died from a drug overdose, 70% of these people were involved with opioids. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

The CDC is the US federal agency dealing with public health; its full title is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. I am an Internationally Certified Prevention Professional (CPP) and value the principles and guidelines of the prevention profession. I began with the CDC to align our efforts to have the greatest impact.

Prevention strategies include assessing risk factors versus resilience factors in the context of an individual, a family, a neighborhood, a company, a community, etc. Our nonprofit organization has pivoted to provide targeted effective adult prevention strategies to a company or industry that complements clinical services offered through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

Major prevention funding for substance misuse is dedicated to protecting our youth and college age young people or to dealing with one issue such as opioids or alcohol or tobacco. There is very little available for adult prevention, We are energized by creating a business centric program that moves beyond factual information to a deeper personal understanding of an employee’s context and desire for behavior change in the midst of a ‘new normal’.

That said, I encourage each person reading this to step back and think in terms of your own personal risk in how you are coping with the incredible stress of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Make two columns for risk/ resilience. Consider a few risk factors such as lack of sleep, technology issues, stressful relationships, your increased responsibility load at work and at home, how much alcohol, marijuana, are you using etc. Resilience factors may be your network of friends, your faith or spiritual roots, a few easy physical activities from walking to yoga, to pushups, etc.

Journal — Personal: Answer these three questions honestly.

  • How am I doing since March 2020?
  • What am I pretending NOT to know?
  • What small change/s can I make now in my awareness or activities that will support the stability and future growth I desire in my life?

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

  1. Legislators at all levels must wait two years before engaging in lobbying, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest in general and specifically related to contributions from industries callously fueling addiction for profit for shareholders. Manufacturers and distributers of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana recklessly contribute to addiction and to the river of suffering flooding our homes, schools, social services, prisons, and healthcare.
  2. By mandate and social pressure, media of all kinds, will cease to reinforce stigma and stereotypes about addicted people by dramatizing, publicizing, or finding humor in their failures. Instead, the new media standard will present addiction as a multi-faceted brain disorder requiring medical or professional care and support like other chronic diseases such as diabetes. Media will showcase stories that reframe and portray people in recovery as survivors who have often misused substances to cope with traumatic events. Active addiction itself can be a harrowing life and death experience, but the process of recovery often results in changed lives marked by service, courage, tenacity, altruism, and humility. Note: The media does not ridicule cancer survivors, disabled people or returning military veterans. This shift in perception and media portrayal can quickly reverse stigma and shame that keeps people fearful about seeking help.
  3. Drug courts, due to their successful outcomes, especially for juveniles, must be well funded and set up in multiple jurisdictions nationwide to provide a practical and cost saving diversion from prison, which is known for trauma and lifelong consequences instead of rehabilitation.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

I am inspired by the people who find us and enroll in our training and certification programs. Currently we have online students from 28 nations in our Professional Recovery Coach program. Most have a deep desire, even a calling, to serve people and families facing addiction. They are “addiction aware” and “recovery minded”. Collectively these people are a force multiplier in treatment services and make great Workforce Recovery Champions in businesses, schools, universities, healthcare, impaired professional programs, etc.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

Yes. I believe people change behaviors based on self-interest, prosocial attitudes, personal values, and correct information. Think about people now using seatbelts, practicing safe sex, putting babies in car seats, ID theft practices, better food choices, recycling, reducing consumption to reduce landfills and save the planet initiatives, etc. When people get an accurate understanding about the who, what, when, and how of addition and recovery, then our society will begin to heal in this area of senseless death.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many gifted people speaking about this topic as we move away from the traditional ‘command and control’ model. Today’s leaders need the ability to build teams, listen well, encourage/ motivate, risk being vulnerable, etc. All important.

My contribution to this conversation is about three qualities or concepts that are character based and stem from a few paragraphs penned by Stephen Covey. He observed that prior to World War II most Americans understood that success was based on integrity, honesty, making good on your commitments, hard work, sense of fairness, striving for excellence, and so on. But times have changed. Madison Avenue, marketing, and mass media, etc. have shifted our culture to accepting that the illusion of these qualities is acceptable. Social media has only intensified the pressure and demand for this type of superficiality and airbrushed identity.

My understanding of leadership has been forged in the fire of international addiction recovery initiatives that are led by men serving addicted men. These programs often operate outside of traditional government sponsored social services because prison or labor camps are the go-to solution historically.

Respect: either you have it, or you don’t, or you automatically reserve it for people in your social class, profession, etc. It is deeper than nondiscrimination based on gender, race, religion, disability, etc. Either you see the person in front of you in terms of a means to an end or in terms of their inherent human dignity.

Trust me, respect is not automatic in recovery work when people you serve have lost any resemblance to their past humanity. As a woman (with long blond hair), I triggered many leaders in many different cultural contexts as a person able to provide them with something of value. I was not what they were looking for and their disrespect was triggered. But time after time, it was my respect for them and their startling efforts in saving lives with so few resources that opened the door to possibilities.

Ethics: what does this mean to you in a world that is less right/wrong and mostly gray or relative. I read a surprising article in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago about a business professor reaching out to their business school graduates who were in prison for white collar crimes, think Enron. Basically, most of his graduates were in two categories. Some grads said they were not intending to break the law, but everything was so grey and vague. Other individuals were incarcerated for pressing the ethical/legal limits by making short term gains demanded by shareholders versus long term best strategies for growth and public safety. These people assumed their companies could protect them in some way before reality set in.

Personal Activity: Journal honestly if you have ever used an ethical plum line in your work. Does your industry have an ethical code? Is there an ethical line you have dealt with in the past? What was the situation? Did you experience internal conflict or distressing emotions that alerted you to ethical issues? Is there a line you will not cross, what stand are you willing to take? Write out some situations related to your industry or career that may arise.

Power Differential: This is a concept clearly discussed in certain professions such as legal, medical, human experimentation, counseling/ psychology, education, etc. It simply means that by virtue of your position of expertise or authority your clients, patients, customers attribute certain power and ability to you and will trust you and your advice, your product, etc. People who come to you for your services are automatically in a top down position and they are vulnerable due to some need.

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

  1. Stigma and stereotypes are deadly and prevent people from seeking help for themselves or a loved one. I come from three generations of well-educated women who, unbeknownst to each of us, married affluent men whose drinking progressed into the depths of alcoholism with all its tragic pain and losses. I call addiction a “sickness of silence” because it is shrouded in secrets and shame. Neither my dear grandmother nor mother ever shared their stories or struggles with me or the wisdom they gained.
  2. I wish I’d understood that ‘high functioning’ alcoholics are just as addicted as people who have less control over their behavior. It was a mystery how my husband could drink so much and still be standing! But a time came when he spiraled out of control and experienced ‘rock bottom.’
  3. Neuroscience has brought important knowledge to the addiction field that has removed some of the shame and fear that surrounds addiction. Just this aspect has changed the way we perceive the problems people are facing. People can Google any aspect of addiction to gain understanding and research possible options for help.
  4. In the early 1990s I could never have imagined the extent of the potential risk or danger of the pharmaceutical industry aggressively marketing pain medication through the healthcare industry and the immense suffering it’s caused to individuals, families, and communities.
  5. I wish I had permission in the 1990s when I began to train addiction counselors and recovery support staff to really focus my approach and content on the concept of Emotional Sobriety. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, used this term in a private letter to a friend concerning his hopes for the future wave of recovery efforts. I have made Emotional Sobriety my theme and core premise in training professional recovery coaches and will bring it into all of my future work.

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

Wanted:

People who stop using plastic straws & bags to save the oceans and wildlife.

People who buy items made by indigenous people to support their rise out of poverty.

People who boycott chicken or beef products to protest cruelty to animals.

People who will spread the word that our appetites are fueling unspeakable abuse of innocent people.

Real people. I’ve met UN workgroups Iike the Colombian woman forced to transport drugs as a ‘mule’ for the cartels. Many are arrested and languish in jail and abused by authorities. Or the handsome young man from West Africa, coming in desperation to plead for UN help to rid his country of vicious drug traffickers who have taken over villages for drug labs for product that will be sold in Europe.

Fact: The US is approximately 4.4% of the world’s population yet we have consumed up to 66% of the world’s supply of these illicit substances: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, illegal marijuana, counterfeit fentanyl and prescription pills made in dirty labs.

Fact: Our personal demand to use illegal substances is not a victimless crime. https://trafficlawguys.com/what-is-victimless-crime/

Fact:

  • The US is a land of Entitled Consumers with Voracious Appetites.
  • Supply and demand drive drug traffickers in Mexico to increase supply by cruel and violent means that harm and terrorize women, children, and men and keep them in poverty and servitude to Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs).
  • TCOs also run lucrative sex trafficking routes that supply children across our border.
  • A large percentage of US deaths from fentanyl poisoning or heroin overdose are caused by illegal substances that originate in Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? — Martin Luther King Jr.

“We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. came to my hometown of St. Augustine, Florida, in May 1964, the month I turned 15. King observed that St. Augustine’s (Negro community) had been made to “bear the cross,” suffering (extreme) violence and brutality that helped prompt the US Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Local police did not protect the marchers from bloody attacks by segregationists and the Ku Klux Klan. One day I found myself in the center of town about 30 yards from a black man leading a group of young people peacefully trying to enter a local store with a lunch counter. It was a terrible scene with whites releasing dogs on them, shoving, and hitting some with bats. I had never witnessed such actions. Neither had I been in the presence of real courage. I was forever changed.

In 2011, I was training in Madurai, India, where Dr. King spent time in 1959 at the Gandhi Memorial Museum, which depicted the story of India’s struggle for freedom. Dr. King said this, “… nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. Gandhi embodied certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”

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

Janice Bryant Howroyd https://www.actonegroup.com/about.aspx

I believe Mrs. Howroyd would be an excellent mentor and wise guide for our nonprofit organization at this time as we launch our Addiction Awareness Workforce Solutions program.

She is the first African American woman to start and run a billion-dollar business. She’s founder and CEO of ActOne Group, a global enterprise that provides employment, workforce management, and procurement solutions to a wide range of industries, Fortune 500 organizations, local and mid-market companies, and government agencies.

ActOne Group operates in 19 countries across the world and has over 17,000 clients and 2,600 employees worldwide. It is the largest privately-held, woman and minority owned workforce management company in the US.

ActOne Group provides flexible, comprehensive solutions under three distinct business verticals: Staffing, Workforce Solutions, and Business Services.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

https://www.linkedin.com/company/net-institute-center-for-addiction-and-recovery-education/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/recovery-coach-training/

https://www.facebook.com/RecoveryCoachTrainingIAPRC/

https://www.facebook.com/JeanLaCour


Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Dr Jean LaCour of NET Institute Center for Addiction and Recove was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Simon Slade of Affilorama: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

If you’re concerned about how your feedback might come off to an employee, I suggest using a video recording system like Loom to just record a quick video explaining your constructive criticism. Not only will this give you the opportunity to share facial expressions and body language that might comfort the employee, but they will also hear the intonation in your voice — something that is arguably the most important factor when trying to express a difficult message with tact.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Simon Slade.

Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of Affilorama, SaleHoo and co-founder of Smtp2Go. Through these companies, Simon provides education and resources for ecommerce professionals to start their own drop shipping business, build an affiliate marketing business and achieve occupational independence. Simon can be followed on LinkedIn and regularly comments for Forbes, Fortune, SMH and NZ Business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. I graduated from Griffith University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Business Management and a degree in marketing. As an online seller on TradeMe, New Zealand’s local auction site, I received many inquiries about where I found my suppliers. I saw the opportunity to help others jumpstart their online sales gigs and developed the concept for SaleHoo, an online directory of verified wholesale suppliers. When SaleHoo amassed 10,000 members in just eight months, we used that momentum to launch Mark’s business idea, Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal. From there, we built the parent company, Doubledot Media. I’m also a co-founder of Smtp2Go, an email delivery service.

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

One surprising “learning moment” that we had a few years back was in the early days of our company Affilorama. Affilorama started as a paid-only service, but we were disappointed by its early financial results. So we took a risk and changed our pricing structure to include two options for access to Affilorama: a base option that made some features available for free, and a premium option that came with a monthly fee. Within the first month of implementing our new pricing strategy, our revenue and customer base tripled! The free plan has not negatively impacted our revenue, and our customer base continues to grow. It seemed counterintuitive that offering a free plan actually improved our profit, but it generated interest in our product and proved its value to customers, which worked out well for us in the long run.

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

It’s funny upon reflection because it was so long ago, but it certainly wasn’t funny at the time. In the early stages of SaleHoo, my co-founder and I contracted a web design agency that charged us $35,000 and ultimately presented us with a product we couldn’t use. That money was basically wasted, much to our dismay. But we picked ourselves up and brought in a freelance designer who charged a third of the price, had a greater understanding of the project and presented us with an excellent final product. Based on this experience and other ones like it, I learned that most of the time, startups should spend a little more time researching and hiring a freelancer rather than paying exorbitant agency prices. Paying more does not always mean you’ll receive the best product, and in the early phases of your business, every penny counts.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I think there are two keys to avoiding employee burnout: flexibility and culture. (And I suppose these could go hand-in-hand by making flexibility a distinct part of your company culture.) A fruitful remote company culture will offer plenty of opportunities for social engagement and fun — for instance, my remote employees gather for an annual vacation where they get to relax and spend some time in-person. Social experiences like this will help employees avoid work burnout. A company that truly values flexibility will allow employees to organize their work around their life rather than organizing their life around their work. This is another key piece to ensuring your employees thrive.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

The majority of our staff have been remote for about 10 years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

The five main challenges for managing a remote team are: onboarding, communication, culture, assessment, and connectivity (both personal and professional). Onboarding can be a unique challenge because you have to create a detailed, functional, and completely hands-off way to train new employees. Communication is obviously a challenge because it has to be far more intentional with a remote team — there’s no chit-chatting around the water cooler. This is the same reason that culture becomes a challenge: the social element isn’t built-in for a remote team, so it has to be constructed more intentionally. Assessment is difficult on a remote level because we are so conditioned to using visual and in-person cues to identify productivity. When those cues are taken away, we have to find a new way to assess our employees. Perhaps the overarching theme for all of these challenges is the issue of connectivity. Remote employees need to feel connected — to each other, to the company, to their work and supervisors and bosses. Creating a sense of connectivity among your remote team is the ultimate challenge.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Some of these problems go hand-in-hand and can be solved with the same strategy or tool. For example, communication, culture and connectivity can all be solved by having a project management system where employees can share information with each other directly on projects. When an employee can apply their input or complete their task on a project directly rather than having to communicate on an additional channel, such as email or phone, things are streamlined and simplified. Everyone is on the same page, communicating well and feeling connected to one another. This alone will create a better company culture, but there also has to be a fun and playful outlet of the same nature — a chat room or virtual space where your employees can gather to communicate about non-work things and build personal relationships. This is the core of a good company culture — a communicative, well-connected team. Similarly, the challenge of onboarding a remote team member is dramatically simplified by these project management systems and detailed outlines of projects and tasks. If your social media manager has been providing details about their techniques and tasks over the last year, this essentially provides a pre-made handbook for a newly-hired manager in the same position.

I also think this ties into effective assessment. A remote team benefits enormously from a peer-to-peer review system, where managers and supervisors can get feedback from teammates about everyone’s performance, as well as self-assessment, where employees can reflect on their individual progress and productivity. Managers and owners aren’t going to be able to assess employees effectively if they don’t see them regularly or work with them on an individual basis, so remote assessment has to rely more heavily on direct co-workers and the employees’ themselves. This is not to say peer assessment should replace a manager’s evaluation of an employees’ performance, but that the two can work together as an effective remote assessment system.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

If you’re concerned about how your feedback might come off to an employee, I suggest using a video recording system like Loom to just record a quick video explaining your constructive criticism. Not only will this give you the opportunity to share facial expressions and body language that might comfort the employee, but they will also hear the intonation in your voice — something that is arguably the most important factor when trying to express a difficult message with tact.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Again, I would always recommend recording a super-fast video if the feedback is really sensitive or complex. But another thing to consider is that someone who is hyper-sensitive to feedback, or struggles with constructive criticism in the written form, might not be best-suited to a remote team. Effective remote hiring is the first step in effective remote management. You should be able to trust your team members to embrace your communication style as a manager without taking things too personally. That said, emoticons are always a great way to soften a message that might otherwise sound tough. 🙂 Furthermore, constructive criticism is always softened by a sense of empathy: phrases like “I’ve struggled with this before, too…” or “When I first started here, I didn’t realize [xyz].” This kind of commiseration can make an employee’s shortcomings seem more universal and less dramatic.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Newly remote teams are going to realize very quickly that email is a clunky and ineffective way for teams to communicate on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. If a team has gone remote without the proper technology, there are going to be setbacks and delays. Hosting a zoom meeting in place of every in-person meeting is also not an effective solution. It’s important that leaders and executives provide a newly-remote team with the technology and infrastructure they need to work effectively in a remote setting. Until this is made possible, employees need to be patient with themselves and each other.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

I’ve always advised that managers and executives, while maintaining their decision-making power and independence, include team members in structural decisions about the company. Open lines of communication and solicit ideas from all levels of the company when trying to make large-scale decision about the company’s future. This creates a sense of camaraderie among the team and helps everyone to feel like they are part of an inclusive mission.

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 more people to have a healthy work/life balance. I think when people have a more flexible schedule, they are more productive at work, happier and healthier. I think if we can start centralizing work/life balance as a cultural value, we’ll all be better off.

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

Steve Jobs said, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do.’ This advice gave me the courage to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. Three businesses later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Being my own boss is a significant factor in my love for my job, and I love that my businesses, Affilorama, SaleHoo and Doubledot Media Limited, help others to also become their own bosses through e-commerce pursuits. It is my hope that our companies help others achieve occupational freedom so that our customers, too, love what they do.

Thank you for these great insights!


Simon Slade of Affilorama: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Thomas Aronica of Biller Genie: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Agile Development — A development team is a requirement for any successful SaaS company since the development they will turn the vision into a tangible outcome. You have to find the right leader and the right developers in order to build a quality product. With agile development, we have found the most success. We work in sprints, constantly improving upon and building the software. Our development team is very collaborative. Together, they work to make sure that we have the best product on the market.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Aronica.

Thomas Aronica has more than 12 years of experience building successful organizations in the payment processing and fintech industries. Shortly after graduating from the University of Miami, where he earned a B.S. in computer science, Tom founded his first company, PCI Professionals. In less than three years, he built PCI into a viable acquisition target and in 2011, Tom spearheaded the merger of PCI Professionals with SkyBank Financial, ultimately taking over as chief executive officer. During this time, Tom also founded PrestigePay, a prepaid card issuer providing financial inclusion to subprime consumers in the United States.

Tom’s natural ability to foresee emerging trends and creatively use technology in new ways led to him founding Biller Genie, an innovative cloud-based solution that automates accounts receivable from bill presentment, follow up, collection, and reconciliation — without changing a business’ current process. In its first year alone, Biller Genie was named to the 2019 Money20/20 Start-Up Academy, was an Electronic Payment Association’s NexTen Participant, and received the 2019 CPA Practice Advisor’s Technology Innovation Award.

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?

After college, I was working in the hospitality industry, attempting to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. An opportunity presented itself to work as a sales associate for a credit card processing company. This was really the first time I had been exposed to the payment processing industry, and with an academic background in computer science, the technology made sense to me.

I went on to work for other employers, and after a few bad experiences, I decided to start my own business venture in the payments world. I launched my first company in 2007, PCI Professionals, and gained invaluable insight into the industry and the technology behind it. This led me to take on other projects as I realized the potential of the technology.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

During my tenure at SkyBank Financial, I spent the better part of 5 years helping to build payment integrations for other software companies. That evolved into adding business logic to encourage best practices. Then workflow optimization. Then automated reconciliation. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building the concept for what was to be Biller Genie. Then in late 2017, I was at dinner with a colleague who was having issues collecting payments from his tenants at his apartment complex, and we started comparing his current capabilities with those we had created for other industries. I barely slept that night. The next morning, while stepping out of the shower, it hit me. Design the tools as a standalone system that can easily connect to any software and supercharge it! The next day I put an ad out to hire our first developer.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Early in my career, I was working long hours, 20 hour days were common. I kept this routine going for several years. My first home office was actually the closet of my bedroom. My routine consisted of selling for most of the day, and then in the evening, I would continue to create policies, protocols, and basically build the infrastructure of my business. During this time, the bank foreclosed my home. I was paying employee salaries, yet I couldn’t pay myself. I couldn’t afford to buy food or to even travel to see my family. My family made many sacrifices coming to this country and honoring that sacrifice has always been one of my greatest driving factors.

Regardless, despite all my efforts, it was Thanksgiving 2009 when I told my mom that I was ready to throw in the towel. She convinced me otherwise, and with her help, I returned revitalized and was able to grow the company further. Those were some of the hardest years of my life, but I was able to learn valuable lessons about myself, and business, in the process.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great, and we’re busier than ever! While the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has been unsettling to say the least, we have been fortunate to continue to experience positive growth. We are currently on the eve of two major national partnerships, both of which will rapidly expand Biller Genie’s subscriber base.

We have revamped our marketing and operations, with a unified focus on ensuring our product functions perfectly. I can proudly say I am fortunate to be surrounded by an excellent team of hardworking individuals, who share the same drive and work ethic. We have grown our team during the pandemic and employee productivity and happiness is at an all-time high.

If I had to describe a quality that allowed me to grow a successful business, it would without a doubt be: uncompromised work ethic. These days, I am driven by a stubborn belief that we can play a small role in the inevitable shift towards automation in the accounting profession. As the cliché goes, no one is an overnight success, and that is definitely true in my case. As doors closed, I just continued to push to find the open ones. Success is built on many smaller victories, so as long as you’re moving forward in the right direction, anything is possible.

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?

Chasing too big of an account? When I was first starting out, I had the opportunity to bid on a deal that was processing over $36 million per month in payments. Considering my average deal at the time was around $36 thousand, I thought I was going to retire off just this one. After about a year of (professionally persistent) phone calls, I got my chance. Only they were so big that they had better pricing than I did! Talk about a waste of time. I learned an important lesson that day — it’s the bottom line that counts, not the top.

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

We have an excellent product that is complemented by our extreme focus on our subscribers’ happiness. Biller Genie not only shortens the invoice to cash cycle, but we optimize the accounts receivable process by using automation technology, without changing a business’s existing workflow. We have gotten real results and add real value to our subscribers. As a company, Biller Genie is rated 5 stars on all review sites. Our subscribers get paid on average 15 days faster, see a reduction of overdue invoices by 40%, and save 10–20 hours of administrative work per week. We are a young company full of hardworking individuals, with the same drive and passion for our product.

I have so many stories about how Biller Genie really stands out from the crowd. One of my favorites to tell is the story of an accountant in Miami, where we are headquartered. With every subscriber, we go through a quick setup call where we set up their custom reminder schedule, ensuring customers are notified of upcoming due dates or late invoices. During the first sync, we give our subscribers the option to send a new invoice alert for all invoices, even if they had already sent the invoice to their customer. I always recommend them sending it because what is the worst that can happen, you still don’t get paid?

As I am on the phone with the subscriber, she pulls up a customer and tells me that she has been trying to get this customer to pay her for months — sending emails, mailing payment overdue letters, and making phone calls — but never getting paid. I wish I had this on video, right as she tells me this story, the invoice goes from past due to paid, right in front of her eyes. I could hear her jaw hit the floor over the phone. Turns out, the customer didn’t even know he had an invoice that was past due. He wasn’t trying to avoid it, he just didn’t know about it nor did he have an easy way to pay for it, like the online customer portal we give our subscribers.

That is the power of Biller Genie. We really make a difference in helping small and medium sized businesses get paid for the products or services they provide.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I personally believe that it is absolutely essential you disconnect at times. Even if you are working 20 hours a day, like I was early on in my career, you have to take a day to yourself every so often. Sundays are great for this. Turn off your email, step away from the computer. Physically separate yourself with a change of scenery. I’m lucky enough to live in Miami, so even when I couldn’t afford to go to Italy and lay on my favorite beach, I could easily be at the next best one in minutes.

It is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to build a company on your own. I can guarantee that the business will fail if you burn out. Having great people in your life can help make a big difference. As Jim Collins says “great vision without great people is irrelevant.” If you are thinking about throwing in the towel, take that day off and enjoy it. Do something for yourself. I promise those problems will still be there the next day. They aren’t going anywhere, and you won’t solve them in one day. You will come back refreshed and ready to tackle the world. Take care of yourself — you only have one body.

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?

Aside from the obvious “my parents” answer, who I’m eternally grateful to, I was fortunate to have the mentorship and guidance of two incredible entrepreneurs early on in my career who believed in me when everything was bad. We were losing money, behind on liabilities to our vendors, an unhappy staff, an absent business partner…times were tough. But “TP” (let’s call them) saw something in me, took a bet, and 12 months later none of those problems existed anymore. I wouldn’t be where I am today without TP.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Biller Genie currently has approximately 4,000 users since we launched, and with our new partnerships, we expect this number to increase rapidly in a short period of time. Building a community requires several components.

Defined Operating System/Strong Leadership Team — It is crucial to have the right infrastructure for your business to grow. This means having the right talent in the right roles, especially during the earlier stages of your operation. It’s a team effort and the individuals around you will play a crucial role in the success of your business. Recruiting in South Florida can be difficult. It has taken me a long time to find my senior leadership team, but early on this year, it all came together. Their insight is invaluable to the company. Listen to them and be willing to accept you aren’t always right. Every week we have a 90-minute huddle where we discuss important issues. Together, as a group, we make decisions that affect not only the future of the company, but the actual development of our software. Having this weekly meeting has positively changed Biller Genie and made us a stronger company.

Partnerships — Establishing partnerships early on in my career was vital to being able to build a team to help drive the business forward. Starting a business always requires capital, and access to capital, more possibilities open up. Early on, most of my partners had more experience than I did, which proved to be extremely valuable when it came to making the correct decisions. In terms of Biller Genie, partnerships with financial institutions and payment providers has proven successful in growing our subscriber base. These partners have hundreds of thousands of customers and being able to tap into and market to that base has been very beneficial.

Focus — Focus is perhaps the key component to ensuring productive growth. Setting a roadmap is necessary to execute your strategy yet focus is what allows your team to be committed. It is necessary that this flows from the bottom down, in other words from the CEO all the way down the chain. This applies when you’re creating a customer-centric product or business. Focusing on the customer will affect the way your company evolves, allowing you to create long-lasting relationships and affecting the longevity of your business.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Our goal is to make enterprise level accounts receivable software accessible to small and medium sized businesses for a fraction of the cost. Our pricing is based on three tiers. Each tier has a monthly price range, with the two lower tiered plans including a percentage taken on each invoice that we collect upon. The pricing model is based on a monthly recurring cycle, and we have premium add ons such as the ability to send out paper mail and ACH processing.

Initially, the idea for the pricing model was to limit access based on the different features, but we decided we wanted all subscribers to have access to the same great tools, so we changed the model to be performanced based where we only get paid if we help our clients get paid. It is the combination of this and our advanced features that make our product so successful. Given that the average published cost to manage invoices manually is $22 each, Biller Genie saves its subscribers on average over 80% of the cost of processing invoices manually.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

Agile Development — A development team is a requirement for any successful SaaS company since the development they will turn the vision into a tangible outcome. You have to find the right leader and the right developers in order to build a quality product. With agile development, we have found the most success. We work in sprints, constantly improving upon and building the software. Our development team is very collaborative. Together, they work to make sure that we have the best product on the market.

A Roadmap / Vision — Having a clear and concise plan for your software will make sure you are hitting your goals and progressing efficiently. Breaking down the roadmap into sections and parts, allowed our team to tackle the right projects within the right time frame. This also allowed a space for innovation since we were able to review our product from a microlevel and adjust accordingly.

Not only does this apply to the software, but also to the actual company. Let’s be frank — Biller Genie is a startup. We are building the plane as it is flying. There are a lot of processes, procedures, training, documentation, and employee culture that can easily be thrown to the wayside, because we are moving at the speed of light. It’s important to not forget these things. You cannot have a successful company without a proper structure that sets your employees up for success.

For example, now that we are working full remote due to COVID-19, it became tough to maintain employee culture. We started having weekly kickoff calls on Monday mornings, where everyone gets on camera, we talk to each other, we learn things, we play games — just an half hour a week where we all get together and “hang out.” We even did a fun “Biller Genie in a Bottle” parody to Christina Aguilera “Genie in a Bottle” and everyone sang and danced on video. Check out our YouTube channel — it’s hilarious and was a run project that involved everyone.

An Innovative idea — Technology advances along with consumer behavior. As a SaaS business it is vital to stay on the cutting edge to know what your customers need before they even know it. I realized early on that the payments industry placed a strong focus on accounts payable yet I noticed that business owners were having difficulty with their accounts receivable. I had this innovative concept that is disrupting the A/R space.

Creative Marketing — A great product or idea means nothing if you’re not able to get your story out. Focusing an effort on marketing has been a fundamental part of growing my business. I knew I had an excellent product that carried with it a great story and having the right team to convey that story became an important asset. Properly positioning a software product requires a lot of strategy, from product launches, to new partnerships, to press releases. Being able to tell your story properly can make all the difference.

Leadership — As a leader, one of the most important things you will do is to find other leaders to help guide your vision forward. Like I said, I recently completed building out Biller Genie’s executive team and having the right assets in the right positions has allowed us to rapidly advance our product and our company in the past 8 months. A team’s commitment is only as strong as the leader’s commitment to the team; therefore, it is important to bring the best you have every day, and your team will do the same.

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

I would make children’s apps to teach the fundamentals of software development and application design. Sounds crazy? It is widely accepted by the scientific community that children are able to learn and understand languages more easily than adults because the brains and neurons fire faster in their young brains. The skills needed to learn a natural or programming language are the same, but programming language also promotes logical thinking, resilience, determination, problem solving and creativity. If I could find a way to make it easy to teach kids how to think like a computer, I’d be excited about what the next generation creates.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomaronica

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


Thomas Aronica of Biller Genie: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rebecca Page: 5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Getting the right cultural fit — when we started Rebecca Page we operated on a good ‘gut-feel’ and this has, for the most part, worked well in a small team environment. Team members who have come from a design room notice and enjoy the absence of stereotypical ‘divas’ and office politics. We are mindful that as we scale, we will need to move away from gut-feel as the primary method for getting the right cultural fit.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Page.

Rebecca Page is the co-founder and CEO of Rebecca Page, a hugely popular global sewing brand with a community of over 500,000. She has spent over 30 years sewing and is the creator of the leading Sewing Pattern Subscription & The Sewing Summit, and is a published author. Rebecca has been featured in The Times, on BBC Radio 4 and in numerous industry publications. An entrepreneur by heart, Rebecca has run multiple businesses. She is a huge advocate for moving away from fast fashion to beautifully fitting hand-made clothes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

Thank you! I started sewing when I was around 8 years old. I remember so clearly my Mum trying to steer me towards simple, beginner level sews… and me setting my heart on complicated coats and ballgowns! I worked my way through her sewing encyclopedia, trying every technique on scraps of fabric and saving them all in a big folder. I had a huge desire to have my own business right from when I was little and quickly started making things to sell. Over the years I’ve always come back to sewing, and now being able to combine my love of business with my love of sewing is the dream role for me!

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

I actually started the business after being the standby contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee. I was on maternity leave with our second child and applied to go on the show. I didn’t get on, but if someone couldn’t make the live filming dates, I would have to step in. I got to do all the same prep and practice behind the scenes as the contestants. They didn’t need me for filming in the end, but I had such fun with the process, I decided I wanted to take some of my homemade sewing patterns and put them on Etsy for sale. The rest is history!

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?

Ahh, once I was making matching PJs for our two eldest kids who were quite different heights. I was so busy watching Netflix while I sewed that I didn’t notice I had sewed mismatching bottoms together… I ended up with two identical pairs of pajama bottoms, each with one long leg and one short leg.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Everyone in our team is based remotely and has complete flexibility as to how and when they work. The ability to manage families and non-work responsibilities, along with the time saved not having to commute, allows our team to establish a routine that works for them. This reduces stress and burnout, which means our team can thrive in their work and home lives. One of our marketing team, Bronwyn, says ‘I’m an introvert so prefer to be in my own space, and find I am way more productive working remotely; I can just put my head down and go, but also walk away if I need to run errands and then balance out the time later out on’.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Rebecca Page Ltd was registered in March 2018, so it’s been over two years now.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. Managing time and productivity — the added complexity in managing remote teams needs to be balanced by sharing the responsibility between management and the team. In return for flexibility, the team understand that there needs to be the means of having technical oversight around time and productivity. Before we implemented a technical solution, it took time to manually prepare timesheets and accuracy and tracking of time was an issue.
  2. Managing communications — finding the right technology to enable quick and effective communication across many different time zones. Email can be appropriate between two people, but we found that when there were more than two people there was that inevitable lag due to people working in different time zones.
  3. Getting the right cultural fit — when we started Rebecca Page we operated on a good ‘gut-feel’ and this has, for the most part, worked well in a small team environment. Team members who have come from a design room notice and enjoy the absence of stereotypical ‘divas’ and office politics. We are mindful that as we scale, we will need to move away from gut-feel as the primary method for getting the right cultural fit.
  4. Establishing an organizational structure that aligns to scaling a remote team — as a start-up scales, it is inevitable that more and more of the team report into the CEO. It can be tricky dismantling a flat structure and implementing something that supports natural workflow.
  5. The fun ‘human’ stuff — the team is growing rapidly, which means it is important to quickly integrate new people and make them feel welcome. We are pretty much all creative people at heart, so we identified that our team fun needed to be centred round our creativity.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

  1. Managing time and productivity — we use Time Doctor, a web-based solution that provides time tracking, computer work session monitoring, reminders and screenshot recording for remote teams. It is very easy for our flexible team to capture the time they spend on different tasks and it’s also easy for us to monitor and report time accurately.
  2. Technology to manage communications — we use Slack, Zoom and WhatsApp for team communications. We’ve found that this combination quickly solves any miscommunications that may pop up in written form, and we don’t believe this is less effective than being in a face-to-face environment. As Bronwyn in our marketing team says ‘being able to work from anywhere is fun and opens up so many possibilities — I can work from a friend’s kitchen, from another country if I travel, or from the couch’.
  3. Employing for the right cultural fit — we have been lucky because we have found most of our team directly from our customer base and these positions are highly sought after. Everyone involved in the pattern making process enjoys sewing, and we think this authentic love of the patterns that we produce shines through. As a global company, we are overwhelmingly fortunate to serve a customer base made up of all different races, religions, ethnicity, and creeds. Diversity in all ways is integral to the makeup and culture of Rebecca Page, and we are welcoming and proud of the various backgrounds, beliefs, and incredible individuals that make up our ‘team’.
  4. Organizational structure that aligns to scaling a remote team — I liken our organizational structure to a beehive, but without a queen bee! We work cooperatively towards our larger goal, but operate on a day-to-day basis within smaller teams. Jo in our pattern team say that ‘just like a beehive there is no close of business, no 5 pm out the door and that’s it, job done until the next day…everything keeps turning with each time zone, the process never stops!’.
  5. The fun ‘human’ stuff — we have built comradery through creative sharing on our Monday afternoon team Zoom call. We also have a ‘random’ channel on Slack where we can post anything and everything we want to about what we are up to in our lives. There’s lots of pictures of everyone’s kids, dogs, dinners and road trips!

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Working in a genuine learning environment helps to promote a two-way process of constructive feedback that prevents a blame culture creeping into conversations. I have also found that it is important to set expectations up front about the regularity of and process for communication, along with agreeing what the team member needs from me (or someone else), action points and a realistic timeline.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I don’t recommend using email for constructive feedback. I prefer to speak to the person directly. Usually there’s a reason why they did or said what they did. If we can find out what that is, it’s much easier to address what happened directly, letting them know what the impact was and how we’d like it done in future. With Zoom and WhatsApp, most of our team can jump on a call quickly.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

A team used to working closely together can implement a routine during the pandemic that helps to keep everyone in touch. Establish Zoom ‘catch-ups’ each morning and afternoon, that are just the same as coffee-time in the office. Team members can ask any questions, discuss issues or just listen in the background to what’s going on. Having a set time to login to the team catch-up avoids the potential obstacle of isolation. An added benefit is that it’s an efficient use of time, as the team don’t need to individually contact the team leader whenever they have a question. Whether in person or on screen, this kind of interaction creates a learning environment for everyone in the team. I’d also suggest retaining any team cultural norms, such as having a drink together after work on a Friday. It’s not quite the same on Zoom, but you can mix it up by making someone different in charge each week of a team activity or challenge.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

We have a team call at 5pm on a Monday and everyone from all around the world logs in — often with kids and pets in the background! I have a quick round-up of what we are focusing on in the coming week and then each team member shares a creative project they have been working on and answers a fun weekly question. This has helped the team get to know each other better, which has resulted in friendships developing. Because we all come from all over the world, and use language differently, we learn to look at things from different perspectives and this helps us to avoid misunderstanding or miscommunication. Bronwyn from our marketing team sums up the team culture — ‘one of my absolute favorite things about Rebecca Page and the global nature of the team is “meeting” people from countries and cultures I may not have had a chance to otherwise’.

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

I would love, love, love more people to think about the sustainability of their clothing. Not just where it comes from and who sews it, but also having clothing really fit their body how they want it to. If you have quality clothes you love, that fit how you want them to, you are far more likely to wear them and look after them. This both reduces waste and has people feel better about themselves.

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

My co-founder, Janine, sent me a card very early on in the business with the quote “She thought she could so she did”. I saved it and still have it up on my wall today. It really says it all to me. Anything is possible. The key is believing you can.

Thank you for these great insights!


Rebecca Page: 5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Elizabeth Eiss of ResultsResourcing: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Be the spark that inspires your team to problem solve and perform. Go beyond what seems possible and be innovative and resourceful, even within the protocols of a corporation. Create the environment for possibility and imagination.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Eiss.

Elizabeth Eiss is a results guru who helps others get work done well. Elizabeth is a sought after expert on the future of work, the gig economy and has redefined staffing models based on virtual and freelance talent trends.

She is the founder and CEO of ResultsResourcing®, THE freelance platform that comes with your own recruiter. ResultsResourcing® helps organizations scale by leveraging virtual freelancers who are vetted and hand-curated using proprietary technology Elizabeth designed and co-developed.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I’m delighted to be doing this interview with Authority Magazine! Thank you.

My backstory, well, I’ve always had a passion for people and have effectively led many remote teams beginning back in the day when the only remote collaboration options were the phone and conference calls! Throughout my corporate career, I was also an early adopter of technology and how systems and process can enhance and scale value delivery. After a successful career as a C-suite executive, I decided to trade it all in for the world of entrepreneurship and joined my first start up — which was focused on creating cloud-based expertise networks.

That’s continued to be my focus ultimately leading me to start my own company as a “tech-preneur” focused on matching small businesses with vetted, virtual freelancers. We empower small to medium size businesses to scale, leveraging quality fractional talent we curate for them.

While there are plenty of freelance platforms out there, we were designed from the ground-up for small business. What’s unique is that I created a way to integrate technology with humans and their insights, to curate custom contract talent cost effectively. We’re THE freelance platform that comes with your own recruiter. Our platform and services are high tech/high touch at a rational price point, in terms of absolute dollars and return on time (opportunity cost) for SMB.

Talent is online today and the drawback to most job platforms is that “do it yourself” recruiting is time-intensive and, unless you’re skilled in recruiting and remote work practices, it’s an uncertain value proposition. I believe Thomas L. Friedman articulated it well: “While there is growing AI (artificial intelligence) there is a faster growing need for IA (intelligent assistance) to help people use technology for their benefit. And IA can only be provided by human beings.” SMB needs tech augmented by human help to find and utilize the best virtual workers.

That’s what I focus on today: human beings… leveraging technology… to find great talent to empower SMB to scale.

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

My whole career has been extraordinarily interesting and has been an ever-expanding platform for thinking about what’s possible. So, this is not a story per say, but an observation.

I’ve come to learn that scarcity is one of the best drivers of innovation.

Whenever I’ve been resource constrained (such as time, funding, staff, systems, professional contacts), it’s caused me to re-think the problem and develop new approaches. Scarcity of resources when confronted by big goals, forces me to question assumptions and invent new ways to achieve objectives — while remaining true to my purpose and principles.

This philosophy drove my intrapreneurial thinking in the corporate world and has blossomed in my entrepreneurship and inventions. It’s a mindset and iterative method, driven by the customer, supported by agile technology development.

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 told this story many times since I learned so much from it. When I was interviewing for my first job as a manager, I was quite ‘young’ for the role, and would also be switching companies. I was sure I was the top candidate and was asked how much I wanted to be paid in the final interview. I said ‘Well, at least the minimum” — having no idea what it was except that I knew it was more than I was currently making. Of course, I got the job and my wish — the minimum salary for the job.

This all happened before the days of data ubiquity, but I learned to:

  1. Always do my homework to gain context and know what I want to achieve.
  2. Constructively assert my worth in the context of project objectives.
  3. For a win/win relationship, compensation should reflect value brought to the table.

I’ve followed those lessons ever since, even as an entrepreneur.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Be the spark that inspires your team to problem solve and perform. Go beyond what seems possible and be innovative and resourceful, even within the protocols of a corporation. Create the environment for possibility and imagination.

Make sure you’ve set your team up for success by setting clear goals, establishing leading measures of success, fostering team alignment followed by 360 communication and performance processes. Then get out of the way — except to run interference for your team.

Be a mentor, not a master (except when events require this). Lead by example. Create the strongest, most versatile team you can, based on what needs to be accomplished. Diversity in every sense of the word will result in better, broader thinking and solutions that fit today’s and tomorrow’s world.

I’ve found these approaches enable teams to deliver the result you need to deliver — and go beyond what you may have deemed possible.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Decades. I’ve been on and managed virtual teams for nearly my whole career — in corporate, as a consultant and as a business owner.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of these challenges.

There are many stories that resulted in this list of top 5 challenges and the solutions that consistently worked with my remote teams:

  1. Leadership to build successful team dynamics:

The fact that a group of people assemble together in a location does not make a team. Building a team takes leadership, communication, common goals, and collaboration — all things leaders do naturally when on location. So, think about the same techniques you’d use onsite and find ways to replicate that virtually. Don’t focus on remote being a barrier, just embrace it and apply common sense to choose leadership and team building approaches that fit the situation. Most people don’t even consider collaborating with another group in another office as remote teaming — but that is remote teaming that has existed for years. Working with an outsource partner is remote teaming too. We do know how to do this.

For sure, what makes a remote team harder is missing casual, social interaction, which can impact team morale. There can also be collaboration challenges if tools are limited or people need training to use technology. And, mass working from home has new challenges with kids, space, lack of equipment and the general stir-craziness we all feel. These are each human factors that need to be acknowledged and addressed in the leadership approach to remote teaming. Be human, use common sense, don’t try to lead alone — embrace your team.

2.) Set clear goals or results to be achieved:

If you haven’t defined your goals, you won’t know if you ‘get there’ and your team won’t have the proper context for decision-making. Choose to measure progress using both leading and lagging indicators — the leading measures (e.g. # of customer touch points) will keep you on the right track and increase the likelihood you meet the lagging (end) goal (e.g. customer purchases and revenue or profit).

3.) Provide clear structure & process to achieve results:

Establishing structure and processes will ensure your team is efficient and work is done consistently the way you need it to be done. This will also help surface issues where there are gaps in process or structure. Often gaps are masked when people are on site and there can be significant productivity loss. Gaps in process jump out when working remote. Embrace the team to identify and help solve these and you’ll end up with a better process that will optimize results and value delivery.

4.) Manage results, and resist the urge to micromanage:

Since you can’t ‘manage by walking around’ the temptation is micromanage the how. Resist — for your sake and for your team’s. “How” should be addressed by establishing clear process and creating — upfront — regularly scheduled checkpoints on leading indicators and for quality control. Don’t just meet when something’s off. Check points can double as motivating, rapport building one-on-one interactions or to challenge the team to problem solve.

