Kyle Francis of Professional Transition Strategies: 5 Steps You Can Take To Become More Resilient

Having a purpose beyond just the course of your business is also key. Whether your greater purpose is your family, putting your team and their families in a better place, or donating to amazing groups doing amazing things; all of these purposes take the object off of you and allow you to work toward something more meaningful. This will encourage creative thinking, problem solving, and will make you come up with flexible solutions that will allow you to bounce back.

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 Kyle Francis, Founder and CEO of Professional Transition Strategies. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Professional Sales from Baylor University, Kyle completed the MBA program at the University of Colorado with specialties in Finance and Strategy. Kyle has worked in the dental and medical field since 2005 consulting for practices, medical device companies, and groups of practitioners. He has used this knowledge to consult over 50 start-up companies and dental practices, as well as help build well over 100 dental and medical practices across the country. He has owned all or part of more than 20 practices and has been an investor in multiple DSO concepts. Kyle created Professional Transition Strategies (formerly Headwaters Practice Consultants) to facilitate the sale of over 350 dental practices as a buyer’s representative, seller’s representative, or as a transaction broker. His M&A work has resulted in over $200M in total deal flow. His specialty is offering unique options to sellers allowing them to explore individual, group, and private equity investments to achieve the transition goals of his clients. He and his family live in Colorado Springs where he enjoys golfing, skiing, and hunting as often as he can.

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?

Sure! I grew up in Kansas where I was lucky to go to an all-boys prep school (Rockhurst) that prepared me very well for my journey down to Waco, TX where I went to college at Baylor University. I majored in Sales and Entrepreneurship but very much wanted to work in venture capital or private equity. There are two paths to start doing that kind of work and I chose to become an expert in a certain industry. As I looked around, I decided that dentistry was pretty interesting as it was comprised of a bunch of entrepreneurs, many of whom didn’t know how to run their dental practice. So, I took a position selling capital equipment (chairs, lights, units) to dentists.

However, I have baby face and many of the people I was selling to had a hard time taking me seriously. So, I started “horse trading” with them. I would do complex transactions and paperwork for them like finding them a partner and completing a transaction to sell half of their practice so that they would buy the equipment they needed from me. By 2007, I was getting more calls for that than anything else, so I started up a company to sell practices. That year, we moved to Colorado Springs where we still live today.

Over the course of time, I have had quite a few stops and starts. I merged my business with others that were similar, and then had to buy those three partners out of the business. I tried to subsidize my income with sales and consulting positions during the lean times and quite frankly I had a very nice sustenance business. It was just me though and sometimes that can feel lonely. So, I had a choice to make about trying again to scale my business by filling the gaps in my talent set with amazing people who do their jobs better than I could have done on my own. In 2016, we began scaling the business dramatically and we have seen 20-fold growth in that time period. We now have over 100 practices for sale across the country and our average practice size is well north of $1M in collection.

I am VERY lucky with the team we have in place and they have made the culture that attracts others. We are poised for significant growth even during this pandemic and I attribute most of our success to the fact that we are stronger together and we each pull for each other.

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?

The most interesting story is a compilation of quite a few stories in my case. I am the son of an entrepreneur and I always wanted to own a business. As I thought about doing it, I kept reading stories about “making the jump” and “not to have a backup plan” to make sure that you put everything you had into the success of the business. I took that to heart!

I made four jumps out of high paying jobs to focus completely on the business. The first three led me to take another high paying job to make sure that I could float my life and enterprise. The last one was the one where I was actually ready to do it, scale up the business, and had the right people in the right place to succeed.

Here is the deal. I wasn’t necessarily wrong to make the jump the first couple of times and I wanted it just as badly then as I did in 2016 when I made my final jump. But I still had things to learn before I was ready. I needed to learn how to fire people (specifically partners), to take responsibility for my actions, to be a better leader and how to grind. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I know I wasn’t ready then, but I am glad that I tried. It allowed me to meet many great people who affected my life and career greatly and for this iteration of my company to be the best yet!

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

I think it is the options we provide our clients. Most dental practice brokers have built their business being in the “good old boys network” and operating pretty similar to a small town real estate agent. A dentist comes to them because they have been selling practices forever or because someone that they know knows them. That broker then uses his network of buyers (normally locally) and lists it in the normal places that buyers look for a practice and waits for the phone to ring.

We are much different than that. First of all, we are the only brokerage who has an outbound business development team. We end up finding the doctors who want to sell before the old boys network does. Secondly, we are exceptionally good at marketing for new clients and marketing their practices. Most importantly, we operate like an advisory in that we find unique buyers and situations that can be very profitable for sellers and that are not open for most practices. Finally, our contract aligns with the doctors we work with. For instance, we have a very short-term listing agreement and we don’t make anyone pay upfront for our service — just when the job is done.

My favorite example of this are Drs. Amy Jessel and Roger Moynihan. They had an awesome practice in southern California and had multiple brokers try to sell it over a couple of year period. They tried at least one local broker and two national firms. Their goal was to sell and be out of the practice in short order so that they could spend more time with their new grandkids and to be able to take more than a week long vacation together as they were both doctors in the same practice for 30+ years and they had never done that before. Because of our marketing approach, we were able to sell the practice in four months to a buyer which would not have been found unless you have a very robust marketing system as he was overseas with the military. Further, we sold the practice for a higher amount than it was marketed by the other brokers for because we did the correct analysis on the cash flow moving forward. Roger and Amy were able to take the next step in their life and the buyer now has a great practice to work in!

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?

This is super cliché, but it is the only answer that makes sense. The credit here definitely goes to my wife, Kate. She takes care of all of the stuff around the house and truly is the COO of our family. It allows me to spend time working and gives me the leeway to travel, coach our team, and do countless meetings after hours. And I do feel like I have a cheerleader with her on my team. However, the thing that I would give her credit for in this way is her intuition.

Early in my career, I had the ability to bring on a partner who was a dentist. He was very charismatic, and I thought that having a dentist on the team would make some people take me more seriously. We all decided to take a trip together before we “tied the knot” on a partnership we were both wowed by their opulent taste willingness to spend on the finer things. I think I ended up being starry eyed, but Kate was wary about them. We talked a bunch about it and I eventually “sold” her on the concept so shortly thereafter, I had a partner. It was lucrative for a couple of years, but it flamed out and I had to purchase his stake of the company.

This was the first and last time that I did not listen to her gut feel about a big move. That doesn’t mean we don’t disagree sometimes about the small stuff but on the big things I always listen if she has an opinion.

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 think of resilience like a spring. In easy times, the spring is not tensed but in tough times, you are stretched in ways that you might not have seen coming. I believe that resilience is the direction that the spring bounces back to as you come out of the tough time. Some people experience a hard situation and the direction that their spring bounces backward as they withdraw back into themselves. Some end up getting stuck as the tension retracts and they end up in the same place. I think that resilience is making an opportunity out of the challenging environment and using the tension to catapult you in the direction that you want to go.

I equate resilience and grit as you need “stick-to-itiveness” to be able to persevere through the time where the tension in the highest. In a way, this makes sure that the tense spring catapults you forward. But just because you put your head down and charge through, you may not know the direction that you are looking to go. Attaching strategic and opportunistic thinking is also important as you may need to pivot the direction you were going in order to be successful. To me, this is the direction that the spring will move forward.

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

Probably my dad. I would call him a serial entrepreneur as he has owned many businesses, and some have worked…and some have not. There were times as we grew up that things were tight when he was starting or growing a company, I know there were more challenges which he faced than I will ever know the whole story about.

A story that sticks out was when he was growing his first company, Impact Direct Marketing, he was starting to hire people after doing it on his own for a while. One of his first hires was a CFO type of position as it fills one of the gaps in his skillset. My dad is a very trusting guy, which probably makes him a great boss, but it also lends to people having the ability to take advantage of his kindness. This person decided to do so and ended up stealing from the company. I don’t know how much or for how long (I was in grade school), but I can’t imagine the hurt and loss of trust. I do know that whatever the amount was put the business in a cash crunch. Regardless, he used the situation to get better and he continued to operate, put new procedures in place, and years later sold the business for a very attractive buy out.

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?

Maybe not impossible but there is one time that sticks with me. I was going through the MBA program at Colorado University and the capstone class was taught by a guy who had owned/operated many companies with very large exits from his investments. I loved hearing the stories he told about his varied experiences and how he decided to use his money for good after he exited each situation.

Our course long assignment was to do a case study about a business and asked for the ability to alter the project a bit in order to do an actual business plan on the business that I was already working in to show how it could scale. He agreed, so I poured my heart and soul into the analysis. I turned it in an got an “A” but that is not what I was really striving for. I wanted to know if the concept would work. So, I scheduled time in his office to learn about his thoughts. He said the numbers I came up with were not realistic and the concept was flawed “in a way that he couldn’t put his finger on” so I left with no direction except something was off and he didn’t think it would work.

I wouldn’t say that I was devastated. But man. I was frustrated. Quite frankly, it made me not want to look at that document. So even though I persevered, I didn’t look at the business plan much. The interesting thing is that when I read it through recently — the numbers did end up lining up with my results last year. It was very satisfying and took almost 10 years for it to happen!

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?

By far the hardest thing that I have had to go through was the second partnership in my business. I had bought out my first partner but still had the issue that I was a young guy and thought it would behoove me to have a dentist on my team. I ended up meeting with two guys who had started brokering practices on their own. They needed someone like me as well and I thought it would be a great merger. So, we combined our businesses, invested in rebranding, and started working together. We did quite a few deals and bought practices together over the course of a couple of years, so it was a profitable venture for all of us.

However, we found out that our management styles for the practices we bought were different as was the work ethic for the necessity of after-hours meetings. It was my impression that the younger of the two dentists was on my side and we would buy the older partner out together to continue operating the business together. I was wrong. We ended up going through a long legal process that finalized in separating the practices we owned (theirs) from the brokerage (mine). I am very sure that I didn’t do everything right, but I was hurt and lost trust in people in general.

My spring was tensing, and I did spend a couple of weeks grieving. However, coming out of the bad times I learned quite a few lessons that have informed the growth of my business. Most importantly, I needed to hire for the holes in my talent set and it may not be a necessity to have a dentist as a partner. This change was the biggest catalyst for change in my entire career.

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

My biggest example of this is something I may not have understood as I was going through it but in retrospect was definitely so. My parents were very grounded in their beliefs and decided it would be best for me and siblings to be homeschooled through sixth grade. From an education standpoint, I was prepared. But from a social standpoint, I was at a huge disadvantage when I started going to school.

I am a very social person, but I didn’t know exactly how to relate. I was good at basketball and had other friends who I had known for years. I had to learn social norms on a time frame that most people already knew them. I think I was finally caught up by senior year of high school, but I am sure there were many times that I could have withdrawn and gone back to a safe place. Instead, I was able to turn this weakness into what I believe is my biggest strength, being able to relate to and have empathy for many kinds of people.

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.

  • Don’t shy away from the hard stuff

People like to be comfortable. But we are not built for comfort. Case and point: this interview! I am not good at talking about why what we are doing is really great. This is definitely my weakest point and doing webinars, writing articles, and doing interviews stretches me dramatically. However, if something is hard, it is something to learn and the more you learn, the more resilient you will be.

  • Move from Triage to Strategy

It is normal to be working on the things that are right in front of you, especially when the situation you are in turns into being difficult. Just keeping your nose to the grindstone is not the worst thing to do and triaging your business decisions can be a very effective way of working. If you are not pointed in the right direction, you may be using the tension in the spring to move out of the crisis in the wrong direction. Thinking strategically, even in short spurts, is important to the efficacy of what you are trying to achieve.

  • Control your Controllables

This timeless concept by Zig Ziglar is very true. There are many things that are outside of your control (COVID-19, state of the economy, and our elected officials). These are all important, but they should not consume you. Take care of your attitude, take care of your team, take care of your customers, and inject this attitude into everyone that you come into contact with!

  • Do something bigger than yourself (family, team, purpose)

Having a purpose beyond just the course of your business is also key. Whether your greater purpose is your family, putting your team and their families in a better place, or donating to amazing groups doing amazing things; all of these purposes take the object off of you and allow you to work toward something more meaningful. This will encourage creative thinking, problem solving, and will make you come up with flexible solutions that will allow you to bounce back.

  • Action cures apathy

Yes, it is important to take time, be still, and think about your current situation. However, in my experience, that causes me to get stuck in that mode which causes paralysis by analysis. At some point, there will be a time to move even if the plan is not completely ready. At least you will be trying and the concept of “failing fast” is real. I would rather fail five times when I am actively trying out concepts than trying to perfect my model on paper before I am willing to move. It actually costs less to fail fast and you will get the experience that you need to react better in the next situation.

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

I love the idea of a social impact company. For years, I donated to organizations on my own and I didn’t talk about it as I am not much of a self-promoter. However, once the team understood that giving was a big part of what I did, we structured our business around the fact that we want to do well by doing good. We put a name to charities we support, talk to the doctors about why we give, and put goals on paper about how much we want to give. Each year, we want to give 5% of our gross revenue to our charitable partners and this year our partner is Give Back a Smile, which is the charitable arm of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. It was our largest recipient last year and the dentists we work with love their mission.

Giving puts us on the same team as our clients and partners. We are all pulling the same direction and it allows for larger conversations rather than just the transaction of a business. It is also a prosperous circle in that the more we give, the more clients want to work with us, and that allows us to do more good.

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 🙂

I think it would have to be Mark Cuban. I would love to learn how to parlay what I am doing now to being able to spend the time investing into other groups. lso, what kind of time, effort, and energy should be expended when investing rather than operating.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Professional Transitions Strategies on Facebook and Twitter. You can also find PTS and myself on LinkedIn.

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

It was my pleasure! Thank you!!!


Kyle Francis of Professional Transition Strategies: 5 Steps You Can Take 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.

The Future is Now: “Security From Inception” With Haydn Povey of IAR Systems

Most people don’t understand the impact of connected technology on privacy, and the services that harvest our behavior to provide us services. These services can be extremely positive and benign, or they can be misused to mislead, nudge, and influence our behavior. We have to address that openly as an industry and in society, and in front of the adoption, or we risk implementing a system that puts revenue ahead of privacy.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Haydn Povey, CEO Secure Thingz, and General Manager Embedded Security Solutions, IAR Systems

Haydn is the founder and CEO of Secure Thingz and General Manager for the division Embedded Security Solutions at IAR Systems, with a focus on developing and delivering next-generation security technology for the IoT and other connected systems. Haydn is also a current member of the Executive Steering Board of the IoT Security Foundation. Haydn has a background in senior management at leading global technology companies for over 20 years, including 10 years in senior marketing and business development roles at Arm. While at Arm, Haydn looked after the company’s strategy and product roadmaps for security within IoT and M2M marketplaces, and he led the development and introduction of the Cortex-M microprocessor family.

Thank you for joining us Haydn. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I trained as an Electronic Engineer, but I’ve always existed on the boundary of the physical world and the computer electronics world. I spent nearly a decade working for National Instruments Corporation on the interface between the real and cyber worlds, which was incredibly interesting. I worked in Texas for a few years and then moved back to England where I was lucky enough to be headhunted by ARM Holdings to run their microcontroller (MCU) product management, first as Senior Product Manager and then as a Marketing Director within the Processor Division. This was ARM’s first initiative to move into the cyber physical world, and my team took them from having no presence to becoming the dominant architecture for microcontroller. Along with MCUs, I owned the processor core business for bank cards.

One day, the Chief Operating Officer of ARM came to my office and told me he wanted me to look after security across ARM’s processor families. There was a bit of a problem with one of ARM’s major consumer electronics customers in Japan. I was told to, “Go sort it out.”

That was my introduction to security. I spent the second half of my time at ARM focused on security, which was extremely fortunate. I gained tremendous experience on cyber, physical, and security systems. This gave me a unique skillset and perspective. And, it’s what set me on the course for the work I’ve done at Secure Thingz and at IAR Systems, where we’ve been able to bring security to the heart of the Internet of Things (IoT).

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

I believe our career paths are made by certain moments. For me, the most interesting moment was when the COO of ARM explained how a major project for a tier one consumer electronics company had gone “sideways” and directed me to fix it. It marked the point where I moved from someone who was interested in security to someone who owned the problem for a major company. It caused me to look at things differently and to truly consider at how we value security.

One important lesson I learned about security is that consumers must have a reason to value it. You cannot dictate security to consumers, you have to bring them on the journey and offer them value; as with any feature.

About 10 years ago Digital Rights Management (DRM) was a big issue as people were using PCs to rip music and movies. DRM was supposed to be the solution, but asking consumers to pay more for something that they saw as fundamentally undermining their rights, simply didn’t work. Then Apple introduced iTunes and the iTunes Store, and gave consumers an easy way to manage and access media while protecting copyrights. Apple changed the game by making technology accessible and removing many (but certainly not all), of the reasons people were circumventing DRM.

A close second to this moment goes back to working National Instruments. Over my history with NI I have had more sub-machine guns pointed at me than I can count. My work bought me into contact with many agencies of the UK Ministry of Defense, including the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Defense Research Agency, the Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment, and so on. It was all incredibly interesting and sometimes challenging, especially where heavily protected facilities meant I faced machine guns on every visit.

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

Without a doubt these come and continue to come from my work on the IoT, an area I’ve lived in for the last 15 years. In early days it was called Machine-to-Machine connectivity and allowed direct communication between devices using any communications channel, including wired and wireless. In its basic form it provided controls, such as turning lights on and off from a mobile phone, but overall there was a clear definition within the system of each operation and application.

The IoT is more far complex and virtually limitless in terms of what can connect and where the value lies. The potential is fantastic. For example, consider a connected Baby Grow or baby vest. My eldest child who is now 21, was born prematurely and weighed only three pounds. He was in Special Care Baby Unit for many months, which used a baby mat to monitor his breathing. We continued to use this at home, and it provided a great sense of comfort. Today, Baby Grow products can monitor breathing, movement, and body temperature among other things. And while that’s an improvement, it’s still limited.

With the IoT, however, the Baby Grow could connect to any number of Things. So, if the baby stops breathing in the middle of the night, the bedside alarm clock would wake up a parent and the room lights would go on so the parent could focus quickly on their child. Before the IoT, this would have been unimaginable. With the IoT, the Baby Grow has the potential to become the most critical, powerful, and wonderful alarm system you’ll ever own as a parent.

The ability to provide a service that combines Things (physical devices) is where the value of the IoT lies. The Things are an embodiment of the value, not the value itself. The Baby Grow, the lights, the alarm are just Things that enable the service to operate. The value is that they wake up someone who can save a baby’s life.

The crucial factor and foundation for every IoT service is security that prevents it from being compromised by a third party.

The work I am doing today enables chip developers to implement foundational security into every design without ever knowing where the chip will be used or in what application. Designing security in this early in my opinion, is the right approach. We call it Security From Inception. Not only does it provide a secure foundation for any application, but it saves the costs of upgrading or redesigning applications to add security features. Making security part of the DNA in every chip means they can be used in virtually any Thing. No one can predict what apps will be hot in the future, be we do know they will require security.

How do you think this might change the world?

The concept of Security From Inception is changing the world, and it is the only way to build Things that will connect to the IoT. By building-in security from the point of imagining the solution, or inception, we are providing an essential capability that won’t control or constrain how customers use embedded devices.

Secure devices can be integrated into a million different systems from consumer and industrial electronics, to Smart Cities without concern. Security has the potential to engender a whole new industrial revolution of connected systems. Fundamentally though Security From Inception sets innovation free.

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

There are a number of examples where IoT technology without security has, and can, go wrong. People have hacked into cameras and recorded activity in people’s homes. Smart speaker devices continually monitor, collect, and transmit conversations, requests, and environmental sounds to the companies who designed them, for product monitoring and improvement.

In some cases this capability is a good thing, for example in investigating criminal activity. However, even then it can be considered a violation of privacy. Personally, I find it somewhat Orwellian. The challenge is protecting our data and our privacy. If we don’t rise to this challenge now, we may accidentally end up in a dystopian nightmare and then, people will stop adopting new technology and systems. If that happens, technology, instead of freeing us, will constrain and challenge society.

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

There are a few notable tipping points that led to this breakthrough including the growth of smart devices, external threats, and a shortage of cybersecurity experts.

IDC predicts that there will be 200 billion IoT smart devices this year, an increase from 2 billion in 2006. This breathtaking growth is expected to continue at an even faster pace. That’s about 26 smart devices for every human on earth. Most of these will be used in factories, businesses, and healthcare, but they will touch your lives in many ways.

For example, when I left ARM I consulted to Renesas Electronics, a Japanese chip company who had recently announced a new platform to support applications like smart electric metering. Electricity has a strong cash equivalent, and if someone can hack the meter to get free electricity, the chances are they will. This was especially true if they used power for illegal activities, such as cannabis production. In addition, without proper security smart meters are vulnerable to attacks from malware that turns connected devices into remotely controlled bots that can be used as part of a large-scale network attacks.

Smart meters are also potentially prone to ransomware attacks like those carried a number of global corporations in 2020 including steel manufacturers and water treatment facilities. These attacks disrupted service, caused revenue and job losses, and drove stock prices down.

Even as the need for security becomes more evident, Gartner report that there is a global shortage of 3 million cybersecurity experts. This is an impossible number to educate our way out of, there are simply too few cybersecurity experts bring trained to impact the market Instead we must build in Security From Inception with tools that abstract and simplify the process, making security a part of a Thing’s baseline DNA, and enabling all developers to implement security in their normal development flow.

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

We need to change the mindset. Widespread adoption requires a profound change in perception and action.

Right now, security is viewed as an expense; and hence negatively. A security risk, breach, or attack is perceived as theoretical threat — until it happens. Then companies ask, “Why didn’t we do something about this before?”

This needs to rapidly change. C-level executives must accept that security doesn’t only protect against malware and other attacks, but it can protect Brand and Intellectual Property (IP) — an organizations core values — from cloning and counterfeiting, which the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimate as a $500 billion dollar a year industry.

Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) must expand their roles from responsibility for just information security, to include the security in their products. They need to define the risks and impact of a product attack, or work with experts who can inform them.

Finally, we need global legislation. This is coming. It started in the UK, then moved to the European Union (EU), and now California, Oregon and other states have passed laws in the United States. Legislation will define a set of best practices and require a reasonable level of security for every connected device, from robotics and fitness devices, to cars and washing machines.

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

I have been working on a fundamental level with the organizations driving the legislation. I am on the Executive Steering Committee of the IoT Security Foundation (IoTSF), the preeminent security NGO. We developed a standard set of best practices that includes a minimum level of hygiene and reasonable level of built-in security, including authentication, the ability to patch, update and protect, and a requirement to inform people of flaws and vulnerabilities.

These best practices have been adopted as standards by the UK , EU, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and California and Oregon. There are potentially steep penalties for those who do not meet these legal requirements, for example, the attorney generals of California and Oregon can levy unlimited fines at their discretion. In the EU it is expected that the fines will be equivalent to General Data Protection Regulations violations, a minimum of 10 million Euros. If there is an egregious flaw, the fine doubles to 20 million Euros. For larger companies, the fines can be up to 4% of gross revenues. These fines are designed to cause people shipping into these countries to understand the value security from the Board level to manufacturing.

Our involvement in driving these standards has become an integral part of our marketing strategy.

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?

I am grateful to the IoTSF and the opportunity to work closely with the people who were setting this up including John Moor, the managing director. He made it his mission to drive the stabndardisation and legislation processes and to change the way industry think about security. The IoTSF has evolved from the NMI (National Microelectronics Institute), now TechWorks, in the UK to working closely with the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) and governments around world to drive standardization and legislation that makes it safer to connect to virtually any Thing.

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

Again, it comes back to working with the IoTSF. It has been a force for good, for education, for driving cybersecurity up the agenda in governments around the world, and ultimately to ensuring that privacy is a key component of connectivity.

I studied the book 1984 by George Orwell in school and it described this dystopian society where everything listened to you. The crazy thing is that back then the government had to place the bug. These days we are convinced to go out and buy devices like smart phones, thermostats, doorbells, and assistants — all of which listen, and put them in our homes ourselves.

Most people don’t understand the impact of connected technology on privacy, and the services that harvest our behavior to provide us services. These services can be extremely positive and benign, or they can be misused to mislead, nudge, and influence our behavior. We have to address that openly as an industry and in society, and in front of the adoption, or we risk implementing a system that puts revenue ahead of privacy

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

Everything takes twice as long as you think it will — everything, even when you are being a bit pessimistic. This means you really need to think about the resources you have, the money you spend, the time it takes to get to market, and the promises you make to people. Stuff will take time; it’s just life.

The second truism of any product from MCUs to security is that consistency of messaging beats technological innovation every single time. Consumers can only consume so much technology. It’s easy to out-innovate an industry. We’ve seen this with security. You can build extremely strong security but if people aren’t ready for it, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about timing, just like good comedy. At ARM, for example we developed MCUs and it was a grind at the start to popularize them. People couldn’t imagine needing a 32-bit MCU. They weren’t thinking ahead or about the time it takes to scale. It’s similar in security. Boards of Directors don’t care until they get hacked. Once it happens, they expect a solution overnight. That can’t happen if a device wasn’t developed with built-in security capabilities.

Nobody cares about security until after the car crash. We see this repeatedly. There are a number of books about getting minimal viable products to market. Security is always in version two of a product because it’s seen as an expense. That is absolutely wrong. Security will save you when something goes wrong. Security will protect the product or service you are selling. It will enable you to patch, update, and remediate your devices when they are compromised. The reality is that every device that can be built, is one a bad guy can compromise. Every connected device in the world either has been, or will be, compromised. It’s as simple as that.

Focus on profitability NOT revenue. You can have large revenues but zero profits. It comes back to understanding your value proposition. As a start-up it is truly important to be profitable, not to chase after the big check. If you have to employ lots of people and increase your costs to complete a project, despite the size of the check, it turns into a loss. You must understand your margins, what customers are prepared to pay, and your pricing policy instead of just chasing the dollar. It’s often the right thing to fire your customer if you are not making enough money. But it’s a hard lesson and one which very few people think about their first time around.

This is one I learned, but it took awhile. You can’t do things alone, whether as a company or individually working inside a company. Ecosystem and partner alignment are critical to success. You have to choose your partners carefully, so you find the right ones, and you have to line up an ecosystem to support your products. This is crucial. You can have a ground-breaking technology and product but if on its own, it just won’t work. Apple is a good example of doing this right. The iPhone is a success because there is a huge ecosystem of people creating applications so it can be everything and anything you want it to be. Similarly, in the security dominion, we need to have a strong ecosystem around silicon partners, distributors, programming houses, and internal resources.

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 the ability to query, the ability to think past the obvious. So, taking the example of SmartSpeakers, Alexa, and other similar products, we need to ask people to think about what is really happening with their data. Why is it that Google (Alphabet) can monetize their data to become one of the biggest companies in the world? Is it ok that Amazon sells you things while gathering an incredible amount of your information? With all the data they gather, many of these organizations know you better than you know yourself. This leaves you are open to manipulation.

I would ask people to think about their data, especially those who have grown up with technology. People live online and leave footprints that companies monetize. On one level it’s fine as you are getting service for free. People need to understand that they are engaged in a transaction when they conduct an online search, they just pay for the information with their data instead of money. It is still a transaction, but the currency is your personal information. It is even more important as we move into the IoT that people understand these transactions are happening, that they make a decision to participate.

Right now, I don’t believe that people think about these transactions. That’s one thing I’d like to change.

Very few people — less than one percent of the population — understand what’s going on behind the curtain. Apple is on one end of the spectrum with their belief in privacy protection and Google is on the other, saying, “Here’s a service, I want to mine your data.” The reality for most of our interactions lies somewhere in between: I want a service and will share my data, but you need to ensure me that you won’t surrender my privacy, leak or share my information.

We also have a right to be forgotten. That doesn’t mean only what someone posted online. It has to go deeper.

If I live in a connected house, that house will garner my personal footprint — when I leave in the morning for work, when I switch on the lights, when I open my curtains, when I go to work, what I eat, how often I do my laundry, and more. So, what happens to the data when I sell the house? Does it go with me to my new house? Who has access to it?

The IoT is a fantastic thing and will enable huge amounts of innovation. But, to avoid the Orwellian risks we must be certain we are in control of own data and destinies.

In Western democracy we have some legal protections. This is not the case in all counties, for example, what happens in China, in Saudi Arabia, or North Korea? Even in Western democracies the ability to track and connect data can leave someone vulnerable. What happens when someone is living with an abusive partner? Their partner can monitor when they leave the house, when they are at work, in fact every movement they take any time of day. How can they ever get free?

The movement I want to inspire is in part around privacy, but it’s also around the transactions that form and inform us as we move forward. It’s about being consciously aware of each transaction we make and its potential long-term impacts.

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 favorites, an ancient one and a modern one.

Socrates: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”

I feel this is very true today. There is so much going on behind the curtain. How much do I know about what Google or Amazon or my bank, for example, knows about where I spend money, how I spend my free time, and so on? The reality is we don’t know enough about what is happening and we probably never will. This is why we need to have security legislation and frameworks.

Winston Churchill: “It’s no use saying you’re doing your best, you have to succeed at doing what is necessary.”

This is true of startups. Doing your best not enough if you aren’t making deadlines. You just have to make it happen. That’s the difference between a successful entrepreneur and someone who is playing. It’s going to be painful at times, but you have to deliver. That’s the only way you’ll be successful.

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.

Security is the foundation of all value. If you cannot secure it, you are giving it away. In a world which is moving to value being based on services, and brand identity, you have to protect the services you deliver and your brand value. If you can’t your competition will be able to copy you, compete with you, and ultimately put you out of business. Security has to be done right. Security has to be done from the point of inception.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/haydn-povey-373b14

IARSystems.com

https://www.securethingz.com


The Future is Now: “Security From Inception” With Haydn Povey of IAR Systems 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: “How To Use UV Light To Disinfect Surfaces” With John M…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “How To Use UV Light To Disinfect Surfaces” With John M Bolte of PathO3Gen Solutions

I was allowed to fail (and I failed regularly) and was given full freedom to act without fear. I teach my employees to celebrate failure as the first step to success. I often thought, “Man, logistics is not an easy business”, and had the misconception that it would be easier to become successful and make a name for myself in just about anything else. The closer I got to the top, and the closer I became with my customers and their businesses, the more I understood there is no such thing as an “easy” business.

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 M. Bolte, CEO of PathO3Gen Solutions. He joined the company two years ago as a minority shareholder, and now holds a majority stake. Prior to his role with PathO3Gen Solutions, John spent 45 years with BDP International, Inc. where he began as a messenger, rose to President and then was named COO. John and his brothers owned 100% of the company at the time of the sale of BDP International, Inc. in December 2018. BDP International, Inc. was one of the largest privately held logistics companies in the world, with 147 offices in 45 countries. The sale of BDP International, Inc. gave John the opportunity to move into other businesses aligning with his passion for people and saving lives. He is blessed with his wife, Nancy, their seven adult children, and four grandchildren. His hobbies include working, charity, and boating.

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

After my retirement from BDP International, Inc., my wife and I were looking for ways to help our society. We started two charitable foundations and had some money to invest in humanitarian causes. Scott Beal, COO of PathO3Gen Solutions, and I had worked together in logistics, as he had worked for M2, a niche logistics company when I was at BDP International, Inc. After investigating various start-ups and multiple opportunities, I joined PathO3Gen Solutions through Scott, as this company intrigued me the most. PathO3Gen Solutions is a company driven by great businessmen and businesswomen who have a passion for helping others and for helping our world by saving lives. This was, and still is, the perfect fit.

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

Not being a medical expert and not having a background in the medical, healthcare, retail, or food service industries, I operated on a learning curve. In my former role at BDP International, Inc., my brother was the face of the company and I tended to stay in the background. However, with the current pandemic and the recent independent study proving the shoe disinfection technology eliminated human coronavirus, we have received a lot of attention. The importance of the work combined with the efforts of our marketing whiz, Maria Paula Garces, has forced me out front for interviews. Recently, I agreed to do an interview and found the next morning that my face had ended up as the face of our company. I received emails, texts, and calls from all over the world. I remember my son commenting, quite whimsically, “Dad, if you end up saving the world, we will never hear the end of it!!”

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

Since I started in business 47 years ago, my favorite saying is “The least common thing in business and government is Common Sense”. For some reason, the higher a person goes in business, and especially politics, they seem to lose their basic common-sense skills. The upper ranks of many governments, and even some businesses, seem to be motivated more by politics and less by care and concern for people, namely employees, workers, voters, and customers. I believe in a “People First” philosophy above myself, regardless of any position I held or hold today. Whether it is your workers or your customers, when you treat your people like family, with respect and decency, your organization performs better. Happy people who have good leadership and clear direction understand their ability to personally impact the outcome of an organization and will create the best and most powerful business culture. Yes, all companies want to make money and have an impact on the world, but many companies and governments lose their basic common sense. The best way to make money and make an impact on this world, whether as a company or an individual, is to take care of people. All people, all the time. Common sense, right?

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”?

Our multi patented UVZone shoe disinfection technology uses a combination of ozone (O3) + UVC light, creating some of the highest rates of disinfection in the world in just eight (8) seconds. This patented combination is on average 110 times more effective than UVC light alone for many dangerous pathogens, and over 24 times more effective in eliminating human coronavirus. The ozone cracks the shell of a pathogen (virus, bacteria, fungi, etc.) in one second, then the UVC rays denature the DNA or RNA creating an almost instant elimination of the most difficult superbugs (mutations).

The world will change dramatically as a result of the pandemic, and our UVZone shoe disinfection technology applies to so many sectors including mass transit, airports, airlines, stadiums, office buildings, municipal buildings, schools, hotels, cruise ships, amusement parks, theaters, medical offices, hospitals, embassies, military bases, etc., basically just about anywhere large groups of people gather or walk. People are demanding visible signs of safety as we continue opening the economy. They will want to see physical signs of new safety mechanisms and protocols. The applications for this ozone + UVC technology are endless.

Sanitation and hygiene must be part of our new normal and our UVZone is the first line of defense, proactively providing protection for everyone. Floors are riddled with millions of pathogens, and our shoes carry these everywhere. Most of us do not realize what we carry on our shoes. By using the UVZone technology, you can virtually seal off the perimeter of any facility, and these nasty pathogens and viruses are eliminated on your shoes, so they do not enter your building or space. It is well documented that once pathogens and viruses get into any facility, they immediately go airborne within 24 hours to all high-touch surfaces.

Two things that will help save the world from these deadly pathogens: disinfecting your shoes on the way in and on the way out of any/all places you visit. Once we understand that we are all potential carriers, we can become active participants in eliminating the spread of pathogens with our shoes.

How do you think this will change the world?

People are looking for visible signs of safety as we move through the pandemic, and the UVZone shoe disinfection technology is a first line of proactive defense. The visual reassurance it provides will allow us all to go back to working, shopping, eating at restaurants, and traveling.

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

Yes, being on the ground during the pandemic in New York City, our units were utilized in hotels for medical workers’ respite and we encountered something needing clarification. The medical community loved having the shoe disinfection technology available. However, struggling to get masks, they asked if they could use our shoe disinfection technology to sanitize masks. The answer is no. The UVZone is meant for shoes and is not meant to be elevated close to one’s face or body. After all, these are UVC rays, which should not be near the face, so we strongly advise against that. We have a patent pending on a hand-held wand using this technology, and these wands will be used for instant sanitization of clothing, high-touch surface areas, masks, lab equipment, etc., and will be out sometime in the near future. As you can see, multiple sized hand-held wands for sanitization will have many applications moving forward.

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

The technology was created, and the patents were secured before I came on board. The tipping point for me was seeing the technology using the patented combination of ozone and UVC rays. UVC on its own is not very effective because it only damages the shell of pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc.). UVC-only methods leave too many particles behind that are healthy, and damaged particles can mutate into superbugs that are much harder to kill. Once I understood the patented technology, my mind went wild with ideas about how this could be used in just about every industry, and eventually even households, especially with the development of hand-held wands.

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

We need other sectors outside of the medical community, such as mass transit, municipalities, hospitality, casinos, stadiums, agriculture/food processing, to understand the role of the floor and shoes in the spread of pathogens and disease. There have been many independent studies published on the role of the floor, including a recent one by the CDC, showing that in China, approximately 50% of the medical workers working in labs, COVID-19 containment units, and hospitals, were spreading coronavirus on their shoes into other parts of the facility. Additionally, contaminated shoes were tracking coronavirus into public spaces, hence rapidly increasing the spread. Other independent studies show that many pathogens (including viruses) go airborne in less than 24 hours and end up on high-touch surfaces, clothing, patient beds, and door handles. Within 72 hours these pathogens are spread throughout an entire facility, so understanding how to keep pathogens out by proactively sealing off the perimeter of a business or a facility is an important step any business owner can take to reduce the spread of pathogens, including coronavirus. Our multi patented UVZone shoe disinfection technology eliminated human coronavirus, and 99.999% of other pathogens, in seconds, making it a visible sign of safety and an easy and seamless way to seal the perimeters of businesses without causing a disruption to customers or their employees.

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

  1. Being humble and young does not mean everyone else is smarter than you.
  2. Experience is the best form of education.
  3. We all make mistakes, so failure is your first step to succeeding and should not be chastised, it should be encouraged.
  4. There is no such thing as an “easy business”. It takes an all-out effort to make it and be successful.
  5. There are a thousand ways to succeed in life, what is yours?

When I started in business at the age of 15, most people were older and more aggressive than me. As a 15-year-old, my nature was not a threatening one. I had many bosses whom I thought were smarter and better businesspeople than me because they were threatening in nature.

It took me 15 years to realize that being humble and staying within your nature is the best way to become successful.

With a thousand ways to succeed, I had finally found my way. Everyone has their own path to success, and once you find yours you are on your way forward. Once I understood that simple lesson, which I learned in a very difficult fashion, it changed my career path and life. I realized I was as smart as anyone, and with experience it put me in a position to see the forest through the trees.

I was allowed to fail (and I failed regularly) and was given full freedom to act without fear. I teach my employees to celebrate failure as the first step to success. I often thought, “Man, logistics is not an easy business”, and had the misconception that it would be easier to become successful and make a name for myself in just about anything else. The closer I got to the top, and the closer I became with my customers and their businesses, the more I understood there is no such thing as an “easy” business.

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

  1. Work Ethic.
  2. Never give up. Failure is not trying again, and again.
  3. People are the keys to your success, learn how to motivate them and treat them well.
  4. Listen… just shut up and listen. Not just with your ears, but also with your head and your heart.
  5. Loyalty. Always be loyal and it is returned in spades.

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 … this if we tag them 🙂

Floors are the key to infection control and virus containment, and at PathO3Gen Solutions we have some of the highest kill rates for the most difficult superbugs in the market. We even eliminated coronavirus at a rate of 100%.

Our sole mission is to prevent infections and save lives by creating cleaner and safer environments. The UVZone shoe disinfection technology is the first and only UL Certified disinfection equipment that uses an exclusive and multi patented combination of ozone (O3) + UVC. In an independent study, the technology is proven to be on average 110 times more effective than UVC light alone for eliminating pathogens, and over 24 times more effective in eliminating human coronavirus. UVZone destroyed up to 99.999% of the deadliest pathogens, including superbugs such as MRSA, C. diff, and E. coli in mere seconds. It plugs into any standard outlet, is easy to use in almost any entrance or exit, and works with any footwear, including shoe covers. The UVZone is manufactured by an IS0 9001 certified facility in the U.S.A.

How can our readers follow you on social media? Include your personal social media handles and the company’s.

Personally, I am a private guy, but you can follow us on

Twitter: @patho3gen

Facebook: @patho3gensolutions

Instagram: @patho3gensolutions

LinkedIn @patho3gen.

You can also find us on our website, www.patho3gen.com.


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “How To Use UV Light To Disinfect Surfaces” With John M… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes of the Homeless Crisis: How Steve Hilton of Meritage Homes helped build almost 2,000 homes…

Heroes of the Homeless Crisis: How Steve Hilton of Meritage Homes helped build almost 2,000 homes to help the homeless community

I think one of the most impactful things each of us can do is take responsibility. We can play an active role in making a difference, by first understanding the root causes of the majority of homelessness in America. By getting engaged with the issue, understanding it at the community level and realizing its complexities, we are in a place where we can build awareness and provide actionable solutions.

Additionally, collaboration is monumental in making a difference, and I have seen this first-hand. For instance, by mobilizing the community to give back through simple but effective campaigns like asking our customers to kick in an additional $25 when closing on a home to help the Arizona Housing Fund, or by partnering up with our peers to think up broad, sustainable solutions to homelessness. Working together is vital to combat an issue of this size and complexity. Everyone deserves a safe place to live, and we can all find a way to contribute to these efforts.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Hilton.

Steven J. Hilton is the Chairman and CEO of Meritage Homes, the seventh largest public homebuilder in America, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hilton co-founded Meritage Homes in 1985 and has been its Chairman and CEO since its inception. He is considered an expert innovator in the homebuilding industry and also serves on the Board of Directors for Western Alliance Bancorporation, volunteers on boards for Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, TGEN Foundation and the National Pancreatic Cancer Advisory Council, and is a Foundation Trustee for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I’ve lived in Arizona since I was 12 years old. My father was an immigrant and came to this country after World War II as a holocaust survivor. Growing up, my family was not able to be very philanthropic, given the circumstances my father came from, which left money tight.

As I got older, I was fortunate to experience success early on in my business career and wanted to give back to the community that supported me. I grew up here, attended the University of Arizona, and co-founded Monterey Homes, the predecessor company to Meritage Homes. My strong ties to the local community have driven my philanthropic inclinations for more than 30 years, both financially and by volunteering my time. Through my leadership, I aim to inspire others to do the same and give back. It’s the right thing to do and each one of us has the ability to make a difference.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

Yes, I can pinpoint this to childhood friend of mine who is now a senior corporate banking leader and was my catalyst for inspiration. He is very passionate about eradicating homelessness and has been involved for over 25 years with the Arizona Housing Fund, a dedicated-sustainable funding source for nonprofit agencies that build and operate permanent supportive, low-income housing units. I always knew homelessness was a critical issue, but seeing his devotion and commitment to help the homeless inspired and energized me to also give back.

I have since encouraged our team at Meritage Homes to get involved with the Arizona Housing Fund. We are particularly passionate about helping the homeless because it is a natural fit for us. As homebuilders, we are in the shelter business. I have worked in this industry for over 35 years, so housing-related philanthropy is of special interest to me. It allows me to utilize my expertise to further our efforts in helping the most vulnerable in our community get back on their feet by providing them shelter; a safe, healthy environment to call home.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

Numerous factors have contributed to the United States’ growing homelessness problem including a lack of affordable housing, poverty, low wages, and unemployment. Many shelters exist today to help combat homelessness by offering these individuals the support and direction they need to find safe housing, have steady income, and access to healthcare and other fundamental resources. Given my particular background in the homebuilding industry, I can speak to the lack of safe, decent, affordable for-rent and for-purchase housing. Particularly within larger cities like Los Angeles and New York, there is not enough housing to support low-income families and individuals, and housing costs continue to exponentially rise.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

There are many influences in play that can contribute to this downward spiral, but a lack of affordable housing consistently is the leading cause of homelessness, according to annual United States Conference of Mayors ‘Hunger and Homelessness Surveys.

According to a recent annual survey by the United States Conference of Mayors, major cities across the country report that top causes of homelessness among families were: (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, in that order. The same report found that the top four causes of homelessness among unaccompanied individuals were (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, (4) mental illness and the lack of needed services, and (5) substance abuse and the lack of needed services.

This kind of instability and lack of essential needs being met can quickly drop a healthy young person into a downward spiral, where they are left with limited options, and, ultimately, fall into the cycle of homelessness.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

Homelessness is a complex issue. While housing affordability is a key factor, it is also imperative to consider elements like the safety of the housing community, job availability, wages in relation to cost of living, proximity to public transport, physical and mental health, and an environment that is conducive to long-term success. To top it off, moving itself can be costly and many of the adults who are experiencing homelessness may not have a car or the financial ability to purchase transportation (plane ticket, train ticket, etc). When determining how to approach and solve for homelessness, we must consider the many factors, and realize that each circumstance is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

I would recommend directing him or her to a local homeless shelter in the metro area, where they can receive shelter along with access to food, medical attention, hygienic needs, and the support and resources needed to help them get back on their feet. Living on the street is not a safe or sustainable option, so motivating a homeless person to work towards a better living solution and receive the care they need is crucial to their recovery and successful integration back into society.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

I would encourage people do the same as I mentioned previously and direct the individual to one of the well-run shelters in the metro area. Shelters and organizations can help offer job skill training and assist in finding opportunities that can lead to a more stable and steady income. Living under a bridge or on the street is not safe for themselves, nor for the city, and there are shelters that are standing by to help.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

I am proud to share that our collective efforts at Meritage Homes, contributing to the Arizona Housing Fund, has us on the path to building almost 2,000 homes to help this vulnerable population. To amplify efforts further, Meritage Homes is even getting its customers involved in this great cause. When closing on a house, we ask each new homeowner if they would like to contribute $25 towards the Arizona Housing Fund. We’ll be able to build 100,000 homes a year if each of our customers makes this nominal donation. We’re continuing to drive efforts around here to make an impact in our community. It’s amazing to see everyone come together and contribute their time, energy and finances to make a real, measurable difference.

Our goal is to build on this further by getting our peers involved — land developers, realtors, home builders and other housing industry professionals — creating a similar program where we all can play a small part in making a large difference to combat homelessness.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

People experiencing homelessness are a particularly susceptible group when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many are immunocompromised and/or elderly. According to the CDC, these factors may put them at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Couple this with the fact that many homeless care services take place in crowded settings that can lead to the spread of the virus, the potential aftermath on the homeless community is troubling.

As COVID-19 has caused ripple effects throughout all industries, many people have been temporarily distracted from this cause, as we are thinking about the safety of our loved ones, our businesses, and dealing with new pressures. For instance, we had been working with the AZ Housing Fund on a promotional video and other tools to build awareness and drive fundraising, but had to shift our efforts recently to focus on the pandemic’s impact on our personal and professional lives. We remain hopeful and look forward to getting back to this work, as it remains more important than ever, especially in this critical time of a public health crisis.

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

The work we do brings me immense pride because our efforts go far beyond monetary value. We build and sell homes, and buying a home is one of the largest and most important decisions a person makes in a lifetime. It feels good to know that we are setting the standard in home construction and design, and leading the way in energy-efficient homes, so our buyers can feel confident with their decisions and live better, smarter and healthier.

I’m also really proud of the culture we’ve built at Meritage Homes. Our team is goal-oriented and success-driven, but also places great energy into giving back to the communities we build and live in. I love having the opportunity to inspire our employees to get engaged and continue to place importance on philanthropic efforts.

It truly takes a village to do what we do, innovating constantly to continue to lead in the industry, and to see the bright minds at every level contribute makes me very proud.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

I try to lead by example and inspire others, in the same way that my childhood friend ignited that spark in me to get involved with the AZ Housing Fund. Some of our employees at Meritage Homes are progressing in the space of volunteerism and taking it upon themselves to donate and spend their time helping others. I think that I can do the most good by encouraging others to volunteer and support the community. We can accomplish so much more when we work together.

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

I think one of the most impactful things each of us can do is take responsibility. We can play an active role in making a difference, by first understanding the root causes of the majority of homelessness in America. By getting engaged with the issue, understanding it at the community level and realizing its complexities, we are in a place where we can build awareness and provide actionable solutions.

Additionally, collaboration is monumental in making a difference, and I have seen this first-hand. For instance, by mobilizing the community to give back through simple but effective campaigns like asking our customers to kick in an additional $25 when closing on a home to help the Arizona Housing Fund, or by partnering up with our peers to think up broad, sustainable solutions to homelessness. Working together is vital to combat an issue of this size and complexity. Everyone deserves a safe place to live, and we can all find a way to contribute to these efforts.

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

As it relates to housing, there are three legislative areas that we can consider to aid organizations in building more affordable, low-income housing:

The first would be a law that allows for more affordably priced, multifamily developments. There is some building resistance that happens when developers come into an area with plans to build low-income housing communities because people do not want to lower their own home value by falling within that zip code. This is not true. Luckily legislators understand this and more people are beginning to. Legislation can help advance these types of projects to provide more affordable housing.

In some areas there are architectural requirements that are in place to ensure that the homes are aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately these requirements drive up the cost of the home construction, which is passed on to the buyer and renter. Reducing these requirements to reasonable levels, especially in areas with heightened homelessness, can help drive down housing costs across the board.

Rather than evicting low-income tenants, developing legislation that helps housing authorities keep people housed would be immensely beneficial. Some counties (like Aurora housing authority, for example) have tested out housing stability pilots that provide rent grants or subsidies to help the tenant stay housed and save the landlord the cost of finding a new tenant. Not to mention, these anti-eviction strategies help people stay off the streets.

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

Seeing progress. We all want to win, and strive to be on the winning team, whether it is in business or philanthropy. There’s all that great energy and enthusiasm when you are winning. And we are winning. Every month, I see the impact being made by our efforts to help the homeless through the AZ Housing Fund. I see it firsthand, and seeing that progress keeps me going.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

In a perfect world, yes, however I don’t know that we will ever be able to fully eradicate homelessness. That being said, I think we can come together a make a huge dent through our combined efforts and common-sense solutions.

As we look at this great social challenge, we must support the different stages of progress. The first is getting people physically off of the street, cleaned up, cared for and connected to resources. Next, we have to help secure employment, housing, and other stability measures. Then, we have to consistently support this progress and help individuals maintain a sustainable, healthy life. Through this cycle, we can help get many people off of the streets and into safe, secure homes.

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. The importance of understanding the dynamic of ‘fear and greed’ and the influences they can have on success

2. There is no substitute for ‘getting in the weeds’

3. Trust but verify

4. People make the difference

5. Innovation is rewarded, execution is worshipped

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. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to encourage a stronger partnership between the business sector and the government. Businesses need to do more to collaborate with the government to solve some of the world’s greatest problems, including homelessness. On the inverse, governments also need to increasingly see businesses as part of the solution.

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

The following is a quote from the renowned General Douglas MacArthur that I live by and deeply believe in: “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

This mantra can apply to your actions in every crisis, and is evergreen, never becoming archaic.

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

I’d love to sit down with Winston Churchill. He defined the concept of modern-day leadership and is someone that I admire. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will be available for lunch.

How can our readers follow you online?

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Heroes of the Homeless Crisis: How Steve Hilton of Meritage Homes helped build almost 2,000 homes… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Amanda Blue And Healing Transitions Offer Nightly Shelter To…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Amanda Blue And Healing Transitions Offer Nightly Shelter To Anyone Who Needs It

…Well, if anyone finds this magical city with cheaper housing, let me know! The affordable housing crisis is everywhere. Places that are less expensive tend to be in less than ideal areas, with limited public transportation and higher rates of crime and drug use. True, rural areas tend to cost less, but they also pose other barriers: lack of public transportation and access to jobs, access to services and resources like mental health care, and removal from one’s social support system.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Blue, Director of Programs, Healing Transitions.