5.) Communicate regularly:

Communicate both ups and downs, and continually frame the communication in terms of the success measures and engage the team to solve issues early. Again, create upfront schedules and methods for the team to meet and for you to meet with team members. The team should feel this is part of the business process and best practice and not something that only happens when there is a performance issue.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

The foundation for constructive communication is regular communication that builds rapport and enables the “manager” and the “staff” to know one another. Communication should be steady and consistently focused on the objectives to be achieved. If regular group and one-on-one communications are occurring, delivering performance news should not be significantly different when it’s in person versus remote. The assumption is people do a good job handling conflict in person, (the giver and the receiver) which I don’t think is always the case. In person or remote, building rapport and regular communications is key so performance correction doesn’t come out of left field, is taken wrong or the staff says, “I only hear from management when something is a problem.”

As mentioned earlier, I believe in setting goals and focusing on leading and lagging indicators. These indicators exist for not only key performance indicators but also how a result should be achieved by an individual performer. This means you have tools to get out ahead of performance issues and course correct with staff when issues are still small adjustments. Don’t let things slide.

I also like to frame performance issues in the context of the “what and how” of results achievement. I often pose questions to get the staff to self-recognize and get involved for lasting change. Examples might be: “Here’s what I see in this report and it’s not where we all agreed we need to be. What do you see? What can we do to accomplish a different result?” Engage the staff in problem recognition and resolution — early and regularly in the process.

When constructive criticism is warranted, hopefully you have a track record of communication to lean on as mentioned earlier. Here are practical suggestions that have worked well:

1) Find a mutually good time to meet when you both have time. Avoid sandwiching it into a 15-minute slot before your next Zoom call.

2) Put yourself in the staff person’s shoes (e.g. are there kids at home or no privacy?).

3) Get your remote environment right — good lighting, minimize distractions, prepare and then, when you’re in the session, look the individual in the eye and focus on the matter at hand. Watch for the same human signals — maybe they won’t be as clear as in person, but they will be there.

4) Have a conversation about the result that needs to change, sharing your concerns constructively, authentically, in a way that fosters engagement and offer to help.

4) Come away with an agreement on resolution that the staff puts into writing. You’ll sense then the buy-in and how the conversation landed — and whether additional conversation is needed.

5) Make performance discussions iterative and ongoing, not a special event. Performance reviews in my mind, in person or remote, are not once-and-done, it’s a nurturing process to advance lasting performance and results of the business and the person.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Again, when constructive criticism is warranted, hopefully you have a track record of communication — both verbal and written as the foundation for rapport and a relationship.

First, I would not use email for constructive feedback on any serious issue. There is too much chance for miscommunication and misunderstanding, and email provides no immediate feedback that seeing someone in person or over the web will reveal.

I will use email for smaller, less serious course correction or editing. In writing these kinds of emails I like to phase them in terms of “this is how this landed on me, it this what you meant?” Or, “what you wrote in your email caused me to think about the matter in new ways, how about doing it this way?” Or, “I don’t think we’re on the same page, so here are some thoughts. Would you get back to me or can we hop on a call to discuss.”

Draft the email and send it to yourself. Wait a bit and then review it as a receiver. Often, I will see what I wrote in fresh light and that helps me make it clearer or more constructive (and fix grammar/typos!). It helps surface emotion or preconceived notions or conclusions I need to address differently or omit so I don’t blame or personalize. I may do this repeatedly until I get message right. Depending on the nature of the issue, I may also have a trusted colleague review my email for feedback/edits before I send it to its intended recipient.

Again, performance improvement is not checking a box by delivering an email message and then it’s once and done. The purpose of the communication is to foster a lasting change in behavior that the staff member embraces, which improves future execution without requiring intervention. That email is one milestone along the journey of jointly achieving performance standards.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

I think there is a lot that is different about working remotely than working together on location — and some are obstacles to effective teamwork — from each worker’s home environment to how prepared a business was to have staff work from home (e.g. formal process, collaboration tools).

No matter the situation, leadership is needed to pave the way to working together in new ways — to create new structures, new and more regular team communication processes, figuring out what tools you have that will best foster teamwork (or investing in new ones).

To some extent this also is a mindset issue — people are social, coming together on location is probably one of the things people like best about working, based on studies I’ve seen. So, leadership’s job is also to foster a new mindset and help plan and foster a work environment that enables the social aspects of teamwork, plus clears a path to getting work done well so customer value is consistent delivered.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

In our conversation, I’ve spoken about a number of ways to create a healthy and empowering work culture for a remote team. At the core is leadership that sets the tone for new ways to work, sets structure, process, and tools and articulates goals and expectations. A consistent and regular communication framework is vital to a healthy team as it sets the foundation for rapport and working relationships. Leaders should focus on results, using leading and lagging indicators, which establishes guardrails for performance management. Trust and verify.

Embrace change — have some FUN working in a new way.

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

A couple years ago, a study by Babson College and Goldman Sachs/10k Small Businesses stated, Small businesses have the power to transform AmericaEveryday, small business owners apply their extraordinary potential to spark competition, drive innovation, build communities, and better the quality of life for its citizens.” This inspires me.

Most businesses in the US are solopreneurs, or non-employee firms. Of the small businesses with employees, 96% have fewer than 50 employees.

Our mission is to empower these small businesses to scale by matching them with curated virtual talent who can add value and accelerate their timeline to mission success. My purpose is to empower their purpose.

I also hope I can inspire other women to believe that they ‘can do it’ — whatever their “it” is. Great ideas come at every age — be curious, commit to making the most every opportunity before you, one day at a time.

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

My current life lesson quote ties to my passion for ResultsResourcing®. It’s a quote from Peter Drucker who said (over 50 years ago): “Do what you do best, and outsource the rest.”

We help businesses focus on what they do best, by finding the best freelance talent suited for the work those businesses can outsource. In doing so, our clients achieve more, deliver more value to their clients and spend their time doing what they are passionate about.

I am a purpose-driven entrepreneur. I connect dots; I help people believe they can and then provide them the talent to help them do it.

Thank you for these great insights!


Elizabeth Eiss of ResultsResourcing: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Rosemary Keevil: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

I believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able to rise about their trauma. Having done that, they have created confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, humility and a positive, but realistic, attitude.

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rosemary Keevil.

Rosemary Keevil has been a TV news reporter, a current affairs radio show host, and the managing editor of a professional women’s magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism, a sophisticated knowledge of alcoholism, addiction, and associated treatments and therapies, and two grown daughters with successful careers.

Her memoir: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction will be published in October, 2020. Keevil lives with her partner and her sheep-a-doodle in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. She has been clean and sober since 2002.

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

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and have lived in Switzerland (for school) and Tahiti (as a travel destination representative) and Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada (as a can-can dancer). I have lived in Vancouver, BC, Canada, most of my life. I recently moved to Whistler. It was once a funky ski-town, but is now a year-round resort destination with summer sports such as golfing, hiking and biking. Whistler Blackcomb is one of the Vail Resorts.

I have a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master of Journalism. I have had a number of jobs in the media, including:

– News reporting for CFTO-CTV in Toronto
– News reporting for The Globe and Mail national newspaper, Vancouver
– Co-launched and produced “The Michael Morgan Show”; also envisioned, co-launched, and hosted “The Rosemary Keevil Show” (Original, I know!) for CFUN Radio (CHUM National Radio Network), a live, drive-time, current affairs talk show in Vancouver
– Contributed to the critical success of Scarlett magazine for the professional woman (unfortunately, now defunct) after being brought on board at nascent stage of the publication
– Adjudicator for the Leo Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Film
– Public Relations for the Vancouver International Film Festival

When my children were two and five years old my husband died of cancer and my brother died of AIDS within six months of one another. I was able to keep it together (somewhat!) for six years while working as a journalist. While still high-functioning, I became an alcoholic and drug addict. Six years later, in 2002, I went into rehab and have been clean and sober ever since. I now work as an addictions’ journalist.

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

There are many stories I can’t tell as they are X-rated, but one clear takeaway is: “Don’t ever swear or make weird faces near a microphone or a camera that you assume is not live.”

Within the first two weeks of starting to work at CFTO-TV, I was assigned to cover an internationally-reported story: an accident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario. Fuel rods cracked releasing a deluge of radioactive water under the floor of the reactor building. The situation was brought under control, nobody was injured, and no radiation leaked into the environment.

My reputation did, however, undergo some damage. I was doing ‘Take One’ (This was not live.) of my stand-up, talking to the camera in front of the power plant. My voluminous, 80s-style, shoulder-length hair was bobbing in the wind as I stumbled over some words and then said, “Blaaaaaaaaaaa…Take Two!”

Well, as it turned out, the editor of the story used ‘Take One’ instead of ‘Take Two’, so my “Blaaaaaaaaaaaaa…Take Two!” went on air!

Within the week I was called to the upstairs office of one of the top brass of the station. Ted Delaney did not have much hair and had one crossed eye. He told me to sit down, tried to look right at me, and said: “Rosemary, you’re going to be a good reporter, but you got too much hair!”

Finally, I also remember an interesting ‘circumstance’ in the newsroom. There were two available reporters to cover the Dr. Henry Morgentaler court cases. Morgentaler conducted a high-profile campaign to secure legalized abortion in Canada and was at the center of the legal cases that brought this to fruition.

The News Director called the two us into his office and said: “Which one of you would like to cover this landmark story?” Well … we were both very pregnant at the time. I just jumped at the opportunity!

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

What stands out is that my work exists at all despite personal tragedy and addiction. I was a media personality with a loving husband and two adorable, little daughters when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my brother was diagnosed with AIDS in the days when that was a death sentence. Their subsequent deaths had a profound effect my life, not the least of which was being swallowed by the grips of alcoholism and addiction.

I am living proof that one can be high-functioning — I was working fulltime as a current affairs, radio show host — and self-destructing simultaneously.

I am also living proof that there can be a very fulfilling and productive life after addiction.

I went back to work as the editor of a magazine, received my Master of Journalism and wrote my memoir. I must say that all that trauma provided much of the fodder for The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction.

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

There is not one iconic mentor, but there have been gems of wisdom shared with me along the way.

– Patrick Brethour: British Columbia Editor for The Globe and Mail newspaper: Don’t ever lose that hint of insecurity. It gives you that invaluable, competitive edge.

– Fictional or nonfictional storytelling is an intrinsic human characteristic, which has taken various shapes and forms over time: visual stories such as cave drawings; the oral traditions of passing down stories by word of mouth from generation to generation; written, printed and typed stories; and today’s explosion of storytelling with everybody serving as a verbal, audio and visual documenter of our times. Advice on how to tell a good nonfiction story:

– Ted Steubing, former Vice-President of News and Public Affairs, CFTO-TV: “Tell ’em what you are going to tell ’em. Tell ’em and tell ’em what you told ‘em.”

– Derwyn Smith, former News Director, CFTO-TV: “If in doubt check it out. If still in doubt leave it out.”

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

I believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able to rise about their trauma. Having done that, they have created confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, humility and a positive, but realistic, attitude.

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

This is not original, but the first person who comes to mind is my dear mother, Helen Parrett. What a survivor! She ran a household of four kids and four pets, all with an alcoholic/workaholic husband and only a few pennies to rub together. Despite all the challenges inherent in her circumstances, not the least of which was my emotionally abusive father, she was resilient. One of Mom’s forms of resilience materialized in creativity at 3:00 in the morning. Mom would get up in the middle of the night to write, a habit I have inherited.

She wrote a syndicated column for “The Tely,” as the The Toronto Telegram was popularly known at the time. The column was called “Suzanna’s Family Fare.” Readers would write in with household hints, such as how to rid your prized cherrywood coffee table of that unsightly white ring created by a wet glass or coffee mug. Answer? Toothpaste. The kicker is that Mom was not the least bit domestic, another trait I have inherited!

I would get up with her and study. I still remember the sound of the clickety clack of her Underwood typewriter, and the taste of hot tea and warm toast topped with melted butter and a layer of brown sugar. I also still remember cramming for my history exam about the coureur des bois. What I don’t remember is exactly what they were. Wikipedia clarified it for me: the coureur des bois were entrepreneurial French Canadians who travelled the interior of North America and traded, usually with the First Nations peoples, for furs such as beaver. This marked the beginning of the North American fur trade.

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

I am my own worst enemy. I never thought I would survive the onslaught that life doled out to me in 1991.

I also never thought I could quit Ativan, Zopiclone, cocaine and fine, white buttery wines such as Bâtard-Montrachet and Rosemount Chardonnay.

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

My biggest setbacks are documented in a 309-page story, which is my memoir: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction

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

I grew up in Toronto, the youngest of four children (boy, girl, boy, girl: only five years between all four of us) in a chaotic household with an alcoholic dad, an enabler mother, two cats and two St. Bernards.

I was bullied, probably because I had buckteeth, which gave me a notable lisp. Paw, paw Wothemawee Pawwett (translation: poor, poor Rosemary Parrett) could not say her r’s or her s’s. I went to speech therapy sessions every Wednesday afternoon from kindergarten through grade three to fix the lisp. Then, in grade seven, I got braces to fix the buckteeth. (Thanks Mom!) When I think back, I was not aware of my speech impediment being related to my being bullied. In fact, I went into broadcasting as a career. Go figure.

What’s more, my Mom insisted I talk to everyone about themselves. I grew up asking people questions — my friends sometimes call it “interrogating.” My mother used to always tell me to “draw people out” whenever I had the opportunity. This would mean that if I ran into somebody I knew on the bus ride home from school, like our neighbor Mr. Lynch, who was a University of Toronto professor, I couldn’t just be shy and daydream. This nagging voice inside my head would urge me to go over and “get him talking.” When I was a bit older and feeling awkward going to teenage parties, Mom suggested I approach the most boring looking boy and start a conversation by “getting him talking about himself.” Hence, I have always been the one to ask the questions. Everybody has a story. And I became a reporter.

What I learned from this is that doing what you should do and not just what you want to do builds confidence which, in turn, helps provide a solid base for resiliency. I also understood early on that people like talking about themselves. If you want someone to like you, get ’em talkin’ about themselves.

Dad was a taskmaster — using my siblings and me as his workforce. He owned properties which he rented out and he always made us kids do the fixing up and the redecorating, such as painting and wallpapering. We did the cleaning too. Bathrooms became my specialty. I learned from this experience that a reliable roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic builds confidence in oneself and in those around you. Dad used to say, “Shoulders back and don’t mumble,” which at first blush may seem trite, but it’s true. My career as a journalist has reiterated how a strong stature and clear diction breeds self-confidence.

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

1) Take small steps. If a goal seems too overwhelming, consider tackling smaller challenges first:

I had a goal to run the New York Marathon, but it felt daunting. I had read a tiny blurb in The Globe and Mail about the Malta Marathon in Three Days, which entails three shorter runs to equal a 42 kilometer (26 miles) marathon over three days.

I rounded up a film crew (producer and shooter) and headed off to the tiny and very historical, Mediterranean island of Malta. Not only did I complete my first marathon, but I had a blast with the film crew and shot the first part of the pilot episode of “Body & Soul: Spiritual Awareness Through Physical Challenge.” This show explored the human spirit’s remarkable ability to overcome adversity — using the body to boost the mind.

The next year I ran the New York Marathon and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. My goal was to finish it in under four hours. My time? 3:56:11!

2) Learn from mistakes:

A year after my husband and brother died, I accepted an invitation from two colleagues to become a partner in a video production company. I contributed financially and worked hard as the executive producer for two years only to have my two partners call it quits. My money went down the drain. I felt taken advantage of and ripped off.

What I learned from this was that I should have given the initial investment more thought and been more assertive when my colleagues informed me of their decision to fold the company. I could have been more forceful and pursued running the company without them.

3) Keep your side of the street clean or accept your role in negative circumstances:

Scarlett magazine for the professional woman was a wild critical success. It was not a financial one. I was the managing editor and my colleague was in charge of sales. As near as I could tell, I was doing a stellar job and he was not, as it was not making money. I let the magazine fold and blamed my colleague.

What I realized, after the fact, with this experience was that I played a role in the financial failure of the publication. I could have taken off my editorial cap and tried on a sales’ one. I could have pursued ad revenue as well instead of thinking I was simply editorial and above all the messy dollars and cents stuff.

4) Accept and move on:

As it turned out, one of my teenage daughters was going through an extremely difficult time at this point, so it was important that I had the time to focus on her.

5) Build up your social support systems:

Research studies have shown that social support, or a significant caring other, are the best predictors of resilience. This is according to Dr. Jill Hayhurst from the University of Otago, New Zealand, who found in her research that encouraging feelings of self-efficacy “encouraged feelings of resilience.”

I have been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 2002 and believe that one of the reasons for its success is the resilience that the support group of similar suffering (and then thriving) individuals builds.

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. 🙂

In AA meetings I often hear the same reaction from newcomers when they do their first set of steps: “Everybody should do these steps, not just alcoholics.” The 12 Steps are grounding, have a profound effect on one’s outlook on life and keep your side of the street clean. They also rid one of nasty resentments, which are the root of much negativity. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if every adult would tackle these steps every few years. I have chosen to illustrate steps four to ten:

Step 4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves:

When I was working at the radio station hosting the early morning drive-time current affair show, I was also addicted to cocaine. I was a high-functioning alcoholic and drug addict. I only once snorted a line while at the station (in the bathroom). This was a huge source of shame and guilt. I wrote this down as one of my “wrongdoings.”

On a personal level I was consumed with shame and guilt for being an alcoholic and addicted mother for six years of my daughters’ upbringings.

These are just two examples of the lengthy list of wrongdoings in my fearless moral inventory.

Step 5) Admitted to God [or whatever higher power one believes in], to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs:

This is tough and terrifying, but when I released my demons in front of my sponsor I felt like John Coffey in The Green Mile when he lifts his head, opens his mouth and a torrent of tiny black insects fly out.

As a result, I felt light and liberated and truly understood, “and the truth shall set you free.” (Bible: John 8:31–32)

Steps 6 and 7) Were entirely ready to have God [or whatever higher power one believes in] remove all these defects of character [that were revealed in Steps 4 and 5], and humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others:

I set up a meeting with my former boss at CFUN Radio and apologized that “I was not in harmony with myself when I worked here.” He just looked confused and said, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. You were great.” But I felt relieved and grateful that I had addressed, and therefore released, my guilt and shame.

I apologized to my children for my stoned and drunken behavior of six years of their lives and continued (and continue to this day) making living amends by being a clean, sober and present mother.

Step 10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it:

This can be as simple as being crabby with the cashier at the checkout counter at the grocery store because there is a big lineup and you’re in a hurry. Before you leave the store, pause, think about what you’re going to say, turn to her/him and say, “I’m sorry I was rude. I know this is not your fault.”

This type of inventory taken on a regular basis clears the detritus from the brain and makes room for grace.

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

Comedian, actor, author and former heroin addict Russell Brand of Take Him to the Greek (former husband of Katy Perry). Brand has channeled his considerable talents, brains and energy into advocating for mental health and drug rehabilitation. I absolutely love his cause, his personality, and particularly his irreverence (i.e., See Brand’s version of the 12 Steps of AA below), and I would love to ask him to read The Art of Losing It.

Day 1: Are You A Bit F*d?

Day 2: Could You Not Be F*d?

Day 3: Are you, on your own, going to ‘unf*’ yourself?

Day 4: Write down all the things that are f*ing you up or have ever f*d you up and don’t lie or leave anything out.

Day 5: Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how f*d you are.

Day 6: Well that’s revealed a lot of f*k up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?

Day 7: Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous f*d up stuff? You have to.

Day 8: Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so f*d up.

Day 9: Now apologize, unless that would make things worse.

Day 10: Watch out for f*d up thinking and behavior and be honest when it happens.

Day 11: Stay connected to your new perspective.

Day 12: Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.rosemarykeevil.com

– Facebook: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction

– LinkedIn: Rosemary Keevil

– Twitter: @RosemaryKeevil

– Instagram: rosemarykeevil

– Pinterest: rosemarykeevil


Author Rosemary Keevil: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Wendy Barlin of About Profit: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Wendy Barlin of About Profit: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Set goals for your life and keep those goals front of mind. For me, this helps me get up when I am down. After leaving my six figure prestigious job, I knew I needed to rebuild my business in order to create a work life balance that would allow me to spend more time with my daughter.

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Barlin, founder and CEO of About Profit.

As an author, professional speaker and business owner, Wendy Barlin is so much more than an accountant. Her expertise is advising people to better manage their money with easy to understand and implement financial strategies.

Wendy is committed to her clients’ success. Whether analyzing cash flow or projecting income taxes, she ensures that all financial decisions lead to achieving her client’s life goals.

A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Wendy fell in love with the sparkle of the City of Angels while backpacking around the world in her 20s, in search of her dreams.

Wendy is a frequent speaker at conferences and association meetings, is a member of the California Society of CPA’s and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and can also often be seen as an expert on ABC7 News, CBSN Los Angeles and in many written publications across the United States.

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

I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. I was the first in my family to finish college. After getting my Chartered Accounting license, I packed a bag and went backpacking around the world for a year. I landed in Los Angeles and fell in love with the excitement and possibilities in this city that I grew up seeing only on TV. Walking down Rodeo Drive felt surreal. As luck would have it, a friend in Sydney, Australia had given me a letter to deliver to her friend in Los Angeles. I called her and after chatting for a while, I said how lucky she was to live in this city. She asked what work I did and I said I was an accountant. Well imagine my surprise when she kindly made a few calls for me and I had 3 interviews in 3 days. I took a bus to Ross Dress for Less to buy myself appropriate interview clothes. Within a week I was offered a job. I called home and told my parents I was staying in Los Angeles. Can you imagine their reaction? All they knew about LA was what they had seen on TV, not always flattering news.

So I found a furnished room to rent and set about LA living! Today, twenty three years later, I have been married and divorced, bought and sold property and businesses and learned to navigate the American financial and tax systems. I still feel very blessed to be here!

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

In 2010, I had been running my own tax business for three years, I was a single mom with a 3 year old toddler and I was tired and burnt out. I decided to sell my business and take a job with regular hours, a regular paycheck and benefits. I was actually pretty excited as the company I was going to work for was a prestigious business management firm in Beverly Hills. So every day I got all dressed up, dropped my daughter at pre school and headed into traffic for the better part of an hour. After two weeks, the novelty of the security of a job had worn off and I was miserable. I did not like having a boss, being told what to do and when to do it and the worst part was working with clients who I did not like or respect. Two weeks! I stuck it out for a whole year (I am not a quitter) before leaving to restart my business. I learned several things from this experience that I often share with my clients who reach a burnout point. One, take care of yourself first. Two, we are not all built to be employees just as we are not all built to be business owners. Know who you are, what you want and stick to that. Don’t get fooled into following the shiny object.

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

We are a subscription based blend of coach, consultant and tax preparers. Our focus is not just preparing a tax return once a year. Instead, we focus on meeting with clients throughout the year, working closely with them to create profitable and responsible businesses that give them joy and support their lifestyle choices. Clients come to us for tax help and then are thrilled when they realize we help with so much more. One of my favorite clients is a digital production company based in Virginia that came to us for tax advice. At the time they were at break even and loaded up with bank and credit card debt. Now, two years later, we have helped them extinguish their debt and turn profitable. This is our “why” as now their children enjoy time with parents who are not constantly stressed and emotionally unavailable.

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

At the first accounting firm I worked at in Los Angeles, I met a couple who had moved to California from Canada. I worked with them to build their US based business and manage the cross border issues. When I left that firm and took another job, they came with me because of the trusted relationship we had built. They are still clients today but more than that, they became my family. I had no family here in Los Angeles. Harold and Erica supported me through my career choices, my divorce, raising my children and now reviewing my books before I publish them. I am ever grateful for their guidance and support.

Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience?

Resilience for me is getting up when you are down. Never giving up.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I believe resilient people are optimists. We can see the sunshine through the clouds. We are also tenacious and do not give up. We believe we can.

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

Nelson Mandela. I grew up in South Africa during Apartheid and then when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and became President. He showed us real resilience. He spent 25 years in prison and came out positive and optimistic and took the helm and never looked back.

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

Yes! When I was in college in Cape Town, I used to dream about coming to live in America and my friends would laugh at me. During those times South Africa was closed off from the rest of the world, especially from the US. I never gave up. It was my dream.

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

In 2005, my husband and I sold everything. My business, our home, our cars and we packed up and moved to his small home town in southwestern Michigan near the Indiana border. We bought a blue collar bar and a home on the lake. I was excited for this new start. Sadly, after nine months, it all fell apart. The bar owner’s life was much harder than we imagined. I felt very alone. The final straw for me was when I found out that my husband had an affair with a bar patron. I packed my things and headed back to Los Angeles. I had to start all over again and rebuild my life. And rebuild my life I did. I rebuilt my business, I remarried and now have a wonderful husband, two healthy children and a dog.

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

My top 5 steps for being more resilient are:

  1. Set goals for your life and keep those goals front of mind. For me, this helps me get up when I am down. After leaving my six figure prestigious job, I knew I needed to rebuild my business in order to create a work life balance that would allow me to spend more time with my daughter.
  2. Have a strong support team. Making the tough choices is much harder alone. My husband and I had to terminate a 20 week pregnancy. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done and with his support, I was able to get back up and be there for our daughter and my clients who all needed me.
  3. Have an outlet for negative feelings and experiences. My outlet used to be food, especially ice cream but as I have gotten older, I have learned to use healthier coping strategies and stress relievers. Now I use my Peloton Tread and spend thirty minutes journaling every day. When I first heard about how to journal as stress relief I thought it sounded quite silly but I decided to give it a try. It works! Writing it down all the negative and nasty thoughts in my head gets them out of my mind and my life. Then I rip the pages into tiny tiny pieces and bye bye negativity.
  4. Ask for help. This one is very difficult for me personally. I have always been very self sufficient and I used to think that asking for help is a weakness. Being a single mom was how I learned to ask for help. It was essential for me to reach out for help when I needed it. Now asking for help has become easier in both my professional and personal life. This is definitely a muscle that gets stronger the more we work at it.
  5. Take Action. I have found that just getting up and doing something changes my mood and helps me be resilient in a stressful situation. When my landlord threatened to double my office rent, I started making calls. Rather than sit at my desk in horror, I made phone calls to leasing agents, to colleagues and friends to understand the marketplace and what my choices may be. This action led me to resilience and back to optimism. Action changes up the stress dynamic for me.

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

I would teach and inspire young people to embrace their financial futures. To understand the role of money in their lives. Not to fear money or see money as a weapon. To create abundance and attract the money to their world that supports their life goals.

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

Yes, Suze Orman! I have followed and read Suze’s work for many years and I have always respected her no nonsense approach to money. Telling people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. I use the same approach with my clients. Some tough love but always honest answers.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aboutprofitconsultant/

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wendybaboutprofitcom8-378683252763167/?__tn__=%2Cd-k-R&eid=ARCvZRqv371Ca_u3v-kEM8WuzLAK4x-KE5cOufK9SaYF2JnjIzDrm733_2TyccBPWrhg5jsv-w8Tx4Vx

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


Wendy Barlin of About Profit: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dan Cook of To the Point Collaborative: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Find out what your brand truly is. Sounds simple, right? But far too many companies confuse advertising with brand, sales with brand, profits with brand. Your brand is that chorus of all the voices talking about you in the marketplace. There are so many case studies of major companies that for years stumbled along not understanding how the public perceived their products. Then, they did the exhaustive research required to find that out. The winners course corrected. The losers can be found in bankruptcy court.

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

Dan Cook is a longtime journalist, with stops along his circuitous route at BusinessWeek, Knight Ridder, Newhouse Publications, American Lawyer Media, Reuters, Time, and various other journalistic weigh stations. For the past six years he has been a regular contributor to BenefitsPro.com, an online news service dedicated to the healthcare and insurance industries. He has written more than 2,000 articles for BenefitsPro and has an insanely detailed understanding of health insurance and healthcare reform. A Cleveland native and diehard Indians fan, he lives in Portland, OR.

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

My serendipitous introduction to the world of Wikipedia editing came when I was doing marcom work for a Portland tech startup, Pixetell. The founder desperately wanted to be included in Wikipedia and charged me with making it happen. I had no idea how to proceed. But I did have a friend, Pete Forsyth, who was among Wikipedia’s earliest volunteer editors. He had just started training people to edit Wikipedfia, and he took me on as a paying client. Together, we got the article up there. Even though the company is long gone, Pixetell remains on Wikipedia! Subsequently, Pete and I started working together as Wikipedia consultants.

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 made so many mistakes as I learned the ropes of Wikipedia editing! It is a very precise discipline, practiced by very precise people. My first big mistake that got outside the office was telling a couple of people I shared space with that I’d “get them on Wikipedia.” (Ha-ha! That’s not how it works, folks.) These were two pretty good friends of mine, and when I went to post the articles, they both got shot down by the volunteer community post haste.

This was years ago. But what I learned from that was I better memorize the guidelines for adding new articles to Wikipedia and get a solid understanding of Wikipedia’s definition of notability — the very thing that qualifies a subject for an article. Boiled down, the lesson was: Do you homework before you promise something you can’t deliver.

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

What makes us stand out is our knowledge of the rules of Wikipedia editing, and the culture of this open source space. We know how to work with volunteers so they will review our edit requests objectively but with an eye to helping us improve articles. The public relations person of a major metropoiitan public school system asked for help in editing the new superintendent’s article in Wikipedia. We spent time seeking out thoughtful editors who specialized in improving public school articles and found a match for our client. She was able to effectively update and improve the superintendent’s article with the help of the volunteer, who still maintains that article and keeps it up to date.

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

We recently launched a free webinar series designed to educate public relations, branding, and marketing professionals in how to offer Wikipedia article editing services to their clients. In the current uncertain economy, article editing is a great way to add a new revenue stream for these firms while positioning their clients better in the marketplace. We had so much fun planning and scripting the webinar and promoting it mainly through LinkedIn video ads! It helps us because p.r. firms are our ideal clients, and it helps the firms because they add revenue and can basically white label our services as their own.

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?

Advertising content is completely within your control. Branding elements can range all over the map, and it’s up to you the brand manager to manage them so the messages are consistent.

Wikipedia is a great example of branding vs. advertising. Wikipedia rules prohibit any hint of advertising speak in an article, and any p.r. or marketing person who tries to add blatant marketing language to an article may well be banned from editing forever.

BUT, a paid editor who understands Wikipedia’s rules of engagement can manage an article for a client. The article will never be under your control. But you can influence what is in there by working effectively with the volunteer community. And because people trust what they read on Wikipedia, a well-done article that is honest, accurate, well sourced, and up to date has more influence that most advertising vehicles.

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?

Your brand is a collaboration between you, the brand manager, and everyone else who touches the company. That includes customers, employees and ex-employees, leadership, the media, your business partners. And anyone who visits or edits your Wikipedia article — even competitors.

Your brand is the chatter these parties create about you in the marketplace. You can create the messaging you prefer, but you can only manage, not control, your brand once it leaves your advertising/marketing platforms.

Brands must be cultivated, nurtured, monitored, discussed. Advertising is easy compared to managing social media chatter, Wikipedia content, Yelp! Reviews, and what competitors and critics say about you. But advertising is seen as the company’s viewpoint only. No one is fooled that it is the whole story. That’s why non-advertising elements, like Wikipedia, are so vital to success in the marketplace. These other voices outside of the advertising world, form a chorus that adds up to credibility in the minds of your potential customers, clients, employees, potential investors, and partners.

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

  1. Find out what your brand truly is. Sounds simple, right? But far too many companies confuse advertising with brand, sales with brand, profits with brand. Your brand is that chorus of all the voices talking about you in the marketplace. There are so many case studies of major companies that for years stumbled along not understanding how the public perceived their products. Then, they did the exhaustive research required to find that out. The winners course corrected. The losers can be found in bankruptcy court.
  2. I’ll give you an example of discovering your brand. My company was promoting Wikipedia consulting with LinkedIn video ads. But we were not yet getting our ideal clients. The ads were getting plenty of views and we were getting inquiries. Just not the right ones. So, we started a 6-month campaign of dueling video ads. We would use two ads with essentilly the same message, one targeing one specific LinkedIn audience, the second another. We tested positively phrased (you can enhance your client’s brand) and negatively phrased (have you tried and failed at Wikipedia editing?) messages against one another. We kept the same spokesperson, only varied the length a bit, and tested other variables. Finally, we found the sweet spot — public relations agencies with multiple clients who already had Wikipedia pages, rather than fairly unknown folks who wanted an article of their own. But we had to suspend our original beliefs about the type of clients our messaging would attract. Now, we are getting those ideal client inquiries.
  3. Understand the difference between managing and controlling your brand. If you are a small business, you should probably spend 80% of your time managing your brand, and the other 20% on advertising and messaging that you create. Too many small-to-mid-sized businesses agonize over the content on their website, their blog posts, their newsletters, and don’t pay enough attention to their perception in the chatter world. Craft your key messages, choose your key words, create your ads (wherever you are placing them), get them out there and leave them alone. Turn your attention to where your brand is being discussed, join the discussion, and start managing, listening, and course correcting. Once you have a consistent strategy for identifying your brand and being part of it, you can go back to your ads and revise them accordingly.
  4. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of a lost opportunity for those who have an article. (Don’t try to write a new one without an expert’s help! That’s a rabbit hole with a dead end if you aren’t an expert.) People think they can’t control what’s in an article about themselves or their company. If you know the rules of Wikipedia editing, you know that you can influence what’s there. The telecommunications giant Vonage is among the companies we have worked with to manage their Wikipedia article. Over a period of about a year, a staff person was trained by us and went on to update all the information on the page, have old stuff removed, and correct negative information about Vonage that simply was not substantiated. But she knew the rules of engagement and, by following them, improved the company’s brand messaging, and added a powerful new skill to her already impressive skill set.
  5. Never argue with the chatter world about your brand. Ignore, or listen and learn. When managing your brand, it never pays to get into a fight with a critic. You cannot control what they are saying about you. But you can amplify the negativity by arguing with them.

Critics fall into 3 categories:

  • ‘The Haters’ — Unhappy customers, ex-employees, or clients: They don’t like you and/or your products and will NEVER change their minds about you. They want to hurt you and engaging with them accomplishes that. It makes you look small and petty and, generally, wrong.
  • ‘The Trolls’ –attention seekers: These are critics who just like attention or want to stir up trouble. They don’t care about you or your product. They just want to get a reaction. If you’ve raised children, you are familiar with this tactic. How well did it work out to fight with your kids?
  • ‘The Lovable Critics’ who want to help you: These are people who truly have your best interest at heart, and are expressing it by saying, “Hey, you are getting this thing over here wrong. Please fix it!” These are the folks you listen to, learn from, and send coupons, free products, and holiday boxes of sweets to. Then, immediately put them on your priority email list.

Lesson: When someone attacks you — justifiably or not — listen, and either respond positively, or let it go. If you can’t learn from your critics, don’t fight with them.

Restaurateurs who battle with authors of poor reviews are a prime example of poor brand management. One Mexican themed restaurant in town became so fixated on negative reviews on Yelp! that they overlooked two key points: 1) Many of the critics had received either poor service or food and were noting an inconsistently in the delivery of the product; 2) their loyal customer base was so strong that they were able to open two new locations that were thriving during COVID. The owner complained to me bitterly about the negative reviews, thus amplifying them. She also complained that satisfied customers were not writing positive reviews. Who care?? Pay attention to what the critics are saying, and fix that. And don’t hassle your loyal customers to stop what they’re doing — enjoying your food — and write something on Yelp!

  1. Manage the elements that matter most to your brand. As noted above, I would focus most of my resources on managing those brand elements that cannot be directly controlled. But know where the discussion about your brand is worth managing, and where you are wasting too many resources on too few influencers. When small-to-mid-sized companies “discover” branding, they tend to launch into a frenzied assault across all platforms. OMG — what are we saying on Twitter? Are we on Instagram yet? Has that new landing page on the website been finished? When do we launch our first webinar? Generally, these companies have not tested ANY of those platforms except randomly. Platform response varies greatly depending upon the product or service you offer. For instance, if you are offering content management services, there’s only so much Instagram can do to help boost sales. You need to be where eyeballs searching for content creators lurk — and nowhere else. Unless you have unlimited marketing resources, you need to thoughtfully choose the platforms you will monitor and engage in. Would you continue to spend advertising dollars on a medium that was producing no conversions? No. Apply the same test to platforms where you manage the discussion rather than control the content. If your target audiences are not there, don’t waste resources on it.
  2. Early on in our Wikipedia consulting, we test marketed several industries, included the health care and credit union industries. We were getting nowhere, even with companies whose Wikipedia articles were in terrible shape. Finally, a credit union executive flipped on the light switch for us. “Credit unions are essentially locally based with local customers. We would rather spend our marketig dollars on billboards, radio, TV, and online ads, and local sponsorships, than Wikipedia.” The same was true of most healthcare systems: They were essentially local, often without a lot of competition, and a well-done Wikipedia article was not going to drive a lot of business their way.
  3. Make sure your advertising messaging accurately reflects your brand reputation in the marketplace. You can totally control your advertising content, so make sure you revise it based on what you learn about your brand from the chatter world. For example, if your advertising campaign is based on being the low-cost solution when people in the chatter world are praising your quality, it’s time to switch that message — and raise prices. If Millennials online are embracing you but your ads target Baby Boomers, it’s time to revise the message. Never stick with an advertising campaign that is out of synch with what people are actually saying about you. Even ongoing strong sales can be misleading. Especially if your direct competitor makes the shift first.
  4. The U.S. auto makers were woefully bad at doing that during the 1980s when the Japanese and German car builders ate their lunch. U.S. auto makers were still promoting big, sleek cars with lots of comfort features. The Japanese and Germans talked about economy, quality, durability, performance. The U.S. makers were still selling planned obsolescence. The foreign car makers knew from research that consumers wanted vehicles that lasted and spent little time in the shop.

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?

Oregon Humane Society (OHS) is my all-time favorite. Under the long-time direction of Sharon Harmon, her assembled marketing team has consistently striven to anticipate what folks wanted and expected of the organization. I served on the board of trustees for four years and got an inside look at how the entire team stays focused on its goal: 100% of all animals adopted out. It seemed like an impossible goal, but each year they get closer. Dogs are already at 100%, cats around 80%.

What impresses me is the way they don’t just come up with campaign slogans, they develop campaigns with themes that evolve one to the next. They never rest on their past triumphs, always pushing for higher goals. When they were unhappy because pit bulls had to be put down, they launched a campaign to build an animal retraining center. Now, pit bulls are adopted out regularly.

OHS combines active listening with actionable strategies to build community and consensus as they redefine what it means to be an animal shelter. Their brand is “We love animals and we want them all to have good homes.” And that guides everything they do.

Duplicating such an awesome organization requires:

  • Strong, innovative leadership
  • Experienced and driven marketing team
  • Clearly defined mission and goals
  • Deep ties to the community and a commitment to meeting community expectations.

It can be done. You just don’t see that kind of commitment to excellence very often (or maybe not often enough).

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?

Lots of folks have attempted to quantify branding. You have social media metrics, website metrics, funds raised, or volunteers recruited. The list of metrics that we are told will justify our brand spending is a long and changing one.

But a branding campaign, vs. an advertising campaign cannot be evaluated in 3,6,9 or 12-month segments. If you chart where key numbers are at the start of a new branding initiative, you should be able to see a shift taking place over time in sales, profits, new client acquisitions, online conversions, employee retention, employee satisfaction survey results, visits to the pages you want people to visit on your website, and so on. But managing a brand’s reputation so that it moves in a certain direction takes time, patience, persistence, and a willingness to change direction based on the chorus in the chatter world about you.

An ad campaign may help sell more cars or attract more clients. But when you are creating a reputation for your company, you are selling your organization. If the brand is strong, you should be able to release completely new product lines or offer new services, and the strength of your brand will ensure that they succeed. The purchaser is buying your good name, not responding to an ad.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

That depends on the line of business. Fot Wikipedia consuiting, we are all LinkedIn, all the time. That’s where our ideal clients (p.r. agencies) live. And by joining targeted LinkedIn groups, we can reach a much broader audience than the other platforms. We do not want Facebook or Twitter traffic; too random and individual. For our design/communications services, we use all available platforms. Social media’s role in our promotion is growing as we focus our services and better define our ideal clients. While LinkedIn is still a good platform, many nonprofits are active on Twitter, Facebook and, more increasingly Instagram. So, we need to be active there.

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

Two key pieces:

Identify your ideal client, then go after only that client. And do the work that feeds you, that challenges you, that brings you into daily contact with the kind of people you love. You will never be burned out if you follow those rules. (Note: Easy to say, harder to follow!)

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 require our healthcare system to guarantee equal access to preventative medical care services for everyone in the country, whether they can afford it or not, or are here legally or not. Right now, Obamacare says basic services must be offered at no cost to Americans. But, due to lack of true access to healthcare, millions go without the care that would ensure a much healthier life in the future. This would not only benefit those individuals that cannot access health services, but it would create a stronger, healthier, more vibrant U.S. Such a movement would threaten many in the healthcare industry, from insurers to Big Pharma to specialists to developers of new medical products. They all benefit from an unhealthy population. But it is morally and ethically wrong for that to be the case.

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

Easy one: Soar with your strengths. From the book of the same title by Don Clifton and Paula Nelson. I learned this one at an American City Business Journal editors retreat. Changed my management style and my life. At the time, I was spending more time trying to fix struggling employees than encouraging my stars to be all-stars. Once I realized the flaw in that behavior, our newsroom production truly did soar. And I stopped spending so much time working on my personal flaws and more time building out my personal strengths.

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. 🙂

So many. But if I had to choose one, I would choose one couple. I would love to cook up a big brunch for the Obamas and just listen to their life stories.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You’ll find me mostly on LinkedIn but also Notfedupdan on Instagram and #notfedup on Twitter. Dan Cook on Facebook.

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


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

The Future Is Now: “The Next-Level of Inter-Device Connectivity” with Coy Christmas of Fasetto

Our core technology is called Gravity. It’s a software architecture that adds intelligence to any network. It enables hyper-connectivity capabilities to the devices it’s installed within and enhances the way they work together — Gravity devices require no router or internet to communicate. So within this self-aware, localized network, devices can share resources like cameras, displays, and even processing power!

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Coy Christmas.

Coy is co-founder and CEO of Fasetto. Getting his start as a serial entrepreneur in the gaming industry, Coy grew successful companies that created sought-after products that sold at Walmart, Best Buy, and GameStop. Coy’s passionate commitment to creating seamless connectivity between people, their content, and their devices — led to the creation of Fasetto in 2013. Currently, Fasetto’s core technology is Gravity, a software architecture that adds intelligence to networks, which will usher in an unprecedented standard in how devices will work together. When Coy’s not busy orchestrating a seismic change — he can be found in Scottsdale, AZ spending time with friends and family or racing cars at professional tracks around the country.

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’ve been entrepreneurial for about as long as I can remember. I was in the gaming industry for most of my younger life and had built and sold a few successful companies. I love the rush of discovering something new, and to watch how ideas evolve and grow.

I didn’t start out with any intention of having a company like Fasetto, but we started with a really viable platform idea for the education industry, which then led us to focus our business efforts within the cloud storage space. As much larger companies dominated the market like Dropbox, Box, Apple, etc, we made the conscious decision to start looking at storage and communication solutions between devices from a local level. And that’s where we are today. All of us at Fasetto — and especially me — get a great joy out of the challenge of achieving something no one else has made.

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

One time I had a meeting with a series of potential investors in the Netherlands. I met with one investor who was really, really wealthy. And his office was located above a public zoo. His specific office was exactly above the gorilla exhibit that had a few insanely huge silverback gorillas. There was a huge treasure chest in the middle of his office and when you opened it up and looked down, you could see them down there and you could throw some food down to them via a tube. It was like something right out of a 007 movie. And it smelled… like the zoo. The places you find looking for funding can lead you to some really interesting situations. So, my advice is to just keep your eyes and ears open.

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

Our core technology is called Gravity. It’s a software architecture that adds intelligence to any network. It enables hyper-connectivity capabilities to the devices it’s installed within and enhances the way they work together — Gravity devices require no router or internet to communicate. So within this self-aware, localized network, devices can share resources like cameras, displays, and even processing power! With our APIs one can then create amazing ways for devices to work within the same connected experience. Gravity is going to lead the way for the next-level of inter-device connectivity.

How do you think this might change the world?

I believe we are bringing the clearest idea of IoT to the world — but removing the lag, security risk, and dependency of the internet to operate. By creating an ad-hoc, localized network of devices that can share resources, you can leverage all the resources of the device network in new ways you never could before. You can give smart processing power to simple, connectivity devices that don’t currently have it. You can take a video call on your TV and your phone can act as the microphone. And Gravity doesn’t stop by connecting only two devices, it can enable 3–4 or more devices to work together simultaneously. Developers will create things they could have never dreamed of because they’ve never had genius-like devices that could do this.

Smarter travel, cars, homes, manufacturing — Gravity enables all that in ways we have yet to imagine, but we can do it in a more secure way without the internet and with so much more flexibility than what’s emerging today.

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

With every new influential technology that gains mass adoption, there will always be someone that will find ways to use it in an unethical way. Gravity can move content around between devices so freely, that we’ll have to work very closely with manufacturers and developers to find those privacy safeguards and mechanisms to keep data private for those who want to.

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

It was a really simple use case that made me arrive at the Gravity solution, and I think it’s a use case that frustrates anyone that has multiple devices. I was riding in a cab with one of my partners at the time, and we had no internet, no LTE or 4G. We were speeding to a meeting and I needed to get a file from my phone to his laptop. We were only sitting one-foot away from each other. And I didn’t have a thumb drive, either. And it struck me — between the two of us, we have two devices that both have antennas and receivers, they both have connection capabilities, but here we were unable to share a file. We simply wanted to move my content from one machine to another. Shouldn’t be that hard should it?

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

We want to get Gravity into as many devices as we can. The best device form factor to do this is the smartphone. The smartphone is the device everyone owns and is the lead device that has birthed so many other solutions like apps and ancillary devices like Bluetooth speakers, smart thermostats, etc.

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

We’re finding that creating our own use-cases for Gravity works best to help illustrate the capabilities. We’ve created three unique software engines that are intended to work at the native-level of a device OS — a data-sharing engine code-named Zodiac; Aquarius — a unique video engine that allows one to access another device’s camera and add it to their own video to create multi-angled videos; and Gemini — a video-sharing engine that allows you to share videos with others without the internet. We have more coming out that I’m really excited about, too.

We also maintain a big annual presence at CES every year and also leak things out gorilla style on Reddit and other social channels.

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

It’s not just one person, but many people. You can’t achieve success unless you have help. You can put in the long hours and the dedication, but you need someone to confide in. This road can be stressful and expensive. I’d have to say if it wasn’t for every single one of my investors, we wouldn’t be here. They’ve given me the freedom to let me run the company, execute the vision, support us and not put incredibly restrictive terms on what we’re doing. It’s a great relationship to have. If the investment terms are too restrictive that you might get from VC, even-though the funding is awesome, you can lose the initial vision of the company. We’re really fortunate to have the investors we have.

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

Yes, of course. As a CEO, I believe I have responsibility to my employees and their families. I want to bring a culture of caring to our business and want my employees to feel if they need something, they can ask the company for help. I also care a lot about education, so we offer our Forum product to schools for free, which works great in older-aged classrooms.

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

Here are my five:

  1. It will take longer. Nothing works the way you put it down on paper. It always takes longer than you want it to. Always.
  2. It will cost you double. Whatever you think your budget is, it will cost you double or more. There are so many unknown costs along the way. Or something doesn’t come out right and you have to do it again, etc.
  3. Try to balance and prioritize. This is not always a sprint, you have to have ebbs and flows in your business so you can take time to reflect and know how to move ahead.
  4. Read the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Amazing book.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t cut your nose to spite your face. If you think you’ll always have to say yes, you might get something in the short term, but it could be sacrificing the long-term vision.

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

I would create a movement to bring coding as part of the core curriculum to schools. It’s a new language and is fundamental to the future. It should be taught like Spanish or a second language. And every child should have the opportunity to learn it. With the hardware and software capabilities we have today, I really believe our only limit is our imagination.

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 sayings that guide me in life. The first one is, always treat others the way you want to be treated. I even have it tattooed on my arm as a reminder. It’s not because you’re expecting something in return, it’s just the moral thing to do. Always take the high road. It’s difficult in business, because morality doesn’t always work in business, but I’ve found it’s worked for me over and over. The other is don’t ever quit. It always gets tough, but those tough times build character and so you keep pushing. It’s not always the most talented that win, but those with the most tenacity.

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

The electronics industry is stale. No one is lining up to buy new devices like years ago. Phones are just making incremental improvements in camera, battery, and resolution. There are no seismic changes. But Gravity is that change. Gravity adds intelligence to Wi-Fi between devices so they can do more together than ever before. TVs will interact with phones like never before. Devices will interact with your car like never before. Gravity adds intelligence before and after the transmission. Gravity is the future and I’m excited to get there.


The Future Is Now: “The Next-Level of Inter-Device Connectivity” with Coy Christmas of Fasetto 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: “Wearable tech that reminds you to maintain Social Distancing” with Rob Hruskoci

The Future Is Now: “Wearable tech that reminds you to maintain Social Distancing” with Rob Hruskoci of Advanced Industrial Marketing

In the short-term future, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, so it is emphasized with urgency every day that the best course of action is social distancing. Our product is a reminder, allowing you to maintain social distancing status at all times. The EGOpro Active Tag uses UWB technology to maintain CDC recommended guidelines to send a vibration to alert both tags, and the people wearing them, of a breach in social distancing. Ideal for factories, warehouses and construction sites where it is difficult to measure the minimum distance between employees, it has everyday applications for retail and is even being used in a museum setting.

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

Rob Hruskoci is the owner and CEO of Advanced Industrial Marketing (AIM). With more than 22 years of experience in the industry and an educational background in engineering from Purdue University, he understands the needs of his clients’ business and brings unique technology solutions to market.

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

I founded Advanced Industrial Marketing because I identified a need to bring professional sales and expertise into the industrial environment. We specialize in higher tech products, and by utilizing my engineering degree from my undergraduate education, I was able to help bring these high tech products into the industrial space. Over time we have transformed into material handling specialists. We have a suite of products that we offer to improve the safety and efficiency of material handling operations and proximity detection. Up until March, no one considered the need for human-to-human protective technology. We’ve since evolved our traditional product and morphed into a people-to-people detection system in this new world of social distancing.

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

One of the most interesting things that has happened to me in my career was discovering the need for my expertise across the pond. I never really set out to do sales and marketing of unique technology from Europe like AME; however, when we started getting into the international market, I discovered a huge need. It can be difficult to bring European products to the US market, but I am always up for a challenge. The expertise and knowledge that I have has directly translated into solutions of the problems my clients face. Expanding AIM’s horizons led to working with innovative partners with unique technologies. With my business located in Indiana, I never expected to be working with people across the world.

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

In the short-term future, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, so it is emphasized with urgency every day that the best course of action is social distancing. Our product is a reminder, allowing you to maintain social distancing status at all times. The EGOpro Active Tag uses UWB technology to maintain CDC recommended guidelines to send a vibration to alert both tags, and the people wearing them, of a breach in social distancing. Ideal for factories, warehouses and construction sites where it is difficult to measure the minimum distance between employees, it has everyday applications for retail and is even being used in a museum setting. We can contribute to keeping the numbers down. If everyone were to have a product like this, it would ensure that people adhere to social distancing guidelines and therefore keep people safe.

How do you think this might change the world?

In the new era of social distancing, this could be a long-term solution in order to reopen the country and ensure safety.

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

This is best of class technology. It uses a UWB frequency band that allows for very fast and very precise positioning as well as secure communication. Even with a full suite of contact-tracing products, the data that is being transmitted is private and extremely secure. The frequency that we are transmitting it on is hard to crack and is not like WiFi or Bluetooth. Our people-counting device, LASE PeCo, counts the number of people simply by calculating the height of people, but there are no other identifying factors. The device can distinguish between an adult, child and a shopping cart by inputting the suggested height of an adult and a suggested height of a child. It is not a security camera or system, but a people counter.

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

We were already in the business of proximity detection, protecting people from machinery in the workplace. Heavy machinery is often one of the leading causes of injury/death in a work setting. Now, there is a new danger. The virus has changed the way we operate in our daily lives. We were already experts in proximity detection and with social distancing in full swing, a safe distance between individuals is key to preventing the spread of the virus. This unexpected circumstance led us to reconfigure the system to do people-to-people detection as well. We are using the same core technology, and by innovating with the current times, have been able to come up with a solution to this new problem.

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

What we need is the acceptance of the market to invest in this technology. The virus is not going away, and social distancing is part of our future. Relying on people to always maintain social distancing is not going to suffice. The acceptable, reliable measures are low-cost solutions. Our technology can protect people from transmitting the virus and therefore keep numbers down. We need acceptance and willingness to adhere to social distancing.

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 started this business, I had a partner along the way who really had bigger ambitions. At the time, he was talking about using our expertise to find partners in Europe and across the world and bring their technology to the USA even though I didn’t think we were ready for it. He was always confident this was the direction we should take the company. He was the motivator behind the turning point for the company. He is no longer with the organization anymore but we are still good friends and I talk frequently about the journey and how his guidance has transformed the company and helped me to see the bigger picture.

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

Our technology is being deployed in mostly industrial situations. The material handling in these areas are very dangerous. As we know, it is one of the leading causes of fatalities in most industries. It is always in the top 10 of OSHA violations. Material handling in the industry is a dangerous thing. We are helping companies realize that with the adoption of this technology we can improve the safety and therefore keep employees safe. We have taken our expertise and knowledge from proximity detection and transformed it into social distancing. Following guidelines from the CDC and World Health Organization, we are trying to keep people at a safe distance. We are alerting them that social distancing has been violated. We are taking the key safety message and adapting it into this new COVID world.

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

1. It is ok to say no. Instead of forcing our solutions into applications that aren’t a fit, we have tried to “make” things work just to satisfy a customer. These never turn out well and often lead to unhappy customers. As hard as it is, it’s much easier to tell a customer no, we can’t offer a solution to you at this time.

2. Leadership styles matter. Different people in your organization need different things. How you lead them is key to your company’s success. One needs to recognize the individual’s needs and adjust accordingly.

3. Hire experts to help build your company. I am not an expert at everything. It’s perfectly fine to hire people to do work for you. In the long run, it ends up saving time, money and your company can grow from the input that these experts can provide.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most things that I worry about never happen. Don’t waste time and energy on them!

5. Learn to delegate. I have hired people in my organization who are talented. I need to rely on their talents more and give them key positions in projects across the company.

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

“Lewis and Clark were lost most of the time; If your idea of exploration is to always know where you are going, and staying inside your zone of competence, you don’t do wild new shit. You have to be confused, upset, think you’re stupid. If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t go outside of the box” Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft.

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 🙂

Our social distancing technology was developed by engineers who have been doing proximity detection for the last 20 years. Keeping people safely away from objects is nothing new to us. Using that expertise we have developed a technology that is incredibly reliable, extremely fast and precise. Most importantly, it is secure from a data perspective. This technology is unmatched across the world as far as what we can offer in our light and our contact tracing which can lead to people counting, managing people in areas and alerting authorities to violations. I think the key thing to remember is that our technology can apply to several aspects. We can use that same technology to do people-to-machine, man-to-machine and now people-to-people. We are one of the only companies in the world that has the technology to adapt for an advanced feature down the road.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.advindmktg.com/


The Future Is Now: “Wearable tech that reminds you to maintain Social Distancing” with Rob Hruskoci was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Candace Nicolls of Snagajob: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Collaboration challenges. How often have you stood with your team around a white board, or had a stand up by your desks? These things can be replicated with online tools, but getting the hang of moving to online collaboration, especially when one person might have internet issues, another is wrangling a toddler, and another is trying to keep their dog from barking, can be tricky.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candace Nicolls, Senior Vice President of People and Workplace at Snagajob, where she leads talent acquisition, human resources, HR compliance, training and development, employee engagement, community support and facilities management. With more than 20 years of experience in talent management and acquisition, Candace is passionate about providing an awesome candidate experience. Candace is active with many of Snagajob’s community partners, including Rebuilding Together Richmond, Junior Achievement, Special Olympics Virginia, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond, where she sits on the Board of Directors. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Candace holds SPHR, SRHM and SCP certifications.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Candace! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I sort of fell into this field, not unlike a lot of people I know in recruiting or HR. Shortly after graduating college, I moved to a new city where positions in my somewhat obscure degree field were non-existent. I registered with a temporary service, and my second assignment was in their office… and I didn’t leave for 6 ½ years. I was able to move from a receptionist to a recruiter, and as my career progressed with other companies, I was able to concentrate on technical recruiting and management, which eventually brought me to Snagajob. An entire company dedicated to helping people find their right fit position sounded like the perfect place for me! A couple of years after I started here, I had the opportunity to move into a hybrid HR/recruiting management role, and as we grew, so did my responsibilities and our team. I joined Snagajob’s executive team in November of 2018, and here we are!

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

Many, many years ago, a leader at the company I was with introduced me to the concept of “raving fans”- creating incredible experiences so you don’t just build customers, you build advocates. That was a real light bulb moment for me, and I’ve tried to approach a career that’s based on interactions with others this same way- you really have to differentiate yourself in today’s competitive talent world and relationship-building is a fantastic way to do so. This concept is really what makes great employer brands stand apart, too. I’m constantly amazed at how small the world is- you meet so many people in this industry, and I’ll still bump into people I met 15 years ago who remember me. It really emphasizes the importance of making sure you treat people not just with kindness, but that they really feel like you’ve done your best for them.

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 been a long time since I was first starting! Most of the mistakes I can think of were more cringe-worthy than funny, and typically involved sending someone with the wrong skill set or attire to a customer site when I was in staffing.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

As the leader in your organization, remember that your actions set the tone for everyone below you. You need to project the right balance of realism, optimism, empathy, and inspiration, especially in times of crisis. You need to clearly communicate what you’re seeing that impacts the organization and how you’re making decisions. You need to embrace flexibility, push leaders to embrace flexibility, and recognize the work that people are doing while they’ve got unprecedented macro impacts weighing on them. This is also the time when focus and prioritization are more important than ever. You’ll probably need to pivot what your organization is doing, so making sure people understand what you have to accomplish, and by when, matters immensely so they aren’t doing throwaway work. You need to encourage people to step away, or even better, understand the pressure people may be under and look at new opportunities to implement innovative solutions, like giving the entire company the day off. Take the time to really understand where people are and where they’re coming from, and adapt your message if needed.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve had at least one person on my team in a geographically different location than me off and on for about sixteen years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

There are definitely some traps that managers can fall into if they’re not careful when they first start managing a remote team:

  1. If I can’t see you, how do I know you’re working? This is probably the most important one to squash. If companies aren’t used to working remotely, and especially if there’s not a relationship of trust that’s been built between manager and employee, a dynamic of micro-management can quickly evolve.
  2. Access to information. When we’re in offices, we pass each other in the halls and share information. We linger after meetings and have carry over conversations. We swing by someone’s desk to see if they can help with something. When everyone’s remote, these things aren’t possible, so information must be intentionally shared.
  3. Assignments may not be clear. Everyone needs to understand what they’re supposed to be doing, and that’s even more critical when working from home. If someone is used to standing up and asking a colleague a clarifying question, the lack of ability to do that might leave someone in limbo if they’re not sure how to do something.
  4. Lack of connectedness. Generally, people have friends at work, and getting to work with them is a big part of why people enjoy their jobs. Personal conversations and connection are a big part of what makes people productive, and missing out on that together time can lead to feelings of isolation or loss (on top of everything else remote workers are dealing with right now).
  5. Collaboration challenges. How often have you stood with your team around a white board, or had a stand up by your desks? These things can be replicated with online tools, but getting the hang of moving to online collaboration, especially when one person might have internet issues, another is wrangling a toddler, and another is trying to keep their dog from barking, can be tricky.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

Fortunately, there are LOTS of things you can do to make sure you’re leading your remote teams successfully:

Overcommunicate: When in doubt, assume more is more. Context is really important, so make sure you’re talking about what you’re seeing, why you’re making decisions, and share REAL data. Use the right tool for the right job, especially if you’ve got lots of communication channels where people can find info- make it easy for people to find the answers they’re looking for.

Establish clear objectives: Priorities matter more than ever before, so make sure your remote teams know that they need to accomplish. Tie the work they’re doing into the overarching objectives of the organization, and make sure everyone knows what success looks like. Now is not the time to be vague- make sure deadlines are clear, and that everyone knows where and who to go to if they need help.

Celebrate wins and give recognition: We get it- there’s a lot going on, and there’s a lot that has people on edge. That’s why now is the perfect time to make sure you’re celebrating success. If someone is working hard, and is knocking it out of the park, let everyone know that! Make it real, make it specific, and tailor it to the individual. No win is too small!

Check in: Take the time to check in on your people as, well, people. Schedule virtual coffee with them, or make sure you’re taking time during each of their 1:1s to talk about how they actually are. Make sure you’re still talking about individual development, and how you can help someone achieve that next level of success (maybe even while letting them know it’s fine when their toddler joins your team meetings).

Help your team connect: Find ways to make sure your team- whether that’s your specific team or your whole company- are staying in touch. It doesn’t need to be a virtual happy hour- maybe it’s a QBR where everyone gets to show off what they did the previous quarter. Maybe it’s an open virtual meeting where anyone can pop in and say hello or ask for help on something. Maybe it’s a personalized Slack channel where only talking in gifs is allowed. Get creative, and ask your team! There’s probably a way for people to stay connected and successful that you’ve not even thought of.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

There are so many great options for video conferencing that it’s easier than ever to give someone meaningful feedback, regardless as to whether or not they’re in the same room as you. I’m a big proponent of avoiding the “feedback sandwich”, where you hide constructive feedback within two pieces of praise. Instead, there are a couple of key things to keep in mind- first, make it timely. When you see an opportunity to give feedback, do it. Waiting a couple of weeks until your next check in makes it really difficult to be impactful. Second, make sure you’re focusing on what happened and the impact it had, NOT why you think someone did it. We’re big fans of Kim Scott’s approach outlined in Radical Candor. This way, the person understands how the action was interpreted and the resulting outcomes- it doesn’t get perceived as a judgement call against the person that you’re trying to give this feedback to. Ultimately, feedback is a gift, and you want to make sure you’re delivering it in a way that ensures the person on the receiving end understands this is to help them improve.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

If possible, don’t! Feedback is almost always better delivered by an actual conversation. If this is the first time you’re giving someone feedback on a particular area, you really have to give that “in person”, so ideally on video chat, but at least by phone call. Sharing it over email doesn’t guarantee that the right sentiment or context will come through, so it could come across as discipline instead of feedback. If you need to give feedback on something that you’ve already discussed, and an in person conversation isn’t possible to have quickly, sharing the situation by email, referencing the conversations you’ve already had about that topic, can be a bridge until your next conversation.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

It’s really important to remember that we’ve not all just shifted to working remotely- we’ve all shifted to working from our homes because there’s a global pandemic that’s forced us to. Normal expectations around finding a quiet space away from your kids or pets are no longer realistic, so we all have to reset our expectations of what work looks like right now. If you’re not willing to be flexible on hours, or dress codes, or having kids sometimes crash your meetings, you’re not enabling your employees to be productive. That being said, establishing SOME norms is important. You want to make sure people know where to go for certain types of resources or communications. Do you prefer everyone have their camera on during video calls? Say so! Setting those guidelines as early as possible will help ensure you’re putting the right level of structure into your work.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

If you don’t already have a culture that’s healthy and empowering, it’s not going to suddenly manifest when everyone is remote. If you’ve got a culture that’s thriving, it’s more important than ever to really lean into your mission and core values. Think about the norms that are important to your company, and how you can modify them to everyone being remote. Rituals matter- don’t let them get forgotten just because you’re not all together. If you have a company meeting every Thursday, for example, don’t stop doing those! It’s also a great time to think about how to transfer some of the in person things you’d normally do to a virtual format. Grabbing “coffee” with a colleague, having a team meeting- all can be done online to keep that cadence of communication and connectedness up!

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 have so many thoughts on this, and my family and I talk often about ideas we have around this very thing. If I had to pick one thing, it would be figuring out a way to instill more empathy into everyone. It’s a core component of emotional intelligence, of course, which in my opinion is the most important skill a leader can have. Beyond that, though, I’d hope it could help everyone gain a little more perspective on where other people are coming from, particularly right now when things often feel more divided than together.

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

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” It was attributed to John Wesley when I learned it, and while I don’t think he actually said it, this is the approach I’ve tried to take to everything in my life. I think this is more important than ever, as people are facing challenges we never could have dreamed of, all within an incredibly polarized political climate. It’s a good reminder to take a step back and make sure you’re contributing to the inclusion, not the divide.

Thank you for these great insights!


Candace Nicolls of Snagajob: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Erica Volini of Deloitte: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Trust: Managing remote teams requires leaders to trust employees to get good work done. To support this relationship of trust, employees need to demonstrate accountability and self-management of workflows.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Volini.

Erica, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, is Deloitte’s Global Human Capital leader. In this role, she is focused on helping leaders solve their most complex and pressing human capital issues. In today’s world of constant disruption, those issues include everything from navigating the future of work to enabling the digital organization — all centered around how to optimize the intersection of the workforce and business performance. Throughout her 20+ year career, Erica has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations and is a frequent speaker on how market trends are impacting the HR organization and profession as a whole. Within Deloitte, she has served as a member of Deloitte Consulting’s Management Committee and Board of Directors. She has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

My background from school is in Industrial & Labor Relations — that’s really where I started to gain an appreciation of the organization-worker relationship. From there, I had an internship where I was able to work with the Administration of Children’s Services to help them develop a training program for their employees and I really saw the power of what could be done when we appropriately invest in ‘human capital’. I joined Deloitte shortly thereafter and, as they say, the rest is history. It’s now been 22 years at Deloitte and throughout every role I’ve played, a focus on human capital has always been at the center. Today, I’m the global leader for our practice and still love getting to work directly with clients helping them optimize the potential of their workforce. In today’s constant world of disruption, I don’t think there is anything more important for an organization to do.

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

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think the most interesting moment of my career has been my transition back from maternity leave. I was a lifetime consultant who had never taken more than three weeks off and all of a sudden, I’m returning having been away for 6+ months. What was interesting about it was how much personal and professional growth I had through that experience — not just about becoming a mother, but becoming a different type of leader, teammate and advisor. Everything needed to change, but as I look back two years later, all of those changes helped me to become a better professional overall.

What advice would you give to leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

At the moment, the only way out is through. We’ve made a mass transformation to a new way of working in the context of an economic, public health and sociopolitical crisis. On top of that, many families are dealing with unreliable childcare options, taking care of elderly family members, and uncertainty about school openings. First, we need to acknowledge that it’s normal to be struggling, and to help our team members recognize struggle in themselves and in their teams. How do we thrive in a crisis? Resiliency and great leadership. We need our managers and leaders to lead authentically and transparently. Leaders don’t need to have all of the answers, but they do need to bring their teams along in the process. We also need our leaders to model healthy work habits that address some of the core challenges teams are facing in a virtual environment. Healthy boundaries, connectedness with our teams, communities and families, taking vacation, giving our teams clear directions on desired outcomes and creating the space for them to get good work done.

Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I have been managing remote teams for a decade at least. As we have made our delivery centers, both on-shore and off-shore, a bigger and bigger part of our strategy, managing remote teams has simply been the way we get our work done. It takes more discipline and focus to maintain connections, but the outcomes can be just as good, if not better, when you look past the remote nature and just find different ways to connect, inspire and lead.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. Keeping teams informed: Information can no longer make its way through the halls; we need to actively make information accessible on digital platforms so that our teams know what they’re looking for, fast.
  2. Keeping teams on track: It used to be that a manger could walk into a room and see whether their employees are working or not; that’s no longer the case. Instead, managers need to shift directions to provide clarity on the outcomes that matter and be in a position to observe team progress in a digital format, such as dropping into a collaboratively-edited work-in-progress presentation to see how things are coming along, or viewing task progress in a digital task management platform.
  3. Keeping teams connected: In a remote environment, teams are spending more time working on direct workflows and less time interacting with casual work colleagues; individual networks are contracting. Teams need to build new strategies to stay engaged with one another.
  4. Managing performance: Performance management protocols were designed to measure performance in an in office environment — at a time when facetime is no longer the norm, we need to consider how old ways of thinking are influencing performance management in a remote environment.
  5. Trust: Managing remote teams requires leaders to trust employees to get good work done. To support this relationship of trust, employees need to demonstrate accountability and self-management of workflows.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

It’s important to match our message to the medium. If it’s a sensitive feedback conversation, it’s important to get on a video call and give our teammates the benefit of our eye contact, facial expressions and undivided attention. That said, our transformation to a remote environment has helped accelerate an existing trend of continuous feedback: a commitment to provide feedback in the moment when challenges and learning opportunities arise. Nudging new behaviors in the right direction with a chat or text help ensure that small issues are addressed promptly as we collectively create new boundaries and norms.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

It’s absolutely possible to build meaningful relationships online. We can adapt to this new mode of relationship as long as we’re intentional: considering our tone and how it appears in an online format, using video with cameras on to establish new relationships but not requiring video all the time, making sure we continue the casual banter outside of our immediate workflows and tasks, and really taking time to check in on one another. It’s important to remember that there are five generations in the workforce and for some members of the population, building relationships in an online format is a seamless experience. Others can’t fathom it. This is a time to embrace reverse mentorship, and also to have empathy for and directly support those who are struggling to adapt.


Erica Volini of Deloitte: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is born” With Author Dr. Sally Goldberg

…Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is born and even before. There are eight stages from birth to age three, and there is information available about how to promote development during each of them by natural, fun and worthwhile parent-child interactions.

As a part of my series about Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years I had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Goldberg.

Sally Goldberg, Ph.D., professor of education, author, magazine writer, and the first parenting expert on FOX TV’s “Parent to Parent,” has changed her focus! Meet Dr. Sally now on “Parenting with Dr. Sally” www.earlychildhoodnews.net for up-to-date parenting information and answers to many questions.

With seven out of eight parenting books behind her, Dr. Sally is now writing for children. Eight manuscripts are almost ready for publication. These range from board and toddler ones to those in the the four to eight-year-old age range.

Sally worked for many years as an instructor of early childhood education on the adjunct faculties of Nova Southeastern University, Barry University, and the University of Phoenix. Well-known for her tools and strategies for self-esteem development, she was a national conference presenter and a frequent guest on TV and radio. Sally, who grew up in While Plains, NY, has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Miami.

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

Cynthia!!! Oh what a surprise. After nine months of waiting and watching and wondering and preparing for the birth of the most perfect, gorgeous, bright and high-achieving baby in the whole world, along came Cynthia — perfect, gorgeous, bright and born with a developmental delay. What?!!! That was not in the plans. Not only would she not be the most high-achieving baby in the world, she was actually going to function on the lower end. “Oh no. Oh dear. Oh no. Oh … and many more! In reality there were all kinds of outbursts along the way including tears. It took many months to adjust to the new situation, but I finally did, and eventually the new focus became much more positive.

My love of teaching was a big factor, and my desire to create educational materials helped also. Combining the two, I developed a mission to find anything and everything possible that would help Cynthia. The first step was to read all there was to read about the subject. Next came buying all there was to buy. Eventually came making all there was to make. The goal became to get her from behind the starting line in every area to catching up and eventually moving ahead.

“Impossible, stop, you are wasting your time” is all I heard from everyone around. However, I just kept going. Then one day I met Dr. Morton Schwartzman, the dedicated optimistic, forward thinking and very popular pediatrician in the area. Right up front I asked him, “What won’t Cynthia be able to do?” Then straight from the heart he said, “I don’t know.” That was it, all I needed to hear. “If he doesn’t know, then I don’t know; and I will shoot for the moon,” and then I did.

Slowly but surely the original heartbreak began to disappear, and love, passion and excitement started to take hold. The more I taught Cynthia the more she learned, and then the more she learned, the more I taught her. We continued on that same path for a very long time and are still on it today. However, now it has a new addition — the more Cynthia teaches me the more I learn, and then the more I learn, the more she teaches me. Who would have ever dreamed of that!

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

There was a very poorly behaved boy with his parents in a photography studio waiting to have his picture taken. I was in the waiting room outside and could hear a little bit of his disruptions. It seemed his mother kept trying to get him under control but that he kept carrying on. Then eventually all the chaos and ruckus stopped. “What happened?” I wondered. Just then the studio owner, who I had been working with on a project, walked out and said to me, “You would not believe this, but that little boy, about ten-years-old, picked up a copy of your book Constructive Parenting and started reading the section on discipline. He told his parents, “Look … positive attention. You need to pay that to me.” They must have taken his advice right away because they all walked out happily together.

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

The credit on this one goes to singer Barbara Streisand for her song Never give up.” The successes were plentiful but few happened as the crow flies. In addition, people everywhere were still giving me advice like, “Stop knocking yourself out? Don’t you know what she has? She will never learn. You are living in denial” and more. However, those words from her song kept ringing in my ears and spurring me on. Just when an effort looked hopeless, a reward of progress would come, and that gave me the motivation to keep on going!

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

Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is born and even before. There are eight stages from birth to age three, and there is information available about how to promote development during each of them by natural, fun and worthwhile parent-child interactions.

In addition, there are five areas that need optimal attention during this time — cognitive, motor, social, language and self-esteem, and there are wonderful activities known for each age and stage in all five areas. Providing a balanced program for little ones from birth to age three lays a positive foundation for all future development. Not having appropriate activities in all areas throughout the ages and stages could leave a baby, toddler and two-year-old impaired or delayed in one or more areas. Health routines are all part of this kind of programming too. Nutrition, moving, sleep and even breathing all need proper attention.

Here is the best part. Many studies are available to show that brain development is directly related to experiences during these early years. 90% of brain growth takes place between birth and age five. High quality and quantity language in particular play the biggest role in both brain development and all future functioning. Much other important input is involved too.

Other studies show that a lack of a solid positive parent-child relationship in these formative years causes major problems later in life. Crime and violence and even our rash of mass murders have been tied to very bad conditions during early childhood. With strong evidence about what to do and also what happens when certain kinds of interactions are missing, this kind of age/stage and areas of development parent education is an absolute must.

How do you think this will change the world?

Oh my! Child abuse will be on its way out, discipline problems in our schools decreased, and crime and violence reduced substantially. I can’t think of anything that will change the world more in a positive way. It will take three years for this kind of programming to show significant results; but if done right, they will be guaranteed. The societal changes will start to show right after that. The Carnegie Commission did a multi-million dollar study in 1994 to find out why we had so much crime and violence in our country at the time, and much to their surprise they found out that it was because of what happens to children in the first three years. According to the study, vital to adult success is “nurturing love, guidance, support, protection and educational stimulation.”

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

The only problem is that people are used to thinking about these three years in just the opposite way — as unimportant and just a block of time with no particular purpose. They consider this time just a precursor to age three when very simple rudiments of education are meant to begin. While three-year-olds can walk, talk, eat, sleep, run and learn in much the same way as adults, how they do all those things is totally dependent on their beginning years from birth to age three. Perseverance and persistence will be needed to keep this three-year preparation time moving in the most optimal way. That is the fixed time-span needed to produce measurable results. The real fruits of the labors will not show up and be able to be measured until after age three when a true foundation has been formed.

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

By the time Cynthia was two she started to attract her own attention, and by three she did even more. By the end of the first two years she showed that she knew all the colors, letters, numbers and shapes and that she was reading over 100 words. Neighbors began to ask, “How come your daughter understands all those things and our children, who are older and don’t have any difficulties or delays, don’t know half of what she does?” How did you teach her? I had to think about that and pull my thoughts together.

Then one day a mother asked me, “If I get a group of us together, can you give some workshops about what you did?” Honored by the request, I very quickly said, “Yes.” She got the mothers together, and I prepared materials for six lessons. The parents loved having the information, and I enjoyed teaching it.

After that I thought, “If these people like the ideas so much, maybe others would too, and maybe I could write a book; and then I did.” I took all my notes and turned them into Teaching with Toys: Making Your Own Educational Toys. After that pre-schools, churches and Temples began asking me to teach parent-child classes there, and the local community college contacted me to found a program for them. Next came a doctoral degree in early childhood education, more books and more programs.

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

Recognition by the public that this is an absolute necessity. Funding, of course, is the other part of the picture.

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

  1. That this passion would increase difficulties at home. Having so much energy flowing in a direction away from my main relationship created an untenable situation. I was pulled apart by caring for a husband, a house, two children, one child with a disability, and an aging parent with many difficulties of her own. Something had to give, and it ended up being my marriage. That was very sad.
  2. That creating a business was a major undertaking. While I was professionally trained, I had no idea about the business world and how all that worked. One stumbling block led to another. The amount of time, money and energy needed took me by surprise.
  3. That it is always okay to follow your heart. I faced constant conflict all the time because I kept in my mind focused how I thought my life was supposed to be instead of on how it really was. The further it kept veering from that the worse the strain became.
  4. That I had a powerful inner self that could be discovered through meditation. I went without it for a very long time. Eventually it gave me the power to look inside myself for answers and guided me not to be dependent on others.
  5. That even after finding out what I wish I had known that I would be so glad I did what I did every step of the way. I discovered that I became “me” from all the trials and tribulations and that they were all worth it to become my newly empowered self.

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

Yes, turning to your own inner strength for answers. That is foolproof. You have the best insights about you. You will never let yourself down. You will always figure out the right thing to do.

Included in in this idea is how important it is to take care of yourself. Your body is your best friend, and you need first and foremost to keep your attention on it with optimal nutrition, moving during the day as much as possible and having an impeccable sleep routine. Breathing strongly, breathing as part of meditation, and deep breathing to reduce stress are all part of healthy living too. You can do your best work only if your body is happily at peace.

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 🙂

Begin at the beginning. It is always better to spend time instilling optimal habits than to have to do remedial or reparative work. Following that thinking, what better way could there be than to start early. “Every child is entitled to having the finest experiences, and every parent should know how to provide them right from the start” That is the theme on my website “Parenting with Dr. Sally” www.earlychildhoodnews.net. Since every person is a product of their experiences, it is best to make them as good as possible. There is not a moment to waste!

I was recently on a trip and stayed in a Marriott Renaissance Hotel. It was lovely, and this was a sign they had: “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the steps.” All of ours begin at birth, even before, and each one lays the groundwork for the next ones to come

How can our readers follow you on social media? https://www.linkedin.com

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Parent education for every parent as soon as their baby is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kuba Jewgieniew of Realty ONE Group: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

Kuba Jewgieniew of Realty ONE Group: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Don’t lose touch. You should have effective communication platforms and strategies in place to stay connected. We use a variety of communication channels including email, Slack, and of course, lots of video. We find that our teams need a certain level of face-to-face communication, and video calls seem to work.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kuba Jewgieniew.

Kuba Jewgieniew is the CEO And Founder of Realty ONE Group, one of the more rapidly growing real estate franchisors. The company was created with a 100% commission model, an emphasis on culture and unique branding, and a system of partnered and proprietary tools and technologies for franchise owners and real estate professionals.

Jewgieniew is from Polish-born parents who immigrated to the United States. He became the first in his family to graduate from college and earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics degree from the University of California San Diego (UCSD). After college, Jewgieniew had a lucrative career as a financial adviser and portfolio manager, while building computer hardware and software programs in his spare time. He then changed his focus to real estate. In his first year as an agent, he closed 111 transactions and more than $30 million in sales before deciding to start his own brokerage.

He launched Realty ONE Group in 2005. The brokerage was based in Las Vegas, NV, and had 250 agents and $102 million in sales by the end of its first year.

Jewgieniew continues to lead the company as CEO and Founder, and is involved in everyday operations, as well as every aspect of growth and development including branding, marketing, franchising, training and operations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I put my mind to something, I’m all in, which is why I became a top producer in my first year in real estate. The problem was, I gave away a large portion of my commission and I remember literally thinking, “don’t mess with my check!”

This was the idea that drove me to start Realty ONE Group, and you’ll still see that messaging throughout our marketing. It wasn’t necessarily about the money, it was about giving real estate professionals every opportunity to advance their careers.

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 first managers I hired in Las Vegas always showed up polished in a suit and tie. Once I was looking for a pen and couldn’t find one, so I quickly opened his desk drawer and a bunch of candy bars came flying out, scaring the heck out of me! That reminds me to this day to not to take yourself too seriously.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Every morning, we choose the right mindset that sets the tone for the rest of our day. I recommend avoiding the news, especially right now, and even checking emails first thing in the morning. Every new day starts with a mindset to win! I begin each morning practicing gratitude with my family, and that sets the tone for everything we do that day.

And, I know a lot of people often say it, but I really do encourage spending lots of time with family and friends, doing the things you love. It gives you a fresh perspective on the job, and reminds you why you do what you do, and what matters most.

Work hard. Stay humble. Treat each other well, and the rest will come.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Realty ONE Group real estate offices are set up to support busy real estate professionals who are always on the move. We provide a lot of systems and services that help them do a lot of their business virtually and on mobile devices. So, it makes sense that our headquarters staff and teams have the same capability.

For me, it’s always been about finding the right people and building the right teams to keep this company growing and thriving. In the last few years, we’ve built an incredible Executive team with several key professionals who live remotely. Now, the leadership team is basically all remote, living in different cities across the country.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

№1: Don’t lose touch. You should have effective communication platforms and strategies in place to stay connected. We use a variety of communication channels including email, Slack, and of course, lots of video. We find that our teams need a certain level of face-to-face communication, and video calls seem to work.

№2: Don’t work too hard. We constantly emphasize a nice, healthy work-life balance with our employees. We know that some of our employees tend to work harder at home since it can be more difficult to “unplug,” and there’s less in-office, casual communication. So, it’s even more important for them to take breaks, get outside and even make plans to socialize with family and friends (when appropriate, given the current pandemic).

№3: Prioritize and manage your time wisely. We also make sure that we help our teammates, however we can, with prioritizing work and managing their time, keeping tabs on them through project management platforms, and with regularly scheduled meetings. But working from home allows a certain amount of flexibility that we want our employees to enjoy. Some of our teammates work better in the late evenings, while others are early risers.

№4: Challenge of email/text/Slack communication. Working remotely means we depend even more on emails, text and messaging which can be widely misinterpreted. We encourage our team members to call if they should need to clarify messages. A quick phone call can do the job.

№5: Maintain good habits like regular exercise, drinking plenty of water and eating well to keep you motivated and energized.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

I think it’s important to set a precedent with your employees that honest, constructive feedback is valued. With that, leaders must be ready to listen and understand the varying personalities of people on their teams. But it’s true that constructive feedback can be even more difficult when you can’t meet in person. Again, we try and use video as often as possible, and at minimum, conduct phone calls for this. We follow up any conversation with written emails that allow us to give greater details and be objective. We’re finding this to be very effective.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

We recommend starting with positive feedback — the things that the team member has been doing well and any recent wins, and then follow with constructive feedback. Again, this must be constructive, giving them direction on the ways they can improve and meet expectations. Before wrapping up, we recommend asking for their feedback in turn, clarifying any questions and then ending on a positive note.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Working remotely as a team, at times, means you need to overcommunicate. Our teams check in at least once, if not more, every week on an all-team video call. We rely more heavily on our project management systems to make sure we’re hitting deadlines and meeting milestones. And, we encourage team members to ask questions immediately to help them move forward. If it feels like a more complicated subject, question, or even response, it’s best to just pick up the phone and have the conversation.

Again, because our Realty ONE Group offices were set up to support busy real estate professionals on the go, we’ve had a very smooth transition to being fully remote during the pandemic.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

We created our company to have a very dynamic Coolture (Cool + culture) so that it could withstand any fluctuations in the market or economy, and we’ve only seen it strengthen during this time. Not only are we all still working, but we’ve focused in on ‘seeing’ each other and our entire network of real estate professionals through daily and then weekly Town Halls and special events. Our intimate teams host happy hours as a way to still get ‘together,’ share, and enjoy each other personally.

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. 🙂

To stay closer connected in the communities where we live, work and serve. To be better brothers and sisters to our neighbors, and make a positive impact in people’s lives. We’re able to achieve that across 44 states with Realty ONE Group

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

Avoid the drift. No lazy river!

Thank you for these great insights!


Kuba Jewgieniew of Realty ONE Group: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Matt Zilli of Clarizen: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Make sure you understand your customer’s business. Painfully obvious, I know. But I’ve seen too many SaaS solutions that effectively solve some pain point, but don’t really connect to a customer’s overall strategy. If you’ve identified a pain and you think you have a solution, I recommend starting from the top down. See if you can find out that customer’s business strategy and priorities, and then see if you can pitch your solution as not just solving a pain point, but as accelerating their strategy. If the answer is yes, you’re on to something.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Zilli.

Matt Zilli is the Chief Executive Officer for Clarizen, the global leader in enterprise collaborative work management. He drives the company’s strategic vision to help enterprise customers become more agile. Previously, Mr. Zilli held executive positions at Adobe and Marketo (acquired by Adobe in 2018). He previously served as Chief Customer Officer at Marketo, overseeing Customer Success, Consulting and Global Enablement. He supported Marketo’s growth from ~$60M in revenue for seven years through the $4.75B acquisition by Adobe.

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?

My career started with Texas Instruments, working with customers on their semiconductor needs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I was going to convince someone to invest years of their time building a product with TI chips, we better be a great partner with them to make sure they were successful. That thinking carried over when I moved into enterprise software, where I’ve spent my career in sales, marketing and customer success. Nobody wants to work with a “vendor” so I always emphasize the importance of truly being a good partner to my teams.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The biggest challenges I ever faced involved going through acquisitions. It is one of those unique events where you’ve been so focused on building a great company, working with customers, partners and team members on a strategy, and it all changes overnight. All of the sudden, those same customers, partners and team members are looking to you for answers you likely don’t have. But I’ve always been an optimist, and I’m always driven by the value we’re delivering to customers. Nothing gets me as motivated as hearing from a customer about how we’ve changed their reality for the better. So, in times of great change, I usually focus there — because if your customers will stand behind you, everything else is easy.

I started as CEO with Clarizen on March 31, 2020. As you’ll recall, by then state shutdown and stay-at-home orders were widespread. The vast majority of Clarizen employees were already working remotely so I didn’t get to experience the typical “first day” at a new company where you shake hands with colleagues and associate names with smiling faces. I was in the office for only a few minutes to pick up my laptop and then it was back to my living room which has served as my personal headquarters for the last five months. Throughout that time, I’ve had to adapt to running a company and building customer relationships virtually and as hard as it was for me, I knew it was something that many of our customers were experiencing for the first time so I wanted to do everything I could for them.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Embracing uncertainty is something we’ve found ourselves talking about a lot lately. When I took the reins at Clarizen, it was fight or flight. Between the time of accepting the position in February and officially starting as CEO, the world changed. If I didn’t embrace the uncertainty with a steady hand, we would be in a very different spot as a company than we are right now.

I had many similar conversations with our customers and found that they focused on three main areas to navigate that uncertainty and be able to come out on the other side. First is visibility. Companies that have perfect visibility to how work gets done in their organizations have a lot more confidence in navigating this pandemic. Second is productivity. I don’t mean just the productivity of their team members, but how they maintain and increase productivity across the entire ecosystem of their employees, customers, partners and vendors, especially when everyone is working virtually. Lastly, and most importantly, is adaptability. The leaders I speak to demonstrate their grit every day when they talk about being adaptable, committing to changing as the circumstances around them change.

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

I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I remember one project early in my career that was massive — I was tasked with analyzing the global available market for one of our products. I spent weeks collecting data and building what I thought was the perfect analysis. I got to the end and presented it to a group of people. They fired question after question at me about my approach and methodology, about my calculations, about my conclusions. It was clear they weren’t buying into what I was selling. My boss at the time was in the room and after the meeting he asked me two questions: “Do you think your conclusions were correct?” I, of course, said yes. Then he asked, “does it really matter if they’re correct if no one believes you?” That was an eye-opener for me. The lesson here was really about the way I delivered this project — working incredibly hard, but in a vacuum, and completely certain that having the perfect answer would be enough to convince people. As I learned that day and many times since, the power is never in delivering the “right” answer to someone, but instead, it’s in how you bring people along to your point of view, even if it takes hours upon hours of work along the way to do so.