Amanda Blue, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, joined Healing Transitions in July of 2010 and is currently serving as Director of Programs. Amanda oversees the long-term recovery program, non-medical detox services, emergency shelters, child and family services, health care services, transition case management services, and outreach services for Healing Transitions’ men’s and women’s programs. Prior to her work at Healing Transitions, Amanda worked with homeless women at Urban Ministries’ Helen Wright Center. She is passionate about social justice and is integrally involved in efforts to advance availability and accessibility of resources in the community.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up in a small town in central North Carolina. I had a great childhood by all accounts –

loving parents and a stable home. At the age of 13, I started down a path that took me on a few wrong turns. I struggled and had some ups and downs for about a decade. Luckily, I had the resources and the support system to turn things around. I made it through college and one of my professors gave me probably the best advice I ever got. He told me to get my MSW degree (Master’s in Social Work). I was still a little lost and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought since I had been through a lot during my high school years, maybe I could become a high school counselor and try to help others. My professor told me an MSW degree would allow me to have more opportunities and variety in my career — and he was right. I ended up taking an Addiction Recovery course taught by the now-Executive Director of the non-profit organization I work for today, Healing Transitions. Long story short, I’ve been working at Healing Transitions ever since. This is definitely where I was always supposed to be.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

I think it was just fate! When I started my MSW program, I was assigned to do an internship at a local non-profit organization that happened to be a homeless shelter for single women… and the rest is history.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

We have a homeless crisis because we have a housing crisis. Housing is simply not affordable. Most Americans can’t afford to live where they work and are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. This places a financial burden on those individuals and families. In large cities where housing prices are skyrocketing and wages are staying the same, it become continually more difficult to find safe, affordable places to live. At the same time, we face an ever-decreasing ability to access appropriate mental health or substance use services which are often underlying causes of homelessness.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

The journey to homelessness doesn’t look the same for everyone. Each person’s story is unique, but there are some commonalities. For most of us, when we think about someone who is homeless, we’re thinking about a chronically homeless individual. However, the vast majority of people without homes are families who experienced one too many crises at the wrong time. They may have lost their job, their landlord is selling their house, their car broke down, their child got sick, and on and on. They end up in a hotel and unable to save enough for a down payment or first month’s rent. For those individuals who are chronically homeless — the ones we see sleeping on the street — it usually involves some form of mental health or substance use disorder issue. Many people with severe mental illness don’t seek or receive treatment for a variety of reasons (fear, cost, transportation, etc.). For individuals with substance use disorders, the habits they have formed related to their addictions often alienate them from everyone around them. Their support system evaporates, they’re unable to keep a job, and they end up homeless.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

Well, if anyone finds this magical city with cheaper housing, let me know! The affordable housing crisis is everywhere. Places that are less expensive tend to be in less than ideal areas, with limited public transportation and higher rates of crime and drug use. True, rural areas tend to cost less, but they also pose other barriers: lack of public transportation and access to jobs, access to services and resources like mental health care, and removal from one’s social support system.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

Sometimes, just being acknowledged- a hello and a smile — is a great way to help.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

I come across this regularly myself. I let them know that I don’t have any cash to give them, but I do know of resources and places that offer help. It’s easiest to carry around something that you can hand to them easily — in our community, we have an online resource directory that’s fairly comprehensive. I keep business cards with the information and link on them so I can hand them to out if needed. You may not get a happy response, but that’s ok. Oftentimes people are familiar with those resources already, they have been through the system — they’ve had bad experiences at shelters or were unable to get help from a specific agency — and they aren’t looking for that kind of help. But the next person might be.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

I wish I could say that we’re making a larger impact, but I’m grateful that we’re able to offer what we do. Our program is set up to offer nightly shelter to anyone who needs it. We don’t have any requirements — they don’t have to show ID, they don’t have to have any income, they don’t have to be sober, they don’t even have to want to do anything about their homelessness. But most of them do, and for those who are ready, we offer case management to help connect them to resources and housing.

For those who aren’t ready to make any changes, we offer hope. Without pressure, they’re able to see others who were in their shoes turn things around — and sometimes they realize, if that person can do it, maybe they can do it too.

We also have a long-term addiction recovery program. Unfortunately for a lot of individuals, substance use is a contributing factor to their homelessness. We give people a place to stay and the tools to build their lives back up. Over 70 percent of those who complete our program are in recovery one year after completion, and over 90 percent are employed and housed.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

Gratefully, COVID-19 hasn’t impacted our community in the way it has impacted other areas. We had excellent guidance from local officials, and our shelters and programs acted quickly to prevent any massive outbreaks. To date, out of well over 500 beds across multiple agencies, I’m aware of 2 positive cases in a shelter.

However, part of making that happen was making a difficult choice to protect those who were already in our shelters by not allowing more people to enter. Luckily, our community came together and created “health hotel” options for those who are at high risk for health complications due to COVID-19. Our agency has been meeting daily for the last two months to figure out ways to creatively help those who are in need. We also opened up an off-site detox center so individuals would have a place to go other than hospitals or jails. We all just have to be creative right now.

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

In my earlier career, I worked at a women’s shelter. For the past ten years I’ve worked at a program that offers not only shelter, but detox and a long-term recovery program. I still have women from those first few years who reach out to me and send me pictures of their kids. That makes me proud. What I get to see now though through recovery is something I could never imagine. Women and men are turning their lives around, and it’s also changing the lives of their families and friends.

I see parents able to care for their children again. I see women and men getting to have a relationship with their parents and their spouses again, getting a job, and paying bills. We do a survey each year and ask our former participants for their income tax and property tax information. This year our alumni reported paying over $5 million in taxes. We also ask about local property taxes. In our county alone, not including those who live in other places, we had 35 homeowners respond… homeowners! To go from living on the streets to owning your own home is just remarkable. The fact that there are so many more of these stories is incredible.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

We had a guy who had been coming in and out of our programs for years. He had over 50 detox admissions, 5 recover program attempts, and 331 nights in our shelter. One time our local law enforcement brought him in, and he didn’t have his seizure meds. Our current Executive Director went to get them for him in the crawl space of an abandoned building where he had been living. We decided to try some different approaches with him. We helped him get income and recovery housing. He wasn’t able to stay in that recovery house, but he has been living with his brother for close to ten years now. He no longer comes into our detox or our shelter barely clothed, unshowered, and intoxicated — he comes to donate clothes and volunteer. One of our guiding principles is “as many times as it takes.” We never turned him away, never told him he had his chance, never gave up on him. Now he serves as an example to others that you never know when someone’s life is going to change. Wait for the miracle to happen.

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

  1. Advocate for affordable housing.
  2. Call your legislators and get involved in local efforts to address the crisis.
  3. Make resources available to those who need them (SNAP benefits, etc.)
  4. Remove the stigma and barriers to treatment for mental health issues and substance use disorders.

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. Affordable housing legislature — Mandate developers to make a certain percentage of all housing units income-based — at 40 percent or below the Federal Poverty Line.
  2. De-criminalization of Substance Use Disorders and greater access to treatment. We’ve made strides in this area with reducing mandatory sentencing and creating Recovery (Drug) Courts. However, there are still sentencing disparities for certain drugs and new laws that pose problems such as the Death by Distribution Bill that holds the person providing the drugs responsible for the death of a person who overdoses. Unfortunately, often this is a friend or another person with a substance use disorder — not a trafficker or dealer.
  3. Expansion of Ban the Box — removing the criminal history question from applications. Our society still has deeply entrenched mechanisms of oppression that are difficult to overcome. Often times people with lower socioeconomic status end up with a criminal record, and we make it difficult for those being released from the criminal justice system to find jobs, housing, etc. Homeless individuals often receive trespassing citations. If we truly want to break the cycle, we must find ways to help these individuals be successful. One way to do that is to give them an opportunity to get their foot in the door and a fair shot at an interview for a job.

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

The successes. It can be easy to get caught up in the difficulties and the losses, but you have to remember those who have been able to change their lives.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I think we have to keep hope. I’m not sure I’ll see it in my lifetime, and it would take a lot to get us there, but nothing is impossible. It will take significant legislative changes, an adjustment to our ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality, and a commitment from society to help the least amongst us. But we can do it. Our future generations will hopefully do a better job than we have at exacting social justice.

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. The first and most important one: “You’re responsible for the effort, not the outcome.” I learned this the hard way. I went above and beyond for every single client –I advocated for them, I fought for them — and if they succeeded, I succeeded — if they failed, I failed. I worked myself right into burnout. I had to learn that I’m not responsible for their choices, or their consequences. Those are not mine to own. But I am responsible for making the effort; for doing everything I am reasonably capable of doing. The rest is up to them.
  2. That ties into number 2: “They’re not yours.” We have a tendency to take ownership of people and things that don’t belong to us. When we call people “mine”, we assume responsibility. Sometimes that’s the appropriate word, but I avoid it like the plague. I don’t own anyone. They’re not “my staff”, they’re staff that I supervise. They’re not “my clients”, they’re in the program I help run.
  3. “What you see might not always be pretty, but what we do is beautiful.” These all really tie together. We’ll see some things that are hard to comprehend in this work and that are hard to look at. But at the end of the day, what we are trying to do is something that is to be admired and appreciated.
  4. “Put your oxygen mask on first.” You can’t help anyone else if you can’t breathe. Everyone will face burnout in this field. It’s inevitable. But we can do things to minimize it and to bring ourselves back from it. You have to take care of yourself or you’re no good to anyone.
  5. “It’ll be there tomorrow.” There is no such thing as “being caught up.” It’s a false goal that I was always trying to meet. And when I couldn’t, it felt like I was failing. Some things just might not get done, and we have to be ok with that.

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

I think my movement would be understanding. Find someone who is different than you — in whatever way — religion, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, etc. — and listen to their story. Genuinely listen. We all have things in common that we can find in order to relate to one another. We also have a tendency to judge and fear what we don’t know. By taking the time to get to know someone, maybe we change that. Maybe we overcome our differences and we create a better place to live for us all.

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

Hmmm, that’s really hard to just pick one. I have a few posted on my fridge so I can remind myself every day. One of my favorites is probably “Never let your fear decide your fate.” I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences in my life, and not all of them were pleasant. But I don’t regret them. What I regret are the changes I didn’t take, the things I didn’t do. It’s really easy to get submerged in work and fall into this cycle of working late, coming home and resting, and then doing it all over again. This field can also be draining — it takes something out of you to do this, to hear the stories, and witness the struggles every day — so we have to make sure we are getting replenished somehow. For me, this means not being scared to get out there and meet new people, try new things… to live. We miss 100 percent of the chances we don’t take. Too often we stay in things too long — jobs, relationships, places, etc. simply because the comfort of the familiar wins out over the fear of the unknown. This quote helps remind me to make decisions that, regardless of how they turn out, I will look back on and be grateful that I went for it.

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

I’d like to have breakfast with Lizzo. I asked myself what celebrities I knew that were making an impact somehow. Lizzo was the first person that came to my mind, and as soon as I thought of her, I smiled. She is a role model for all women, of all ages and backgrounds. Her unwavering positivity and self-acceptance offers a beacon of light amongst a sea of social media and societal influences telling us what we should look like and who we should be. And beyond that, I think she’d be hilarious and wonderful company.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow my organization, Healing Transitions, at www.healing-transitions.org, and also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Amanda Blue And Healing Transitions Offer Nightly Shelter To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sam Saideman of Innovo Management: Five Things You Need To Successfully Manage A Remote Team

Weekly video chat happy hours are a great way to create culture without having to break quarantine. Something we did which I thought was a cool little initiative — I gave everyone in the company a $25.00 reimbursable fund as long as the money spent was on supporting a local business. Ordering food from a local restaurant and tipping the driver well, or buying bands merch, etc. Whatever it was, I think things like that help staff to feel more involved in supporting the community, which is vital right now.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Saideman, Co-Founder and CEO of Innovo Management, LLC,

Sam drives his company’s vision and success by managing beloved artists YONAS, danny G, Sansol the Artist, and Sam Johnston. With a background ranging from performance and booking to publishing and marketing for a global distribution company, Sam has acquired a wealth of experience that he leverages in his daily management strategies.

Sam has directly created, implemented, and managed label budgets for marketing campaigns on projects that include Thompson Square, CeeLo Green, LIT, Cherub, Method Man, and more. In 2015, 2016, and 2019, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and Nashville Entrepreneur Center nominated Sam for Young Entrepreneur of the Year. This followed awards and recognition from President Barack Obama and Nashville Mayor David Briley for his work in the community and execution of successful benefit concerts.

While Innovo has experienced over 200% year-over-year growth, the early days of the company and Sam’s discovery of his business acumen are what defines his entrepreneurial journey. As an immigrant from London, England who moved to New York in 2001, his lower-middle class upbringing taught him early on that there’s no substitute for hard work. By the age of 18, Sam had worked in real estate, property management, door-to-door sales, marketing, and any other educational opportunities that he could get his hands on. Living in an urban environment like New York, Sam was immediately immersed in the culture of HipHop and decided to switch his focus away from general business and move it towards the music industry as an artist. At 19 years old, he had signed with an independent record label in Philadelphia. After being promised the world, he was given nothing, resulting in a legal battle over his work. At this point, Sam discovered his true passion; providing a place focused on fair treatment and artist-centered career development. One year later, along with his business partner Ian Rodriguez, Innovo Management was LLC’d.

Innovo Management now employs 8 staff members, all of whom handle digital marketing and release strategy for the company’s project management services, leaving Sam to fully focus on the artist management roster and general business growth. A three time college dropout who believes in a sink or swim mentality with low barrier to entry businesses, Sam Saideman passionately empowers artists to create sustainable careers.

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

In the spirit of keeping it short, I’m a Nashville based Entrepreneur and Artist Manager who Co-Founded Innovo Management in 2014. I was born in London, England and moved to New York when I was 7 years old. I used to make Hip-Hop music, and through a dispute with a label over ownership and budgets, I discovered my business tenacity. This led me to move to Nashville and pursue music business. Other than that, I have a puppy named Grace, a girlfriend named Molly, and I love to watch and play soccer, that’s basically it!

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

Hard to choose one, but I’d probably say getting to book a European headline run for a client without a booking agent handling was pretty…interesting. Also, getting to speak at Universities Entrepreneurship classes as a three-time college dropout is always an interesting experience. I try to never say no to opportunities to learn, teach, and create!

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

My Business partner, Ian and I started Innovo as transfer students at University. We used to store Innovo merchandise in our dorm room and every time we sold something, that cash would go in a little jewelry box in our dorm. We soon realized that a bank account would be a safer method to cash management, haha. Some of the best times of running a business are during those unknowns though! Blissful ignorance.

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

Feed your employees. Feed them with opportunities to try things and learn, opportunities to make mistakes, and opportunities to create and manage their own ideas. I think something Ian and I have always done a good job of is making sure that our employees feel both valued as humans and valued as staff members. If someone has an idea, we give them the space, connections (if we have them,) and funds (if needed and justified) to run with those ideas. Our staff feels a sense of ownership behind Innovo. That’s vital to future growth! You can also feed them in the more literal sense! We try to do a monthly lunch on Innovo as well as an annual company retreat, which we just started in 2019!

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?

Well the first few years of the business we had part-time staff that would go home for summer breaks and had to work remotely. We don’t love it because some of our best ideas come from being in an office together and breaking out into brainstorms, things that are frustrating us, etc. Up until recently, my Assistant has been remote as well. I always want to give people the freedom and flexibility to do those things, but it’s always a little bit harder to get the ancillary things done. I also find as a boss that I don’t delegate as well when I’m remote. I tend to just handle things rather than having to type out a whole explanation.

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?

I touched on this a bit above, however I’d say the biggest is keeping the energy levels and enthusiasm as high as in-person. I’m blessed with a team now that I know will get the work done wherever they are, because they’re awesome and they truly believe in the mission of putting musicians first. I’d say some other struggles of managing a remote team include delegating effectively, staying in constant and close contact, and making sure that any internal frustrations are met and chatted about. It’s a lot easier to see how people are doing when you’re in an office together. Things tend to brew more behind the scenes when working remote for extended periods of time.

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

Check in with your staff frequently. Set up weekly check in calls and take the time out of your day to make sure staff have the right work on their plates and don’t feel underutilized or overworked.

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?

Ooo, that’s a good one! I utilize video calls. My team has all had to download Skype over this break (I refuse to use a product as terrible as Zoom.) If I have to say anything that may be perceived as harsh, I always try to do it over a video chat so those indicators of it being constructive can still be picked up.

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

I provide extensive reasoning behind the feedback. If I feel like something wasn’t done properly, why do I feel it wasn’t done properly and what did I do to hinder the success of something? Sometimes it’s as simple as having unnecessary tasks on an employee’s plate. My team knows that the NY in me can sometimes be very direct, but they also know that if it sounds harsh it’s because I’m passionate about helping artists. Same way back to me.

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?

If you’ve never done it, set firm structure to it. Check in with everyone in the morning, set a weekly call, and make sure you’re supporting them more than you ever have. You don’t realize how often you’re being a team member when you’re in an office, until you’re not in an office for months! If you’re not intentional about it, people will feel undervalued quickly.

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?

Weekly video chat happy hours are a great way to create culture without having to break quarantine. Something we did which I thought was a cool little initiative — I gave everyone in the company a $25.00 reimbursable fund as long as the money spent was on supporting a local business. Ordering food from a local restaurant and tipping the driver well, or buying bands merch, etc. Whatever it was, I think things like that help staff to feel more involved in supporting the community, which is vital right now.

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 about being “a person of great influence” however, I’m a pretty big advocate for mental health. I think with the growth of social media, more and more people are getting sucked into a hamster wheel of FOMO and weighing their lives against others. I try to use my social media platforms to post everyday life stuff rather than over glossing only the bullet point moments.

I’m constantly talking about being unapologetically yourself and am involved with charities such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The movement I’d hope to inspire would be centered around being yourself without the concerns of how others might react. If we did more of that, people would truly live life how they want to!

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

“It’s not ready, aim, fire, it’s ready, fire, aim.”

That quote has resonated with me for years. It was a large catalyst for launching Innovo. I see people all the time strategizing for years and then by the time they’re ready to launch, they missed their time. I learn by doing. Throw me in the deep end and I’ll either sink or swim!

“If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”

Goes along with the quote above. Keep trying things and keep pivoting!

Thank you for these great insights!


Sam Saideman of Innovo Management: 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.

Janeen Gelbart of Indiggo: Five Things You Need To Successfully Manage A Remote Team

Have a few key, clear shared priorities for the organization. This will enable your people to focus on what matters most vs. trying to do it all. If done with transparency, this builds trust, decreases stress and provides a framework for thriving.

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

Janeen is the CEO and co-founder of Indiggo, a company that has been dedicated to creating Return On Leadership for over 15 years. Indiggo has reinvented strategy execution for leaders through an AI driven tech platform and a fresh approach to leading successfully in today’s world. She spearheaded Indiggo’s transformation from a premier boutique consultancy to a highly innovative tech company that continues to drive leaders and their organizations to excellence. Never satisfied with the status quo, Janeen relentlessly engages herself and others in being the best they can.

Thank you for joining us Janeen. What is your “backstory”?

I was an entrepreneur from birth. Always looking for opportunity and challenging the status quo and any arbitrary structures or rules. Always been passionate about going to the core of an issue, person or challenge; seeing patterns, reading signals and creating focused, fresh, action-based solutions. I started my first company in Paris, when I was fresh out of college, where we achieved significant growth. It was not easy against all odds as a female entrepreneur in France during that time. I sold that company prior to moving to the United States, where I co-founded Indiggo. The company was founded with intention and purpose; knowing how hard we work and wanting to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives vs. just doing business. There are great ripple effects we can create through impacting leaders who in turn impact others. The paradox is that, despite having worked in strategy for many years, I actually have more of an organic approach to life. I thrive on seeing opportunities, seizing them with a clear vision of success, and then figuring the journey out dynamically along the way. My driving forces have always been a big bias for clarity, action vs. theory, directness/truth, not settling for less than excellence and always truly caring about those around me.

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

In a general sense, I think your career is more about what you make happen than what happens to you. As a young, inexperienced entrepreneur in Paris running an unknown company, I decided very early on to approach the largest relevant customer in Europe. They ended up becoming our customer and changing the trajectory and growth of our company significantly. I learned early that, despite the nerves, doubts and odds, it is often easier to go straight to interacting with leaders at the top where often these leaders are there because they are less fearful of taking risks to improve their business. This approach can make things happen much faster.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

I tend to make funny mistakes in general, so that can’t really be isolated to when I started my career. I have many stories, but one is when I forgot my microphone was on when I was off stage…unfortunately I noticed because I heard my voice seemingly come out of the guy who was then on stage in front of a large room of execs! Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? Keep your sense of humor and leverage perspective so as not to sweat the small stuff!

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

Have a few key, clear shared priorities for the organization. This will enable your people to focus on what matters most vs. trying to do it all. If done with transparency, this builds trust, decreases stress and provides a framework for thriving.

Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team, while others have just started, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve had to collaborate closely and drive results with remote stakeholders from the onset of my career.

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?

Many of these are challenges that already exist in non-remote teams. Lack of alignment, lack of shared clarity, lack of focus, misunderstanding or misinterpreting information, missed goals, and lack of the human side of interaction. I think that we were already flying blind before the massive shift to remote work and that these have just been accentuated by remote work.

Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Don’t do this in writing until you have had a conversation. Provide specific examples to ensure shared understanding. Brainstorm together on how to improve the issue, but also be ready with a few concrete suggestions in mind. Acknowledge what they are doing well to begin with (the recommended ratio is three positive aspects to each area of improvement). Give context to explain why this improvement matters. Ask them what they think, where disconnects may have been created and how to put in place structures to succeed better moving ahead. Agree on specific next steps with clear ownership. Always follow up in writing.

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

Don’t do it.

Can you share any suggestions on effective leadership styles/actions 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?

Don’t schedule too many meetings to compensate for being remote. Find a happy medium by having regular, brief scheduled video huddles to keep the human connection and see how they’re doing. Regularly align on the few vital areas of focus to ensure you’re not overloading them with too many demands. Strategically include time proactively to brainstorm and have conversations that may have happened more organically before.

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?

One of the most important roles of a leader is to create regular ongoing clarity on the few areas of focus that will create the greatest results for the organization. It’s then up to each business unit to do the same. We live in a world where strategy can no longer be static and organizations need to be agile and redirect resources quickly and efficiently. Part of the alignment needed to do this is to also agree to what to say no to in order to have the capacity to redirect resources. Mechanisms must be put in place to have full transparency on focus and capacity throughout the organization. This empowers people at every level to be able to make ongoing choices and decisions that support their success and the organizations success.

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

Living with clarity on, and in alignment with core purpose — if every individual was clear on the most inspiring purpose for their lives, and every group of people/organization remained clear on their ultimate most inspiring collective purpose, the choices and ensuing actions could only result in life and the world becoming a much better place for all.

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

Anything is possible!


Janeen Gelbart of Indiggo: 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.

Author Kinyatta E. Gray: Five Things You Can Do To Develop More Grit

Follow your inner voice. Before my mom transitioned in 2018, many months prior I received thoughts and messages that I had never quite experienced before. The messages were distinct and clear, encouraging me to spend as much time with my mom as possible. I later realized my inner voice was guiding me in that directions because those moments I spent with her, eventually were my last. I was extremely grateful that I followed my inner voice. Trust your inner voice.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kinyatta E. Gray. Kinyatta wrote and published her first book in 2019, a memoir, called 30 Days: Surviving the Trauma and Unexpected Loss of a Single Parent as an Only Child. Kinyatta’s aspirations to become an author were as a result of a heart-gripping moment in her mom’s final moments of life. She committed to honoring her mother’s legacy by becoming a published author. Kinyatta eventually wrote and released two more books for a total of three books in six-months in 2020.

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

The pleasure is all mine. Yes, I became a published author in 2019 for one reason only and that reason was to honor the legacy of my mother. My mother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in 2018. Before her transition she was a writer, who often wrote scripts for plays, narratives, blogs and songs! However, her dream was to one day become a published author. Sadly, she did not fulfill that dream, therefore I wrote a book called: “30 Days: Surviving The Trauma and Unexpected Loss Of A Single Parent As An Only Child” in honor of her.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

After my mother’s untimely death in 2018, I battled with the onset of Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety. I also experienced bouts of suicidal ideation during my darkest hours of grief. Losing my only parent knocked me off of my feet and turned my world inside out. I was suddenly a “motherless” daughter and didn’t know how I would face life without her. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. However, I found the strength, courage and determination to forge ahead and to complete my goal of becoming a published author despite the emotional hardships. I possessed Grit.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The drive came from within. After a few months had gone by, I wanted to channel my grief into action. I decided that I would spend the rest of my life being impactful and inspirational to others who have lost their parents. I made a commitment not to abandon my mother’s spirit and I wanted to start a movement encouraging others not to abandon their deceased loved one’s spirit, but rather find a way to stay connected with their deceased loved ones and by following their inner voice. I yearned to honor my mother’s memory and I also sought to create a legacy of my own. I did this through writing and becoming a published author.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Grit led to my success because my emotional pain fueled the courage, passion, energy and the commitment that it took for me to write and release three books in six-months. In 2020, I wrote and released two more books: “Passing As Straight: Beautiful Women’s Whose Sexuality Went Undetected by a Judgmental Society” and, “From Section 8 To CEO”. The common theme between all of my books is facing the unthinkable, survival, walking in your truth and following your inner voice.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?

Here are 5 pieces of advice on how one can develop Grit:

  1. Define your “why” purpose or passion. After losing my mom suddenly in 2018, I needed a will to go on. My desire to go on was fueled by my unstoppable desire to honor my mother’s legacy by writing a book and becoming a published author.
  2. Pursue your purpose or passion. I identified my “why” for wanting to become a published author, thereafter it became imperative for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work. With no prior experience as an author, the task was quite overwhelming, however I was committed to my “why” and stayed the course. I didn’t only write and release one book, I wrote and released three books in six-months.
  3. Learn to face obstacles instead of running from them. Losing my mom was very traumatic, however, instead of succumbing to the pain and despair, I decided to face it, and I shifted my thinking to that of a survivor and have worked hard every day to inspire others who have lost their parent or loved ones to do the same thing.
  4. Follow your inner voice. Before my mom transitioned in 2018, many months prior I received thoughts and messages that I had never quite experienced before. The messages were distinct and clear, encouraging me to spend as much time with my mom as possible. I later realized my inner voice was guiding me in that directions because those moments I spent with her, eventually were my last. I was extremely grateful that I followed my inner voice. Trust your inner voice.
  5. Practice being bold every day. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I spent several years concealing parts of my identity from strangers for fear of discrimination. One day, I decided to let go of my fear, be bold and courageous and walk in my truth. I have walked in my truth ever since.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

My spouse of 3-years has held me up during my darkest hours (after losing my mom), during my most trying times (raising two children) and during the most ambitious moments of my life (launching my business FlightsInStilettos, LLC and during my authorship journey). Having her support on my road to success is a key factor in my achieving success.

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

I have used my success by sharing my stories of survival, grit, being unstoppable, walking in my truth and following my inner voice to inspire others not to give up and to live their best life despite the odds stacked against them.

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

Yes! I’m very excited about my latest project — the upcoming release of my new eBook called: So, You Want To Be An Author

A Step-by-Step Guide for Aspiring Authors

I decided to develop this guide for aspiring authors because it is the kind of practical easy to read and follow guide that I craved when I embarked on my authorship journey. Without doubt, I believe that this resource will be helpful and valuable to aspiring authors and will eventually produce more authors.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Executives should get to know their employees as people and not simply as a means to their success; show compassion and awareness of their needs as employees and create a culture of support, honesty, integrity, open communication and inclusiveness.


Author Kinyatta E. Gray: Five Things You Can Do To Develop More Grit was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Trevor Croghan of One Workplace: “Five Steps That Someone Can Take To Become More Resilient”

I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement.

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 Trevor Croghan.

Third generation educator Trevor Croghan dedicated five years to middle school teaching and coaching sports in the San Francisco Bay Area before entering the business world. In 2013, he co-founded One Workplace Learning Environments — a group dedicated to designing and implementing dynamic spaces for teaching and learning. Trevor now leads four divisions across the One Workplace enterprise, the nation’s largest and most innovative organization delivering workplace solutions. Over the last decade, Trevor has consulted and collaborated on projects with IDEO, the Stanford d.school, UC Berkeley and the Office of the First Lady of the United States. Trevor received his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from the University of Montana and an EMBA from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

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 come from a long line of educators and athletic coaches. My father and grandfather were both educational leaders and competitive swim coaches. I grew up in classrooms and on pool decks watching my family teach, coach and lead. We lived in Hayward, CA, which is one of the most diverse communities in the country. These early experiences shaped my view on family, community and leadership. My path to college was through athletics. I spent five years in Montana pursuing my history degree and teaching credential, playing football and exploring wild and remote areas of the Rocky Mountains.

Returning to the Bay Area, I joined the “family business” as a middle school teacher and high school coach. Five great years later, my experience developing young people motivated me to seek new challenges and opportunities to drive impact in education at scale. I joined One Workplace as the first education-focused salesperson and consultant in 2007.

One Workplace was the first firm in our industry to recognize a growth opportunity in education, though personally the first few years in that professional transition were rough. I felt deep guilt for leaving the family legacy in education to pursue a capitalistic endeavor. But after a few failures and lots of learning, we identified and developed a dynamic need for a different approach to learning environments and a set of services that resonated with some of the leading schools and universities in Northern California.

In 2013, I co-founded One Workplace Learning Environments, a small team focused on designing dynamic spaces for teaching and learning that is now a standalone division within the company, and the most talented education-focused group of its kind in the industry. Currently, I lead several similar divisions across the One Workplace organization and spend a lot of my time identifying opportunities and developing new offerings to serve our customers.

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

In 2016, our team collaborated on an education-focused initiative at IDEO called The Teachers Guild. This collaboration was neither a paid engagement nor tied to any revenue opportunity. We joined because we enjoyed spending time with the smart, purpose-driven people involved in the project. With almost zero notice, we were invited to join a presentation with the IDEO team in Washington, DC. We hopped on a plane the next day and found ourselves in a room at the White House with educational thinkers and leaders from across the country collaborating with Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” team.

This engagement led to connections with leading organizations and an opportunity to have a seat at the table with leaders shaping the national discourse in getting young people from underserved communities to and through college. The key takeaway from the experience was my realization that some of the most impactful partnerships in my professional career were forged by diving in based on the quality of people involved, not the immediately evident business opportunity.

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

One Workplace is a 90-year-old, family-owned company, and we’re also a wildly entrepreneurial and innovative organization. Our founder, Elmo Ferrari, started by delivering books and office supplies to customers in downtown San Jose on a bicycle. He’d end every delivery with the simple question “What else can I do for you?” Over the years, that question has led the company to continually evolve to meet our customers’ needs, adding solutions and services. It also allowed One Workplace to grow, innovate in our industry and become a leader in the market. And we recognize how fortunate we are to be operating in the heart of Silicon Valley, working with some of the world’s leading innovators. One Workplace has been able to thrive because of this winning combination of the company’s humble beginnings, authentic commitment to service, entrepreneurial spirit and partners who challenge us.

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 deeply grateful to Jan Hahn, a true friend and mentor. Jan was a consummate professional, and a veteran leader in our industry. While not an educator, she saw the potential for our company in the education vertical market and went on a search for someone with the passion, background and skillset to build upon. Jan saw something special in me and invested in a young educator with absolutely no business experience. She committed personal time and resources to “show me the ropes” and mold some pretty rough clay into a solid business professional.

After working together for several years to validate our model and build our business plan and strategy, Jan became very ill. She had to step back from the business to focus on her health. One Workplace Learning Environments launched with Jan on the sidelines. Over a two year period, we started, failed early, found our footing and ultimately began to experience some success. During all this, Jan was fighting for her health and unable to fully participate in the realization of her concept which was crushing to her and to me. Sadly, Jan succumbed to her illness, but I hold her in my heart and try to lead in ways that would make her proud.

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 love this topic.

Resilience is an essential element of leadership and one that has deep personal meaning. I define resilience as the absolute refusal to be thwarted by the roadblocks and setbacks you’ll invariably encounter on any meaningful journey. In the face of 100 reasons why something is impossible to achieve, resilient leaders continue to pursue the ideas they believe in and thrive in the face of adversity.

I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement.

Encountering adversity is an indication that you’re on the way to building something great! Lesser leaders abandon the journey at that point. The ability to stare adversity in the face and overcome obstacles is what separates the wheat from the chaff. The ability to anticipate adversity, and to confront and overcome it, is a hallmark of resilience and great leadership.

Resilience is a painful muscle to develop, but those who exercise it are primed for success.

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

My first thought is my cousin and goddaughter, Korrine Croghan. She was born on my 16th birthday, and we had a special bond from the very beginning. We often spent time together and deeply enjoyed one another. When she was 14, Korrine was diagnosed with Choriocarcinoma, a rare pediatric cancer. She battled the disease bravely, always stared it straight in the face. As the cancer progressed and she endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, her grit and positivity inspired everyone around her. Her struggle with cancer brought together not only our family but her greater community.

Unfortunately, we lost Korrine after a 10-month battle — the most heartbreaking moment of my life. Strong to the very end, she lived life with determination and a heart full of joy. We keep her spirit alive through a nonprofit organization called Team KC, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support families of pediatric cancer patients. Korrine is with me always and I still miss her immensely.

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?

My early years with One Workplace were marked by a series of unsuccessful endeavors. First, I joined the company on the front edge of the financial crisis — not a good time for a career pivot into sales. By the time my onboarding was complete, the market for our products and services was anemic. In the absence of a deep skill set or an established customer base, my strategy was to look for opportunities in the environment I was most familiar with and passionate about: public K-12 education. The commonly held belief in our industry at the time was that there was no market for innovative learning environments in public K-12. It was a commodity-driven, low-bid environment. Schools were primarily buying cheap, bullet-proof chair-desk combos and lining them up in rows facing the front of the classroom.

That affordable, uninspired model had been in place for the better part of a century, heavily influenced by factory production settings. When I began engaging with school districts and pitching the idea of a dynamically different approach to classroom design, I was laughed out of the room. It didn’t help that the ideas I was espousing were about 30% more expensive than the norm — generally a non-starter in education. Though I had a lot of support internally, most in the company viewed the endeavor as a fool’s errand.

Early results of the endeavor proved the doubters correct. I failed repeatedly and had very little to show after almost 2 years of effort. But then a funny thing happened — the more I learned about and pitched innovative learning environments, the more convinced I became that schools desperately needed to reimagine their physical spaces. Bringing this concept to Bay Area schools became a singular focus that I refused to abandon.

Everything changed when I elevated my conversations to the highest levels of leadership in a school district. I found a few Superintendents looking to drive dynamic change in their learning spaces and willing to experiment with pilot spaces. We implemented, iterated and measured. The results were stunning, and the projects started flowing. Today we have a thriving and profitable practice in K-12 that is serving hundreds of thousands of teachers and students.

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 our education practice, the summer season is madness. Most schools that implement large classroom projects work within a three-month window between June and August. Seventy-five percent of our volume comes in those months. One of the most challenging aspects of our work is coordinating massive product shipments with manufacturers located across the globe.

In 2016, we were planning for our largest project to date: a district-wide classroom project that involved hundreds of classrooms. As installation approached, we began getting signals that our primary supplier was having manufacturing challenges. The situation deteriorated over the summer to the point that it became apparent that the supplier was going to significantly miss delivery deadlines. To compound the issue, the district had recycled all their old classroom furniture. The classrooms were empty and the first day of school was approaching.

My conversation with the Superintendent of that district letting him know the classrooms would not be ready for school was one of the most difficult of my career. He trusted us and staked his reputation on our project. I felt like a failure and had a deep sense of shame around the situation. But leaving the district without furniture was simply not an option.

We engaged with some of our largest corporate customers to borrow tens of thousands of tables and chairs from their storage facilities. We delivered these items to the district at no cost and were able to open school with furniture in every room. Almost 2 months later, the new items arrived, and we completed a dynamic refresh in every classroom.

Our relationship with the district actually improved as a result of this near-catastrophic situation. The Superintendent appreciated our honesty, communication and creative problem-solving. The district went on to become our largest customer over the next several years and a source of countless referrals.

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

During my sophomore year in high school, my mother fell into a deep depression. For the better part of a year, she was bedridden and unable to function. She was in such a dark place that she attempted to take her own life. She survived the attempt, but this was the most challenging period of my young life.

Through this experience, I learned several important lessons. First, depression is real and can be devastating. Taking care of yourself is paramount. You can’t be good for anyone else unless you are good to yourself. I also came to realize that almost everyone is dealing with a challenge that is often invisible, even when all seems well externally. Many of the people we encounter every day are fighting a silent battle that we never see.

Today my mother is strong and vibrant. She is an incredible grandmother and a pillar in her community. She is forthright about her battle with depression and spends a lot of time mentoring other women through her church and in the recovery community. Seeing her take mental illness head-on and learn to thrive has been an inspiration to me. I love and admire my mom’s resilience and I’m grateful for her presence in my life.

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. Anticipate Adversity. The first step in the pursuit of anything meaningful is to expect the journey to come with challenges. If it was easy, someone else would already have done it.

2. Fill Your Tank. Prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally for your journey. Strength in these areas is key to resilience. Take care of yourself and stay sharp along the way. It’s amazing how much impact good sleep and regular exercise can have on your ability to navigate adversity.

3. Get a “Personal Board of Directors.” Surround yourself with strong people with skills that fill your gaps. Associate with people smarter than you. Seek truth-tellers who care enough about you to call you on your bullshit. A team like this will keep you honest and act as your rudder in rough waters.

4. Roll with The Punches. When you get knocked down the first time, bounce back up with a smile and renewed determination. Identify the reasons you faltered and fill those gaps. There’s nothing more discouraging to someone trying to defeat you than when their best punch fails to knock you out.

5. Give Generously. This one might seem out of place, but I think it is an essential element of resilience. Generosity is energy-giving. It allows you to step outside of yourself, develop empathy and focus on the needs of others. Your giving can come in the form of time, skills or resources. Give more than you think you can, and you’ll be surprised by the strength it returns.

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

I’d spark a movement to get people outside while they are learning and working. I’m a huge believer in the restorative power of the outdoors. Fresh air and natural light are an abundantly available resource that could radically improve people’s experiences if spaces were thoughtfully designed to handle the challenges associated with being outside.

With today’s reality of questioning how we will safely gather in large groups indoors, we have an amazing opportunity to reimagine how outdoor spaces can become an integral part of the working, learning and healing experience. We’re thinking about this idea a lot right now and looking for organizations willing to explore creative ways to come together outside of traditional four-walled settings.

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 🙂

I’m a huge fan of Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce, and would love to share a meal with him. I admire the culture he has developed within his organization and his leadership. Mark is committed to using his platform and personal wealth as tools to drive impact in causes he is passionate about. I aspire to reach levels of influence and success that will allow me to give generously and drive change in similar ways.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trevor-croghan-9866b32/

My Instagram handle is @trevcrog

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

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on an important topic. I really enjoyed the conversation.


Trevor Croghan of One Workplace: “Five Steps That Someone Can Take 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.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Barbara Duffield & SchoolHouse Connection Are Helping People To…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Barbara Duffield & SchoolHouse Connection Are Helping People To Overcome Homelessness Through Education

A number of years ago, a college student attended a workshop I was conducting at a national conference. She mentioned her struggles with the financial aid office (she was an unaccompanied homeless youth, and the financial aid office kept giving her a hard time about documenting her status, despite federal policies in place requiring financial aid administrators to remove these barriers). I connected the student to people in her home state who I knew really well — people I knew would advocate for her directly in all areas of her life. I also stayed in contact with her. Over the next few years, she experienced many challenges, including having nowhere to go during academic breaks and serious mental health struggles resulting from her traumatic childhood. A number of adults, myself included, pulled together to help her address these various needs, one by one, as they came up. This student not only graduated, but also became a tremendous advocate for other youth experiencing homelessness. For this student, like many students in our Youth Leadership and Scholarship program, advocacy can be both effective and therapeutic. In seeing her own power to change systems and impact the lives of other people, she came to more fully believe in herself and value her own agency.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Duffield.

Barbara Duffield is Executive Director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education. Barbara began her career as a tutor for children experiencing homelessness in Washington DC in 1990, served as the Director of Education for the National Coalition for the Homeless from 1994–2003, and as the Director of Policy and Programs for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in Washington D.C from 2003–2016. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan.)

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up in rural Michigan, the youngest (by seven minutes — I’m a twin) of four children. My parents were both raised in blue-collar families: my paternal grandfather worked in the steel mills of PA, my maternal grandfather was a butcher in a small village in OH, and neither of my grandmothers were allowed to finish high school. My parents were the first in their respective families to attend college, and my father ultimately became a children’s dentist. My parents worked incredibly hard to make sure that I had the opportunity to go to college. Coming from a rural community, I was enthralled to meet new people from different backgrounds at the University of Michigan in the late 1980s. It was there that the seeds of advocacy were planted and blossomed.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

When I first moved to Washington DC, I interned at Foreign Policy Magazine (my interest was international affairs, at the time). A copy editor took me under her wing and introduced me to Project Northstar, an after-school tutoring program for children experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia. Working one-on-one with children in Project Northstar was transformative. I saw their endless possibilities and potential — the same abilities and aspirations as any other child — but also the grueling deep generational poverty that threatened their futures. Seeing them struggle — but also seeing them succeed — inspired me to focus on education as a lasting pathway out of homelessness, one that transfers across generations. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to create and grow scholarship programs, and through them, I’ve been a part of many young people’s journey to self-realization through education. “It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” Brown v. Board of Education.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

In the big cities you mentioned, there has been a significant increase in visible homelessness — that is, homelessness principally among single adults living on the streets. But family, child, and youth homelessness is both longstanding and far less visible, because families with children and unaccompanied homeless youth are rarely visible on the streets or in encampments. Instead, most stay with other people temporarily because they have nowhere else to go, or in motels, or moving between many unstable situations. Family, child, and youth homelessness has never been only an urban problem, and it’s hardly a recent one. Nevertheless, it has gotten worse over the years. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, public schools identified and enrolled 1.5 million homeless children and youth, aged preK-12 — that’s the highest number on record. The U.S. Department of Education also estimates an additional 1.4 million children under age six are experiencing homelessness.

The causes of increases in homelessness are complex, and vary across regions. In some areas, the lack of affordable housing has gotten worse; in other areas, the opioid and methamphetamines crises have contributed. Deep poverty persists, particularly for young children. Domestic violence remains a leading causal factor for families, as does abuse and neglect, and the abject failure of the child welfare system for youth who are homeless on their own. Systemic racism, across all systems, has a pervasive impact on homelessness.

I’d also argue that the homelessness assistance system, such as it is, has contributed to increasing homelessness: the move to quick-fix, one-size-fits-all housing models; the defunding of services; and the de-prioritization and exclusion of most youth and families who experience homelessness from homeless services have contributed to entrenched homelessness. The bottom line is that we aren’t addressing the complex root causes, we aren’t supporting individualized and community-based solutions, and we aren’t prioritizing youth and families — we’re just trying to get the most visible people experiencing homelessness out of sight, without recognizing the steady stream into street homelessness, much of which begins in childhood.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

There isn’t such a thing as a typical progression into homelessness, but we do know that many homeless adults have histories of childhood homelessness. Many homeless adults actually did not start out as healthy young people with stable places to live, a job, an education, and a family, and with a social, and community support system. Instead, homelessness is often a multi-generational phenomenon. For example, 20% of unsheltered homeless adults in Los Angeles indicated that they first experienced homelessness when they were under age 18, and 25% when they were young adults between the ages of 18–24. In Seattle, 18% of homeless adults indicated that their first experience of homelessness occurred when they were under age 18, and 27% when they were between the ages of 18–24. And in the state of Minnesota, more than half (52%) of homeless adults surveyed first became homeless by the time they were age 24, and over one-third (36%) first became homeless at or before age 18.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) also are correlated with adult homelessness. Examples of ACEs include emotional abuse, neglect, mental illness, parental separation and substance abuse. As the number of ACEs in a person’s life accumulate, the likelihood of experiencing homelessness increases. In Minnesota, the majority (73%) of homeless adults had experienced at least one ACE, and over half (59%) reported multiple ACEs. For each ACE reported by homeless adults, the average age of the first episode of homelessness drops considerably.

Finally, some of the best research on pathways into homelessness comes from a study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. The study found that lack of a high school degree or GED is the single greatest risk factor associated with homelessness as a young adult, followed by having a child, and having a low-income.

Taken together, these findings reveal the long-term harmful impact of ACEs and how child homelessness can lead to youth homelessness, and then adult homelessness, where children of homeless adults may start the cycle again.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

People experiencing homelessness — which includes children, youth, and families — do not have the resources to move. In the case of families, it is also difficult to move with children. Youth who are homeless on their own may not even be old enough to sign a lease, so the cost of housing isn’t the driving factor and won’t remedy their homelessness.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

There is no best way, because every person is a unique. I do think it is very important to acknowledge each person’s humanity, through eye contact and/or a greeting. I also think it is important to imagine that person when he or she was child, and try to understand how many children are at risk of being in that same position some day if we don’t intervene and prioritize their needs.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Again, there is no best way. Minimally, respond politely and acknowledge their presence.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

SchoolHouse Connection engages in state and federal policy advocacy, from early childhood through higher education, and also provides practical assistance to communities nationwide. We’ve led efforts to strengthen federal protections and increase resources for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. For example, our advocacy led to a 32% increase in funding for public schools to identify and support homeless children and youth over the past four years — that translates to more children identified, enrolled in school, and receiving support to make it to graduation, which is their surest path out of homelessness permanently.

At the state level, we’ve achieved state policy reforms directly impacting over 600,000 youth by leading advocacy on 23 bills in 14 states, 16 of which became law. Those 16 new state laws are making specific, tangible improvements in the lives of homeless youth in a variety of areas, including increasing access to health care, shelter, housing and services; increasing access to employment; increasing access to vital documents needed for work and school; increasing high school graduation; and increasing access to and success in post-secondary education.

We work equally hard on making sure that laws are implemented robustly and with fidelity, which means creating and sustaining best practices locally, whether through tools like child-proofing checklists for shelters, assisting counselors with credit accrual for high school students, or removing barriers to financial aid for homeless youth in college. We also play a convening role, bringing early care providers, educators, and service providers together to share innovations and create action plans through webinars and trainings.

Finally, we support a Youth Leadership and Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to youth who have experienced homelessness to ensure their completion of a post-secondary education program. Our program also builds a stable peer and adult support network, and offers young people meaningful opportunities to engage in advocacy. Through this program, we ensure that all of our work reflects the lived experiences of young people and includes them as full partners.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

The outbreak has caused even more mobility and danger for families and youth, especially those who stay with other people temporarily and thus who are not protected by eviction moratoria, and who cannot self-isolate or stay safe. Many of these families and youth were asked to leave, yet there is no shelter for them; most can’t pay for motels; and they are not a priority of the local homeless response systems. Communities have undertaken great efforts to move single adults from the streets and shelters into motel rooms, yet many families are being evicted from motels, often because they have lost their low-wage or sporadic jobs and can no longer pay.

At the same time, the closure of schools and early learning programs due to COVID-19 has been devastating. Schools and early learning programs were the one safe, stable place in the lives of children and youth experiencing homelessness — the place where their basic needs were met, and where they had a routine, normalcy, and opportunities to escape the dangers of their living situations and to focus on their futures. Now, school district homeless education personnel, and early learning family support staff, struggle to maintain contact with these students, who continue to move so often that even food delivery is challenging. And even if these students are provided devices and hotspots, the places where they are staying are not conducive to learning. The outbreak has increased their trauma, isolation, and deprivation; it has split up families, and put many in harm’s way. In short, it has created the conditions for massive and unprecedented adult homelessness down the road.

However, even with closures, schools and early learning programs are still the largest and the best source of support for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Education is the only system with the clear mandate to identify and support all children and youth experiencing homelessness, regardless of the availability of shelter. Educators are still working to find students, connect them to resources, and minimize disruption to learning. They are still a lifeline.

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

I’m most proud of the creation of SchoolHouse Connection. Together with one of my best friends and co-conspirators, Patricia Julianelle, we founded SchoolHouse Connection just three and a half years ago. We have a dynamic team, a large and diverse national network, and close relationships with young people and educators who inform our policy and our practice work. In a “housing ends homelessness” world, we’ve been able to maintain the integrity of our vision, which embraces education as the only permanent solution to homelessness, and we’ve achieved numerous tangible accomplishments. Starting and building a new organization has been an astonishing amount of work, but particularly now, in the midst of the national crisis of COVID-19, I am proud that SHC exists.

Prior to SHC, I’m most proud of the amendments to the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Act, and to the Head Start Act of 2007. I remember the days when liaisons were not required in every school district, when the right to stay in the same school and receive transportation did not exist, when preschool was not included, nor the transition to higher education. Similarly, Head Start programs now must remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, and participation of children experiencing homelessness. Seeing the impact of these policy changes over time, and knowing the lives they’ve changed — it’s profound.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

A number of years ago, a college student attended a workshop I was conducting at a national conference. She mentioned her struggles with the financial aid office (she was an unaccompanied homeless youth, and the financial aid office kept giving her a hard time about documenting her status, despite federal policies in place requiring financial aid administrators to remove these barriers). I connected the student to people in her home state who I knew really well — people I knew would advocate for her directly in all areas of her life. I also stayed in contact with her. Over the next few years, she experienced many challenges, including having nowhere to go during academic breaks and serious mental health struggles resulting from her traumatic childhood. A number of adults, myself included, pulled together to help her address these various needs, one by one, as they came up. This student not only graduated, but also became a tremendous advocate for other youth experiencing homelessness. For this student, like many students in our Youth Leadership and Scholarship program, advocacy can be both effective and therapeutic. In seeing her own power to change systems and impact the lives of other people, she came to more fully believe in herself and value her own agency.

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

  1. One of the most important things people can do is educate themselves about the realities of child, youth, and family homelessness. This means getting answers to common questions, listening to children, youth, and families, reading their perspectives, and understanding what research has to say about the role of education and services.
  2. I can’t say enough about the role of public schools, and public education. Public schools do more to address the root causes of homelessness than any other public system. But they need help, whether it is calling the local school district homeless liaison to ask what is most needed, speaking up at school board meetings, working through parent associations, or advocating for more funding for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth program.
  3. Policymakers and the public are often focused on people who are visibly homeless, who clearly need help from all levels of government and society. But if we want to address the root causes, we need to start to talk about homelessness as a children’s issue. Practically, this means talking to local, state, and federal elected officials, and asking what they are doing to address child and youth homelessness. The very act of asking, and raising the visibility of the topic, can create change.

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. Congress needs to support homeless and trafficked children and youth in the next COVID-19 legislation. These children and youth have been largely left out of previous coronavirus legislation. In order to prevent further harm, dedicated resources are needed through the programs and systems that are best positioned to immediately help children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness, and ensure their long-term stability.
  2. Right now, the narrow definition of homelessness used by housing agencies keeps children and youth invisible, and prevents collaboration among systems. It is a non-sensical, bureaucratic definition that doesn’t match the lived reality for youth and families, and hides the harms they experience. Ultimately, it perpetuates homelessness. The Homeless Children and Youth Act, HR 1511, would change this by amending the housing definition of homelessness to align with the education definition. Not only would this allow some of the most vulnerable children and youth to be assessed and served, it would give communities a true picture of the extent of homelessness among youth and families, and more flexibility to use homelessness funding to meet local needs. It is a desperately needed “upstream” solution.
  3. In order to have the strongest chance of success, and obtain a job that pays enough to afford housing, youth need some kind of education beyond high school. While we’ve made great progress in early childhood and K-2 education, higher education does not yet have protections and supports in place for youth who are homeless or have come from foster care. The Higher Education Access and Success Act for Homeless and Foster Youth, S. 789, H.R. 1724, removes many barriers to higher education for homeless and foster youth — barriers that we see every single day with our students. It would help ensure that these youth benefit from college access programs, have access to financial aid without burdensome and prohibitive documentation, and receive the support they need to stay in school and graduate.