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

I’m always positively surprised when I hear customers characterize Clarizen as a system of record for their work and how work gets done. It has emerged as a common theme in many of my early conversations and I think that is what sets us apart. Many software and work management companies offer products that help people manage a project. But being able to provide a solution that works for them — from major Fortune 500 companies to small businesses or individual departments — is something that we take a lot of pride in at Clarizen. And that pride goes one step further when we hear from those customers of instances when being able to access that “system of record” has made a positive impact on the people within the organization.

I recently spoke with a customer in the spring who was on the verge of reducing its workforce due to the pandemic’s economic blow. It was a common story — they faced an uncertain future and asked every department to make headcount cuts. But our customer was able to perfectly quantify the work their team was doing and its financial impact on the business. That info was shared with the company’s executives and the team did not have to eliminate a single position. The value of having a system of record for the work being done at a company, by departments, and by individual teams is incredibly valuable. It unlocks new processes and depths of understanding that they never had before. Companies need that now, more than ever.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

2020 has turned all of our lives upside down from both the professional and personal perspectives but I think there is one thing in particular that sets this year apart. It has proven that work can happen anywhere and at any time. That has certainly been true for me. It can happen during the 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. window; it can start at 7:00 a.m. when I get back from walking my dog; it can happen after I put my kids to bed. And because work can happen anywhere and anytime, making sure we help each other and are understanding of everyone’s home situation is even more critical. To that end, I have three tips to share.

First, be collaborative in scheduling meetings as well as setting and agreeing to deadlines. Work shouldn’t stop, but be open to the fact that your weekly status meeting may need to change when personal obligations pop up for a team member.

Second, set boundaries and stick to them. Working remotely takes some getting used to. There is no question about it. In a sense, it can be harder to change gears from “work life” to “home life” when you’re working remotely because the physical barrier is far less than if you were going to an actual office building. But it is still important to distinguish between the two and arguably it is more important to do that in today’s climate because we all need to take care of our mental and emotional well-being.

Third, roll with the punches. I had an instance last week when my video conference call was dropped because my preschooler logged into his video conference class. Pre-pandemic, a situation like that would’ve put many of us, myself included, into a negative, stressed mindset. In 2020, it is just life. I logged back in and made a joke while the rest of the participants empathized, and then we got back to work as if nothing happened.

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

The unequivocal answer here is my wife, Corey (and not just because she’s looking at me right now as we’re sharing our home office). She’s been my amazing partner for the better part of a decade and I wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything professionally without her help. But professionally, there’s one more person I must mention: Chandar Pattabhiram (CMO, Coupa). I often tell people that the two hardest transitions people make professionally are moving into their first role managing people and then moving into their first role managing managers. Learning how to lead people directly requires a thick skin and an open mind. Learning how to lead people who you don’t manage directly takes that to the extreme. Chandar believed in me when I was making that second transition. He personally helped me grow through his coaching and that of the people he introduced me to. He gave me plenty of opportunities to succeed (even after a couple of failures). Without him, I may never have learned how to really lead a team through the good times and the bad. I owe him a lot!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Clarizen has 1,000 customers currently utilizing its products as their work management solution of choice. Clarizen One is an adaptive and effective work management solution that provides a comprehensive look at all work streams within an organization. Clarizen Go, which launched last year, is a robust task management solution that is the easiest way to drive agile adoption within an organization. Here are the three main steps we’ve taken to achieve this success and grow our customer base.

Step 1: We listen to our customers. Our customer relationships are incredibly important to us because we understand the trust they put in us to manage all of the work being done by their entire organization. We proactively solicit their feedback to find out what’s working, what’s not working, and how we can make Clarizen solutions better in helping them achieve their business goals.

Step 2: We pivot without ego. The feedback we gain from customers isn’t put in a virtual filing cabinet and forgotten. Over the years, Clarizen has updated the features within our portfolio of products as a result of direct customer input on what would be better for them. I speak with customers every day, and the insights they provide have a direct impact on our product roadmap.

Step 3: We regularly step outside of our comfort zone. We talk a lot about agile methodology at Clarizen because that is where our roots are. Clarizen One was created to help software developers adopt the Agile methodology of project management. Over the years, we’ve found that being agile isn’t just akin to the software industry. It is a concept that has weight in other industries. We’ve adapted our solutions to help companies in other verticals transform to realize the benefits of becoming more agile.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We understand that adopting a work management solution isn’t an overnight process, nor is it a one-size-fits-all approach. Our goal is always to align our goals with our customer’s goals, and that goes for our monetization strategy, as we want to make sure customers pay for the areas where they receive the most value. Our customers pay a subscription fee that varies based on the components they use most and on the number of users leveraging those components. We’ve toyed with other models over the years, but always with the goal of aligning our monetization to real customer value.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS-based solution? Please share a brief explanation or story for each.

I’ve spent my career in business-to-business solutions, for the past decade in SaaS, so I’ll give you my take from that perspective. The five most important things people should know are obvious, but let me explain where I’ve seen them go wrong:

1. Make sure you understand your customer’s business. Painfully obvious, I know. But I’ve seen too many SaaS solutions that effectively solve some pain point, but don’t really connect to a customer’s overall strategy. If you’ve identified a pain and you think you have a solution, I recommend starting from the top down. See if you can find out that customer’s business strategy and priorities, and then see if you can pitch your solution as not just solving a pain point, but as accelerating their strategy. If the answer is yes, you’re on to something.

2. Small improvements aren’t good enough. A lot of SaaS providers underestimate the cost of change. Improving something by 5, 10, or 15% usually isn’t good enough because the time and cost of change management isn’t worth the upside. I still get SPAM emails to this day offering SaaS solutions to improve my customer satisfaction by 10% or reduce my OPEX by 5%. Truth be told, I can do 100 things to improve by 10%, and most of them will be easier than adopting a new SaaS solution. If you can help me improve something I care about by 30% or more, then we’ll talk.

3. It takes more than just a great product. We have to provide solutions that people are willing to pay for, which means we have to translate a customer’s pain into dollars — increased revenue or saving costs. The road is littered with apps that were a great or a novel idea, but don’t really solve a significant pain or wouldn’t ever have a big enough impact to get the blessing of a CFO. For B2B SaaS, a good test is to speak with CFOs early and often. If you can’t convince a CFO of the value of your SaaS solution, then don’t bother building the product.

4. Don’t dismiss sales and marketing. Yes, it still happens. There are founders who believe their SaaS product will sell itself. In the B2B world, it turns out most employees don’t know how to buy software. So, you might win over a user with a free trial, but is that worth anything to your business? It’s critical to view your revenue engine as a system: Product to Marketing to Sales. Once you have a great product, there’s real magic in marketing it to the right audience and more magic still in a sales team that can translate a product into a business solution companies are willing to pay for. The Product/Sales/Marketing engine powers high growth SaaS companies.

5. Constantly revisit #1. As businesses grow and bring on more customers, it’s easy to let those customers dictate your roadmap. Many SaaS companies fall into the trap of prioritizing the wrong items because “customers asked for them.” I’m all for listening to customers, but we have to make sure we never lose sight of their overall business priorities. Fixing a feature here or there may improve customer satisfaction in the short term, but far too often, those features didn’t really improve the business value you were providing. The most successful SaaS companies solve this by constantly innovating, clearly communicating a vision of where you’re taking your solution so that your customers can buy in for the long haul.

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

I’m a big news consumer — can’t get enough. I would love to start the movement to bring back investigative journalism, harkening back to the days of Woodward and Bernstein. The constant firehose of information most people have access to across news media, editorial media and social media means we all have access to individual tidbits, but it’s too hard for most people to really capture the complete, fact-based picture on any issue. I dream of the good that would come from healthy debate of key issues in the world, which starts and ends with journalists who are empowered to investigate and publish truth.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can always follow me personally on LinkedIn or check me out on Twitter at @mattzilli. For Clarizen, check out our website (www.Clarizen.com) or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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


Matt Zilli of Clarizen: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Juliet D’Ambrosio of Adrenaline: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More…

Juliet D’Ambrosio of Adrenaline: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

You don’t have to get it right the first time. — I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that every successful person makes mistakes. Making mistakes, acknowledging them, and embracing them as a tool to learn from will help build a foundation for what will ultimately lead to success and resilience. Don’t let mistakes define you or let the fear of making them prevent you from taking risks. Like the old music adage says, “It takes years to become an overnight success.” The trick is to have a mentor you trust — or a team of them — who can help point you in the right direction and turn your mistakes in learning. Fresh eyes always help you see what you can’t quite see yourself.

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Juliet D’Ambrosio, Senior Director of Strategy for Adrenaline, leads strategy for a multi-disciplinary agency that helps move financial and healthcare brands and businesses ahead. A journalist turned strategist, for nearly 20 years Juliet has worked with both B2B and consumer brands in revealing their core truths, unearthing their audiences’ needs and translating those insights into a powerful creative strategy that drives results.

Juliet has experience in food and beverage, healthcare, education, retail, design, apparel, place branding, technology, and the financial and professional services industries. She has led teams in developing strategies and campaigns for brands around the world, including Coca-Cola, VISA, Samsung, The International Olympic Committee, Volkswagen, FIFA, Paramount Pictures, and the International Hotel Group.

Juliet’s work has been recognized by awards and publications including Communication Arts, AIGA Design 50, ID, D&AD, and Graphis. She’s a regular speaker on design and strategy and holds a faculty position at Miami Ad School at Portfolio Center. Juliet lives in Atlanta with her husband and six children.

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?

My childhood was really interesting. I was first raised on a commune in the woods of New Hampshire until my parents got divorced. Then I moved to Atlanta, where I had a more suburban and Southern style childhood. The idea of having to bloom where planted really resonates with me as such an important lesson. I think, for all of us, we can’t really control the conditions that surround us all the time, but we can control the way that we respond to them, make the best of what we’re presented with, take what we can, and grow from there. Moving between two vastly different environments gave me a really unique perspective on resilience.

The first part of my childhood was very bohemian, no rules, no money, very little supervision, just a wild-child existence. Figuring out the way to get the nurturing and lessons I needed empowered me to develop very strong relationships and become incredibly self-sufficient, so that was one form of resilience. When we moved to Georgia — sort of the New South — there was a lot of emphasis on image, accomplishment, manners, and achievement. My lessons there were about how to thrive and still be true to myself, to be a go-getter and demand the best of myself, but not lose my values in the pursuit of perfection. In both places, I had to really find a way to prosper.

What’s interesting, though, about these seemingly diametrically opposed places is that at their heart, people aren’t really all that different after all. All the same dynamics of how you make a good friend works in one place as well as another. By being who I was in each setting, I was able to forge deep and lasting relationships — friendships I still treasure today.

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

There have been so many! Two stand out. One is that I actually changed careers from music journalism to brand storytelling and ultimately to brand strategy. The switch wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely right. After several years, I just didn’t find my work writing for and editing a jazz magazine as fulfilling as I wanted, so I sought a new challenge. Making a career change from journalism into the world of brands wasn’t a setback so much as an idea that what I had been training for and building a career around wasn’t ultimately right for me. What I learned from this shift was to be humble enough to acknowledge that I needed a change and take a few steps back to get me on the right path.

The second is when, years later, my team and I were hired by the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to develop a brand for the country. Not for tourism, not for a political party or an institution, but for the whole country — a monumental task whose goal was to raise its profile on the world stage and ultimately attract foreign direct investment. Every single part of that engagement was interesting, not least of which was creating a strategic process to literally learn a whole country! Over two years, we dove deep and ultimately delivered a brand reflecting the pride and potential of the people.

The big takeaway for me here was in consensus-building. The brand needed buy-in from everyone from the Prime Minister to business leaders, to different government ministries, all the way to the citizens themselves. I learned by watching how these leaders built a coalition of supporters for the brand, only approving its direction through parliamentary procedure when everyone felt good about it. That lesson applies to any enterprise — bringing different stakeholders together to create a shared sense of ownership is half the purpose of a brand strategy. It can be truly transformative.

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

Adrenaline has a large footprint in financial services. Having the perspective of helping companies meet the challenge following the 2008 Great Recession in which banking’s name was dragged through the mud — whether deservedly or not — we wanted to see this sector rise up in this COVID moment. As soon as the pandemic hit, we immediately heard from our clients that financial services was playing an entirely different role for people in this crisis. As the pandemic rippled across communities, banking was showing up in real ways that matter — bankers calling customers, making sure PPP loans were moving through the process, and offering forbearance and relief. It dawned on me that this is a change in how consumers see banking, and that it can be a turning point for the entire industry.

I also had a moment of personal reflection — especially in the early days of COVID — that we were all having a real sense of being unmoored, ungrounded and needing, both from a professional and a personal sense, something to believe in. Thus, the concept Believe in Banking was born. The name captures it all: We wanted real emotional resonance that speaks to consumers, but it also can be a rallying cry for the industry. It’s a way to shine a light on the stories of all the ways that banking is showing up and is a force for good. So, the idea was for us to create a movement that begins simply through telling the stories back to the industry and empowering them with information and data, so they become more resilient.

Presenting this idea to the Adrenaline leadership team was a very natural process, because we have long provided perspectives on the industry from our role as an industry partner and leader. It’s a powerful way that we can take our privileged position working with so many different players across financial services who have a long, deep, and broad view of the industry. We then provide our expertise layered on top to create a valuable channel at a critical moment. Believe in Banking was really a natural progression from what we were already doing. It’s a resilient response to make thought leadership actionable and deliver up content to our clients, to the industry, to our peers in a way that matters most to them.

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?

Whenever I feel like I can’t do something, I picture this person’s face in my mind and give myself a pep talk. A professor of mine at the University of Florida named James Haskins was one of the preeminent authors of young adult and children’s literature, especially focusing on the black experience. He had grown up with very little, but his parents instilled in him the idea that the value of education is the way you rise above. He had consistently believed in educating himself and gotten a PhD. He had a successful career on Wall Street, but also believed in himself enough to know that after the first, fifth, or fifteenth rejection from major publishers, that there was still a market for what he had to say to young readers.

He was one of the most hard-nosed professors I ever had, but I’m fortunate that he identified me in class, for whatever reason, as someone that he was going to push, believe in and open up some opportunities for, and he did that throughout my entire college career. He became my unofficial advisor and mentor and he made damn sure I never took the easy way out. Even today, when I’m stuck or drowning in not knowing how to do something, I think of him. First, he showed me the importance of mentorship and the value of asking for help and second, what an inspiration! Nobody taught him how to do what he did, yet he believed in himself enough and got the help he needed and leaned on people, but also pushed through. Always pushed through.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience.

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

Nelson Mandela was probably the most resilient person on the planet. The idea of spending 27 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner and then not only forgiving your captors but having the ability to be a unifying force is an incredible story of resilience. He opened the arms of his country to create a more democratic, open, inclusive society that is still reverberating across the globe today and has become a model for change, the world over. I’m sure I’m not the only person who said Mandela, but there is a reason he’s held up as such an inspiration for so many.

How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience looks like a lot of different things — I don’t believe there’s a single definition or set of qualities for it. It really doesn’t have only one meaning. It can be the person who rises above their circumstances to achieve something that seemed impossible, like my Dr. Haskins, or it can be the person who never loses hope or faith like Nelson Mandela who even has the compassion to forgive and to unify. It can look like grit and determination or it can look like love and empathy. It’s the ability to accept failure, to own it, to no matter how painful, and to not walk away, but to keep struggling until you break through. It’s meeting the moment with just what’s required. Sometimes it’s an intuition and instinct; other times it’s a learned and hard-won intellect. It may have all these different definitions, but one thing is for sure: it’s obvious when it’s on display.

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

I have been given a couple of challenges in my professional career that might be considered “impossible tasks.” The first was to create a brand architecture and strategy around the International Olympic Committee and all of its partners and holdings, numbering in the hundreds. Each one of those partners, just pick one of them — the US Olympic Committee or Volkswagen, for example — each one of them had their own identities and brand equities, often complex relationships with the IOC and agendas of their own. Pushing through and building a brand architecture that delivered clarity, that served all of those constituents and stakeholders, and that would help the IOC continue to be a meaningful force in the world, felt like an impossible task. We were even told that it wasn’t possible, but we delivered, and I’m very proud of that.

The second was in creating the brand for the Atlanta BeltLine, which has had a transformative effect on the city, the people and the policies of Atlanta. We created the brand strategy and identity for this major piece of civic infrastructure, which literally connects 22 different municipalities, neighborhoods and communities that go from among the wealthiest to the least privileged in Atlanta. To accomplish that unified vision, we did the hard work of listening and learning, attending committee meetings at night from every single neighborhood association, evert civic group, every non-profit, everyone who had an interest. We also had to bridge the public and private divide — engaging developers, bankers and financiers and organizers and planners — pulling them altogether into a brand that could be a connective force for all. The brand strategy and identity was ultimately approved by a broad coalition, led by the Mayor of Atlanta. Today, the BeltLine is a cornerstone of the city’s life, but it was truly considered an impossible dream — until it was accomplished.

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

I was born with a clubfoot. It’s a common deformity, but in my case, it was severe, affecting my right leg from my knee down to my foot. I didn’t have normal mobility growing up, so I had to use a walker. I had a lot of treatments, wore orthopedic shoes with bars attached to them, and I wasn’t able to go upstairs. So, the beginning of my life I experienced as a person who was differently-abled. Then I had surgeries which corrected the foot so I’m able to walk and do whatever I need to — I never really even give it a second thought. I think that built some of those earlier bricks of belief in myself that probably everyone who has any kind of physical difference has to build. It has certainly made me embrace the idea of difference and to celebrate the beauty and potential of those who appear different in whatever way.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient?

1.) You don’t have to get it right the first time.

I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that every successful person makes mistakes. Making mistakes, acknowledging them, and embracing them as a tool to learn from will help build a foundation for what will ultimately lead to success and resilience. Don’t let mistakes define you or let the fear of making them prevent you from taking risks. Like the old music adage says, “It takes years to become an overnight success.” The trick is to have a mentor you trust — or a team of them — who can help point you in the right direction and turn your mistakes in learning. Fresh eyes always help you see what you can’t quite see yourself.

2.) Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know something. That saying, “Fake it ’til you make it,” gets it a bit wrong, to me. The confidence to show a belief in yourself will help to propel you to the next thing. But the faking it part isn’t quite right. Faking like you know things that you don’t actually know backfires and robs you of the opportunity to learn. Saying you don’t know something isn’t something to be ashamed of or to be avoided. When you ask questions, you learn. If you don’t know something, say, “I don’t know, please tell me” or “I don’t know the answer to this, but I will ask people who do.”

3.) Build resilience through others.

The notion of building resilience, both personally, companywide, enterprise-wide, brand-wise, etc., is to recognize that you bring personal resilience, but you also get resilience from those around you; it doesn’t all have to come from you. You’re building a team that has some of those same values that we’ve talked about before — the ability to admit mistakes, the ability to say they don’t know, the ability to have inner confidence — I think what’s really important is that we also look to others to help us build our own resilience. As a web of individually resilient people supporting each other, we form a much kind of stronger foundation where resilience flourishes.

4.) Find gifts in adversity.

When people are presented with difficult situations, how they respond often says a lot about what they’re made of. Finding unexpected gifts out of adversity allows people to build resilient lives and often come up with brilliant solutions that are deeper and richer than if they hadn’t faced hardship in the first place. That’s what we wanted to do with Believe in Banking. We were focused on bringing something of value to help in a really dire moment in our country, when people were hurting and banking was on the brink. It’s like the phoenix rising from the flames.

5.) Take inspiration from history.

As I think about this moment we’re living through, seeing the arc of civilization or progress, it helps me to look at what has come before, so I don’t feel so overwhelmed. Knowing that people rose up and were resilient at previous times in our history, like during the Great Depression or the Spanish flu, and we did ultimately come together as a global village to overcome those challenges really helps put things in perspective. There have always been tough times, and we’ve always gotten through. How we have gotten through are sometimes intuitive and sometimes non-intuitive, but we can learn from history and start from a stronger place.

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

Scott Galloway is someone who I have an incredible respect for. He’s a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business, a media personality, a public speaker, a deep thinker, and a total badass. His podcast Pivot with Kara Swisher is brilliant. He is someone who was a serial entrepreneur of incredibly successful businesses, and he was a serial entrepreneur of businesses that flamed out, but he kept going and kept building and learning from his mistakes and pushing. He is the perfect person to tag in this series on resilience. He really embodies it.

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


Juliet D’Ambrosio of Adrenaline: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Tanisha Peten of Garrett Wade: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Consistency — It’s very important you maintain product quality and consistency so that customers instinctively know what they will get when purchasing from Garrett Wade. A quality tool, built to last, backed by amazing customer service.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Tanisha Peten, the Chief Marketing Officer at Garrett Wade.

Tanisha Peten is the Chief Marketing Officer at Garrett Wade, the premiere destination for quality tools for the home and garden.

In 2018, Peten joined the Garrett Wade team following a consulting stint at Ascena brands where her time was focused on e-commerce development. With more than 20 years of digital commerce experience, Peten is credited as part of the teams who launched Express and Ann Taylor’s digital platforms.

Peten graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Retailing / Marketing Management. She resides in Orange, New Jersey with her daughter, fiancé and Yorkie.

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

My earliest memories I have is playing store in my childhood room that my sister and I shared growing up. I would make elaborate visual displays at the annoyance of my parents and even create price tags for some of the “merchandise” I managed to pull out of my closets and toy chest. I had all the supplies necessary to run a successful shop: toy shopping cart and a cash register and would play this activity for hours simulating my mom’s shopping excursions she would take me on. I guess I always knew I would be a part of this industry in some capacity. However, I never dreamed it would take me here. Most days I still feel like I’m back in that bedroom just making bigger decisions but having just as much fun as I did then.

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?

There have been times when I’ve gotten a little too excited about an item and bought a little more than what my controller was comfortable to accept. Hello black plated Yankee Drill. We added a color variation of one of our best sellers — it turns out the market didn’t care.

However, when that item or idea doesn’t pan out as expected it is always key to be creative in making lemonade out of your lemons if and when that strategy turns sour. For example, while the new color was a dud, the original color versions sales took off!

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

We are all empowered by the owners to do what is right for our customers and in turn the business, which is what everyone works toward. How we exceed our customers’ expectations today is always in the back of our minds no matter the task we are working on. For example we continue to publish our 50 plus page catalog because our customers simply love it. Despite the business being driven today by our digital channels, our customers really appreciate the imagery and the stories of the tools we sell in printed form. One customer once told me they actually had a 15 to 20 year collection of our catalogues saved!

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

We recently finished a commemorative collection of tools that we have had in existence since the founding of the company. Looking back through our archives and coming up with ways to give new life to these heirloom tools, while celebrating our past was such a fun project. What is so unique about the Garrett Wade brand is that over the last 45 years we’ve had incredible longevity with our customers — some from when we first launched, so we’re excited to introduce this to them as a bit of a retrospective.

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

Branding is what a brand represents — its mission and purpose, whereas advertising is marketing that presentation, product and or service.

To put it in perspective — our branding is focused on our philosophy of finding and bringing the consumer unique tools of exceptional quality and superb design that will improve your work. This is brought to life through our marketing programs such as our catalogue, product videos and social platforms.

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?

Garrett Wade has a distinct voice within the market and because of that, we work incredibly hard to make sure that the products we offer are exclusive to us and tell a story that consumers can connect with.

Today, the global economy is a lot smaller and very accessible to digital savvy customers, which is why our product development team spends so much time sourcing and developing one-of-a-kind high-quality tools for our customers, and why we prioritize telling the story behind the tools and makers.

We know everybody has choices in where they buy their tools, however, when you buy from Garrett Wade you aren’t just buying an excellent tool — you’re supporting small makers from around the world that understand quality over disposable.

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.

Unique & Quality Merchandise — Our goal is to offer an assortment of tools that are exclusive to us. We travel across the globe to find the best makers in the world from multi-generational businesses and small companies to provide unique and quality tools that are often only available to professionals. We also prioritize our relationship with our factories which has led to us uncovering some hidden treasures — such as our Vintage French Cooking Knives, which were tucked away and were made generations ago!

Excellent Customer Service — We pride ourselves on going above and beyond for our customers as we want to be there every step of the project, if necessary. We have an amazing technical team that helps customers troubleshoot or simply ask questions they might have on the tools in our assortment. A happy customer is a repeat customer.

Speak Authentically — At Garrett Wade we prioritize honesty in our communication with our customers. We want a customer to understand the history and the use of our tools — even if that means not buying something. Often it takes the form of long product descriptions — something that has long since disappeared in the age of Instagram & Twitter copy. Just reading through our catalogs and website you will not only learn about the tool but the stories behind how they came to be in our assortment.

Personalization — We try very hard to make sure our brand is accessible, and our tool range is broad to meet the vast individual needs. The result is an extensive offering for a relatively small company — which is no easy task. But personalizing Garrett Wade to a gardener versus a woodworker is very important to us and we are constantly looking for ways to do this effectively, all while being authentic.

Consistency — It’s very important you maintain product quality and consistency so that customers instinctively know what they will get when purchasing from Garrett Wade. A quality tool, built to last, backed by amazing customer service.

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

NIKE. The brand has been able to build this empowering connection with their audience — they make amateurs feel like they are professionals by just owning a piece of the gear.

Because of this, their audience really feels like they are part of the brand story and ultimately their successes and achievements. Buy from us and we will be there to help you succeed.

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?

Customer Acquisition & Retention — We measure the success of a brand building campaign by the percent of customers who come back to purchase from us again, as well as how many new customers we are adding to our audience. Looking at the acquisition and retention in our campaigns lets us know how well we are resonating with our customers and how they feel about how we are delivering on our promise to them.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

While our demographic is a bit older, social media still plays a significant role in our branding efforts. We are constantly encouraging dialogue with our audience to share what they have been working on and the level of performance of our tools. Our social platforms are used to inspire others and help build a community of makers to keep honing their skills to make great things.

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

I try to find inspiration and allow myself time to think about the business outside of the office. Stepping away from my desk and just allowing myself to breath and ponder what’s our next move we should be making to keep business growing and evolving?

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 really want to amplify small makers who are making quality tools.

Right now, there are so many small businesses that are hurting and ones that don’t get the proper recognition in the marketplace. These makers — whether they are small businesses, or companies led by BPOC, deserve an opportunity and at Garrett Wade we’re dedicated to providing a platform for the makers who take pride in their work and create the best in class tools.

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

“Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone” — Ella Wheeler

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

I’d like to do brunch with the following: Bozoma Saint John, Marvin Ellison and Jide Zeitlin.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow us on Instagram at @garrettwade_tools

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/garrettwadeco

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/GarrettWadeCo

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


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

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Santi Proano of Ocean Spray Lighthouse…

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Santi Proano of Ocean Spray Lighthouse Incubator

In-store shopping is not going away anytime soon, but the surge in online shopping that we’ve seen in 2020 will stick. Especially for Gen Z and Millennial parents who find the convenience of delivery or in-store pickup far superior to loading up the kids to go grocery shopping.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Santi Proano.

Santi Proano has over a decade of experience creating disruptive innovation and building brands across CPG, Hospitality and Micro-Enterprises.

An American native of Ecuador, Santi is a student of culture, passionate about helping others reach their potential. After graduating with a B.S. in Accounting he began his career at Starwood Hotels, supporting sound financial decision making. Santi then served as a Peace Corps Micro-Enterprise volunteer, helping low-income coffee growers in Ecuador develop their own brand of coffee. Since receiving his MBA from the University of Michigan, Santi has served consumers through delicious food innovations beginning with the renovation of legacy brands at Kraft Heinz. He then lent his passion for making positive impact as a founding member of the Innovation Lab at Tyson Foods, including the creation of alternate protein brand RAISED & ROOTED and YAPPAH! — a concept inspired by a tradition in his homeland.

Santi currently lends his passion for making positive impact leading the Lighthouse Incubator at Ocean Spray, focusing on health & wellness benefits with new brands Dabbly, CarryOn, Atoka and Tally-Ho. A blessed father of 4 children alongside his wife Kayla, they enjoy spending their free time on biking and hiking adventures, including climbing the highest active volcano in the world (Cotopaxi).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After 6 years in the corporate world, I decided to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. My focus was serving a coffee farmer cooperative in my host village. Although many said it could not be done, I thoroughly enjoyed helping the farmers create a coffee brand, connect with customers, and watch their income grow. Even more exciting was helping the farmers believe in themselves and take a risk on something new. From that point on, I knew I wanted to help improve the lives of others by creating new brands and products from scratch and I wanted to do it in the context of a larger organization for maximum impact. That’s what led me to a career focused on innovation.

As the head of Ocean Spray’s Lighthouse Incubator, I have the privilege of leading our team to create new, delightful health & wellness brands and products. Our focus is on starting small, testing, learning and ultimately creating future income sources for our farmers.

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

The most interesting moments in innovation inevitably happen when you come into contact with real life consumers out “in the wild.” While doing consumer research for a new brand we developed at a former company, my team set up a table in a touristy Chicago plaza to ask consumers for feedback on our product while recording their reactions on camera. I will never forget their reactions and insights. The feedback was priceless. When you start small and test your products with consumers, you strive to save money, which can lead to some interesting outcomes.

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

Leading the Lighthouse Incubator, I talk a lot about failing fast, cheap and forward. Most innovations fail. That’s why making space to fail can be very freeing for teams focused on innovation.

Way before my career in innovation, I was a bank teller that made the mistake of accepting obsolete Mexican currency from a very chatty customer that caused the bank a loss of around $1,000. I had dealt with pesos before so during the transaction I felt something was off. Instead of going with my gut, I checked with a colleague, talked to the customer again, overthought the situation and got it wrong. It was a painful lesson but a timeless one. Do not ignore your gut. Often your best ideas and decisions start there. It’s ok to make a mistake and fail, but learn and grow from the experience.

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

I am thrilled that my Lighthouse team has launched 4 new brands in the last year to serve different elements of consumers’ health & wellness journey. Our incubator model is a 5-month concept to test-market cadence, which we did for each of these brands.

The brands include CarryOn™, delicious CBD sparkling waters with functional ingredients designed to boost mental wellness; Dabbly™, cranberry extract based supplements that support skin health among other functions; Atoka™, herbal tea tonics with ingredients curated by a master herbalist for holistic wellness; and Tally-Ho™. The most recent is actually for the health & wellness of our dogs! We just launched Tally-Ho™ water enhancers for dogs on Indiegogo and in PolkaDog stores in the Boston area. These water enhancers are delicious and come in 3 varieties to support our beloved dogs’ immune, oral and emotional health.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Balance your life. Spend focused intentional time with your partner and kids. Take a day off to focus on your faith, your values, and to do something you love. Leave the phone behind. It is hard to keep going 100% all the time and the reality is taking a step back and getting centered helps you be at your best in the long run.

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

There have been a few key people that saw something in me and decided to invest time and advocate for me. One of these was a professor in college who patiently gave me his time and attention every occasion I asked for help. I thought I was being a bother but when he was asked by a recruiter for the name of a student to consider for an internship it was my name he gave. That internship became my first job out of college.

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

There are several great organizations making a positive impact serving prisoners, modern-day slaves, the fatherless, and refugees. I enjoy finding and supporting those organizations.

I am proud to work for Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned cooperative that has this same giving mindset. Ocean Spray is working to make the world a healthier and happier place, with a mission to connect our farms to families for a better life. Our cooperative gives to St. Jude, Feeding America food banks, Bright Pink, and several other organizations local to our farmer-owners through our Community Fund.

Any success I have had is linked to others pouring into me. Paying it forward by pouring into others is the best way I can bring goodness to the world.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

Retail has been on a trajectory of adjustment and investment that has only accelerated due to the events of 2020. Some of the ways we may see retail changing in the future include:

1.) Increasing assortment of proactive health products

Consumers will be looking for increased assortment of proactive health products that help them get out in front of health issues. This includes familiar categories like supplements and will expand into food and beverages. Retailers will diversify their offerings across many categories to ensure proactive health benefits are in their assortment. Brands that can deliver these benefits with whole foods and credible claims will be best positioned for this in the future.

2.) Bringing the digital experience in-store

Consumers will increasingly expect the pleasant, well-designed user experiences that they enjoy digitally to extend to the retail environment. Retailers will likely adjust by integrating digital aspects and technology into the in-store experience. This could include virtual shelves, augmented reality for trying on product, as well as interfaces with online inventory.

3.) Adding healthcare service offerings

Large retailers not traditionally known for healthcare will likely add healthcare service offerings to their physical stores. Access to affordable healthcare is a major problem that large retailers with scale can help solve. Focus will be on preventive, proactive health at the primary care level.

4.) Increasingly brands will have their own direct-to-consumer channel

Direct-to-consumer channels will not threaten retail so much as complement it. Brands will look to use this channel to help consumers sample and trial new products, gather consumer insights and feedback, and provide their users with offerings that may not be widely carried at retail.

5.) The acceleration to online shopping will stick

In-store shopping is not going away anytime soon, but the surge in online shopping that we’ve seen in 2020 will stick. Especially for Gen Z and Millennial parents who find the convenience of delivery or in-store pickup far superior to loading up the kids to go grocery shopping.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can go to www.OceanSpray.com and follow Ocean Spray on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, please follow Atoka™, Dabbly™, CarryOn™ and Tally-Ho™ on Instagram.


The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Santi Proano of Ocean Spray Lighthouse… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Joe Dupriest of NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully…

Joe Dupriest of NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

A final piece that gets lost in managing remote teams is not having direct oversight into what the employees are doing and how projects are progressing. Even small things, like stopping by someone’s desk to check in gets lost, as a phone call just isn’t the same and can be more of a nuisance. This is particularly challenging when getting a new employee up to speed on projects and helping them balance their workload. There has to be a lot of trust between manager and employee to successfully overcome this hurdle.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Dupriest.

Joe is a high-energy, decisive senior executive with more than fifteen years of progressive leadership experience, driving market penetration and business growth within sports. With an engineering degree from Georgia Tech coupled with an MBA from Duke University, he served as CMO for Monumental Sports & Entertainment during a period of explosive growth and change. Joe launched Monumental Sports Network, the first OTT platform for regional sports, and has won five NCCB Emmy Awards. Most recently, he co-founded and launched NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners, a multi-solution consortium designed to empower leading, emerging, and startup sports companies to maximize their businesses amidst today’s dynamic landscape.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

Growing up just outside of Atlanta and always having an affinity for math and science, it was a foregone conclusion that I would go to Georgia Tech and spend my life as an engineer. While I was at Tech, I got bitten by the sports bug while working gamedays with the Atlanta Braves and set about finding a way to combine sports and engineering. After graduation, I spent the first few years of my career as an industrial engineer with FedEx Express, which eventually led me to Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. I spent my two years there networking with anyone and everyone willing to give me 15 minutes on the phone to learn about various career paths within sports. I did my summer internship with the Durham Bulls, which is where I met my now-wife. That experience was where I first combined my analytic/engineering background with the evolving needs of sports teams. At the time, not a lot of teams were doing much with analytics and data, so that provided the opportunity to carve out a niche for myself. Following graduation, I landed in Philadelphia working for the Eagles. Relationships are everything within the sports world, and the relationship and trust I built with my boss, Tim McDermott (now president of the Philadelphia Union of MLS), led me to D.C., where I also worked for him at the Washington Capitals. I moved my way through the ranks to CMO of the Caps and eventually CMO of all of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, including the Washington Wizards and Mystics. I then spent two years in the corporate world but always had an interest in returning to sports and entertainment, which is what led me to co-found and launch NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners this summer. To bring the story full circle, the relationships I built going all the way back to my part-time work with the Braves in the late 90’s are what made my career a reality. We have united an unbelievable team of executives from across sports, all of whom have strong working relationships with someone else on the team. Even working remotely, everyone immediately jelled and we were able to hit the ground running. Because of our diverse team with experience across all facets of sports, we are able to quickly begin work with sports companies at all stages, from early startups to established brands and teams.

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

When you spend so much of your career in sports, there’s definitely no lack of interesting stories. My first lasting memory occurred in 1996, my first year working part-time for the Atlanta Braves and also the final year they played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. This stadium had extra meaning to me — it’s where I grew up going to games and watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, way before the team’s run of success in the 1990s. The Braves were in the National League Championship Series and were down three games to one. They came back to tie the series, bringing the decisive seventh game back to Atlanta, where I worked the game. The Braves won that game handily and I somehow ended up on the crew that carried the stage out onto the field for the postgame trophy ceremony. From there, we got to sit in the dugout and watch everything as a young Chipper Jones sprayed all of us with champagne. Unfortunately, the World Series did not end with a similar celebration…

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

This story isn’t necessarily early in my career but it is early in my time with the Washington Capitals. My director of game entertainment was out for the birth of his first child, so one of our other producers and I stepped in to help run the show (which consists of calling what videos play on the videoboard, what music is played, getting the crowd hyped, etc.). I had zero experience doing this live, but fortunately we had a veteran team that handled most of the work — except for one instance where I approved running the replay of a questionable call by the refs against one of our players who had just made a not-so-smart play. Within five seconds, our phone rang and it was the General Manager calling to not-so-calmly explain why that was a bad idea (to be honest I didn’t even notice there was a phone on the desk until it started ringing). What I didn’t fully grasp prior to that was the dynamic between the business side of hockey and the team side and the importance of building a strong relationship from day one so that expectations and trust are there. Over time, I developed a great relationship with our General Manager and learned a lot from working with him. I wish I had started doing that much earlier!

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I was reading your interview with Sharon Napier of Partners + Napier and what she said really stuck with me. It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life integration. But it’s not enough to encourage your employees to practice it; for it to really be effective the CEO has to live it as well. Showing your employees that you see the importance of proper integration in your own life and ensuring you don’t lose focus on what your true priorities are is essential to avoiding burnout and thriving consistently. Personal priorities need to remain priorities all the time, not just when work allows it.

OK, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Within sports, the idea of remote teams, historically, has been a foreign concept. Until the last few years, I only had experience working with teams face-to-face. However, I spent more than two years working for Shop Your Way as their head of marketing, and much of that was done remotely. I traveled to the corporate office in Chicago a handful of days per month, but otherwise I worked remotely from my home as did a number of the members of the leadership team.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. One of the toughest challenges is the ability to have productive brainstorming and whiteboard sessions. Many of the best ideas and solutions come from a collaborative group, a marker and a wall-sized whiteboard. Thinking back to my early days with the Capitals, we were closing in on the playoffs and needed a campaign to capitalize on the energy of the fan base, which is when we created Rock the Red. What started as a brainstorming session went on to serve as the team’s rallying cry and tagline for almost a decade. That was developed by getting the key people in the room and listing ideas, crossing ideas out, evolving, combining, and overall brainstorming until we had something great. That same type of session is much more difficult to conduct remotely.
  2. A second challenge is being able to “read the room.” Observing feedback through tone, body language, mannerisms, and expressions is challenging when you aren’t in-person, even if meetings are done via video. It is very easy to misread a reaction and have things snowball. A confusing video call with no ability to grab a face-to-face could lead to an email where tone can get completely misconstrued. For example, if you aren’t in-person when presenting new ideas or discussing solutions to present to a client, it is easy to miss unspoken feedback especially if the employee is hesitant to tell their boss that something is a bad idea.
  3. Distractions! This is a challenge for everyone, not just the manager. It is easy to get sidetracked, like when the kids pop into the office to ask a question or tell a story. Fortunately, my kids are pretty good with boundaries, but it has happened more than once where my 4-year-old interrupts to get on the video call with me. Separating your home life and demands from work is much harder when they both occur in the same location.
  4. What may be the biggest challenge is team building. When I was at the Capitals, we had a team meeting once per week where you can discuss more than work. If it was someone’s birthday, our VP of marketing would make an ice cream cake for the group. This type of stuff is extremely important when building camaraderie amongst the team. Now, in a remote environment, it is much more difficult to develop authentic relationships. Building trust takes longer, as the interactions that do occur now are almost 100% focused on work.
  5. A final piece that gets lost in managing remote teams is not having direct oversight into what the employees are doing and how projects are progressing. Even small things, like stopping by someone’s desk to check in gets lost, as a phone call just isn’t the same and can be more of a nuisance. This is particularly challenging when getting a new employee up to speed on projects and helping them balance their workload. There has to be a lot of trust between manager and employee to successfully overcome this hurdle.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

  1. For online brainstorming sessions, I would encourage having those be only on video versus phone and utilize screen sharing whenever possible. That keeps people more engaged and the team can use that screen as a pseudo whiteboard to add notes as the team discusses. I would also limit the length of these, as it can really drag on and people will begin to mentally check out. I think the maximum length should be one hour for any single session.
  2. Similar to brainstorming, I think any meeting where back and forth feedback will be given should be done on video as well. From a culture standpoint, it is extremely important to create an environment where feedback is welcomed and everyone will be heard. If the team feels they can be open, then ideas and feedback will be more readily verbalized. However, picking up on nonverbal cues will take time especially when dealing with new employees.
  3. I have found that the best way to avoid distractions in my house is to deem my work area off-limits, except in the case of emergencies. It is important for the kids to understand that when I am there working, it is no different than if I were in an office downtown. Once a meeting gets disturbed, it can be hard to get back on track and it is easy to lose engagement with the team if they don’t think I’m 100% focused.
  4. I believe team-building can still be done virtually, it just has to be done in a different way. Recognizing birthdays is a prime example: while it would be great for everyone to share a cake, it will still go a long way in recognizing key personal moments. It is also very important to take the time in meetings to call out great work and recognize employees. The banter before and after in-person meetings is often where people get to know each other, so at times I have intentionally started a video call late so the attendees have a few minutes to chat amongst themselves. It is important to keep the human aspects of meetings (and not only focused on work), as relationship-building is key to a successful team.
  5. To overcome the lack of day-to-day direct oversight, I recommend setting up multiple one-on-one check-ins throughout the week with each employee or small groups. These shouldn’t be long meetings that people dread, but instead are quick 10-to-15-minute chats that ensure the employee is on track. Remember to also give them an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. It is important for the manager to get to know their employees and what works best for them and set up the length and scheduling so that the employee values the time and doesn’t see it as a distraction or obligation. I also believe it is vital that the manager develop a culture that encourages employees to reach out with issues and be responsive at all times. I see a big part of my role as ensuring that I don’t hinder progress for my team and strive to make sure they are never waiting on me to keep things moving.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

That’s a great point and ties into my challenge of “reading the room” without being in the room. The first thing that is crucial here is to have as many of these conversations as possible over video, so you at least have the opportunity to read facial expressions. However, it is important that video not be used only for giving critical feedback or the employee will begin to expect uncomfortable conversations for all video invites and go into them apprehensively. Video is not only important for the manager to read the employee but is just as important to enable the employee to read the manager. Without being face-to-face, you must remember that the employee also can’t tell if you are upset or using it as a coaching moment. The manager should ensure that they choose the right facial expressions and tone to deliver the message.

Another key suggestion is to be open and honest with employees across everything and encourage them to be honest with you as well. Point out the good as well as the bad, and give them the opportunity to tell you what you could be doing better. It is critical that the manager listen as well as deliver feedback. A strong relationship with the employee can help overcome the inability to interact face-to-face.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

One of the most difficult things to do is convey the right tone in an email, and it is very easy for unintended tone to be what the employee takes away from the message. The manager needs to be consistent in the tone that they use over email and in person. That goes for the flow of conversation as well as word choice. If the wording of the email is more direct and focuses on the problem, whereas an in-person conversation would be more conversational with balanced feedback, then the email will come across as much more critical. If you must deliver critical feedback via email, point out both problems as well as solutions. Don’t just tell an employee where they took the least desirable path or made a mistake; instead offer solutions that will help them avoid problems in the future. Whenever possible, point to prior examples of when the employee did a good job as a lesson for how to handle this situation differently next time. In general, however, I would avoid giving constructive feedback in email whenever possible unless you have a strong relationship and work history with the employee so they know how you operate. If it is a new employee and you are delivering this type of feedback for the first time, I would avoid the email until both sides learn to read each other.

Can you share any suggestions for teams that are used to working together on-location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

I would suggest keeping things as consistent as possible, including both the cadence of meetings and flow. Teams that understand expectations and know each other pretty well will make a much easier transition to remote work. In-person, they know which team members don’t mind people stopping by their desk for a few minutes to catch up on a project and which team members prefer more structure. If someone knows a teammate doesn’t like being interrupted at their desk, then they probably also won’t appreciate multiple random phone calls when working remotely. It is also important that the manager stay in constant communication with the team during the transition, to understand what challenges they are facing and any concerns they have. Addressing these problems quickly will reduce tension and ensure that everyone feels productive and efficient.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

The manager needs to set clear expectations on hours, availability, response times, and meeting protocol. Even when remote, there must be a structure to follow, and this consistency will be important for the team to operate. Without a clear communications structure, your team will become frustrated with each other and you. Additionally, it is important for the team to meet together without the manager, as often or even more than they would in-person (to make up for lost chance conversations in the hall or break room). A good manager will balance not micromanaging the team, setting clear expectations, and keeping track of workload. This helps employees avoid bad habits while working remotely.

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 don’t think I need to inspire this movement, as it has been an issue for years and a hot topic recently: we need a renewed focus on our education system. Education is the key to unlocking potential in each new generation, but everyone can agree that it has problems. For every year that we don’t fix those problems, that’s another year we miss improving our future, letting millions of kids and families down. I’m not going to get political and propose what I think the solutions are, but it needs to be analyzed top-to-bottom for:

  1. Inconsistency in educational opportunities, both across the country and within states;
  2. The amount and source of funding for public education;
  3. The role that each level of government should play;
  4. The overall support given to teachers.

It’s time to find solutions. We can’t just keep kicking the can down the road.

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

I feel like I’ve made it through this interview by barely mentioning Duke so far, which my friends and family probably think is quite odd, so I will finish with a quote from Coach K: “Everyone’s ideas should be heard. It doesn’t matter who gets credit, as long as you’re working towards the same mission and shared purpose.”

I think this is critical for any leader, whether it is in business, sports or the community. I have always tried to be the type of leader that listens first. The best ideas rarely come from the person at the top, but the person at the top should be able to listen to everyone, identify the best ideas, refine them, and help the team implement them successfully. I will finish with another non-sports-related quote from George Clooney that I think captures this concept: “You never really learn much from hearing yourself speak.”

Thank you for these great insights!


Joe Dupriest of NextUp Ventures and NextUp Partners: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Maggie Craddock of Workplace Relationships: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To…

Maggie Craddock of Workplace Relationships: Rising Through Resilience; Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

Never forget that, while the conversations you have with others matter, the most important conversations you have in life are always the conversations you have with yourself.

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

I had the pleasure of interviewing Maggie Craddock. Maggie Craddock is the founder of the executive coaching firm Workplace Relationships. She has worked with people from all levels of the professional spectrum — from people entering the workforce to Fortune 500 CEOs. Her work has been featured on CNBC, National Public Radio and referenced in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Business Review and Oprah Magazine.

Executive coaching is Maggie’s second career. She worked for over a decade on both the buy side and the sell side of the financial services industry before building her coaching business. As a lead portfolio manager for Scudder, Stevens and Clark, she won to Lipper Awards for top national fund performance. As a national director of consultant relations for Sanford C. Bernstein, she worked with top pension fund clients, boards of directors and industry consultants to keep them apprised of the firm’s strategy across asset classes.

A lifelong learner, when Maggie decided to make her own career transition, she did her homework. A graduate of Smith College and the London School of Economics, Maggie went back to school when she decided to transition from helping people manage their money to helping them manage their careers.

Realizing the magnitude of the emotional component involved in helping people clarify their genuine priorities and achieve authentic success, Maggie attended New York University where she received an MSW and then became an Ackerman certified family therapist.

Maggie is also passionate about her writing. Her latest book, Lifeboat: Navigating Unexpected Career Change and Disruption (New World Library, 2020) draws lessons from the stories of Titanic survivors and applies them to the challenges we are facing today. Her work addresses the human dimension of timeless questions such as: How long will this crisis last? How bad will it get? Who can I trust to help me survive, and how will living through this situation change me?

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?

Managing traders and research analysts in the 1990s taught me that the skills people draw from when it’s “business as usual” aren’t the same skills they needed to develop to operate effectively under extreme emotional pressure. On a fairly normal day, my team and I were cool, objective and hopefully strategic. However, under pressure, we all had to fight the tendency to succumb to snap judgement, polarized thinking and impulsive choices.

Years of navigating volatile markets taught me that trusting my decision making process was far more important than any single decision I made. After all, when conditions changed and things didn’t turn out as planned, sometimes the way our team course corrected ultimately prove more profitable than our original plan would have been.

Gradually, I began to realize that this simple truth about the importance of trusting my decision making process didn’t just apply to running money. It also applied to the way I navigated my life.

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

In 1993, I found myself standing on the balcony at a spectacular resort in Laguna Beach during an investment conference. Our team had just won a Lipper Award for the best-performing short-term global bond fund in the nation. I’d been profiled on CNBC, was being quoted regularly in the national media and I’d even received an invitation from Michael Lipper who wanted to congratulate me on our fund’s success.

I should have been on top of the world!

However, as I watched the waves lap against the retaining wall underneath my balcony, I realized that something was missing.

I was experiencing a wake-up call from my authentic self.

While I was both humbled by and grateful for the success my team and I were enjoying, I also realized that one of the key skills I’d drawn on was mastering the art of being who other people wanted me to be. You could send me to a board meeting, and I could morph into who they wanted me to be. You could put me on the phone with an anxious client, and I’d become who they need me to be.

Where was I in all of this? Was this really the highest and best use of my talent and energy?

The conversation I had with myself in that rare moment of sacred silence in Laguna was when my ambitions shifted from helping people create profitable portfolios to helping them create profitable lives.

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

At Workplace relationships, we aren’t just focused on helping people think more strategically. We are focused on helping people cultivate the emotional agility they need to respond to unexpected changes and triggering situations that evoke such powerful feelings that they can barely think at all.

A person’s professional power style often mimics the power dynamics they experienced in the first system they navigated in life — the family system. By exploring the emotional and behavioral triggers developed in the family system, our process helps determine whether someone will react like a dictator or a doormat when he or she is under stress on the job.

Early in my career, I met a prominent investor who had developed such a terrifying reputation as a bully that his power style was becoming a liability for his firm’s culture.

I should have known things might get challenging when the HR representative assigned to introduce me to this investor gave me an anxious smile and bolted before saying a word.

When this prospective client finished his phone call, he hunched his shoulders and continued to purposefully ignore my presence.

Finally, I ventured into the threshold of his office and asked politely, “Excuse me, but I think we have a meeting. Is this a good time?”

My memory of what happened next is a little patchy. That’s what happens under stress.

I remember his face turning towards me with an expression of frustration mixed with fury. I remember hearing him launch into a tirade so loud that, out of the corner of my eye, I could see frightened subordinates sinking into their chairs. I even remember fragments of the phrases he was throwing out such as, “useless charm school…waste of my time…” and some choice expletives that honestly weren’t needed for emphasis, but I guess he threw them in for good measure.

Finally, he wound down. We all need to take a breath at some point.

I was still standing in the same spot which, in retrospect, may have surprised us both.

“WELL!??” he demanded.

Before he could get himself wound up for a second blast, I ventured a respectful response that I hoped would shift the tone.

“I hope you’ll forgive me,” I began as politely as I could manage, “but I’m afraid I didn’t catch everything you just said. It’s clear that based on your passion, and the fact that you repeated a few phrases, that’s there’s something urgent you are trying to get across. Unfortunately, I was so taken aback by your tone that I must confess that I can’t fully recall all of the words you used. While I hate subject you to further frustration, if you could take it from the top, I’m going to take notes this time.”

Then, he saw me.

This man was operating from the blind spots of what I refer to as the Commander power style. An emotional trigger for Commanders is impatience. Thus, under pressure, Commanders are prone to erupt when anything distracts them from what they see as their priorities in the moment.

However, the other side of this trigger is that Commanders often respond quite positively to people stand their ground with dignity.

“You can’t remember the words I used?” he asked with a trace of sarcasm laced with a growing hint respect.

“Sometimes,” I told him as calmly as possible, “people dissociate when they feel intimidated. I’m pretty sure that just happened to me. Do you think that ever happens with other people you work with?”

This client hired me on the spot, and we developed a rewarding relationship. Underneath his frustration, often born of a passion for excellence, this Commander turned out to be a caring and committed leader.

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

The late, great Judy Tobias Davis was on the Dean’s Advisory Council for New York University’s School of Social Work with me. Judy was a tireless supporter of projects she believed in — both in her public and her private life.

We became fast friends from the moment we met. Fellow book lovers, Judy and I would spend glorious afternoons together in her apartment on Central Park South discussing writers who had inspired us.

What’s more, Judy eagerly poured over the manuscript for my first book, The Authentic Career. As any first-time writers knows, getting encouragement and emotionally honest feedback from a trusted source can be critical to writing your truth during moments of self-doubt.

Judy helped me tap into the resilience that comes from knowing you have the support of a true friend.

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

To me, resilience is about embracing the relational lesson at the heart of any challenge we face. By embracing this lesson, we find ourselves tapping into a combination of purpose and passion that makes it possible to overcome obstacles that might otherwise hinder our progress.

Sometimes, the lesson we face invites us to strengthen our relationship with ourselves. This fortifies the resilience we need to chart our own course professionally and not have this dictated for us by outside forces.

Sometimes the relational lesson invites us to become more emotionally agile when we interact with others. This fortifies the resilience we need to negotiate conflict in a way that fortifies our personal integrity rather than diminishing it.

Often, the most powerful lessons we embrace play out in our relationships with the groups we join and the organizations we choose to support. When it comes to our careers, this strengthens the resilience we need to align ourselves with organizations that reinforce our core values and, when necessary, make a healthy break with those that don’t.

Resilient people don’t make snap judgments and they don’t harbor grudges. Resilient people bear in mind that, in a rapidly changing world, you can’t judge someone’s full potential until you have assessed their capacity to evolve.

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

I’ve been thrilled by the press coverage of John Lewis lately, because these programs have showcased the resilience of an American hero who experienced others at their best — and at their worst.

From the physical blows he survived marching for civil rights to the tireless years of service he gave to our government, John Lewis exemplified that inspirational combination of courage and humility that is the hallmark of a resilient leader in the service of a cause that’s greater than any one individual — or any one generation.

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

I struggled with a lot of emotional backlash as the dream of developing my coaching methodology formed inside of me. In fact, there were moments when my inner doubts threatened to paralyze me.

One reason was that, in the 1990s, the industries of consulting, counseling and personal growth were well-established but often poorly integrated disciplines. How dare I, as a beginner, attempt to cross boundaries in multiple disciplines simultaneously?

Once I started to take action, the years that I spent developing the inner resilience to trust my decision making process and live my own truth were integral to my success. My work involved digging deep into myself and finding the courage to put my beliefs into practice. I was acting on the faith that helping people listen to their inner voice would not only make it possible for them to identify what they wanted to do, it would also help them find a way to get paid to do it.

While many people have been enthusiastic supporters of my approach to integrating previously disparate disciplines over the years, there have also been “experts” who sought to discourage my efforts when they threatened the boundaries of previously established methodologies. The inner resolve that I had cultivated by staying aware of the conversations I was having with myself, and the ways that emotional triggers could impact my thought process under pressure gave me the courage I needed to negotiate with and learn from others when my convictions were on the line.

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

As an only child, my priorities abruptly shifted from my career to my family during my parents’ final years. Fortunately, the resilience required to meet the challenges of this chapter of life were reinforced by the blessing of being married to my best friend.

My husband Charles and I settled into a routine of ending the work week by heading to the Philadelphia airport, boarding an 8pm flight for Fort Worth Texas and arriving at our hotel around 1am. We spent the balance of our weekends during those stressful years visiting with my parents, taking care of chores and paperwork for them and crashing in our hotel room to replenish our energy.

What took my breath away was the kindness of the people we encountered everywhere we turned during this challenging time.

By the time my father passed, the hotel staff not only helped me print out the eulogy I wrote for his funeral — they laminated it. As I raced to the nursing home during my mother’s final days, I found that head of the nursing unit had literally moved her desk in to my mother’s room to make sure mom wasn’t left alone before I could reach her side. Years later, people we worked with to help settle their legal affairs, keep their home repaired and even store their possessions still reach out to stay connected with us.

This challenge taught me that, when it comes to resilience, people matter in a very human way during a crisis. There are some things you simply can’t do alone. Without the emotional support of my husband and our friends, I’m not sure how I would have balanced my duty to my parents with my professional responsibilities.

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

From my earliest memories, my parents were tireless supporters of getting me the best education possible. As a result, I took some aptitude tests and ended up receiving a scholarship that made it possible for me to attend an exclusive private high school in Fort Worth.

What my parents didn’t anticipate was the social challenges I faced integrating into a student body where many of the other kids came from extremely wealthy families. While I grew up in a comfortable middle class suburb, compared to the wealthy lifestyles of many of my peers, it often felt like I was from the wrong side of the tracks.

I’ll never forget the day that I was late to class because a group of girls were clustered around my locker chatting gaily. Because of the way they were standing, I couldn’t get to my books. I politely asked them to move. One of them looked down at my shoes, rolled her eyes, the group continued their conversation as if I were invisible.

It felt awful.

As the years progressed, I learned that the way these young women had reacted had very little to do with how they felt about me. It had much more to do with how they felt about themselves. In spite of their expensive cars and fancy shoes, many of them came from homes where they received little genuine validation or emotional support.

Some of the girls who blocked me from my locker that day ended up becoming friends of mine by the time we all graduated. I think this is because, in spite of the stressful social moments we all weathered, they watched me stay focused on my studies, my painting (I love art work!) and my long term plan of getting the education I needed to make my mark in the world.

Decades later, one of them invited me to vacation with her at her family’s vacation home. Over dinner as we watched the sun go down, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and confessed, “I’ve always admired your career. I wish I could figure out some way to have a meaningful job too.”

I remember telling her that one of the gifts I started my life with was the realization that I had to make my career work. Then, I shared one of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes with her: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

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

1.) Never forget that, while the conversations you have with others matter, the most important conversations you have in life are always the conversations you have with yourself.

Because my methodology encourages clients reflect on the values, approaches to conflict and even the definition of success they internalized in their early family system, I’ve had the privilege of hearing a wide range of formative stories. These early stories often form the narrative that shapes people’s beliefs about their own potential and the range of possibilities open to them during changing times.

It’s important to clarify how the experiences in your early family system have shaped your thinking. This is because, through becoming aware of how other people have trained you to define yourself, you tap into the resilience you need to rewrite this definition in a way that feels authentic and genuinely fulfilling.

2.) Accept your feelings with as little judgement as possible — don’t waste valuable energy suppressing them.

When we judge ourselves for experiencing flashes of envy, resentment or even anger under pressure — we undermine our resilience.

Give yourself a break. Learn to acknowledge and accept your feelings with humor and gentleness. You need to be aware of what you are feeling during rapidly changing times, as your feelings may be vital clues about what you need to change in your work and life to stay true to yourself.

3.) Don’t get so wrapped up in how you are coming across that you lose sight of how other’s feel about themselves in your presence.

What motivates others to open up and support you, and what causes them to shut down and avoid you, doesn’t always stem from how they feel about you. It often stems from how being around you causes them to feel about themselves.

After someone has had a conversation with you, how do they feel about themselves? Do they feel validated and supported? Do they feel anxious or emotionally erased?

Learning the art of establishing sustainable rapport with others is vital to creating relationships that fortify our resilience under pressure.

4.) Aligning your thoughts, feelings and actions in the present moment trumps trying to think yourself through a thorny situation every time.

Resilient people get centered under pressure. They look at what’s right in front of them, check in with what they are feeling and carefully observe what’s going on with others in the moment. Establishing this inner alignment often reveals hidden resources, taps into latent strengths and creates potential solutions that might otherwise elude you if you were trapped in a thought loop.

5. ) Look for opportunities to do for others without stopping to calculate what’s in it for you.

When my team and I worked on a trading floor, we learned the art of taking action before the market moved away from us.

In life, it’s powerful to train yourself to act on opportunities to be helpful and supportive of others before you stop to calculate what’s in it for you. This is because, if you take time to do an internal cost-benefit analysis, the moment may pass.

Stop and give directions — even if you are in a hurry. Buy that box of cookies or whatever the hopeful young student is selling. Give the coupons you aren’t using to someone who has that item in their cart.

How will this help you?

Well, for starters, you never know whose watching. I had a client who gave a young woman in a hurry the cup of coffee that he’d just paid for so she could make it to the office on time. Fifteen minutes later he discovered that this same woman turned out to be the receptionist at the firm he was visiting to apply for a job.

Yep — he got the position.

But more to the point, when it comes to resilience, the one person who is always watching you is you.

Cultivating habits that systematically enhance your respect for yourself is foundational to your resilience in work 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. 🙂

Making a shift from the Self-help mindset to what I call the Us-help mindset.

What I mean by the Self-help mindset is a perspective on life where you are primarily focused on your personal security and advancement. While this approach is understandable, particularly under stress, when a large group of people are operating from this mindset they all end up feeling alone together.

In contrast, the Us-help mindset is where you balance your individual goals and needs with an appreciation for the overall well-being of the group. This approach to work and life breaks the chains of isolation and encourages you to prioritize the value you bring to others as well as the individual accolades you may enjoy along the way.

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

Rachel Maddow — and, by the way, I’d be thrilled with a brief phone call.

Rachel’s penchant for helping her viewers put current political developments into context by giving us brief history lessons is, in my opinion, extremely valuable to our cultural conversation. I’d love to learn more about the thought process she goes through to inspire her audience to think more broadly about what they are witnessing while she updates them on current event.

Also, I’d welcome the chance to thank her for the tone of humor she occasionally injects into her work. There have been nights during this challenging time where her approach to delivering dire news has reset my sanity by helping me laugh.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My website is workplacerelationships.com

You can also find me on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook under Maggie Craddock and on Twitter at @MaggieCraddock

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


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

The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Michael Jaszczyk of GK Software USA

…Eliminating the distinction between purely eCommerce and purely brick and mortar retail. Successful retailers of the future will combine the benefits of both.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Jaszczyk.

Michael Jaszczyk is the CEO of GK Software USA, where he works to maintain and enhance the company’s global reputation as the supplier of one of the most innovative and complete retail software platforms and suite of services. He draws on an extensive wealth of experience, both in software development for the retail sector and as a manager at international IT companies, including MCRL AG, Pironet AG and SA2 Retail AG. GK Software provides a future-proof foundation to support retailers’ customer engagement strategies.

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

My first job, after having worked with computers already for 12 years, was with a large furniture retailer. Although I was hired as a programmer, I had to work in every department for three months: sales, accounting, marketing, the distribution center, etc. Having to do many processes triggered my passion to optimize retail with technology.

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

In 2003, I was part of the Metro Group future store initiative. This was essentially the first future store in retail. Within three years, we saw more than 200,000 visitors from around the world. My company provided the software to integrate the store’s features, such as computers mounted on the shopping carts (which is now essentially what Amazon is doing), kiosks with projectors that would show an item’s specific location on the aisle, and RFID. Essentially, my career here showed me what the future of retail can really be, and how it’s all centered around a customer’s experience.

Funnily, Claudia Schiffer, a German model, attended the grand opening of the store, which aired on TV. However, something had gone wrong overnight and all the prices were displayed as $0. So, while they were in the store, I was in the data center fixing the touchpoints!

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

My mistake is not necessarily funny, but it taught me to be very careful with anything I do. When I began working in IT, I worked for a furniture chain, and they had about 50 large stores connected to the data center. I was working as an intern one Saturday, and no one else on my team was around — but Saturdays were often busy for us.

While I was printing out revenue reports, we received an error message on the mainframe computer. One store called and said the cash registers weren’t working. No one had told me what to do in this type of situation, so I grabbed a manual for the mainframe and found a command. Turns out the mainframe shut down communications with all stores, and it took two hours to come back online, resulting in a massive loss of sales.

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

As a result of COVID-19, we launched an app called GetMyGoods that enables simple grocery ordering and pickup while ensuring the protection of everyone involved. While many retailers without buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) services would have to work for months to integrate these services with their existing technology, our app is designed to provide retailers a way to instantly deploy. That way, retailers are able to focus on ensuring their customers can safely get the products they need.

GetMyGooods is built on the idea that consumer behavior is changing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the adoption of contactless retail will accelerate as retailers and shoppers limit exposure to potential carriers.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

This is true for any job, not just the industry: if you get up in the morning and want to go to work, that means you’re passionate about it. Even though you might be stressed, it’s positive stress. When you wake up and don’t want to go to work because you’re not enthusiastic or it feels like a burden, then you should reconsider your job and seek change.

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?

Rainer Gläß, our global CEO, is always asking for things that are impossible. As a leader, he doesn’t accept no for an answer, and when “no” doesn’t exist in someone’s vocabulary, that is when impossible things do happen.

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

This goes back to the GetMyGooods app. When it comes to the health and safety of employees and shoppers, we don’t want retailers to spend time, energy and money working to enact the safest practices — they should be able to have them instantaneously.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

Successful retailers are understanding the importance of being able to do retail anywhere, at any point in time. A few examples of this look like:

  • Eliminating the distinction between purely ecommerce and purely brick and mortar retail. Successful retailers of the future will combine the benefits of both.
  • Adopting more mobile retail capabilities, as it provides the ability to interact with consumers from anywhere in any situation. For example, shoppers can preorder items from their kitchen or their car. Last year’s Black Friday online sales reached $7.4 billion, the second largest online shopping day ever behind 2018’s Cyber Monday, which demonstrates consumer’s demand on this channel.
  • Retailers will become much more mature regarding understanding the technology that’s required for their vertical, and for each type of sale. For example, it doesn’t make sense for grocers to have clienteling solutions that tell shoppers what’s so great about butter or milk. Grocers need solutions that focus on replenishment, convenience, speed and ease of delivery. For apparel retailers, they require technology that supports the social and experiential event that is shopping.
  • More retailers will utilize dark stores — or stores that are used solely as distribution centers. Brick and mortar retailers already have an advantage over Amazon as they have an existing distribution network — with “warehouses” close to consumers — their stores. Dark stores will allow retailers to oversee BOPIS, delivery and last mile processes with more efficiency. Whether completely dark, or utilizing stores as a showroom, physical retailers can meet instant gratification demand of consumers.

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. 🙂

Grocery stores are the source of 10 percent of U.S. food waste, throwing away 43 billion pounds of food every year. What’s worse is that according to The Food Trust, 50 percent of produce is thrown out while still edible, a shocking statistic considering that 23.5 million Americans lack access to fresh produce.

My dream movement would be a program or company that provides a way for retailers to donate produce that’s nearing its expiration date — instead of throwing it away in the dumpster. There’s obviously a huge disconnect here, and food that is still edible — but don’t necessarily meet a company’s standard — should be available for those who need it most.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn under Michael Jaszczyk.

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


The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years, With Michael Jaszczyk of GK Software USA was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

David Wallace of Greenphire: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Communicating, communicating, communicating: Just when you think you’re not communicating enough, communicate more. You might think what you’re doing is great, but is it effective? I don’t always know if people read my weekly blogs to my team, but when I announced the promotion of one of my managers, she got more than 120 reactions on Slack. Even if you’re not getting responses directly, people are reading and want to hear from you.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Wallace.

As Chief Technology Officer, David leads the development of Greenphire’s innovative technology solutions that automate the payment life cycle the clinical trial industry, ensuring the infrastructure is secure, scalable and reliable. Leveraging a proven agile methodology, David and his team constantly refine and develop Greenphire’s solutions to support client needs. Additionally, he works closely with the product team to plan and execute the product roadmap strategy, anticipating “what’s next” and how to develop the right solutions to maintain the company’s strategic advantage.

With over twenty years of experience, David has an extremely valuable combination of technology strategy, architecture design, integration, and product development in the SaaS industry.

Previously, David was Senior Director of Information Technology at iPipeline, a leading SaaS provider used by the nation’s top life insurance companies, where he was responsible for global infrastructure, system and application security. Prior to that, David was Director of Information Systems at Procurian, where he managed networking and data center operations and lead the development of the company’s procurement infrastructure to support a Fortune 500 client base.

Born in Ireland, David holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Delaware Valley College. In his spare time, David enjoys adventure racing (that was pre-kids), and overall being active and engaged with his children

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I’ve been at Greenphire for eight years, from its infancy to where we are today with over 200 people. I have over 20 years in the technology industry, spanning strategy, application development, operations and more. I’ve worked in industries such as insurance, payment systems and healthcare — and at Greenphire, we are right where the intersection of where fintech and healthcare meet.

Personally, I spend a lot of time with my family and have two small children. I grew up in Ireland until I was in my early teens and still have a lot of family there, and I love to travel and do new experiences. I want to share those experiences with my children, just like my parents did for me. Expose them to as much as possible, and let those sponges of brains and personality absorb it all.

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

Well, this may both the most interesting and embarrassing! Several years ago, I was travelling for work and en route to Greenphire’s biggest client meeting ever, and forgot to check my bag. I had to wear my comfortable train clothes to this important meeting — just casual jeans instead of a suit. Thankfully we got the deal and my outfit didn’t matter anyway! (Sometimes its good to be an IT guy)

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

One of my first jobs was as a developer and my initial project was working implementing direct deposit in the in-house payroll system — new and innovative at the time. I was responsible for calculating the 401K contributions for the company’s executives, and made a huge mistake in their calculation. Thankfully, my manager helped smooth out the situation, but it was uncomfortable at the time. I learned to take responsibility for my actions and to own up to my mistakes, but also to put checks in place to lessen the chances for manual error.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I’ve found that when you don’t have the right personal outlets, life can get out of balance. I personally love being active and any sports (basketball, tennis, occasional run), but admittedly I don’t get to do those things as much as I’d like with work and having small children. However, hobbies don’t necessarily need to be all exercise — it’s whatever makes you smile and decompress. One thing that I love is taking my seven-year-old daughter to gymnastics class (well, pre-COVID19). Spending time with her in the car, watching her tumble and listening to her excitedly talk about the class on her way home is special to me.

In recent months, I’ve joined the legions of DIY-ers and have spent time working with my hands — finishing the basement, building a garden. I enjoy working with my hands and don’t usually have time do so under normal circumstances. I learned that from my father and from a job I had through college, where I drove a truck and helped a furniture store re-finish furniture — a general building of knowledge of how to work with my hands.

I suggest to my teams and other executives to find time to what makes you happy. After all, only you can look after you — no one else can do it. It’s something important you need to figure out and work towards balancing. If you reach a tipping point, you’re likely to get frustrated, blame your company (or others around you). Remember — it’s not the company. Balance starts with you. Find what works to help bring both personal and professional satisfaction to your life.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

Just one! Typically I’ve worked face-to-face with my teams and colleagues. Even though I’ve spent my career in IT, I haven’t done much offshoring or remote work, and enjoy the comradery of being in an office. It’s been an adjustment, but I’ve been pleased with how well our IT and engineering team has remained connected and productive.

Some of the things I’ve done differently include:

Weekly blogs — these are internal updates to the IT and Engineering team that highlight our team’s wins, company news and some personal stories. I’ve shared conversations as personal as my love and care for my mom.

Lunches — I’m dedicated to having lunch with different teams, to hear what they’re up to and just socialize. It’s been a lot of fun.

Office hours — I’ve also dedicated hours for when individuals can come to me with questions, suggestions, problems and more. It lets employees know that I’m available to them and prevents my calendar from getting overrun with meetings.

Breakfasts with the offshore team — We have a small team in Vietnam. Given that they’re on the other side of the world, I want to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to make sure we’re in constant communication and in the loop with our team in the US.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

Managing a team remotely certainly requires a shift. Rather than just highlighting the challenges, I’ve listed out some challenges and solutions to managing in this environment:

  1. Lack of transparency: Since you don’t see people face to face, it’s more difficult to know when people are working or how busy they are.
  2. Having confidence in your team: One way to confront the lack of transparency is through trust. When you have confidence in your team and managers, it gives them the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and professionalism to deliver on key projects. We look at metrics all the time, and We validate that we haven’t lost SDLC effectiveness by looking at metrics, building ownership and pride amongst our IT department.
  3. Understanding where their challenges are: Right now, employees working from home have challenges, many of them. Whether just feeling stir crazy, having a bad at-home work set up or having little children interrupting their work day, there are many distractions that can frustrate employees. I feel it myself. Recently I spent lots of time cleaning my garage top to bottom. All it took was my two kids playing with Styrofoam for a few minutes to turn it upside down again. I had to remind myself that they were just playing. Their world is upside down right now too.
  4. Creating that facetime with employees: Since we’re apart, it’s essential that you get comfortable with your webcam. You want to see each other, read your colleague’s body language, even during remote meetings.
  5. Communicating, communicating, communicating: Just when you think you’re not communicating enough, communicate more. You might think what you’re doing is great, but is it effective? I don’t always know if people read my weekly blogs to my team, but when I announced the promotion of one of my managers, she got more than 120 reactions on Slack. Even if you’re not getting responses directly, people are reading and want to hear from you.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

To address the lack of togetherness that we all face right now, I can’t stress the importance of communication and encouraging facetime with your colleagues and teammates.

Some additional things we can do to overcome challenges are:

  • Flexibility: People working from home may have personal responsibilities to tend to. For example, we have several folks on our team who have shifted their schedules so they can alternate taking care of children with their spouse.
  • Empowering Managers: I lean a lot on my team’s managers right now, so it’s not just my leadership that’s important — but theirs as well. I make sure that they’re talking to employees regularly about projects and about their personal health also. First time managers are taking on a lot right now, learning to be managers, in a 100% remote workplace. They need our support and guidance
  • Taking time off: It may seem silly to take a day off (especially if you’re not going away on vacation), but taking time to decompress is essential right now to avoid physical and mental fatigue.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

I’ve had several instances of giving constructive feedback while working remotely. There are a few no brainers — ensuring that you’re face to face as we’ve already covered, and when live, being careful of your body language. It’s essential to make sure that your facial expressions and posture don’t give the wrong impression — especially in a group meeting.

However, remote or not remote, lead with the heart first. You don’t know what individuals may have going on personally, so I start by asking if there’s anything the individual wants to tell you about. He or she may have a scenario at home that may be weighing on them, and impacting their performance. Without asking about their personal well-being, you may lose credibility and damage the relationship.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

In my opinion, email is just factual and really shouldn’t be used for giving constructive feedback. People may misconstrue being direct for being critical, but in my case, an effective email should tee up either an action or a conversation. Always start cordially, and include what you need as well the “why” you need it (will it help with a client interaction? Will it improve internal efficiency?). Provide a due date and ask if there are any reasons why it might not be able to be completed on time.

By providing all the details and facts, you help the individual know exactly what’s needed to be successful.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

As I mentioned earlier, our team was used to working on location together prior to being forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. In addition to communicating more frequently and face to face, here’s another tip for leading employees through a new way of working.

Be sure to watch team dynamics, especially in group meetings. You want to make sure that those who are introverted don’t just fall to the background and get overlooked by extroverts in conversations. Make sure you engage everyone and ask others for their contributions who may not be as vocal.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

When our IT department is in the office, we have a lot of fun. We’re 70 people strong and do a lot of group activities such as a chili cook off, volunteer projects and more.

Now that we’re remote, it’s even more important to make sure that people are healthy and that we’re providing an empowering work culture.

We talk about personal happenings a lot — even I do as the head of the department. We all have the same problems — family, house, finding time to decompress.

Greenphire has been planning a lot of fun virtual activities that we as a team participate in, including Quizzo happy hours, talent shows and online workouts.

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 obvious answer right now would be to wear a mask! If I could trigger everyone to wear a mask, I would.

But, I’d also encourage everyone to remember that everyone has a story and we’re all going through a stressful time. On my team, I have two colleagues whose significant others are seven months pregnant. It is stressful to consider having a baby right now with so much going on in the world.

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

My father (and really my entire family) has had a tremendous influence on my life. Growing up in Ireland, he learned the value of hard work and my parents passed that along to us. In fact, the lesson I learned most from him is that no one will outwork me. Other people in a room may be smarter, but if you stand by your principles and remain inquisitive, you will succeed. Whether it was when I was just getting started or today, I advise others to “manage up;” share what you can do for them and the organization instead of why you deserve something of something. If you put forth the effort, hard work and dedication, you’ll go far in life. Opportunities may come along, but success is based on you!

Thank you for these great insights!


David Wallace of Greenphire: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author Dr. Gail Saltz: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic

— Just ask. People who feel lonely, also often feel insecure and afraid to ask you to get together, to talk, to listen, to connect…even by phone. Ask them first. They need that boost that you would want to, it can help them feel secure enough to keep connecting.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Gail Saltz. Dr. Saltz is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry with The New York Presbyterian Hospital and psychoanalyst at The New York Psychoanalytic Institute, best known for her work as a relationship, family, emotional wellbeing, and mental health/wellness contributor in the media where she frequently shares her expertise and commentary on the mental health aspects of current issues and news. She is a bestselling author of numerous books including her most recent, The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, a powerful and inspiring examination of the connection between the potential for great talent and conditions commonly thought to be “disabilities.” Dr. Saltz is the host of the 92Y regular, live Psychobiography series, and serves as a Medical Expert for the Physicians for Human Rights. She is also a columnist for US News & World Report and the host of the “Personology” podcast from iHeart Media.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

While doing a residency in internal medicine, I realized that patients’ mental health status had a critical impact on their physical health and wellbeing — more than anything else. I became fascinated with the mind and decided to switch into psychiatry. This decision was met with mixed reactions from colleagues in internal medicine as they thought it was so stigmatized. Throughout my training, I noticed this stigma surrounding mental health was ultimately what kept people from getting the help they desperately needed. This further ignited my passion to help diminish this stigma and educate others through writing and interviews with media.

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

In June of 2001, I got a call at 6:30 a.m. letting me know that a woman in Texas had drowned all of her children and was asked if I could quickly come on The Today Show — where I had never appeared — to explain issues related to a new mother and infanticide. I explained how common postpartum depression actually is, how one can develop postpartum psychosis, and that up to one year after giving birth, these illnesses can occur. These issues were rarely, if ever, being discussed in a public forum at that time, and as a result women rarely knew this could happen and how to get help. I got a deluge of response from women struggling with post-partum depression, or who had in the past. It altered my view of the importance of public education in mental health and the need to diminish stigma. Ultimately, it changed my career direction towards public education. As an addendum, Andrea Yates was wrongly tried and convicted to prison. It took several years for the conviction to be changed due to the late understanding of post-partum psychosis and her being placed in a psychiatric hospital setting.

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

In the earliest days of doing television, I felt somewhat insecure in the fact that my hair was very curly, and no one on TV in those years was ever seen with curly hair. I was constantly being told that I must wear my hair straight. You might think as a doctor, and a psychiatrist no less, I wouldn’t let other people tell me how I had to look. But sadly, insecurity can undermine even mental health professionals. I let stylists straight iron my hair at studios to appease. The humorous part is that my hair is so coarse that sometimes I literally looked like I had a lion’s mane…and people even emailed that to me! One day, I had stepped out of the shower with wet hair and got a call that I needed to be on air in 40 minutes….with 20 minutes of travel. I knew there was absolutely no way to dry and straighten my hair. I told them, “You’ll have to take me curly, or not at all!” I went on-air with my curly hair and felt such relief at looking like myself! I never straightened my hair again. I learned that authenticity matters more than compliance to some artificial standard, knowledge does matter more than outward appearances, confidence comes from being true to yourself, and hours spent changing your appearance for somebody else are hours wasted.

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

Yes! I am working on season 2 of my iHeart Media Podcast PERSONOLOGY. These are psychobiographies of important people in history and what made them tick. Being able to see that even the most successful people in history had psychological issues is very enlightening to people. I am also working on a brand new podcast that I will be hosting for iHeart Media with Seneca Women, a women’s leadership organization, that will answer women’s questions regarding all types of psychological and relationship issues to better their lives. This podcast will provide mental health information and help to people who don’t really have access to a mental health professional themselves.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

Loneliness is a psychological state, not necessarily based on exactly how many people you interact with. Loneliness also correlates with depression and with anxiety. Taken together, mental health professionals are often who “treats loneliness”. As a psychiatrist, it is my job to understand the roots of, causes of, individual nature of and how to help people with loneliness.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

  1. Loneliness often leads to depression. Major Depression has many health consequences including cardiovascular, brain and impact on quality of life. It also has a 15% mortality rate due to suicide.
  2. Loneliness often leads to high anxiety. Anxiety disorders also have health implications and impede one’s ability to function day-to-day.
  3. Social isolation can cause cognitive decline, due to lack of mental stimulation of taking in social information and responding spontaneously to the interactions.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

Loneliness is growing in all age groups, and especially young adults. Given its mental health and physical health implications, it will add significantly to overall poor health and need for more healthcare. It may also contribute to rising suicide rates through deaths of despair, deaths from substance overdose, and suicide.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Loneliness is not based on the number of people one is connected to, it’s based on the depth of connection to a few. It is the feeling of being devoid of people you can really trust, really feel deeply intimate with and connected to. That is why the surprising age group with growing loneliness is late teens and young adults. This group is especially connected via social media. However, social media does not provide depth of relationship. It does not provide the feeling that another is intimately connected to you or that you can share anything with them, be accepted, be cared for. Nothing feels lonelier than feeling alone while you’re with other people. Having tons of the equivalent of Facebook friends, means a lot of time spent keeping that up, but not time spent building close quality relationships. The result is many in this age group feeling lonely.

Families are spreading out. People easily move for jobs, etc. and the idea that you would stay close to home when you move out is disappearing. This means that the close intimate family bonds you have may get stretched and diminish, which can also lead to loneliness.

Marriage is decreasing. For a host of social, financial, cultural reasons, the rate of marriage is going down. Partnership often provides the intimate close relationship that staves off loneliness.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

— Hone your empathy. Most people are fairly consumed with their own point of view and their own struggles. Standing in other people’s shoes emotionally would help everyone in the sense that there would be motivation to connect with them and understand their point of view. This is what grows relationships of meaning.

— Just ask. People who feel lonely, also often feel insecure and afraid to ask you to get together, to talk, to listen, to connect…even by phone. Ask them first. They need that boost that you would want to, it can help them feel secure enough to keep connecting.

— Spend less time on social media and more time in person. Right now it might need to be in masks and socially distanced, but in-person interactions build and maintain relationships. Social media does not.

— Be willing to listen. Part of feeling connected to others is listening. Listening makes the other person feel truly understood. Offer yourself up as a good listener to others that you notice might be feeling lonely. This would go a long way. Some places are creating “listening benches” where someone waits for anyone who might want to drop in to have a conversation and be heard. This is a great idea and actually has been found to be effective in helping people with depression.

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’ve been “working on a movement” for quite a number of years now, to obliterate all stigma related to mental health issues. Close to half of all Americans in their lifetime will struggle with a mental health issue, and yet the number one reason they won’t get treatment is still stigma. It’s why I wrote my latest book “The Power of Different”. It’s a topic I speak frequently on. Stigma still exists in many parts of the country, in certain professional groups like even health care workers (!), in certain minority communities, etc.

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

Michele Obama! She exemplifies a smart, creative, strong female leader. She understands and speaks about how important relationships are in life. In fact, she’s starting a podcast about just that topic! That’s something we have in common and I would love the chance to speak with her about the state of mental health care in this country and the value of close relationships.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: @GailSaltz

Twitter: @DrGailSaltz


Author Dr. Gail Saltz: 5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations every day with a fleet of 10 vehicles” With Marc Kuo of Routific

The fact that most businesses are still manually planning routes is a big problem for the environment. Third- party environmental consultants estimated carbon emission reductions equivalent to planting 86 trees/year for every driver that switches over from manually planned routes to ones optimized by Routific.

This isn’t just a big idea that might change the world. It is already changing the world. In 2019 alone, Routific helped delivery businesses around the world save 11,322 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of planting more than 500,000 trees.

But there’s still a lot more work to be done.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Kuo the Founder and CEO of Routific. An expert on advanced route optimization algorithms, he brings more than a decade of experience in the field of logistics. Previously, Marc was a founding team member at Axiom Zen, an algorithmic trader for UBS Bank in Hong Kong, and a consultant at Cap Gemini in the Netherlands. He graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in operations research from Erasmus University, where he majored in computer science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

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

I remember sitting at my desk on the 51st floor of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, eyes darting back and forth between the seven computer monitors before me. I was using algorithms to move millions of dollars on the stock exchange. I had landed a banking job fresh out of grad school, and in many ways, it seemed like a dream job — for about two whole months.

Everything seemed so glamorous at first. I wore a suit to work, the office tower was beautiful, and the money was good, — but pretty quickly, I began to feel empty and unfulfilled. I looked out the window, down at the great city below, where hundreds of cars were zooming through intersections, over bridges, and into tunnels, and thought: “What if I could use algorithms to move vehicles in a more efficient way? What if those algorithms could lead to less road congestion, less fuel wasted, and more blue skies for Hong Kong and other great cities around the world?”

I quit my job at the investment bank pretty soon after that, and took out my old graduate thesis on advanced route optimization algorithms. While I was proud of my academic work, what use was it sitting in the university library?

For the next two years, I worked on rewriting the algorithm and turning it into an easy-to-use route optimization platform for delivery businesses. I wanted to bring the algorithm to life, to see it applied to the real world, and have it make a positive impact.

Fast forward to the year 2020, and we’ve really come a long way. Our company has grown to include a team of incredibly smart and passionate people — software engineers, data scientists, designers, marketers, customer success experts, business leaders — who are committed to helping the 1,000+ delivery companies on our platform work as efficiently as possible.

Though we’ve grown and changed through the years, we are still on the same mission: to make route optimization technology accessible to every local delivery business, and to help such businesses reduce their fuel consumption and lower their carbon footprint.

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

Startup life throws you a lot of curveballs, and I could probably share some exciting investor-related stories or talk about going through Techstars in Chicago — an experience of a lifetime, for sure! But I think I’ll make this one a little personal:

I made the mistake of actually quitting my job two weeks before my wedding. It put my wife, Suzanne, under a lot of stress at the time. She was a news journalist and had recently quit her job to work on a book. So, for a period of time, both of us were without income. Not an ideal situation when you’re newlyweds trying to start a life together in an expensive city.

A few years later, Suzanne ended up joining me as co-founder, so it actually all worked out in the end. In fact, I went through several co-founders before Suzanne, and having her join me was one of the best decisions I ever made. The best partnerships are built on a foundation of trust and shared principles. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life and in business.

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

1.) Stay intellectually honest and transparent.

If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t let pride get in the way. Stay humble and honest with yourself and the people around you. This is key to building trust, and keeping lines of communication open to those around you. Radical transparency is one of our core values at Routific. We believe oversharing information and exposing our thinking processes empowers people to make better decisions. We strive to create a psychologically safe environment where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings, and also admit and expose their mistakes. This gives us all great opportunities to grow and learn.

2.) Be generous and ‘Give First’

Generosity has always been a pillar in my life, but it wasn’t until we went through Techstars in 2015 when the ‘Give First’ mentality became a permanent part of the way we do business and interact with one another. The Techstars program put us in touch with a network of mentors who were all willing to volunteer their time to coach us through problems and help us build and scale our business. Having that kind of genuine support fueling us through those early days really inspired us to do the same for early stage startups, businesses, and entrepreneurs who later came to us seeking advice or counsel. We want to be able to give back to the community just as those mentors did for us. One of the things we’ve been able to do during this pandemic has been to offer Routific for free to any nonprofit organization involved with delivering essential supplies to vulnerable populations. To date, we’ve helped 400+ nonprofits around the world. With all the blessings we’ve had come our way, it’s really the least we could do.

3.) What would your 70-year-old self think?

This last one isn’t so much a principle or philosophy, but a question I often ask myself when making hard decisions. It makes me revisit my principles, and I tend to think about my legacy, and how I want to be remembered. It’s a very useful thought exercise that helps give me perspective on a problem, and eventually leads me to making the right decision.

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

Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations every day with a fleet of 10 vehicles. The puzzle of deciding which vehicle goes where and in what order, while making sure the fleet operates as efficiently as possible, is extremely hard. And humans are not very good at it.