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

On some days, rage and indignation — at how homelessness prevents children and youth from becoming whoever they want to be, at the apologists who defend broken systems and bankrupt paradigms, at the fundamental cowardice of “leaders” on both sides of the aisle. On other days, deep connection to, respect for, and inspiration from the educators and providers in our network who are moving mountains in their communities, making real and lasting change. And on other days still — most days, in fact — genuine love for children and youth, and genuine hope as I watch the young people in our scholarship program conquer their past and build their futures. They are worth it. All of it.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I don’t know that there will be a day where this great social challenge is solved completely. Child, youth, and family homelessness is the result of many different systemic issues and personal factors. But what I do know is that no child or youth should ever have to live without a home or basic needs; every child deserves the opportunity to succeed. We should be working together — policymakers, educators, service providers, agencies, and more — to build better systems and drive solutions that get at the root causes of these issues. By centering children, youth, and education in solutions to homelessness, we can get ahead of this challenge and prevent more children from struggling as adults.

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. “You will always cry.” I used to get embarrassed at my open display of emotions — sorrow, joy, sorrow again. I used to think that maybe I’d get it under control, maybe I’d get used to the stories I hear from educators, providers, parents, youth. I wish someone had told me it’s just how I’m wired. But fortunately I learned from a close colleague, a homeless school district liaison in Alaska who modeled the best professional cry behavior. She just keeps talking through her tears, never missing a beat, her tears functioning as an involuntary physical adjustment to maintain her emotional balance, like shivering when a cold breeze comes through. It’s healthy, it’s who we are. I care much less if my crying makes other people uncomfortable. Homelessness should make us all uncomfortable.
  2. “Homelessness is an industry, complete with industry lobbyists, investors, and propagandists.” I began my career at the National Coalition for the Homeless, under the tutelage of the legendary homeless activist Michael Stoops. The orientation at NCH was very much of grassroots organizing — working directly with service providers and others on the frontlines, as well as people directly impacted by homelessness. It took a while to perceive that these grassroots service providers were separate from — and often at the mercy of — a larger apparatus of funders and industry advocates who have great influence inside and outside government, and who are fundamentally disconnected from local and personal realities of homelessness. The best example of this is the staunch industry opposition to aligning the housing definition of homelessness with the education definition to match the lived realities/vulnerabilities of children, youth, and families. Even now, the industry opposes change — despite research confirming the vulnerabilities for homeless children and youth, regardless of where they sleep; despite strong support from the professionals who are working directly with children, youth, and families who meet both definitions; despite billions of dollars being appropriated for homelessness in connection with COVID-19, and billions more proposed; and despite even higher risks for children and youth who are forced to stay with others and in motels. If I had understood how deeply entrenched, tightly controlled, and powerfully established industries are — and that homelessness is an industry — I would have adopted different tactics sooner. Certainly, I would have spent less time trying to persuade people whose ties to the industry are too strong.
  3. “The good guys aren’t always good.” After college, I started out with an assumption that Republicans always would be obstacles, and Democrats always would be allies. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not an issue that breaks cleanly along party lines. Far from it. The three greatest fights of my career — opposing separate schools for children experiencing homelessness; preventing the child welfare system from abandoning its responsibility on educational outcomes; and reforming the HUD homeless system to recognize and respond to child and youth homelessness — have not been partisan battles. Even now, in an incredibly polarized, divided political landscape, one can’t make assumptions about where legislators stand on issues related to children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Realpolitik is so much more nuanced. Personally, I embraced independent status in the mid-1990s. Professionally, I wish I would have found this pragmatism sooner.
  4. “Many things can be true at once.” Earlier in my career, I was prone to over-simplification; advocates naturally prioritize the issue they think they understand the best. But my direct relationships with young people, over time, have led me to embrace complexity. The personal and the systemic are interwoven: it is both the piling on of broken systems, and the decisions that adults make, that result in child and youth homelessness. Oversimplification makes for good slogans (like “housing ends homelessness”), but addressing one aspect of a complex problem doesn’t solve it, and also sidelines some of the players (like early childhood and public schools) that have the most to contribute. In our work, we strive to connect early childhood to K-12; K-12 to higher education; higher education to early childhood; and all to housing, health, and other services. The nodes between systems are leverage points for connecting these dots.
  5. “Hazy goals produce hazy results.” My 8th grade English teacher wrote those words on the top of a writing assignment. The purported goal of “ending homelessness” or reaching “functional zero” is an example of a very hazy goal that had produced tragically unintended results. At SHC, we’ve opted for clear goals around early childhood enrollment and participation, high school graduation, and postsecondary attainment, with interim measures in each area, to advance long-term change. Keeping a laser-like focus on those goals, which are tied to so many other measures of well-being (including housing stability), helps us achieve meaningful, powerful results.

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. 🙂

Listening. We have lost the ability to truly, deeply listen to people whose views and experiences are not our own. We’ve closed ourselves off into toxic echo-chambers, surrounding ourselves with people who affirm our views and confirm our biases. Progress on social issues like homelessness requires being able to hear out people with opposing views, and adopt a solution-oriented mindset. It also requires listening to people who have experienced homelessness — including and especially children and parents. For all the emphasis on ‘centering people with lived experience’ in homelessness advocacy, it is shocking how rarely that includes children and their parents, and how rarely what they say is heeded. There is more “youth voice” in homelessness advocacy now than ever before, which is great, but children and parents are missing.

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

My mother is full of life lesson quotes. “You never know until you try,” and “The worst they can say is no,” are two of my mother’s mantras that helped me get over my childhood bashfulness, and helped pave the way toward advocacy.

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

I am a Muppet fanatic. Being an advisor to Sesame Street Workshop continues to be a highlight of my career, especially working on the content for the family homelessness initiative, which features Lily, a seven-year-old muppet experiencing homelessness. I never got to meet Lily “in person,” and I would love to do so. Lily is an ambassador of hope for children all over the country. Just as profoundly, she has helped adults see homelessness through the eyes of a child. I’d love to make ribbon bracelets with Lily, paint rainbows with her (adding lots of purple, her favorite color), and give her a great big hug to say “thank you” for being so brave and sharing her experiences.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.facebook.com/SchoolHouseConnection/

@SchoolHouseConn

@DuffieldBarbara

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Barbara Duffield & SchoolHouse Connection Are Helping People To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Larry Seamans & FamilyAid Boston Are Helping To Prevent…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Larry Seamans & FamilyAid Boston Are Helping To Prevent Homelessness Before It Starts

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started our staff haven’t missed a beat in providing quality services to our families. They have gone above and beyond putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver food, supplies and financial assistance to our growing number of clients. Their willingness to do whatever they need to for their clients keeps me going every day.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Seamans, President of FamilyAid Boston.

Larry Seamans assumed the role of President of FamilyAid Boston in July, 2018 bringing with him 35 years of both corporate and nonprofit experience. Larry is well-acquainted with the detrimental effect of youth homelessness, as his two older adopted children spent a large part of their early lives in homelessness, as did his Little Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Since joining FamilyAid Boston, Larry has built a number of new and strengthened nonprofit, public and private partnerships, and developed new initiatives to meet the needs the needs of one of the nation’s largest per capita number of children and children experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I’m a second generation American. I grew up with 13 family members in a three-bedroom household. We lived that way due to economic reasons which has given me some insight into the struggles of working-class families trying to make ends meet.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

As part of my long career, I had been working as chief program officer at Pine Street Inn, the largest individual homeless program in New England, when an incredibly provocative map of the United States — designed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness came across my desk. The map illustrated the rate of family homelessness in every state across the country. Massachusetts had a large red dot showing we had the 4th highest rate of family homelessness. Even as someone working in the field, I was shocked by this number. I realized the severity of child and family homelessness was an invisible crisis, with far more attention, focus and resources being paid to resolve a far more visible adult street homeless population like the one Pine Street helps.

Thinking of the number of homeless children resonated with me because homelessness has touched the lives of so many people I care about; my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, my actual brother, and my own children.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

For homeless families in particular it’s all economics. From 2018 to 2019 Massachusetts jumped from the 6th most expensive state to live in to the 3rd most expensive state to live in and wages aren’t keeping up. A single parent in Boston working a minimum wage job would need to work 3.5 full-time jobs to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at fair market value. That’s in addition to all the time spent parenting — attending parent teacher conferences, helping with homework, cooking dinner — there aren’t enough hours in the day for a parent working a minimum wage job to make ends meet.

The recent COVID Pandemic has made the situation event more dire.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

This is interesting framing as most homeless individuals and certainly most of the children and parents experiencing homeless do not start as healthy young people with a place to live, a job, an education, and a large support system. The vast majority of homeless individuals have underlying and untreated mental health and substance issues and experienced housing instability as children. Most families who experience homelessness are there due to poverty and many are trapped in an unbroken cycle of intergenerational poverty. For all there are underlying class, racial dynamics to how and why families end up in shelter.

In the City of Boston there are nearly 37,000 children living in poverty without enough resources to live safely and that’s where our families start. Going from being unstably housed to homeless is not a large leap. All it takes is one incident to push a family over the edge: a lost paycheck because a parent misses work to take care of a sick child, an unexpected medical bill, or having to make the tough decision of choosing to feed your child over paying rent. It is an impossible cycle.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

In the case of homeless families, the goal of every family is to have a job and jobs are often located in cities where — at least in Boston — there is an unfortunate high cost to housing and less affordable housing in outlying areas accessible by public transportation. Almost all of our families are working and almost all are working lower income jobs because of education barriers and a lack of support to complete their education. Moving or commuting is also expensive, and for families it means uprooting their children from their schools and social environments. For most of our families, transportation to jobs poses another barrier, outside of cities there is little access to public transportation adding the additional expense of owning a car.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

In Boston, it is rare to see a homeless family on the streets. Despite the fact that 61% of the homeless population in Boston is families. You don’t see them on the street because it is an invisible crisis. Spending the night on the street with a newborn or toddler isn’t feasible, so homeless families stay in cars, hospital waiting rooms, or double up with other families teetering on the edge of homelessness. People are more like going to encounter a homeless individual on the street, who is most likely challenged by mental health and substance use disorders, the best way to help them is to encourage them to go to the local resource centers available in their communities.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Giving a homeless individual money or food encourages them to stay on the street. Best way is to encourage them to seek a local shelter or soup kitchen where they will also get counseling.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

FamilyAid Boston takes a three-prong approach to addressing family homelessness. The best way to stop homelessness is to prevent it. We recently launched two new, innovative prevention programs in partnership with Boston Public Schools and Boston Children’s Hospital. Teachers and doctors are often the first point of contact to know when a family is struggling. We’ve partnered with these institutions so we can catch families before they fall into homelessness and mitigate the trauma homelessness has on children. There is a tremendous demand for these programs and our success rate is among the highest in the country with a 99% retention rate.

During the pandemic our prevention numbers have swelled in 2020: we had 200 children and parents newly enrolled in these programs from January to March, and more than 1,200 more since the outbreak in Mid-March. The prevention safety net doesn’t catch everyone though, which is why we provide also provide shelter to families that have already fallen into homelessness. Our 123 shelters provide families with clinical case management services and housing placement services to ensure families can move out of shelter and return to stable housing as quickly as possible. To address the current pandemic’s economic fallout, we are opening a new shelter in the next few months. Each year, we move 40% of our families from shelter into stable housing, well above the national average of 25%.

Once we get families back into stable housing, we stay with them. We know that the first year back in stable housing is a precarious time for families and when they’re most likely to fall back into homelessness. Our case managers work with families throughout this time to ensure they can stay in housing for the long-term. 98% of the families we work with remain in their own housing a year after moving out of shelter.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

The homeless and housing-insecure families that FamilyAid Boston serves have been in crisis since schools, daycare centers, and all-but-essential workplaces closed their doors in March. With each passing week, the long-term economic damage to the families we serve only worsens.

Although it is nothing we have done before, we immediately began providing emergency relief to the 1,200 children and adults currently in our care who indicated that they were in dire need, providing food, supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to our families, increasing our shelters’, housing and office disinfection frequency, and installing equipment designed to reduce community spread or to monitor the health of sheltered clients and staff. In addition, we are supporting children’s access to education by upgrading internet service in our shelters and purchasing Chromebooks to children who have not received them from their schools. These additions also help parents’ to access public information, benefits and resources.

The humanitarian relief work that we are undertaking is happening while the majority of the staff works remotely in keeping with the Commonwealth’s stay-at home orders. Those engaged in the frontline work are fully protected by PPE and practicing appropriate social distancing when possible. All frontline staff working in the community, including shelter managers, facilities staff providing disinfection services, and all staff helping to procure, package and distribute food and supplies to our families are paid extra “hazard” pay. Utility costs at our shelters are 50% higher than normal due to families sheltering in place 24/7. We have forgiven 3 months of rent for families who are live in housing owned and operated by the agency to stabilize their precarious financial situations.

Through the end of June, we project more than $1.1M in pandemic-related expenses that are above and beyond our ordinary operating budget, but necessary to keep our vulnerable clients and staff safe. Given the likely closure of camps and slow return of the economy, we anticipate we will need to continue to provide support to our families well into the fall.

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

Every day I am inspired by the amazing work of FamilyAid Boston’s staff and the resiliency of our clients. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started our staff haven’t missed a beat in providing quality services to our families. They have gone above and beyond putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver food, supplies and financial assistance to our growing number of clients. Their willingness to do whatever they need to for their clients keeps me going every day.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

I’d love to share a story about our work during the COVID-19 pandemic and our client Laura. Laura is a single mother of two girls, ages 6 and 9. Both girls are naturally curious and love learning new things at school. Laura’s 9-year-old, Kelly, had just started learning about volcanoes in science class before schools closed for COVID-19 and asks her mom every day to tell her about how volcanoes work. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura worked at a large retail chain in Boston. She had been there for 5 years and was being considered for a promotion to assistant manager. Once schools and non-essential businesses closed, Laura was furloughed from work, showed up at our shelters where she has had to turn her attention to homeschooling her girls in their shelter space. Laura had no idea how she would be able to feed her girls the next week as she no longer had any income. Previously, her children ate breakfast and lunch at school every day and she had just enough to get them by. Suddenly she had nothing.

Laura’s FamilyAid Boston immediately began triaging the situation with Laura expressed her worries about feeding her children. Within the day, FamilyAid Boston staff were knocking on her door in masks and gloves delivering food, supplies, and personal hygiene products. Laura was so grateful knowing she would have enough food to feed her daughters. After a couple weeks of food deliveries, her case manager reached out to Laura again and asked her if she had a checking account. Laura told her she did, and her case manager delivered the good news — FamilyAid Boston would be depositing $100 into her account each week so she can purchase the items her family needs most. The day after the first deposit, Laura went to the corner store (in protective gear provided by FAB) and bought ingredients for her daughters’ favorite meal. After she put her daughter to bed that night with full bellies, she wrote an email to her case manager: “I know you never forget me, and I am really grateful for that. I am at home with my kids all day and they do nothing but eat. I was just starting to worry about getting more food. Thank you so much for delivering supplies and giving me this money. I don’t take anything for granted especially now, and just wanted to say thank you on behalf of me and my daughters.”

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

  1. Advocate for more a low-income housing in high cost urban communities. There is a lack of low-income housing in Boston and across the country. If there is nowhere for working families to live then we should not be surprised by the growing number of homeless families we see.
  2. Advocate for minimum wage laws. Proportional to living expenses, the standard minimum wage is too low. We need people to speak up across sectors and advocate for a livable wage.
  3. Volunteer and donate to front line agencies that are trying to manage the economic crisis for low-income families at the bottom of the economic ladder.

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. Abolish super-majority requirements Sufficient low-income affordable housing
  2. Supporting low-income wage earners and their families
  3. Increase accessibility for educational and social supports for children

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

The sheer volume of children who are in need and the fact that unless we do something we are creating a second generation of homeless individuals. It is within our power as an agency and a society to change that.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

Poverty and homelessness have been with us since the beginning of time, but we have to hold out hope that it can be eradicated. There are moments in history when there has been a significant reduction in poverty and homelessness. In recent year, there have been successful efforts to reduce the number of chronically homeless veterans and individuals. If we can do that for individuals, then certainly we can do it for children and families.

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

After more than 15 years in the corporate marketing world with Procter & Gamble and Viacom, among others, I thought I had been trained to take on the challenges of the non-profit world

  1. “Train for a marathon not a sprint”– in corporate marketing, the world evolves around short-lived campaigns, sales cycles, quarterly earnings/marketing share. Ending homelessness is a long-haul issue, and the cycles are intergenerational. It takes a different long-term mindset to make even short gains against it and to help children overcome their difficult start while also helping their parents find housing and employment.
  2. “Self-care is not a luxury” I have seen many professionals enter the non-profit world because of their passion for an issue. Without proper self-care, many nonprofit executives burn out out from “compassion fatigue” as their avocational interest and concerns sync up with their professional life. As a result, the average tenure, nationally of a nonprofit CEOs is little more than two years
  3. “A cow has more than one fly time” — This phrase was shared with me by a fellow corporate “transfer” from the Midwest. It means that one must remain tenacious and persistent regardless of rejection or defeat. It’s something we encourage our clients to consider and one I share with staff as we see and struggle with out clients as they struggle with many ups and downs on their way to self-sufficiency.
  4. “What you see is not what you get” — It’s very easy, I know, for some who are well-educated and financially secure to either pity or look down on the homeless. I was one of them a long time ago. But after more than two decades in human services and working with more than 5,000 individuals that have been disenfranchised, marginalized or forgotten, I have come to see that all that separates the haves and have nots is one unlucky situation, one medical illness or a societal prejudice that prevents a person from achieving their dreams. I’ve learned to see the commonality, dignity and determination in all of us to create a better life for ourselves and our children.
  5. “It takes more than bootstraps” — Having been raised in a large immigrant family, I was raised to believe that all it takes is hard work to succeed. Order the course of my career, I have found that it takes more that than that: being in the right place at the right time, knowing the “right” people, being on the side of the current political bent of a community, being deemed as having the physical ability or enabled, and often times having the preferred skin color or educational pedigree. And sometimes, just sheer dumb luck.

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

I would want people to join us in trying to end poverty and homelessness. There are 65,000 children and parents in Boston alone who are one missed paycheck away from falling into homelessness. I want people to join us in ensuring that our neighbors are able to have the basics: food, clothing, and housing.

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

My mentor, a nun from Philadelphia who came to our small coal town to educate its children, always told me, “Larry, to truly know the world, you need to walk a mile in everyone’s shoes.”

As a kid from a small town with a small perspective, I thought she just garbled the old proverb. Much later in life, I understood what these words meant as I had the opportunity to travel the world and see all of its challenges and beauty. I wish I had a greater understanding of the complexities of the world at an earlier age. Gaining a better understanding of the world, and remembering this quote, is what eventually inspired my career change from the corporate sector to the nonprofit world.

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. 🙂

Jeffrey Bezos — We were very fortunate to be one of a select few organizations to receive a grant from Mr. Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund to tackle family homelessness and early childhood education. I would love the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Bezos to let him know first-hand how his contribution to FamilyAid Boston has made a tremendous impact on families in the Greater Boston area.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on:

LinkedIn: Larry Seamans

Twitter: @LarrySeamans2

You can follow the work of FamilyAid Boston on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @familyaidboston.


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Larry Seamans & FamilyAid Boston Are Helping To Prevent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty

It starts with kindness. It is important to not look down on people who are experiencing homelessness. A smile or conversation can go a long way toward helping someone know you care. If they ask, I would be open to giving them a gift card to a grocery store or nearby fast food restaurant, or other food items you may happen to have with you.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaysen Van Sickle.

Jaysen Van Sickle is a father, professor and as of 2018, the Executive Director of Hope Faith — Homeless Assistance Campus. Jaysen completed his undergraduate degrees from KU and his masters’ degrees from Rockhurst, including an Executive MBA. Prior to joining Hope Faith full-time, Jaysen and his son were dedicated volunteers.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

Jaysen is a Texas native who relocated to Kansas City when he was 4 years old and jokes he’s been going to school ever since. With undergrads from KU and graduate degrees from Rockhurst, Van Sickle is now doubling as a professor and the Executive Director for Hope Faith — Homeless Assistance Campus (& Covid Relief Village) in downtown Kansas City, MO.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) is really to credit. This job brings me joy; it fills my cup.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

There are many contributing factors which makes this a very loaded question. As much as we all want to end homelessness, when you’re in it and really seeing and understanding the many contributing factors to homelessness, you know there are many underlying factors that must be addressed. We know homelessness isn’t going away. It is our goal to reduce the amount of time someone experiences homelessness. That sometimes takes long term dedicated one-on-one consultation (aka case management) and other times, a few quick phone calls. This is not a one size fits all crisis nor is it always viewed a crisis. We believe in taking care of each other, and regardless of what brings someone to Hope Faith, we are committed to doing that.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

Again, another loaded question as no two life journeys are exactly the same. We know a number of factors can contribute to this including but not limited to addiction, mental health challenges, tragedy, or any number of things that occur along one’s life journey. In this instance, for someone who had an income and a strong support system to become homeless, a catastrophic event, such as a job loss, an unanticipated medical expense or a divorce, may have occurred. If a person with the background you described came to Hope Faith, we would likely be able to provide them with the services and support needed to regain employment and housing.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

If only it were that simple, right? People experiencing homelessness cannot easily move. Transportation is a huge barrier. Without a car or money to afford a plane ticket or a bus pass, this is easier said than done. We have a program called Hope Cycles, which provides bicycles and cycling gear so that our guests can get to school, work and medical appointments. While this program helps with transportation locally, moving hours away or to another state is usually not possible.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

It starts with kindness. It is important to not look down on people who are experiencing homelessness. A smile or conversation can go a long way toward helping someone know you care. If they ask, I would be open to giving them a gift card to a grocery store or nearby fast food restaurant, or other food items you may happen to have with you. Granola bars are great to carry with you. Another way you can help is by becoming aware of what organizations provide homeless services in your community and making sure people experiencing homelessness know about those resources.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Rather than giving cash, it is a better idea to give food, water, gift cards, blankets, clothing or other necessities.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Hope Faith, Kansas City’s only daytime assistance campus, provides for the immediate and long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty throughout the Kansas City metro. In 2019, we served more than 6,000 unduplicated individuals.

As COVID-19 started spreading around the world and getting closer to the United States, my staff and I began planning for how we were going to continue serving our guests. Hope Faith has been designated an official homeless crisis center by the City of Kansas City, Missouri. To best meet the needs of our guests while complying with CDC health guidelines and social distancing recommendations, our homeless assistance campus expanded outdoors, allowing for services to be offered in a safe, secure village, where the risk of being infected with COVID-19 is decreased. Through working with the community partners and the city, we have also ensured guests exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 can be tested and quarantined at a nearby hotel.

We are serving approximately 200 individuals daily and providing the following services Monday through Saturday:

  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Sanitation stations
  • Heart to Heart International (International Medical Crisis Group) has their mobile medical unit assisting at our village. Swope Medical Group also reached out offering their mobile medical unit, too. We have acquired COVID-19 tests, so we are now able to help our fellow Kansas Citians even more.
  • Intensive case management that provides connections to human service organizations, area agencies and external mental health agencies. Hope Faith is the only agency currently providing case management services to people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Kansas City. Case managers also help with employment referrals and housing navigation.
  • Mail service
  • Men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing distributed as needed
  • Private indoor showers

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

There is a lot of anxiety right now. No one knows how or when this is going to end. There are health and economic concerns that the homeless community have and providers grapple with daily. Fortunately, though, we have been able to rapidly adjust to a new reality and continue offering services, which would not have been possible without the generosity of Kansas Citians and our community partners.

One of the main initial concerns was how to quarantine individuals who lack housing. Now that a housing plan is implemented in our community for individuals who could have COVID-19, we are continuing to make sure everyone has access to sanitation products, can get their temperatures checked and have access to food, wellness checks and other necessities. We are working hard to help flatten the curve and reduce the potential for community spread. A virus this contagious could quickly overwhelm the homeless community and strain hospitals. With many of our guests having pre-existing medical conditions, they are more likely to have a severe case of coronavirus and be admitted to the hospital. Our job is to keep everyone as healthy as we can. In the coming months, our case managers will also be helping guests update their resumes and search for employment.

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

I remember sitting at my desk on Monday, March 16, thinking about how the heck we are going to pull off having an outdoor campus. I was staring at giant wedding tents on Amazon and finally said ‘screw it’ — and hit purchase on three 20 x 23-foot wedding/event tents. From that moment, everything became real and timelines were now set in motion. In seven days, we went from a one-click Amazon order to closing off Virginia Avenue. We assembled the three giant tents then anchored them into the street. Simultaneously, Veterans Community Project (VCP) coordinated to install barricades, port-a-potties, and dumpsters while other homeless agencies, corporations, churches, etc., were calling and asking what we need to make this a success. Between the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness (GKCCEH), VCP, Hope Faith, Mayor Lucas and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, we had everything to man the front lines for months to come!

On Wednesday, March 25th, the Homeless Assistance Village went live. The night before, I was not able to sleep. My thoughts were consumed by how many people would need us in the morning and could we support and keep them out of harm’s way? From the moment we opened, I was shocked by the sheer volume of families, children and senior citizens who we had never seen before on our campus, asking for help. It became immediately clear to me that we were no longer a homeless assistance village, but a community assistance village.

Given that this is a medical pandemic, on Thursday, April 2, with help from my friend from Farmers Insurance, we received tents, tables and supplies to assist in creating our onsite first-aid space. That had an immediate impact. People from all over the Northeast community came to seek medical assistance. And the response from volunteer doctors, nurses, and even pharmacists has been mind-blowing. Non-emergency medical personnel have answered our call for a volunteer staff for our Hope Health onsite clinic. I will never forget the community support Hope Faith has received!

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

A guest was housed just last week (during this current pandemic) and he had this to say: “I’ve been on these streets for more than 7 years. I filled out a VAT because I thought what’s the hurt in trying since everything else has fallen through. Today, I move into my apartment. I woke up feeling like I could breathe for the first time in 7 years!” The fact that we can continue partnering with people in this way, during a pandemic, is nothing short of a miracle.

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

Absolutely! 1.) Be kind. You never know what someone is going through. Lend an ear, a smile, whatever you can to lift someone up…it will lift you, too. 2.) Know your community. Know where people can go for help. Direct them there. 3.) Don’t look the other way.

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

The main legislation I would push for is to provide more funds and resources to the agencies serving a population that get left behind or do not have the means to do it themselves.

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

What is keeping me going is making sure Hope Faith can continue serving our guests during the pandemic. As the virus came closer and closer to KC, I got less and less sleep. I struggled with how I would keep my staff safe, but at the same time, how would we continue to serve those experiencing homelessness and poverty through the turbulent months to come? I felt like the weight of the city was coming down on me. Every human ponders what their preordained ‘dare to be great moment’ will be, but when you are facing it, there is no manual for how to attack it.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for the homeless community because of coronavirus. How many more waves will there be? As states begin to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, when will the economy bounce back?

If we are hit with a second wave in the fall, homeless service providers and society in general should be better prepared to care for our communities, but the road ahead is long. People experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable to pandemics and natural disasters because they lack access to health care and have pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Then there are the individuals who will become newly homeless as a result of losing a job. Losing an income makes it hard to pay bills, but the psychological impact can be just as profound.

What I hope happens is that the lessons learned from the pandemic cause great reflection that lead us closer to eradicating homelessness. Natural disasters, just like Hurricane Katrina did, demonstrate the flaws and inequities in our social structures. We need to realize that many Americans are a paycheck or two away from not being to make their rent or mortgage payment. When we start looking at the problem this way, then there becomes greater urgency to destigmatize homelessness and look at what policies need to be adopted to make healthcare more accessible and increase the affordability of housing and child care.

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. This pandemic would be a marathon and not a sprint!
  2. You would carry the weight of a population on your shoulders
  3. There would be many long weeks and sleepless nights
  4. You would have to deal with so many “Zoom Meetings”
  5. You would become the face and voice of your fellow homeless agencies

Either way, I would still do it all over again!

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. 🙂

PAY IT FORWARD! I have always been a big advocate for your actions speaking louder than any words you speak. Until they become real, they are just words!

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

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

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. 🙂

President Jimmy Carter. He wasn’t our greatest President, but his giving-heart is like no person I have ever seen. Just to grab lunch with him, listen to him and be in his presence…I truly believe he is one of the few ‘Mensch’ on this earth.

How can our readers follow you online?

I encourage everyone to visit Hope Faith’s website (HopeFaith.org) for more information on our services and COVID-19 response. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (HopeFaithKC).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and… 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: “Telehealth With Your Vet” With Dr Shlomo Freiman of Petriage

The Future Is Now: “Telehealth With Your Vet” With Dr. Shlomo Freiman of Petriage

I think COVID exposed some vulnerability in the veterinary industry. Vets are essential, but in many cases are asked to only treat urgent cases, and even then, they must do so while socially distancing. Those who hadn’t established telehealth already were clamoring for a solution. I am hopeful that vets are finally feeling some urgency to adapt to a more virtual environment. Their clients have come to expect it. I’m pretty confident in the future of telehealth.

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

Shlomo Freiman, DVM, is a co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Petriage, a leading pet health technology company that provides fully-integrated telehealth solutions for veterinarians and their clients. A graduate of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine and 26-year career veterinarian, Dr. Freiman created Petriage to help veterinarians and pet-parents provide the best possible care for their pets.

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

I grew up in a small, rural community in Israel. Although our local vet lacked the great resources and technology that we have today, he was always there for us and for our pets. That stayed with me. As a vet, I really enjoy building these strong relationships with my clients, helping them understand the often-complex medical issues facing their beloved pets, and guiding them through all the choices and options available to them.

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

I once treated a broken leg on a dwarf hamster that weighed less than one ounce. They don’t make special dwarf hamster casts, so I had to really get creative, so I fashioned a splint out of paperclip. That experience has stayed with me because it reminds me that sometimes to get the best result, you have to think creatively and apply unusual solutions.

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

We don’t have anything significant underway that counts as “bleeding edge,” but we are starting to look at how to incorporate data from wearable technology into our existing AI, which could have significant implications for animal health and wellness.

How do you think this might change the world?

Incorporating historical and real time data from wearable into an AI can tremendously improve the ability to predict the urgency level of medical care for a specific pet. Moreover, it will in many cases greatly influence how we diagnose and treat animals.

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

Veterinarians are highly-trained, medical personnel treating pets. Technology like our teletriage symptom-checker app, does not give pet-owners license to avoid the vet or treat their pets at home. And, for vets, telemedicine is not a replacement for in-person pet treatment.

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

In 2015, after 21 years in practice, I got an off-hours call from a family friend, whose dog, Bodhi, had suffered a mild seizure. My friend was on the way to the emergency animal hospital when he called. Based on preliminary information he gave me over the phone, I knew Bodhi was not in an emergency situation. I advised him to turn around and bring Bodhi to me in the morning. Bodhi turned out OK, and my friend saved probably hundreds of dollars by waiting until the next day.

That experience led to the creation of Petriage. I wanted to give all my clients the same 24/7 access to reliable health information, help them avoid unnecessary trips to the animal hospital and reassure them their pets are getting the care they need.

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

I think COVID exposed some vulnerability in the veterinary industry. Vets are essential, but in many cases are asked to only treat urgent cases, and even then, they must do so while socially distancing. Those who hadn’t established telehealth already were clamoring for a solution. I am hopeful that vets are finally feeling some urgency to adapt to a more virtual environment. Their clients have come to expect it. I’m pretty confident in the future of telehealth.

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

We want people to really understand the benefits telehealth has on their practice. Of course I’ve integrated telehealth into my practice fully, and I try to serve as a case study and role model for other vets. Petriage is being offered to its members by the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, and our marketing partners are helping spread the word that remote pet care is compelling during this time of sheltering-in-pace. Because our product fulfills a real need, we believe it doesn’t require outrageous marketing.

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 amazingly super smart, resilient, loving, and beautiful best friend, business partner, and wife for 36 years, Mindy Stern. There are so many stories so it is hard to choose just one but we will go with this one.

My first year at Cornell vet school and it is all about anatomy. ow, I have a lot of strengths but acquiring new languages is not one of them and for me not knowing latin and, at the time, only basic english, anatomy was like learning a new language, especially knowing how to pronounce all these new words.

At night after a full day at the office and after our children were asleep, Mindy would record a tape for me, slowly enunciating these strange words from my anatomy textbook. We lived about an hour drive away from Ithaca, so when there was no snow on the roads, I would play the tape in my old station wagon and hear her voice saying, “ tibia, fibula, jejunum…” Not only did I learn the words, but I got such encouragement from her to succeed in school. She’s been my biggest supporter.

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

1.) In life you will fail way more often because you do not try then because you tried and you failed.

  • Because I would have had more confidence in myself much earlier in life.

2.) Most people underestimate how much they can actually achieve so they never reach their full potential.

  • Because more often than not you only get one shot at things.

3.) Maximizing what you can maximize and minimize what you can minimize and not waste mental energy on the variables you cannot control.

  • Because it allows you to live life with much less anxiety and more energy to tackle the things you need to tackle.

4.) Personal growth happens at the edge of your comfort level and it is also where the exciting and scary parts of life happen.

  • Because only by continuous personal growth, we can adapt to the ever-changing life and reality around us.

5. Most people promise more than they will probably deliver so make sure to have low expectations.

  • Because it is easier and much more pleasant to be pleasantly surprised by people then constantly disappointed.

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

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Often attributed to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt but actually originated by Henry Thomas Buckle.

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 🙂

Veterinary medicine is a $19 billion industry in the U.S. Until Petriage launched its platform in 2015, there was no way for veterinarians to efficiently communicate with their clients and provide care remotely and after hours. Petriage’s platform, which is fully integrated with the practice management software that powers veterinarians’ clinics, addresses that need. We are scaling very rapidly, as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have highlighted the importance of telemedicine solutions.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The Petriage social media accounts share a lot of great information about caring for pets, as well as just-for-fun pet content — everyone loves pictures of cute animals. You can follow us at:

· https://twitter.com/petriage

· https://www.instagram.com/petriage/

· https://www.facebook.com/Petriage/

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


The Future Is Now: “Telehealth With Your Vet” With Dr Shlomo Freiman of Petriage was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brad Jashinsky of John’s Incredible Pizza: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years”

The permanent closure of thousands of retail locations will create millions of square feet of empty retail space that malls and shopping centers will need to find ways to fill. These store closings will create opportunities for pop-up shops from large brands, small neighborhood businesses, and local artisans. More affordable and shorter commitment leases will provide opportunities to a new set of entrepreneurs that will bring more innovation to the retail world.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Jashinsky.

As Director of Marketing and Sales at John’s Incredible Pizza, Brad Jashinsky oversees all sales and marketing activities for the company’s 14 family fun centers. Before joining John’s, Brad drove successful business results through industry-leading marketing campaigns for companies in the entertainment, tourism, and technology industries, including the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park resort and Razer, the leading lifestyle consumer electronics brand for gamers.

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

Believe it or not, I have a knee injury to thank for my marketing career. I tore my ACL playing high school football. That injury dramatically changed my career path. The school counselor suggested that I replace my football class with a technology class. That one fateful decision helped me pursue a new career path of marketing and technology instead of athletic dreams. I sometimes still wonder where I would be if that hadn’t happened. Probably not in the NFL …

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

There have been so many interesting and incredible stories throughout my career. I still pinch myself when I think of the projects and people I have had the great opportunity to work with. One interesting story that comes to mind was when I gave Nicholas Cage and his family a tour of the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park. He was an extremely grateful and friendly person that loves the famous fried chicken that the park serves. It was interesting to spend a few hours with a major movie star who is also such a big part of Internet culture. He shared some great stories about filming the National Treasure films, which were partially filmed at Knott’s Berry Farm’s replica of Independence Hall.

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 developed an app for the Six Flags chain of amusement parks while still in college. This was shortly after Apple’s App Store launched and no theme parks had developed mobile apps. I flew to their headquarters in Times Square to pitch the executive team. The presentation was a disaster. This was my first time in New York. I barely made it on time, because I got lost on the way. I didn’t realize there were summer rainstorms in the forecast so I didn’t bring a jacket or umbrella. I hadn’t memorized my talking points and couldn’t get the projector to work. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even bring back-up paper copies of the presentation. So all eight people huddled around my laptop as I bumbled through the worst presentation of my life while soaking wet from the rain, adding insult to injury. Fortunately, the group was forgiving and looked past my lack of preparation.

One mistake after another happened that I can now look back on and laugh at. I was horrified at the time. I still think about that presentation. It haunts me to this day and reminds me of how important it is to prepare and have a back-up plan. Ever since then, I have always brought an umbrella, packed extra adapters, created back-up paper copies, and memorized my talking points.

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

I feel fortunate to be working with the great team at John’s Incredible Pizza to reinvent our business model due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has banded together to pivot our family fun center buffet concept into a technology-driven endless menu table service. We will offer an all-you-can-eat endless menu that is ordered through our app and brought to guests’ tables by our friendly staff. Every person in the company has been working hard to create a safe and fun environment for our guests. We are so excited to help families continue to create fun lifetime experiences at our locations.

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

My biggest tip is to find a partner or close friend that can help you create fun traditions to keep you from burning out. My wife Meghan has been instrumental in helping me find more balance in my life. She reminds me to come up for air and take time for activities that are not related at all to work. We have a fun ritual of making dinner at home and watching The Bachelor or another funny reality show a few nights a week. I still struggle to find the right work/life balance, but she has helped me make a lot of progress in the right direction.

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

There are so many people throughout my career that have helped me along the way. One person that comes to mind is Kevin Wynn who led the marketing and sales team at Knott’s Berry Farm. He taught me the value of patience and how to not get caught up in the details. I was so frustrated by the lack of progress on our website redesign that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I took out my frustrations on the team. Instead of reprimanding me, he coached me to look at the bigger picture, take a step back, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.

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

My Mom volunteered throughout my childhood and brought me along to help whenever she could. During the early part of my career I spent less time volunteering as my focus turned to work. Her death was a tragic reminder not to wait until later in life to begin giving back. That helped me renew my commitment to giving back throughout my life instead of only after I retire. One of the ways I give back is through mentoring. I have met with hundreds of students and entry-level graduates to teach interview tactics, conduct résumé reviews, and provide career coaching. I love being able to connect people with career opportunities and help build professional connections.

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?

The Future of Retail Is Experiences

A 2017 report by Credit Suisse predicted 25% of malls will go out of business by 2022 leaving millions of square feet of retail space empty. That will likely be accelerated by COVID-19. What will happen to all of that space? I predict that experiences will be a major part of the future of retail. Trampoline parks, indoor theme parks, go-kart family fun centers, and virtual reality games have already started to replace many department stores in malls. The new American Dream Mall in New Jersey is a look at the future of the country. It was originally designed to have 55% entertainment space and 45% retail space but has already pivoted to 70% entertainment space and only 30% retail space. Our 14 chain indoor family fun center currently has four locations inside malls. We plan to open more locations inside of malls in the coming years. Each location takes up the space of a large department store with over 50,000 square feet of rides, arcade games, dining, and more.

Curbside Pickup Is The Present and Future

Many retailers were forced to quickly expand curbside pickup options due to COVID-19. Most have seen impressive results, including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. I expect this trend to continue and become a major consideration during new store designs and location refurbishments. Nordstrom rolled out its new concept Nordstrom Local into urban locations in Los Angeles and New York City. The locations serve as convenient service hubs for online order pickup and returns, express alterations, and stylist consultations. These smaller locations are less expensive to build, conveniently located to more consumers, and require less staff to operate.

Pop-Up Shops Will Continue To Grow

The permanent closure of thousands of retail locations will create millions of square feet of empty retail space that malls and shopping centers will need to find ways to fill. These store closings will create opportunities for pop-up shops from large brands, small neighborhood businesses, and local artisans. More affordable and shorter commitment leases will provide opportunities to a new set of entrepreneurs that will bring more innovation to the retail world. Some of my favorite pop-up shop examples include The Poundshop design collective’s budget-friendly boutique, Chicago’s Green Market Garden flower shop, and the Hello Kitty Cafe container pop-up.

Hybrid Retail Experience Stores Will Become The New Normal

Retailers will continue to find new ways to offer experiences such as exercise classes, cooking demonstrations, and training seminars to entice shoppers to visit. Lululemon uses its stores’ weekly complimentary yoga classes to create deeper relationships with customers. Apple has redesigned its stores to provide more room for the popular Today at Apple classes that offer sessions on photography, programming, and more all centered around using their products. Even more traditional retailers like Staples have reconfigured their stores to include Spotlight Space to host speaker sessions, hands-on workshops, and educational seminars for small businesses.

Seasonal Attractions Will Be Important Retail Center Traffic Drivers

Seasonal attractions, such as haunted houses, Instagram art museums, and interactive theater experiences, will no longer be relegated to strip malls, warehouses, and abandoned shopping center parking lots. The abundance of retail space caused by store closures will create new opportunities for these types of seasonal attractions to be located in more prominent locations. In addition to helping pop-up shops, more affordable and flexible leases will help seasonal attractions. Similar to the role movie theaters have played, these attractions will become important traffic drivers for retail centers. Except these attractions offer an experience that is not easily replicated at home.

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. 🙂

As I briefly mentioned before, I have benefited so much from mentorship throughout my life and I have tried to give back as a mentor. I work with a great organization called the Orangewood Foundation in Orange County, California to mentor foster children. Both my father and uncle were adopted so the cause has always been close to my heart. My wish is that more people will join the movement to help mentor at-risk kids, especially foster children, during their formative years. You can truly help change lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@BradJashinsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BradJashinsky

LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bradjashinsky/

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

Thank you!


Brad Jashinsky of John’s Incredible Pizza: “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.

Andrew Leger of Serendipit Consulting: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and…

Andrew Leger of Serendipit Consulting: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

Always sweat the details. They matter, particularly when creating and building a brand. Small mistakes like that can quickly torpedo any well-researched and built out plan.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Andrew Leger, Director of Account Service at Serendipit Consulting

Andrew is the Director of Account Service, where he manages the day-to-day operations of the account service department. He also leads the branding department. As a core team member, heʼs experienced the growth from a small, five-person agency to the full-service 25+ employee agency Serendipit is today. His expertise lies in content strategy, project management, brand creation, strategic media buying, and overall brand strategy — all leading to projects that are on time, on budget, and on strategy. Andrew brings both right & left-brain thinking to the table with a blend of high-creative as well as practical problem-solving. A natural storyteller, Andrew leads a team known for engaging consumers in unique and unexpected ways. Andrew has used his years of branding experience to develop the proprietary Serendipit Brand Workshop, a uniquely creative experience for clients. Andrew serves on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix Connect Board.

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

It’s always been marketing and branding for me! When I was ~10, I created my first brand…”The Lawn Ranger.” It was a lawn-mowing business I ran in my Missouri neighborhood, with the horrible accompanying Microsoft Word clip art on the flyer. That creativity stuck with me and has helped me along my entire career path as a brand marketer.

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

When I was just a young coordinator, I was in charge of collecting and sending t-shirt design/printing quotes to a client. In my rush, I named the subject line of the email “t#*@t quote update,” forgetting the all-important “r.” I’m pretty sure the client never even noticed, but it hurt me deeply every time I opened that email thread.

Always sweat the details. They matter, particularly when creating and building a brand. Small mistakes like that can quickly torpedo any well-researched and built out plan.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

To be completely honest, there hasn’t been a “tipping point.” It’s super cliché, but when you work hard, you work smart, and dedicate yourself to continual learning and research, you’re going to get the results. I love branding, so having a passion for every project we take on is a huge factor in success — you need to love what you do.

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

We’re working on creating a virtual iteration of our brand workshop, which is going to be PERFECTION in the new normal. We’re all used to the new ZOOM world, but our plan goes well beyond fun virtual backgrounds and virtual face-to-face interaction.

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

Don’t work 24/7. I don’t dedicate every minute of my life to branding/marketing. Read non-branding/marketing books. I love Shea Serrano’s work — it’s hilarious, surprisingly insightful, and always leads to insane — in the best way — ideas. Watch movies. Go hiking. All that work will stay in your subconscious and you’ll be amazed at the great ideas that spring out of nowhere.

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

Brand marketing (branding) is building and developing your identity as a company. Branding is everything from your voice and behavior to your design style and yet, it’s so much more. It’s drilling down on precisely HOW you want to be perceived by the marketplace and matching up to your key values as an organization. Those are the things that make you unique.

Brand marketing is very much about telling your story, your way. It’s creating and weaving together an entire experience for your consumers. Ultimately, you lay the groundwork for how people FEEL about your brand. Your brand values should resonate at every touchpoint, whether in person or virtually.

Product marketing is focusing your marketing efforts around the product itself. For example, X product is THE BEST because it has these benefits, etc, etc. The brand takes the backseat to the product here. We’re throwing down stone-cold facts of why the product is the best and how it will change your life.

Important to note here — these can intertwine. Brand marketing might be the main focus of a campaign by using that storytelling aspect, but it can include product marketing. For example, we’re promoting Coca-Cola as a brand by telling our story and emotionally connecting with the consumer, but we’re featuring Diet Coke woven into the branding.

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

Consumers connect to brands. Are their products/services a big part of that? Sure. But, one of the biggest hurdles every business owner will come to face is how to make their brand stand out from the competition while staying consistent with messaging and standards. When you build a brand, you have to humanize your brand. It’s simple. People respond best to people. Your consumers want a personality, and they want to relate to your brand and message. They don’t want a robotic, faceless message and would prefer to connect with you over shared ideas. We value connection — it’s how you build a loyal following of brand loyalists shouting your praises. Finally, let me hit you with some stats:

  • 86% of consumers prefer an authentic and honest brand personality on social networks. (Source)
  • 65% of people have felt an emotional connection with a brand. (Source)
  • Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23% (Source)
  • Customers who have an emotional connection with a brand have a 3x higher LTV (Source)

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

Does your logo still look like it was drawn up in the 60s, but you’re an innovation-driven company? Time to rebrand.

If someone asks you what your purpose is and you either don’t have an answer or it’s complete BS, it’s time to get authentic and rebrand.

If your answer to someone asking you what you do is “sell product x”, you don’t have a brand, you have a product. It’s time to rebrand.

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

Don’t rebrand just for the sake of rebranding. You can evolve as a brand without scrapping everything and starting from scratch. Each brand should be as unique as its respective industry. Let’s say you have a brand that’s 80 years old and only changed your logo once. If your messaging is still on point with your target demo, you’re building brand loyalists on a daily basis, I wouldn’t touch it. A big piece of your brand may be that 40-year-old logo that your consumer base LOVES.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a 5-year-old brand that’s pivoting along your path to success. You might need a full rebrand (or at least brand updates) more often as you determine your “brand path.” It’s all dependent on circumstances.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Designate a Personality and Style

Every brand should have some sense of brand personality and style that is easily recognizable by its consumers. If multiple consumers were asked to describe your brand, they should all have similar answers. In one of my branding blogs I wrote that crafting a great brand personality is a lot like wearing deodorant — it’s something that everyone should do, and it becomes apparent very quickly when it’s not there. I stand by those words.

Here are a few examples of big brands and their personalities that we all know:

  • Disney — the most magical place on earth, family-friendly, childhood memories, a positive persona that works for all ages
  • Tiffany & Co. — timeless, sophisticated, elegant, charming, blue box, true love
  • Apple — innovative, creative, tech, way of life
  • McDonald’s — quick, family-friendly, convenient, variety, consistent quality

Write and Share Your Brand Story

  • Take your consumers through your entire journey and be transparent. Share the highs and the lows. Telling the story will help make your brand more relatable, and your consumers will appreciate your product or service more by understanding the story behind it. If you take one thing away from this, share the obstacles you’ve overcome — if it’s been impactful in making your brand unique, people will connect with that.

Make Sure You Have Brand Guidelines

  • 95% of companies have formal brand guidelines. Only 25% consistently enforce them. (Source) Take every essential piece of info about your brand, its personality, its aesthetic, and create your brand guidelines. Now share it with everyone who touches the brand. Tell them; this is your creed. This is the way. You don’t build a brand personality with just a “modern, clean logo” and an “honest, strong, bold” voice. You turn a brand personality into a differentiator by making a concerted effort to create consistency across all your marketing tactics, on every medium.

Don’t Play It Safe

  • Don’t be afraid to be unique. Don’t be scared to “go there.” TFortune favors the bold, as the old saying goes. The BOLD stands out from the masses. Chances are, you have stiff competition. Be true to yourself and create a memorable brand. Playing it safe won’t get you remembered. Take that leap — we always tell our clients we want them to be the ones pulling us back.

Don’t Take It All On Yourself

  • Yes, you know your company best. But do you know your brand best? As brand marketers, there is a push and pull here. We push what we believe our brand is in our story, messaging, logo — but sometimes our consumers and ground level people can give us great insights. Focus groups, surveys, etc., all have their place in branding and brand development. Learn and understand what people are saying about your company — and that doesn’t mean just the senior leadership and internal team. Hearing what’s being said outside your walls is what really matters, otherwise, you’re dwelling and operating from inside a bubble, and it’s only a matter of time before it bursts.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

We had an absolutely amazing rebrand project with a company named “Roadmaster Group.” They brought all their stakeholders to the project with an open mind, which is one of the biggest things you can do, along with listening to feedback from their drivers and consumers. We took their logo and made it into something that fully represents their new brand story — and then created everything from their key messages to the tagline. Today, they’re on a fast track to new heights of success.

Bring a creative, open mindset to any branding exercise and you’ll reap the results.

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. 🙂

Eh, let’s go with medium influence. See, humble is part of my personal brand traits. I’m a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs Of The Valley Connect Board. So, shout out the amazing people over there, I’d love for everyone to realize the AMAZING amount of good they do for the communities they serve. They truly change kid’s lives. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS.

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

I have a bit of an active brain, so my favorite quotes change on a weekly basis. This week, it’s “Throw Your Heart Across The Line, Your Body Will Follow.” Everything you do should be done with passion — your employees, co-workers, clients all gravitate towards that.

How can our readers follow you online?

Check out Serendipit on all social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, LinkedIn)


Andrew Leger of Serendipit Consulting: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Virtual Live Wellness Program” With Jillian Bridgette of…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Virtual Live Wellness Program” With Jillian Bridgette of Virtual Health Partners

Now more than ever being able to provide a fully customized and personalized virtual solution is imperative. Our virtual, live wellness program creates a sense of community using an approach that incorporates small virtual group support led by nutritionists, health coaches, psychologists and social workers, to make clients feel less alone and also to keep them on track with their health goals while working with health experts in person is not an option in our new post COVID-19 world.

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 Jillian Bridgette.

Jillian is the CEO & Co-founder of Virtual Health Partners, Inc. In May 2015, Jillian launched VHP with the goal of creating an ecosphere of wellness support available anywhere and anytime. With over 15 years of experience in the medical industry, Jillian was responsible for the multi-million-dollar growth of three start-up companies, with a strong focus in the non-invasive weight loss space. Starting her career at Johnson & Johnson, then moving to Novare, ElectroCore and Apollo, Jillian specialized in development, implementation, growth, and marketing for new medical procedures. Jillian received her Bachelor of Science from Rutgers University Business School.