Many businesses report spending upwards of three hours trying to manually figure out their delivery routes. In fact, Routific surveyed 11,246 businesses and found that 72% still plan routes manually. That means they plan routes using tools like spreadsheets, pen and paper, and Google Maps. Businesses dependent on manual route planning struggle with the consequences of inefficient routes — hours of manual route planning time and inflated delivery costs.

This is where route optimization software can help. Aside from saving the manual route planner a lot of time, we also cut mileage and drive time by 20%-40% by generating more efficient routes than humans can ever find.

How do you think this will change the world?

The fact that most businesses are still manually planning routes is a big problem for the environment. Third- party environmental consultants estimated carbon emission reductions equivalent to planting 86 trees/year for every driver that switches over from manually planned routes to ones optimized by Routific.

This isn’t just a big idea that might change the world. It is already changing the world. In 2019 alone, Routific helped delivery businesses around the world save 11,322 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of planting more than 500,000 trees.

But there’s still a lot more work to be done.

The biggest challenge is changing bad habits. People are stuck in their old ways and it’s our job not only to build this technology and make it available to them, but to educate businesses that such technology exists in the first place.

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

People always fear that technology and automation can eliminate jobs. In our case, route optimization technology actually enables a logistics manager or a route planner to do his or her job better. What our technology eliminates is the inefficient, manual processes of route planning.

True story: My co-founder, Suzanne, once told a route planner: “You are Tony Stark, and Routific is your Iron Man suit.”

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

Sure, I’d be happy to dive deeper into what was so soul-sucking about my time at the investment bank and why I believe that life is too short to be stuck doing something you’re not absolutely in love with.

Being an equity trader at an investment bank may look and sound prestigious and glamorous, but sometimes appearances are very different from reality. In my experience, banks can have a very stifling culture where creativity and new ideas to improve existing processes are blocked by layers of bureaucracy and internal politics. If you’re skipping your lunch break or staying in the office until late in the evening just to impress your superiors, something is seriously wrong with your idea of workplace productivity and culture.

When I started Routific, I vowed to do everything within my power to avoid having that kind of culture. We’re building a company where people are constantly encouraged to be creative and to come up with new ideas; a place where they can always be honest, happy, and productive. A place where people grow into the best versions of themselves.

These kinds of workplaces exist and I challenge you to go out there and find them. Better yet — you can create such a workplace yourself as an entrepreneur.

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

A pandemic. When COVID-19 hit, we saw an unprecedented surge in demand for home delivery services. Adoption of eCommerce and home delivery was already on the rise; the pandemic simply accelerated it by a number of years. COVID-19 forced many businesses to pivot quickly to offer home delivery or risk going out of business.

Since March 2020, our team has been working with hundreds of small businesses worldwide, helping them start up and scale up their home delivery operations. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see these entrepreneurs succeed during the toughest of times by being creative, flexible, and fast on their feet.

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

This is not so much of ‘5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started’ but more like ‘5 Things I Learned Early On In My Career’:

1.) Sleep well.

Once in a while, you might need to pull a late-nighter. But if you do it too often, it will lead to an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. If you are well rested, you can think more clearly and be more productive. Focus on long-term productivity.

2.) Listen to your customers.

It’s easy to get lost in the code and in your copy when you’re building your business. Make sure you’re having as many conversations as you can with your users and potential customers. That’s the only way your product is going to get better, and the only way your business is going to grow.

3.) Ship quickly and often.

Don’t get complacent. Ever. You need to keep iterating and improving your product. If you don’t do it, someone else will. Competition is fierce, and you have to do everything to maintain your lead. Speed is your friend, and time is your enemy.

4.) Don’t celebrate until the money is in the bank.

In the early days, I was a little gullible. Companies approached us with partnership and reseller opportunities, and I believed they would honor the agreement — until the unpaid invoices started piling up. You always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve learned not to celebrate a deal until I see the money in the bank. Same when you’re fundraising.

5.) Invest in culture

Even before a skills test or any other kind of assessment, we always meet a candidate for a casual coffee to align on core values. We call it a sort of informal ‘culture screen.’ Skills can be developed, and people can be trained. But core values are non-negotiable. From the early days, we’ve always prioritized building a strong team culture based on the core values of transparency, team work, and professional growth. I’m really glad we took the time to build that culture from the ground up with the earliest Routific team members.

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

Stay positive. Founders are naturally optimistic people, and it’s important to stay this way because otherwise you’ll give up before you’ve even begun. Starting a business is full of new and exciting challenges. Some of them will hit you square in the jaw, knife you in the back, or slap you clear across your face. And every day, you’ll have to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. Understandably, we’re all human beings with real emotions, and we’re not impervious to setbacks and rainy days. But the one thing that has kept me going is to take everything as a learning experience, as a way for me to “level up” both professionally and personally.

I would also highly recommend this book — The Art of Worldy Wisdom — which has really guided me through life’s ups and downs.

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’ve made it my personal purpose to use technology to make a positive impact on the environment. Routific’s mission is to make route optimization accessible to every last-mile fleet. Our algorithms reduce fuel consumption by 40% compared to manual route planners. We know that 72% of SMB delivery companies still plan routes manually, which demonstrates how vast this market truly is. I envision a future where all fleets are using route optimization software. This is a greener, more sustainable future for us all.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Marc Kuo is a routing expert with nearly a decade of experience in last-mile logistics. He wrote his thesis on advanced vehicle routing algorithms and he is the Founder & CEO of Routific.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Imagine a delivery business that delivers to 500 locations… 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: “Make money if you are outbid” With Cryptograph Co-Founder Hugo McDonaugh

I think that the Cryptograph platform and the auction and trading system we have developed could become the future system on which all licenses, rights and other unpriceable/unique assets that exist today are sold and traded through. It could for example have huge implications for creators today who could use the system to self publish their work and earn more from it over the long term by by-passing many of the rent seeking distribution oligopolies that exist today.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Hugo McDonaugh. After graduating from Warwick University back in 2013, he went on to work in wealth management at the C. Hoare & Co. private bank in London. After a year of working there he decided to pursue a masters at ICBS, which is where he met fellow Cryptograph co-founders, Edouard and Guillaume. Hugo is a big believer in the idea of sustainable philanthropy and he is the Director for an Education technology and consultancy business that works between the UK and China.

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 studied Ancient History and classical Archaeology at Warwick University before then going into private banking and wealth management immediately after graduating. After a year in banking which I felt fairly disillusioned by, in 2015 I then went on to do a masters at Imperial College Business School in Innovation Entrepreneurship and Management which is where I met Co-founder Edouard Bessire. The two of us then decided to start a tech business in the real estate sector together but we needed a third co-founder who could provide all the tech expertise so we got one of Edouard’s old computer engineer friends from the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse called Guillaume Gonnaud to become our third co-founder and the three of us went on to found a couple of businesses in the real estate technology sector and have been working together ever since. After 3 years of trying to start various ventures in real estate technology here in the UK we started seeing very interesting developments beginning to occur in the Blockchain space particularly within the NFT/Digital collectibles market. I myself having been very familiar with blockchain predominantly Ethereum from its very early days l was very interested in what we could do in this space. So the three of us met up together with my older brother George McDonaugh (CEO of KR1 — a publicly listed blockchain technology investment company) to discuss potential ideas of what to do and create in the space. During this meeting between the four of us, at the Quo Vadis bar in Soho London, is where Cryptograph started, and the rest is history. I also have a background in the impact investment space as well having been a part of a couple of impact investment startups and impact investment deals in the past, which is why the concept of perpetual altruism and creating Cryptograph as a new way for people to engage in and do philanthropy was very appealing to me and my other co-founders.

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

Since founding Cryptograph tons of really interesting things have happened but for sure one of the most interesting things for me was meeting Vitalik Buterin at Devcon 5 in Japan and having him not only create a Cryptograph live in front of me. Also getting the chance to tell him about what we are doing and have a chat with him about it all. He is the creator of Ethereum after all.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people? -Our new auction system called the GBM auction system.

Built on top of the Ethereum using smart contracts and the Ether crypto currency. It’s a revolutionary new price discovery system that incentivizes people to bid i.e. you make money if you are outbid. This has applications for any market that needs price discovery for its assets and it will unlock more value & liquidity and discover the truer value of an asset.

-Our Renatus function a new built in safeguard that prevents our token from being burnt, i.e. you can’t ‘destroy’ a Cryptograph or stop it from carrying out its purpose of perpetually raising funds for its creator and charity.

-Our ERC-2665 Extension to the existing ERC-721 token standard. Which ensures that revenue is always created for our charity and creator partners even if you want to take your Cryptograph outside of our ecosystem and sell it on a different marketplace. This can be used by anyone else looking to create their own collectibles that they want to ensure will always perpetually generate revenue for its related parties.

How do you think this might change the world?

I think that the Cryptograph platform and the auction and trading system we have developed could become the future system on which all licenses, rights and other unpriceable/unique assets that exist today are sold and traded through. It could for example have huge implications for creators today who could use the system to self publish their work and earn more from it over the long term by by-passing many of the rent seeking distribution oligopolies that exist today.

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

I mean there is always a flip side to any new technological development. But in the case of blockchain technology; on the one hand it can be used to empower the individual, create greater self sovereignty, give you back more control of your data, decentralized governance and power, create greater transparency etc, which I think is all really great. However,, if used as a way to assert more control and garner more power, then having an immutable record on say all of your citizens or for example having a blockchain based crypto currency that is fully centralized does the exact opposite to what is described above. So yeah, it really depends on how you implement the technology.

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

I guess we had two tipping points. The first was during our meeting together at Quo Vadis (as described above) where the initial idea of taking peoples autographs and putting them on the Ethereum Blockchain is what sparked the whole Cryptograph journey and gave us the seed of the idea to enact the bigger vision that we have implemented today. The second was when Edouard, Guillaume and I were sitting in the basement of my house thinking about the cool new ways we could sell our Cryptographs using smart contracts and programmable money and it was then that we came up with the idea for our groundbreaking GBM auction and trading system.

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

We need better and more seamless ways to onboard people into crypto. The complexity for someone to first understand crypto and digital scarcity is already a pretty big barrier, but even if they educate themselves or choose not to and just jump in, then actually getting hold of some crypto currency such as Ether using your Fiat currency is a really cumbersome process with a lot of friction in it, let alone transferring your crypto back into Fiat. Today we are used to just having to type in our card details, or use Paypal and until crypto becomes that intuitive for users we won’t get real widespread adoption. Wallet addresses, KYC, exchanges, Private keys etc these are not user friendly enough yet in my opinion. We also need blockchains to become more scalable and to be able to process transactions on the scale Visa does for less cost whilst also maintaining their decentralized and fully secure nature. This is a difficult process but many blockchains are already taking a crack at it, but until it’s all faster, cheaper and better (more decentralized and more secure) than what we have today I don’t think we will get widespread adoption.

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

We have great partners out on the West Coast helping with all of our PR and marketing needs at the moment. But perhaps the best thing so far has been that most our creators who already have their very own established audiences and networks have been utilizing their networks to help promote their Cryptographs, which in turn helps us to spread the word and reach a more mainstream audience, which is a big part of what we want to do here at Cryptograph. We want to bridge this new world of blockchain based digital collectibility with the mainstream world of fans and collectors.

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 don’t really have a specific story per SE but 100% I’m extremely thankful for my co-founders Edouard, Guillaume and my older brother George, as without each one of them, Cryptograph would not be a reality. I’m also very grateful for our more recent two partners who have joined us from the West Coast in LA, Tommy Alastra and John Bryan who have also been instrumental in helping us make Cryptograph a reality.

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

Well that is pretty much the entire idea behind our company Perpetual Altruism and our Cryptograph platform. The whole point is to use this cutting edge technology and new market opportunity to of course create a commercially viable business and deliver value to all of our stakeholders, but more importantly do that in tandem with delivering massive philanthropic impact and providing an entirely new way for people to engage in philanthropy and to give charities and nonprofits an entirely new way to more sustainably and passively raise funds over the long term so they can carry out their philanthropic missions more effectively.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.) -Don’t be afraid of failure

Starting something is all about taking risks and if you are too afraid of potential failure you will never create anything or you will spend so much time and resource trying to create something perfect that you will never actually be able to launch something. Knowing this and having a support structure in place of backers who believe in you and your vision and who understand the risks of potential failure is key to creating something new and of value.

-Learn to walk before you can run Jumping in straight at the deep end increases risk dramatically and there is a lot one can learn by swimming in the shallows for a while before going into the deep.

-Be prepared to handle long periods of uncertainty and shoulder lots of responsibility Nothing in the world of startups is certain it’s all a world of unknowns. So knowing in advance that you need to be comfortable with large amounts of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time and that you need to be highly adaptable and that you will have to shoulder lots of responsibility, is crucial in my opinion when it comes to founding a business.

-Learn to learn fast So many times since starting Cryptograph I have had to learn a new skill or get good at something new or understand new information and industries etc in a short period of time. As a startup founder in the early days of your business in just a single day you may have to be a manager, a marketeer, a salesperson, a customer service rep, a lawyer, a designer etc all at the same time. So learning how to learn fast and training yourself to become a sort of jack of all trades is key.

-Don’t be afraid to knock on doors Starting something is difficult but getting to people and then getting those people to listen or engage with what you are doing is even more difficult. Do not be afraid to reach out to people and knock on doors and be a bit pushy when starting out, as it’s the only way to really get the ball rolling!

Knowing all of the above and really understanding the above and believing in these pointers would have helped me dramatically before I started my entrepreneurial journey.

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 not say that I am a person of great influence, but I think the idea of combining the motive for profit with delivering social good is extremely powerful and they need not be mutually exclusive. You can make money and do good at the same time (Cryptograph is proof of this) and the more that we all try to do this and think like this the better it will be for us all. We should not just pursue profit for the sake of making a profit but rather we should pursue a profit with a purpose, which is to do some good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? ‘Without Risk There Is No Reward’

I’m not sure who it was who coined this phrase but it’s definitely been one of the most important lessons in my life. Without taking the risks I have done I would not have achieved anything…

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 🙂

All of the world’s unique assets will eventually be sold and traded either via our Cryptograph platform or through our associated auction and trading system. While doing this we will also be delivering huge social impact, giving people new ways to engage in philanthropy and also give creators a new way to monetize their talents and realize more value from the work over the long term. Would you like to be a part of this?…..

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My Twitter is: @hnmcdonaugh

Cryptograph’s Twitter is: @cryptograph Cryptograph’s Instagram is: cryptographco Cryptograph’s Medium is: https://medium.com/cryptograph Cryptograph’s Discord is: discord.gg/ZwNX5yY Website: www.cryptograph.co


The Future Is Now: “Make money if you are outbid” With Cryptograph Co-Founder Hugo McDonaugh 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: “AI-powered computer vision” With Kunal Kislay of Integration Wizards Solutions

The range of possibilities ‘computer vision’ offers to enterprises is limitless. From retail, manufacturing, warehousing, safety and security it has incredibly diverse use cases for various verticals.

Beyond what is already known and identified, I believe we have potentially unlocked the capability of making sense of visual data that can be adopted by developers and enterprises alike.

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

Kunal is a B.Tech IIT Mumbai alumnus with over a decade and half of experience in enterprise AI, Neural networks and Machine learning. Creating solutions for a vast array of verticals made him understand the pulse of technology and its changing paradigms. Integration Wizards Solutions owes its easy adoption of the most advanced technologies to him. Mentoring a team to tackle impossible challenges is integral to his nature, a trait he actually prides himself on. He led the creation of the flagship product — IRIS, an AI computer vision platform for enterprises. A smooth combination of fearless and fun, working with Kunal is an adrenaline rush for those passionate about technology.

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

I was the chief architect at Antenna Software and had successfully created an enterprise mobility platform that was used by some of the largest organizations in the world. Later, when Antenna Software got acquired by PegaSystems, I along with two of my colleagues decided to bootstrap our own company.

I was fascinated by the sheer volume of visual information being generated in the world. 90% of the data humans consume is visual. Considering just the absolute processing capability of the human brain, it would be apt to say that sense of sight is probably the most advanced of human senses.

As computer vision was not a craze as it is today, I was hoping to use my former experience into building an enterprise computer vision platform to help enterprises harness the true potential of the visual data they generate today (mostly through CCTV Cameras).

The technology proposition we had was very simple. CCTV Cameras today are the most underutilized infrastructure investment and used mostly for retrospective analytics. We were going to convert these passive devices into active analytical tools and provide a platform to do it in a scalable, seamless and secure manner.

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

Of the many exciting things in my career span so far, it has to be the fact that we signed up a global Fortune 500 on our technology with only a promise of a platform and a company. The organization was looking for something that we were intending to build. We got the opportunity to present our plans and ideas to them, through a common connection. Initially, I was not expecting much from the conversation but had participated just to get some early feedback.

Interestingly, the organization decided to work with us and ended up being our first customer.

We are bootstrapped to this day and the credit goes to that one fortuitous meeting before we even registered Integration Wizards Solutions.

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

Our flagship product, IRIS, is an AI-powered computer vision solution. It plugs into the existing CCTV network of the client and analyses the live feed from multiple cameras to provide actionable insights.

It has had many successful deployments — from monitoring manufacturing premises for PPE and safety compliance, to process optimization in warehouses. It is also installed in several malls and retail chains for visual analytics and is used as an outdoor security solution for the largest solar farms in India. So far, we have successfully deployed for several large-scale customers, several of whom are global Fortune 500.

Beyond enhancing productivity and sales in organizations, IRIS is designed to save lives. Our deployments in some of the most hazard-prone industries like steel manufacturing and heavy engineering ensure alarms are raised for potential hazards thereby saving a likely disaster.

We are also very proud of our solutions for COVID-19 helping manufacturing premises, malls and hospitals to operate with minimal risk. Our solution raises real-time alarms when it identifies a potential hazard or a threshold is breached.

How do you think this might change the world?

The range of possibilities ‘computer vision’ offers to enterprises is limitless. From retail, manufacturing, warehousing, safety and security it has incredibly diverse use cases for various verticals.

Beyond what is already known and identified, I believe we have potentially unlocked the capability of making sense of visual data that can be adopted by developers and enterprises alike.

Visual data accounts for a large chunk of data generated by humans today. In fact, 90% of all the data created in the world’s history was created in the last 2 years. The organization that can understand the magnitude and decipher data as much as possible, in the fastest possible way, is expected to win the AI race.

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

I believe the most debated aspect of the technology is ‘privacy’. With the high surge in the adoption of technology, privacy concerns are inevitable.

Are people ready for an algorithm to ascertain their demographics, age, gait, and/or the time they spend in a particular place? As we have seen with social media, internet, and most recently mobile phones, if the perceived advantages are substantial, a lot of these concerns are ignored. But can they be forgotten?

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

My smartphone would inadvertently get filled with data. A simple examination revealed that over 95% of it was essentially visual data, i.e. videos and photos.

Scientists say about 90% of the information our brains process is visual. Researches prove that the human brain can process visuals almost 60,000 times faster than text. Hence, the information we could potentially get out of a video is a lot more than text or other forms of data. What if we could leverage technology to process visuals in a second or less?

The more I delved into this concept, combined with my passion for technology, computer vision seemed a more viable solution for challenges in enterprises.

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

I believe the two main barriers are — the perceived mindset about AI and the lack of interest in investing in a CCTV infrastructure.

Traditionally, CCTV has been under the purview of “security” department of the organization with a simple mandate of securing the premises. The cameras are placed to catch intrusion but seldom positioned to achieve anything more. Besides, the network that supports such infrastructure is often insufficient.

For optimal performance of our technology, it is important that the organizations invest in CCTV infrastructure with a planned and futuristic mindset.

While our technology delivers face recognition, generates demographics, and even operational parameters, the major inhibitor is the mindset.

In other words, there’s resistance to change. Humans, in general, are creatures of habit and often take some persuasion before accepting that the disruption, expense, or adopting new processes will eventually be worth the overall gain.

However, once we are able to create awareness about the product and how it enhances resource efficiency and reduce costs, people are likely to become receptive and engage with us.

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

Our experience of working with global conglomerates is highly useful as their endorsement helps us move forward. We are proud to work with leading Fortune 500 companies, globally. We are actively talking about ‘the power of computer vision technology’ across our narratives on our blog, social media channels, partnerships, collaterals, and events. Networking and live demo of our product in industry events have proved to be a major boost for our portfolio. Besides, our partnership with a PR agency has been garnering good media coverage and visibility.

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

I started Integration wizards when after being settled for about 10 years in various corporate jobs. The responsibilities were manageable, I had a great team and obviously there was sense of stability in what I was doing. Starting Integration Wizards meant giving up on something I was so well settled in.

Before IW was actually started, we spent several weeks deliberating about the possibilities, the pros and cons of starting up at that point. Most of these brainstorming sessions were with my co-founders who also happened to be a part of my team, and my wife. There were nightlong planning sessions, competitor research and funding strategy.

I am grateful for the positivity I had from those discussions. All possible difficulties were discussed and mitigation plans were drawn up. What never came up during this discussion was the viability of the idea and our capability to deliver it. We believed in ourselves and

we believed in each other. This has given me the confidence to start up and remains my biggest drive as we try to overcome new challenges every day.

The fact that I did not need to worry about the financial stability of my house as my wife Puja had taken it up.

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

We have contributed significantly by making workplaces safer. Even before the advent of COVID-19, our solution was designed to save lives. We support companies meet their occupational health and safety goals and have significantly reduced accidents by identifying and correcting safety hazards in real-time.

Post-COVID, we believe our impact has been far greater. We have helped several large organizations, particularly in India, restart their operations after a prolonged lockdown. Some of the largest manufacturing hubs (including steel, construction, and automotive), hospital chains, warehouses, and malls have used our solution to monitor face mask compliance and ensure social distancing.

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

1. It never gets easier as we grow and progress, we just get used it.

2. What we know today is hardly worth anything, how fast and efficiently can we learn is all that drives the success.

3. There are no best practices as far as building the best team is concerned. Every organization has to devise a strategy that works best for them.

4. Technology can be stolen and copied what eventually defines an organization are people — employees and customers alike. Their trust is the only thing worth striving for.

5. Irrespective of everything we try there will be mistakes and failures. Our competitors will make them too How fast can we get back on our feet after stumbling is what is going to define us.

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

I wish the next generation would foster a product development mindset. If they will be able to feel proud of a successful product, they will be the ones defining paths and breakthroughs, rather than simply following the “best practices” set traditionally.

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

The quote “By your stumbling, the world is perfected” by Sri Aurobindo, who is a noted philosopher and author, carries special significance to me. I believe no effort ever gets wasted. Just like any other organization, we have also had our share of slipups, but a positive attitude helps us navigate our failures and learn from them. I believe we are where we are because of our mistakes as much as our achievements.

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

We are a six-year-old bootstrapped organization, based out of Bangalore, with offices in the US and UK. Nine of our customers are global Fortune 500 conglomerates. With solutions deployed in over 21 countries, we have a significant lead in the area of enterprise computer vision platform.

Even by some of the most conservative estimates, there will be over 1 Billion CCTV Cameras by the end of the year. We believe CCTV cameras are one of the most underutilized infrastructure investments used mostly for retrospective forensic analysis.

We have a platform that enables customers to use this existing infrastructure investment to derive actionable insights that help them improve productivity, sales, safety, and security.

We have experience deploying our solutions in warehouses, retail outlets, manufacturing outlets, petroleum retail outlets, malls, and hospitals.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

Readers can also reach out to me through our company pages on social media:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/10034684/admin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iwizardsolutions/?view_public_for=454831034676983

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iWizardsLtd

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

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


The Future Is Now: “AI-powered computer vision” With Kunal Kislay of Integration Wizards Solutions was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change with local leadership” With Matt Warner of Atlas Network

The world bank is estimating that COVID-19 could push over 70 million people globally into extreme poverty. We can’t let that happen, but we need a new approach. In order to end poverty for good we have to radically shift how we view our role, as Westerners and as outsiders in the process. Property rights, free markets, and the rule of law supported by democratic institutions are the reason poverty has declined as much as it has. But to build an institution that lasts in support of lifting people out of poverty for good, locals must take the lead. This might sound obvious to some, but historically, this has not been the model we’ve acted on.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Warner the president of Atlas Network, a nonprofit grant making organization committed to supporting local NGOs in more than 90 countries. Matt is the editor of Poverty and Freedom: Case Studies on Global Economic Development and coined the term “the outsider’s dilemma” to describe the challenge of helping low-income countries develop without getting in the way of their most viable paths to prosperity. His organization just launched the project Dignity Unbound: a whole new approach to solving poverty for good. Matt writes, speaks, and consults internationally on the topics of economics, institution building, nonprofit management, and impact philanthropy. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, The Hill, Cato Journal, Forbes, Harvard’s Education Next, and EconTalk, among others. Matt has a master’s degree in economics from George Mason University and is certified by Georgetown University in organizational development consulting. He is also a 2019–2020 Penn Kemble Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy, a member of American Enterprise Institute’s Leadership Network and a recipient of America’s Future Foundation’s 2019 Buckley Award.

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

I grew up a comfortable, suburban kid so my knowledge of poverty had to be learned. As a teenager I volunteered at a nonprofit where my brother worked helping homeless families get job training and childcare. That opened my eyes to the challenges people face. Later, I took a two-year break from college to work with low-income, immigrant communities in Brooklyn and Queens. I became very close with many people from all over the world and I worked with them to help them learn English, find employment, and a sense of community in their new neighborhoods. I learned quickly just how diverse we all are — each with our own ideas and dreams — but we share this need to make our life count for something, to mean something. That’s human dignity. Preserving human dignity on a large scale is what has motivated my career path. It’s an important time now to be pushing a whole new approach to ending poverty for good.

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

The first time I went to Kyiv to visit one of our grantees, a friend there arranged for me to spend an afternoon with the young revolutionary who first occupied the palatial estate of Viktor Yanukovych after he fled Ukraine during the Maidan Revolution. He gave me a tour of the main residence with its unbelievable luxury paid for by corruption. He took me through the underground tunnels that Yanukovych traveled by golf cart to go to his exercise buildings and spa. I also saw his large automobile collection and party boat. All of this indulgence while GDP per capita in Ukraine began its plummet to $2,000 per year. This is what unchecked power does when democratic institutions of accountability fail. I am in awe of the young people who risked their lives to take their country back. Those kinds of injustices keep me motivated to work harder. I’ve seen the same injustices in India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Guatemala — it goes on and on. We have to stop abuse of power so that low-income populations have a chance to thrive but the way we’ve tried to do it through foreign aid and foreign policy has backfired.

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

The value and importance of human dignity is a universal language and should never be underestimated. This has been the guiding principle in our work and the inspiration for Dignity Unbound. Over the last few years, I’ve traveled to dozens of countries and have listened to locals and community leaders describe a vision for change and prosperity for their people and their country. What we have strived to do at Atlas Network is help them realize that vision, not nation build on their behalf.

The problem with large foreign institutions such as USAID and the World Bank leading local change is that they put so many conditions and expectations on local communities that it gets in the way of something that actually works well in the local context. For example, it was a local think tank NGO in Peru that understood why microenterprises could never grow — they were required to make monthly tax payments even when they hadn’t yet been paid themselves. How to navigate to a fix for that broken system is not something outsiders would have thought to prioritize and would not have known how to go about doing it.

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

The world bank is estimating that COVID-19 could push over 70 million people globally into extreme poverty. We can’t let that happen, but we need a new approach. In order to end poverty for good we have to radically shift how we view our role, as Westerners and as outsiders in the process. Property rights, free markets, and the rule of law supported by democratic institutions are the reason poverty has declined as much as it has. But to build an institution that lasts in support of lifting people out of poverty for good, locals must take the lead. This might sound obvious to some, but historically, this has not been the model we’ve acted on.

Consider these two examples: In Uganda, Western academics spent $300,000 to entice a local village to stop growing bananas and start growing corn in order to increase their crop yields. They got bigger crop yields but there was no local market for corn and nowhere to store it. In the end, the village had no bananas and suffered a rat infestation due to all the rotting corn. Atlas Network does things differently. We support systemic change led by locals. Nearby, in Burundi, we gave a grant to a modest think tank NGO. They wanted to find ways to make their economy more inclusive for the large number of low-income street vendors and others operating very modest businesses. Because most of those microenterprises aren’t formally registered as businesses, they have no legal recourse when the police harass them and take their money and goods. It’s a massive problem. Our grantee worked with the government to lower the barriers to business licensing so that more of the existing economy could move from the shadows to the formal sector where they can grow and increase incomes. In the year prior to those reforms there had been a 5% increase in formal business registrations. In the year following Burundi saw a 49% increase. That represents an economic revolution, but it had to be locally conceived and locally led to succeed.

Stepping back and letting other countries design their own futures is a key feature of a liberal democracy. People deserve and need to choose for themselves. Large institutions such as USAID and the World Bank can continue to play a role but it should be restricted to facilitating knowledge sharing and increasing opportunities for global engagement.

How do you think this will change the world?

Unfortunately, we are witnessing a global rejection of liberal democracy in favor of authoritarian populism, a return to “strong man” politics. You see this in Hungary, Poland, Russia, China, and Brazil, though there are many others. This phenomenon is built on the exploitation of the disappointments and humiliations that have come as a result of our ham-handed attempts to spread liberal democracy through conditional aid and foreign policy influence. Political scientists Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes refer to this attempt, beginning after the fall of the Berlin Wall and ending in 2016, as the Age of Imitation, during which we worked with transitioning economies to replicate Western norms, laws, and governance structures. This has not been the right model. A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change with local leadership is much more likely to accelerate the strengthening of liberal democracy over time. Ultimately, this sets the stage for real, and long-lasting progress towards alleviating poverty.

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

It is not easy to make the shift I am proposing both for practical and political reasons. The practical reason is it is not intuitive to most donor countries and donor organizations to adopt a model like ours — which lets locals take the helm You have to strike the right balance between letting your grantees lead while also holding them accountable to high standards. The trick is to let them define those high standards for themselves. It takes humility to recognize that donor expertise is insufficient to lead local change in faraway communities. Change is always hard, but this particular change asks well-meaning, very capable experts to stand down from what they consider to be a very moral cause. It’s hard to steer moral conviction if the new direction feels like doing less. I also recognize that any shift, though advisable, represents some short-term tradeoffs that are difficult to navigate. While tough choices are an everyday part of the status quo, I personally feel humble about the tradeoffs that will have to be navigated as we shift to a smarter model.

Politically, foreign aid is a useful instrument for donor countries. Some of the most generous countries, as a percentage of GDP, heavily use foreign aid to advance national interests. It serves them well and it is attractive to local politicians in recipient countries, but it’s too often a disaster for local communities. That perverse dynamic will be difficult to get away from. But we can make progress now by increasing the role of philanthropy and work towards crowding out those political arrangements.

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

I attended an event cohosted by #BlackWomeninDevelopment and the Center for Global Development on the topic of consent. The panel discussion challenged all of us in the room to think about what getting consent looks like in the context of foreign aid and development. It struck me that this is a very difficult question to answer under the traditional model of foreign aid and foreign NGOs who are working in-country to solve problems. What’s worse, we undermine budding democratic processes abroad when we make their governments accountable to us and to our preferences for solving local problems. The alternative model I support solves the consent problem by investing in locally-led NGOs who promote their own ideas and who work to persuade their local stakeholders of their merits in the local context. When they succeed in getting their ideas adopted through this very public and transparent advocacy, local consent is baked into the process.

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

My criticisms of foreign policy and foreign aid are widely shared. The aid industry, in particular, has been introspective the last 20 years about its own efficacy and the actual harm it has unintentionally caused. With COVID-19, the urgency to redefine our role has increased. I see a natural coalition forming that transcends politics and focuses on results. This coalition builds on our own #dignityunbound initiative as well as the seminal work of the Doing Development Differently project out of Harvard, and joins the #shiftthepower movement from Global Fund Community Foundation and the broader “localization agenda” covered by the media outlet Devex to restructure donor countries’ support of liberal democracy building around the world. This can be a powerful, diverse coalition that respects local culture and the prerogatives of local actors to choose their own destinies. If we can join together on this shared mission, I think we can make a big difference in redefining the role of outsiders in favor of local leadership.

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

“People support what they help create.” This is something I learned from an organizational development course I took midcareer and it has become my mantra. It is so insightful and applies to all levels of human endeavor from working with my daughter on her homework, to galvanizing a professional team, to institution-building in faraway countries. Smart people can come up with great solutions and, if they have the authority, implement them without consulting anyone. But they will be far more successful if they think of their idea as a hypothesis and then work inclusively with relevant voices to validate, improve, or pivot off what they think is best. A “genius” plan that is at odds with the thinking of those who will be relied upon to execute it is not as good as a consensus plan that others have helped to shape.

Be confident about being vulnerable. I slowly noticed that a lot of successful people were uninhibited in seeking advice, help, and feedback. They learned so much faster than people like me who were so worried about not looking like an impostor that they hesitated to admit what they didn’t know. For the first event I was ever in charge of just out of college I decided everything in a vacuum. From the event name to the type of invitation, my instincts were all wrong for the audience I was trying to attract. The result was woefully low attendance. At the last minute, my boss had to scramble to get his friends to come to prevent a total flop. If I had simply reached out to some of my intended audience to ask for their feedback on what I was planning they would have immediately steered me in the right direction. Again, if I cared more about what I was working on than my own need to prove myself, I would have been much more successful.

Focus more on the content of your work rather than your performance in doing it. As in writing or public speaking, I am much more effective if I focus on the value of what I am communicating rather than how successfully I am doing it. I once gave a speech that went so horribly I had to pull out my notes and read the second half of my remarks. I realized it was much more natural for me to share my passion for the content than to worry about impressing people, the latter just made me self-conscious.

Everyone is your customer in some respect. Treat them accordingly. Whether an intern, a former colleague, or a member of your board, everyone matters. I can’t count how many times someone from my past has reemerged in my professional life in an important way that I never would have anticipated. So, really — burn no bridges.

One of my mentors from early in my career always said, “Don’t take it personally. Take it seriously.” I think about that all the time whenever I am tempted to be offended by someone correcting me. Criticisms should ideally be shared constructively and thoughtfully, but however they are shared they are useful data and if I can take that data seriously instead of personally I can learn something from it.

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

Run as fast as you can with the vision you have rather than pace yourself out of fear you don’t have it right yet. You don’t, but the faster you learn that the quicker your vision can evolve to become more sophisticated.

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

We have the opportunity to end poverty for good, but it will require a complete rethink of our philanthropic approach. Atlas Network has developed a model that works at large scale because we do two things differently than almost everybody else: 1). We invest in social change at the systemic level — the rules of the game that make the biggest difference for low-income communities. 2). We support the vision of local research and advocacy organizations in each country who know better than the best foreign experts how to achieve that change at the systems level in their local context.

Over the last three years, our judicious investments in this portfolio have totaled less than $5 million but with that we have achieved measurable successes in 36 countries to date. This includes the removal of a tariff on sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka, legitimizing street vending in India, transferring title to post-Apartheid victims in South Africa, and many, many more. In response to COVID-19, we launched a new grant opportunity, the COVID Relief Fund, to provide timely support for local think tanks who are leading reforms to accelerate economic recovery in their communities. Our vast network includes independent partners in 96 countries. They have huge potential to do even more and we are prepared to scale up our model to achieve an even faster rate of social change return. Not only that, new research shows the fiscal crises caused by government mitigation efforts in response to COVID-19 represent a ripe opportunity for systemic and regulatory reform. If we can raise another $5 million to invest in the next 12 months, we predict more than double the results of the previous three years by 2022.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @mattwarnerdc @atlasnetwork @dignityunbound

Facebook: Atlas Network

Instagram: AtlasNetwork

Youtube.com/AtlasNetwork

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A new model that correctly rests responsibility for change… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Oz Etzioni of Clinch: The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years

One thing that has grown during the pandemic was the need for personalized ads. Consumers today are constantly subjected to advertisements, and they are adept to tune out generic ads that have no real connection to them. We see brands adapting to the changing times by showcasing personalized ads that take into consideration three major factors: time, context, and location. By incorporating these factors, brands were able to target their audience with accurate, relevant, and personal advertisements.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Oz Etzioni the CEO and co-founder of Clinch, an AI-powered omnichannel personalization technology platform. Clinch’s platform combines brand, product and consumer data with dynamic creative messaging to generate unlimited personalized versions of advertisements for programmatic and social media video and display ads.

After spending years leading user experience, design and innovation teams at major agencies, Etzioni founded Clinch to take advantage of the explosive growth in programmatic and address the need to provide data-driven video creative at scale. As CEO, Oz has led advanced omni channel, personalized campaigns. Today, Clinch is the only creative technology company to enable advertisers to use data to personalize videos regardless of platform to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Early in my career I was focusing on digital consumer products that connect the online and offline worlds. As user experience became more and more essential and core to a brand’s initiatives, it was clear that personalized content that is relevant and tailored to the individual will be crucial for digital advertising, so we started building Clinch solutions.

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

The funny / absurd fact is that we actually built Clinch as a video solution first, however back in the day every brand we talked to told us “What would I do with video??” or “Can you offer me the same solution for HTML5 banners?” Priorities were different then, but at that point we realized we needed to build more capabilities that address all the different channels and executions, and on the same core technology, as building a separate solution would add unnecessary cost, and complexities. That was when we started thinking of omnichannel and the potential of actually learning between the channels and executions of display and video. Soon, video became the hot commodity, and the demand quickly turned from HTML5 banners to video…and our video solution was already battle-proven and fully integrated into the full omnichannel solution. That initial clients’ “rejection” to our offering truly helped us shape our product vision going forward.

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

A lesson about the importance of brand guidelines and the subconsciousness of ads…In the early days, a client from the travel industry asked us to create ads for a “hot sale” event, for which we developed an amazing animated ad with elements that were on fire, and an amazing animation of a plane flying acrobatically through the ad. We were very excited to accomplish such a complex level of animation in HTML5 at scale. Then the client feedback came and we were roasted on the fact that not only it seem that the plane was on fire and out of control, but the animation ended with the plane disappearing into the lower left edge of the ad, in the worst possible angle, giving the viewer the notion that the plane did not have a successful landing. From that point on, brand guidelines, emotional takeaways, and storytelling became essential components in our solution, and just as important as the tech itself.

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

Video advertising has caused many marketers to hit a rough patch. From lack of efficiency, speed, and cost many industry experts fall short. We recently launched the industry’s most advanced and efficient video rendering engine, called Clinch Xenon. Our new innovative technology replaces existing common rendering solutions for video advertising personalization at scale. Clinch Xenon provides customization and control for video editing and significantly reduces processing time, making it far easier and cost-efficient to produce the scale and variations of video assets required for true omni-channel personalization. This gives industry execs the ability to streamline the process, removing unneeded steps where errors may be introduced. Because of its lightweight, cloud-based design, error-reduction, and speed, Clinch Xenon can reduce rendering costs by 90%. You can learn more about Clinch Xenon here.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Stay true to the vision but be aware and attentive to clients’ needs and market trends and be bold enough to iterate the product and positioning accordingly (don’t fall in love with your initial concept). Your team is an essential part of your offering to the clients, they are the real engine of the company. Choose the right people, take good care of them, and most importantly, empower them.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My family and my co-founder. No one in the startup world can succeed without the support from their closest people; they all become co-founders in one way or another, and all carry the burden and challenges and ups and downs of building a company with a vision that starts from scratch and grows. A good, honest, ego-less and target-oriented relationship between the co-founders is crucial (make sure to pick right for the LONG TERM!).

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

I sure hope so. We built our tech to make sure that we help our clients and their consumers provide value for each other. The idea behind personalization, not only in advertising, is to make things relevant and customized for me as an individual, so I can enjoy and maximize the benefits from everything I do or experience. It could be to save time, save money, even just entertain. Regardless of the specific goal, I dedicate my time and attention, and I want value in return. So we are trying to always improve our tech to build value and help consumers get what they want or need, when they need it.

Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way consumers will shop for the foreseeable future. The major adjustments made were:

  • E-commerce: This experience opened the door for the e-commerce industry, consumers were flocking to online shopping during the pandemic and brands took clear notice by offering pick-up and delivery services. The industry has now seen major growth in e-commerce and consumers have now acclimated to the current reality, the ease of use has been a major player for the new consumer mindset. The path to purchase has become more digital-reliant and retail will become a showroom / experience.
  • Ad Consciousness: Advertisers had to change the way ads were seen, displayed and positioned to consumers. Within the matter of months social gatherings were considered taboo and ads needed to reflect the current reality. The key is to ensure that the content being consumed is as relevant, personal, and geographically applicable as possible (e.g.: offering delivery messages in ads to people in locations with a stay-at-home order, and to offer curb-side pick up messages to people in less restrictive locations. In the upcoming back to school campaigns, when we are setting up personalization parameters, we not only have to consider geo on a state level, but also at the county-level, in order to determine messaging that resonates with schools that will operate in-person vs. remote). Seeing ads that didn’t reflect the current reality would not seem relevant to the consumer, and doesn’t connect with your audience. Brands need to stay conscious of the types of ads displayed for their client base. The most successful ads resonate in a relevant manner by “addressing the times” head on, and remain authentic to their brand. Avoiding the issue altogether has its own set of risks.
  • Personalization: One thing that has grown during the pandemic was the need for personalized ads. Consumers today are constantly subjected to advertisements, and they are adept to tune out generic ads that have no real connection to them. We see brands adapting to the changing times by showcasing personalized ads that take into consideration three major factors: time, context, and location. By incorporating these factors, brands were able to target their audience with accurate, relevant, and personal advertisements.
  • Transparency: Just like the ‘organic’ movement in the food industry and the demand for food sources transparency, ingredients, and transparent process of production, etc. The retail industry might experience a similar process which they need to prepare for. Consumers want transparency with where and how products have reached their warehouses and shelves. Safety and health conscious consumers are more prevalent now than ever before. Brand messaging needs to have a purpose, not just a vague “we’re in this together.” Viewers want to know: Who are they helping? Is it believable and authentic? Is the brand doing its part? Can I trust this brand? Do I share its values? Where did it come from? Is it safe? Brands will need to showcase supply chain management, efficiency, and sanitation needs to keep consumers at ease while shopping both online and in-store.
  • Dynamic Audiences segmentation: DMP segmentations will continue to generate audiences that are too broad. The idea of identifying and segmenting audiences based on engagement, preferences, and context will drive retailers to start segmenting audiences in a more granular, precise, and dynamic way. This will allow the retailers to address consumers with much more relevant and personalized content, and form much better and frequent communication that is beneficial to both sides.

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

I would focus on food and water resources, as this is accelerating to become a global issue that needs to be addressed well ahead of time and not when encountered, as it’ll be too late.


Oz Etzioni of Clinch: The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years 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: “Diagnosis and Treatment For Soft Tissue Injuries” with Dr. Mary Rose Reaston of

The Future Is Now: “Diagnosis and Treatment For Soft Tissue Injuries” with Dr. Mary Rose Reaston of Emerge Diagnostics

It is difficult to be an innovator. I have learned that people are not always receptive to new ideas and technology. The light bulb went on when I was presenting to a group of people and they kept putting up roadblocks as to why something new is better. It was then I looked down at the table and saw my iPhone and looked back up at them. I asked the question who remembers the rotary dial phone and half the group raised their hand. I then picked up my iPhone and asked who has one of these; most of the room raised their hands. I said congratulations you adopted an innovative technology.

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

Mary Rose Reaston is an innovator, author, expert witness and is the CEO and Chief Science Officer of Emerge Diagnostics, Inc. MaryRose has a successful track record in the development, commercialization, marketing and governmental acceptance for advanced Electrodiagnostic testing. She is the Co-Inventor of EFA technology and holder of several U.S. and international patents. She has been named as an Industry Risk Innovator and Responsibility Leader.

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

Many years ago, I was involved in a severe car accident that left me with debilitating headaches. I was told, after trying medications, various treatments including physical therapy that I was “suffering from” soft tissue injuries and since there was no way to diagnose these types of conditions that my treatment with be” hit or miss”. This was not acceptable to me. I just wanted to get better. After much research become a Co-Inventor with Phil Reaston of the Electrodiagnostic Functional Assessment, EFA technology. EFA technology has proven to be the gold standard for soft tissue injury diagnosis and treatment. It was thought that I had migraine headaches after the car accident but with the development of the EFA, it was found I had tension headaches with a vascular component. Being able to distinguish the difference allowed for site specific treatment. With the specific treatment I became pain free and have not suffered these types of headaches. This led me on my journey to be able to further develop this innovative cutting edge technology so that other people could benefit.

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

One of the most interesting events that will always stay with me, was when we decided to make the technology wireless. In order to be able to accurately evaluate soft tissue injuries, you have to be able to look at many muscle groups simultaneously. Also, just looking at muscle groups wouldn’t be enough because in order to understand the muscle pathology you needed to know what the person was doing. We decided to integrate range of motion testing with the muscle testing and that meant more sensors. More sensors with wireless technology was an issue as current technology only allowed a few sensors to be connected. Phil Reaston came up with an innovative method that allowed many sensors to be used simultaneously so that many muscle groups could be monitored with multiple access for range of motion- our EFA technology. This was unheard of and critical for effective diagnosis. Our first large technical meeting scheduled a demo of the technology with industry leaders at Intel. Walking into the meeting with the introduction of the technology, I was met with overwhelming skepticism and everyone saying that connecting all the sensors we needed could not be accomplished. The joy of my face and the looks on their faces when we provided the working demonstration of the project is something I will always treasure. Phil Reaston has continued to upgrade and expand on the technology so that it is truly cutting edge and proven to be successful in the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

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

The $100 billion dollar problem: soft tissue injuries, typically defined as back, neck and shoulder pain is a leading health cost driver in the United States. These conditions are the most common reasons for people to seek medical care. They are difficult to diagnose and treat. Previously, there has been no way to access the injury and a doctor often must rely on the person’s complaints. Now, there is Exciting Emerging Technology: Electrodiagnostic Functional Assessment. (EFA) EFA uses FDA registered technology and is the gold standard for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. For the first time, connection via wireless technology multiple muscle groups and range of motion can be monitored. This allows for pinpointing the precise location of the injury and allowing for site specific treatment. This has helped prevent surgeries and helped people to become better and lead productive lives. In fact, the EFA technology is changing the face of diagnosis and treatment and allowing for better care via telemedicine. With the advent of EFA technology and telemedicine a doctor can gain more information than if the person was sitting in front of them in an office. This is important especially with COVID. Since bringing EFA technology to market, we have helped thousands of people get better, return to work sooner, and lead more productive lives. With COVID facing the World and in person care being limited, we had to adopt our technology to be better able to handle telemedicine visits. In the past, telemedicine was not an option for people who had a soft tissue injury since the doctor was not able to palpate of feel the person through a video link. The EFA enables “virtual palpation” for a more objective assessment, which is a critical component of the physician’s evaluation process that was, until now, impossible via telemedicine or any other remote/virtual platform. In fact, with the EFA the doctor actual receives more information than if the person were sitting in front of them. Better care anywhere with the EFA especially via telemedicine will enable people to get more accurate diagnosis for the leading healthcare issues/cost drivers. Being able to pinpoint with the EFA the precise location and type of soft tissue injury will allow for better directed care, anywhere.

How do you think this might change the world?

I really do believe the EFA technology can change the world because it fills a void in medicine. There are great diagnostic tools, and each serves a specific niche, for example x-rays are excellent for broken bones but they cannot look at soft tissue injuries. EFA technology is designed just specifically to evaluate soft tissue injuries. With the advent of EFA and telemedicine this innovative solution can be offered worldwide. The EFA solution dramatically reduces the costs associated with inaccurate diagnosis or prolonged treatments. By being able to ascertain if conservative care is appropriate and offering site specific treatment recommendations an individual can recover faster and not only return to work but all the activities of daily living. If surgery is appropriate that can be identified early on and the person can get the best treatment possible. Accurate diagnosis and treatment also reduce the reliance on pain medications and narcotics which has become a worldwide epidemic. I have many stories of how the EFA has benefited humanity, but I would like to share two of my most memorable. A young AAA picture who had undergone rotator cuff surgery and was unable to return to baseball, came to me and asked if there was anything, we could do to help him. His arm hurt to throw pitches and he was “demoted” to the A team. He was going to be cut from baseball. Baseball was his entire life and livelihood. The EFA found he had referred pain from his neck muscles that was affecting his arm. With appropriate care as outlined by the EFA evaluation, he was able to pitch and was once again return to the AAA roster. Using our guided EFA telemedicine program, we evaluated an individual who was injured at work and we were able to compare him to a baseline EFA and determine he had a work-related change in condition to his shoulder. He was able to be seen very early on in the case, had surgery, and returned to work 8 weeks later with a full duty release. Because of the site-specific care, he had appropriate early treatment and had very little pain medication. Better diagnostics equates to better care and with telemedicine that can be anywhere.

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

The EFA technology is truly an innovation for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. That being said, there is no panacea in medicine. There is not one global solution so the only drawback I could foresee with the EFA, as with any technology, is that it been used for what it was intended for: no more no less.

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

The tipping point that lead to this breakthrough came from Phil Reaston. The limitations of getting to a telemedicine option and an option that could be mobile rested with the ability for us to make the technology wireless. Wireless technology was limited to very few sensors and no real time or live access. The A- HA- moment came when Phil thought outside the box and found a way to connect it all together. That is the secret sauce so to speak, and this has enabled us to be able to offer the EFA to anyone including unmatched telehealth care. I will never forget the day that Phil took many EMG sensors and range of motion sensors and said watch they can all connect. He made it seem so simple but so many years of development went into the effort. Our technology and programs are now offered worldwide.

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

For wider spread adoption, we need people not to be afraid of innovation. A good story, I will always remember is from a friend of mine who is an orthopedic surgeon who embraces the EFA technology in his practice. He had a deposition and the EFA was mentioned. He was asked did you learn about the EFA in medical school doctor, and he replied no. I went to medical school over 30 years ago and at that time I did not even learn about the MRI. Medicine must constantly progress and change, and people need to embrace change and innovation.

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

One focus of the EFA is to assist employees and employers with work related soft tissue injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Soft Tissue Injuries are the leading cause of lost workdays and health care dollars spent. Our EFA-STM (EFA Soft Tissue Management Program) is a bookend solution that helps give better care to employees with work related injuries and uses our telemedicine platform. Achieving better results in a complicated and challenging worker’s compensation environment is what every employer and employee should want. If a workplace incident happens, the employer is responsible to return the employee to the employee’s condition prior to the incident. The employee wants better care and back to work quicker. The EFA-STM program is built to achieve these results for the employee and employer, a win for all parties. Our clients and their employees have had tremendous success with the program. Employee’s with work-place injuries are returning to work quicker with a more focused diagnosis and our clients are benefiting from less lost workdays, less recordable days and the knowledge that EFA tested employees will have the benefit of the EFA-STM program in the event a work-place incident occurs. This is an innovative concept and it changes the game of workers’ compensation into a win for all parties.

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 particularly grateful to Robert Thompson. Bob was the prior CEO of Emerge Diagnostics and my mentor. When we first started to work together at Emerge, I was the Chief Science Officer of the company. Bob saw in me the ability to become more to the company. He helped me learn the business side of the company and help me ease into the role of COO. As COO Bob helped me refine my management style and learn more about delegation. He had confidence in me and when he left the company, he promoted me to CEO and President. He left me with invaluable knowledge: people love sausages, but they don’t really want to know how to make them. This might sound corny but so true it taught me solve the problem and provide the results.

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

Absolutely. With my success as Emerge, I am focusing on affordable healthcare and wellness. We are developing a program that will allow individuals and their families to have unlimited access to telemedicine and wellness programs at very low cost.

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

  1. It is difficult to be an innovator. I have learned that people are not always receptive to new ideas and technology. The light bulb went on when I was presenting to a group of people and they kept putting up roadblocks as to why something new is better. It was then I looked down at the table and saw my iPhone and looked back up at them. I asked the question who remembers the rotary dial phone and half the group raised their hand. I then picked up my iPhone and asked who has one of these; most of the room raised their hands. I said congratulations you adopted an innovative technology.
  2. Be true to Yourself. Often on this journey I received overwhelming negative feedback as the EFA would never be accepted, would not work, would not be reimbursed by insurance. This chatter was sometimes more pervasive then any positive feedback. It was during these times I would look back on my struggles with ineffective care and headaches and look back to how the EFA changed my life. This gave me the strength to continue on this journey.
  3. Always surround yourself with excellence. If it were not for Phil Reaston’s thinking outside of the box and being a true innovator in his field, we would not have the EFA technology that is changing medicine today.
  4. Listen to the experts and incorporate their ideas into new technology. An earlier adopter of the EFA technology was a gifted neurosurgeon. He loved how the EFA could assist him in providing a more objective diagnosis. When we wanted to advance into telemedicine for soft tissue injuries, he said no way. He was a surgeon and he had to “feel” the patient. His suggestion and needs advanced the development of the EFA telemedicine platform.
  5. Think Outside the Box. If you are willing to be creating and evaluate a problem for many different perspectives, I believe a solution can be found.

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. 🙂

Always strive for better healthcare and new technologies and innovation to offer to people everywhere. Don’t make better healthcare options unobtainable to the majority of people.

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

One of my favorite Life Lesson Quotes is Believe in Yourself. If you do not believe in yourself then how can you expect anyone else to believe in, you. If you believe in yourself, you project confidence and that is what is needed to be an innovator to have breakthroughs for cutting edge technology.

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 🙂

Want to change the world for the better with cutting edge healthcare…. We have it. There is no other technology for the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injury and most importantly in today’s times of COVID where social interaction are limited, we have the most objective telemedicine platform. Don’t’ be left out, together we can change the world for the better.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

MaryRose Reason — Linkedin

@MaryReaston Instagram

Mary Cusimano Reaston Facebook

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


The Future Is Now: “Diagnosis and Treatment For Soft Tissue Injuries” with Dr. Mary Rose Reaston 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: “A Platform That is Zoom Meets Masterclass Meets Calendly Meets Venmo” with Troy

The Future is Now: “A Platform That is Zoom Meets Masterclass Meets Calendly Meets Venmo” with Troy Roques of Symposium

The opportunities with our platform are endless. Musicians can offer their creative process to thousands who want to virtually be involved. Chefs can cook with their biggest fans. Therapists can offer their services to their clients while the country remains partially shut down. Accountants, tax consultants, life coaches, personal trainers, and tutors all have a place to make their mark on Symposium. I can see the utility for anyone who has a burning passion for a subject that they want to share with others.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing the cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Symposium, Troy Roques.

Troy is a former Marine Corps Veteran who has a background in Casino Marketing, where he managed the profiles of numerous high-profile clients. In 2014 he partnered with the National Hotels Association to develop his brand Room Deals Travel, which provided wholesale rates to over 750K hotel destinations worldwide. In 2018, he co-founded the startup Symposium that offers itself as a platform to help people market and sell their skills through videoconferencing chats.

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

Hello and thank you for having me today. That’s a great question and one I’ve often asked myself. The beginning of the Symposium story started after a long hard day of nothing going right. I was in sales before starting the company, and in sales, you face many obstacles and gatekeepers, including dealing with people’s personal schedules, the fact that they don’t know you, or may already use the service you provide. All of this puts you at a huge disadvantage. That was the moment that Symposium was born. I knew I had to create a way to circumvent all of the obstacles so I could speak directly to a decision-maker who could help me get to the next level of success in my life. I knew I was ready to start my own company and it would be one that would empower business owners. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Transformers 2: Revenue Of The Fallen when Sam Witwicky was flooded with signs and symbols. I went home that night and started writing a business plan.

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

The most interesting story that happened to me since I began this career relates to the undertone of racism when it comes to African American founders and CEOs in tech. One instance that stands out is an investment meeting where a gentleman flew to Las Vegas after hearing about how Symposium had essentially figured out how to sell the last free commodity on earth — TIME. After excusing myself from the meeting, the gentlemen asked, “Do they all look like him?” I didn’t hear about this until the next day, and that same gentleman invested a significant amount of money into another company.

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

The philosophies I live by are pretty simple: One of them is “you have not, cause you ask not,” which I learned about from Steve Harvey. You can’t get discouraged by all the nos along the way; you have to stay true to your vision. Albert Einstein said, “imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” The moment you stop believing in yourself and let other people blur your vision is the moment the blueprint is altered. I can tell you from personal experience, as an entrepreneur, the worst thing to see is someone else becoming successful from an idea you had long ago that someone talked you out of doing. Lastly, “get out of your comfort zone.” The things you fear are exactly the things you should do more of.

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

I am a cofounder of the tech startup Symposium. We are an all-in-one video marketplace where professionals, consultants, and creatives can take their talents and offer their knowledge, expertise, and services to users around the globe. What separates us from other platforms is that calendaring and monetization are built right in. You don’t have to book or pay manually and then have a video chat/conference — with all three on separate platforms. Nor do you have to rely on problematic forms of monetization like ad revenue, which at any time, a platform can strip the ad from your video through tricky algorithms. Symposium places all the power into the hands of the people. Creatives and professionals offer their services, set their own prices, and make their own schedules. They can offer a direct one-to-one video conference, or host thousands at a time. They can also create direct messages for their individual followers. Users don’t have to pay for anything more than the time that was given to them; e.g. if a booked session for an hour only goes 35 minutes, then they are only charged for 35 minutes.

The opportunities with our platform are endless. Musicians can offer their creative process to thousands who want to virtually be involved. Chefs can cook with their biggest fans. Therapists can offer their services to their clients while the country remains partially shut down. Accountants, tax consultants, life coaches, personal trainers, and tutors all have a place to make their mark on Symposium. I can see the utility for anyone who has a burning passion for a subject that they want to share with others.

It also doesn’t have to be all that serious. One of our users is the mother of a four-year-old boy, who is on there to be a virtual buddy to his peers, and offer a consoling voice for other kids who might be feeling lonely during these stay-at-home orders. Contrast that with Dr Janice Hooker-Fortman, a 78-year-old relationship therapist who found Symposium as a way to reinvent her business and continue offering her services to all her clients during the pandemic. There is plenty of opportunity for people of all ages to contribute.

How do you think this will change the world?

I think we’re slowly realizing how virtual our world has already become. COVID-19 took our world by storm and it was virtual replacements that allowed people to maintain a sense of stability. It kept the classroom alive, so students wouldn’t have to fall behind. Delivery services were taken to a new level — now you can press a few buttons and have food brought to your doorstep. And of course, the stock prices of video conferencing companies skyrocketed. Businesses realized how efficient they can still be without paying for all that office space. For many people and businesses, virtual platforms are key.

However, many professions were left out to dry. Some people have the wrong impression that if you teach yoga or piano, or do any style of coaching that you can transition to YouTube and it’s smooth sailing from there. It’s a totally different ballgame to upload to an audience versus having that direct interaction with someone in real time. That’s where Symposium is going to fill the gap. Our main focus is to nurture that human connection that often gets lost when things go digital. It’s one thing to follow your favorite chef on his or her YouTube channel, try their recipes, and leave a comment on the video. It’s another thing to cook alongside your favorite chefs, interacting with them in real time and asking them for suggestions. Maybe you have a certain way that you like to do things and you can share that with the expert. That’s what separates us from other online platforms: at its best, Symposium is Zoom meets Masterclass meets Calendly meets Venmo.

The same way Facebook changed the nature of friendships, to where you don’t have to actually have met somebody in person to consider them a friend, Symposium will change the relationship between creatives and consumers, chefs and foodies, and trainers and fitness enthusiasts. You can develop working relationships with clients whom you’ve never met all over the world, which has the potential to change our idea of a network. If enough people use the platform, it will alter the way people look for work. If not someone’s only source of income, Symposium allows everyone to have a taste of the entrepreneurial journey.

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

In any new technology that aims to push the boundaries, there comes unforeseeable risks. One thing we don’t want is for Symposium to make it so that people never need to meet face to face again, even with the clients they have virtually. What it’s meant to be is an option that makes itself especially useful during times like these when social distancing is recommended or required. Even when society can return to previous behavior, people deserve to have options that allow flexibility in their work schedules. People will still get sick and have transportation hurdles and family issues that prevent them from going into work. This allows people to continue to provide their services even when life gets in the way. This also allows more chances to take little vacations throughout the year, because Symposium eliminates the need to completely check out every time you decide to travel. And most importantly, you can connect to people all over the world; an expert in New Zealand can teach piano to a student in Pakistan.

Going back to the potential drawbacks. If a power user becomes popular, I worry about the potential fort them to take advantage of their followers; that is that they’ll charge for a service such as a SymGram, which is an option available that allows creators to record a personalized message to a follower, and not deliver on those personalized messages. We have protocols in order to prevent that from happening, but it’s still a worry. We also want to make sure that people aren’t lying about their credentials and knowledge base to make a quick buck. We want our users who are passionate about learning to be given the best guidance possible.

On the more futuristic end, I worry about the potential rise of deepfake technology being used on our platform. The more realistic it becomes, I worry about scam artists posing as other celebrities and influencers and using our platform to offer false advice to users who think they’re speaking to the expert. To keep things contemporary, perhaps our most pressing concern is security. We don’t want to have the same problems that Zoom was having where video conferences can be breached by hackers and have people’s privacy compromised. We work hard every day to think of worst-case scenarios and then do our best to get ahead of them so we’re fully prepared for every possibility.

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

I was in sales before starting the company. In sales, you face many obstacles and gatekeepers, including dealing with people’s personal schedules, the fact that they don’t know you, or may already use the service you provide. All of this puts you at a huge disadvantage. That was the moment that Symposium was born. I knew I had to create a way to circumvent all of the obstacles so I could speak directly to a decision maker who could help me get to the next level of success in my life. I knew I was ready to start my own company and it would be one that would empower business owners. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Transformers 2: Revenue Of The Fallen when Sam Witwicky was flooded with signs and symbols. I went home that night and started writing a business plan.

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

What we need are backers and people who believe in the platform. The more widespread we become the more useful we can be to others. The Symposium platform is only as strong as the users who are on it. So if you have a passion, a level of expertise in a particular field, or a talent you want to share, we could use your voice on our platform. If you want to learn something, want to be entertained, or need some one-to-one guidance, create a free account and see what’s out there. Encourage your favorite content creators, streamers, podcast hosts, and creatives to join and see what they can offer. It never hurts to tap into a new market to grow your audience and open up a new stream of revenue.

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

Oh! I love this question.

1st. You may lose some friends.

It has been an eye-opening experience to see the people who I thought would be the most helpful not show up when I needed them, especially some of my celebrity friends. Symposium is a work-from-home solution; and with unemployment at an all-time high, our teachers out of work, and the whole country shut down for the remainder of 2020, who doesn’t want to support that?

2nd. Whatever amount of money you think you need, DOUBLE IT!

I am fortunate enough to have a First Ballot Hall-of-Fame investor and co-founding partner with a champion mentality, because getting Symposium out of beta to where we are today took longer than initially anticipated, and we were over budget. If I had to find another early-stage investor, it would have been disastrous, and asking for more money with no leverage is a tremendous disadvantage.

3rd. Say goodbye to sleep.

If you want to work from 9 to 5, then get a job, because this life is not for you. Being responsible for the success of your business and your investor’s money is a huge responsibility. My team and I work around the clock: learning, building, and strategizing to improve Symposium and our customer experience. 3 am text messages from the team and sleeping with my laptop are a common occurrence.

4th. You can’t do it all yourself.

I can’t express to you enough the importance of having a good team. Having a good idea is just the beginning, but it requires a team to implement your vision and bring it to fruition. I am blessed to have a team of knowledgeable hard workers who don’t see problems as problems, but as opportunities for solutions. On a personal level, I have grown a lot by being in the presence of such an amazing group of people.

5th. Get a dog.

OMG I love my dog. Her name is Kona and she is our greetings director. Kona always seems to know when my stress levels are high because she’ll jump in my lap and start demanding attention. You will often see her on conference calls with me or at the boardroom table where she has her own chair. If you’re ever in Las Vegas, make sure to stop by the Symposium offices and meet Kona, along with the rest of the team.

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

I like to start my days by waking up early. I stay away from my phone and don’t worry about what can go wrong, but instead I get excited about all that can go right. After breakfast, I’m off to the gym where I enjoy boxing and kickboxing conditioning classes before heading into the office. Along with my daily work, I’m known to swing for the fences. My mindset is this: you have not ’cause you ask not, and every no is a step closer to a yes.

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 🙂

Symposium has successfully figured out a way to monetize the last free commodity on earth — TIME. We are more than just a paid video conferencing app. We have created a culture where people are willing to share their real-life experiences to help others reach new levels in their lives. On Symposium, the more you share, the more you earn. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that when the world shuts down, all we have is each other. People need people to survive. People need real, meaningful interactions that are meant to educate, entertain, and inspire. We have all either paid tuition or paid attention to get where we are today, and Symposium is the marketplace where you can finally get paid for the time you spend in perfecting your craft. So I ask you, how much is 15 minutes of your time worth? Simply answering the question is proof of concept and qualifies you as a seller in our worldwide marketplace. Someone somewhere is seeking your advice and is willing to pay you for your time. As you continue with your day, take a moment to stop and ask a few people this very same question; but don’t ask the colleagues that you work with. Ask the Starbucks cashier who moonlights as a math tutor. Ask the valet attendant who gives trumpet lessons after work. Soon you will realize that we all can and should put a value on our time. How would you like the opportunity to get a piece of each transaction?


The Future is Now: “A Platform That is Zoom Meets Masterclass Meets Calendly Meets Venmo” with Troy 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: “User engagement to pay for your phone” with Brian Boroff of Adfone

…We bring bleeding edge user engagement and monetization capabilities from the mobile gaming sector to the world of telecom operators and mobile service provisioning. As a result, users worldwide can now lower their mobile phone bill costs the more they use our platform to discover and interact with brands, games and much more.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Boroff, Founder and CEO of Adfone.

Dubbed a “Natural Born Entrepreneur” by the Daily Telegraph, Brian Boroff founded Adfone in 2015 after having successfully founded and grew his telecom company in the UK which was a multi-national Software-as-a-Service provider to Tier-1 wireless carriers. With 20 plus years of industry experience and a proven track record in the IT, Marketing & Telecom sectors, he grew Adfone from concept to closing on a $7.5 million seed funding round this year. He has been featured in UK journals including The Guardian, The Mirror, Mobile Today, and The Sunday Times. He is an author and subject matter expert in the fields of Customer Retention & Acquisition technologies, Competitive Intelligence, Wireless Telecom and Entrepreneurship.

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

During my freshman year at University of Central Florida, I was hired by AT&T Wireless Services as a part-time call center advisor. Within several months of starting the role, I was promoted to web master of the department, responsible for automating inbound call processes and improving call handle time. I was recognized by the executive leadership team for my work and by the age of 20 years old was reporting directly to the Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Wireless Services, overseeing the implementation of Customer Acquisition & Retention solutions deployed nationwide. Immediately after graduating, I launched my first start-up, which brought me to London, UK, where I resided for nearly 12 years. We were selling Customer Acquisition & Retention solutions to carriers around the world including Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and O2 to name a few. Shortly after my return to the U.S. in 2015, I conceived the idea for Adfone with the vision of putting an ad-supported mobile device in every prepaid users’ hands on the planet.

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

As an entrepreneur you must, above all, have confidence in your abilities during the most difficult times. There have been numerous occasions in my startup experience during which I needed to secure cash, in a relatively tight timescale, to enable the company to survive. The most interesting fundraising experience was when I was given the opportunity to present to an Angel club that was based in Doha, Qatar. This came through an introduction by one of my existing investors. He told me that while an investment in the company was not guaranteed, attendance in person would increase the chances of a positive outcome. As a global company, I valued having a diverse investor base and decided to jump on a 17-hour flight to Doha for a 30-minute pitch, in person. I had been to many investor pitches in my career, but this was the most fascinating to me given the cultural differences. Upon my return, I was notified that they decided to invest in my company.

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

Adfone’s Play2Pay™ platform is truly unique. We bring bleeding edge user engagement and monetization capabilities from the mobile gaming sector to the world of telecom operators and mobile service provisioning. As a result, users worldwide can now lower their mobile phone bill costs the more they use our platform to discover and interact with brands, games and much more.

How do you think this might change the world?

The other day I walked into a Starbucks and there was a sign above the register that read “At this time, it is recommended all Customers use cashless payment options whenever possible during their visit to our store.” This is the new reality that we now live in and consumers worldwide will be looking for alternatives to paper currency as a matter of health and safety. Adfone’s platform is the world’s first to convert user engagement into mobile payments, initially focused on mobile phone bills. Rather than use cash or credit cards, our users can monetize their attention. We see this as transformative on a global scale.

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

Our technology is only provided on an opt-in basis, so users have the control in their hands, literally. Users are rewarded for interaction with the platform and receive value for their time. With this in mind, I don’t see any potential drawbacks.

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

When I returned from the UK, I had no idea what I would do next professionally. It was only after shopping for new mobile devices that I was able to experience firsthand the difference between the U.S. and UK phone markets, specifically around how devices and service subscriptions are sold. Having been accustomed to receiving my device for free in the UK, I was reluctant to pay anything for one. My original idea was to have a device with an OS level framework that would serve ads via the lock screen to fund the hardware, hence the name “Adfone.” Over time, with refinement, the platform became a way for users to offset subscription costs from their wireless carrier, with the lock screen being only one of many methods of interaction.

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

Our commercial model is Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C). It means that we would never have a direct media budget or user acquisition costs. We partner with wireless carriers who have massive subscriber bases and marketing budgets, and are responsible for driving adoption of the program. They (and us as a result) are uniquely positioned to drive scale given a carrier’s ability to preload our app on devices or sim cards, coupled with messaging their existing customers about our value proposition and leveraging their brand which customers know and trust. We are backed by formed CEOs of wireless carriers from around the world, which helps us to develop relationships with carriers from all corners of the globe.

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

Continuing on from my last point, for us it is a matter of signing up wireless carriers to distribute our platform. To this end, we have had great success from publicity around our company and platform leading to many inbound requests from wireless carriers around the world. We are big believers in the power of earned media and word of mouth and will continue to focus on this strategy.

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

I have had many advisors and mentors throughout my career, but the one that has had the greatest influence on my career path has been the former Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Wireless Services. At a very young age, I was given an opportunity to lead an initiative that on the surface would seem like too much responsibility for someone of my experience at the time. She saw something in me that others perhaps would not have and, as a result, my career in information technology and mobile telecom was launched. I kept in touch with her over the course of 23 years, and she even helped me enter the market with Adfone by helping to pitch our first client.

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

I have given many presentations on entrepreneurship, startups, and raising capital, both in classroom and professional settings. I believe it is important to give back and this is one of the ways that I can do so by mentorship. In the future, I plan to have a more structured approach to this, whereby I can most effectively dedicate my time, knowledge, and experience to helping budding entrepreneurs to blossom.

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

I would actually like to answer this in a slightly different way, which is to share the “5 things that someone told me that I wish I learned sooner.” Each of these was taught to me by a different mentor at various stages of my career and I think all founders would benefit from them.

“A small piece of a large pie is better than a large piece of a small pie.”

Obsessing about dilution is an impediment to the growth of the company.

“Performance is your best defense”

The best protection of your role and equity stake is to hit your targets.

“Hire slow, fire fast.”

I think this one speaks for itself. It is human nature to the reverse.

“Recruit, Retain and Reward.”

Focus on these three “R’s” and the rest will follow

“Don’t let Best get in the way of Better”

Striving for perfection can be detrimental to progress.

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 took me decades to discover it, but I realize now that the key to success lies in our ability to have self-discipline. Discipline comes in many forms. It is a muscle that needs to be trained. Applying disciple in a certain area of one’s life means one will be able to apply it more easily in other areas. Having self-control in terms of what we say, eat or drink are excellent examples. Why is that we are careful about what we put into our mouth and not what comes out of it? I believe that training yourself to control what you say and how you treat others is not only critical to one’s success as a leader, but if enough people practiced this the world would be a better place. Helping others to strengthen this muscle seems like a movement worth inspiring.

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

Every day we face obstacles in our business and personal lives. It is how you deal with those obstacles that determines how your day will be, and it is the combination of all the days throughout your life that determine your success. Famed racing driver Mario Andretti said, “If everything seems under control, your just not going fast enough.” I love this quote and when I am having a rough day and feel like I’m losing control, I think about this quote, because to me that means that on that particular day, I’m actually making great progress.

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

I would tell them that COVID-19 has forever changed the way in which consumers, service providers and advertisers interact with one another. By enabling mobile customers to discover new brands and apps while reducing the cost of their bills, Adfone’s Play2Pay™ platform gives those customers an alternative way to make payments, service providers a new form of monetization and advertisers a powerful way to acquire new customers. With billions of smartphone customers worldwide and hundreds of billions in in-app advertising spend each year, Adfone is uniquely positioned to help reshape this new reality and, in doing do, create substantial value for all stakeholders involved. This, in turn, will make Adfone an incredibly valuable company.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

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


The Future is Now: “User engagement to pay for your phone” with Brian Boroff of Adfone was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jan Van Bruaene of Real-Time Innovations (RTI): Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage

Jan Van Bruaene of Real-Time Innovations (RTI): Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Hang out with your remote team. With weekly group meetings, regular 1-on-1 meetings, and almost daily conversations, I felt I was in tune with the team in Spain. I was wrong. I didn’t walk in their shoes or sit next to them. I didn’t realize how loud the office was without much sound absorption. I didn’t realize the stress they get at the end of their day when the California office comes online, or from the 5 p.m. meetings. You can only understand that when you hang out there for some time, with no specific agenda.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Van Bruaene, Real-Time Innovations (RTI).

Jan joined RTI in 2006 and has over 23 years of experience in technical and customer-facing leadership roles at companies such as Sun Microsystems and VLSI Technology. He has led professional services, support, and engineering organizations and has experience in middleware, grid application and infrastructure software, operating system design and device driver and network chip development. In his current role of vice president of Engineering, Jan is responsible for RTI’s Research and Development efforts and for software development processes and product quality.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

My Silicon Valley backstory has been always about networking: from networking chips, to Unix drivers, to integrating third party networking and peripheral products with Sun servers, and to a real-time connectivity platform. My story started as many immigrant stories to the Bay Area do.

A few days after graduating in 1995 with a degree in Electrical Engineering in Belgium, I was already on a plane to Silicon Valley. My plan was, after a 3-month culture/work immersion as part of an educational exchange program, to travel for a month throughout the Western United States. I was lucky enough to have found an interesting opportunity at VLSI Technology working on telecommunication and networking chips. That plan changed quickly when I was offered a permanent role on the team.

In 1999, I got the opportunity to expand beyond hardware and firmware, with Sun Microsystems. It was an exhilarating time to work for the company who put the dot in dot com. I worked again on I/O and networking technologies at Sun. As a software engineer, I was responsible for integrating third party networking and peripheral products (PCI, USB, 1394, Infiniband) with Sun thin client, workstations and large servers. We had one of each system in our lab. And when not being used for testing, we would compete with other companies to see who could complete the most SETI@Home workloads at night.

In 2006, I joined Real-Time Innovations. It was a big change from a huge systems company to a smaller software company.

I joined RTI as a senior applications engineer in the Services team. We helped customers succeed with our technology by training them and providing architecture guidance and on-site consulting. I spent the first summer at RTI, commuting weekly to one of our customers in San Diego. Although you spend the entire day until late in a cold lab, it was always great to conclude with a warm night in San Diego. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to be the group lead for a dedicated support team. It was a great place to learn customer skills and work under pressure. After managing the application services team, I moved over to the product development side and joined the R&D team in 2012 as RTI’s new VP of Engineering.

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

As I managed the RTI R&D and Support team, we got an interesting and special support case. Our software had been part of a NASA experiment where an astronaut controlled a K10 rover on the Roverscape at the NASA Ames Research Center. The experiment had been a smashing success, but, there had been a short snafu at the beginning, which was quickly resolved. We learned about this when we received a picture from the astronaut’s laptop screen with the “error” message. Who receives a support case from space? That was pretty cool.

Sometimes it is about the little things that may have a large impact. As Sun transitioned to USB for many of the peripherals, I was a part of the team working on the Solaris USB developer kit. As part of the project, I created example driver code. Little did I know that the small piece of code would end up in production, as part of a family of storage systems from Sun.

For most of my years at Sun, I had a remote manager in Boston. One time, he asked me to join a meeting for him and our group but didn’t tell me who else would be there. As I walked in, I was quickly starstruck as I joined the table with Sun luminaries Bill Joy, James Gosling and Whitfield Diffie. I wished I had a camera-phone at the time!

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?

Be careful before you allow any application access to your contact list, even if they are reputable companies. During the early days of LinkedIn, the application was encouraging its users to reach out and grow your network. “Do you allow LinkedIn access to your Google contacts?” I expected it to show me a list of contacts which already were on LinkedIn and offer me the option to connect. I don’t know how it happened. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, or the questions were misleading. However, all my contacts received an email to connect with me on LinkedIn. That included the Sun Microsystems Alumni alias — a 60,000 people email list. That also included my non-work related contacts, such as my barber and gardener. Both of them recommended me for my Unix administration skills.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

First of all, it is important to encourage the team to take time off, for a week or two, to really disconnect from work. A long weekend is nice, but it is not the same to really be away from work. At RTI, as part of the rPTO time off policy, we pay employees a small bonus if they take at least a week off and are not checking email or thinking about work. Plus we changed the overall approach to time off so you can take time whenever you need it, rather than when you accrued sufficient time.

On a day-to day-level, I recommend people to actively manage their calendar so they have larger blocks to think and be creative. If your day is a constant stream of interruptions, email replies and Slack messages, it will quickly become very exhausting. Context switching is a real productivity killer.

Block two hours to work uninterruptedly. Dedicate a day for deep work. I reserve Tuesday. Agree as a team for a meeting-free day. Fridays in the R&D team at RTI are lighter in meetings, because the team in our Spain office ends their day earlier and because we encourage the managers to make it a limited-meeting-day.

However, I disconnect most when I am creating something else. One of my colleagues does woodworking and mentions his mind cannot think of work when his fingers are nearing the spinning saw blade. My creations are different. I enjoy cooking, I am a beginner banjo player, and I use my Saturday mornings to write.

Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

RTI evolved from having the team primarily at our Sunnyvale headquarters, to one where more than 50% of our employees are elsewhere. We have a large group of employees in Granada, Spain, and a number across the US and Europe, working from their home offices.

I’ve managed remote employees, and teams for the past 10 years. The R&D team is about 70 people and is distributed around the world including Sunnyvale, CA, Granada, Spain, and with remote employees in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Colorado, Virginia and Minnesota. The team works in 5 different time zones.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team and what can one do to address these challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

Top 5 challenges and advice when managing a remote team

1. Setting up the team as an extension of each other, rather than as a separate function, builds a cohesive team, and a team which can work more independently.

When we started the development team in Granada, we didn’t set up a specific function or product. We hired for almost every function there: core libraries development, tools development, customer support, etc.

This brought a few important benefits. Firstly, we could hire the best people, regardless of whether their product or team was local. Secondly, by having almost all teams and engineering functions in Granada, the group could work more independently. If the support team needed to talk to a core library engineer, they had a local person to work with. Local expertise was also beneficial when on-boarding new engineers. Lastly, everybody felt a part of the same larger R&D team, rather than being identified by location.

This setup does bring some logistical challenges, in that team meetings need to take into account both people in Silicon Valley and Spain. Furthermore, your manager may not be local, which can be a challenge for new graduates figuring out how to work in a corporate setting. We solved this by having local mentors.

2. Experiment and educate the team on how to best use the communication and productivity tools. This is harder than we think.

We all know the remote team tools to get: Zoom for video conferencing, Slack for group conversations, and Google Apps for collaboration. For each of them, there are a number of solid competitors as well. How you use these tools, however, is more important than the tool choice itself.

When we introduced IRC (the predecessor to Slack) to the team, we set up an IRC server and told the team: you are all engineers, you either know what this is or you can figure it out — good luck. We had a few enthusiastic early adopters, but the majority of the team wasn’t participating. They were trying to figure out how and when to leverage it. Our first foray into group communication soon fizzled out.

We tried again a short while later with HipChat. This time we made a plan and offered a more guided introduction to using the tool. First of all, we wanted maximum participation. We created the #GoodMorning channel. The price to be invited to HipChat was your commitment to start your day by posting a Good Morning message.

“Good Morning, today I have a customer meeting with GE, and a code review in the afternoon about the new content filtering feature. For lunch, a few of us are heading to Robee’s falafel”.

It was the equivalent of walking into the office and sharing with a colleague what you were up to for the day. The little message created more awareness of what people were up to, but also lowered the barrier of entry to using the tool.

We created a few more easy entry channels: #rvk was the RTI Virtual Kitchen for all kinds of non-work water cooler banter. #Arstechnica was for non-work related geek discussions.

We have since switched over to Slack. As folks had become very familiar using the tool, and as the rest of the company joined, we phased out the #GoodMorning channel as it became unwieldy.

It is important to experiment with how to use a tool and educate the team. The introduction of a new tool should always come with guidance, training and one or more shepherds of the tool.

Here are few small practices and lessons we learned:

  • Have a remote first attitude — Arrange the conference room seats to face the camera and television screen rather than having remote participants to the side. It is all too easy to forget there are remote folks when you do not see them all the time or are not facing them.
  • Invest in good audio, especially in larger conference rooms or when holding company presentations. It has taken us many tries to get this right. A great audio system is not cheap but pays for itself when you realize the costs of a poor meeting or briefing.
  • Spend the time to write it out, be it the meeting agenda topics or the meeting conclusion. A lot can be lost over a video conference. A lot may be unclear when participants are at different levels of the English language. When you write out your ideas, they tend to improve in clarity. I also recommend this for 1-on-1 meetings: we have a shared document where we prepare the meeting topics and capture conclusions.
  • Guide the team on what type of feedback you are seeking, and how you want to receive the feedback. The collaborative nature of Google Documents is very powerful, but also can slow us down a lot. Google Docs’ commenting feature makes us lazy. It invites us to make drive-by comments and creates more work for the original author of the document. We love to add our two cents or wordsmith. In many cases, these comments are rarely improving the original idea substantially. The commenting feature doesn’t really lend itself to elaborate, as comments are squished into the margin. Resolving the many little comments becomes a job in itself. All this creates Execution Drag. Instead, ask the reviewer what you want specific feedback on, and encourage them to write it inline with the document for easy contrasting with the original idea.
  • Considering the purpose and desired action will help you determine the optimal communication method. In my blog, “A framework to work more efficiently and effectively as a distributed team,” I discuss how depending on whether you are sharing information, creating something or deciding, you should adjust your approach. A simple example of that is separating high-signal (must-read) from low-signal (fyi) Slack channels. For example, I created the #team-eng-mgrs and #team-eng-mgrs-fyi channels.
  • Frequent mini-updates keep a remote team informed. We hold internal tech briefings to share technical updates. These presentations don’t have to be polished, and demos don’t have to fully work. Early information sharing is what we’re after. There are other ways we share updates continuously, from internal quarterly product updates, to mini “What’s cooking” in each sub team bi-weekly updates.

3. Hang out with your remote team

With weekly group meetings, regular 1-on-1 meetings, and almost daily conversations, I felt I was in tune with the team in Spain. I was wrong. I didn’t walk in their shoes or sit next to them. I didn’t realize how loud the office was without much sound absorption. I didn’t realize the stress they get at the end of their day when the California office comes online, or from the 5 p.m. meetings. You can only understand that when you hang out there for some time, with no specific agenda.

I made it a point to travel there every quarter, even if there was no big decision to be made, or a planning meeting to be organized. When I go to Granada, I also meet with all the new hires, and go for walks through the town while talking about their work, and their life. Walking together is a non-confrontational way to meet, rather than on opposite sides of a conference room table.

In those conversations, you also realize important culture differences. For example, when hiring in Spain, candidates will only apply when they meet all requirements in the job description. In the US, that is different. I see many people applying when they’ve barely met 25% of the job requirements. When hiring for Spain, we are very careful in what and how we phrase the job requirements.

Every year, we also bring the entire team together in California. We have presentations about the plans for the year and/or about new product features. However, the real value from the company kick-off (CKO) week are not those presentations. The real benefit from the CKO event is what happens in the kitchen, at the bar in the evening, or while playing a game during the team building events. That’s where you build trust as a team and accrue goodwill.

A company kick-off event is a large planning endeavor. It may be hard to do those multiple times a year. Do plan smaller team get-togethers. The immediate cost will be dwarfed by the return you get from better teamwork and lower attrition.

4. Language skills matter

During the hiring process, we also assess the candidates’ English skills. They are infrequently a disqualifying factor, though they give us an idea about the ramp up time. English is the primary language in the company, and we want to make sure all people can defend their ideas adequately.

We host language classes, provide opportunities to practice presentation skills in a friendly environment, and have tried a few other things to improve the English proficiency of the remote team, such as English-only-Mondays.

The latter is hard when the team is almost 95% Spanish speaking. It is a bit unnatural to talk to your colleague in a foreign language when you could be much faster in Spanish. If you have different nationalities with different mother tongues, the language barrier will be much smaller as teams will default faster to English.

5. Ooch into bringing the time zones closer together.

Eight years ago, many engineers in Silicon Valley would start their day around 10 a.m. and work until late. The RTI engineering team meeting would be around 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. PST. Even though for Europe, Spain’s working hours are shifted, that didn’t work. Slowly we moved the time zones closer to each other. Nowadays, many team meetings start at 8 a.m. PST / 5 p.m. CEST. Many start their day before 8 a.m. PST, or end their day in Spain closer to 7 p.m. We are definitely atypical for Spain in that regard.

A few years ago, we made the change that Friday 7 p.m. meetings are off limits for Spain. As a matter of fact, people can arrange their day to leave around 3 p.m. on Friday, as many Spanish companies in the South of Spain allow.

This was not something we changed overnight. We slowly “ooched” into a better overlapping schedule. A willingness to stay late or wake up early for your team, combined with a meet-only-when-necessary approach are key to making sure distributed teams feel appreciated. I start my day before 7 a.m. I am available for my team early in the morning and that creates a lot of goodwill and trust.

I am also cognizant of energy levels across the group. If you launch into a heavy topic at 6:30 p.m. local time, you can expect people to be drained. In this case, publish the agenda well in advance and allow for plenty of prep time. This way, you can still get the input when faced with the time zone differences.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Indeed, facial expressions and body language are very important. We encourage verbal and video conversations, over email feedback, even for positive feedback. If you have to have a tough conversation, I always like to make sure it is a video conversation. I do want to cue on the visual feedback.

Even though my 1-on-1 template includes a feedback topic, I always make sure I discuss it during the 1-on-1.

Your topics (No need to complete all the fields here. This is a template to remind ourselves if something fits into these categories.)

  • Highlights — items you are especially proud of
  • Lowlights — items you wished had gone differently
  • Challenges — even if you are handling it, and don’t need help
  • Needs — how can I or others help you?
  • Other topics:

Jan’s topics

  • FYI
  • Feedback — let’s go over this in the meeting
  • Review/Follow up — not all the time
  • Career Development Plan items
  • Your milestones
  • Your OKRs
  • Action Items
  • Other topics:

Secondly, I ask more explicitly for confirmation. “Do you agree with the feedback? Is it fair?” or “What do you think about my comments?” I want to externalize what you normally can figure out from body language or facial expressions.

Thirdly, one of my reports provided me with feedback that I could be quite persuasive in these meetings and that he needed time to think it through. Since then we made it a standing 1-on-1 topic, as a follow up from the previous meeting: “Is there anything for our last discussion that we need to revisit or discuss?”

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Ninety percent of the work here is unrelated to the email. You need to build trust and goodwill every day through 1-on-1s. How you interact every day will dictate how your email will be interpreted.

In the Radical Candor book, Kim Scott points out that providing feedback is key: criticize in private, praise in public. If you mess this up, you lose goodwill. And as a result, the email may be misread. Another tip is to think very hard when reviewing who is on your cc list. I’ve seen multiple times where people weren’t necessarily upset about the content of the email, but more so who the email was shared with.