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

When I first graduated college I went into corporate finance. I was in AT&T’s Financial Leadership Program. I quickly learned that corporate finance was not my passion and by luck ended up in the field of Medical Device Sales. My first medical sales job was with Johnson & Johnson as a Territory Assistant. Within 6 months, I was promoted to manage my own territory and then shortly thereafter, I was invited to join the Management Development Program. I tremendously enjoyed being in surgeries and seeing less-invasive surgical procedures in the OR start to take off. I spent a lot of time observing gastric bypass, open heart, spine, and orthopedic surgeries, along with the treatment of diabetic and pressure wounds. Many of the patients I saw were overweight or obese, and witnessing firsthand the link between obesity and these major health issues strongly influenced my career path.

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

In my mind the most amazing or interesting story that has happened since beginning VHP is the moment when I was looking at an updated org chart, and in black and white saw the amazing team that has been assembled to work together at VHP. Many members of our team have been in my life for well over a decade. To see their passion for VHP is a gift that keeps on giving. It is also key to the great success VHP continues to have.

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

I believe the key to success is having a great team. Surround yourself with people who you can trust, who motivate you and lift you up and who you genuinely enjoy being around — both personally and professionally.

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”?

Virtual Health Partners (VHP) is redefining virtual healthcare offering by providing condition-specific live support for nutrition, lifestyle and fitness support. Offered exclusively through our network of partners including insurers and self-insured companies, hospital systems, and health product companies including fitness clubs, VHP’s Business-to Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C) model provides a SaaS and PaaS solution that fully customizable and scalable. Through the privacy compliant, HIPAA compliant platform, VHP provides its partners with a turnkey solution for clients in the areas of weight loss and weight loss procedures, metabolic syndrome, oncology, women’s health, digestive diseases, cardiac rehab, preventive medicine, plastic surgery and general wellness

The company is now on the forefront of virtual care and uniquely positioned to address the rising demand and challenges that Americans and people across the globe face during and post the coronavirus pandemic, as social distancing is not just going to go away quickly.

Now more than ever being able to provide a fully customized and personalized virtual solution is imperative. Our virtual, live wellness program creates a sense of community using an approach that incorporates small virtual group support led by nutritionists, health coaches, psychologists and social workers, to make clients feel less alone and also to keep them on track with their health goals while working with health experts in person is not an option in our new post COVID-19 world.

How do you think this will change the world?

While many companies are rushing to build interactive online experiences from scratch, something that is both expensive and time consuming, VHP Business Partners benefit from a turnkey, built and proven platform, that is also fully customizable. The VHP team brings a breadth of knowledge that delivers immediate connections and meaningful experiences.

Even after the COVID-19 threat has diminished, it’s unlikely that fitness centers and physician’s offices will be able to operate at full capacity for some time — if ever again.

With gym and medical office closures nation-wide, patients can find the content they need to stay on track pre or post surgery on the VHP platform. VHP provides personalized tools which guide patients to eat a healthier, more nutritious diet, while helping manage specific conditions and their symptoms. VHP also provides fitness and lifestyle content to support healthy behaviors, ideal for someone post-op.

VHP helps physicians provide after-care support to patients who are not able to make it into the office and also gives gyms a way to extend services to members who feel safer working out from home or who just can’t fit into the likely now limited class capacity. It truly is the way of the future for many healthcare and fitness providers to connect with and support patients/members in this new world.

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

I spent many years in medical device sales and business development with a focus in the weight loss procedure space. One device that I helped to launch was revolutionary as you did not need surgery to be able to suture. It was used to help tighten up the stomach of patients who had regained weight after weight loss surgery. Between watching the downfall of the lap band and seeing the need for this procedure, the void in the marketplace and the need for a turnkey solution became apparent to me. Weight loss procedures require a lot of follow-up. What became apparent to me is that you can give patients a single tool, like a surgical procedure or a “tightening”, but they really need a full toolbox to succeed. This toolbox needed to go beyond what patients experienced in the office and be accessible throughout their day-to-day lives. Patients needed a combination of nutrition, lifestyle modification, and fitness support all in one place, accessible on-the-go, at hours that fit their schedule.

I shared my idea with VHP’s co-founder and successful bariatric surgeon, Dr. Shawn Garber. He saw the need too and Virtual Health Partners was born. What I didn’t realize at the start, was that this tool we had built would receive so much interest from people outside of the traditional weight loss industry, that we pivoted early on to become a multi-condition focused platform, delivering the same live virtual nutrition, lifestyle and fitness services across all verticals, utilizing the backend software to provide a customized and personalized experience for the patient. A few short but busy years later, VHP now has partnerships in eight different verticals including fitness, oncology, fertility, aesthetics, cosmetic surgery, GI, orthopedics, and weight loss.

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

We have currently supported over 300,000 users and growing. Now more than ever during COVID-19 the ability to support all age groups in helping them deal with managing stress, healthy eating with limited food sources and ways to stay fit at home is a whole new level of accomplishment. We have been passionate about supporting the Medicare population since our inception, making sure the interface was easy to use for all ages. We have developed specific programming to help combat nutrition and loneliness issues, along with being able to bring a sense of community virtually to those alone. Being able to support this population, along with cancer patients, Crohn’s disease sufferers, metabolic syndrome disease, cardiac rehab and many more areas critical to one’s health through this worldwide pandemic, feels like our biggest accomplishment yet; however, I am sure there are many more to come.

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

  1. Balance is key — I wish I learned earlier in life the importance of taking more time away from work and focusing on family. Having lost my dad in September of 2017, I am constantly reflecting on how I was always running out of his office, when I would stop by for a quick hello to get to a work meeting or how I was too busy flying out for work on a Sunday night to make it to his house to watch the Giants game. Time is precious, having fun and working hard are important, but you only get one dad — make time for EVERYTHING!
  2. Everyone is busy — no matter what their role — remember that. It is ok to not work every single weekend, people will understand and also appreciate that you are a person. The new COVID-19 longer work day and work weekend, plus my 1 year old beautiful little girl, make this even more important. I have found myself working even more hours and full days on the weekend during COVID-19. I specifically now block my calendar for quality Cooper Lexi time every morning, every evening and on the weekends. I also have found a new balance for me time, which has led to me using VHP’s fitness content to get early morning workouts in, in our BATHROOM. I know it sounds crazy but I do cardio kickboxing, Chaise band workouts, pilates, lower and upper body workouts all from the privacy of our bathroom.
  3. Email efficiency — do not spend time sending extra emails such as “got this,”
    “received,” “working on it,” or sending multiple “thank yous” back and forth. Now more than ever with COVID-19 and the lack of interpersonal interactions emails are just piling up. There is need to create more efficiencies and processes. Your team knows you appreciate their work. Send one email each day thanking them for their efforts instead of after each single item.
  4. Multi-task — there is an art to it as you do not want people to think that you are rude. Make sure you are listening and repeat what they have shared with you to ensure they know you are listening.
  5. Vacation. It is a must to take vacations. I definitely do work while on vacation, but I also enjoy myself and have fun. It also sets a good example for the rest of your team, as it is important for everyone to take time to distress and decompress.

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

  1. Always jump in. You do not always like what you have to do but do not put it off for tomorrow, because it will still be there tomorrow. For example, contracts and red-lining. It takes hours of my day, but if I do not do it we do not get finalized contracts and customers.
  2. Constant improvement. The platform, managing people and the business can all always be improved. Feedback is like a gift from your grandmother. You do not always like it, take it, store it and use it as it best fits for you.
  3. Stress management. Sleep is important. If you are that worried or stressed that you are not sleeping, you need to find a way to to manage the stress. I used to read my emails even when trying to fall asleep. I now make my to do list before I head to get ready for bed and from that point forward, I do not read work email until I wake up. I also read something that is totally fun, non-political or stressful.

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 🙂

Insurance companies, health systems, self-insured and health product companies have all recognized the importance of nutrition, lifestyle support and fitness to create better outcomes, as costs of care continue to rise and chronic disease increases.

How do these organizations deliver these services cost effectively to hundreds of millions of people while creating better outcomes?

VHP’S SaaS platform is the solution. What sets VHP apart is the ability to use software to service millions of people across these verticals in a cost effective manner for our partners and their customers, through a subscription model.

VHP provides live virtual nutrition, lifestyle and fitness support via our platform. The platform is highly customizable with the ability to support multiple diseases and conditions, provides live touch points, along with having robust data collection on the backend. VHP’s solution reduces costs for these organizations, improves outcomes and gives them the ability to assess live data in a streamlined approach. Now more than ever a virtual approach is needed in our post COVID-19 world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VHPGO

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

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/11001324/


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “A Virtual Live Wellness Program” With Jillian Bridgette of… 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: “Jewelry Hygiene”, With Jeweler David Bellman

…Further, with the pandemic, we as a society have become hyper aware of hand hygiene and you can’t have clean hands if you wear dirty jewelry. Some people have taken to not wearing their jewelry, but we have created the solution that lets people continue to wear their cherished jewelry and keep themselves and their families safe.

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 David Bellman.

David Bellman is founder and owner of Bellman’s, New Hampshire’s premier retail jeweler. Bellman’s has won over 30 awards and has consistently been voted the state’s best jeweler. David is also the inventor of GemSpa™ by kathy ireland® and CEO of Bright Innovations, Inc. It is his invention of GemSpa™ and his discovery of Jewelry Hygiene® that just might change the world.

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

Sure. I have been engaged in the retail jewelry business for over 35 years and what struck me right from the beginning of my career was how in desperate need of cleaning my customers’ jewelry was. The once brilliant diamonds were now dull and lifeless. I quickly came to realize that most people are not in the habit of cleaning their jewelry. For example, a woman will receive an engagement ring, put it on her finger and forget about it. Then day after day, month after month, this ring collects dirt and grime from everything she touches throughout the day. Our research shows that just after 2 weeks, enough dirt, grime and bacteria builds up to levels that are considered dangerous. Pretty scary when you think about it.

I originally set out to create an at-home jewelry cleaning system, but in the process of invention, when I learned about just how unsanitary jewelry was and that unclean jewelry could potentially transmit harmful bacteria and viruses, I made the sanitization standard a requirement for our product. I worked with my team for over 2 years perfecting the design until we eventually had a system that left jewelry sparkling clean AND sanitized.

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

While visiting Los Angeles, I was unexpectedly introduced to Stephen Roseberry, the CMO of kathy ireland® Worldwide. I took that opportunity to immediately pitch him on the idea of us becoming brand partners of kathy ireland® Worldwide and also having Kathy Ireland be the brand ambassador for the new jewelry cleaning and sanitizing product.

Before leaving for my trip I had just completed the test marketing for the jewelry cleaner and had realized that having the right brand partner was critical to our success. My team and I were in the beginning stages of developing a list of possibilities. The serendipity of that chance meeting made me believe more than ever that somewhere out in the cosmos we are all interconnected and when our intentions align with our goals anything is possible.

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

Definitely Honesty and Integrity. In the retail jewelry business, your customers must trust you to be honest about the product you sell. The differences in quality of one diamond or colored gem from another could be every so slight and yet the difference in value could be significant so at the end of the day it’s all a matter of trust.

Another core principle is appreciating the value of relationships, the personal connection. And really, to me, honesty and integrity are vital to creating these relationships of trust with everyone from customers to personal friends. In the diamond business when two diamond dealers agree on a price and close a deal they simply shake hands and say “Mazel” — which in hebrew means “With Fortune & Blessings,” a verbal contract more binding than a written contract.

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”?

My big idea was the discovery of harnessing the cleaning power of your home dishwasher, to clean and sanitize your jewelry. The dishwasher has all of the same elements that professional jewelers use when cleaning jewelry — steam, hot water and soap. In essence, the GemSpa gives the user the ability to turn their $1000 dishwasher into a $1000 professional jewelry cleaner.

We designed a device that would hold jewelry safely while the cleaning elements of the dishwasher clean and sanitize fine jewelry with professional results. From the high grade polymer plastic to the patented design of the stainless steel diffusers, every design detail enhances the cleaning ability of the dishwasher. This also includes the addition of our anti-bacterial gel that boosts the sanitization level to 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses.

In addition, the GemSpa by kathy ireland, is simple and easy to use and requires only 3 minutes of your time. Unlike most jewelry cleaners that require setup time and rely on a watered down cleaning solution and a vibrating tank, GemSpa cleans your jewelry with your dishes. Simply remove your jewelry and place it in the GemSpa, add a small amount of antibacterial gel, and place the GemSpa on the top rack of your dishwasher. When the cycle is complete your jewelry is professionally cleaned, sanitized and ready to wear.

How do you think this will change the world?

Currently, 95% of the population is wearing some type of jewelry and are unknowingly carrying around with them jewelry contaminated with bacteria and viruses. Here’s an alarming statistic — in the US alone, 1 in 6 Americans contract food poisoning every year. That’s nearly 50 million people. We know jewelry carries extremely high bacteria loads and touches the food we prepare and eat. By sanitizing jewelry, I believe we could reduce this number significantly.

Further, with the pandemic, we as a society have become hyper aware of hand hygiene and you can’t have clean hands if you wear dirty jewelry. Some people have taken to not wearing their jewelry, but we have created the solution that lets people continue to wear their cherished jewelry and keep themselves and their families safe.

Finally and most importantly, in this moment and when we do start to return to normal again, whenever that is; I want everyone, when they put on their clean jewelry to remember why that piece is important to them and to feel like they are taking care of their cherished memories. I want them to think about who it reminds them of; what event does it commemorate. We as a society imbue our jewelry with emotional significance and I want to be a part of making people feel good, happy when they put that piece, newly cleaned and properly cared for, back on.

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?

To be perfectly honest I cannot see any downside to cleaning and sanitizing jewelry, especially when it is that easy to now do at home…Maybe the brilliance and sparkle of jewelry can become distracting during a conversation? (chuckle).

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

For years I had been frustrated by the fact that there didn’t exist a home jewelry cleaning product that worked as well as cleaning jewelry in my store. My ah-ha moment happened several years ago, one night as I was coming home from work late, I noticed that my girlfriend had left her ring and bracelet on the dishwasher. In a bit of a daze, I thought to myself, did she clean her jewelry in the dishwasher? That was it! I realized that the home dishwasher had all the same cleaning elements as my jewelry store cleaners. All I needed to do was design a way to secure the jewelry safely while the dishwasher did all the work.

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

I think that educating people about Jewelry Hygiene is key. Our studies showed that the average ring carries more than 3 times the bacteria found on a public restroom seat. Whenever you’re dealing with behavior change, asking people to form a new habit — like cleaning jewelry on a regular basis — there’s a hurdle to get to the commercial success tipping point. 120 years ago, people didn’t brush their teeth, now people brush their teeth 2–3 times a day. How did that change happen? A revolutionary product, mint flavored toothpaste, made brushing your teeth more appealing. Today, not brushing your teeth every day is unthinkable. We hope to make not cleaning your jewelry just as unthinkable.

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

  1. Success doesn’t necessarily come overnight. When I first started my expectations were so high, the product worked so well I just assumed the moment I began selling it people would just buy them up as fast as I could produce them.
  2. When you have an innovative product some people won’t get it. It’s ok, this is normal, just keep going!.
  3. When you’re asking people to do something new, understanding the psychology of adoption is everything.
  4. When you develop an innovative product, you know your product best. You will be getting millions of opinions from people on how they think you should sell it, but you have to trust your inner voice and go with your gut.
  5. Get more sleep.

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

Well, in addition to getting the aforementioned sleep, I am a follower of New Thought thinkers like Neville, Joseph Murphy and Napoleon Hill. All of whom believed that to be successful in life and business, one must believe in their subconscious mind that they are in fact successful. And by manifesting these thoughts with a firm belief of success, then that which you desire will come to you. Over the years, I noticed that some of the most successful people I know have this mindset, whether it was developed or whether they were born with this ability.

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 first thing I would say is, “Tech is not the only way to build a revolutionary 10x company.” And if they are still listening, I’d say, “We’ve done everything we’ve needed over the years to prepare our company to be an “overnight success”. We have all the ingredients: a category defining product; world class product design; a tested and proven manufacturing process; and a brand partner in Kathy Ireland and kathy ireland Worldwide that is second to none. We are turnkey and ready to scale. The only thing we need is to invest in inventory and building brand equity; which we are already on our way to doing.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

For more info about the product they can go to: www.mygemspa.com, and our social handle @MyGemSpa on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Jewelry Hygiene”, With Jeweler David Bellman was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nikki Mark of the MIGHTYMOM Series: “5 Steps To Take To Become More Resilient”

Laugh. Surround yourself with people and hobbies that bring positive energy into your life. Sometimes, our own energy isn’t enough to get us through difficult times, and the power of a good laugh or just hanging out with a good friend or loyal animal can’t be understated.

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 Nikki Mark. For nearly twenty-five years, Nikki has developed and overseen strategic operations and special projects for Los Angeles-based start-ups, including sbe Hospitality Group and The Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). For more than fourteen of those years, she has also raised a family and been an active member of her Los Angeles, CA community.

As a hobby, she started writing her first children’s book when Tommy, the eldest of her two sons, repeatedly asked why she had to go to work. He was four at the time and Nikki, intimately familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a working mom and unable to find a children’s book on the topic, felt driven to pen her own story. Mommy Brings Home the Bacon was self-published in 2011, and the charming picture book not only offered a way to begin the conversation between all working mothers and their children, it launched what is now the MIGHTYMOM Series™.

Mommy’s Got a Bun in the Oven followed to help mothers address young childrens’ curiosity about pregnancy, and MightyMom, published just before the covid-19 pandemic hit, celebrates the hidden superpowers of moms everywhere at a time when those powers are at peak demand. The latest in the series, MightyMom, was co-written by Tommy before he unexpectedly passed away in April 2018 at the age of twelve. Since that tragic day, Nikki and her family have established the TM23 Foundation to honor her son and inspire children to play, pursue their dreams, be themselves and have a positive impact on their community.

100% of net proceeds from the MightyMom Series will be donated to the TM23 Foundation. The organization is currently partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to develop “Tommy’s Field,” a full-size multipurpose field with lights in a Los Angeles public park that will benefit generations of children and adults for years to come.

Nikki graduated with honors from the University of California Santa Barbara with a degree in Communications, and subsequently earned her MBA from Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management with an emphasis in global marketing and international management.

She was born and raised in Los Angeles and currently resides in her hometown with her husband, younger son Donovan and their rescue Pit bull dog, Ginger.

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’m a native Angeleno who continues to call Los Angeles home. After earning my MBA, I spent the next twenty plus years developing and overseeing operations and / or special projects for L.A.-based startups, including sbe Hospitality Group and Los Angeles Football Club. I had my first son in 2005 and second in 2008 and have learned first-hand about the challenges of being a working mother while trying to retain some sense of self and find time to actually play. In April 2018, my oldest son, Tommy, unexpectedly passed away. He was twelve years old. It is this tragedy that has changed not only my career, but also how I view and live 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?

I have worked for three incredible entrepreneurs and seen how powerful it is when someone believes in themselves and has the courage to pursue their dreams. I listened to “experts” tell them that they couldn’t do this or that, and then watched them surround themselves with the kind of people who believed in their vision and helped manifest those dreams. My biggest takeaway is that change is hard, but those who have a vision or passion to create something new find a way to make it happen. And, they do so before they look back on their life and regret having not even tried.

What do you think has made your quest stand out? Can you share a story?

Today, I am focused on building my own family start-up, the TM23 Foundation, which honors my son Tommy. TM23’s mission is to develop and support initiatives that teach children and young adults the “heart of life,” and inspire them to play, pursue their dreams, be themselves and have a positive impact on their community. Our first initiative raised $1.2 million to build a full-size multipurpose field with lights in a West Los Angeles public park, which will be called Tommy’s Field and honor my son’s passion for sports and spirit of play. Tommy’s Field will never be locked, and it will inspire children and adults to get outside and engage with their community. We are currently in discussions to build a second Tommy’s Field in another part of the city. In addition, I’m an author and just released the third children’s picture book I’ve written, called MightyMom. This is the latest addition to my MIGHTYMOM Series™, which addresses sensitive topics to children in a lighthearted way and celebrates the hidden superpowers of moms everywhere. Tommy actually wrote MightyMom with me, and on this second anniversary of his passing, I felt compelled to not only release the book, but also to donate 100% of net proceeds from the entire series to the TM23 Foundation. The Foundation strives to inspire more laughter and joy in our world, and to remind children and young adults that success is also measured by how much we enjoy our lives. During a time when fear increasingly divides us and human connections are too often being made through a screen, TM23 really stands out by promoting the simple concept of joining together in play.

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 am beyond grateful to all three entrepreneurs who trusted me to help manifest their visions and who gave me the space I needed to grow as a person and businesswoman under their guidance. They gave me the flexibility to be a mother, a wife and a businesswoman and trusted that I could be and do all three well. Having said that, my husband is my biggest champion. After Tommy passed away, the start-up girl in me was no longer capable of simply being who she was before. It was impossible to put the pieces of myself back together in the same configuration. I needed time to heal and the freedom to find new purpose in my life and my work. My husband has stood next to me during this period of exploration and continues to give me the freedom to evolve.

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?

Resilient people have strong imaginations and are not afraid to use them. Resilient people know there is always a way out or through. To be resilient is to create solutions, be curious and open, believe in yourself and trust the universe to help along the way.

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

I think of Joe Biden and all the parents who have ever lost a child yet continue to persevere and grow while honoring the child they miss and love. It is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, for others to understand how such profound loss can change a life. When I hear or read about parents who have survived such unfathomable loss and manifested new purpose in their lives, they give me hope that I can too. Joe Biden’s political views and the fact that he is running for President are not what matters to me. What matters is that he has channeled his grief in a way that is true to himself, serves others and helps him live a meaningful and joyful life. To me this is resilience at the highest level.

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?

After my son passed away, I was told by a number of people, including “expert” grief therapists that, “the pain is forever. It will never go away.” Their projection of how I would feel for the rest of my life did not land well with me, especially since none of them had actually experienced the loss of a child first hand. I could have listened to them and just curled up and died for the rest of my life, believing that the amount of pain I endured was an expression of how much I loved my son. Instead, I made a conscious choice to get up, put one foot in front of the other and express my love in a way that publicly honors my son and serves others. And, rising up out of love instead of allowing myself to sink in it has slowly transformed my pain so that I can keep moving through it. The TM23 Foundation is teaching me not only how to survive but how to more fully live.

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 greatest setback that makes all other setbacks look like blessings, was the day my son didn’t wake up one morning. I would not say I’m stronger because of it. My efforts to survive and to create a meaningful life is not about strength. It’s about love. Love for the son I lost and love for the son and husband that I still have here.

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

When I was a senior in college I went to New York for my first job interview. The morning of the interview I woke up and couldn’t shut my left eye. By the time I had to leave for the interview, the entire left side of my face was paralyzed. Never before had I experienced such fear. Still, I threw my long dark brown hair over half my face and forced myself to go through with the interview. By the time I got on a plane and flew home the next day, my entire face was paralyzed. I made a deal with the universe on that plane ride home and promised that if my faced healed, I would go after my dreams and not just keep thinking about them. I was very specific about what I meant. When I returned to L. A., I went back to college with my frozen face and graduated with all of my friends. I got the job. My face healed. And, every major decision thereafter was made in the context of the commitment I made to myself on that flight. I now look back on this experience as a blessing. It taught me the meaning of resiliency at an early age and helped me prepare for even bigger obstacles that would later come my 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? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Write. Grab a pad of paper and get those emotions out on a page until you can clearly identify your problem and work through them. It may take 20 minutes, a couple of hours or multiple notebooks, but just write and write without a filter until you can identify what you are trying to achieve and why it matters. You don’t even need to read or save what you have written. By the time you reach the end of it you’ll know what to do. Also, give yourself 24 hours before acting on any of it and you’ll be able to simplify the dilemma even further. I have used this technique ever since I was a child. It helps me put my problems into perspective and forces new layers of my own self to start working for me.
  2. Create. Use your imagination to create action steps and figure out different ways to proceed. Don’t limit yourself. Let your curiousity fuel you and the imagination go as far as it wants, and then the right course of action will become apparent. Make sure the vision is clear and find the courage to go for it. There is always a way. You just have to believe in yourself and trust that the universe will help you at some point along the way.
  3. Walk. Put one foot in front of the other. Step by step. Day by day. If you don’t run from the problem you will get through it faster and stronger.
  4. Read. Read about others who have faced adversity and allow their stories to teach and inspire you. They will put your problem into context. I lost one child. It’s an unimaginable tragedy. Then I read about others who lost their entire family. Just like there is always someone smarter, better looking and more successful, there is always someone with bigger problems than yours. Allow their stories to inspire and guide you. They are hoping that they will.
  5. Laugh. Surround yourself with people and hobbies that bring positive energy into your life. Sometimes, our own energy isn’t enough to get us through difficult times, and the power of a good laugh or just hanging out with a good friend or loyal animal can’t be understated. A month or so after Tommy passed away, a friend of my husband’s who I didn’t know at the time invited us to his comedy show at the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. I had been grieving all day and could not stop the flow of tears. I told my husband that going to a comedy show was the worst idea of all time. I didn’t want to laugh. I thought comedy was too dark, and my life was dark enough. He convinced me to go for an hour. We stayed for almost two. Within minutes of the show starting, I surprised myself by laughing and an inner voice told me that I would be able to laugh again in life. The laughter infused me with positive energy on a day when I needed it the most.

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 believe the TM23 Foundation is part of a movement that will encourage younger generations to be themselves, to play and to serve their communities. The world spends a lot of time focused on fear. Fear that our children won’t be the best at something. Fear that we will fail. Fear that we will die. The TM23 Foundation strives to remind people to live. We should spend more time enjoying our lives. We should play more. We should care about our community more. We should do what is deeply meaningful to us. We should learn about what interests us. And, we should strive to become what we love. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for me to learn these lessons and now the TM23 Foundations hopes to help kids and young adults learn it sooner. By teaching children the value of doing what they love, they will spread more joy than fear and help our world reprioritize fun.

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 :-). Again, I have to go with Joe Biden. Not, as I said earlier, for political reasons, and not to discuss politics, but because I so admire how he has risen up to serve his country. I would love the chance to have a conversation with him about how those loved ones he has lost along the way continue to inspire him every single day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: www.TM23foundation.org;

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tm23foundation/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TM23Foundation

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


Nikki Mark of the MIGHTYMOM Series: “5 Steps To Take 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.

WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

While confronting challenges, it’s always important that co-workers feel respected and not ambushed. An easy way to give constructive feedback without being too critical is to always follow up the problem or situation with an action item. Pointing out how a team member can work to improve upon challenges shows that you are invested in their success and growth.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Bell is the chancellor of WGU Indiana, the state’s online, competency-based university. Bell has more than 20 years of higher education leadership experience, including four years of prior experience with WGU Indiana as their general manager of operations from 2010–2014. Bell earned a M.A. in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education from Ball State University. She received additional training through the Indiana University Advising Leadership Institute and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

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 the chancellor of WGU Indiana, the state’s online, competency-based university. I have over 20 years of higher education leadership experience, including four years of prior experience with WGU Indiana as their general manager of operations from 2010–2014. Before returning to WGU, I served as Director of Degree Completion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where I led operations and supervised academic coaching and career staff.

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

I am a working mom. As a young professional, I believed that I had to be the one to do everything for my children. I also worried when I had to miss events at work because of family responsibilities. I thought I had to do it all myself and, as a result, felt like I was doing nothing very well. What I’ve learned over time is that taking care of your professional and personal responsibilities doesn’t always mean doing it yourself. Asking for help, leaning on your community, giving responsibilities to a trusted colleague IS taking care of things. When I let go of the idea that I had to do it all myself, I found that I became a better mother and a more effective leader.

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 once accepted a job that was a newly created position and part of the role was to be the local support for a whole team of new employees as they experienced onboarding and training. I was still learning, myself, and was often fielding questions for which I did not have immediate answers. I felt the stress of the responsibility I had taken on because I wanted the new employees to feel supported by and confident in me and in the organization. As a result of this experience, I learned that it is ok not to know everything when you lead a team. In embarking on the journey together, trust and connections are built, and everyone learns something. So now, when someone asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I give them the response that I developed as a result of that experience, “let’s find that out together”.

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

As a leader, it’s important to first model this behavior for your employees. Often, your team members will follow the example that you set. My team feels free to pursue activities that align with their passions and set boundaries between work and personal life because I am transparent about the boundaries that I set, the activities that I choose to bring balance, and support them when they do the same.

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 started managing a remote team in 2012 and have continued to manage remote team members since then.

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. No open door conversations — As a leader, I leave my door open and welcome my team to stop in when my schedule allows. Some the most powerful interactions I have had with members of my team have been impromptu interactions. Whether it be a quick question or idea they pop into my office to share with me, or a conversation prompted by an interpersonal interaction, those opportunities are fewer and different when everyone is working remotely.
  2. No “water-cooler” conversations — While too much socializing in the workplace can negatively impact productivity, there is no question that some socializing while working together in the office is healthy and builds community and relationships. Those relationships are often the foundation of collaborations between team members that move the organization along in a positive direction.
  3. Measuring productivity — While time in the office doesn’t exactly equal time on task, there is some comfort and showing up to a physical office and seeing your team at work in the same place. Having everyone working remotely requires a different level of trust and an alternative way to measure productivity.
  4. Celebrations — Whether celebrating birthdays, welcoming new team members, or a team accomplishment, rituals of celebration are an important part of team building and provide motivation and energy. Teams working remotely cannot go to lunch together or meet in the break room to sing happy birthday.
  5. Team meetings — The dynamic of a team meeting in an online conference room is different in many ways from an in-person meeting. Online meetings have so much more potential for interruptions and technical difficulties, as a leader it can be more difficult to recognize when a team member is trying to speak up but getting talked over, and people can more easily disengage and multitask.

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

  1. Use technology to create an open door. By now, every organization has an IM system with the option to mark yourself “available”. My team knows that if I’m marked as available, my virtual door is open for them to “drop in”. I make it a point to be responsive when I’m marked as available and set my status to “busy” if I truly cannot be disturbed. We also have a more regular cadence of one on one and group meetings to facilitate these conversations.
  2. Water-cooler conversations can happen remotely. Again, we use our IM tool. As a team we level-set expectations that we have our IM system open and that we use the tagging feature to alert colleagues of our conversations. As leaders, we intentionally created a team channel to share (by choice) pictures of fun things we’ve done on the weekends with families, funny memes, and inspirational messages, too.
  3. Set clear goals with team members and manage based on those goals. When there is a mutual understanding of tasks and goals, it’s easy to know when your team member is spending enough time on task!
  4. Celebrations can continue via the internet! We have hosted 3 team lunches a virtual baby shower in the last 2 months. We would rather be in the room together, but we can celebrate this way too, and it is fun in a different way.
  5. Effective virtual Team Meetings — Lay out ground rules and expectations, ask everyone to leave their camera’s on to minimize multi-tasking, give each team member a turn to talk so that everyone contributes, and teach everyone where the mute button is.

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 continue regular communication between team members even when working remote, don’t assume that no news, is good news. With such a broad variety of virtual platforms, there are endless mediums for communicating different situations. Although it’s not always the preferred medium of communication, setting up a phone call or a virtual Zoom call can be the best way to give constructive criticism or chat about a specific situation. Staying connected on a day to day or weekly basis can make these conversations easier and also prevent any conflicts from going unseen.

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

While confronting challenges, it’s always important that co-workers feel respected and not ambushed. An easy way to give constructive feedback without being too critical is to always follow up the problem or situation with an action item. Pointing out how a team member can work to improve upon challenges shows that you are invested in their success and growth.

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?

One of the most important things to remember during these challenging times is that everyone handles change in different ways. It’s important to keep lines of communication open, especially when working remotely is something new or is being forced upon us. Nearly 300 of WGU Indiana’s faculty and staff work remotely, so luckily, we have existing tools and mechanisms to make sure communication is easy and accessible.

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 essential to keep team moral high, especially given the uncertainty with which we are all living. As a leader in the office it’s important to make sure all team members feel heard and know they are not alone in this difficult transition. A great way to do this is to set up a virtual office meeting and also keep open communication across the entire workplace. In addition to open communication, giving positive recognition to team members while working from home shows that you see the work they are putting in every day.

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

The onset of the novel coronavirus and the necessity to shelter in place has brought the need for reliable, affordable internet access to the forefront. This is a moment when students, professionals, and families must rely on the internet more than ever for their education, jobs, and personal needs, yet in Indiana alone, 666,000 people live without access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds. Now is a time to recognize that equal access to high-speed internet is essential in both rural and urban settings across my home state and others and that urgent action is needed to support our leaders in their efforts to shrink this digital divide.

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

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

Thank you for these great insights!


WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Bell: “5 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.

Dr. Islam Gouda: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

Another huge benefit of social media is that it provides market insight companies can use to better their brand. When a brand is experiencing problems, social media is there to connect with consumers that can provide insights into why the brand is having those problems. Social media also humanizes brands by allowing companies to respond to consumer problems, comments and feedback. Social media marketing not only helps companies connect with their consumers in a more engaging and sincere way, it also allows companies to provide their audience with a call-to-action and reinforces deep connections.

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

Dr. Islam Gouda is a young professional with a passion for marketing. Dr. Gouda has an honorary doctorate from the University of California in Strategic Marketing as a result of the many articles, research studies and publications in that field. He also has a masters degree from the University of Wollongong in Strategic Marketing, and attended Lehigh university’s organizational leadership course, and an American University of Sharjah graduate in Marketing and Management.

Dr. Gouda is a marketing focused business experience with a strong analytical ability of using available market data for strategic marketing, business development, product development purposes along with the identification of new business opportunities and measurement of ROI.

Dr. Gouda’s specialties include leadership and communications skills with the ability to adapt to a wide variety of cultures and to manage and work part of cross-functional teams.

Dr. Gouda has a strong track of success on the definition and execution of the whole marketing mix for both consumer and enterprise segments: market intelligence, product management, demand generation, press, advertising, alliances — with a proven channel expertise, campaigns setup, channel enablement programs, execution, tracking, reporting.

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

Before joining the American University of Sharjah, all my studies were in Arabic, but my thinking and influence from my friends made me want to be a computer engineer as I thought this would be the future at that time. When I applied at the American University of Sharjah my first semester, I had to undertake several elective courses one of which was marketing. I was fond of studying the psychology of the consumers and trying to create products and services that appeal to them in a scientific and measurable manner. I changed my major to the school of business and chose Marketing and Management as my major. I was an “A” student and my professors started hiring me as their TA for the subject and predicted a bright future for me pursuing my passion and what I love and not what others told me to be. My first job was at MasterCard Middle East, it was where I really enjoyed working with numbers and statistics about people’s purchasing patterns and behaviors and devised concise marketing strategies and plans. I did BTL and ATL marketing in addition to practicing social media and how to interact with the customers online, and for that particular company I give all credit to where I am right now and being the head of marketing in my next roles.

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?

When I was part of MasterCard Middle East, I was also in charge of developing new products for the customers that were insights and data driven by the customer purchases. We wanted at that time to create a product that caters to women, a credit card for one of the operating banks in the Middle East that can be sold to the women segment. So, one of my suggestions about the packaging was to make the card colorful (pink) so women can feel that they can comfortably use it, and men be discouraged to get the card. When we launched the card neither men or women bought and when we created a focus group to understand why it came to our knowledge that women do not like to have pink credit cards but black as men do to feel equal with men as they earn and spend in the same way. So, that mistake taught me that not all standard theories are obsolete, and that customers’ insights change from one situation to the other depending on the industry, the product, and what they feel when making a purchase. So, the lesson learned was to not always listen to your instincts but first to talk with the people and understand what they want before deciding. Yes, it might take time, yes it would involve an ample amount of research, but it will yield the results that you want to achieve.

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

My current company understands the employees and capitalizes on their strengths and tries to empower them to overcome their weaknesses. The number one factor of success in any company is listening and understanding your employees and that is what my current company does. It allows free thinking and creativity, there is autonomy and no micro-management, and this is key giving freedom to the employees to creatively achieve their goals and objectives.

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

I am currently part of the automotive industry, and the number one challenge is to understand how people react to the changing circumstances amid the COVID19 pandemic. What are the certain behaviors and decisions people would make when viewing a car rental proposition? Our number one priority is to understand that pattern of behavior to help them commute in the most safe and secure way and create messages that would unblock their protective moods that they have been in due to the COVID19 situation.

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 a lot deeper than we might realize when we’re reading about the newest marketing fads on the internet. Branding has everything to do with identity: who are you and what kind of business are you? What’s your name, and why should I remember it? How do you and your brand make me feel? The answers to these questions should be related to your products and services — but not limited to them. Your brand is what makes your business feel like a person, and a person is more than an automatic vending machine, business transaction or product; a person has a personality, and just like a person, your business’ brand needs to show its personality. Advertising, however, is about communicating what you have to offer through sales, coupons, radio and TV ads, and posters. An advertisement is soliciting a meeting between your ideal customer and your company, and the difference between a customer who knows your brand and one who doesn’t is like the difference between asking a stranger on the street to go to coffee with you, and asking a friend.

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?

Brand recognition and awareness play a huge part in building credibility with customers and helping the sales team close a deal. Demand generation and corporate branding go together, especially for growth-phase companies. If a prospect does not know your company, the sales rep will spend the first few precious minutes explaining who you are. Wouldn’t it be better and more effective if your prospect had already heard of you? That way, instead of describing your company, you could spend time describing your offering. People buy products they like from companies they know and trust. Think Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks or B2B companies such as Intel and GE. In today’s market, brand credibility is your competitive advantage. Whether you are a start-up or a growth-phase business, it’s imperative for marketing heads to position the brand as a market leader and leverage their founders’ profile to create positive brand perception and customer behavior. Additionally, Founders and business leaders are constantly looking for financiers to support their growth and exit strategies. Investors view a company before investing, not just its product or products. They also consider corporate reputation, the CEO and founders’ credibility and financial performance before making an investment decision. Finally, in today’s digital era, buying decisions are changing dramatically. buyers are now as empowered as consumers. CIOs are not the only ones making the ultimate buying decisions, and how businesses interact with vendors is also changing. Marketers therefore have to design strategies that educate and engage customers, not “sell” to them. Content should be interesting, and search optimized for digital discovery. Delivering a personalized experience and making content and tools readily available when and where customers need them have great potential to improve the customer experience. Building your brand is key to driving sales, boosting partnerships, and accelerating growth. You want customers to trust your name, eager to learn more and be proud they can rely on your brand to run their business. Consider brand building as a long-term commitment and investment — not an expense.

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. The number one strategy is to be honest with the customers, being transparent means recognizing and being open about both your strengths and weaknesses. If your product is not right for one of your leads, you should be secure enough to guide that lead in the right direction, even if that act means boosting your competitor’s bottom line. When Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, (now the Dove Self-Esteem Project) it transformed itself from merely a soap company to a company with a vision. Their new mission statement was that “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” By consistently aligning its marketing efforts with its mission statement, Dove has been able to change its public perception to a brand that authentically champions women’s empowerment and wants to change the conversation around beauty. The longevity and resources Dove has put into changing the advertising industry’s narrow view of beauty have also made Dove appear more credible with its marketing messages.
  2. The second most important strategy is to under promise and over deliver. Consumers don’t trust brands nearly as much as they used to, and one reason for this shift is that customers feel they’ve been lied to. Any time a customer feels as though he or she has been deceived or manipulated, in any way that customers will likely part ways with the brand responsible. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to all forms of customer expectations. If it takes you a week to ship a product, tell your customers it takes two weeks. If a product will last for 10 years, claim it will last for eight. That way, you will never run the risk of breaking your promises (at least, not with the majority of your customers). The Japanese car maker Toyota has been doing this for years, people know the quality of the cars and their durability, but they never promise customers that their cars will last for years. Customers experience such a brand promise by themselves without such being said in advertising or marketing campaigns, that is how their sales are always high, and people buy their products without any hesitation.
  3. The third strategy is to embody values that set you apart. Take Ben and Jerry as an example. For Ben & Jerry’s, it’s not enough just to turn a profit, or even to provide the best possible ice cream product to their customers. In addition to those two goals, they want to use their business to try to make the world a better place through charitable work (the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation was founded in 1985 and receives 7.5% of the company’s annual profits to fund “community-oriented projects”) and activism (Ben & Jerry’s works to support causes they believe in, including GMO labeling and preventing climate change).It can be hard as a business owner to decide to take a stand for a cause you believe in. It’s a big risk — everyone isn’t going to agree with the specific things that you may want to support, of course, and the fear of losing customers can overpower a desire to do good. But for a business that wants to do more, no matter what “more” means to you, Ben & Jerry’s is a great role model.
  4. The fourth strategy is to always put the customers first. When it comes down to it, your ability to earn customer trust depends on your ability to reliably give your customers what they want. And one of the best ways to do this is to build a company-wide customer-centric culture. For example, Emirates Airlines provides the best flying experience to customers with varying budgets. You can have a great experience with Emirates travelling in economy class better than any other airlines the same way goes to flying first class. They simply put the customers first and make them the center of the transaction.
  5. The final strategy is to maintain consistency. Maintaining consistency ensures that your prospects and customers know what to expect. You can set both internal and external goals to maintain the quality of service. Brands like Coca-Cola and Nike have managed to maintain consistency over decades in business. Even with subtle changes in design over the years, there is a basic look that remains consistent.
  6. Finally, Trust is a byproduct of a commitment to quality and excellence. If you can deliver the right results to the right people over the long haul, they will come to believe and trust in your product and service offerings.

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?

I think the best example is Burt’s Bees. They make all-natural personal care products, but their mission is much larger. Inspired by their founder, they “look to Burt as a model of how to live simply, naturally, and responsibly.” As such, a large component of their brand storytelling focuses on how Burt’s philosophies and lifestyle influence the products they make. Through a series of entertaining videos, they help us get to know the man behind the brand. The thing that impresses me the most about this brand is its ability to start small and then become very large on the grounds of a product that has never been inspired by the customers at all. When Burts Bees conducted focus groups and surveys, customers never said that they wanted a lip balm made out of honey, they just mentioned that they would like to see a more natural product in such a market. They have created the niche but did not find it, which is a case study to all marketers around the world of the fantastic job they have done. In order for us to replicate that, we need to read between the lines of what the customers says. People will never tell you we want this or that, but they will outline their aspirations and for such marketers needs to psychoanalyse the customers and create an understanding beyond what they are saying.

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?

Before beginning any brand-building campaign, it’s important to first determine the campaign’s goals. What would success look like for this campaign? Are you trying to raise brand awareness, or do you want your campaign to result in a specific action? The simple exercise of exploring these options and parameters will help you develop a richer analysis of your efforts. Keep in mind that the more detailed you get in terms of goals and benchmarks, the better. Let us say, for example, that you want to send out your company’s freshly re-branded newsletter. Many marketers would fall into the mistake of sending the newsletter out and seeing what happens. But, much like the importance of a hypothesis in a science experiment, your priority should be to set certain benchmarks or goals for this campaign. Once the campaign is complete, you can revisit these goals to see just how the campaign measured up to expectations — providing you with a better idea of what you can do to improve for next time. You’ll also want to include competitor data in your benchmarks. While it’s important to measure the success of your campaign from an internal perspective, where are you in regard to the competition? Are you aware of the number of downloads their app has? Has their latest campaign resulted in a spike of followers on social? Knowing what you need to do to remain competitive will add yet another layer of complexity to how you measure the success of your brand building campaigns. Measuring the success of any campaign comes down to data. Fortunately, in the Digital Age where products are becoming smarter and consumer’s time online continues to increase, marketers have a plethora of data they can take advantage of. In today’s ever-online world, you can monitor brand activity across all channels in order to gauge engagement and reach. Analytics can be used to gain insight into demographics, interest, and awareness. You can then use this information to discover new areas of opportunity. Data can also be used to test campaigns and content. A/B testing content can yield impressive insight and enable your company to create smarter campaigns.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

The role of social media in building brands is an extremely important one. With social media, all consumers can share their voice and opinion. With the different types of social media platforms, companies have many ways to connect with their audience. Social media increases the amount of exposure a brand receives and increases traffic. Social media also helps to develop loyal fans and generates leads. Having a strong social media presence allows a brand to develop business partnerships, reduce marketing costs and improve sales. Another huge benefit of social media is that it provides market insight companies can use to better their brand. When a brand is experiencing problems, social media is there to connect with consumers that can provide insights into why the brand is having those problems. Social media also humanizes brands by allowing companies to respond to consumer problems, comments and feedback. Social media marketing not only helps companies connect with their consumers in a more engaging and sincere way, it also allows companies to provide their audience with a call-to-action and reinforces deep connections. There are many essential social media marketing strategies to ensure a brand is optimizing social media. The first is to choose the right social media networks that fit the brand best. If a company is finding they aren’t getting any traction on some social media sites, it’s beneficial to change to other sites they could get traction on. The next strategy is to not overlook visual branding. Consumers respond to visuals so it is important to ensure all social media profiles look similar and don’t create a disconnect. The third strategy companies should use is to develop their own unique voice. To do this, companies should incorporate their company culture and values into their posts and make them authentic. Being consistent with topics and posting regularly are also important strategies companies should focus on when building their brand. The rise of social media has led to the rise of influencers. When building their brand, companies should connect with these influencers. When connecting with influencers, companies should make sure they are authentic, active, engaging, experts in the field and good leaders. Other strategies for building brands include not wasting profile space, promoting profiles and, most importantly, being engaging.

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

The best tip I can give is to build a solid workflow and stick to it. In the short-term, it’s tempting to skirt around steps or tasks in my workflows to save a few minutes here or there, but in the end it has always come back to bite me and costs me an hour or two. Workflows are built for a reason — ensuring that a quality product can be turned out in a timely and efficient manner.

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. 🙂

Help comes in all sorts of forms — from helping an elderly lady across the street, to supporting a colleague to get a huge project done, to consoling a friend who’s going through a bad break up. Contrary to the idea that people who help in big ways are doormats and will inevitably burn out or get walked on, research now shows that those who are the most successful and impactful in the world are also the biggest, most generous givers. So, if you are a teen, or in college, or a working member of the community dedicate at least 2 hours of your day helping others in any form and you will feel better and make others feel better as well.

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

My own personal quote in life is “Your character will take you places more than your talent, and your talent will take you places more than your skills, and your motivation is what makes all of these work together.” After many years of working and studying, I came to the conclusion that character alone won’t take you places, and talent alone won’t take you places — you need to be self-motivated in order for your talent and your character to work together and make something out of you. This quote is very relevant in my life because people used to tell me that I had the talent and the character, but my motivation levels were very low. When my passion for marketing started growing, I did not read much outside of my work experiences and the books that I used to read when I was at school. But I figured out that it is was not enough — for you to thrive in life you need to read and read and read and finally write about your experiences. Motivate yourself and reward it at the end of the day with an accomplishment that crowns your efforts.

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

I would like to meet Bill Gates and have lunch with him, I want to understand what motivated him to create this empire and suddenly step out. It would be interesting to take his insights as well on future business changes in addition to his personal experience with marketing Microsoft to turn into one of the biggest companies in the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can reach out to me on LinkedIn (search Islam Gouda),

or on Twitter (IslamGouda11)

or send me an email on islamgouda@hotmail.com


Dr. Islam Gouda: “5 Things You Need To Do 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.

Bill Eckstrom of the EcSell Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote…

Bill Eckstrom of the EcSell Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

We tend to make negative assumptions — my people don’t work as hard, they are not as productive, they must be spending more time on social media, etc. Negative assumptions create distrust, which damages leadership effectiveness.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Eckstrom, CEO and founder of the EcSell Institute, a research-based organization that coaches company leaders on growth and performance.

Bill’s vast experience of turning subpar leaders into elite coaches will help you understand why measuring performance at the leadership level is critical to growth at the individual, team, and organizational level. Bill is known as the world’s foremost authority in metric-based performance coaching and growth. Utilizing both entertainment and poignant research in his talks, Bill will leave your audience ready to take action. Bill was invited to the TEDx stage in 2017, and his talk entitled “Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life” was the fastest growing TEDx Talk in the history of the event. Bill’s latest book, “The Coaching Effect,” is based on the research of over 100,000 workplace coaching interactions and helps leaders at all levels understand the necessity of challenging people out of their comfort zone to create a high-growth organization. Growth is what inspires Bill’s philanthropic life, especially his involvement in therapy dog work. He and his Labrador, Aspen, work together at senior living homes, children’s hospitals and anywhere the presence of Aspen’s wagging tail and soft soul can bring a smile.

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 spent the first 15 years of my career in sales, then sales leadership roles until 2008. At that time, I was searching for a leadership development program that was as robust as the training programs available for sales teams. It was also important to me that the program be based in data and research, not opinion — but I couldn’t find any that checked those boxes. That’s when I founded the EcSell Institute, a research-based coaching and leadership development organization.

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

I applied to do a TEDx Talk in my hometown and was rejected. Not long after, I was asked by the organizer of a TED event in different city to give a talk there. The resulting talk became their most viral talk in the history of their event. Based on TED viewing data, the goal was to have 15,000 views in the first six months — the video hit 15,000 views in just over 24 hours!

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

When giving a speech, never go to the restroom without turning of your wireless mic. I did this once during an intermission, thinking I had clicked it off, but obviously had not… When I returned to the audience, I received a standing ovation.

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

Know if the leaders within your organizations are coaching in a way that promotes thriving employees! Ultimately, the only way for CEOs or founders to understand the effectiveness of their leaders’ coaching is to quantify it through objective measurement. If you aren’t measuring it, you are leaving your employees vulnerable to underperformance and burnout.

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?

My first remote team was in 2000, and I’ve had remote team members in every role and company since that time. Looking presently at EcSell’s senior team, there are several remote members; our President, director of research, director of events, and various others been working remotely for over four 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 certainly differences in managing remotely vs in person, but they are not so significant that leaders can’t overcome them.

  1. Out of sight, out of mind — let’s face it, not being physically present makes it easy to forget about those on your team. There are fewer questions, fewer reasons to be present, and fewer distractions, which all lead to lack of communication.
  2. Relationship creation and perpetuation is easier to let slide — this ties back to the previous challenge, but is unique. Creating and perpetuating relationships is still foundational to engagement, turnover, sales revenue, and more. Not all communication creates deeper trust-based relationships, so leaders need to do the right activities with the right quality. For example, most remote leaders will still hold 1:1 meetings with those on their team, but if all they talk about is the numbers, relationships will diminish. Leaders need to get personal with their people! More intentionality must be brought to relationship development to maintain growth.
  3. We tend to make negative assumptions — my people don’t work as hard, they are not as productive, they must be spending more time on social media, etc. Negative assumptions create distrust, which damages leadership effectiveness.
  4. Access to high-functioning work places at home is not a given — kids, aging parents, lack of space, lack of proper office ergonomics, and more are all factors that impact work effectiveness.
  5. Team members aren’t necessarily feeling confident in their ability to do their jobs well — Our COVID-19 Insight Survey™ tells us that only 35% of employees strongly agree that they know what to do to be successful in the near future.

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

  1. Leaders need to do be doing more “check-in” calls with team members. Again, the top performing leaders of teams are doing this a minimum of 2–3 times/week/member of the team.
  2. Because of what we are seeing in our COVID-19 research, leaders need to hold 1:1 meetings with those on their teams at least weekly (if not already happening). They can move to every other week once the chaos is behind us.
  3. Always assume those on your team are still providing the best effort they can, but once a week, ask the question, “Is there anything you need or that would help your productivity in your new virtual environment?” I did this for a team member who responded by asking if I would adopt his kids (he was joking, of course).
  4. During a team meeting, ask “Would you share one best practice you are doing to be more effective while working from home?” Then, put together a list of the best practices and share with everyone in your company.
  5. Ask (don’t tell) each member of your team what their key priorities are for the next four weeks. See if their answers are in line with your expectations, and if not, share your expectations in a clear and succinct manner. Then ask them to paraphrase (in a way that is not condescending) the key priorities so that what you said and what they heard are in sync.

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?

Feedback is too often thought of as an activity that occurs only when somebody has not met an expectation, which is usually why it is associated with “constructive criticism.” However, consistent feedback should be woven into the fabric of the organization. When feedback becomes cultural, whether positive or negative, the response is easier to receive. So, the challenge at hand is not the communication medium (virtual -v- in person), but rather the culture of feedback within an organization.

EcSell Institute research is showing that many people prefer to video chat over simply a phone call, which can assist in the feedback process. Regardless of the communication medium, effective leaders should always be very deliberate about asking questions, which may seem at odds with the term “feedback.” Questioning is the most powerful form of feedback. So, if either negative or positive feedback is being provided, always be sure to ask, “How is this making you feel?” Another effective form of feedback is to ask the employee to paraphrase all or some of the conversation that was just had, which ensures both parties are on the same page.

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

Email should never be a medium for providing feedback, but it can be used as a tool for written follow-up to a spoken feedback conversation. There is too much emotional risk to use only the written word for feedback; employees need to hear a voice and see a face for proper feedback to occur.

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?

EcSell Institute research shows that communication is key. 86% of top-performing companies have leaders who are reaching out to those on their team a minimum of 2–3 times/week — some (50%) are doing it as often as daily with great results. These “check-ins” don’t have to be all business-related — sometimes people just want you to ask how they are holding up.

Obstacle to avoid: don’t assume everyone wants to be treated the same way during this new working dynamic. While some may want or need to hear from you 3–4 times/week, others may only want to visit once weekly. It is a leader’s job to determine what is unique for each individual on their teams.

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?

Our business-related team meetings used to be every other week, but we now hold a 15-minute off-week meeting too. All meetings begin with a thumbs up, down, or sideways as a quick “how are you doing” indicator. If a team member is sideways or down, we then ask if it is something they would like to share or discuss later.

We also recommend a weekly virtual team gathering that is primarily social. EcSell has dubbed ours FAC — “Forget About Covid.” It’s 3–4pm on Fridays, and we begin by having a team member ask a unique question that each person needs to answer.

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. 🙂

Practice the 3 M’s: Mindfulness. Meditation. Manifestation.

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

“The constant façade of order hides the wilderness that is craving to seep out and teach us that life wasn’t created to be what we think it is. Beyond words, we must experience the wilderness to be taught what cannot be otherwise known.”

Dr. Serene Jones

I used this quote in the closing of my TEDx Talk. By living these words, which captured the spirit of my talk, my life has forever evolved for the positive. It allowed me to write a book on the topic, and it has given EcSell Institute’s work worldwide recognition.

Thank you for these great insights!


Bill Eckstrom of the EcSell Institute: “5 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.

Sunil Prashara of the Project Management Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully…

Sunil Prashara of the Project Management Institute: “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team”

In today’s business environment people are moving so quickly — it’s easy to shoot off an email without taking the time to think about how it will be interpreted on the other end. I would actually say that effective leaders should always offer to connect via phone or video chat to talk through feedback. In my experience, constructive feedback should really always be a conversation rather than handled over email if it involves potentially sensitive issues. Email may be the beginning of the conversation, but be sure to follow through with a real conversation.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sunil Prashara, President & CEO, Project Management Institute.

As President & Chief Executive Officer of the Project Management Institute (PMI), Sunil Prashara is the lead advocate for PMI’s global organization, serving more than three million professionals working in nearly every country of the world. His primary responsibility is to implement PMI’s global strategic plan with a priority on strategic focus, customer centricity and organizational agility. This includes expanding the PMI footprint globally, as well as digitizing PMI’s offerings and platforms to benefit its members and a variety of other stakeholders. The plan will also continue to enhance and advocate for the profession of project management.

Sunil was named CEO of PMI in March of 2019. He brings more than three decades of valuable global leadership to PMI, with a solid track record of setting and delivering strategy, managing large scale transformation agendas, and meeting growth targets for international organizations.

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 backstory isn’t exactly traditional. While I have always worked in the corporate world for large, global organizations, I didn’t have just one clear path or role. Within my 30 years of experience, I’ve worn a variety of different hats from finance to sales to operations.

I started off earning a degree in medical biochemistry. I then began as a rookie salesperson and ended up as the Global Head of Sales for Nokia. I started in finance and worked my way up to CFO for an IT services company. And within operations, I ran multi-billion-dollar transformation programs for Vodafone.

And since my global roles have taken me all over the world, I have a strong appreciation of different cultures and the way business is conducted in different parts of the world.

I believe it’s this variety of experience that has prepared me to work as a CEO. I understand the different challenges, needs, thought processes and working styles across functions and borders.

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

What has been most interesting to me overall has been that opportunity, right from an early start in my career, to pivot from one functional area to another — multiple times. What has ultimately been most interesting has been the opportunity to build on each of these experiences. As I look at my role now as a CEO, all of these experiences as fundamentally a “sales guy” helped bear a lot of fruit to help me do the job today.

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?

Some consistent mistakes that I’ve seen time and again have been the consequences of miscommunication resulting in a lack of alignment. Problems can easily emerge that shouldn’t have ever arisen — and they all stem from poor communications.

That can happen all the time at both tactical and strategic levels, especially when you’re communicating across countries and languages. I can remember times seeing someone present information to senior leaders after working diligently on a deliverable, only to discover that they had totally misunderstood the request. It can be funny — but it can also be embarrassing and cost lots of money!

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

The first thing is to be conscious that the productivity levels of staff have gone through the roof. Employees are working from home, which often results in them being much more focused on work with few distractions. In this environment, work-life balance is more important than ever, but more difficult to gauge working from home.

This burst of productivity can be good in the short term, but it can also hurt over time. Leaders need to be cognizant of this reality and give their teams sufficient time for their work. You may need to revisit some deadlines; some deadlines are obviously critical for the business, but not deadlines for the sake of deadlines. Cut people some slack and build that into the project plan.

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 been managing remote teams for 25 years. At Vodafone, I ran sales globally and had 11 regions all virtually reporting to me. All of our meetings were virtual.

Today all of PMI’s staff have gone virtual for the moment. I’ve learned that the way people communicate in these teams can be very different. You have to keep in mind geographic differences, for instance, people in Japan will communicate very differently from the Netherlands or the US. It’s important to maintain an awareness of those team dynamics.

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?

When transitioning to remote teams, there will be an adjustment period. Many remote teams will face the following challenges:

  • Adapting to virtual meetings: When it comes to virtual meetings, remote teams must get into a rhythm. When you aren’t in person in an office or conference room, it’s easier to get distracted, people might talk over one another unintentionally while others may not be as engaged. The biggest mistake managers make is operating like it’s business as usual. Different skills, behaviors and connection points are needed to make virtual meetings successful and productive. On the positive side here, you don’t have half of the team in person and half on the phone. Everyone joins calls virtually today, which puts them on an equal footing. That’s a practice most will want to continue going forward. When one person is virtual, they all should be.
  • Misunderstandings and miscommunication: When you lose the face-to-face connection, things can get lost in translation more easily and result in misunderstandings or miscommunication. If unaddressed, in time can fester into resentment or anger. Tone is very important here. Managers need to periodically bring together disparate team members to discuss ongoing challenges and align on next steps.
  • Adjusting leadership style: In our new environment of home offices and webinars, leaders must use the tools at their disposal to connect meaningfully with team members. This style of collaborative leadership calls on leaders to not simply issue directives; they need to motivate and convey a shared purpose. In a time when talent can go anywhere in the world, the “command and control” style of leadership is a relic of the past — we can have no patience today for “check the box” style management.
  • Embracing new “power skills”: Working in a virtual environment requires a different set of “power skills” — like greater communication, more emotional intelligence and empathy. COVID-19 has shown us the value of emotional intelligence when managing teams and handling conflict from afar. Technology can only do so much; the ability to be human and show empathy and cultural awareness when you lose face-to-face contact will help draw teams together virtually.
  • Combining teams with different skills, experiences, thinking and cultures: When managing a globally dispersed team, it can be challenging to navigate different time zones, local holidays, any language barriers and more. But once you bring everyone together, the benefits outweigh the challenges. Bringing together talent regardless of where they are based allows businesses to bring together the right talent for the right project. Companies can harness a greater diversity of thought and reduce cultural bias. The trick here is to create enough team cohesion that each person sees the value in others.

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

To address challenges around productivity, it’s important to build comradery around a shared vision or goal despite physical distance. Make sure everyone on the team is clear on their specific role and knows that they have a voice and place on the team. This also applies to virtual team meetings — ensuring that everyone knows their role will lead to greater transparency and participation across the team. People need to see their work within the context of the bigger team goals. It gives them a sense of place and worth — focusing their actions, as they understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

But transparency extends beyond defining goals, roles and responsibilities. It’s also important to create a shared virtual work environment — much like you would have in the office — to make work more visible. This helps ensure that your teams aren’t questioning each other’s productivity and prevents micro-management.

There are several tools that can help accomplish this be it Microsoft Teams, Trello, etc. And these tools often allow you to capture all interactions in one space. By standardizing tools, your teams will have greater insight into where certain items are in the work stream and know where to engage their coworkers beyond official calls and meetings. Establishing a virtual workspace helps create greater autonomy while simultaneously enhancing transparency.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but geographically dispersed teams require a heightened approach to communications, and now more than ever, leaders must keep teams driving toward results. If you just sit back and don’t bring your virtual teams together regularly, work streams will fall apart. It’s important to communicate with team members frequently and get a pulse check on how projects are progressing, identify where there are challenges and work together to find solutions. Communicating often via phone and video chat should help mitigate misunderstandings and miscommunications that come with losing face-to-face contact.

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?

Emotional intelligence is especially important when delivering tough news or feedback virtually, which will become increasingly common as companies embrace more virtual work in the aftermath of COVID-19.

When giving feedback virtually, you can usually tell you’ve done a good job of offering constructive criticism by the level and quality of the interaction that follows.

  • Try to do it over video so that you can judge reactions.
  • Make sure it’s one on one. No public/group criticism.
  • Keep the opening short and make it a discussion.
  • Begin with the end in mind and work together toward a clearly stated outcome.
  • Be “in it” with the person you are helping do better.

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

In today’s business environment people are moving so quickly — it’s easy to shoot off an email without taking the time to think about how it will be interpreted on the other end. I would actually say that effective leaders should always offer to connect via phone or video chat to talk through feedback. In my experience, constructive feedback should really always be a conversation rather than handled over email if it involves potentially sensitive issues. Email may be the beginning of the conversation, but be sure to follow through with a real 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 important that there’s a level of patience and empathy as teams adapt to working remotely. In the pandemic environment specifically, many are juggling work with childcare, so it’s inevitable that there will be some adjustment period. I can’t stress enough the importance of leading with emotional intelligence during this transition, as well as frequent communication with team members. You also need to understand that many on your team will need to learn or improve a new set of skills in a virtual work environment. Offering your team the tools, resources and support to help build these new muscles will be key to overall success.

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 the COVID-19 environment, we’ve seen many companies use different tactics to create a positive remote culture that goes beyond just work. From virtual happy hours to virtual yoga, trivia and more — organizations are embracing new ways of keeping up the human connection so it doesn’t get lost as teams adapt to working remotely.

One way that we do this at PMI is each morning, I host a 15–20 minute virtual meeting with the whole organization discussing topics not related to ongoing projects. We keep these meetings very positive, sharing everything from best practices for working virtually to showing off new colleagues — a.k.a, employees’ kids, pets and plants. It’s been an effective and lighthearted way to keep employees connected, and we’ve been seeing conversations that started during the morning meeting continue to evolve on our internal collaboration tool, Yammer, throughout the day. In some ways, I’ve never been as involved in “water cooler talk” as I am today. It’s a different, in some ways richer, way to foster connection and teamwork.

Frequent communication from leadership is a must to empower work culture. Be it spotlighting great work across the business, acknowledging the challenges of our new working world, or sharing general updates, having open and authentic lines of communication is key to fostering a positive work culture across geographically dispersed teams

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

We’re in a situation now in which people are very concerned about giving back. As organizations build their way back from this crisis, they’re going to be striving to build a better future with a better understanding of their environment.

Corporate social responsibility will increasingly be critical to attract talent and create a good brand name. People are taking a long look at how they value their companies not just from a monetary perspective, but from a social perspective. This will accelerate as company valuations evolve to not just focus on the commercial bottom-line.

One reason why I joined PMI is because of the social impact that our community has through initiatives like last year’s Global Celebration of Service, in which PMI chapters pledged to contribute more than 150,000 hours to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. One of the reasons that I joined PMI to begin with was that we weren’t for profit, but “for purpose.” I like that we are a beacon of hope and lead through our values.

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

I suppose my favorite quote would be from my dad, who told me, “You better make sure you’re doing what you love doing, but stick to your principles.”

When you do what you love doing, you bounce out of bed. You don’t get tired. It took me a long time to find it, but I needed all of my sales and operational roles to gain the confidence to become an effective CEO.

So, my life lesson is to make sure you know a little about everything; organizations increasingly tell people today that they need to be lifelong learners and I’ve strived to be that since I left university. Across different industries and technology areas, from consulting to even starting my own company, I’ve amassed a lot of different experiences. I’ve worked in the for-profit and non-profit worlds, across finance, HR, and sales. I’ve lived and worked in Singapore, India, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, France…and what all of these experiences teach you is that you don’t know everything!

There is always so much to learn. What’s the latest thinking in data science and AI? What’s it like to work in Russia, or Mongolia, or China? The keys to unlocking new opportunities are curiosity and lifelong learnings.

Thank you for these great insights!


Sunil Prashara of the Project Management Institute: “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.

Marcus Startzel of Whitebox: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years”

Priorities have three parts: setting them, and sticking with them, and not spending time or effort on things that aren’t priorities. Teams build a team around you that you trust, and empower them to make your organization better. Without good teams focused on the top priorities, you create the perfect environment for burnout out… a ton of effort placed, and nothing to show for it. People don’t burn out in startups when there is fast growing success…and that requires clear priorities and great teams.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Startzel.

Marcus is a proven executive leader with a track record of driving industry-leading growth. Before joining Whitebox, he served various senior leadership roles within AppNexus, leading up to their 2018 $1.6B acquisition by AT&T. Marcus joined AppNexus through the acquisition of MediaGlu, a cross-device technology company where he served as Chairman & CEO. Previously, Marcus was the GM of North America and Global CRO at Millennial Media where he led dramatic enterprise growth that resulted in a successful IPO on the NYSE.

In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors at the Maryland FoodBank. Marcus earned a Mathematics degree with Merit from the United States Naval Academy and is a former U.S. Naval Submarine Officer and qualified nuclear engineer.

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

I started my career as a submarine officer, where I worked with nuclear power in a ballistic missiles submarine. So, my first five years were underwater working for the Navy, and I can’t think of anything else that is farther away career-wise than what I currently do.

After those five years as a submarine officer, I went to work for an IT technology firm down in Texas, but I wanted to move closer to home in the North East. So, after a few years there, I moved up to the Baltimore area and started working at a company called Advertising.com.

Advertising.com was my first venture-backed, startup experience in the tech space and it was really what sent me down the path I’m still currently on — from Advertising.com to Millennial Media, then MediaGlu which was acquired by AppNexus, and now I’m here at Whitebox.

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

Well, in a startup career of almost 20 years with 5 exits, there have been a lot of interesting people and stories. I think the days and weeks leading up to the Millennial Media IPO were indeed interesting and being on the senior leadership team during that event cemented many of my beliefs about leadership. As the executive responsible for the company’s revenue, hitting numbers and growing was never more in the spotlight. Anxiety tends to flare up in situations like that, and leading teams through those periods are critical. Decision-making is highlighted, and it really tests and organizations the ability to clearly communicate and execute.

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?

When I first started at Advertising.com in sales, I was working on closing a big deal. The prospect was VERY data-driven, and I needed to pull together a report on our sales and progress as a company. We had an internal, daily report which housed so much SUPER confidential information. I built a chart in excel for the client and pasted it into a powerpoint. But I pasted the entire excel file in the background and sent the prospect all of the company’s performance data. It wasn’t funny at the time — I was terrified. It’s now funny looking back at the stress I put on myself about it. The lesson was simple — always paste excel charts as pictures.

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

I’m on the board at the Maryland FoodBank. We just celebrated our 40th Anniversary of helping the food insecure in Maryland, and COVID-19 has put so many Marylanders at risk. In normal economic conditions, 1 in 9 Marylanders needs food assistance to make it through the day. Now, with record unemployment, and schools closed, so many more folks are struggling to get a solid meal during the day. The team there is doing amazing work, and while not an “exciting new project”, I volunteer at the FoodBank, because it is such a vital link in the lives of many Marylanders.

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

Priorities and teams. Priorities have three parts: setting them, and sticking with them, and not spending time or effort on things that aren’t priorities. Teams build a team around you that you trust, and empower them to make your organization better. Without good teams focused on the top priorities, you create the perfect environment for burnout out… a ton of effort placed, and nothing to show for it. People don’t burn out in startups when there is fast growing success…and that requires clear priorities and great teams.

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

There are so many people who have helped me in my life and my career. My wife, my children, and my entire network of friends and family have been so supportive. My wife in particular has always been that strong balance and sounding board for every major decision I’ve made in my life and career. I am so grateful to her, and without her would be nowhere. I’m grateful to the executives who’ve served with me. So many are now friends, and advisors. A couple of which took risks on me early in my career based on potential they saw, without which, I would not had the success I’ve had. I’m grateful for the folks who have worked for me. A couple in particular have taught me more about leadership than anyone I’ve worked for.

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

Oh man, that is a big question. I know I’ve had an impact on the lives of a lot of people in the companies I’ve worked for and led. We’ve created jobs, new technologies, and even markets. I’ve helped people grow their capabilities and careers and go on to do amazing things. But to claim to bring goodness to the world, that is a very big bar to leap over from my point of view. I operate with integrity and expect and demand it from those around me. Maybe that can be a seed to sprout some good one day.

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?

With the growth of eCommerce, consumer choice has exploded, and consumer expectations have changed — 2-day shipping, a reliance on reviews, price comparisons, increased product selection, etc. Consumers expect to be able to purchase the products they want, anywhere they shop. The divides between traditional commerce and e-commerce are closing. Amazon and other growing marketplaces prioritize the consumer, not the brands. For many brands, there has been a divide in focus and processes between being sold on store shelves and an eCommerce strategy. Brands are forced to manage the complexity and costs of direct-to-consumer sales efforts and fulfillment and meeting these new customer expectations. We see many brands that are looking for a path to success in modern commerce. Some areas we are focused on:

VERTICAL INTEGRATION

While fulfillment partners can help a brand with their eCommerce or wholesale fulfillment needs, and marketing agencies that can execute marketplace sales strategies, working with a partner that works on both sides of your business will give you access to insights and tools that will help you identify and react to new opportunities.

  • Customers expect to purchase their product of choice from their retailer of choice. Vertical integration is a winning model to provide this experience — to succeed in modern commerce you must “move stuff” and “sell stuff”, and harvest and leverage the data that comes from that process.
  • A vertically integrated model allows brands to capture the entire value chain and deliver lower costs to customers and increase sales.
  • This means all sales, logistics, and fulfillment all in one software platform

COMPREHENSIVE MARKETPLACE STRATEGY

Brands will look to broaden their product offering across marketplaces to sell where consumers are. While Amazon accounts for 62% (need to find source) of all eCommerce purchases and has surpassed Google in product searches. (need to find source), it is not the only marketplace brands should focus on. Determining the marketplaces that make sense for your brand — Amazon, Walmart Marketplace, Target, eBay, Google Shopping, etc. will be a key component of your strategy. From there, researching the right product selection for each marketplace, understanding the difference in consumer demographics, shopping habits, price sensitivities, sales velocity, margins, etc. and using data to create a long-term marketplace strategy will increase your opportunity for success.

OMNICHANNEL FULFILLMENT

Omnichannel order fulfillment ensures all your inventory is available across any channel, from one network. Whether you are looking for fulfillment and logistics specific for B2B, retail replenishment, drop-ship, direct-to-consumer eCommerce, or marketplace prep, pooling all of your inventory in one network simplifies ordering and forecasting and provides visibility into your sales and logistics across all channels.

PROTECT YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN

Many of the conversations our team is having with clients are focused on how to build a stable, yet flexible strategy moving forward. Protecting your supply chain and taking proactive steps to ensure business continuity is a priority for all of our clients.

Stay in Stock: Being out-of-stock can create issues with your direct consumers, marketplaces, and retail relationships. Pooling all of your inventory in one fulfillment network increases your chances of staying in stock and being able to move inventory as needed based on demand. Regardless of the type of order — wholesale, DTC, drop-ship, marketplace, etc.

Create Redundancies: Store and fulfill products from multiple fulfillment centers. If there is a substantial increase in demand, your products can be packed and shipped from all fulfillment centers. If a product is out of stock at one fulfillment center, the others can fulfill the orders, and if a fulfillment center is negatively impacted, those tasks can be performed by any other fulfillment center. This gives you the stability and flexibility to handle an influx of orders.

Exceed Customer Delivery Expectations: Having all of your inventory in one network means you have the flexibility to split it among markets to get as close to your customer as possible — getting deliveries to customers faster and cheaper

USE DATA TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS

  • Tech-enabled logistics and fulfillment: The 3PL industry is operating 100-year-old business models on 50-year-old technology and is ripe for disruption. Find a next-generation fulfillment partner who will rely on innovations in technology and processes to deliver results.
  • Use data & Insights to drive decisions: Use search and purchase data to guide new product launches and understand better how to advertise across marketplaces.
  • Test Variety & Multipacks to Enhance Product Offerings: Selling your $6 shampoo at your consumer’s favorite brick and mortar store makes sense. Selling that same $6 shampoo online, after you consider packaging and shipping, may not make sense for your business. Many products that are sold as single units in retailers, do better as multiple and variety packs online, while delivering higher profit margins. Whiotebox’s technology creates and tests product configurations in real-time with our tech-enabled virtual storage solution.

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. 🙂

Ending hunger. This isn’t a new idea, and it shouldn’t need a movement. But in a world where consumers can choose a food delivery company to bring them a single meal, because they can afford the huge fees to deliver one meal, not enough people understand that so many people are silently hungry. Every day. My movement would be for folk who can afford to donate, donate to food banks. The nationwide network of food banks can create 10 meals out of a $1 donation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Marcus Startzel of Whitebox: “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: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” With Bill Powers of Cambridge…

The Future Is Now: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” With Bill Powers of Cambridge Mobile Telematics

We’re taking one of the largest safety concerns on the roads today — the smartphone — and using it to solve the very problem it creates — distracted driving. Our platform — built with behavioral science, artificial intelligence, and mobile sensing — gives drivers the feedback they need to improve their driving and make the roads safer for everyone.

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

Bill Powers is Founder & CEO of Cambridge Mobile Telematics. Bill has played a vital role in building and managing a number of successful organizations at companies like Swoop and Traffic.com. He is recognized as a leader in emerging media and technology. Bill established the Luke Vincent Powers Foundation in memory of his son, Luke. He serves as the Foundation’s President, which supports disadvantaged children.

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 learned early on in my life that a person can control basically only two things: how hard you work, and how you treat other people. So when I started my first business at 21 — a basketball camp — I made sure that I worked hard to make it thrive, and made and maintained good relationships with good people.

A few decades of following those principles gave me the opportunity to work with my co-founders, Hari Balakrishnan and Sam Madden, to build a technology company that could help save lives on the roads. By maintaining those principles, we’ve grown it to be one of the most successful technology startups in Massachusetts history.

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

When CMT started, we turned down a number of venture capital funding offers and decided to take a different path. We applied for and received an NSF small business grant, and I put the rest of the financing on my credit card and off we went. That was 10 years ago.

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

We’re taking one of the largest safety concerns on the roads today — the smartphone — and using it to solve the very problem it creates — distracted driving. Our platform — built with behavioral science, artificial intelligence, and mobile sensing — gives drivers the feedback they need to improve their driving and make the roads safer for everyone.

How do you think this might change the world?

More than ever, the world is realizing that how we move around is at the very core of our successful economy and our equitable society. The mobility technologies we’re building will help innovate areas that have come under intense focus like supply chain, commuting to and from work and even public health. They will make transportation more efficient, safer, and environmentally friendly.

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

Treating people right includes being faithful custodians of their privacy, a core tenet that CMTholds itself to every day.

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

As smartphones became more ubiquitous, and as people started using their phones more for many different things, distracted driving increased and became a significant danger on the roads. We saw an opportunity to make the roads safer.

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

It’s happening now. People want to pay less on their auto insurance and be assessed on how they drive, not who they are. They’re using telematics to save money in these uncertain financial times.

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

We’re a B2B platform, so we collaborate closely with our partners — insurance companies, wireless providers and OEMs — to get this out to their policyholders and new customers. When our partners are successful in building their best-in-market programs, we’re successful, so we use everything in our power to help them do just that.

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

My father died when I was young, and after that, I gravitated towards a certain kind of person as a mentor. These were men who got up every day, put in a hard day’s work, and who carried themselves in a dignified manner. These gentlemen endeavored to do the right thing and treat people the right way.

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

This technology saves lives by helping drivers reduce risky behavior behind the wheel.

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

1) Listen more than you talk.

2) Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it will work.

3) Don’t expect everyone to work as hard as you do.

4) Do not allow things to fester; communicate fearlessly but respectfully, always.

5) If it was easy, everybody would do it.

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

Treat people with honesty and respect. Be kind.

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

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Nobody can predict success — just work harder, surround yourself with good people, and make it happen.

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 🙂

When evaluating whether or not to invest in a particular company, place as much consideration on the founders’ ability to succeed and as you would the technology and business model. This is a particularly salient point in these unprecedented times. A company’s ability to grow and thrive in the midst of a storm is what will ultimately succeed.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow Cambridge Mobile Telematics — I trust the good people running those accounts to give you everything you need.

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


The Future Is Now: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” With Bill Powers of Cambridge… 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: “Hi-tech tools for situational awareness in space and earth”, With Ben Lamm of…

The Future is Now: “Hi-tech tools for situational awareness in space and earth”, With Ben Lamm of Hypergiant

I don’t think success is ours alone. I think if we get to the top and haven’t spread goodness along the way, we are doing it wrong. Right now I’m really focused on two things: climate change and employee health. We launched the Eos Bioreactor as a tool to help sequester carbon and I’ve been really bullish about our efforts to bring it to market along with some additional products we haven’t announced. I hope it will be an important part of helping us address climate change. Additionally, right now our employees matter more than anything. I’m really focused on helping them to feel safe, secure and comfortable in this moment of global crisis.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Lamm, a serial technology entrepreneur that builds intelligent and transformative businesses. He is currently the founder and CEO of Hypergiant, a next-gen AI and defense company. Previous to founding Hypergiant, Lamm was the CEO and founder of Conversable, the leading conversational intelligence platform that helps brands reach their customers through automated experiences on all major messaging and voice platforms. Conversable was acquired by LivePerson (NASDAQ: LPSN) in 2018.

Lamm was also the founder and CEO of Chaotic Moon, a global mobile creative technology powerhouse acquired by Accenture (NYSE: ACN). During his time at Chaotic Moon and as a Managing Director at Accenture, Lamm spearheaded the creation of some of the Fortune 500’s most groundbreaking digital products and experiences in the emerging tech world of IoT, VR, Connected Car, Mobile, Tablet, and Wearables.

After leaving Accenture, Lamm focused his attention on other ventures, including the consumer gaming company he co-founded, Team Chaos. Team Chaos was focused on making fun, original games that people can easily play across a variety of platforms. In 2016, Team Chaos was acquired by Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA).

In addition to leading and growing his own companies, Lamm is very active in angel investing, incubators and startup communities, with investments in the software and emerging tech space. He actively mentors fellow entrepreneurs on how to build disruptive businesses through accelerators and corporate programs. In addition to supporting startups, Lamm also serves on Adweek’s advisory board, the Planetary Society’s advisory council and the advisory board of the Arch Mission.

Lamm is often quoted in the press on innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, and has appeared as a thought leader in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Adweek, Entrepreneur, Inc, Wired, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Newsweek. He frequently writes for AdWeek, Forbes, Ozy, Quartz and more.

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

I remember reading all of these dystopian futurists and hearing about Elon Musk wanting to leave the Earth for Mars and I just thought… is this it? Have we all given up on humanity and the planet? And, I thought that I didn’t want that to be the case. I wanted to do something about it. So I built Hypergiant to work on space, defense and critical infrastructure which I believe are the fundamental elements of civilization that act as the core building blocks of humanity. Our goal at the company is to deliver on the future we were promised — which is the one from my childhood where we had flying cars and world peace and even vacations in space. I looked around and couldn’t find anyone who was really focused on the intersection of space, defense and critical infrastructure through the lens of emerging tech and AI. I believe it is an opportunity to build a necessary company for this critical juncture of our planet and species.

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

Absolutely not: I was sworn to secrecy. I will say though I have had a really interesting and weird career ranging from getting yelled at by Ari Emanuel in board meetings to calls with Steve Jobs on subscription news products, debating branding with Gene Simmons, whiteboarding product design ideas with Rupert Murdoch, debating the future of space with Bill Nye on stage, and more. I believe all these weird experiences helped inform my perspective on the world of business.

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

Right now we are working on tools and platforms for situational awareness both in space and here on earth. This is the cutting edge of technology that fuses space and defense. It’s about tracking, understanding, and monitoring the proposed tens of thousands of satellites that are going to be in space in the future and how to think about things like the militarization of space. Then take this data and merging it with data from the ground while running machine learning in near-real-time to then provide the outputs of that data to tablets and even next-gen heads up displays for soldiers or first responders on the ground.

We are also working on some research projects around satellite support, back up, and distributed computing. Most people aren’t thinking about the vulnerability of our satellites and how to protect them but it’s a massive security concern.

How do you think this might change the world?

The better and faster we can collect, understand and distribute data, the more informed we are to make decisions — whether that be for shipping and logistics, disaster relief, or police and military. We also need to ensure there are the right levels of intelligent redundancies so that one bad move in space doesn’t set us back decades on Earth.

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

Humans make and control technology. Technology is not fully autonomous and sentient. It is responsive to human needs and interests. So, the best way to overcome fear is to become educated, to develop a point of view and then push for that point of view to be made into law. Tech isn’t scary; unregulated people who are looking at the future without putting human needs first are scary. It is all about having the right ethical frameworks in place and then standing behind your values in those frameworks.

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

We’ve been doing a ton of work around machine learning and the impact intelligent technologies will have on space and space-based data. Many people have been concerned around the vulnerabilities to various points in the infrastructure stack including space. Then in January, we saw a Russian satellite destroy a second satellite and people really started to ask a lot more questions. So, we got to work on figuring out what could be done to help improve this area of our critical space infrastructure and working on various solutions and products. The entire end-to-end system that I mentioned before has to be connected and protected.

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

At this point, we need to continue to work on its advancement and to develop solutions in partnership with other satellite focused businesses and organizations.

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

This is not currently an idea we are in the process of marketing widely. We are working with a couple of great strategic partners in the sector as well as the US government.

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 so grateful to so many along the way. Two of the most influential people to me have been one of my long-term partners, Andrew Busey who has taught me so much about product development, patent and IP strategy, and fundraising. I also wouldn’t be where I am today without my long-term mentor and friend, John McKinley. John was the CTO of Newscorp, CTO AOL, CIO GE Capital among many others. He has taught me so much about strategic thinking and how to deal with really large teams and problems ranging from how to handle hostile negotiations to expectations management to employee retention.

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

I don’t think success is ours alone. I think if we get to the top and haven’t spread goodness along the way, we are doing it wrong. Right now I’m really focused on two things: climate change and employee health. We launched the Eos Bioreactor as a tool to help sequester carbon and I’ve been really bullish about our efforts to bring it to market along with some additional products we haven’t announced. I hope it will be an important part of helping us address climate change. Additionally, right now our employees matter more than anything. I’m really focused on helping them to feel safe, secure and comfortable in this moment of global crisis.

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 careful who you go into business with: matching with a business partner is like getting married. You don’t want to do it with just anyone.
  2. Trust your intuition: your intuition is literally the most important aspect of your brain. It is sending you a signal for a reason, trust it.
  3. Nothing is impossible: literally nothing is impossible. Most things are limited by time or money and eventually with enough effort you can solve for both.
  4. Do what you’re good at: I’m not an engineer but I’m a great creative. So, I brainstorm a lot of tech solutions and then step away when people go to work on it. It’s how I make things happen rapidly; I don’t need to build everything I think that’s why we have teams.
  5. Chase new things: Stay curious about the world; that is what will help you stay ahead of everyone else.

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 I could have people focused on climate change and the impact it has to all of our lives including conservation of our species and other species on this planet. We need to protect endangered species as the world gets hotter and hotter and we see more seasonality variances due to climate change. We have a ton of species dying and no way to recover them. That’s terrifying.

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

I recently heard the best advice is to not listen to advice. I kind of believe it. Believe the universe is here to help you and you might be surprised by what you see happen.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


The Future is Now: “Hi-tech tools for situational awareness in space and earth”, With Ben Lamm of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brian K Marks: “Grit; The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success”

Brian K. Marks: “Grit; The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success”

Balance — While long days, hard work, and grit is certainly something that led to my success, balance is something that kept me going and kept me fresh each time I showed up at work. Family, fishing and my study of Kabbalah are all elements that rejuvenated me. This allowed me to come back to work each week with a fresh set of eyes and with a sense of renewal.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian K. Marks.

Brian has spent his 30+ year career dedicated to the entrepreneurial spirit, bringing excellence to women’s hair care products and helping the human condition through philanthropic work. His innovative approach to creating, developing, and marketing healthy, personal care and beauty retail brands and tapping niche consumer audiences in today’s culturally diverse society is a singular success story.

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

The first company and brand that I started was a hair care line called All-ways Natural in 1981, and it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product. This was a very different concept for the industry at that time. So, introducing the concept of natural ingredients to buyers and consumers was quite challenging. However, I put in the work and remained persistent. After nine years with All-ways Natural, one of my trusted advisors, my accountant Phil, asked me, “What do you think about coming up with a new brand?” That is when I developed African Pride, a line of hair care products targeted specifically for African American women. African Pride took off and became an iconic product which is still selling today. The momentum continued when I launched the Dr. Miracles hair care collection, another renowned product line available to consumers still today. After the sale of Dr. Miracles, I again was motivated with the help of Marissa Schwartz to develop my latest brand, My Israel’s Miracle hair care line. While traveling through Israel, I became inspired to learn more about the health and beauty elements known to be essential in the region. It was then that I discovered the benefits of these powerful ingredients and wanted to share them with customers around the world and My Israel’s Miracle was born. We are currently on Amazon and there is nothing like it on the market. Interestingly, we are the first company using the word Israel in the brand name.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

At the time of the launch of my first brand, All-ways Natural, buyers and consumers had not grasped the concept of natural products. Since it was the first company to have a visibly herbal ingredient in the product, it required a lot of convincing for distributors to buy in to the brand. The first nine years were filled with rejection and buyers discontinuing our product. However, giving up was not an option, it’s just not in my blood. I woke up every morning and got back to it. This was certainly a hard time. However, with a focus on sales, we pushed through those first nine years and we were able to reap the benefits of success during those following years.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I often say fear can be a great motivator and can drive you forward. I had bills to pay and a family to support. I didn’t have any other choice than to power through. I had put years into the brand and was committed and determined to make it a success.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Getting through those early years was a very long process. I had bought out my partner and was pounding the pavement on my own. During this time my grit and resistance really grew. A big part of grit leading to success had to do with being surrounded by good motivators. After nine years was when my trusted advisor put the thought of starting a new brand in my head, and African Pride was born. The launch of African Pride was a totally different experience. The first few months were tough, but I expected that to be the case. I had gone through the storm with my first brand and I came out with experience, tougher skin, and the grit I knew would help me drive my business. African Pride was quite successful as was Dr. Miracles, both brands are still selling today. Now we are looking to continue that success with My Israel’s Miracle. With this new launch comes new challenges. I came from a world of pounding on the actual physical doors of Walmart and Walgreens to navigating the digital consultants at Amazon. To say times have changed is an understatement. However, this doesn’t discourage me. Instead, I am learning to evolve with the new marketing and sales models. I feel confident that My Israel’s Miracle will follow in my other brand’s footsteps and achieve great success.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

1) Hard Work: You have to put in the work and be persistent. My paper route, when I was 12 years old, is where my grit truly began. Me and my buddies I would get on our bikes and sell the paper once a week. Not a complicated process; ring the bell and collect the money. Of course, with any business, there were challenges like who didn’t answer the door or who didn’t give a tip. As a kid, I could have given up. Instead, I kept working hard and when people didn’t pay, I just kept knocking on the door.

2) Think Outside the Box: As a kid, around 10 years old, I sold cold sodas in the park when people were playing ball. I knew I had to make money in order to help my family, so I thought of ways to do it. Be observant. Look around to see what consumers need, how things are made, how brands operate. Educate yourself and then think of how you can improve what you are observing. Whether it’s an innovative consumer product or a tool to streamline a process. We all knew people were going to get thirsty after playing in the heat. However, I took that and figured out what was missing in order to create an opportunity to help my family.

3) Persevere with Confidence: As I mentioned, the first brand I started was All-Ways Natural, and I had a rough nine-year start but I never gave up. Instead of the challenges getting me down, I assessed and learned from them. It made me smarter and more confident to persevere and grow my business.

4) Stick To The Basics: The basic building blocks of any company are sales, profitability, and building and developing the right team. With all my brands I never let myself get too distracted away from the basics because I knew they were the foundation to a successful business. Even when brainstorming next level strategies, I would always go back to the basics to ensure the foundation was stable and moving in the right direction.

5) Balance: While long days, hard work, and grit is certainly something that led to my success, balance is something that kept me going and kept me fresh each time I showed up at work. Family, fishing and my study of Kabbalah are all elements that rejuvenated me. This allowed me to come back to work each week with a fresh set of eyes and with a sense of renewal.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

My CPA, a man named Phil Garfield, was referred to me by my bank manager. Phil was a tax attorney and CPA and had a blessed gift where he could look at a financial statement and see things no one else could see. He had an ability to understand any business and advise. I always sought out people who I thought could teach me things. Phil became my mentor and was able to guide me in so many ways. The greatest thing he would do was to snap us out of it when things were down and motivate us to keep moving forward. I am a huge proponent of people seeking mentors and/or becoming one.

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

I have six kids whom all bring greatness to the world. Also, I am a big supporter of the Birthing Project, which supports pregnant women who are in need. We have supported them for the past 15 years, not only monetarily but also working with their founder to assist in larger strategic projects. We are currently sponsoring a project in Africa, which has saved the lives of many women and babies.

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

I’ve always have been fascinated with trademarks and intellectual property. I had the trademark for my new collection, My Israel’s Miracle, for over a decade. I was traveling through Israel while in my mid-40s, and I felt a strong energy, as Israel is well regarded as an energy center of the world. I truly felt there was something special about it. When you ask anyone who has ever traveled to Israel, and you see their reaction, it’s really remarkable. The reaction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The long and the short of it — we wanted to bring a little bit of that special part of Israel to people here in the U.S. by using ancient Israeli ingredients in the My Israel’s Miracle products.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I’ve always believed in openness; so, it’s important my employees understand why they’re doing something, and that they don’t simply have tasks or minute-to-minute interference from me. I also feel it’s important to do things as a community, which has nothing to do with business. For example, one weekend we told the staff not to come in on Friday or Monday. Instead, we took all 87 employees on a cruise, where everyone participated in inclusive events such as karaoke and group get-togethers. Going beyond business is a significant part of our company psychology.

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 system where young people can work legally and are rewarded for working. This is something we’re so far away from. Most minimum-wage jobs are held by adults. We are seeing more and more students graduate from college, who haven’t worked. Experience is so important, and I know it would help students if they began to develop hands-on skills while they’re still in school. I would love to change this.

Another movement I am passionate about is encouraging people to become mentors or to find mentors. The concept of mentors is seen today as something old, but when you read about the really smart people — all of them talk about their mentors. So, I think accessibility to becoming a mentor, or to find one, is still important.

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

“Stop looking at your shoes and look out into the horizon.” This is a way of saying that whatever obstacle or problem you’re seeing today, it will clear up tomorrow just like the weather. This outlook has always kept me moving forward with confidence in all of my businesses.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook @My Israel’s Miracle

Instagram @myisraelsmiracle

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


Brian K Marks: “Grit; The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kimberly Afonso: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and

Kimberly Afonso: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

I have been passionate about balance, especially work-life balance while getting clients great results, and that is something that is central to my work. I am originally from the US and to date have lived in 5 countries and my team currently operates across 6 time zones: I love giving my clients that global perspective as well.

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

Kimberly Afonso is a branding, marketing, and consulting expert originally from the US that now runs her remote digital agency from Europe. She works with mid to large-sized corporate clients who are looking to create a consistent and 360-degree strategy for success both online and offline. She is passionate about all things related to remote work, digital marketing, well-being, yoga, and travel.

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

I have always been passionate about a few things: remote working, well-being, traveling, yoga, and helping leaders.

In my business, I am able to do all of those things and also apply them to work through working with CEOs and Founders every day.

I create online programs that blend all of those interests and educate those who are interested in participating as well.

I have been passionate about balance, especially work-life balance while getting clients great results, and that is something that is central to my work. I am originally from the US and to date have lived in 5 countries and my team currently operates across 6 time zones: I love giving my clients that global perspective as well.

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 really personal. It is the “why” behind why your company does what it does and what it stands for.

Advertising is simply the tool to expand the reach of your core message.

Therefore, everything must start with a good branding strategy, not the other way around! This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see new or small brands make. You have to be really clear on your branding before you start marketing anything, and some want to jump right into the advertising part without developing this and then do not see clear results from their efforts.

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?

If you do not have a strong brand, it will not be clear what you can or should advertise or how you should market your product or service.

Your branding is really central to who you are as a company or individual.

And it is a way for potential customers to get to know you. It is really personal, and without investing time to figure out what you want to say about yourself and why, it will be difficult to market anything you are creating.

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

Rebranding is really common and something I encourage for brands of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps you went through a merger. Perhaps you grew exponentially since you started. Perhaps the market did not take your first product and you want to keep some of your core values, but create something more aligned with your new revenue goals.

There are countless reasons, and sometimes it may be that a company has been in business for 15 years and their logo is looking a bit dated! I like to think about it like changing the interior of your house. You may have many reasons to do so (you have more money to invest at this point in time, your furniture is old, or the old look and feel does not resonate with you anymore) and all are valid reasons to change!

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

The only downside could be that if you change your brand too much, your existing customers may not recognize you. In this case, if you are thinking about changing your logo, for example, I would suggest a gradual change. Perhaps keep the same logo but take off your brand name. Then it will not be as drastic. You could also do this the other way around — create a new logo but add your brand name for a period of time so that consumers understand who you are.

Another strategy could be to use the same colors if you are changing other aspects of your brand.

I do not see many reasons NOT to rebrand, but the process definitely needs to be considered carefully before doing so based on new goals and the current consumer base.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Revisit your Color Scheme — perhaps your old colors do not link to what you are trying to promote. Do some research behind what each color symbolizes and choose your colors wisely. It is an important aspect of any brand’s identity.
  2. Re-Do your Core Brand Values — if you have not visited your core brand values for a few years, that could be a good place to start.
  3. Evaluate what your Logo Means — if you have changed your core positioning, your logo may no longer be relevant. Evaluate what it means and update accordingly.
  4. Invest in Personal Branding — along with your branding, get clear on your personal branding as well. It is often one of the most useful tools when it comes to understanding what you want to represent and promote and helps amplify your brand’s message
  5. Get your entire Team on Board — your team should be a central part of your branding conversations. What do they think are the most important core values of your company? Talk it through with them.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I think that the Airbnb rebrand had a lot of backlash at the time, but their new logo is much more aligned with what most brands are doing today. It is a recognizable icon that was designed with the meaning of the company behind it. You do not need “Airbnb” to be written to know what that icon stands for. Any brand can replicate that if they are using their name for the branding by creating a logo and starting with the brand name under the logo, then starting to remove their name all together after time.

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

I have a few:

“Everything is figureoutable (by Marie Forleo)”: I truly believe this and it is something that I have embraced throughout my business growth. We can figure out anything if we have the will.

“It does not make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do (Steve Jobs)”: I have always been passionate about hiring people smarter than me as you are only as good as your team and getting them to guide our next steps has been very key. It is something I believe in strongly. When you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

“Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems”: This is relevant for many reasons — in the client-facing marketing business, if something goes wrong, it never is as bad as it seems and usually can be fixed in one way or another. As we are talking about branding, which relates to social media, nothing is ever as good as it may seem in a post.

And lastly, a yogic quote — “we have everything we need inside of us right now”: I practice yoga daily and truly believe this. We have everything we need right inside of us, the outside is just extra. I always repeat this to myself when I am looking for answers — they are always inside of me. And also to remind myself to separate from the ego.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram, Linkedin, or my email list on my website!

https://www.instagram.com/kimberlyafonso/

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

https://www.kimberlyafonso.com/subscribe

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


Kimberly Afonso: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Steve Grear of Reshoevn8r: 5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand

Consumers connect with the brand, not the products, and are looking to be part of a tribe whether they know it or not. As human beings, we desire connection and if your brand can connect with people in a more meaningful way than just selling them a product, they will have your back and be great ambassadors for your brand.

I had a pleasure interviewing Reshoevn8r founder Steve Grear. He was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. His childhood and adolescent experiences taught him valuable lessons that inspired him to start his company in 2011. And now, nearly a decade later, his ultimate sneaker cleaner is patented — and Reshoevn8r is one of the top premium shoe care brands in the world.

Grear was raised by his single mother and grew up in a neighborhood comprised mostly of trailer homes. His mother worked full-time and he subsequently became self-sufficient at an early age. Money was sparse for Grear and his family, and he learned to value his shoes. His mother believed that clean shoes are crucial to a presentable appearance, and he followed suit by keeping his sneakers in top condition — foreshadowing Reshoevn8r.

Grear as a teenager transitioned from living with an overprotective mother to a disinterested father that didn’t care what he did in his spare time. He disregarded school as his father toiled away with drugs, and eventually dropped out before graduating high school. Grear was arrested in 2009 on a class-two felony for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, marking a personal low and eventual epiphany. He realized he needed to do something productive with his life, and Reshoevn8r was born.

Grear in the last decade has controlled Reshoevn8r’s daily operations, gaining experience with e-commerce, marketing and building a massive social media platform. He prides himself on his ability to visualize concepts so that they become a reality and is always thinking about how to evolve. Grear has always had an interest in sneakers, and his excitement about the company often keeps him up at night. He’s a progressive thinker that thrives when the company flourishes and consistently has ideas running through his mind.

Grear is also a loving fiancé and father to his newborn baby girl. He enjoys exercising, listening to music, reading, spending time with his daughter, and giving back to the community. He has been involved with a handful of local and international charities and hopes long term to become a better man while keeping an open mind. His upbringing was challenging and humbling but ultimately helped him become the man and entrepreneur he is today.

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

Being raised in the 80’s, I was exposed to a lot of cool things — sneakers being one of them. I have a lot of love for sneakers and from an early age enjoyed the feeling of putting on a nice, new pair of shoes. Growing up I didn’t have much, so I learned to take care of my shoes and I would clean them regularly to keep them fresh. My love for shoes continued as an early adult and one night as I was cleaning some shoes to sell on eBay I had an epiphany. I realized the shoe cleaning process I had been using for the last 15 years was much more effective than any other product on the market and Reshoevn8r was born.

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?

If I had to pick one, it would be when I first started the business. I naively thought after building a website, I would automatically get sales coming in and I quickly realized that’s not how it works. I then attempted to figure out how to drive traffic to my site, so I hired an SEO strategist which led to me spending all of the money that I had left…only to find out that it wouldn’t lead to anything. The lesson I learned is to do as much as you can on your own in the beginning, especially when you have limited money.

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

We pride ourselves on the authenticity and transparency that we provide to our customers, fans, and team. We know how critical it is to build trust and stay innovative in an industry that is evolving and growing rapidly. One of our core values is “be comfortable being uncomfortable” and I do my best to make sure we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone regularly. This isn’t a specific story, but we are always very transparent and honest when we shoot our shoe cleaning tutorials for our YouTube channel, which has over 1,000,000 subscribers. If we clean a shoe and don’t get the results we were expecting, we make sure to show the areas that didn’t clean up so people know not to expect perfection.

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

One of the big projects we recently finished was our rebranding of Reshoevn8r, which we are super excited to introduce. We also partnered with Bata Sole, a nonprofit that provides new and gently used shoes to impoverished communities. We were fortunate enough to help them on a mission to Manila Philippines to provide shoes to kids.

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

Branding is the visual appearance of the brand — the look and the feeling consumers get when exposed to your logo, name, messaging, etc. I believe how you interact and communicate with customers or fans is a pivotal part of branding. Product marketing is the strategy to sell your goods and drive demand for the items you sell, which requires creativity and a deep level of analysis to do it well. There is also a high level of storytelling and messaging needed in advertising to show people that the product solves a problem for the consumer.

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

Consumers connect with the brand, not the products, and are looking to be part of a tribe whether they know it or not. As human beings, we desire connection and if your brand can connect with people in a more meaningful way than just selling them a product, they will have your back and be great ambassadors for 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.

Deliver what you promise: Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Consumers expect for you to deliver when you say you are going to do something. You need to be reliable and hold yourself to a higher standard because you are being observed at all times.

Be Authentic: Authenticity is super important to gain trust from consumers. They don’t expect you to be perfect but they appreciate when you are transparent with them. It helps to be relatable and with so much noise out there, consumers want realness.

Be customer focused: This is a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many businesses don’t get it. It is impossible to please everyone, but you can get pretty close if you treat the customer how you would like to be treated. Think ahead and avoid issues by being proactive instead of reactive.

Be Consistent: Consistency is key and helps build trust; great achievements are built out of consistent work. We have 1 million subscribers on our YouTube channel from being consistent and releasing two videos every week for the last four years. Because of this, our subscribers trust us as the proven leader in the industry.

Educate: Creating content that consumers can find value in is important to building trust and the more you can add value, the more people will appreciate what you are doing. We try to educate people on how to use our products but also take care of their favorite shoes. Some sneakers sell for thousands of dollars and people want to know how to take care of them. We go out of our way to answer questions on all of our social platforms and we are very responsive when people ask us questions.

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

One brand that I believe has done this better than anyone else is Supreme. They have done an outstanding job building their brand and, for the most part, everything they release sells out. They do a great job with collaborations and leveraging other strong brands to help expand their brand awareness and reach.