In my experience, you may start with sharing constructive feedback via email, though it best to be followed up in your weekly 1-on-1.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

People just miss the camaraderie of hanging out together at work or having lunch together. Even though we try informal coffee chats or a virtual happy hour, no Zoom session can replace that. There is definitely a transition period and people need time to adjust.

When you are in the office together, it is easier to know how the group is doing. Perhaps Ross is frustrated about the code check-in, while Rachel is pumped that she finally figured out the hard software bug. We have been trying a few things to get a better read on the team working remotely. The HR team has done pulse surveys to figure out how people are doing working remotely, and what type of support they need. We also started the engineering manager meeting by taking the stress temperature: red/yellow/green with a sentence or two about your state of mind, both professionally and personally. E.g., it may not be obvious that Joey and his wife are struggling to balance work and two toddlers at home.

To combat Zoom fatigue, and a bit contrary to some of the advice to turn on video all the time, I recommend folks to go for a walk while joining a call. Get up and move around.

One tip I found useful for people who didn’t normally work remotely was to create an end of day ritual: pack up your bag, walk outside around the car, and approach your house like you’re coming from a long day’s work.

There are a few things I haven’t figured out yet as I transitioned to a home office, like having an effective virtual whiteboard. I am a visual person and am known to quickly grab a pen and jot things down on a whiteboard. Also, I’m still trying to figure out how to manage a planning meeting with multiple remote people. Typically we get together in person to hold planning meetings. Perhaps Zoom breakout rooms can aid, though I haven’t gone through the experience of organizing a virtual off-site.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

My three essential tips for creating a healthy and empowering work culture with a remote team would be:

  • Clear responsibility maps are even more important when the team is remote.
  • Promoting life balance. We do virtual classes or games to encourage healthy habits. Employees at RTI love sharing healthy recipes. #ChefsOfRTI
  • Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Do an impromptu call or set up a 15 minute check-in

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 am more of a pragmatic person of incremental and continuous changes than of big visionary ideas. To effect change you need both the dreamers and those who make dreams come to life. I see myself more in the second group.

Global warming and affordable healthcare are top priorities to solve. They affect us all, regardless of our background, nationality, ethnicity, or political affiliation. However, if I had my TED wish, it would be about education. The development of a curious and creative mind will lead to solutions for whatever problems we are facing or going to be facing in the future. It will also bring us back to a time where decisions and opinions are rooted in science. Or at least we will be talking about the merits of a scientific study, rather than discussing opinions.

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

Growing up in the Flanders region of Belgium, you tend to be down-to-earth and humble. I grew up to work hard and with the mantra that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

I do believe that “nothing worth having comes easy.” That surely is true for big causes.

That’s also true in everyday life. A great Thanksgiving dinner takes time in the kitchen. You have to hike up that mountain to get the beautiful view. Growing great-tasting tomatoes in your vegetable garden takes constant care… so, as you work on your dream or a tomato garden, enjoy the struggles and hard work.


Jan Van Bruaene of Real-Time Innovations (RTI): Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Universal Coffee Lid” With John Antignane of The…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Universal Coffee Lid” With John Antignane of The LidGrabber

…For me, it was the fact that I was honestly always grossed out at the thought of what could possibly be on the coffee lids. What if someone had not washed their hands properly before fitting it on? I was bound and determined to find a device that could securely fit on a lid so no coffee would drip out while you were drinking it, and to do so in a very hygienic manner a well.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Antignane.

John Antignane is the founder of The LidGrabber. A patented, groundbreaking, and innovative solution designed to support both self-serve and full-service coffee environments. It provides” SECURITY” a healthier way to seal lids to coffee cups, “ SAFETY” eliminating hand-to-lid contact, “SATISFACTION” customers will walk away pleased know their coffee order is LidGrabber safe. It’s a low-cost simple device that conforms to most lids available at major retail coffee shops.

John’s mission is to have the LidGrabber in every coffee shop and revolutionize the way businesses serve coffee by showing customers they matter and to raise awareness among consumers to expect nothing less.

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

Thank you for having me. I’ve always considered inventing to be one of the greatest gifts that God has ever given me. I’ve just always had this habit where I’m looking for problems and easier ways to solve those problems than have already been invented. Perhaps my first notable achievement was when I helped work on custom made radio case in November 22 1963, which tragically happened to be the same day that President John Kennedy had been shot.

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

Hmm, well in the 1980s I devised Christmas gift bank on wheels for each of our corporate customers. I asked a toy company who had a wooden armored truck to have the truck modified by drilling holes at the top rear part of the truck, enabling it to hold coin tubes that I invented. These are the same plastic reusable coin tubes that you see today. They are a wonderful learning tool for kids to count and save their money.

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

You need to know (and feel) what you were made to do. Like I said, I’ve always had a passion and a knack for finding better solutions for common, everyday problems. I was good at it, and I’ve enjoyed doing it through the many inventions that I’ve made throughout my career. By pursuing something that you are both good at and enjoy, it makes life a lot more fulfilling.

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

My favorite invention, or my big idea that I hope will change the world, is called the LidGrabber. Over ten years ago, I walked into a fast food restaurant. I noticed this rather peculiar device being used to put lids over coffee cups. When I inquired about this device to the manager of the restaurant, he just said that it was a part of the franchise. Personally, I don’t like lids because I’m honestly a bit grossed out at what I think might be lurking on top of the lid.

That’s when I began thinking about a device that could fit coffee lids over seventy different sizes of coffee cups. I just didn’t want people to be grossed out by coffee lids anymore like I was. I’m always turned off when I see somebody handle a coffee lid, because who knows if they washed their hands or not.

How do you think this will change the world?

I collected many different kinds of coffee lids, and worked via email with Louise Harpman, who has the largest collection in the entire world (she’s a professor over at New York University).

In her words, as I think she explains it best:

“The LidGrabber solves a problem you might not even know you have. Except you do! Imagine this scenario: You order your cup of hot coffee to go. The barista gives you the cup of coffee. Either they or you put a coffee lid on top. But the lid does not hold firm to the side of the cup. When you go to drink through the lid, the coffee dribbles out the side, or what is worse, the whole lid “pops off” because it was not fully attached in the first place. Mess? Yes. Burn? Possibly. Avoidable? Yes. The LidGrabber is a new, easy to use product that promotes a positive lock between the cup and coffee lid. The LidGrabber also keeps (possibly dirty) hands away from the lid itself. You know, the one you’re about to drink through.”

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

People may think that it’s not really necessary, because they can just put the lid on themselves or they may not even care about potential germs on the lid in the first place. But I think that when they begin to use the device for themselves, they will begin to see its practical uses.

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

For me, it was the fact that I was honestly always grossed out at the thought of what could possibly be on the coffee lids. What if someone had not washed their hands properly before fitting it on? I was bound and determined to find a device that could securely fit on a lid so no coffee would drip out while you were drinking it, and to do so in a very hygienic manner a well.

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

Simply the material resources and endorsements from enough coffee shops! I have lobbied the local Board of Health to make proper handling of coffee lids a part of the health inspection checklist. I said forks, spoons, knives, straws, and toothpicks are protected with paper wraps around all of them, but nothing around coffee lids. Coffee lids are a big germ avenue. This should be addressed especially in these times of COVID-19.

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

Number one, know what you are good at. I knew from a very young age that I was skilled at finding practical solutions to common problems. Two, know what you enjoy doing. I was fortunate enough to enjoy what I was good at. Three, always find people who can help you in whatever it is you need to accomplish. I was fortunate to receive a great review from Louise Harpman after she tested the LidGrabbers. Fourth, persevere! I came up with this idea back in 2009, and here in 2020 I’m still here working on it and making headway! Fifth and finally, enjoy life along the way. Focus on your goals and what you want to achieve, but don’t ignore or miss out on the small things.

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

So long as you are both very skilled at something and passionate about or enjoy it, you’ll find the drive that you need to accomplish anything.

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 🙂

Imagine this scenario: You order your cup of hot coffee to go. Either the barista or you put a coffee lid on top. But the lid does not hold firm to the side of the cup. When you go to drink through the lid, the coffee dribbles out the side, or what is worse, the whole lid “pops off” because it was not fully attached in the first place. Mess? Yes. Burn? Possibly. Avoidable? Yes. The LidGrabber is a new, easy to use product that promotes a positive lock between the cup and coffee lid. The LidGrabber also dirty hands away from the lid itself. You know, the one you’re about to drink through.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Universal Coffee Lid” With John Antignane of The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “An interactive stage where performers can interact with…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “An interactive stage where performers can interact with fans who are safely at home” With Bubba Ginnetty of InCrowd

Success is for the doers. Success comes from turning ideas to tangible things. Never be afraid to fail, it takes 100 terrible ideas to get to the great one that changes everything. Also being successful requires a team and that requires being a good leader. As leaders, we take good care of your people and I’ve always been dedicated to making sure that our crew is taken care of and feels appreciated

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bubba Ginnetty. With tours cancelled, stay at home orders issued and social distancing changing the landscape of live concerts and comedy shows/performances for both fans and performers, one man is introducing a solution. Ryan “Bubba” Ginnetty (director/production manager) launched a Los Angeles-based immerse innovative experience — InCrowd, an original multimedia concept that creates an interactive stage where performers can interact with fans who are safely at home. This allows the performers to see, feel and laugh with the audience which is a key element to stage performances.

Each LIVE virtual event can hold up to 50,00 General Admission attendees and 300 VIP Wall participants who will be displayed on screen and heard virtually anywhere in the world. Ginnetty’s pandemic proof solution was to combine his stage and lighting design skillset to create “The Wall.” VIP fans are shown to the performer via a 360-degree video wall during their performance, streamed LIVE. Ginnetty designed ‘The Wall’ so that it is curved around the performer to simulate a surround-sound audience. The Wall projects up to 300 VIP participants who can see, hear and interact with the talent and other members of the audience. Each show is directed live and controlled by an in-studio broadcast and production team allowing for an ultra-high-quality multimedia stage show.

When Ginnetty has time off from traveling around the world producing shows for DJ Snake, French Montana, and Zeds Dead, he is also a stand-up comedian. InCrowd Entertainment unifies the latest technology in live streaming and stage production with comedians, musicians, theatre productions and more that thrive in a live audience setting. From live studio performances and talk shows to concerts and theatre, InCrowd is the new way to experience live entertainment from the comfort of your home.

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

Thank You for having me. For over 10 years I have been stage designing and production managing for some of the biggest music acts in the world, and at the same time I was writing and performing Comedy. I would go from the main stage at Coachella, to a dive bar in West Hollywood to do stand up all in the same weekend. My journey here has been quite unique and InCrowd is really a culmination of my life’s work.

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

To me the most interesting part of my career is that I have gotten to travel the entire world and learn about their culture and eat their local food. The most fulfilling part of that is that I have gotten to work with people hand-in-hand from these countries and I have built strong friendships and bonds that I will have for life, with people so different than me, that I would have never met in any other way.

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

“Say what you mean and mean what you say”. To me is about accountability and business ethics. I believe I have been successful because everyone I have worked with in some way or another knows that they can count on me and that I can be trusted with their project, artist, and budget. Also, I believe in staying present and allowing creativity and hard work to manifest new projects and opportunities. The biggest piece career wise is to collaborate with others and be willing to take direction and criticism from your peers. I work directly with very skilled and talented people that are experts in what they do. As much as I believe in myself and my vision, listening to them and staying open has led to some of the biggest creative accomplishments in my life and career.

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

My biggest idea I am entrenched in currently. My partners and I coined it “InCrowd”. InCrowd is an interactive audience experience that was spawned in the midst of the pandemic. While it is current, we believe it is still ahead of its time! InCrowd brings comedians and musicians directly into the homes of their fans, where they can interact with each other live and in real time! This wasn’t possible before now and we have made it possible and everyone that experiences it wants to come back! When have you ever been able to talk directly to your favorite artist from your couch while they are on stage performing live? It is a really special experience to have. This is the future of live entertainment, there are so many unique new elements this platform brings to both the fans and the artists themselves. We believe this is just the beginning for InCrowd, we have so many avenues we are pursuing with live ticketed shows as well as programming for existing streaming platforms and television. We are beyond excited for what the future holds for us.

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

Some may say this is a supplement for the times or that InCrowd will take away from ticket sales in future physical events. I do not believe either to be true, for a few reasons. The InCrowd experience is unique and offers elements that an in person live show doesn’t. We believe the two can co-exist and in fact complement each other. There are so many reasons InCrowd is here to stay, from people living in smaller markets, to sobriety, to budget to park and overpriced tickets, disabilities, I could go on and on. To be honest these contrarians to me are just holding onto old ideas. Evolving your habits and ideas is tough. Changing business models and structures are even tougher. InCrowd is a perfect representation of Vertical integration.

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

InCrowd is honestly serendipitous, the pandemic hit, myself and my crew were on tour with a musician and that tour was cancelled. We were pondering what was next and what was possible to pursue to create, innovate, and continue to feed our families. My creative passion and artistic craft have been standup comedy and it’s been a real outlet for me between living the life of a professional production manager and touring. I saw immediately how live music was changed by this, but I also saw how live comedy was being hit even harder. Comedy can’t happen without the audience’s reaction so I thought about a solution and me and my team here at InCrowd created a creative solution by designing an interactive stage that brought the audience in and allowed us to re-create a live performance environment that feels real, and connected, and it works.

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

We are in the process of working on that each day reaching out to performers, managers, and many different agencies about several show concepts and options for their talent to take advantage of this medium. And more and more of them are learning about us and our capabilities and see the vision and possibilities for themselves. Ultimately to be the most widespread we are working towards being an application on your apple TV or Roku, a network of sorts that you rely on for the best in interactive programming where you can jump into the audience and be part of the live show right from your home. We also are gaining ground in collaborating with some of the biggest names in live music and comedy, producing their own shows on the InCrowd platform and reaching wide audiences and the numbers really tell the story for us.

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

As a comic I wish someone told me that just being amazingly funny and a great personality is no longer the barometer for success. So many people rely on the popularity of their socials. But as someone who is a writer, comic, and stage designer/producer I do the work each day, and so therefore the talent is in my work not on how many blue check marks follow my accounts. I’ve figured it out on my own but the entertainment industry of all kinds and especially in Hollywood is a marathon, not a sprint. I moved to LA from Boston 15 years ago and I’ve been working on so many projects since, that have both contributed to experience and creativity, but most of all relationships. None of these things would be possible if it wasn’t for a strong team that I work with every day and knowing what it takes to produce a quality show of all kinds. It requires time, dedication, process, and development. If you would have told me that the pandemic would put touring and live performance on pause around the country and the world but myself and my team would still figure out ways to do live performances and bring relief to both audiences and the artists, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible at a time like this. We refused to quit, and our creativity is at an all-time high. We are working just as hard if not harder now to figure out solutions daily. Lastly, If you said I would pitch this platform and company to Jamie Foxx and he would see the vision immediately, just like I do, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I did and he does, and so do many more well-known performers and artists that I admire and respect. I’m a father of a 10 month old beautiful baby girl and I’m just as motivated as I’ve ever been about my profession and creativity and I wake up every day with a new purpose, I believe that one of my times is now.

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

Success is for the doers. Success comes from turning ideas to tangible things. Never be afraid to fail, it takes 100 terrible ideas to get to the great one that changes everything. Also being successful requires a team and that requires being a good leader. As leaders we take good care of your people and I’ve always been dedicated to making sure that our crew is taken care of and feels appreciated, and we work so hard for the artists that we work for to achieve their visions of their show that they respect us and we all have a real relationship working towards a common goal.

Some very well-known VC’s (venture capitalists) 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. 🙂

Ahhhh, the elevator pitch. Here you go. InCrowd is what the future of Live Performance will be but it’s right now. The opportunity of talent from all aspects of entertainment to produce their own shows, tours, and specials where their fans participate from their own homes. This isn’t a concept or an idea, we are doing it now, and the numbers and the possibilities are endless. We can do a show for 50,000 fans today, and see VIP fans interact with their favorite talent in a way that they didn’t even know was possible. This is a different kind of experience and on the business side this is a different kind of model. An artist can schedule in one day a World Tour from LA, a show in Sydney, a show in London, and show in Japan, then in close it out NYC, having reached all those markets and those fans in a unique way that fulfills that fan base and it all happened from one stage in one 24 hour period. You do the math, but we have done it, the ticket sales are there, the ad and brand opportunities are there, and we can change and personalize the art direction all in house with our InCrowd animators. The InCrowd is moving towards being something you see on television and streaming platforms, through high concept shows and recorded live performances. This will be a platform everyone knows and loves, that they will engage in for decades to come. InCrowd will be one of companies in the article we read in 10 years about the companies and brands that exploded during the most difficult and trying time in American history. Reach out directly, we’ve got the investment deck ready for your viewing. There is existing interest, and this is an exciting and fast moving medium with so much star power and several revenue streaming opportunities.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on Instagram : @incrowdcomedy & @incrowd.studio . Our company website is: Incrowd.studio


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “An interactive stage where performers can interact with… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Renè Michele: F.A.T.E From Addict to Entrepreneur

The moment we stand up and admit to ourselves, “I have an addiction”, the burden of secrecy and deception is broken. This is most definitely the first step in taking your power back and working towards overcoming your addiction, permanently.

As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview René Michele, Founder and Principal of Renemichele.com.

René established herself as an entrepreneur in 2017 after spending the majority of her life trapped in a cycle of substance abuse and addiction, stemming from significant childhood abuse and neglect. Today, she is an international speaker, published author, coach and consultant, and was named one of eight female Changemakers of 2020 by YMAG, Australia’s leading women’s empowerment magazine.

Rene’s remarkable story is powerful and inspiring, and continues to encourage, empower and equip people from around the world with the tools to transform their own lives from victim to victory.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?

To say my childhood was lonely and chaotic is quite the understatement. Following the break-up of my parent’s marriage when I was ten years old, my mother and I moved from a very small country town in New South Wales Australia, with a population of approximately 200, to the large multicultural city of Sydney with a population of approximately 3511,000.

As a young child, I struggled to cope with the drastic change in environment and lifestyle, which was significantly exacerbated by my mother’s inability to provide me with adequate emotional support due to the decline in her mental health. She became depressed and began to take large doses of sleeping pills and drinking both heavily and regularly. By the time I was eleven years of age, she was leaving me home alone on the weekends so she could go out partying with men at the local hotels, and within a few months of this new lifestyle, she began bringing these men home.

Unfortunately, these men not only enjoyed my mother’s intimate company, but sought out mine also. My childlike innocence was forever shattered by the cycle of sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted upon me by my mother’s many occasional partners. These men were predators who hid their depravity well. They would wait until my mother’s back was turned to reach out and grab at my pre-pubescent body or purposely rub themselves up against me as they walked past. It made me feel dirty, and with each and every assault, I froze with fear.

The most difficult struggle I faced with what was happening to me was my inability to confide in my mother. I was already terrified of becoming yet another burden for her, as the collapse of my parent’s marriage changed her. I could visibly see the strain on her face, her features once soft and gentle had become hard, fixed, and she was unemotional and unaffectionate towards me. I felt partially to blame for the stress she was clearly under, and I was determined not to make her life even more difficult. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my mother’s love all together. She was all I had in the world and I was fixated on safeguarding that.

The secrets I carried bore with them immense shame and guilt, and as a result, I fantasized about suicide constantly. My first suicide attempt was just prior to my eleventh birthday. Every day was a psychological and emotional struggle for me. On one hand I despised my mother for bringing these disgusting men who violated me into our home, yet on the other hand I felt fiercely protective of her and craved nothing but her love and affection. I would close my tear-soaked eyes at night and envision her coming into my room to hold me in her arms and tell me she was sorry for what was happening to me, that she was going to protect me and that everything was going to be alright. Unfortunately, I craved something that was never to become my reality.

The abuse I experienced continued until I was sixteen years old, which was the legal age a child was permitted to leave home and the care of their parents at that time in Australia, so that is exactly what I did. I packed my belongings and moved out as soon as I found a job to support myself, and I never looked back.

I felt free, and I truly believed that the worst years of my life were now over, that I was finally safe. I could never have imagined that the years of abuse I had experienced would continue for many more to come.

Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?

I was exposed to addiction and substance abuse in early childhood. My mother was initially a binge drinker, which later turned into full blown alcoholism. We routinely had parties at our farmhouse when my parents were together which was where I observed the adults in my life getting drunk and partying well into the morning hours. They were always laughing and dancing, so as a young impressionable child, I made the assumption that alcohol went hand in hand with having a good time.

It was at one of these very parties when three of my older sisters encouraged me to snort crushed up paracetamol through a straw when I was only nine years old. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, and I looked up to my sisters more than anything at that age so if when they said I would be “cool” for snorting paracetamol, I didn’t hesitate. My sisters also showed me how to steal and swig cans of beer while the drunk and preoccupied adults weren’t looking. Such behavior became normal to me, which is why in my early adolescent and adult years, drinking to the point of vomiting and passing out never dawned on me as excessive or necessarily bad in any way, I considered it to be a regular part of life.

By the age of thirteen I was getting drunk occasionally when my mother herself was too drunk to notice, and by fourteen I was sneaking out of the house and meeting friends in local parks where I got paralytic drunk to the point of unconsciousness most weekends. Getting drunk was my way of coping with the shame and self-loathing I felt towards myself as a result of the sexual abuse I experienced for six horrendous years. I told myself that because I automatically froze during each assault, that I was in some way to blame for the abuse. This belief haunted me for the majority of my life.

I continued to struggle with a negative self-image for decades, and I attempted suicide by overdose at age seventeen and then again at age nineteen when my addiction was in full swing. My first introduction to recreational drugs however was when I was seventeen and homeless, which led to couch surfing at various friends’ houses. I was always moving around and living out of a suitcase which I was embarrassed and ashamed of, then one night while out partying at a club, I was introduced to a group of people who said they all shared a house that had a spare room which I could move into if I wanted. I felt like I had won the lottery, finally I was going to have a stable home and a fixed address, I was excited to say the least. Unbeknownst to me, the oldest guy in the house, who was forty-five years old, was both a tattooist, and a drug dealer. This new arrangement I had found myself in was the perfect recipe for destruction. I was an extremely vulnerable young girl, in a house with practical strangers, estranged from my family, broken and depressed, and all of a sudden, I am surrounded by a never-ending flow of drugs and alcohol. My new life was nothing like I could ever have imagined it would be.

We partied hard every weekend, and one night not long after I had moved in, I was offered some acid and amphetamines by my new housemates, which I hesitantly accepted. Inside I was terrified, I must have been physically trembling when I put the tab of acid in my mouth as one of my housemates hugged me and said, “It’s okay, we are here to look after you.” Strangely, hearing those words meant the world to me and all I could think was, “I am so lucky to have found such kind people.”

This is how messed up I was, I actually thought they were the nicest people I had ever met because they said out loud the words I had always wanted to hear. They told me they were going to look after me, and I wanted that more than I wanted air to breathe. For me, drugs were both an escape from the pain that I carried with me every day, and a way to become someone else for a few hours. I became a “fun” person who wasn’t afraid of anything, who could laugh without fear of judgement, and when I was high, my walls came crashing down. Drugs turned me into someone I wasn’t, they made me bold, loud, confident, and that in itself was intoxicating. They provided a temporary escape from the René I hated, and before long, they took over my life and ruled every thought in my mind. They became all I wanted as the temporary escape from reality became an addiction all of its own and wanted to be anyone other than myself more than anything in the whole world.

What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?

Shame — plain and simple, for me, it was shame. The shame that I carried around with me was so deep, so devastating that it stopped me from seeing myself as a person with any type of value and worth. I believed I was nothing, a waste of a heartbeat, not worthy of living. When you hate yourself that much you have no ability to see beyond that. You have no way of believing things will get better because there was no one in my life that was healthy or living any kind of life that was positive and good.

I had zero role models, the only people I had in my life were drug dealers and drug users, so I became exactly what I surrounded myself with. Broken, sad, lost and lonely, this is who I became, this is what we all were deep down inside. We were a group of shattered individuals desperate to belong and to be loved. Drugs and alcohol numbed my pain and covered up the deep loneliness within me, however they were only able to make me forget that I hated myself for hours at a time. Each time I woke up, I hated myself even more, and the high I chased was never as effective as it was initially, so I needed more and more drugs to achieve a state of oblivion. I was on an endless rollercoaster than I had no idea how to stop.

Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?

The lowest point of my life was at age nineteen, when I woke up in the emergency ward after my second failed suicide attempt, with my entire body wracked in pain. No one tells you that overdosing is actually acutely painful, and in my case, I took enough codeine, antihistamine and paracetamol that if someone hadn’t found me and called an ambulance, I would be dead today.

Not only was overdosing painful, it caused severe damage to my body and my organs began to shut down. In my case, my liver pulled the short straw and the doctors had to act swiftly to ensure I didn’t require a transplant or die of liver failure. At one point I flatlined and had to be resuscitated, the very thought of which to this day, causes me to shake my head in utter disbelief, I had come so close to dying.

When I woke up, I was in the hospital all alone, covered in vomit from the doctors attempts to pump my stomach, and writhing around in extreme physical and emotional pain, so immense that I have consistently failed to adequately articulate it. It was a terrifying and dark place I found myself in, and I hated myself even more, for being the one who put me there.

In my addiction, my lowest point was most definitely the day I stood in my father’s bathroom at age twenty-three, snorting lines of amphetamines off the surface of his bathroom sink. It was my stepbrother’s birthday and all my extended family were just outside the door celebrating and laughing. Little children were running around playing outside and I could hear them through the door. As I finished inhaling my first line of powder, I caught my reflection in my father’s bathroom mirror. In that moment I was disgusted in the person looking back at me, so much so that I couldn’t bear it, I had to look away.

In that moment, the familiar echo of vile words rang loudly though my mind, words like “disgusting” and “failure” , — that was my opinion of myself. I sat on the floor with my head in my hands and cried, and I told myself what a terrible person I was to dishonor my father and my family that way. I got up, wiped away my tears, washed my face and I didn’t ever take drugs again in my father’s home. I always hid my addiction from my family, so in my mind, even my drug affected mind, I had crossed a boundary. My actions also revealed to me that I was in fact an addict because I had lost logical control over my drug taking and broken my own personal values regarding my family. Actions like these are what fueled my shame for so many decades. My inability to make sound choices again and again is what continually kept me angry at myself, no matter how hard I tried, I struggled to imagine a life without my inner rage and self-disappointment.

Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?

My life became an endless downward spiral that consisted of constant drinking sessions, blackouts, repeated sexual abuse, domestic violence and heavy drug use. I looked like a happy party girl, yet I was miserable. I felt empty and dead inside and thoughts of suicide were constant. I was self-harming by way of slicing my skin with broken glass and razor blades and punching myself in the face hard enough to cause black eyes and swollen and bruised cheeks. My life was in tatters, but my heart and my soul were much worse, they were utterly decimated.

One morning after a big night out partying, I woke up in a strange bed next to someone I did not recognize. I was horrified and very, very scared. I got dressed quietly and crept out of the house, terrified of waking anybody up as I had no idea where I was, or who I had been with. I found my way outside and walked for what felt like hours to a bus stop where it took me half the day to get home. When I finally arrived home, I scrubbed my body raw in the shower and couldn’t stop crying. I still couldn’t remember what had happened the night before, and my body was covered in bruises. It was at this point that I knew I didn’t want this life anymore, that I didn’t want to feel disgusting. I didn’t even like being intimate with men, I was afraid of them, so I was so confused as to why I repeatedly found myself in situations where I could not protect myself, and even worse, situations where I ran the risk of losing my life altogether.

Deep down inside, death is what I secretly hoped for, and placing myself in risky situations was yet another means of self-harm. At that stage of my life, I didn’t care if one morning I didn’t wake up. But that morning after returning home, I made the decision to pack up all my belongings and move away from Sydney and start over somewhere else. I knew if I stayed living at that house with drug dealers and free access to whatever drugs I wanted that I could never make the changes I needed to beat my addiction.

I moved many hours away from Sydney, found a job and began the long road to rebuilding my life and overcoming my habit. I got a small apartment and put myself through college to gain qualifications in hospitality as I knew that I needed a stable income and financial security to be able to build the life I had always wanted. It wasn’t easy. While I wasn’t craving drugs anymore, drinking continued to remain an issue for another few years until I realised yet again it was cutting short any possibility I had to build a healthy, happy life for myself.

At age twenty-six I gave birth to my daughter-falling pregnant with her saved my life. I immediately stopped drinking, not one drop did I consume, and I became driven and focused on creating the life for her I never had. I was determined to be her provider, protector, nurturer, teacher and greatest supporter in life, and it was this mindset and persistence that enabled me to turn my life around and truly begin my journey of healing and recovery.

How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?

This was one of the hardest lessons of all. Knowing that I had broken people’s trust, that I had lied to them, hidden the truth of what I was doing and the damage that I was willingly and knowingly inflicting on my body caused me to be extremely ashamed of myself, and at times was too much to bear. I sought out the help of a counselor and sought support from my local church who were amazingly encouraging and understanding of my journey. They helped me to see myself in a brand-new way, without shame and guilt, but with acceptance and forgiveness. It was a long hard process that is for sure, but it was the key to be being able to see that I had carried with me for so long a blame that wasn’t mine to bear.

Once I accepted that I was not responsible for the abuse I suffered as a child, or the domestic violence and sexual abuse I experienced throughout my life, this is when the true process of healing from my past and looking towards the future became my reality. I learned how to reframe my past and look at the strength and courage it had provided me, I learned how to rebuild my identity from a person of worthlessness to person with value, and I learned to rewrite my story from victim to victory. Trauma, abuse and addiction is not a life sentence, there is hope and healing available to everyone and it all starts with believing we are worth the fight.

When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?

I became very active in my local church and I threw myself into reading self-development and leadership books, I volunteered in the community and threw myself into parenting my daughter. I wanted to be the best mother I could, the kind of mother my daughter deserved, and the kind I never had. I joined parenting groups to learn all the skills that had never been modelled to me and I rebuilt my life from the ground up. I also made the conscious choice to distance myself from those in my past that I knew could be a potential trigger or bad influence on me, and I surrounded myself with healthy, happy, thriving individuals.

I also learned how to “be” with myself and enjoy peace and quiet. I learned the act of journaling and practiced the art of gratefulness which I continue to do today. I appreciated the sunshine on my face, my daughters laugh and waking up in my own bed, in my own home without ever having to wonder how I got there.

What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?

I am very grateful to say I have never relapsed into addiction, and I believe the reason for this is my two children. My daughter is now eighteen and my son is fifteen. Being a parent truly tapped into a part of me that I never knew existed. I became a better, stronger more capable person when I became a parent. In saying that however, I have taken on a particular approach to life, a mindset that keeps me performing at my best.

I am very focused on healthy living and exercise which keeps my mental health strong and my mind clear. I also discovered early in my recovery journey the necessity for having mentors and accountability partners in life to help me stay on track and both challenge and support me when hard times come, and they do come, for all of us. I have surrounded myself with very strong leaders in many areas of life including business, spirituality, wellness, family and relationships to ensure that I stay motivated and honour my personal and professional values and beliefs. My trusted circle knows my journey, and they are nothing but supportive, encouraging and loving, they are the reason I am able to do what I do with such energy, passion and commitment; they keep me grounded and are my true family.

Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?

I fell into entrepreneurship by complete accident. I had never imagined myself going into business, let alone starting one from scratch, so when my fiancé and I began contemplating how to utilize my passion and skill for writing, my first solo startup was born. I opened a resume writing and interview coaching business, acquiring my gold certification as an Advanced Resume Writer within three months of operation, an accreditation that can take up to twelve months to acquire. I hit the ground running and within twelve months of operation successfully assisted over 250 people globally acquire senior level positions. I specialized in several unique categories including law enforcement and military to civilian transition and health and community services applications.

It is strange however, when in life some doors suddenly slam shut and new ones open, which is exactly what happened with my resume writing business. I was extremely busy as the solo writer and coach in my own business as well as being a contract resume writer for another local business, and at that time, I thought writing resumes would be my permanent vocation when all of a sudden, I began to feel pulled towards public speaking and writing of another kind.

It was at this time that I began writing my memoir, Battle Scars Are Beautiful From Victim To Victory, and new opportunities and visions for the future were born. While working with my publisher on my book, I commenced sharing my story via several social media channels, and the response from people around the world took me by surprise.

Within months, my online global audience had grown into the thousands and I began to receive constant requests to feature on podcasts around the world, to share my story and how I was able to transform my life. As the impending release of my book drew near, my online tribe began requesting in depth support around how to overcome their own past experiences with trauma and abuse and it quickly became apparent to me where my true purpose lie.

In 2018 I began running online workshops and webinars and was acquiring public speaking opportunities around Australia. Unable to keep up with the demand for resumes, I phased out my resume writing business completely and rebranded myself under my own name, René Michele.

My focus had become crystal clear. To empower survivors of child sexual abuse and trauma through coaching, speaking, consulting and in 2019, as a published author

What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.

My addiction most definitely exacerbated a prominent negative belief I carried since childhood, one that said I was not good enough. This presented itself throughout my entrepreneurship journey as perfectionism and imposter syndrome which in business and in life, can be your demise. I always believed that I had to work harder than anyone else in the room, that I was not as deserving as others which led to extreme exhaustion and robbed me of any and all work satisfaction.

When I began my resume writing business, I would work up to eighteen and twenty hours a day because I believed this was the only way I was deserving of success. Then, when the success came and I received outstanding results for my clients, I felt like an imposter and struggled to receive it, throwing myself back to the grindstone to repeat the cycle of limiting beliefs all over again.

What I quickly came to realize, was that I needed to surround myself with amazing mentors and leaders in business that were further along the journey than myself that I could glean from, just as I had done in my recovery journey. So that is exactly what I did. I focused on networking and I fostered authentic, strong connections online, with a range of men and women from different spheres of business and entrepreneurship, and I cultivated within my own business the philosophies, mindsets and practices that I admired and aligned with, and I did so with the upmost honesty and integrity.

I transferred the same approach to kicking my addiction as I did to growing my business — I surrounded myself with healthy, strong, admirable, empathic, wise individuals who were generous and gracious enough to support and encourage me along the way.

Addiction however, also taught me the importance of loyalty, friendship and integrity, as I never had those things in my life. An addict is a user and consumer of things, and of people, and addiction is a state of pure survival, we take what we need, without considering the consequences. Loyalty, friendship and integrity have no place in the land of addiction, they are foreign concepts that as an addict, we cannot recognise or reciprocate.

I am a walking, talking, thriving example that experiencing and overcoming addiction can actually be a gift. Today, the positive that I take from my years as an addict, is that I am an exceedingly strong, resilient, loyal, real, transparent and encouraging person because of my addiction. It taught me the value of all these things and so much more, including the power of gratefulness — I am truly grateful for my past challenges and experiences because they have made me appreciate how far I’ve come and I will never forget the dark places I walked through to now live my life in the light.

I am an unstoppable woman with a powerful vision and purpose because I know what it is like to have nothing, feel nothing and believe you are nothing, that is why my clients seek me out today, because they know I understand their journey, it is what sets me apart and equips me to guide my clients from victim to victory.

Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?

There continues to be significant stigma surrounding addiction which keeps addicts and former addicts shamed and silenced. Many people assume their professional reputation may be damaged if they were to disclose issues with addiction as unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, assumptions and misunderstanding when it comes to the reasons why people become addicts.

There is no clear-cut answer as the pathway to addiction is as complex as it is unique to the individual. I have worked with addicts from a range of ethnicity, ages and socio-economic status, from the chronic homeless, to middle class, right up to the highest echelons of society.

Addiction is a global crisis and it does not discriminate, and like many other issues we face today, I believe there needs to be a much greater focus on early intervention and education, and we must get better at utilsing those with a lived experience of addiction as members of funding bodies, advisory boards, therapeutic rehabilitation and service centers, advocacy agencies and counseling/support services.

It is through the power of our stories, of triumph over tragedy, where shame is broken and people find hope, and that is the entire reason I speak out about my own life. When people see and hear that an ordinary person like me can overcome addiction and trauma, it can be enough to give them the courage to believe it for themselves. Rather than judgement their needs to be empathy and acceptance.

While I was once an addict, I have always been a human being, and what we all must understand is that addiction is an outworking of a much deeper problem. No child dreams of growing up to become an addict, therefore we as over comers of addiction need to be speaking out, and we as a society need to continue to educate ourselves and demonstrate empathy towards those that struggle to escape addiction’s grasp.

Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?

  1. A crucial step in getting help to overcome any life controlling issue, particularly addiction, is to admit to ourselves that we have a problem. Contrary to popular belief, there is immense strength in submission, it is not a sign of weakness, but of power. Submission means to accept or yield to a superior force, and the superior force that an addict must submit to before lasting healing and recovery can occur, is truth. All addicts live in a world of secrecy, lies, and deception; lying mostly to ourselves which we do my justifying or minimizing our actions, despite the negative consequences. If you constantly say things to yourself like, “I have it under control,” or, “I can stop anytime I want,” yet despite your best efforts you return to the very thing you’re trying to stop, it’s time to face the truth.The moment we stand up and admit to ourselves, “I have an addiction”, the burden of secrecy and deception is broken. This is most definitely the first step in taking your power back and working towards overcoming your addiction, permanently
  2. There is no shame in asking for help, similar to admitting to ourselves that we have an addiction, asking for help demonstrates strength and courage. The complexity of addiction and the various pathways that lead people down that road are unique and personal to the individual, as is treatment, and the road to recovery is not something that we can manage alone. Therefore, my second piece of advice is to reach out for help, even when it scares you. Consider speaking to a trusted mentor, a specialist counsellor or a help line. You can make an anonymous phone call to a crisis line if that’s easier in the beginning, and a far better option than continuing to struggle and suffer in silence. We all need help from time to time, and the reality is, the road to recovery from addiction is paved with twists and turns and requires a range of supports to be effective. As human beings we are fallible, we face struggles and times we need the support and assistance from others to be our best, and addiction is no different.
  3. My final piece of advice is to hold onto hope and believe that you can and will beat your addiction. There will be days you want to throw in the towel and give in, there will be days when you believe it is too hard, and that you are not strong enough to keep going or beat it, but they are feelings, not facts. Our mind is the most powerful element to overcoming addiction, therefore it is our mind that we must master if we are going to rebuild our lives beyond addiction. If you begin to doubt yourself, your ability to get well, if you become fearful of reaching out for help or speaking out, remember to take one step at a time, one day at a time, one minute at a time. Trust the process and remind yourself of your why, your what and your who. Why are you an entrepreneur? Why do you do what you do? What is your vision? Who do you want to help? Take an inventory of why you began your entrepreneurial journey and reignite the passion that is within you to make a difference in this world. Addiction will rob you of your purpose, it will steal your joy, your peace and the legacy you seek to build and leave behind. Don’t allow that to happen. Take your life back and step into your truth and your power today.

Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!


Renè Michele: F.A.T.E From Addict to Entrepreneur was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Drew Gerber of Wasabi Publicity: Five Things You Need to Successfully Manage a Remote Team

Being Connected: Working remotely vs. in-person affects how connected your team is to one another. To address this, make technology your best friend! Schedule times when everyone can connect via Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom to share, ask questions, and just support each other.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to know to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity. Drew is on a mission to change global conversations and challenge industry conventions. He lives to spark “aha” moments, helping people discover new ways of thinking to create positive change.

Wasabi Publicity works with clients who are clear they have enough and who are committed to making a difference. Drew is the author of “Destination Aha! Becoming Unstuck in Life and Business,” and he lives in Budapest, Hungary, with his husband and two rescue dogs, Brodee and Koki.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

My degree is in chemical engineering. I never planned to be the CEO of a PR company. But, as fate would have it, I had a passion for marketing and fell in love with PR. When I met my business partner, Michelle Tennant Nicholson, that was when I got clear about the power of PR in changing what people are talking about, which ultimately changes the world.

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

The main reason Michelle and I decided to go virtual when we created Wasabi Publicity in 2001 was so we could live anywhere in the world. Back then the whole virtual concept was new, so much so that we were recognized by Good Morning America and The Christian Science Monitor for innovative business practices. The decision made it possible for me to live in the most beautiful city in the world: Budapest, Hungary.

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 learned the difference one letter can make in the meaning of a sentence when I was working on marketing copy for a company. Instead of “Your publicist is your most sacred business relationship,” I put “Your publicist is your most scared business relationship.”

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Be flexible in the integration of healthy work/life balance. This ensures your employees remain less stressed and more in control and satisfied with their lives (and in turn, more productive).

For example, allow and encourage employees who are parents to be with their child on the first day of school, or attend a holiday lunch, or award ceremony. Simply prepare in advance for staff absences with skill redundancy. In our company, we make sure at least one other team member can do someone’s job, which means we can continue to serve our clients and avoid any undue stress.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

20 years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

1. Lack of Information: Even with video conferencing, the nuances of body language and nonverbal communication are missing. People interpret words (especially written words) in different ways, therefore dealing with emotions can play a large part in managing a remote team.

2. Being Connected: Working remotely vs. in-person affects how connected your team is to one another. To address this, make technology your best friend! Schedule times when everyone can connect via Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom to share, ask questions, and just support each other.

3. Structure: It can be very challenging to create structure when everyone works from home. Again, utilize technology to keep staff organized and set expectations. We use Basecamp.

4. Being Related: We are human beings with a need to be related to each other. Ask your employees how they’re doing, or how their kids are doing. Discuss fears and concerns around the pandemic. Don’t be afraid to get personal and encourage a personable, relatable culture.

5. Flexibility: A remote team comes with all kinds of distractions and considerations. The majority of our staff are parents (skin and fur), and the reality is, we deal with kids crying and dogs barking all the time. Be flexible! It’s all part of the fun and being related.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

If there’s an upset, get clarity — with a conversation, not an email.

One of the most important distinctions I learned at age 15 while doing the Landmark Forum is called The Vicious Circle™. When something happens, we assign a meaning, and then we form an opinion. Over time, that opinion (the story we tell ourselves) becomes the way it is, and our actions are based on that interpretation. When we can separate what actually happened from our story, situations that may have been challenging become open to change.

Here’s a great example: A huge challenge when we first created Wasabi Publicity virtually 20 years ago was dealing with emotions and interpretation around short texts and emails. Sometimes, the person on the receiving end would misinterpret the brevity, getting upset and worrying that the sender was mad with them. In reality, the sender is almost always just busy. Being able to separate your meaning from what happened alleviates a lot of unnecessary drama.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. 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. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Another powerful lesson Landmark taught me is on the power of listening. Clear, effective communication requires us to hear what is really being said, as opposed to what we may be adding based on our experiences or our view of life.

I believe constructive criticism requires these steps:

1. Listen carefully to what’s being said.

2. Distinguish what’s being said from your interpretations.

3. Use language to create new possibilities and relationships.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

From my experience, if constructive feedback is needed, don’t send an email. Do a video call so you can see how that person is taking the feedback and to make sure they’re left empowered.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

It’s an opportunity for companies to reevaluate what works best for them. A lot of employers that believed people who work remotely are less effective are now finding the opposite is true. As we’re navigating these uncertain times, this is the perfect chance to evaluate and set up the working situation that best serves the company and its employees.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Years ago, we created PR Power Hour (aka water cooler chats). This provides a daily opportunity for our team to collaborate, share, and be connected via Google Hangouts.

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

We owe a lot of the way marketing currently works to one man: Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Louis Bernays. In the early 1900s, Bernays realized that people’s emotions were the key drivers of their decisions, which meant that manipulating those emotions could elicit whatever reaction you desired.

Being fascinated with neuroscience, something clicked for me recently. Our current “Bernays” marketing model is designed to aggravate our brain’s amygdala, leaving us feeling unsafe, insecure, and unsure — and desperately seeking a solution to escape that feeling. Our amygdala is hijacked. We make decisions that are not in our best interests, or the world’s.

Amygdala-driven marketing feels off for me, and now more than ever, it’s not business as usual. My commitment is to support people, companies, and organizations who want to market differently. They are clear they have enough, and they want to make a difference by sharing their message (without activating the amygdala) and making the world a better place.

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

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” by Deborah Moggach: ”Everything will be alright in the end, so if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

If I could create a movement it would be to have people relax and enjoy the journey.

Thank you for these great insights!


Drew Gerber of Wasabi Publicity: Five Things You Need to Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.