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?

I consider branding to be the heartbeat of the business and since it’s continuous, it can be measured by industry buzz, social media growth, and relevance in your industry.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

It is everything for us. Consumers will go to social media to learn about your brand and to find out if you are a brand that they will connect with and are attracted to. Consumers can tell from the moment they look at your feed if you are a brand they like. We have built our entire brand and business on social media.

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

I think having the ability to be creative and think outside the box will help create excitement, which is what has helped me. I’m also a firm believer in taking the time to do things you enjoy whether that’s exercise, meditation, cooking, whatever can relax your mind form the daily grind.

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 inspire people to believe in themselves and that regardless of how bad things might seem at the moment, they have the ability to make them better.

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

“Strength and growth come only from continuous effort and struggle.” Napoleon Hill

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 would have to say Elon Musk.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@mr.reshoevn8r + @reshoevn8r


Steve Grear of Reshoevn8r: 5 Things You Need To Do 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.

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn of The Solid Brand Sessions: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn of The Solid Brand Sessions: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be courageous. How do you find the courage/confidence to put yourself out there? You have to just do it. During the COVID crisis, one of our clients had to pivot and take her workout brand digital. Online classes and virtual workouts. She wasn’t ready, but her brand was set up properly and it was easy for her to transfer her brand to be completely virtual because of the strong brand work we had done in the past.

I had a pleasure interviewing Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn.

Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn are on a mission to bring more than just “pretty pictures” to the world of branding for women leaders and business owners.

In their collaborative project, The Solid Brand Sessions, Cristin and Julie set out to solve a big problem that they both encountered over the years: People want pretty ‘branding’ photos, but then, they don’t know what to do with them. They get caught in a trap that focuses on the “look” only.

The Solid Brand Sessions focuses on helping women business owners overcome this trap. They build and re-energize brands by creating visuals that hold true to a strategy led by the brand’s core values.

Julie’s strategies and brand implementation plans pull directly from her experience in the advertising agency world and the knowledge she gained working as Bethenny Frankel’s right hand as she built her Skinnygirl Empire. Cristin’s storytelling expertise comes from commercial visual and video work for Ustianochka Vodka, Habitat for Humanity, and Simple Sugars.

Cristin and Julie are serious about creating confidence in the brand building journey. Their packages include hair, makeup, personal styling, and production. To date they have helped over 30 small businesses build a solid brand.

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

Cristin: My production experience dates back to junior year in high school when I helped create my first real video: a remake of the infamous song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I loved everything about the production process: the storyboarding, the over the top style (trying to look like real Barbies), the multiple takes to get it just right, the long days in the edit suite, and most importantly, the look on our classmates’ faces when we premiered it. From there I knew I would always work in a creative industry. Sixteen years later I work hard everyday to make sure I feel just as passionate about my work as 16-year-old Cristin and I try even harder to help the audience feel SOMETHING when watching videos or looking at photos.

Julie: In the summer of 2006 I was working for Hamptons Magazine. I was told that I would be “helping” cook brunch with a celebrity natural foods chef, and I should prepare to help her with whatever she needed. I showed up at my CEO’s Southampton house and met Bethenny Frankel. I did everything in my power that day to impress her, despite my lack of cooking experience. We both recognized each other’s work ethic and I told her to call me when she was famous. She did…a few years later and hired me as her assistant. I went on to help her build her Skinnygirl brand from the ground up. That is where my true passion in helping others build strong brands started, and where I got the desire to be an entrepreneur.

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

Cristin: When I first started my company, I rented an Airbnb for a video shoot that looked so chic and updated on the listing. Come to find out it was rundown, and the furniture was falling apart. It took us some time, but we styled it and shot in a way that disguised the disarray. The lesson: do your research and due diligence when it comes to location scouting, but it was also good to know that if I was put in a less than ideal situation, I could really flex my creative muscles and that I was CAPABLE.

Julie: When Twitter first started, I was working for Bethenny Frankel. Her following grew FAST and someone told us that we needed to follow back everyone that followed her. After realizing that wasn’t the correct strategy for that platform, we spent five days, 24/7 unfollowing over 40,000 people one-by-one. The lesson: this taught me that you need to HAVE A STRATEGY before doing anything, especially when it is something new and uncharted!

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

Cristin: It sounds cliché, but when I went through the branding process myself in 2017, I started to feel more confident as a business owner, but also as a woman. There was finally a professional look to my brand and I felt more confident pitching my services at a new higher rate. Branding is essential: at a time that feels good to you (and only you will know when that time is).

Julie: It was when I realized that taking on every task and assignment in your job without complaining or thinking it is beneath you is one of the steps to success. You make EVERYTHING your job and your business. Making copies, getting coffee, creating spreadsheets — you do all those tasks as if they are the most important things. People will notice that and you do all to the best of your ability — you will grow as an employee, person and set yourself up for success if you ever want to run your own business one day. And if you make a mistake, own up to it and move on.

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

Both: Our exciting project is taking our own advice and building our own brand together, called The Solid Brand Sessions. We are going through the how and why that we help clients go through. Bringing our two brands together isn’t always easy, but the goal is to create a one-stop-shop and brand in a box concept that will help small business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs find success. As part of this we also have our Unleash Your Potential online and in-person events! Take a look at www.thesolidbrandsessions.com.

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

Both: When you want to pivot or re-invent yourself — look inside yourself and your brand. Don’t try to be like everybody else. It is so easy in the world of social media to compare yourself to others and try to go after what you “think” is the quickest way to success. Don’t do that. It’s a trap. Success is a feeling that you have when you are true to yourself, not necessarily something tangible. Being the same as everyone else stifles your true creativity.

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?

Julie: The real difference here is the behind the scenes work. Brand marketing MUST be developed before product marketing/advertising can be successfully implemented. The components that make up brand marketing behind the scenes lead a successful product marketing campaign. For instance, brand positioning creates belonging and matches the brand’s strengths to the target’s world view. Another example is to figure out how the brand will sustain. How will the brand show confidence and build trustworthy relationships that endure.

Learning these types of things firsthand at an advertising agency and the mentors I have met along the way, I always go into branding and advertising projects wearing my “strategy and communications” hat.

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?

Both: TO DEVELOP TRUST IN YOU AND YOUR BRAND. The amount of people and brands out there trying to “make” something of themselves is overwhelming. Just look at any of your social media feeds. When someone wants to do something new, buy something new or invest in someone new — — they do their research. They want to feel a connection to the person/thing/reason behind the product or brand. That is why brand building is important.

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

Both: We work with a lot of small business owners, many of them who had an idea, set up a social media account, and had their cousin’s friend make a logo for them. They move fast and furious, are driven and start to succeed in their specific industry. But then — — the lack of strategy catches up with them. Things might look ok to consumers/customers from the outside, but as the owner and the brand steward, they are struggling. It is at this point that our clients come to us to consider a brand refresh or rebrand. We take a look at all they have done up until this point, define their brand strategy (internal compass) and work on how to visually bring that strategy to life!

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

Both: Yes. The decision to re-brand has to make sense from a business perspective and all parts of the company must “buy-in” — — The most common reasons for a corporation to do a brand makeover would be a merger or acquisition, bad image or outgrowing an initial mission. In the small business world we tend to see brand makeovers, because there was not a brand strategy to begin with. THE BIGGEST no-no that we advise people on is changing your brand because you are comparing yourself to others, or simply see others doing pretty pictures and want to jump on the bandwagon. These are NOT strategic reasons.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Both: You are in luck! We have an acronym for this! This is why we called ourselves The S.O.L.I.D. Brand Sessions! Here’s an overview of how we break this down for our clients.

(S) Set Yourself Up for Success: Strategy ONE

Before you upgrade your brand for its outward appearance, you are presented with the perfect opportunity to take a look at what we like to call the “business of the business.” Now this internal organization and reflection isn’t always fun, but we have learned that in order to have a successful brand on the outside, the brand chaos on the inside must be in order! Some brainstorming questions for this strategy are below.

  1. How have you set yourself up to be successful monetarily or from a profit perspective.
  2. Are you aligned internally with taxes, insurance?
  3. Are you paying yourself as a business owner?
  4. Do you have the funds and desire internally for this rebrand to work externally?

(O) The Importance of Objectives: Strategy TWO

Big business, small business or personal brand, nailing down your internal brand compass is critical. But what is an internal brand compass and how do you do that? We are all about making this process painless but not brainless. Your internal brand compass is the DNA of your brand. It is the why, the how and the true north behind you do what you do.

Grab a piece of paper and try this exercise to start!

  1. Top of page: Name of your Brand (if it’s you — put YOUR name!)
  2. What is your mission? Why do you do what you do? Some people might need an extra step here. When we work with individuals we often have them “write” letters to their customers or fans.
  3. Brand Values: Are you a fun, lighthearted brand or are you serious and tough? Use adjectives, pull out a dictionary. Be very clear.
  4. Brand Objectives: Objectives always need to be measurable. Some favorites that I always include here are Identity/Image, Awareness and Engagement.

The above is your brand compass….now it is up to you to figure out how to activate this brand in the real world!

(L) Living Your Brand: Strategy THREE

This is all about telling your personal brand story; really living your brand definition. It is your messaging and mission repeated over and over in all of your digital and non-digital touchpoints (social, website, copy, visuals, communication materials, logo).

We tend to think we’re “annoying” people with content, but the truth is not everyone sees our content all of the time. We also tend to think that “pretty” pictures and videos define branding. Truth is though, many times photos get skimmed over and people watch videos without sound. We encourage our clients to use their written story (executed through social media captions, graphics, blogs, website, bio/about me pages) along with their visuals.

So in a nutshell — — live your brand — — in all aspects of target communication and strategy.

(I) Implementing Your Plan of Action: Strategy FOUR

This strategy is all about the creation of an action plan for your brand — with clear and measurable objectives. How will you execute on the strategy and visual/written story you have created? Take the objectives you came up with in Strategy TWO and place at the top of your document. Now build back to there by writing 3 tactics (actions) you will take to implement. Some example actions/tactics:

  1. Consistency/cohesiveness of branded visuals (brand stylebook)
  2. Social media calendar
  3. Investing in a copywriter
  4. Creating an SEO plan
  5. New marketing materials

(D) Do It: Strategy FIVE

When you are ready to introduce your “new” brand to the world, GO IN STRONG. Take that jump. Book new photos. Come up with a strong social and digital strategy. There is no ideal time or amount of money you may or may not have or really any perfect scenario. You just have to be courageous. How do you find the courage/confidence to put yourself out there? You have to just do it. During the COVID crisis, one of our clients had to pivot and take her workout brand digital. Online classes and virtual workouts. She wasn’t ready, but her brand was set up properly and it was easy for her to transfer her brand to be completely virtual because of the strong brand work we had done in the past.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Julie: A few years ago, Bravo (the TV network) did a complete brand makeover. It was brilliant. They knew their audience was getting bigger and needed to update the brand voice and visual identity. But they didn’t abandon everything. The logo was updated and the promotions for the shows were refined. They became more mature and serious…if you can say that about reality tv 🙂 The key to this type of replication — knowing and being AWARE of your audience. Bravo (aka Andy Cohen and team) is FULLY aware of the types of people that interact and consume their content. I was so impressed that I dipped into my old rolodex and emailed Andy Cohen to tell him how impressed I was!

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. 🙂

Cristin: In 2018 a photography client of mine created an event for women to “Shred Your Fears,” a beginner skateboarding workshop and yoga retreat. Most of the attendees were sitting way outside of their comfort zone getting on a skateboard for the first time in many years or even ever. At the close of the day it signified that they could do hard things and feel really phenomenal about themselves. I participated in the first event and ended up badly spraining my ankle, but I have no regrets because the way I felt gliding across that rink floor was so gratifying and encouraging.

If we could create something similar for female entrepreneurs that maybe was a bit more business minded (or not) to help them get over the fear of leveling up, becoming successful, or even failing then it would serve so many more of our current and potential clients. Life is too short to not take risks!

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

Both: “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.” by Bethany Hamilton, professional surfer. This encapsulates everything we have tried to do for our business and clients since it began. Most of us are timid, unsure, and scared shitless about what the future holds or how we may be perceived. It’s about being courageous and understanding that you have a greater mission and purpose to serve others. And because of that, you need to push yourself and practice courage. The results of which are invaluable.

How can our readers follow you online?

We share our brand journey and upcoming events on Instagram: @thesolidbrandsessions.

We invite everyone to take a look at our client work, join our community and download our free worksheet, “How to Feel the Most Confident On-Camera” on our website, www.thesolidbrandsessions.com.

You can also follow our personal business journeys on Instagram: @julieplakemcminn and @gossboss_photovideo.


Cristin Goss and Julie Plake McMinn of The Solid Brand Sessions: “5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Megan E Rein of SIIA Cosmetics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

Megan E. Rein of SIIA Cosmetics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

During the crisis, we are donating our products to medical workers, and sharing their stories on our channels. We want to thank them and bring more positivity into the world. We have also been working with our employees to ensure they and their families are safe and secure. Many of our own employees further our mission by helping others, like volunteering in our community to support others, working with organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

I had a pleasure interviewing Megan E. Rein, President, Strategy and Business Development at SIIA Cosmetics.

Megan is the President of Strategy and Business Development at SIIA Cosmetics. To her new role, Megan brings 10 years of experience leading international teams and programs, as well as strong communication and relationship building expertise. Rein joins SIIA from the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the largest aerospace and defense company in the world. Rein is responsible for creating and executing the company’s strategic vision focusing on the powerful people changing the world to whom the brand is dedicated. Additionally, she serves as the brand spokeswoman telling SIIA’s company and client stories to the media and wider community. While serving its domestic market, Rein will position SIIA to launch internationally and raise capital, ensuring its continued fast growth and success. SIIA Cosmetics, based in Dallas, TX, is dedicated to honoring the powerful, strong people who change the world, and to investing in those who will #SIIAChange in the future. SIIA brings the absolute best quality, luxury products with thoughtful design and prices to fit all lifestyles. Rein holds a Master of Science in International Development from the world-famous London School of Economics and an undergraduate degree in International Studies from the University of South Florida.

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

Thank you for having me! I’m so excited to share what we are doing at SIIA Cosmetics and speak with you!

I have had an unconventional path to where I am now — President of Strategy and Business Development for SIIA Cosmetics. Originally, I wanted to work in the international humanitarian field. I saw an amazing documentary in high school leading to dreams of working in Ebola clinics for Doctors without Borders. However, after two years of pre-med in college I realized it was not for me, especially after barely scraping by in organic chemistry.

I still wanted to work internationally and make the world a better place, so I switched my focus to international development, as I always loved economics and decided this was a better fit for my humanitarian drive. After graduating with a Masters in International Development from the London School of Economics, I joined Lockheed Martin, an international aerospace and defense company, where I worked my first few years in international program management, learning the foundations of management and leadership. My final role was in industrial development, where I managed programs worth hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to developing manufacturing and sustainment industries in the Middle East and India. I absolutely loved creating new capabilities and jobs in these countries, as I truly believe we’re all better off when we raise up others and cooperate together.

During this time, I was moonlighting helping the co-founders, Simon Jeon and Hicham Khodri, launch our companies. The first was Rose de Nuit, a hair extension business, which serves the independent beauty supply store market. Out of this business we launched SIIA Cosmetics with Mr. Yoo, a Korean beauty expert. SIIA is a cosmetics company dedicated to honoring strong, powerful people who are working to make the world a better place. We do this by bringing luxury cosmetics based on the best-selling premium products to our customers, who we call our Change Agents, at a reasonable price, designed to fit both their lifestyles and budgets. Our products are designed to fit in with even the busiest persons’ life, with products easy to use and travel with, including a dual-ended product line with makeup on one side and the applicator on the other. We also honor our community by partnering with She’s the First, a non-profit focused on increasing female education throughout the world.

Once SIIA launched fully, it became clear I had to focus on building our company further, so I left my previous role and became the full-time President of Strategy for SIIA Cosmetics. I’m focused on our overall growth in the online direct-to-consumer space, as well as international distribution. I also focus on how best to use our brand to create a positive impact in the world, through both our customers’ lives as well as our own philanthropic endeavors. I’ve been able to utilize my leadership and international experience ensuring SIIA grows and has the impact we want.

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

I’ve made so many mistakes, but it’s always good to laugh while you are learning! One great story we have concerns our beauty bus. The team decided to launch SIIA by taking our product on the road! We planned to create a mobile experience using a remodeled school but that would tour the US, bringing SIIA to our beauty store clients, influencers, and the media in all of our major markets.

We bought a school bus, and in an effort to save money, hired a contractor friend to do the remodel. The first pictures coming out weren’t that impressive, but we held our breath and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the final product was not any better — the school bus interior was painted white, with wall decals and posters hung up. It reminded me of my room when I was 13! It was pretty horrible. We debated for a few days if we could make it work, but decided we couldn’t live with it.

We had to start over and find the right person for the job. We found one of the top interior designers in LA from her wonderful portfolio and hired her to turn our teenage-bedroom into the luxurious experience we were looking for. The final product was fantastic with tiled floors, mini-chandeliers, and well-thought-out spaces for people to experience the brand and products. The bus featured a beautiful product display, a functional beauty counter where guests could test products, and even a mini champagne and snack bar.

While we are so proud of our beauty bus, we definitely learned a huge lesson. This, among other mistakes, really taught us the value of hiring the right people with proven experience from the beginning. Even if it’s more expensive initially, hiring experts save more in the long term, as you’re less likely to pay for rework and you’ll have a superior experience for your customers. We have always regretted trying to saving money by not going with the best for items critical to our brand and customer experience. Let’s just say it’s a lesson we are happy to not repeat!

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

First of all, our products are absolutely fantastic — we’ve proudly partnered with Korean beauty experts and the best factories in the world. We took the best performing products from luxury cosmetic lines, and based our formulas on these products. We added our own blend of botanicals and skin-improving agents to these products, and we offer these products at half the price of the luxury lines. Korean beauty technology is the best in the world, and our products incorporate the latest to provide clean, high-performing cosmetics at a reasonable price.

But more importantly, our company stands out by truly honoring and standing with our Change Agents and community in everything we do. We know our customers are doing everything they can to help their families and communities during this time, and we are doing the same standing with them. The coronavirus situation is incredibly challenging and scary for everyone. However, I am so proud everyone in our company has the same focus. We constantly ask ourselves — what can we do to help others?

During the crisis, we are donating our products to medical workers, and sharing their stories on our channels. We want to thank them and bring more positivity into the world. We have also been working with our employees to ensure they and their families are safe and secure. Many of our own employees further our mission by helping others, like volunteering in our community to support others, working with organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

We know all of this adds up and authentically resonates with our community, and we’ve received great feedback from our Change Agents. We want them to know we stand with them, by not only providing amazing products but by doing everything we can during this time, just like they are.

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

Absolutely! We’ve been doing a series of giveaways and recognitions of healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight, in order to thank them and inspire positivity during these trying times. We know this is helping our Change Agents by giving a sense they are appreciated, which is so important when they’re doing everything from working long shifts, working at home while taking care of their families, and dealing with all of the other difficult situations they’re encountering. It also brings positivity to our wider community — we are all dealing with mixed emotions and difficulties at every level, and we believe telling these positive stories and highlighting the good happening helps all of us.

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

Branding is the act of defining who you are as a company and brand — what you stand for, what your brand’s story and the world are, and defining how you’re different within your industry. It’s the fundamental story you tell yourself, employees, and community. This drives every decision you make. Our company during the past four years was a business-to-business focused company. As we launched our brand direct-to-consumer online we’ve had to soul search and create our story. It feels like every industry now is very crowded and noisy, the beauty industry more than most. By having a solid foundation and creating a world allowing you to stand out authentically while building a relationship with your customers, makes our brand strong and meaningful. Branding isn’t something you do once, but like a marriage, is something you must continue defining through every up and down, in order to develop your world as we continue building relationships.

Advertising is the tactical level introducing your potential customers to your products, as well as the brand world. Product marketing can be as simple as a one picture ad on Facebook, but when done well it should serve as the branding foundation telling potential customers exactly what you and your brand are all about attracting them to the world you’ve built. For SIIA, our brand world is based around strong, powerful people changing the world. Our product marketing shows our community and potential customers our amazing products and how they fit into their life.

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

Investing time and energy into building a brand is very important! Without this, it’s very easy to get off track, both internally and externally, and can lead you to be unhappy with your marketing and advertising efforts.

Companies and brands are built by teams, and the most important thing you can do as a leader is to ensure everyone knows what are your brand’s world, meaning, and goals. If this isn’t clear, from the CEO to the intern, not only will you get off track, but your team won’t have the same mission understanding. They’ll never get the level of fulfilment and passion teams with a consistent mission experience. Brand building is key to ensuring the brand story reaches your customers in the way you want it to, and builds a strong team to tell that story.

In SIIA’s earliest days, the work into building our world and meaning wasn’t done to the level needed. The ideas and their implementation weren’t communicated clearly to everyone. We ended up with a marketing output the leadership wasn’t happy with, but at the end of the day, we only had ourselves to blame. We hadn’t put work into building our world and ensuring the whole team understood it. Since then, we’ve done much as a company building this foundation, and are now working with our fantastic branding agency, Partners & Spade, to further world-build and translate it online in the best possible way. If we had invested earlier, we wouldn’t need to redo the original marketing work — but as all builders know, sometimes you have to learn through mistakes, and we’re grateful we to have put these lessons into action.

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.

Choose a brand story and world authentic to who you are and what your origin is. We chose our brand story because it is who we are — we are a team of strong people from a different backgrounds who are working to make the world a better place, so it only made sense to make that our brand foundation. If the story is authentic to you, it will be easy to communicate and feel authentic to others, which makes building trust much easier.

Flesh out the brand story and mission and make sure your whole team buys into it. As I mentioned before, we initially did not do this foundational work, and did not communicate it effectively. Our first marketing campaign came out very differently from what we had in mind. Because we did not flesh out the branding and make sure the whole team understood it from every angle, it was impossible for our team to then implement it.

Hire the right team and outside agencies, who believe in the brand vision and can translate it to your audience. It is so important that the people you trust to translate the brand to different mediums, whether your website or advertising, truly believe in and are excited about the brand. Likewise, hiring people with the right skills and experience is equally important so they can translate the brand vision in the best way possible.

Believe in the brand vision and keep focusing in on it. You can always adjust the tactics of how to approach it, how to tell it and advertise it, but don’t change the foundation. When a brand is new everyone has different ideas and suggestions, and it can be very easy to lose focus and get scared that your ideas aren’t good enough. At the end of the day, the brand story needs to be authentic and true to you, or it will never feel authentic to your customers. You must keep focusing on your brand story — while you can certainly take in ideas of how best to translate it, advertise it, and interact with your community and stay true to your vision.

Intentionally, tell the brand story in new ways, and ensure everything you do inside and outside of the company is true to the brand. The coronavirus pandemic is challenging for everyone, and a newer cosmetic brand is no exception. We’ve been intentionally thinking about how to use this time as an opportunity to prove who we are and show we truly represent what we say we do. Thinking through every challenge as an opportunity to further build the brand and mission, both with your internal team and to your community, will make your company stronger and more resilient in all circumstances.

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?

In absolutely love Kendra Scott, who created an incredible brand which is also focused on charity and giving. Her visual style is so distinct and really creates the vision of the KS world — it is so beautiful, free, and optimistic. I’m so impressed by both its execution and her ability to maintain the consistent style while constantly reinventing it over different campaigns and seasons.

To replicate, I think it’s important not to try to copy your role model exactly, but copy their strategy. For SIIA, we have taken Kendra Scott’s focus on visual style and we are approaching our next campaign in that light. We’re constantly honing in on what the SIIA image is, and ensuring each image tells the SIIA story.

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?

The success of the brand building is measured by its customer’s acceptance of it. It is different in that brand building needs to be measured holistically. Advertising can be measured campaign-by-campaign, so each ad, including the specific text and photos, can be measured for how effective they are. However, since your brand is the foundation that everything, from your internal team cohesion to your relationship with your customers, is based on, it must be measured in many ways.

The first layer of measuring your brand building campaign is from a PR perspective — brand sentiment. On social media, in the press, and among influencers, how is your brand spoken of? Is it mostly positive, negative, or non-existent?

The next layer would be the consistency of your brand story and messaging across all of your platforms and communications. Do your social channels tell the same story as your website? Does the material you send out to influencers hit your messaging in a way they can retell easily?

And the final and most important layer is the brand building within your team. Does every member of the team understand the brand world and mission? Do they believe in it? Do they feel like what they are doing is part of that mission?

Brand building is something you have to continually do, and evolve, so instead of thinking of specific metrics you can reach, I measure our brand-building campaign by thinking through the items I’ve mentioned, and ensuring that the brand story is clear, is consistent across all of our platforms, and creates a world that is compelling and builds the relationship we want with our community.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is central to our branding efforts. Beauty and cosmetics live and breathe on social media, between makeup artists, influencers, and tutorials, so it’s extremely important we engage. We build relationships with influencers and makeup artists on social media, which is so important in building trust among future customers. Buying cosmetics online can be scary, since you can’t see and try it before taking that leap of faith. Social media, and our community on it, allows us to show who we are, how great our products are, and reach out to potential customers before they make that leap.

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

I have experienced burnout many times, and I always have found it’s at times I felt either stuck or not challenged by my work. When I feel I’m in a loop and the work I’m doing isn’t inspiring to me, I get burnt out and feel either frustrated or listless. The only way I know out is giving myself some space and really think about my future goals. Then I create a plan for how to achieve them. I write down my 1-, 3-, and 5- year plans with specific milestones, then break down what to do on a weekly and monthly basis to achieve them. For example, when we were first launching SIIA, I planned to carve out time on evenings and weekends to work through branding ideas, strategy, and networking. Putting it down in an agenda helped me feel I had control over where I was going. It also lets me prioritize my work seeing what work was not important to my future goals. This way I could maximize my time on tasks critical to my success. Knowing I was taking steps every week to get closer to my goals made the work I was doing every day feel more meaningful allowing me to move past burnout.

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

That is so kind of you to say, and not something I take lightly! ?

I would absolutely love to inspire a renewed sense of service — service to each other, our communities, and the wider world. The classic Kennedy quote — “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” — is a spirit I want to see renewed. What can you do for your community? For the wider world? How can you help others, make the world better, even in your own backyard? Especially in these divisive times, I would love to inspire others to be of service and think of the whole world as our community. We created SIIA to honor people who have this spirit, those already working to make the world better, and I would be incredibly proud to contribute to this movement.

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

As many times as this probably is said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” always impacts me the most. It drives me to think about the power I have, right now, to change the world, and reminds me I’m able to make changes, even if just modeling behavior I want to see. It goes with my previous comments on being of service, but I truly believe what we all need right now is to think more about how to make our families, communities, and wider world better for the future. If we all act and behave the way we want the world to be, we could see this change.

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 inspiring leaders out there, and I would be honored if any of them saw this interview! Probably my top leaders are Bill and Melinda Gates — they’ve been incredibly successful in the business world, but then turned their success into probably the biggest humanitarian effort ever accomplished by private citizens. I would love to grab a coffee (my biggest addiction) with them, and would gladly meet them in Seattle, my treat

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/megan.rein), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/meganerein/) , and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-rein-09a7a76a/) — and would love to speak more with the brilliant Change Agents out there!


Megan E Rein of SIIA Cosmetics: “5 Things You Need To Do 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.

Daisy Jing of Banish: “5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic”

Fuel up — Before you connect with other people, make sure your heart and soul aren’t empty. Allow yourself to be filled with love, joy and peace as well so you can wholeheartedly share them with others. You can not share what you don’t have. Don’t just give without receiving affection from others, you’ll be dry and empty in no time. Bless and let others bless you too so you’ll be more inspired

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 Daisy Jing. Daisy founded and bootstrapped a now multi-million beauty product line called Banish. She started her business from just her laptop! She had bad acne and tried everything to help clear it up. She tried hundreds of different beauty products and decided to review beauty products to help others suffering with the same problem. In turn, she developed a following of over 70M views on YouTube and became a trusted source of information in the realm of skin problems. Afterwards, she launched her natural skin care line focused on combating skin blemishes. Her business is now ranked #152nd fastest growing company in INC 500 and she was also included in Forbes 30 under 30. Now they are a team of men and women, inspiring confidence in others.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Daisy! 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?

I realized that many current skincare ingredients, such as fragrances or fillers, break out my skin, so I created my own skincare products in my kitchen. I documented my struggle on my YouTube channel, which now garners over 70M views. Eventually, my followers saw great results on my skin and encouraged me to launch my own business. Now we are a diverse team focused on inspiring confidence in others. Together with the Banish Warriors and Soldiers, we are here to join you in your skin journey.

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

Up to now, I still can’t believe that people recognize the product and our brand. I am so happy that more people all over the world are now using our products and also inspired by our brand.

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?

There was a fraudulent charge from my bank and the phone operator happened to know me and asked, “Are you Daisy who does the beauty videos and owns Banish?” This person sees my charges and stuff and that embarrassed me at some point. That’s why everyday, we have to be careful about everything we do because we have no idea how big our impact is on people

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

We recently launched the Banish Acne Diaries, they are actual customers who share their stories based on their skin status and how confident they are now. I am so happy and proud to use my brand and voice to represent our customers — they are people next door who are going through their own struggles and empower other people by sharing their inspiring story. We at Banish do our best to be the voice of those who are unheard and together we build each other’s confidence,

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

I had an opportunity to have a TedxTalk about “A TRAGEDY CALLED PERFECTION.” I suffered with my skin and I don’t like my appearance. I always thought I’m ugly and look less than the others. I was very depressed and lonely and since I never grew up with tons of friends or family around me, I came up with my YouTube channel and “accidentally” built a community of people who have skin issues and self-doubt. These people reached out to me because just like me, they are also lonely and need someone to make them feel that they’re not alone.

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?

  • When you’re always alone, you tend to feel helpless and hopeless; but once you connect to other people, their help and glimpse of hope make you realize that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hope gives you reasons to be healthy and live happier another day
  • Self-isolation gives you a feeling of despair since you share your own negative vibe by yourself. To connect with others give you an opportunity to catch their happy vibe and aura, making you happier each day, changing your perspective and outlook in life
  • Loneliness is the hardest and longest way to die. It takes so much time for you to die but it will definitely (slowly) take a toll on your health. Loneliness will bring you stress — stress may cause obesity, hyperacidity, cancer, diabetes, heart problems that will eventually lead to death. Stress can also lead to unhealthy habits that have a negative impact on our health. We tend to eat too much, smoke, cry often and even hurt ourselves because of too much loneliness. These unhealthy habits damage the body and create bigger problems in the long run. Bottom line, loneliness gives us less self-fulfillment and more reasons to give up on life.

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

In other parts of Europe and Japan, there are older people in their population, dying without their community noticing and knowing because the elders are alone. Because of self-isolation, the elders usually die alone, people have looser family ties, people don’t want to have kids or create a family anymore which further makes the loneliness epidemic worse. In Japan, a lot of people normalize self-isolation and they call it hikikomori. These people spend most of their time watching TV, reading, playing video games, or surfing the internet. Many of them choose to stay up all night and sleep during the day and never interact with the outside world. All these trends are changing society and harming people’s mental and physical health. People use these reasons to be more alone and lonely without thinking that connecting with others is the first step to be free from that mentality.

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.

  • We lack a deep connection with others due to lack of the ability to be vulnerable. We tend to spend more time having superficial talks, avoiding conversations that matter because we all think that we are all too busy to mind other people’s business or be someone’s mental baggage of the day. Our busyness caused us to be mentally unavailable to share or listen to a real conversation. We are lonely because our busyness caused us to stop having meaningful conversations to spend more time thinking how we can survive on our own
  • We act (and pretend) that we are strong and that is why we never share our weaknesses and problems anymore. Instead, we carry them on our own and think that we’re all alone — leaving us more sad and depressed. Despite the long talks we have over coffee or social media, we rarely share our true side. We all act so happy and perfect because we don’t want to be a burden to others who are most likely sad as well. We don’t want to make others feel bad or awkward because everyone seems to be okay. We all think that life is just about sharing happy moments and we missed out on helping one another during their worst days. Stop highlighting what’s reel; share the most vulnerable side of your life instead
  • Distractions are amongst us. The world offers us too many nice things that we can have though we are all alone (Netflix, shopping in all forms, adventure, nice career, travel, sex in many ways, games, food, technology, entertainment, etc). How easy is it to connect with someone FULLY? If those things are all in front of you, you are definitely happy; but once those are gone, immediate loneliness can be felt and then you feel empty again. It is so easy to stuff ourselves with temporary things then in a snap, we feel lonely ASAP. We can not buy or achieve happiness without love, peace, joy, and contentment — these things are usually shared with other people, not on your own.

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.

  • Be sensitive and spend time listening. For 10 minutes, you can already have a big impact on someone by being sensitive enough to listen intently to what the person is trying to say. Have the discernment to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Not everyone is busy and not willing to share their story, there are some who are actually willing to communicate well but the real question is, “Are you ready to listen and do your part?” Don’t fail that test.
  • If you are in social media, share vulnerable and relatable things, not perfect and unattainable stuff. People will easily connect with you and you will easily connect with others because they find strength and hope from your posts, making it more valuable.
  • Call or visit a friend/family and have a good long conversation. Instead of texting or chatting, surprise someone by calling or visiting them. Spend a long time asking how they really are. Ask engaging questions, share your own story as well and make this person feel that this time is really dedicated for him.
  • Block your time solely for your friends, family and loved ones. Block and schedule a specific date, time and place where you can be with them without any distractions and to be fully present with them. Divide them into a category to make sure that everyone’s getting the attention they need. For example, don’t meet with both your parents and in-laws if they’re not yet close. Spend time with them separately.
  • Fuel up. Before you connect with other people, make sure your heart and soul aren’t empty. Allow yourself to be filled with love, joy and peace as well so you can wholeheartedly share them with others. You can not share what you don’t have. Don’t just give without receiving affection from others, you’ll be dry and empty in no time. Bless and let others bless you too so you’ll be more inspired

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 Underdogs Movement — I support the underdogs because I consider myself as one as well. I root for other people and inspire others to be the best version of themselves. People don’t have to fit into what society tells them to do. Banish is doing that already and we empower others by sharing their real stories. Acne is something people don’t want to have because they see it as an imperfection. Through our own movement, we normalize acne and change people’s mindset about it — people don’t have to hide just because they’re not “flawless” as defined by the world. It’s not the way you look, it’s the way you feel about yourself that matters.

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 🙂

Oprah — she is real and empowering. She cuts to the chase and answers deadly questions bravely without batting an eyelash. The questions that people are usually avoiding are just easy for her to answer and that makes her relatable and leaves everyone more inspired through her story

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website : https://www.banish.com

Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/user/daiserz89

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

Instagram : https://instagram.com/daiserz89

Linkedin : https://il.linkedin.com/in/daisyjing

Twitter : https://twitter.com/banishacnescars

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!


Daisy Jing of Banish: “5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nutritionist Shelley Gawith: “Here are 5 steps that anyone can take to become more resilient”

Positivity — When we can see the best in everything and everyone. When we can look at someone hurting us and think they only have the best intentions, or they are coming from a place of pain, so we don’t take it personally. My positivity is contagious. I’m sure at times it’s what carries my clients through their hard times. I see some very unwell clients that have had to deal with some awful conditions and I always say the problem with natural health is there is no magic pill to get through all the symptoms, you have to go through the bad times. Clients often remark that my positivity got them through the tough times. It was the light at the end.

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 Shelley Gawith.

Shelley is a New Zealand based International Speaker and Functional Nutritionist who specializes in helping people be the CEO of their own health with her message and keynote: The Future of Health is YOU.

At a time where people are suffering from burnout, anxiety, obesity and chronic illness Shelley helps people turn that around so they have “exponential energy.

Gawith is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), a Certified Gluten Practitioner, and a Certified Restorative Wellness Practitioner which collectively enables her to specialize in functional laboratory testing to provide further insight and information to her clients.

She draws on her life journey and shares her personal near-death health story going from an overachieving work-a-holic to having a physiological body breakdown that left her almost bedridden for two years. She was told by countless medical practitioners that she was going to die. This led her to dive deep into Functional Nutrition and rebuild her body. Now she travels the world as a keynote speaker at conferences delivers corporate training and presentations to help others to do the same.

Shelley divides her time between seeing clients 1–1 at her own private clinic, running her online programs, speaking and facilitating workshops to Corporates in NZ and overseas. She also helps other wellness practitioners to have booked out clinics like hers so that she can amplify her impact on wellness even further.

Known for her energy and positivity to her clients & colleagues Shelley’s presentation style is entertaining, and animated in a way that leaves people feeling uplifted and empowered with some clear takeaway tips and actions to move towards the health and life they want. She also has a very strong side and both expect and demand results. Rather than telling people what to do, Shelley opens their eyes and educates.

Thank you so much for joining us Shelley! 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 New Zealand where I studied my first degree in accounting and commercial law. I went on to complete my chartered accountancy (CA). After leaving my CA firm I moved to the land of sunshine and grand opportunities Australia to work for an investment bank (Macquarie Bank). I became the Finance Manager for a division there at 26. What it really meant was I was a slave to the corporation. After catching full-blown influenza, my life dramatically changed for the worst. My recovery never happened and I was told by the medical world I need to be hospitalized or I would die. I don’t even know if I was fearful at this thought, or just so unbelievably sick, I was holding on for my life and had no emotional capacity to feel anything. I moved home to live with my parents in New Zealand where my Mum looked after me. This was extremely heartbreaking for both my parents to see their “little girl” so unwell. After seeing every specialist and doctor and being told there was nothing I could do, my life was limited to my bed and I would just sleep all day. I would scream during the night, from the intense pain I felt in my body, nobody should lie in bed each day without moving. My muscles basically began to eat themselves. After 18 months of this and the despair at not knowing if I would ever get better. I decided with the 20 minutes a day I could stay awake, I needed to start looking into nutrition so I could get myself better. I had to do something. My mum implemented all the food changes.

As I could stay awake longer, this led to me being able to study nutrition with the Nutritional Therapy Association. From my study I began doing everything I was learning on myself and slowly began to heal each system in my body. I can’t tell you the joy my family and I felt at seeing progress at last. Once I was 80% well I studied more advanced functional laboratory testing. My cry when I was in bed, sleeping most of the day, was if I can just help one person this was all worth it. The day I walked to the grocery store again, I cried, it was a dream come true, literally. Funny when you have nothing that you wish for. So once I had completed my study, I found another very sick person to help and then another one. From there my business as a Functional Nutritionist began. Now in 2020 I have a booked out clinic and a special detoxification center so I can help as many people as possible.

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?

The biggest take away I’ve learned from my corporate career, you can’t ignore poor health. When I was working long days at the investment bank, I was literally living off more and more coffee and gluten-free treats to sustain my energy. Thereafter, my health started to decline but I chose to continue to ignore it. I pushed myself harder and harder with the long hours and the endless promotions I wanted until my body couldn’t be pushed anymore and it literally crashed. I then realized if you don’t have your health you actually don’t have a career. All the money I had been working hard to get and save for my first house, I had to use to pay to get my health back again.

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

The success of my business is truly because of my positivity. It’s infectious. Every client leaves our offices feeling more positive than when they came in. In our clinic we have some very sick people, you can’t fix all their symptoms in one session, but we can give them hope. Warmness, compassion and a big smile. Clients always message me with something that might have happened in between their appointments and they will end the email saying but we know you will somehow find the positive and it’s the truth.

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?

I am so grateful to my Dad he is the reason I have been as successful as I am in my business. I had to do an assignment at university for my Commerce Degree on someone who had a successful business and I picked him. What I learnt in that interview, I have applied to every area of my life. He told me the key to having a successful business were the relationships you made. If you have strong relationships with clients they will forgive you for the small mistakes you will make along the way. And believe me he needed a lot of forgiving, his clients didn’t even mind when he ran late for his appointments.

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?

I would define resilience as having a strength in yourself to overcome difficult situations in life or if you can’t overcome them, having the grace to accept them. Resilience to me means how well we respond to negative events in our lives. Resilience is what we draw on from deep within ourselves to help us with the setbacks or things in life that we didn’t expect.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

The characteristics of resilient people are: Courage, strength, confidence, humbleness

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

When I think of resilience I think of so many clients, how they have had to overcome so much with their health. But one of my clients who I will name B came to see me when she was 27 years old, she was 77 pounds overweight, extremely tired, she was an ex gym trainer, but couldn’t even work out her body was so fatigued. She was forced to move in with her parents as she couldn’t look after herself. She was struggling with life. She had been to so many health practitioners and just told her it would be better if she lost weight, however, she just couldn’t. She didn’t eat unhealthy food. B came to me for months, before seeing any progress. As her practitioner, I would see small changes at each new appointment. But for a good 18 months, it looked like nothing on the outside was getting better. We were doing lots of good things on the inside but B had been sick for at least a decade before coming to see me. B would be judged for her weight and was told she ate too much when she didn’t. Every day felt like hard work for B and many days she did just want to give up. Her health and weight made it really hard. Finally, despite B wanting to give up many times over, she kept working with me. “Overnight” she lost the 77 pounds. B knows it did not happen overnight and it was the previous 18 months of those small changes of her body healing, but in 2 months as her body was healing she did lose the 77 pounds. She still doesn’t have the energy she wants so we continue to work together to cross the final hurdle. B is someone who makes me smile daily, as she really had to overcome so much negativity, judgment, and heartache but she stuck with it.

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?

When I was working at Macquarie bank I was always being told new innovative ways were impossible, I always had to prove it. At the time all our new software contracts and new buyer contracts were stil paper documents. Banks weren’t really paperless at that time, so it took up a lot of time and money scanning in these documents, saving them, sorting them and storing them. I convinced the General Manager of my division to let me work with a third party and make the whole process paperless. We were the first department to do it and other departments in the bank copied soon after.

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 setback was “losing” my health and being told I was going to die. When I was lying in bed all day every day with no clear idea of how I was going to get better and everyone telling me they couldn’t help. When every time I tried a new treatment I would somehow get worse. I would tell everyone, all my medical practitioners, I was going to get better. I would make a FULL recovery. I was even sent for multiple mental health checks as Doctors couldn’t believe I wasn’t depressed and in denial. I came back stronger because now I don’t take life for granted. All the small things in life that I took for granted I now value and they bring me so much joy every day.

Another set back came two years into having my own business, I had finally got my health back on track and had purchased the first apartment that I had worked so hard to buy. A few months after moving in, I felt my health starting to decline, I was a little more tired in the mornings and I had gained a little bit of weight. After going through everything with my health, I realized there were hidden sources of mold in my house. I had to totally destroy my apartment and re-build it again so it was mold proof.

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. Mindset — We get to set our intention for each day. We get to choose the direction. Many doctors told me they knew who would get better based on the patient’s mindset. Once I was better, I remember talking to my main medical doctor in Wellington and I asked him if he thought even when he couldn’t help that I would get better and he replied yes! I asked him how he knew and he said because of my mindset, I was determined I was going to get better. I told everyone that it wasn’t going to be me. I was going to get better. I was going to make a full recovery. I never cared what the statistics said. I wasn’t going to be one of them. I was going to get better.
  2. Positivity — When we can see the best in everything and everyone. When we can look at someone hurting us and think they only have the best intentions, or they are coming from a place of pain, so we don’t take it personally. My positivity is contagious. I’m sure at times it’s what carries my clients through their hard times. I see some very unwell clients that have had to deal with some awful conditions and I always say the problem with natural health is there is no magic pill to get through all the symptoms, you have to go through the bad times. Clients often remark that my positivity got them through the tough times. It was the light at the end.
  3. Self care — it’s cheesy but if our cup isn’t overflowing first we don’t have anything to draw on. If we are empty when stuff comes up in life we have nothing to dig from. I truly used to believe that I was only on the planet to look after everyone else and put their needs before my own. In fact I don’t think I believed I had needs and if I did I was there to serve everyone else in my world. I remember dreading each week before it began, as I was exhausted on a Sunday night every week. I would get up, go to the gym, work all day and then attend events in the evenings. Some days I would be so tired and just want to go home to bed, but I would push myself to the next thing, as I truly believed I was on earth just to make others happy and not to worry about myself. I now know that when I get tired or when I’m not looking after myself, filling myself up, I actually can’t look after anyone else or be good at my job, because I have nothing left to give others and I just feel like anything could tip me over
  4. Balance your hormones — We view our lives through the lenses of our hormones. When our hormones are out of balance everything in life can take on a darker tinge. Life feels harder. I remember having a coffee before work in Sydney, I was studying to complete my chartered accountancy exams and I was busy looking for a new house to rent. My Dad called me to give advice on my house situation and instead of graciously accepting it and thanking him, I started crying and I remember clearly saying to him, why are you trying to stress me out more, why are you adding to my load, I can’t do this. I have thought back on this occasion many times over the years as it wasn’t long after that my health really collapsed, I look back and realized the way I reacted was from someone, that was running on empty, my hormones were out of balance, my tank was low and anything was going to tip me over the edge all the time.
  5. Nourish your body. We always feel as good as the food we eat or as bad as the food we eat. If we are eating foods causing us inflammation, it puts a stress burden on our bodies. All stress is the opposite of resilience. We are going to wear away at ourselves if we are eating foods for our bodies that are causing us symptoms. Unless we are eating for our own individual bodies so that we are filled with energy and not being weighed down by tiredness due to the inflammation, we won’t be resilient. For years I ate bread for breakfast, for lunch, and probably pasta for dinner. I never felt energized after eating it, but I would often have it with coffee and sugar snacks so I didn’t notice. Gluten for me causes me inflammation so, after years of doing it and inflaming my body, it became such a stressor on my body. It also meant that every time I was feeling tired, life became a struggle. It’s hard to be resilient when you are struggling.

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 like EVERY busy woman to realize that with every mouthful we eat we have the ability to change our own personal health, the health of our families and our countries. That we really do have the ability to change our healthcare system and the state of the world. We can reduce the amount of disease in the world.

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 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast with Brene brown. I’m sure so many people would say her. For me reading her first book The Gifts of imperfection and then hearing her Tedx talk when I was sick in bed allowed me to look at myself differently. For the first time I gave myself permission not to have to strive to be “perfect” all the time, but it also helped me question what was behind the mask that I was wearing. I realized for the first time that while I didn’t numb myself with what I consider to be normal things that you would numb yourself with like drinking, smoking, drugs, shopping. I did actually numb myself. I numbed myself by constantly being busy.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: ShelleygawithFN

Facebook: Shelley Gawith Functional Nutrition

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


Nutritionist Shelley Gawith: “Here are 5 steps that anyone can take 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.

Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize

Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers.

As a part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kaitlin Zhang, the CEO of Oval Branding and an award-winning speaker. Kaitlin is a Chinese Canadian entrepreneur and creative based in London, UK. She has lived and worked in Shenzhen, Vancouver, Shanghai, and San Francisco prior to settling in London. Her multi-cultural background helps inform her cross-border branding practice especially between China and the West.

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

I’m Kaitlin Zhang, CEO of Oval Branding. My work in cross-border branding between China and West is deeply rooted in my very international upbringing. I have lived and worked in Shenzhen, Vancouver, Melbourne, Shanghai and San Francisco. In 2013, at age 23, I arrived in London, UK with two suitcases that were too large to carry on the underground and the sheer determination to build my own creative agency one day. In 2016, that dream became a reality — the beginning of Oval Branding Ltd.

Branding for me is about storytelling and bringing awareness to exceptional people and ideas. I’m thankful that I can bring my multi-culture background and experiences to help clients bridge the cultural gap every day.

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

When I first arrived in London, I worked for a brilliant cleantech startup, Loowatt, that made waterless toilets that can turn human waste into energy and biogas. It was a challenge to manage the company’s brand image to navigate the tricky areas of toilet humour. Certainly, there were a few jokes that didn’t land as well as hoped and had to be flushed. What I learned is that marketing is about continuous testing and it’s okay to make small mistakes as long as we are sincere in our efforts and are willing to learn from it.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

The “tipping point” for me when I started concentrating on working on my personal brand. I realized that it is important for me to build my own reputation at the same time as working on building the reputation of my clients. I started working on my own website more and social media presence. I wrote blocks and hosted live events regularly. After about half a year and 10 to 20 events later I started gaining a reputation as somebody who knows branding well. I started getting freelance branding work. The takeaway lesson is that it is never too early or late to start building one’s personal brand.

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

Currently, we are working on a rebranding of a New York based venture capital firm, Tuhaye Venture Partners, who focuses on the pre-seed round in the enterprise software space in the US. It has been a pleasure to work with the partners at the firm and to understand their unique investment thesis and fund potential.

What I love about new funds like Tuhaye is that they are increasingly committed to funding diverse founders that have traditionally been underserved by established VC firms. This means that great enterprise software businesses led by women or people of colour could receive funding and quality support from Tuhaye. So definitely get in touch with them to find out more.

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

May 18–24 2020 is Mental Health Awareness Week. My recommendation would be to learn more about mental health and be open to discuss this topic with the safe people in your life. It has been tremendously useful for me to be able to talk to my best friends about this and know that I’m not alone in experiencing stress or anxiety.

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?

Brands represent consumers perceptions and feelings about the product and its performance. The goal of brand marketing it is to build up its long-term brand equity, which is the measure of the value a brand has on a consumer decision-making process. Product marketing or advertising is a specific communication task to be accomplished with a specific target audience during a specific period of time. The main difference is that branding is often a long-term endeavor, whereas advertising often has a short time goal.

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?

Branding is a part of marketing. And advertising can be used as a great tool to build a brand. All these elements work together, but branding needs to be in the marketers mind always. Consumers are becoming more discerning, and one of the key differentiators is brand. A company that understands branding ultimately as a company that really understands its target audience. It knows where it fits in the market and how it contributes to the lifestyle of its customers. Without first understanding the brand, other marketing and advertising efforts will fall short.

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

A company may consider rebranding when there has been new mergers and acquisitions, a change in direction of the core services or products, or to repair reputation damage. Sometimes a new rebrand is a great way to reengage with old customers while attracting new customers.

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

In the case of a rebranding exercise that is used to repair reputation damage, the company needs to make sure it works with professional public relations experts to ensure a smooth transition. Simply by building a new brand is not enough to cover up past mistakes. The other important thing to consider when rebranding is to ensure that the new brand is well researched and well tested before launch.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

When a company is trying to upgrade its brand, here are the five key steps:

  • Pitch

This first step is arguably the most important. A memorable, impactful pitch comes with a clear understanding of brand positioning. Your brand position should include elements such as your brand’s mission statement, vision statement, and values.

Start by conducting market research into your target audience, marketing environment, and competitors. Then consider what makes your brand unique, capable, authentic, and relatable. A brand that does this well is Vimeo. Its main competitor is YouTube, but Vimeo has positioned itself as a more exclusive alternative for creators.

  • Profile

Profile is about the visual elements of your brand, consisting of your logo, visual identity, graphics and other imagery. It even includes the profile photos of your CEO and team. It takes a tenth of a second to form an opinion when looking at a visual. A first impression is the difference between someone clicking to find out more about you or turning their attention elsewhere. This is certainly an area that is worth getting professional help. For example, when you’re looking for a new restaurant, the Google review that has professionally taken photographs is much more likely to grab attention.

  • Platform

A professional, well-designed website, with your company name as the domain name, is an excellent platform for people to find all the information they are looking for you about you. Your website should at least have an About section, all your social media links and an easy option to contact you. Mobile-friendly personal websites rank really well on Google and is likely the first thing people will see after they search your name. The current design trends focuses on minimal user-friendly designs. Just think about the aesthetics of easy-to-use websites like Airbnb or Apple.

  • Produce

After completing the first 3 steps, you are ready to dive into the world of social media and content marketing. This step is all about producing valuable content to your target audience. You want to be as helpful as possible on all your channels, using tools such as social media, blogging, vlogging, books, events etc.

A brand that does this very well is Away, which is a high-end luggage brand popular with celebrities. Before the founders even built a prototype, they developed a coffee table photography book of luxury travel that encompasses all of their brand ideas. They sent this book to influencers and celebrities to sell them on the idea of their brand. After that gained momentum, only been did they start to build the product which is the luggage. This coffee table book became the foundation for all of the content of their future social media.

  • Partnership

There are two main types of partnerships: brand partners and media partners. Brand partners are mutually beneficial relationships that can help you expand your reach. Media partners help you increase publicity and help more people find out about you, With the right partnerships, you can skyrocket the reach of your brand and establish yourself as a leader in your industry.

For the clients that my company Oval Branding works with, in the venture capital — private equity space, it is absolutely essential for us to work with event brand partners as well as the media to build the reputation. We have helped founders get speaking roles, sponsorship opportunities as well as press interviews in tier one major publications. All brands need to continue to build up their reputation by developing effective partnerships and invest into branding long-term.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

One brand that did this very well is Lego. A simple children’s toy based on one concept has taken over the imagination of generations and created a multi-million-dollar brand. But how does a brand that’s so simple continue to be relevant in an age full of screens for children?

One way Lego continues to invest in its branding by adding new partners. Two of the most successful collaborations it has done are with the Harry Potter franchise and the DC universe, such as with Batman. There will always be new influencers and collaborators to work with.

The brand is also not afraid of embracing digitalization. It has created mobile games, PC games as well as invested in the Lego movie. At the same time it also expands in off-line experiences, such as in its flagship stores and theme parks. There is always something new on offer in the horizon, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

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. 🙂

Actually there is no need for me to inspire a movement. I think it takes more courage and leadership to be a follower and to let go of one’s ego. They are so many inspiring people out there leading amazing movements, why not consider supporting them instead? Some leaders that come to mind include Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Arianna Huffington and Emma Watson.

Furthermore, I believe our roles as marketers and brand managers are to help our client tell their unique stories and support their visions for a better world. So I’m perfectly happy doing that to make 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?

My favorite artist Claude Monet said, “Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand as if it were necessary to understand when it is simply necessary to love.”

In the end, the work that I do is an art and it’s okay if not everyone understands it, but the most important thing is that I loved in all the ways I can through my work.

How can our readers follow you online?

Company Website: www.ovalbranding.com

Personal Website: www.kaitlinzhang.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaitlinzhang/

Twitter: @kaitlinzhang @OvalBrandingUK

Instagram: @kzhangbranding

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


Kaitlin Zhang of Oval Branding: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dean Neiger of Sky Organics: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

When you’re doing too many things at once — it can be easy to feel burnt out. That’s why organization and prioritizing are important techniques to incorporate in your work life. If a task is too big don’t be afraid to delegate and split it up among people. Keep educating yourself on your industry and try new things! Sometimes a different approach is better than trying to optimize an old method!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dean Neiger, Co-Founder and Vice President of Business Development for Sky Organics.

Dean Neiger has always had a passion for environmental sustainability. Prior to founding Sky Organics in 2015 with brother Steven Neiger, the pair established Florida’s first “green” dry cleaning service Dryeco — highlighting non-toxic, eco-friendly solvents as alternatives to hazardous petroleum-based cleaning products. Dean managed business development for the company for four years before moving on to become a founding partner of DG Trading House — a rough diamond trading company based in Dubai where he oversaw their Angolan subsidiary and all trade-related activities. Dean’s strengths have always been in marketing and sales — both of which he leads for Sky Organics. Under his management the company has expanded to over 10,000 stores nationwide in just under 3 years — and he has even bigger plans for expansion in the future.

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

The natural journey came to us — we didn’t seek it out. After her first child, my sister-in-law wanted to make her home a greener, more natural space but found it difficult as so many products are formulated with harmful ingredients and toxic chemicals. The natural products she did find were expensive and hard to come by — so she started doing DIYs, making household and beauty essentials that were safe enough for the entire family to use. From then forward, we kept growing, making clean products using natural botanicals that our friends, family, and now, everyone can enjoy.

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?

When we founded this company back in 2015, I was wearing many hats — doing sales, marketing, managing social media, among many other things. Back then, we couldn’t afford a photoshoot and I don’t have any skills in photography, so I would purchase stock photos to use on Instagram. Well, for one post I wanted to advertise the way our Organic Castor Oil Eyelash Serum could be used to support healthy, fuller-looking lashes and brows — so I posted a close up of a woman’s eyes with beautiful, long lashes only to be pointed out by our followers that she was (very obviously, apparently) wearing lash extensions. Lesson learned — always do your research because people have no problem letting you know when you’ve got things wrong.

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

For one, we are a family-founded and family-orientated brand, making sure our essentials are safe for everyone — even our little ones. Unlike some natural companies, we strive to be accessible — with all of our products priced below $25 because everyone should have the opportunity to live a green lifestyle. We value sourcing our ingredients from artisanal farms all over the world and then assembling a majority of our products right here in the United States. We also know there is a lot of confusion surrounding the natural movement. When my sister-in-law was looking for products for my niece, she found many companies labeling their products as natural and organic while using some frightening chemicals in their collections. That’s why Sky Organics makes sure to use safe, easy-to-read botanicals and keep our ingredients list short and sweet, often opting to use only a single pressed fruit or nut in our essentials. We focus on USDA certification, so there are no lingering questions about whether our products are safe or authentic. By far, our strongest and most differentiating quality is the open, two-way relationship we maintain with our beauty community. People message us asking for recommendations based on their skin type or send us photos using our products, and they know our team is always there to provide support and answer their questions without judgment.

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

We have so many new projects! One major development that we have been tirelessly working on and only recently got to celebrate a launch for is the opening of our sister company Sky Organics CBD, which features two collections both a Wellness and Beauty line — formulated using safe, natural botanicals enriched with hemp-derived, broad-spectrum cannabidiol. Aside from that major project which we were so excited to have gotten off the ground, we are working on a rebrand to update our old packaging, as well as bringing to fruition two new, innovative collections — though for now, that has to remain a secret. We are also working on ways to be more involved in our local community, figuring out how to host pop-up events, clothing swaps, and beach clean-ups in the future — so stay tuned, 2020 is going to be a major year!

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?

The main difference between the two — is that brand marketing, as the name would suggest, emphasizes the qualities of the brand, whereas product marketing follows the quality of the product. You can’t achieve true, long-term success without utilizing both. When we first started this company, we invested heavily in product marketing as it gave us a reliable way to understand more about our audience. As we continue to grow and solidify our values — we are investing more in our brand, which means we are investing in the way we want to be perceived by our audience. In the beginning, our values were “safe products made with ingredients you can feel good about using,” and while we still hold tightly to that message, we are more than just a place to find affordable, clean essentials. We are the big sister of the family, taking under our wings those who are trying to dip their toes into the natural world but are uncertain about where or how to start.

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?

General marketing and advertising will only get a company so far. Sure, a good ad can sell a product, but it’ll only sell that product to a customer once, maybe twice before they find another company that is selling the same product at a lower cost. When you invest in building a brand, you invest in a loyal base that will support your company beyond a one-time purchase. Our beauty community posts photos of our products, write reviews, advise one another about DIYs, effectively doing unpaid advertisement for us because they value our brand, our core message and want to share that message with others. Having a strong brand gives us a level of built-in authenticity and trust, as consumers learn to associate our products with messages like self-love, inner fulfillment, and family first. People support us not just for effective products, but because they support who we are as a company.

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 first one is to invest time into customer reviews. We are constantly encouraging customers to leave feedback of our products, whether it be on social media, Walmart.com, Amazon, or whichever platform. Doing so allows other people who are unfamiliar with our brand to see we have an established, trusted base, and aren’t a “scam” which can be a real issue when it comes to online shopping. Consumers are smart and don’t trust easily. They know brands are trying to sell products to them at the end of the day. People will more readily trust a review from another consumer who is gaining nothing by saying our product is great as opposed to us telling our consumers our products have value. Reviews give “realness” to a company.

Our second strategy is USDA certification and placing the seal on our products. USDA is a highly revered and trusted source for what’s what in the organic community. Having their seal on our products automatically elevates their value, and informs consumers before they even have to read the label, that the product they are holding in their hand is clean and safe to use.

Thirdly, walk the talk. By this I mean, if you value your company as being conscientious as our brand does — then prove it. Most recently, we partnered with two non-profit organizations that support COVID-19 relief efforts. The first is with Feeding America which is committed to serving meals to families and individuals facing hunger as facilities temporarily close their doors. The second is with Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation which establishes a relief fund for individual restaurant workers facing economic hardships or health crises as a direct result of COVID-19. We have donated $10,000 to both of these organizations.

The fourth tip is to be authentic and honest. Customers can see whether you are passionate or not about the work you do. There’s no need to strive to be perfect as that will always be a failed goal. On the contrary, customers understand mistakes when they’re small. Sometimes we record a video for our followers and might trip over a word — that’s okay. It just adds to the realness of the company and serves as a reminder that real people are working behind the screen creating all the images, words, and designs they see.

The final strategy is having solid PR. Advertisement is saying your company is the best, whereas PR is others saying you’re great. Our PR team has solidified for us features in Byrdie, Bustle, Refinery 29, Marie Claire, and Rolling Stone, to name a few. Good PR doesn’t just give your company traction with new consumers — it adds credibility as there is evidence to support what you’re selling has value.

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?

We admire The Honest Company, founded by Jessica Alba. Like The Honest Company, we share so many similar values — wanting clean, safe essentials that everyone in the family can use and being accessible to all. She’s a great example of resilience and the way that success isn’t always a straight shot. She tried multiple times to get her idea off the ground but couldn’t find investors willing to take the risk — so she buckled down and went to the drawing board, researching the market and the nuances of the natural industry. She even ended up in DC lobbying for reform to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. It paid off and her company gained incredible success when it launched. Unfortunately, things grew too quickly. They started selling products that alienated their original, and strongest consumer base — and even ran into formula and labeling issues that caused a backlash. What is admirable from all this is Alba took full responsibility for the mistakes. She decided to scale down and focus predominately on the original, core products for mothers and babies that created their initial success, and she created an in-house lab to ensure quality control.

What we can learn from her and replicate in our own brand — is remember where you started from and own up to your mistakes. Not only in a humility way but recognizing the small things that drew consumers to our company (simply formulated, natural products) and keeping true to those ideals as we expand and create new lines and have bigger ideas.

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?

Success for a brand is a little different than calculating pure sales. We use social listening and engagement to measure how well our brand is being received. When we post something on Instagram and get a ton of comments from our community about loving our products, or have people tag us in their face mask selfies and message us skincare questions — that tells us a lot about how we’re doing as a brand. We also utilize tools like surveys and online reviews — making sure to check in on our followers and let them directly tell us how we’re doing and how we can improve.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media has been an incredibly strong tool in helping us build our brand. Ads can only do so much — to be successful as a company you can’t run non-stop paid advertisements. Social media has enabled us to always remain present in the market. We can have a more fun and personable approach with things like get-ready-with-us routines, behind-the-scenes, or clips of the team during our holiday party. Social media has allowed us to expand our consumer base by partnering with influencers that align with our ideals. It’s always better to have someone else talk about how great you are then talking about your greatness yourself. When a green influencer with thousands of followers talks about loving our products — that adds credibility and value to our brand.

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

When you’re doing too many things at once — it can be easy to feel burnt out. That’s why organization and prioritizing are important techniques to incorporate in your work life. If a task is too big don’t be afraid to delegate and split it up among people. Keep educating yourself on your industry and try new things! Sometimes a different approach is better than trying to optimize an old method!

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.

Bringing authenticity to the forefront of all things — work, our personal lives, and so forth, would inspire a lot of good. It seems like so many problems are created due to a lack of trust. As a business owner, I can see the ramifications of this firsthand, having to work twice as hard for people to believe a company wants to create accessible, good-for-you essentials with nothing up our sleeves. Not only will an increase of authenticity allow people to trust in brands again, but it’ll help cultivate more meaningful relationships all across the board.

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

Author Neale Donald Walsch said, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I truly believe that. The number one reason for failure is not trying — discounting yourself from the race before it even started. Sky Organics is my third business venture, and each of them in dramatically different industries. Don’t be afraid to try, fail, and start over. Each time you start again you carry the experiences of your past and it only makes you smarter.

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

Without a doubt Richard Branson. He is a man of many hats and has worked in music, in air, land, and sea transportation, and is involved in a lot of humanitarian initiatives that I admire — he even worked with Nelson Mandela at one point!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us on Instagram at skyorganics.us or type in Sky Organics into Facebook and our page will show up! We also have a YouTube channel under Sky Organics.


Dean Neiger of Sky Organics: “5 Things You Need To Do 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.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Portable chemical oxygen for emergency use” With Dr.

Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Portable chemical oxygen for emergency use” With Dr. Richard P. Imbruce

All EMS survival data is timed from EMS arrival. The R15, for the first time, will not only improve survival but also provide survival data before EMS arrives, brain cells dysfunction, and die. Emergency Physicians over the world provide oxygen as the first line of defense against untoward events. A safe, simple to use, internationally understandable emergency oxygen device will make a difference.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard P. Imbruce, PhD, CEO.

Richard P. Imbruce has 30 years of experience in the medical device industry & co-inventor of R15. Founded Pneumedics, Inc., a developer & manufacturer of heart and lung diagnostic instrumentation and advisor to GE/Versamed Healthcare. Dr. Imbruce is an international expert on breathing mechanics, established Rapid Oxygen Company in 2013 to develop, manufacture and market the R15, portable chemical oxygen generator for emergency use.

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

In 2006 I was developing an ICU level of care, battery powered, transport ventilator and met Dr. Kevin Ward, Director of Emergency Medicine Research Institute at Virginia Commenwealth University in Richmond, VA. Dr. Ward was recipient of a $10M DOD grant to develop a hemorrhagic shock treatment for the Army in Afghanistan. The treatment consisted of injecting small amounts of hydrogen peroxide-saline solution to produce oxygen. This added many hours of survival for transport to MASH units for better outcomes. It became obvious to use this technology to augment breathing in far-forward areas where oxygen cylinders couldn’t be deployed.

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

I once treated a family of five children and two adults, blinded by carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from a poorly ventilated furnace. They were placed in two monoplace hyperbaric oxygen chambers for a series of daily treatments over the course of a few weeks. Soon their sight improved with no untoward effects. Just an example of oxygen benefits with proper use.

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

Horace Mann –“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

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”?

Since oxygen cylinders are explosive and not permitted for public safety, oxygen is not available in public spaces. EMS statistics result in 8%-14% survival from an untoward event. There is a 10% improvement in survival for every minute improvement in response time. Recent COVID-19 response times increased in NYC from an average of six and a half minutes to more than twelve minutes. The national average EMS response time is over eight minutes and more in rural areas.

Brain function decreases without oxygen after two minutes and dies within ten.

How do you think this will change the world?

Airports locate AEDs every one thousand feet for access within one minute. I believe making emergency oxygen available at the same time, within one minute, before EMS arrive, will greatly improve survival, not only for cardiac events but also for airway emergencies, more than 20x more frequent.

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?

There are no “Black Mirror” events or “Law of Unintended Consequences” by providing 6 liters per minute, the flow of oxygen, warmed and humidified to body temperature, and pressure for fifteen minutes under any circumstances. The often-quoted Hippocratic Oath “above all else, do no harm” is particularly useful here. There is FDA clearance for the R15 because it meets their guidelines for emergency use without a prescription. Oxygen cylinders require a prescription and certificate training is mandated for proper use. The R15 empowers anyone, any age, anytime to be a “Good Samaritan.”

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

All EMS survival data is timed from EMS arrival. The R15, for the first time, will not only improve survival but also provide survival data before EMS arrives, brain cells dysfunction, and die. Emergency Physicians over the world provide oxygen as the first line of defense against untoward events. A safe, simple to use, internationally understandable emergency oxygen device will make a difference.

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

Early adopters recognize the need and will influence acceptance. The media will communicate this message.

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

  1. Acceptance: I thought oxygen is understood by everyone. It is taken for granted.
  2. Mechanical Design: Simplicity is the ratio of elegance of design and hidden complexity.
  3. Proof of Concept: Chemistry in a box is a real challenge, a chem lab experiment.
  4. Startup Cost: A moving target for which one must take ownership.
  5. Investor Appetite: Glass eyed and impatient.

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

Perseverance at all costs.

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 🙂

Opportunity: Improve survival of cardiac and respiratory emergencies in public places.

Due to the safety & explosion hazards of high-pressure gas cylinders, emergency oxygen is not available in public places. RO2 has patented a portable chemical oxygen generator to produce safe, easy to use, medically pure oxygen for 15–20 minutes without the need for electrical or battery power. It is a completely safe, low-pressure emergency oxygen system, that does not require an explosive charge for activation. The R15 will complement the more than 10 million automatic emergency defibrillators (AEDs), which saved many subjects with cardiac emergencies over the last twenty years. The R15, cleared by the FDA as an OTC medical device to provide emergency oxygen without a prescription, allows anyone, anywhere to become a Good Samaritan at the same time restoring the ‘P’ to CPR.

Since cardiac and airway emergencies are sides of the same coin, the R-15 can be bundled with AEDs, designated as ‘emergency use’ kiosks, located in airports, shopping malls, and other public places, often where fire extinguishers are located.

The R-15 is activated by turning a lever and attaching its integral mask to the subject. Oxygen flows almost immediately and continues to flow for 15–20 minutes, more than enough time for the arrival of EMT personnel. If not used, it is replaced every two years, similar to printer cartridge recycling.

Rapid Oxygen Company is seeking to raise $5M Series ‘B’ offering of company common stock. Proceeds will be used to scale manufacturing and support a sales effort with web-based telemarketing, direct sales, and distribution networks for the $1.5B projected emergency oxygen market opportunity.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World: “Portable chemical oxygen for emergency use” With Dr. 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 In The Next Few Years, With Michael Blanton of Songwriting…

Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years, With Michael Blanton of Songwriting University

This digital connection allows for anyone who has a dream of writing or possibly being an artist, they can now meet with some of the best writers who have ever been in this game, and without moving to Nashville. This way they can finish their schoolwork wherever they are and still be rubbing shoulders with the best of Nashville, or they can keep their corporate job, and still work on their love for music by chasing their desire to write some great music. So as we come out of this pandemic, this on-line writing opportunity is going to be the scratch for people all over the world who have the itch to make music.

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 Michael Blanton from Songwriting University.

Michael Blanton, of Brentwood, Tennessee, has had a celebrated career in the national and Nashville music industry. Today, he finds him in all kinds of artistic and entertainment development, not limited to just artist management.

A native of Amarillo, Texas, Blanton got his start in music as an A&R representative at Word Records in Waco, Texas, moving to Nashville in 1978 to open the company’s office on Music Row. He and business partner Dan Harrell launched Blanton/Harrell Production and Management in 1980 with Amy Grant as their first client. In 1981 with friend Brown Bannister (’75), they created Reunion Records and Reunion Publishing and soon launched the careers of artists including Michael W. Smith and Rich Mullins and Wayne Kirkpatrick.

Currently, Blanton has partnered in the development with Songwriting University, to help support the songwriters of Nashville, and help develop new artistic talent. Also, Blanton is a partner with Vertigo Media, and a new management launch called Halogen-BNA. Vertigo and Halogen work together to build and develop new artists and songwriters through technology and community.

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

Having been in the music industry for over 40 years, I’ve seen the industry go through many different phases, and as a result, have seen the whole development and presentation of artists change drastically.

My personal story starts with being hired as a young A&R representative, and starting as a purveyor of new talent and songs, I was fortunate to help develop and lead the music history of Amy Grant plus others, and that has led me into these many years of music and artist development. While the industry has certainly changed, the one constant has always been the “song”. No matter how things change, the song still makes the difference for any artist wanting to make their mark.

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

There are just too many stories, however, one story is regarding Amy Grant and her recording of the song, “House of Love”. I had found this song and wanted Amy to record, but due to the R&B feel of this song she was not feeling very confident that she could sing this style song, in fact she at one point told me to please not play her this song again, because she just didn’t feel that she could sing this song very well. I waited a couple of weeks and presented the song to her again as a great option for her to record, ha. Keith Thomas was the producer, and he loved the song and also wanted to produce her singing this style, so he went ahead and developed a track to begin to listen to while considering. I also decided to add some more initiative to her singing this song by reaching out to STING, who was a label mate of hers on A&M Records. So while all this is happening, Amy is out doing some Christmas concerts, and after a few of these shows, she calls me to tell me that she now loves this song and found someone to sing with her on the R&B groove song idea. I told her that I was still chasing STING, but hadn’t heard back from his management team just yet, but who did she find that she now was so excited about this song. She told me that at her last show, she sang some music with Vince Gill. What?! I told her that he was a country artist, and we should try to stay in our Pop lane with STING, but she would not have any other options to consider other than Vince. So he sang the duet with her and it was indeed magic. I still feel today that duet should have been a huge #1 song for the ages #37 on Billboard), but a few months later they became the house of love and were married and the rest is history.

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

One of my philosophies has always been, if you build good relationships those will lead you to good business. I have always put more value on the people we spend our lives with than chasing the almighty dollar. Not that revenue is not important, but if you invest in good people and relationships, those will lead to good business eventually. Such is true with Songwriting University.

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”?

Staying with my theme of everything starts with a song, then fast forward to today where Nashville is Music City, and our iconic signature is our great songwriters who write those songs. Just a few years ago, most aspiring songwriters would move to Nashville and then begin to meet and pursue the many publishing companies and artists here to expose their songs, and hopefully learn from the great writers who were here and had already impacted the world with great music. The goal was certainly to be discovered and be signed by a publishing company or recorded by a successful artists, which would put you on the road to your own music history making story. However today due to CD sales disappearing and everyone streaming, the revenue model has so changed, and while publishers still sign some writers, that number is down drastically. And now of course with any and everyone being able to write a song and put it out on-line whenever they want, it’s like the wild west again. Anything is possible, but that great collaboration of rubbing shoulders with other great songwriters or being signed by expert music publishers is gone. Songwriting University does two things, first it allows for that person anywhere in the world to be able to make access with some of those great songwriters and learn and develop their craft without having to move to Nashville. It also rewards the great writers who are here with a chance to collaborate with new talent and help discover some new songs, and get paid immediately for their good work. Nashville has always believed that collaboration usually makes things better for an artist or a songwriter, although that’s not always true, over the many years of music city that has been the case.

How do you think this will change the world?

This digital connection allows for anyone who has a dream of writing or possibly being an artist, they can now meet with some of the best writers who have ever been in this game, and without moving to Nashville. This way they can finish their schoolwork wherever they are and still be rubbing shoulders with the best of Nashville, or they can keep their corporate job, and still work on their love for music by chasing their desire to write some great music. So as we come out of this pandemic, this on-line writing opportunity is going to be the scratch for people all over the world who have the itch to make music.

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

Well obviously, one man’s art is another man’s trash. Meaning that just because you have the desire doesn’t mean you have the gift, but isn’t that Art. You feel something in your passions and your heart and you live in Topeka and you love playing and writing some music. You can’t afford to go to Nashville to spend two years chasing the music makers and find out if your good or not, so Songwriting University gives you that opportunity, if you’re not good, all you’ve lost is the time on the Skype call with another great writer working with you, but even with this there is no guarantee that your music will ever be successful. But we all keep chasing that possibility.

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

This idea has been vetted out over the last three years by two writers who started hearing from folks from other cities about working on songs long-distant, which lead to work on-line. When they approached me with what they were doing, the lights came on that this could be a new normal for so many folks who wanted to explore their music, but couldn’t afford the time to come to Nashville.

I think this season in the Pandemic only confirms again that we are all doing everything on-line, and I expect this to continue to explode.

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

Well obviously spread the word in social media and some marketing, and be patient. I think keeping our faculty of good writers attached and available and then waiting for the songs and the stories to grow will only build momentum for this creative development idea.

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’s more important how you finish than how you start. We tend to get so focused on instant gratification, we are almost willing to lose anything to win, but we need to look down the road to have a vision of what do we want to look like when we are finishing this story.
  2. Find what’s good about something, not what’s wrong with everything. Creativity needs to be encouraged and we need to look between the lines of all art, and not be overly judgmental and critical.
  3. Nothing is as good as you think, but neither is anything as bad as you think. Basically don’t believe your own press, which we all want to do when good things happen.
  4. Be Patient, most new business’ take three years to turn a corner. Just something when you’re starting with the hottest idea, even if it’s super good, it’s going to take time. Pixar spent the first 10 years in the ditch, but look where they are now.
  5. It’s about others, not about you. We all have ego’s and I’m not talking about not be confident in yourself or in your creative idea, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t lift peoples hearts and lives to be better and make a difference, then for me I have to question was it worth doing at all.

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

Well now I would just flip the last question of “5 things” and use those for my best answers for success habits.

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

I would say to invest in people, and when they look at this new innovative songwriting idea, and connection to past success writers, then there is a formula here that can work being led by very good business people with strong creative hearts.

It will only take some time and some success, and I believe this can lead to all kinds of new content stories. Music will never go away, and thus the need for songwriters.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

Instagram: https://instagram.com/songwritingu

Check out Songwriting U’s most recent project for the song “Kinder”, inspiring a world of hope and positivity:

https://www.facebook.com/SongwritingU/videos/1104255559941438/

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


Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years, With Michael Blanton of Songwriting… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Andi Eaton: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and…

Andi Eaton: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

One of my callings is to inspire worth women, to encourage them to follow their artistic dreams and creative endeavors. There’s such a false narrative out there that creative endeavors are second rate, that following an artistic dream will lead to a lifestyle of being a “starving artist.” I, on the other hand, believe creativity is core to being an incredible entrepreneur.

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

Andi is a Creative Director and Consultant offering strategy and support to holistic and consciously-minded businesses through her company Andi Eaton Creatives. She spent over a decade as a senior executive for an Ayurvedic beauty brand, launched a fashion incubator in a post-Katrina New Orleans, and then created her own boutique branding and consulting company in 2016. Since then she’s published two books (most recently Wanderful: The Modern Bohemian’s Guide to Traveling in Style) while running an award-winning blog and working with creative entrepreneurs, gypset inspired fashion designers, tourism boards, retreat companies and wellness brands around the globe. Her personal blog, ‘Oui, We’ is a reflection of her wanderlust inspired life.

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

I started my career in the music industry. I worked as a junior publicist, writing press releases and brainstorming ideas to sell concert tickets by day — this was the era before social media when radio stations were pulling over the top publicity stunts and landing on the pages of a magazine was the way to get a band noticed. By night, my job was to hustle photographers in and out of the photo pit and schedule interviews for bands like the Black Eyed Peas, No Doubt, Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne. It was a wild ride. I loved every second of it.

A few years into it I was recruited by the beauty brand AVEDA to work in sales and marketing for the distribution arm of the business. I spent over a decade of my career there. I was always interested equally in creativity and wellness, and that job was a dream.

During that time I moved to New Orleans to work out of the distribution office corporate headquarters. It was right after Hurricane Katrina and I found myself pulled in a new direction. I became super passionate about helping artists, and specifically, fashion designers in New Orleans, get their feet back under them after the hurricane. With the smallest budget ever I decided to launch a fashion incubator as a side project.

Between 2011 and 20116 my team and I produced upwards of 50 fashion, art, and design events each year, as well as educational workshops with experts from brands like J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Clinique, Anthropologie, Vera Wang, L’oreal Professional, AVEDA, and Goorin Brothers. It was my first experience using digital to target influencers, media, buyers, and tastemakers. My focus was on experiential events and pop up shops offering designers and artists an opportunity to connect directly to new consumers, and I found my stride as a branding expert and creative marketer during that time.

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

As I was growing the fashion incubator and continuing to work on marketing strategies for AVEDA, I launched my first blog. Perhaps the biggest marketing mistake during that time was creating blog content based on what I felt like doing in the moment versus really mapping out a strategic plan. I’ve always recommended testing concepts and ideas and getting feedback from the audience — and that’s what I was doing so well for others, but when it came to my own launch I didn’t truly give it what it deserved. I wasn’t employing the strategies that were working for me in other areas of my business life on my own personal project. Once I left my corporate job and realized I’d be relying on my site to drive parts of my new venture forward I treated it like it deserved. I studied SEO, color theory, graphic design and photography and got serious about getting engaged traffic to my site. The lesson was to treat my personal creative endeavors in the same way I treat business — by being all in. Years later when I got my first book deal, it was that blog that encouraged the publisher to take a chance on me.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

I was always a highly visual person with a love of writing. However, it took time to trust my eye and voice. The tipping point for me came when I launched the incubator and kicked off a season of runway shows to support the designers in the program. I realized then that using incredibly innovative approaches to spreading the word about our events was working. In 2011 my company’s guerrilla marketing strategies landed us in the pages of Women’s Wear Daily. I knew I was onto something. At that time the shape of digital media was changing by leaps and bounds, and I found myself positioned on the front end of that trend. I realized how effective digital, and specifically social media, is for a company with an incredibly limited budget. I share this story with start ups and new businesses now: you can create energy and excitement around your brand with little money with a strong focus on digital and experience.

I personally believe the future of marketing lies in that mash-up: the digital world partnered with experience, and after those 5 years of running the fashion incubator I shifted my focus again. Today I run Andi Eaton Creatives as a Creative Director and Consultant. I’m committed to working exclusively with conscious entrepreneurs and brands dedicated to bettering the planet, and improving the emotional and spiritual well-being of both employees and consumers.

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

I launched a program called the Conscious Creatives Business School in January and it’s been so powerful seeing the graduates of that program come out on the other side with a true understanding of their brand. They’re ready to pivot, explore their passions further and grow their business in an authentic way with fresh eyes. The program features immersive digital workshops, a mastermind and live events for those aspiring to live a more creatively fulfilled life. The students learn how to create conscious business strategies, design a soulful social media presence, design a brand they love, and attract an authentically engaged community.

I’m also leading intimate retreats and mastermind programs with these same focuses — these programs are a beautiful blend of creativity, entrepreneurship, wellness and mystical thinking.

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

Well, I’m an advocate for taking good care of the trifecta: mind, body and soul. I’m also a recovering perfectionist — workaholic — control freak, so I learned the hard way. When I was working in the beauty industry working 80-hour work weeks and traveling non-stop I knew I was missing a connection to myself and a higher purpose. I was constantly hitting that burn out wall. It’s why my Business School program includes a blend of business and well-being.

When I closed my fashion incubator program and decided to put full focus on my current company I took 6 months to reset completely. I moved to Spain, traveled every weekend, ate beautiful food, swam in the ocean and vowed to change the way my work days looked going forward.

To truly stay centered and grounded I recommend taking time away from the day to day “do” and be still. Sure, not everyone can go away for 6 months, but it’s what I had to do to get on the other side of it. My advice and what I do now: allow for moments of quiet to re-ignite the spark of inspiration. None of us can come up with brilliant marketing strategies all day long when we’re not giving ourselves the proper rest time. So sleep, eat well, exercise, dream — take care of yourself so you can give to others.

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?

I operate from the mindset that brand marketing should come first. Your brand is your story. It’s your voice, tone, personality, cause, calling, intention and your core values. Brand marketing at it’s highest expression communicates your beliefs and your promise at every touch point.

Consider: how does my brand sound? What feeling will someone have when they visit my website, see my art, use my service, or purchase my product? These are the questions to ask yourself as you write your marketing plan. I love the example of the beauty brand Glossier. Before Glossier, founder Emily Weiss had a cult following of her blog Into the Gloss. She was a young New Yorker, living at a million-miles-a-minute pace to get through the day. Her people believed in her and identified fully with her ‘5 minutes to get ready, look amazing with minimal effort’ approach.

Glossier’s brand marketing is raw, real, and approachable. When it comes time to the market product via advertising Glossier stays the course of that “girlfriend in the next high rise over” feeling. Glossier considers marketing efforts like gifting product to superfans or naming new products based on crowdsourced Instagram feedback, to be as important as putting up a billboard in Time Square.

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?

Humans want to connect, we’re social creatures. For advertising efforts to get the most bang, a heart-centered connection needs to be present. That’s where the brand building comes in. Whether you’re managing the brand image for a company or for your personal brand, the emotional intelligence and authentic connection to your perfect people, AKA your customer, is conveyed through your brand story.

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

A rebrand is like a megaphone in which you’re shouting through: we’re ready to grow! Change is never easy, but often, it’s the way forward. It’s important to understand that branding is way more than just a logo or the landing page of your website. Your brand image is the full wrap up of the experiences your people, and future people, have with your company. A killer brand establishes trust, credibility and evolves over time.

Why would it be time to rebrand? Here’s a few reasons (and spoiler alert, it’s way more than just because sales have slowed down!): are you changing markets? offering a new featured product or service? changing your niche? interested in attracting a new customer base? Have you outgrown your original mission? received less than reviews? Do you need to shake off an old story?

There’s, of course, so many other reasons to consider a rebrand, but it’s a good reminder, that an incredibly strategic rebrand will remake your business.

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

I’ve had business owners come to me interested in rebranding when truly there isn’t a clear understanding of their existing brand to begin with. Again, branding is more than just a name, logo and website. So if you’re not sure that you’ve fully executed on your existing brand vision it’s not necessarily the right move to rebrand. It’s also worth considering: are you ready to fully invest financially and emotionally into a rebrand? Do your existing customers identify with the visuals or voice of your existing brand? In that case maybe you just need a refresh. Are you simply bored of your existing brand? Brands need time to stick, so don’t make big moves when perhaps things just feel a little stale.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Consider Art and Analytics. Market test everything you’re considering putting out on a large scale. One of my core strategies for considering new brand messaging is to test new creative and copy via dark posts on facebook and instagram. Dark posts are targeted ads. These aren’t boosted or organic posts, rather they’re sponsored posts with super specifics targets that show up in the feeds of users you’re interested in attracting. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money — you can test dark posts, targeted to a specific audience, using a variety of imagery and copy for $5 per post. You’ll get all sorts of good information this way and it will support you in deciding which creative and copy is best for your brand. Gap spent $100 million on a rebranded logo in 2010, 6 days later, after loads of negative feedback they reverted to their original logo. Of course social media testing wasn’t an option in 2010, but imagine what Gap would have learned, and how much money would have been saved, working through this process.
  2. Re-discover Your Why. Often times, you’ve forgotten your why and that’s the disconnect. Perhaps you opened your business because you saw a missing in the marketplace, but over the years you haven’t revisited your original big why. Ask yourself questions like: Who do you serve? What inspires them to buy? How do you fulfill that need? Why do they choose you over other options? As an example: I work with a swimwear company with a chain of boutique locations on the Florida coast. Sure, it’s easy to look at the concept and say: swim shop at the beach, the why is obvious. However, this particular brand does exceptionally well because their why is ‘to help all women feel beautiful’. Consider the insecurity many of us have in the dressing room, and how that feeling is amplified in a swim shop dressing room. This brand’s why — supporting all women in feeling beautiful shows up in every touch point of their business from the dressing room lighting, to the language the shop attendees use, to the neon wall art over the mirrors with slogans of reassurance and care.
  3. Create Goal Clarity. Sit down with your team, or yourself if you’re a solopreneur, and write out a list of your company goals. Interview your best customers and ask them to share what they believe your goals to be. If you’re a boutique for example and your goal list says something like “offer eco and sustainable products, represent female artisans, support the down-to-earth woman interested in worldly issues” and your customers don’t have similar ideas on their list, consider how to bridge the gap.
  4. Answer the Unknown. Consider the needs your customers might have in their day to day life that they’re not even aware of yet — their unrecognized needs. Ask yourself: what ways can I provide valuable answers to questions my customers don’t even know they have? These answers may come in the way of offering a new product or service, but perhaps it’s new positioning as well. During this new normal we’re experiencing, this idea is more important than ever. Here’s an example: a client of mine offers personal gifting. As businesses began to close doors during the start of the pandemic this business, who has a core value of creating memorable experiences through gifts, considered how they could stay relevant while people were clamoring for face masks and hand sanitizers. They launched a program focused on sponsoring memory-making gifts for local first responders. The business asked the community to join in by purchasing pre-designed gift baskets that would be hand-delivered by the company’s CEO to the firehouse and police station in her local community. Her ability to create a memorable experience for others during a time of uncertainty answered a question her customers didn’t know they had: how can I help, and feel good about myself while doing for others, while I’m stuck at home? She was able to do something good for others while keeping her business moving at the same time.
  5. Be a TrendSpotter. I don’t necessarily think it’s important to be a leader when it comes to new trends, although if it feels right for your brand go for it! However, I do believe it’s important to see what’s happening in the world, what patterns of behavior are emerging and consider where it’s necessary to evolve. When a new trend is born, it’s not about being the first to make moves, it’s more important to take that knowledge and innovate in a way that works for your business. One of my favorite trend examples that truly changed an industry is the Vidal Sassoon mod haircut of the 60’s. Vidal Sassoon modernized the styles of the world’s fashion icons of the day in one haircut. It began with Mary Quant, Carol Channing and Grace Coddington. Then, after cutting Mia Farrow’s hair into an avant-garde pixie style for the film Rosemary’s Baby women collectively said goodbye to the weekly visit to the hairdresser for a set under a hooded dryer, in exchange for a low-maintenance, wash and wear style. Salon owners with an eye on trends adapted to offer the retail products and styling services that we see in salons across the globe today. Rather than losing revenue from their customers scheduling less frequent salon visits, they grew as they offered new products and services aligned to the new trend in beauty.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

As someone who works with fashion brands I love this example: flash back to early 2000’s Burberry — the famous English luxury brand. There was a moment in which the iconic ‘nova check’ design was seen on everything from scarves to baby strollers to dog beds. Then, after a series of mishaps, over-licensing and market saturation the brand was longer championed — it was condemned. The hit upon hit on the brand reputation, which included touches of classism and a co-opted aesthetic — it’s an interesting case study to research — culminated as the brand was banned from pubs across the UK. What did Burberry do? The nova check was sidelined, a new CEO and head designer was appointed. That was just for starters. Intellectual property for the infamous check was bought back, new collaborations were formed, new technology was embraced, new creative was launched, and so on and so on. Ask most CEOs if they’d like to see their product everywhere, like the nova check was, and the answer would be yes. But in reality that saturation didn’t serve Burberry in the long run. The “new” Burberry was chicer, smarter, more technologically savvy, and realigned with core brand values. New Burberry didn’t need to be seen everywhere, and that decision truly saved the brand.

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. 🙂

One of my callings is to inspire worth women, to encourage them to follow their artistic dreams and creative endeavors. There’s such a false narrative out there that creative endeavors are second rate, that following an artistic dream will lead to a lifestyle of being a “starving artist.” I, on the other hand, believe creativity is core to being an incredible entrepreneur.

It’s dawned on me over the last several years as I’ve traveled to places like Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Bali how many synchronicities there are between women holding space for their big entrepreneurial dreams in communities like these, and the women in business I have the pleasure of working. For example: last year I travel to Oaxaca to learn about ancient artisan crafts from indigenous women. A month later I joined a women’s art experience in Cuba, where the time was focused on creating alongside Cuban artists.

The women in Oaxaca were some of the first to earn an income as artists — it’s beyond motivating to hear their stories. The female artists in Cuba were doing the same. The women I work with are often digging deep into their soul to design a magical life of their own. In both cases, there’s some serious divine flow happening. A commonality? Each of these women have a drive to expand their calling in life. Each are marching towards their potential despite uncertainty.

I’d love to spearhead a moment in which women interested in artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors were given an opportunity to travel to work with women doing their own artistic thing and living their dream in other cultures. I believe a movement like this would be brilliant for fostering new perspective and creative confidence in women.

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

Ah, that’s tough! There’s so many beautiful writers and words to consider. Here’s a quote I included the opening chapter of my latest book “Wanderful”, I’ve loved this one a long time: “When you’re traveling you are what you are right there and then. No yesterdays on the road.” — William Least-Heat Moon. For me, the trajectory of my life changed when I started to live in this way, that 6 months in Spain and every trip I’ve taken since — and while yes, the quote speaks to travel, it’s as much about being present in every single moment, no looking back, only this moment and onward.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is ouiwegirl.com, it includes all sorts of resources, freebies, and posts dedicated to building a creatively conscious life, and on instagram I’m @ouiwegirl.

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


Andi Eaton: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Olympic Gold Medalist Laura Wilkinson: “5 Things To Do To Become More Resilient”

You have to set your mind that you are not giving up. It takes an unwavering commitment to your goal to keep you moving forward on the days you don’t feel like it or when doubt tries to take over.

You have to get creative and think outside the box. What brought you to the roadblock simply leaves you at the roadblock. So when you face a roadblock of sorts, you have to find a new way to get around it, go over it or break through it.

You must be willing to do things that others won’t do or that people may laugh at. If you want to do something that’s never been done, you’re going to have to do things that others aren’t willing to do.

You have to let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control. To move forward, you have to let go of the things that you have no ability to change. Use your energy to focus your efforts on the things you can do.

You have to trust the process, believing that what you are doing will lead you to success. You did not stand on top of an Olympic podium by accident or by luck. You have to first believe it can be done. Believing doesn’t guarantee the outcome, but without belief, you are guaranteeing it will never happen.

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 Laura Wilkinson.

Beating what many said were impossible odds in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history, Laura, starting in eighth place and with a broken foot, came from behind to win the 2000 Olympic platform gold medal.

Laura has also won the 2004 World Cup and the 2005 World Championships, becoming the first woman in history to win all three coveted world titles in platform diving. Along the way, she has won 19 US National Titles, been voted by the American public the 2000 US Olympic Spirit Award winner, and was nominated for an ESPY award. Laura has also been inducted into five different Halls of Fame including the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

People always notice something that sets Laura apart from her competitors, her smile. She smiles during the most pressure-packed and fierce competitions, almost like she’s removed from the situation, acknowledging her family and teammates in the stands. Laura explains, “I smile because I love what I do. I make a commitment before the competition to enjoy the experience however it turns out.”

Laura attended the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games as a reporter and analyst for NBC. In 2017, following a nine year retirement, Laura returned to competition. She is now currently training full time with her eyes set firmly on a fourth Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

Laura hosted a season of the Hope Sports Podcast, where she spoke with elite and professional athletes each week about purpose beyond performance. And she is currently preparing to launch her own podcast- The Pursuit of Gold- later this year. She also created an online course called Confident Competitor to help eliminate performance anxiety and help athletes approach competitions with confidence.

Laura is also the wife to Eriek Hulseman and mommy to four amazing children by birth and adoption.

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 as a gymnast and didn’t find diving until the end of my freshman year of high school. I earned a college scholarship, then gave up that scholarship for a shot at making the Olympic Team. After competing in three Olympic Games, I retired to become a mom. Now in my forties with four children in tow (two biological and two adopted), I’m training again towards a fourth Olympic Games.

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?

After giving up my college scholarship in order to train full time to try and make the Olympic Team, I broke my foot in three places just three months before the Olympic Trials. The surgery that was required to fix my foot would have kept me from competing at the Trials. So we decided to cast my foot the way it was, hoping that it would heal well enough to walk on, maybe jump off.

I couldn’t train like I normally would, so my coach and I had to really think outside the box and focus on my mental game. I got my cast off and was back in the water just two weeks before the Olympic Trials.

Although my physical training time had been limited, we had completely transformed my mental game. That transformation not only helped me qualify for my first Games, but it put me right on top of the Olympic podium.

What that taught me is that although physical training is obviously important for sports, the mental game is what separates the best from the rest.

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

My longtime coach, Kenny Armstrong. I grew up with a dream of going to the Olympics but always felt foolish telling people. After being told by so many others that I didn’t measure up, Kenny was the first person to tell me that he believed I could make my dreams come true. Knowing that someone else believed in me made such a difference in my motivation, confidence and determination.

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 think resilience is being able to comeback from, overcome or push through a really difficult situation. It’s getting knocked down time and time again but always rising back up. What I see in resilient people is an unwavering determination to reach a goal, a refusal to see things as impossible, and courage to look fear and pain in the face and keep moving forward.

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

Without a doubt, Amy Purdy. A severe bacterial infection at 19 gave her a small chance of surviving. She had both legs amputated and later required a kidney transplant. She went on to become a three-time Paralympic Medalist Snowboarder. Since the last Winter Olympics, she’s experienced quite a few health problems but is always outspoken about her trials, how she is facing them, and encouraging everyone else in the process.

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?

When I first started driving, I was told I was too old to start a new sport by one teacher and another coach told me I was a waste of space. I was told not to put all my eggs in one basket. There was a constant drumbeat of people discouraging me to pursue diving at the level I desired to. But instead of believing the doubt and fear of others, I chose to use that as fuel and pursue my dreams harder. Seven years after i started diving, I won an Olympic gold medal.

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?

After a 9 year retirement, I started competing again. Everything started off great, getting second at my first nationals, but the following year I discovered I needed a two-level cervical fusion. I was scared and devastated at first. But whether I was going to continue diving or retire and be a full-time mom, the surgery needed to be done for my health and safety.

Knowing that I was going to be unable to physically train for several months followed by a slow return to the pool, I took advantage of the downtime. I wore an Orthofix bone simulator every day to speed up my fusion recovery, and I looked back at my career and began focusing on the mental game once again.

During that time I was able to not only pull together all the mental skills I had acquired, but I put them together in an online course to help other athletes grow in their mental game as well.

I’ve never known another diver to return to platform diving after a neck fusion, but I kept pressing forward and began competing on the 10-meter platform once again just over a year after the surgery. I’m still pressing forward to the Tokyo Olympics.

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

The lessons I’ve learned in the pool have helped me so much in my life outside the pool. I had a wrist surgery in early 2005 that ended up being a complete botch. I didn’t know that at the time, and I was considering retiring from the sport but wanted to compete at one last World Championships that summer.

I was in excruciating pain following the surgery that never got better. I progressed my way back up to the 10-meter platform despite the pain, but each day I was up there, I never knew how many dives I could perform due to the pain. Some days I could do upwards of 10 dives off the top, but other days might only be 1 or 2.

Workouts were unpredictable in that way, but it forced me to focus on quality over quantity. That shift in mindset — knowing that the next dive might be the last one of the practice- made me focus on each dive in such a way that it felt more like a competition. There was more weight to it in that sense, it had to be great.

That change in mindset helped me win the World Championships just six months after surgery.

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. You have to set your mind that you are not giving up. It takes an unwavering commitment to your goal to keep you moving forward on the days you don’t feel like it or when doubt tries to take over.
  2. You have to get creative and think outside the box. What brought you to the roadblock simply leaves you at the roadblock. So when you face a roadblock of sorts, you have to find a new way to get around it, go over it or break through it.
  3. You must be willing to do things that others won’t do or that people may laugh at. If you want to do something that’s never been done, you’re going to have to do things that others aren’t willing to do.
  4. You have to let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control. To move forward, you have to let go of the things that you have no ability to change. Use your energy to focus your efforts on the things you can do.
  5. You have to trust the process, believing that what you are doing will lead you to success. You did not stand on top of an Olympic podium by accident or by luck. You have to first believe it can be done. Believing doesn’t guarantee the outcome, but without belief, you are guaranteeing it will never happen.

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. 🙂

Be vulnerable. We’re always trying to present our best side and make ourselves look good. But when we open up and share our difficulties with people, we make connections and inspire others to keep going and overcome.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

“You don’t have to have the lead if you have the heart to come from behind.”

and

“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

laurawilkinson.com

https://www.instagram.com/lala_the_diver/

https://www.facebook.com/TheLauraWilkinson

https://twitter.com/Lala_the_diver

https://www.youtube.com/user/TheLauraWilkinson

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


Olympic Gold Medalist Laura Wilkinson: “5 Things To 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.

Elizabeth Potts of The Moonstoned: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

I think what makes my company stand out is my real desire to connect. It’s one of the reasons why I love Antiques so much, they’ve been places and seen things. They carry this aura of a time long gone and create a way to connect to that past. When I witness someone else connecting to this item, a ring or pair of earrings or a brooch, it creates this chest filling high for me.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth Potts, Founder of The Moonstoned.

Elizabeth Potts grew up in New Mexico where she was immersed in the culture and history of the American Southwest. As a child, Elizabeth remembers collecting pottery shards and bits of silver quartz from the Native American Ruins on her Grandparent’s Ranch. She would tie them with string, collecting them as necklaces to wear close. Each held a story, a history that her Grandfather would tell her about around a campfire, making them even more special.

After high school, Elizabeth went on to study History and Silversmithing at NMSU. Here, her love for history and jewelry came together as she discovered how jewelry was made by hand. Spending her weekends treasure hunting at all the desert flea markets, she started her own collection of antique and vintage rings. She then moved to New York City to continue her education as a Gold Smith and Bench Jeweler, continuing to amass unique old jewelry along the way and discovering the history behind each piece.

Her love of sharing the story became real when she started The Moonstoned in 2016. What started as a website built clumsily in a small cafe has turned into a multi-platform business that reaches thousands of avid jewelry lovers across the world.

Elizabeth specializes in finding the perfect piece, whether to celebrate an achievement, a proposal, or just a special moment in time. Her passion is to bring life to these old objects in the hope that you’ll connect with them and fall just as deeply in love.

“These pieces…they have a purpose. They’ve seen and been with people who have experienced so much life before being rediscovered. I want to celebrate how unique and special this is, how beautifully imperfect. Something special is out there waiting just for you, to become the story that you tell when you pass it on.”

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 feel as though this path is the “ugly girl” who all of a sudden takes off her glasses and has always been pretty, you know from those terrible rom-com movies we used to watch? Being in Jewelry has always been there for me, from collecting shiny rocks and putting them in my pocket as a kid, to playing with beading wire and making sculptures to going to school for Gold Smithing. But somehow along the way, I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough, talented enough or smart enough and it was this ‘hobby’ I kind of kept secret for a long time. I didn’t feel like I could say out loud “I’m in Jewelry”; what would that even mean? Finally, after years working in all kinds of different jobs, I decided I had to give it a go if I was ever going to figure out what ‘doing jewelry’ meant to me. It started with a small collection of antique rings, a head full of nerdy history, and a website built in a small beach-side cafe. Getting to share the stories, the reason why I love antiques, and the thrill of finding these treasures became a platform that others wanted to be a part of.

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?

Oh boy. Thinking of this still makes my cheeks red. So there I was, with a backpack full of old jewelry sitting in the waiting room of VOGUE magazine downtown for a desk-side, where an editor looks at your product and decides whether or not to work with you. It was nothing but windows, so high up you could see down the river. Everyone in the office was whizzing around, it felt SO busy and frantic. I was waiting there for quite a while, eating a chocolate muffin that had been smooshed in my bag. When the editor came out she just asked to meet right there in the lobby, so I scrambled to get the jewelry out of my backpack and show her, telling the stories and history. She looked at me and kind of frowned, then just half-listened on her phone. She then asked that I send her line sheets (I had none) and just walked away to her next meeting. I was feeling really dejected and went to the bathroom where to my absolute horror I found chocolate muffin wedged right in between my teeth. I’ll still never know if it was the backpack, the chocolate teeth or just catching her on a bad day. But looking back, I’m so grateful for that moment because it was a laugh or die, I had to find a way to get over how awkward that experience was and own it. It also made me hyper-aware that I didn’t want to try and fit into a mold of what was considered print-worthy. Antique jewelry isn’t perfect, and quite frankly neither am I. That’s kind of the magic of it all.

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

I think what makes my company stand out is my real desire to connect. It’s one of the reasons why I love Antiques so much, they’ve been places and seen things. They carry this aura of a time long gone and create a way to connect to that past. When I witness someone else connecting to this item, a ring or pair of earrings or a brooch, it creates this chest filling high for me. I want to know your story, I want to know what is important to you, what you love I want to be able to see you when you are feeling down. Jewelry is a way to connect to these human emotions because they come from a time when things were made with much more emotion. My company is really transparent about embracing that feeling over desiring jewelry just because it’s pretty looking. I was at a trunk show once, and this guy comes in looking for an engagement ring. He was really quiet and kind of shy. He didn’t ask too many questions but when he saw this ring, this antique cluster ring, he got super emotional. He bought it there on the spot and all he said was “I knew it was waiting here”. When I handed it over to him, he just broke into this huge smile. His shoulders went back, he all of a sudden was so full of hope, so full of love. I asked him if I could give him a hug and he let me, which was the best ever. I wished him good luck and off he went. Those are the things that I get to share with my readers and followers. These are the stories that make us stand out.

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

So many projects in my head at all times! It’s been a total readjustment since I had my daughter four months ago and a few things have fallen to the wayside, I’m still trying to be kind to myself about that. The current project is video content about all things Jewelry. I feel as though it’s a great way to get the story telling across to a broader audience and share the history, the lore, the how’s and why’s and who’s about these items. I think it will create an opportunity for others to explore in depth their own treasures, the things that they find connections to. Maybe it will help people open up conversations, go down rabbit holes of their own and discover something new.

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?

If I’m being really honest, I’m just figuring this out for myself. So much of my success so far has been about building a brand that’s very face forward and transparent. What you see is what you get and I think that the consumer is really hungry for that right now in a brand after so much b.s. we’ve been fed over the years. For me, Instagram Stories is a great way to do this. I utilize the stories to offer really of the moment, day to day real content. I never lay anything out or make a plan for this, which definitely is not for everyone, but it allows me to build a really direct relationship with my followers. As far as Advertising, I just started to delve into this world and holy moly, there is so much to digest. I’ll have to get back to you on that one, if I ever figure it out (ha).

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?

If I can give one piece of advice it’s to invest in your CUSTOMERS first, branding second. That is where you can spend the greatest asset you have which is your time. I’ve met plenty of business owners who have raised millions of dollars, spent tons of money on getting the product just right, including the ‘right kind of people’, getting their things on the right bodies or in front of the right camera. None of it means anything if you don’t spend some damn real time with the people who are investing in YOU. I’m very proud of my relationships with my clients; some of them have been buyers from the very beginning when I was so raw and new. All of the glitz and glam and money spending can follow, will follow. Just take care of your people; without them you have nothing.

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.

I wish I could sit here on a high pedestal, telling you ‘do this for success, don’t do that”. I wish I could pull out five reasons and sound so savvy and slick about business. But to be honest, I’m not sure what to tell you because so much of my brand is built on figuring out things as I go. And that’s ok. Being able to tear it down and start all over again, make mistakes and eat humble pie IS a part of building a believable brand. For example, I was at an antique show looking for jewelry and doing “live selling”, where I post and story in real-time at the show for my consumers to buy and be a part of what’s happening. So much of my business is being able to source and curate exceptional, authentic antiques, and people trust me for it. There I was, and I posted this pair of diamond-encrusted charms that I had just found and was STOKED about. Two days later, it comes to my attention that they were actually fake; new production from this really shady seller. It was the worst feeling. Instead of deleting the post and just quietly pretending like it never happened, I used it as a teaching moment to eat some crow and tell everyone what had happened, what can happen even to those of us who spend years training our eyes to spot frauds like that. I was nervous it would turn a bunch of people off, but you know what? I received so much support, from my peers and from my consumers. It started a conversation and also opened a door for potential buyers to walk through knowing I wasn’t afraid to be honest, I wasn’t afraid to admit my mistakes. If you’re a business that is trying to act like an expert or that you’re better than your consumer… I don’t know my friend, that just seems a little dated to me. Building a brand people can trust isn’t rocket science, just be someone worthy of that trust and everything will fall into place as you grow.

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?

SAKARA Life, hands down. Whitney and Danielle have done such an excellent job at being true to who THEY are and that makes their product relatable and necessary, even. They have carved out a niche in the health and wellness field and risen quickly to the top of it because they have never tried to pretend they are anything other than their authentic selves. I get so turned off in fields, wellness especially, when everyone acts holier than thou or that they have this enlightenment that others don’t have but take this supplement or do this sound bath twice a week and maybe you’ll achieve it. Sakara Life is about eating whole foods to heal yourself from the inside out and both Whitney and Danielle are willing to share their stories on how it has changed their lives for the better. You can really see it and believe it. Plus, it’s delicious. I’m a huge fan.

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 are definitely important; obviously we can’t survive without it. However, for me, the brand building is completely different than the actual sales happening. It’s the stories behind the scenes; the couples who are separated during the coronavirus and wanting to send love tokens to one another. It’s the people falling in love and wanting to make a commitment. It’s the woman who has worked her ass off and wants to have something to commemorate her milestones with. It’s a connection, a story that builds a brand. We are able to measure our brand success with the growing number of people who want to reach out and start this conversation.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

My brand wouldn’t be what it is without Social Media and to be honest, I’m pretty sure many companies would have to agree. The modern consumer turns to social media to really learn about you, take a peek under the hood and get to know where they are spending their money. Big Box retailers are dropping like flies because they just don’t have the soul that most consumers crave today. Shoppers are smart; there is so much information out there all at their fingertips and they want to feel like they are making a good, conscious decision when they purchase something. My followers get to be a part of all of this. When I go on a ‘Treasure Hunt’ as I call them, I take my followers along with me for the ride. When I get a new parcel ring in, my consumers get to be there as I unwrap them and try them on. When I feel a connection to a certain item of jewelry because of its history or what it triggers in me, they get to feel it too. For me, social media is getting to let everyone be a part of what I love the most about my business and that creates a stronger, better brand.

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

Get real. Be honest, about your successes as much as your failures. Stop obsessively comparing yourself to other similar brands and just tell your story. Using words that are true to your brand, applying imagery that people can really relate to is important to building a relationship with your consumers and staying excited about the engagement.

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 purchase with the intent to celebrate. I want every single person who has a transaction with The Moonstoned to FEEL SOMETHING. I want a movement where jewelry brings that deep soul connection. I want a movement where instead of purchasing for the moment you purchase with the intent to pass it down, create an heirloom. I want a moment where we treat our bodies like alters, adorning them with symbols of our self love, success and adoration in gemstones and gold.

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

“Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.” Yes, that’s right I said it. This quote works for me on a few levels. It reminds me to keep a little bit of humor in everything I do. Especially with the heaviness in the world right now, it’s so important to be able to laugh at myself and find joy in really silly things. I can also remember a time in my business, about 3 years ago when someone else from my industry really decided they wanted to take me down. They started this smear campaign, reaching out to some of my clients and peers. I was losing my MIND trying to understand why this person was so adamant to see me fall. I had just started to show a great leap in success, however, the feeling of this persons’ attacks was prohibiting my ability to enjoy the moment. I called my parents and they reminded me that this one person, this person filled with their own problems acting out truly didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. As soon as I was reminded that what was happening was petty, low brow weirdness I decided to change my attitude towards it. And you know what? As soon as I stopped sweating it, stopped giving my anxiety or fear to the fire it all went away. Don’t pet the sweaty stuff just pretty much speaks for itself.

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. 🙂

Well, first it would be my Mom because I’m missing her greatly throughout the Covid Quarantine. But I know she doesn’t read this column so my next pick would be Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York. I remember moving to New York when he started his page and reading the stories of others made me feel like I was home somehow like we were all in this together. I want to know who has stuck in his heart all these years and thousands of interviews later. I want to know what he wants to do with all of these stories. I want to know which ones he hurt to walk away from. I want to know where in his travels he would go back to and why. I wonder if he still keeps in touch with anyone he’s interviewed and why. I want to know how to help. I want to know the celebrations and the heartaches of it all. If you see him, drop a line for me would you?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow my treasure hunts, my history lessons, my trials and triumphs and very cute guest appearances of my daughter at @themoonstoned

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


Elizabeth Potts of The Moonstoned: “5 Things You Need To Do 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.

Mathilde Lelièvre of ITWP: “Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During…

Mathilde Lelièvre of ITWP: “Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During the Corona Crisis”

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. During the pandemic, it’s important that we follow a schedule. While we all wish the crisis would end in two weeks, we recognize that’s unlikely. So, set your pace, take it one day at a time and make sure to be kind to yourself to avoid burnout.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mathilde Lelièvre, the Executive Vice President of Global Operations at ITWP. Over the past 15 years, she has grown her team from three employees in a single location to approximately 700 team members worldwide. Throughout her tenure, Mathilde has been instrumental in defining and implementing the company’s operations strategy and shepherding the due diligence and integration of four acquisitions.

Earlier in her career, Mathilde served as a Project Manager at Ciao Survey Solution, and a Promotion and Communication Manager at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China.

As a citizen of the world, Mathilde has lived on three continents and in six countries. She holds a Masters’ Degree in International Relations and Political Sciences from Sciences Po Paris.

Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I have always wanted to live and work internationally. At only 16, I left France and went to Germany alone for a year of school and did the same thing again in college when I moved to California to study for a year. I then relocated to Hong Kong after graduation to work in academic research for the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China. I knew that’s what I wanted to do at that time; work as a professor performing research in China. I spent two years at the Centre before moving to Spain. After learning Spanish, I secured a job as a project manager at Ciao Survey Solutions in Madrid. Ready to be back home in France but eager to continue to work internationally, I moved into operations for Toluna.

In 2005, Toluna was a start-up with around 20 employees, a small office in Paris and a founder and CEO, Frederic-Charles Petit, who was searching for a candidate to run operations. Once Frederic and I connected, it was clear that this was the company and role for me. I liked the spirit of Toluna — small company with big energy. I loved that Toluna was a company based in Paris with a clear goal to develop internationally. We quickly opened an office in London and acquired another company in Germany. Being a polyglot was very helpful to me in communicating with our global customers and employees.

This month, I celebrate 15 years with Toluna. Key to our company values is “Meritocracy’ — which we define as: regardless of an employee’s background, it’s critical to give every person the opportunity to grow and build a career, irrespective of location or skill set. Recognizing and rewarding talent is one of the most important things that we do — of which I am a prime example. I am the Senior Vice President of operations, with approximately half of the companies’ 1400 employees falling under my remit.

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

“Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, originally published back in 1998. As many likely know, it’s a short parable about how people adapt or do not adapt to change. It is the story of four characters on physical and emotional journeys to find, lose and rediscover happiness, and deals with big changes in people’s lives. I’ve given it as a gift before and it’s worth mentioning that it is appropriate to our current situation. Amid a pandemic, we are all learning to do things differently and learning new things about ourselves. For example, how do we embrace change and make sure all our team members are cared for during such uncertain times?

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

The ability to adapt to change is inherent in every one of us. Seemingly overnight, the majority of the workforce shifted to working from home. While remote working has been on the rise for years, it’s become a necessity in the current pandemic. The good news is that employees around the world were quick to adapt and maintained their regular productivity levels. Companies made sure to provide necessary hardware and software so employees could work from home, and many are also providing mental and emotional support during the crisis. For example, Toluna launched a series of formal and informal meetings where managers and colleagues could regularly check up on each other to ensure they each had the support they needed. At times of crisis, it’s crucial to embrace change and adapt accordingly.

We have seen a great sense of care and solidarity across the world, as people turn to help others in need — from neighbors offering to grocery shop for their elderly neighbors, to hundreds of new volunteers at hospitals and multiple fundraisers designed to help care for the vulnerable. The pandemic has brought out the best in people, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s from an employer, neighbor or friend. The world may seem like a scary place at the moment, but we should keep in mind that solidarity can triumph over panic as we face this emergency.

People are resourceful and quick to find new ways to interact. While the pandemic has greatly reduced (and in many cases eliminated) our ability to interact in person, the digital age offers us an array of applications and platforms to stay connected. Coworkers are hosting morning coffee breaks on Zoom or Skype, friends are assembling for online trivia nights, and companies are organizing virtual happy hours. We should celebrate the fact that the digital world has given us the ability to adapt to the new environment and master the art of quarantine socializing.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. During the pandemic, it’s important that we follow a schedule. While we all wish the crisis would end in two weeks, we recognize that’s unlikely. So, set your pace, take it one day at a time and make sure to be kind to yourself to avoid burnout.

Sense of perspective — While we can’t be certain, the current situation will likely only last for six months. When we are older, we will look back at this time as only a page in the rich story of our lives, and it will be but a distant memory, as long as our family and friends remained healthy. It’s important to keep things in perspective: this too shall pass. In the meantime, reach out to colleagues and friends, and remind yourself of the activities you will enjoy once we’re on the other side.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

The switch to working from home was new for Toluna, as many of us had never worked remotely for prolonged periods of time. To help with the transition, I offered my team a few tips:

  1. Have a routine. Start the day. Set milestones that are not directly related to your work: a coffee break, lunch, ten minutes to chat with a friend or colleague. End the day. Give yourself permission to turn off your laptop and remember that this is a marathon — your motivation won’t last long with non-stop 15-hour days.
  2. Give yourself permission not to work. Talk about activities that you enjoy outside the scope of your job. Recommend books, television shows or exercise to your colleagues. This way, coworkers will see that a healthy work-life balance is encouraged
  3. Connect with team meetings. My managers start and end the day with team meetings via video conference. Everyone must turn the camera on so they can see one another, which has helped with the transition from face-to-face meetings to online meetings.
  4. Reach out to those who may be lonely. We have co-workers who are currently living alone, far from their families in small flats in France, Romania or India. We’ve found that arranging e-lunches where people eat together online and share recipes or e-coffee breaks where people gather to talk about hobbies has gone a long way.
  5. Be the example. I told my managers to set the example for their teams. They can write emails at 2 a.m. but should send them during work hours. After all, no one will disconnect if their manager doesn’t.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Enjoy what you have and pay attention to all the small things that bring you joy in your everyday life. If you have children, really see the smile of your child and play together. If you have pets, the actions of your pet can bring laughter. Not only that, but spring has arrived, and the world is developing again.

Put things in perspective and remember that the current situation will not last forever. In a few months, we will likely be able to resume somewhat normal activities, meet up with friends and family and enjoy outdoor activities as we had previously.

If you are feeling anxious and lonely, connect with people. Video conference calls give you the ability to see and speak with someone you’ve worked with for years but have possibly never met. As everyone is at home, now you get to see a little piece of their life that you normally wouldn’t — this can bring us even closer together. Maybe you will see the color of their living room wall, a fun painting, or meet their family on screen.

For example, in my last management meeting, I decided to bring spring to my team. I wore a shirt with bright butterflies on it, I brought in cherry blossoms from the garden and put them on my desk where everyone would see. It is the little things that have a great impact on morale and mood.

Try to see the positive. The pandemic has created new ways of working together that we can maintain in the future, and it has brought to light the goodness in people, as well as the lengths friends, family and employers will go to support others.

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

Confucius said: ‘When the wind blows, the grass bends.’ At the moment, the wind is blowing and we cannot keep every blade of grass standing straight. What does this mean? In some circumstances, and I believe this applies to the current situation, there is nothing we can change. So, the best course of action is to adapt rather than fight what is outside of our control. Work with the situation you find yourself in and you will find a way through to the other side.

You may find yourself physically constrained, but that doesn’t mean your mind cannot travel. You can dream, read and imagine. You have the ability to travel within yourself and revisit all the places you’ve been, the friends you shared it with and the people you met. You can escape your home through reading, listening to music or watching a good movie.

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 believe in a sorority. Having lived and worked about the world, I see the need for an international women’s professional support network. I would like everyone to have a mentor or support group in another country to help them grow and learn.

I do all I can to encourage the women who work with me to assert themselves and to own their careers. My advice is to take a look at what you are bringing to your job and consider all your skills and assets — do not simply focus on the gaps. Leverage your assets — be confident that you deserve a promotion and that your company should invest in you.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Readers can find me on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mathilde-lelievre-6234a52/


Mathilde Lelièvre of ITWP: “Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Deluxe CEO Barry McCarthy: “To develop resilience, celebrate small successes”

Celebrate even small successes. When good things happen, celebrate them. It will remind you of the good things you are doing, and give you and others around you more reason for optimism and to keep going.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Barry McCarthy

Barry McCarthy was named President and CEO of Deluxe in November 2018. Barry is also a member of our Board of Directors.

Prior to joining Deluxe, Barry spent 14 years at First Data Corporation, where he served in a variety of senior executive positions, most recently Executive Vice President and Head of Network and Security Solutions, a $1.5 billion publicly reported segment of the company. Barry is an accomplished executive and financial technology leader with an extensive track record of developing and building tech-driven solutions for financial institutions and small businesses. His strong background in product development, sales, marketing and technology innovation have supported the significant growth of companies from a Silicon Valley start-up, to major divisions of global Fortune 250 organizations.

Barry earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and attended the University of Illinois.

Thank you for joining us Barry! Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I began my career in product development, sales and marketing, spending 12 years at Procter & Gamble. I earned my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Since that first role, I have enjoyed a series of roles with increasing responsibility, including being an entrepreneur, venturing into leading a business in Silicon Valley. Prior to my current role as president and CEO of Deluxe, I spent 14 years at First Data, where I was responsible at various time for nearly every division within the company. I served in a variety of senior executive positions, most recently executive vice president and head of its Network & Security Solutions business, a diversified and growing, $1.5B publicly-reported segment of the company

I have lived all over the country and run businesses around the world. I am a direct, candid and passionate leader who tries to inspire others to achieve more than they thought was possible. I believe in transparency; telling people what I know when I know it. This builds trust. I serve or have served as a director of numerous organizations including The Minneapolis Business Partnership, Junior Achievement of Georgia, The Woodruff Arts Center, Catholic Charities and FinTech Atlanta, where I was proud to support the creation of the University System of Georgia’s FinTech Academy. My background is in fintech, where I have developed and built technology-driven solutions for financial institutions and small businesses.

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

I’m lucky to have had many great experiences in my career. Let me tell you about two things that have happened in the 16 months while I’ve been here at Deluxe. When I became CEO of this proud 105-year-old company at the end of 2018, Deluxe had grown to nearly a $2 billion revenue company, but was only growing through acquisitions, not through innovation. We set out to transform the company from a legacy check printer into a Trusted Business Technology™ company. I wanted the company to think and act like a tech company — to make decisions quickly, move faster and constantly reinvent. To achieve this, I needed to change how our team thought about the company — and themselves. First, we instilled an ownership mindset. Central to every tech company is the concept of “ownership” where employees and shareholders are deeply aligned around the company’s success. Tech companies grant stock to all employees to ensure that alignment exists, so when the company succeeds, the employee and his or her family succeeds, too. Early in my tenure, I asked the Board to support me in granting stock to all of our employees in North America. I’m lucky to have a supportive Board, and we made grants to everyone in April, 2019. Immediately, the questions and employee engagement started to change. Everyone started to feel ownership in their work. What our employees are doing is more than just a job, they own part of the company and the outcomes now. It has been amazing to watch.

Second, we needed to demonstrate how this 105-year-old giant could move quickly and adopt new technology. At my first Board meeting as the new CEO, I asked for support to grant stock to everyone, and to support a massive investment in modernizing our obsolete tech platforms. Pretty unusual first Board meeting! We attacked six areas of our technology infrastructure, but had a unique opportunity with our antiquated CRM tools (actually 14 different tools) to manage our customer relationships. As the first quarter of my time as CEO was closing, we had an opportunity to strike a particularly good deal with Salesforce. But we needed to get the deal done within hours — not the usual months. I was in my office at nearly 2 a.m. in between the two-day Board meeting with the team getting it done. I arrived at the Board meeting the next morning with the deal closed, including some incredible mutual opportunities that have since become a strategic alliance between the companies. Our board and company were more accustomed to talking about an issue and then meeting again two months later to make a decision. What I learned is that people are eager to follow a leader who will move forward with vision and speed. We could move fast and make great decisions by being bold and demonstrating an all-in, can-do approach.

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

There is so much. Deluxe has been around for 105 years. As a company, we have survived the Spanish Flu, two world wars, the great depression and more. Deluxe is the original payments company. Our founder invented the checkbook, and ever since then we have been integral to the economy. Annually, our services and products help process roughly $2.8 trillion. That is 14 percent of the GDP. We are essential to helping small businesses grow, from their inception through to maturity. We work with the biggest banks and companies in the world, providing the products that ensure commerce gets done.

We stand out because no other company has the breadth and scope of what we have. Our job is to make sure more people know about what we can do for them. We have relaunched the company’s go-to-market strategy to bring the best of Deluxe to all of our clients, not just one solution at a time. This enables us to better cross-sell. Clients big and small can benefit from our entire portfolio.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have had the incredibly good fortune to work for many great leaders over my career. During my 14 years at First Data, I worked for seven different CEOs, including Charlie Fote, Ric Duques, Michael Capellas (former CEO WorldCom, Compaq, president HP, etc.), Joe Forehand (CEO, Accenture), Jonathan Judge (CEO, Paychex), Ed Labry and Frank Bisignano (COO, JPMC and Citi). I learned from great leaders at Wells Fargo and P&G too. Because I got to see so many different CEOs, I think I was uniquely prepared to join Deluxe as CEO.

How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is mostly about perseverance and grit. I tell my team all the time let’s just put our head down and go to work, point ourselves in the right direction and we will mostly get it right. Of course, we’ll make mistakes. It is natural to fail. But we can get something 80 percent right and then keep building from there, you win. That is what a resilient company does. Resilient people are relentless and operate with grit. They don’t dwell if something goes wrong, they stand up, dust themselves off and keep going, staying focused on where they’re headed. The best teams also have confidence to challenge each other; disagree with each other; challenge each other; and challenge me. Sometimes the best ideas come from disagreement. But do it with the team — with the company — in mind. Then, once a decision is made, let’s rally forward, put our heads down and go to work.

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

Abraham Lincoln. In the face of terrible odds and horrible human tragedy, he stayed focused, went to work and kept the country pointed in the right direction. He failed many times, but stood up, dusted himself and company off, and went back to work. He had the grit to stay the course and get the job done.

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?

There have been plenty of times. A recent example was around making everyone at Deluxe a shareholder. It really was a big deal. We didn’t know of any other 105-year-old publicly traded, dividend-paying company taking on a fundamental transformation and granting stock to everyone. Our company had, historically, an ultra-low media profile. I spoke with our head of PR about going to the media with this story because it was so special. The initial response was that our company just wouldn’t attract attention. I said let’s just put our heads down, point ourselves in the right direction and go to work. Our PR leader landed us major coverage in local and national media. Yes, getting headlines was nice. But far more importantly, the coverage got our transformation message out broadly, raising the confidence of our customers, shareholders and employees about our exciting future.

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?

Well, we might be there right now. Managing our company right now through the COVID-19 pandemic is likely one of the greatest challenges I will face. We are watching small businesses retrench and larger companies put projects on hold. It is impacting our company and we are making decisions in real-time to manage this process. We are not through the worst of it yet, but I am certain we will bounce back, and that we are making the right decisions to move us forward and meet the needs of our customers. We are using our overarching purpose and our values to guide our decisions. Our brand purpose is to “Champion businesses, both large and small, so communities thrive.” Our values: a) we put customers first; b) we earn trust; c) we create what’s next; d) we deliver for shareholders; and e) we are a get-it-done team. All of this is built on our 105-year legacy of integrity and prioritizing the safety and health of our employees. We are living these values by delivering content and information to help business at this time. We have started a new TV series, called Small Business, Big Hearts that is part of our market leading Hulu and Amazon Prime show, The Small Business Revolution (www.small businessrevolution.org). And, of course, we are doing all we can to keep our employees safe and healthy.

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

I put myself through college, basically independent from the time I was 17 years old. I worked multiple different jobs on campus — making auger for Petri dishes in a bio chem research lab, a sporting good store selling ice skates, and an overnight desk clerk at a private dormitory. I spent much of the earnings from this on-campus work to buy bus tickets back home so I could sell house painting services door-to-door all winter, pacing-off a home’s foundation in the snow to get measurement. Come summer, I would lead a team of other college kids to paint the home. Only after I collected payment for the paint job would I earn my generous commission check. Looking back, it took pretty incredible grit to work one job to make money for a bus ticket to have a chance to slug through snow to make money at another job 6 months later. But, I believed in myself and made it work. The lesson was simple, and one I share with people whether verbally or by my actions: Just put your head down, point yourself in the right direction, work hard and it will all work out. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off if something doesn’t work, and just keep going.

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. Always learn. Being resilient means that you have failed at something and probably many things along the way. Learn how to do better next time. Failures and disappointments are just valuable lessons.
  2. Be all-in. Be in or out in whatever you do. Do nothing half-way. If you don’t believe in yourself and whatever you’re doing, no one else will either.
  3. Be positive. Negativity is a trap because it only creates more negativity. Do not allow yourself to get on the “down escalator” of negativity. Find others who are optimistic, too and leave all the people who just want to feel sorry for themselves behind.
  4. Be transparent. Hiding a problem, a weakness or a failure only ensures that you don’t get help. Put it all out there on the table. This will help you learn (see #1), and help you from becoming negative (#3). When it’s all out on the table, your peers, team and friends can help you overcome obstacles.
  5. Celebrate even small successes. When good things happen, celebrate them. It will remind you of the good things you are doing, and give you and others around you more reason for optimism and to keep going.

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

Well, that sounds aspirational. Businesses can do so much good for employees. I’d like to see more companies do what Deluxe has done — make employees owners in the business. Provide stock grants to your employees to get them further invested in the company. This will spark a movement where we aren’t management and employees, but everyone is an employee-owner and our collective mentality will change to focus on how we grow and prosper together.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter — @Barrydeluxecorp

LinkedIn — linkedin.com/in/barrycmccarthy


Deluxe CEO Barry McCarthy: “To develop resilience, celebrate small successes” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: How Chrysta Castañeda Has Shaken Up the Legal and Energy Industries

The other best words of advice I got were from my mom. She said, “Always do your best.” Admittedly, it’s pretty standard mom advice, but I truly took it to heart, and it’s been one of my defining characteristics, and the source of whatever success I’ve had. I confess, though, that it’s also a burden sometimes. Every once in awhile, it would be nice to be able to phone something in. But it’s just not in my DNA.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chrysta Castañeda.

Chrysta is a Dallas-based oil and gas lawyer, co-author of the recently published book The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens, and a candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees Texas’ lucrative oil and gas industry. She has spent most of her career in the male-dominated energy industry, and her work has earned her recognition and, for her clients, some excellent results. Her $146 million win for T. Boone Pickens (detailed in her book) was recognized as one of the largest verdicts in 2016 in the country by The National Law Journal and earned her a spot as one of the NLJ’s Elite Trial Lawyers of 2018, as well as induction into Texas Lawyer‘s Texas Verdicts Hall of Fame.

Chrysta began her career as an engineer, but soon decided she was better suited to the practice of law. After working at some of the country’s largest law firms (and taking time to work in crisis communications and run for Congress), Chrysta founded The Castañeda Firm, which focuses on “high-energy litigation for the energy industry and beyond.”

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

I grew up in a suburb of Wichita, Kansas, the daughter of an aeronautical engineer dad and a teacher mom, who went on to become a banker. So mine was a practical, data-driven childhood. I was quite studious and spent the first two years of my college career at Harvard. But family economics intervened, and I finished up at Kansas State University, where I earned a degree in industrial engineering. After a few years as an engineer, though, I realized that work wasn’t scratching my problem-solving itch, so I went to law school. Now, I’m using both my math/science background as well as my law degree working for clients in the energy industry. It’s literally and figuratively a volatile field that’s impacted by the economy, politics, climate, and now, with the pandemic, public health concerns. I’ve always loved a challenge, so it feels like my entire life has been building to this moment right now.

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

I don’t know of many women — particularly in the energy field — who have been the lead attorney on a case the size of the one I won. But, as I’ll be the first to admit, I probably wouldn’t have been hired to handle that case if my client, T. Boone Pickens, had known it was going to end up being a major piece of litigation. I was hired to handle “a small contract matter,” and while working on that, I discovered documents indicating it was anything but. I don’t think our opponents — or, frankly, even my client, — knew what they had gotten themselves into. Our opponents had cheated the wrong man, and he had hired the right woman to help him get justice.

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

This could be because he was the most recent person to make such a huge difference in my life, but I have to say T. Boone Pickens was an influential mentor. His work ethic, his courage, his willingness to take smart risks and not worry about whether everybody loved him — all of those things made him one of the most disruptive influences in the oil and gas industry. He and I weren’t on the same side of the political fence, but I definitely respected him and learned a lot from him. He also unintentionally taught me the value of standing up for what I know is right, even when it would be so, so much easier to let the other person have their way. The first chapter of my book, The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens, relates a scene where Boone and I got crosswise, to say the least. But I stood my ground. I think that was a transformative moment for both of us, and for the trial. It kept us from making a serious strategic mistake, and it showed him that I had even more backbone than he thought. Strong people respect strong people. I knew I risked pissing off my most important client in the middle of the most important trial of my life, but I also knew I was right and I needed to stick to my guns.

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

One of my role models is Jerry Clements, a lawyer I’ve worked with here in Dallas. She always said that you have to get “out on the skinny branches” — take risks and embrace every challenge — if you wanted to get ahead, especially if you’re a woman. The secret to success is saying yes to the opportunity first, then figuring out how to accomplish the task after committing. I channeled her when I first started my law firm. I said “yes” to every matter that came my way, because I needed to prove myself. I had been a lawyer long enough to know that, even if I hadn’t handled that specific issue before, I had the experience and the network to figure it out. And both of those things are critical. None of us gets where we are alone. Don’t ever forget those people who helped you in the beginning, and never stop helping those coming behind you.

The other best words of advice I got were from my mom. She said, “Always do your best.” Admittedly, it’s pretty standard mom advice, but I truly took it to heart, and it’s been one of my defining characteristics, and the source of whatever success I’ve had. I confess, though, that it’s also a burden sometimes. Every once in awhile, it would be nice to be able to phone something in. But it’s just not in my DNA.

Finally, Boone used to say “Never, never, never give up.” Also, not all that original, but as a driving motivator, it sure worked for him, and it served us well as a team. It’s so easy to get knocked down, and it happens to everybody. But the magic is in the getting up, and the staying up. And in the getting up again when, inevitably, you get knocked down again. You won’t stop getting knocked down, but the getting up gets a little easier once you’ve done it a few times and you realize that every setback isn’t failure, and every loss isn’t necessarily permanent.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m running for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission. I’ve got a runoff in July to get the Democratic nomination, and then, assuming I win the runoff, I’ll face all the voters in Texas in November. The Railroad Commission has an archaic name, because it has nothing to do with Railroads. It oversees Texas’ oil and gas industry, so it’s really one of the most consequential and powerful bodies in the country, given the size of our state’s oil and gas industry and its outsize influence in our nation’s energy, economic, and environmental policies. I’ve worked in this industry for decades, and now I’m ready to influence it at a higher level than I have thus far as a lawyer. The main issue I’m focusing on is flaring, which is the intentional lighting of natural gas from wells. It’s allowed by law for a few weeks after the well comes online, but companies routinely file for — and are almost always granted — exemptions that allow them to continue flaring for much longer. The result is both wasted energy — enough to power the city of Houston — and an unconscionable level of carbon emissions, the main contributor to climate change. The current Commissioners don’t seem to have any issue with flaring, so my goal is to get on the board and do everything I can to get them to enforce the current law, which will save our resources, curb carbon emissions, and help clean our air. That will have a major impact far beyond the Texas borders, because those are just lines on a map. Pollution from Texas travels across the globe. So, when I say, as I often do, that the Texas Railroad Commission race is the most environmentally consequential race in the country, I’m not exaggerating one iota.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Perhaps it’s just the times we’re in, but I keep going back to my memories of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Robot series. He predicted so much in the 1950s that seems appropriate to today’s events, such as responding to the threat of infection through ironclad border controls and conducting all of our personal affairs from home via teleconferencing. He concluded that science and religion both had a role in shepherding humankind to a better future, albeit one that would take tens of thousands of years to achieve. I have always been a voracious reader, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the arc of human history and our place along that arc.

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 very much like to see the reinvestment of our faith in our institutions and shared knowledge. Right now, our need to elevate ourselves as individuals has undermined that which protects us all: our shared knowledge and experience as captured in our institutions. While those institutions must continue to evolve to reflect what we learn, we cannot undermine them at their roots. We need journalistic integrity, institutional knowledge, and experts. Knowledge and experience are how I led the trial team to win the Pickens case, and it is what we need right now to guide us through the pandemic.

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

Boone said something during litigation that has really stuck with me. We had just received a settlement offer that was wildly insufficient. The other side thought they had us on the ropes because of some initial rulings that helped their argument. But we knew the fundamentals of the case hadn’t changed. When I told Boone their offer, he said, “Don’t rush the monkey. If you wait awhile, you’ll see a better show.”

The expression referred to old-time street musicians who cranked barrel organs while their trained monkeys performed tricks to draw an audience. If you were patient and stuck around until the end of the act, you’d see all the monkey’s tricks for the same money. It was his folksy way of saying our case was far from over and there was no reason to rush a settlement.

I try to keep that in mind in non-litigation settings. The most important decisions we have to make aren’t emergencies. We all make better decisions when we don’t let emotion override our good judgment. Maybe it’s just an hour or a few days, but I have found that letting things ride and not rushing important decisions has served me well.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My book is @LastBoone on Twitter and @lasttrialoftboonepickens on Facebook

My campaign is @ChrystaForTexas on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

My law firm is @LawChrysta on Twitter and Facebook


Female Disruptors: How Chrysta Castañeda Has Shaken Up the Legal and Energy Industries was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Dr Jeffrey Norris of Father Joe’s Villages Is Helping To Provide

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Dr. Jeffrey Norris of Father Joe’s Villages Is Helping To Provide Medical, Dental and Behavioral Health Services To The Homeless Community

If you live life without taking risks, your potential positive impact on the world will be that much less. Too often, we avoid trying something for fear it will not work. The joy of my work at Father Joe’s Villages is that my organization lets me take chances and lets me develop innovative approaches to do better for our homeless neighbors.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Norris

For the last 4 years, Dr. Norris has served as the Medical Director at Father Joe’s Villages, where he runs a Federally Qualified Health Center within the Village; the Health Center focuses exclusively on those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. He also serves on the Board of Managers for Integrated Health Partners, which is a Clinically Integrated Network of Federally Qualified Health Centers in San Diego and Riverside Counties. He completed medical school at the University of Utah followed by a residency in Family Medicine at the University of New Mexico.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up in Houston and Salt Lake City and I have always loved being outdoors. Salt Lake was a great place to get outside to hike, run, bike, ski, paddle, or whatever else. My grandfather was a psychiatrist and my mother is an internist in primary care. My maternal grandmother was Japanese and we still have a lot of family we keep in touch with in Japan.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

I went to medical school to not only address individuals’ health issues, but also work on public health issues that drive poor health outcomes on larger level. Homelessness is a perfect example how social inequities directly and negatively affect health. What I love about my job is that I can go from injecting someone’s knee to having a conversation with county officials about system changes within an hour. Often when we, as someone not experiencing homelessness, see someone struggling on the sidewalk to make it through life, we feel individually disempowered to do anything to service that person. In a position like mine, I feel like I can work meaningfully on systems changes to improve individuals’ lives.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

One of the greatest reasons why homelessness has become more prevalent is that housing has become less and less affordable over the last 15 years. Adjusting for inflation, median rents have increased across the country and especially in California. On top of that, adjusted for inflation, low income households are making the same or less than they did in the early 2000s. As a result, low income households spend over 60% of their income to pay for a place to live. With their proportion of income spent on housing soaring, these households have less available funds to buy food, clothing, educational resources and other important needs, let alone savings. Though Father Joe’s Villages and our partners have worked on addressing homelessness for years, society at large has largely ignored these underlying causes of homelessness (income inequality and costs of housing).

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

We can’t put homelessness in a box. Homelessness is diverse — experienced by people of all ages, race, ethnicities, genders, sexuality, etc. — and each person’s situation is different. Often, both personal and systemic issues contribute to each individual’s state of homelessness. As rent becomes more expensive and income stagnates, people who are already working low-income jobs or supporting children or elderly relatives become more vulnerable. Many people are just one life event away from losing their housing. Sudden or chronic illness, job loss, a death in the family, divorce, substance use disorder, and other issues can propel a person or family into homelessness. Then, once a person becomes homeless, it becomes increasingly more difficult to overcome homelessness. They have to spend much of their time focused on surviving — finding a safe place to sleep, food to eat, showers, etc. — making it more difficult to secure employment and housing.

In terms of health, pain, chronic illness and disability can prevent individuals from being able to secure income and housing. In this way, burdened by medical bills and unable to work, poor health can be the primary cause of homelessness. Alternatively, health issues can also be caused by the brutal and often traumatic nature of homelessness or can make pre-existing issues much worse. In this way, homelessness and health snowball together to make overcoming homelessness even more difficult for the people we serve.

All of these issues create a cycle of homelessness.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

What many people don’t consider is that people experiencing homelessness need support systems as well. Many of them have friends or family in the city in which they’re living and those connections are essential for mental health, finding employment, and to eventually overcome homelessness. Additionally, a person can’t always afford the costs of moving, and securing employment and housing in a new place is not easy, especially if you’re homeless. Often, if a person moves before finding security, they’ll just end up homeless again but in a new place without their previous support system.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

It’s critical that we see people experiencing homelessness as people. Father Joe once said, “These are neighbors not strangers. They are somebody’s son, daughter. They’re just in trouble but there’s a way to help.” People experiencing homelessness often feel invisible. Just a smile, eye contact or a conversation can give hope to a person in need. If you are moved to act, then volunteer or donate to a local homeless services organization. Support nonprofits working towards comprehensive solutions.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

It’s okay to politely decline. Panhandling is not a long-term solution to an individual’s homelessness. It’s better to support services that are providing shelter, health care, meals, employment training and more that help address larger causes of homelessness.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Father Joe’s Villages is on the frontlines of this pandemic working to protect the health and safety of our homeless neighbors in San Diego. In addition to continuing to provide critical medical, dental and behavioral health services, the Village Health Center has provided thousands of screenings to proactively identify possible symptoms of COVID-19 and rapidly test and isolate the potentially infected individuals. These efforts help to mitigate the risk of spread. We have also supported in mass testing efforts to help identify those who are asymptomatic. Our team in the Village Health Center has been incredible day-to-day. They show up, day after day, with energy and enthusiasm to do what is needed to save lives! Further, I have seen our community come together to address this crisis in ways I would have never imagined.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

Right now, the people that we serve are scared — and rightfully so. People experiencing homelessness are far more vulnerable to complications and death from COVID-19. While most of us will be able to stay safe or recover in our homes, our neighbors experiencing homelessness face an added layer of challenges, including limited access to hygiene supplies and sanitary living conditions. To protect the health and safety of those most vulnerable in the community, all of the staff at Father Joe’s Villages are working far more hours and under more stress than ever before. In the face of physical distancing, we found more shelter space to ensure our neighbors have a safe place to sleep each night. In the face of food and supply shortages, we still continue to feed hundreds of neighbors warm, nutritious to-go meals every day. In the face of a pandemic, we offer proactive screening, testing and on-going medical, dental and mental health services that protect our neighbors’ health and save lives. We have to be more creative about how we provide our services but we must continue on to meet the basic needs of those experiencing homelessness during this uncertain time.

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

I am most proud of the fact that I never lost sight of my dream when I became a doctor. I went to medical school to serve those often forgotten by society. Many people go to medical school with such aspirations, but then end up elsewhere. I like to say that I think the 22-year-old me would be proud of what I have become!

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

One of our patients was dealing with debilitating depression, substance use disorder and suicidal thoughts as the result of a traumatic event. Unfortunately, these issues eventually led him to losing his home and living out of his car. After living in his car for a little while, the client developed debilitating back pain — so bad that he needed to use a walker to get around. Eventually he began sleeping on the streets, which only exacerbated his pain. Soon, he was struggling to walk at all. As you can imagine, it is impossible for a neighbor in need to focus on finding work and housing when they’re facing such insurmountable challenges. This man needed multidisciplinary, holistic support to address all of these issues and he needed housing and a safe bed in order prevent the pain from getting worse. Through the Village Health Center, he received mental health care and physical health care. Through San Diego’s coordinated entry system, he was able to find housing. With support from his Village Health Center doctor, he was eventually able to get back surgery, which relieved his pain and allowed him to focus on the future. He is now living on his own and self-sufficient. His story emphasizes how poor health and homelessness feed each other in a dangerous cycle.

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

Stand up for affordable housing in your community. If you hear of an affordable housing building being built in your neighborhood, let your friends, neighbors and community leaders know that you support it.

Contribute to a local homeless services provider in your area. Donate cash, household goods, donate a car or vehicle, or organize a donation drive of much-needed items.

Volunteer your time at a nonprofit providing food, health care, or shelter to people in need during this time. Even if you can’t volunteer in person, you can sew masks, assemble hygiene kits or do other creative work.

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

The first would be to allow Medi-Cal (Medicaid in California) to directly pay for housing and related supports for individuals with complex health and social needs. Medi-Cal explicitly does not allow pay for housing of any kind right now, but we know there is a clear link between housing and health. Many people getting federal “disability” payments only get around $1,000 per month, which is not enough to cover housing costs on top of food, utilities, clothing, etc. in a city like San Diego. “Housing is healthcare”!

Federally Qualified Health Centers (like our clinic) in California are not paid for behavioral health visits that are provided the same day as a physical health visit. This means that health centers across the state provide largely uncompensated care to patients with mental health issues. This is not fair and must be fixed.

HIPAA and HITECH, a set of federal healthcare privacy laws passed in 1996 and 2009, have served to worsen the quality of healthcare. The intent of the laws is noble: to protect the privacy of patients. But because of the way the laws are implemented, doctors and other team members are often unable to quickly share critical information about patients. This issue has undoubtedly caused numerous deaths in our country over the past few decades. There is an urgent need change the interpretation of these laws in order to make sure the healthcare system can take quality care of patients.

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

What keeps me going is my team. I am nothing as a leader without the right people around me. There have been very challenging days during this crisis, but the reality is that we are all supporting one another. A number of my employees have directly told me, as I was struggling to try to take a day off, “go home, I’ve got this covered.” When we take care of each other, we are better able to be present and engaged for everyone else.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

At Father Joe’s Villages, our mission is to prevent and solve homelessness, one life at a time. I do believe that we can get to the point where homelessness barely exists or is only a transient state. But getting there requires our society to completely re-envision its commitment to the most vulnerable around us. On a policy level, massive changes to housing policy and income equality need to occur, with especial focus on race and class inequities. And on an individual level, we have to recognize that there is a face to homelessness and individual people who are suffering.

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

“Move quickly, but not too fast.” As humans we are often impatient. When we see something “wrong”, we want it fixed quickly. As I came into my current position in 2016, there were many challenges to work on. It has been easy to try to “take it all on”, and one of my biggest vices is that I want to fix everything. But when you overextend yourself and your team, you become less effective and lose a sense of mission. In our Health Center, we have had to be very careful to pace out the projects we work on. Because of this approach, over 5 years, we have started a Medication Assisted Treatment program, implemented Health Homes, started a Recuperative Care program, increased our case management team, integrated a Behavioral Health team into the clinic, and greatly expanded the number of primary care clinicians.

“Your employees are your customers.” In any “business,” whether non-profit or for-profit, our traditional “customers” are the recipient of our products and services (patient in healthcare). But of course, work is not done without a team. And as such, employees are as much the customer as the patient. It has taken me a couple of years to learn this lesson, but it is a lesson I will not forget! This approach allows us to keep and retain staff, which in turn means we do better for our traditional “customers”.

“Don’t try to be everything to everyone.” It is easy to see ourselves as needing to try to solve every issue out in the community related to “healthcare for the homeless.” Our Health Center does a huge amount of work in the community, far disproportionate to our small size. We have to be great at what we do, and sometimes that means saying “no” when we know we have enough to work on already. Instead, you have to leverage partnerships to lean on others to do the work you cannot on your own. An example of that is at the San Diego Convention Center, which currently serves as a homeless shelter. We were asked to do all the primary care for around 1,000 clients on top of providing mass COVID-19 lab testing and running our traditional clinic. The needs of the 1,000 clients far exceeded what we could accomplish on our own. So, while we said “no, we cannot provide all the primary care,” we then leveraged our relationship with La Maestra (another Health Center) to cover where we were not able to.

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

I would like to inspire healthcare companies and institutions to start seeing housing as an integral element of healthcare. The social issues faced by those with housing insecurity are as important, if not more important, than their health issues. How can we truly address the serious health issues people who are homeless are facing without first addressing their housing? For example, when a person doesn’t have a safe place to stay or a lock on their door, their medications are very frequently lost or stolen. Alternatively, some critical medications require refrigeration — which is virtually impossible for a person who is homeless. This makes managing acute and chronic health issues very challenging. At the Village Health Center, we work with patients first and foremost to get housing. In this way, obtaining that housing is often a critical step to achieving better health outcomes or even to saving a life.

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

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky

If you live life without taking risks, your potential positive impact on the world will be that much less. Too often, we avoid trying something for fear it will not work. The joy of my work at Father Joe’s Villages is that my organization lets me take chances and lets me develop innovative approaches to do better for our homeless neighbors.

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. 🙂

Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande is an acclaimed surgeon and author who has written numerous books about the challenges of doing “Better” (the title of one of his books) in healthcare. His frank, direct, and reflective style of writing helps healthcare providers really think about what is missing in our current healthcare system. I would love to spend a lunch with him and pick his brain about what he thinks about health care for those experiencing homelessness.

How can our readers follow you online?

On Facebook, @FatherJoesVillages, Instagram and Twitter, @FatherJoes, or LinkedIn, Linkedin.com/in/jeffreyn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Dr Jeffrey Norris of Father Joe’s Villages Is Helping To Provide was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: “How Jackie Lorens Harris and Chicago Lights are providing…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: “How Jackie Lorens Harris and Chicago Lights are providing comprehensive supportive services for their guests who are experiencing homelessness and poverty”

For as many challenging moments or days that I have, I have an equal number of moments I keep in my back pocket to remind me of the successes and wins I witness among guests or how our team of staff, volunteers, and supporters are able to accomplish meaningful work as a community. Those successes and positive wins always outweigh the challenging moments and remind me that we as humans are all on this journey together. No one person can do it all, nor should they, and there’s a huge sense of relief in that.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Lorens Harris. As the Social Service Center Director at Chicago Lights, Jackie directly oversees daily operations and strategic planning for the Chicago Lights Social Service Center and began her tenure with Chicago Lights in 2012 as the Center’s Program Development Manager. She supports the Social Service Center staff and interns who connect with 1,300 adults to encourage self-development, deep connections, and brighter futures through food and clothing services, case management, and enrichment programming.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

During my undergraduate career at DePaul University, I was heavily involved in community service opportunities, like weekly volunteering at the nearby afterschool program or mornings at the church’s soup kitchen, and then lived in an intentional community during my sophomore year. It wasn’t until my junior year when I went on my second service immersion trip to Los Angeles, stayed in shelter on Skid Row, and spent the week working with nonprofits that focus on homelessness and engaging with individuals experiencing homelessness that I knew that’s where I needed to focus my career. I always thought I’d work in political campaigns or in international relief efforts, but when I saw the extreme amount of disparity between those living on Rodeo Drive and those living at the corner of San Pedro and 6th Street for over 15 years, I knew a lot needed to be changed in my own backyard. I grew up within a middle-class family and never went without. When I saw adults calling the sidewalk their home and heard the unique and complex struggles they faced, many from childhood and to no fault of their own, I realized I wanted to prevent the continuation of that cycle and the policies that perpetuate it.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

As of 2017, more than 86,000 people in Chicago were experiencing homelessness (https://www.chicagohomeless.org/faq-studies/). The homelessness crisis is complicated but is the result of decades of systemic racism, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and mental health and substance abuse challenges. Two of these particular factors contribute to an increase in homelessness in several states, although the national numbers of those experiencing homelessness have decreased — housing affordability and access to mental health services. While many states and cities have seen a decrease in homelessness, they must combat the constant existence of homelessness with the availability of affordable housing. San Francisco and Los Angeles are two major cities that have been unable to meet the rising need of affordable housing due to the ever-increasing costs of living and housing costs in their cities. When various levels of government prioritize developers’ needs and increased property taxes, those who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness quickly run out of more options. Likewise, certain states, including Illinois, have made mental health less of a priority over the past five years, though this trend is now improving with the most recent change in state administration. When the State of Illinois experienced its Budget Impasse from 2015 to 2017, many mental healthcare providers, substance use providers, and social service providers alike that were funded by the State of Illinois were directly affected by the lack of funding, resulting in massive program cuts, personnel layoffs, and entire agency closures. Without proper access to various types of counseling and psychiatric care, individuals and families feel more instability and lack support systems they need to maintain their health, employment, and, likely, their housing. Some agencies have been able to recover and rebuild their staff/programming in the past year or so, but some are still feeling the long-term effects of the impasse without the ability to connect with and support clients and consumers.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

A person may have access to resources, but that doesn’t guarantee “success,” especially with the forces of systemic racism at work. A person may have a place to live, a job, an education, and family, social, and community support systems available, but for many of our guests, an unstable childhood has lasting mental and physical effects on their current well-being. This trauma can make it challenging to maintain a home, a job, an education, and these support systems. For people of color, systemic racism is another barrier, making it that much more difficult to maintain these needs. Any sort of “break” in these factors can quickly affect stability in other parts of one’s life — and this is true at both the micro and macro levels. For example, someone may have a positive amount of support in all these areas but is living paycheck to paycheck or has little to nothing in savings, and then a recession, or a pandemic like the one we’re currently experiencing, emerges and limits access to employment and income. Bills pile up, and rent is overdue or becomes increasingly difficult to pay. Family or community members may be able to help for a limited amount of time or feel uncomfortable having a relative/friend stay with them for very long. Mental health can deteriorate, and depression, anxiety, and/or substance use may emerge as a result or potential coping mechanism. The process might start with an entirely different factor (say, a medical issue occurs, and insurance doesn’t cover the diagnosis, or the individual doesn’t have adequate health insurance), but it is not unlikely that one factor will snowball into other detrimental factors, leading to the experience of homelessness.

This is exponentially more difficult for people of color to overcome. Homelessness is disproportionately reflected in communities of color due to the systemic policies local, state, and the federal government have perpetuated over centuries. People of color are more likely to get pushed into homelessness because they’re more likely to have a criminal record, making it more difficult to secure housing or a job. They might also have an eviction on their record. Or they can pay their monthly rent but can’t afford the security deposit to move into a new apartment. Even when a person of color is able to acquire stable housing and perhaps start a family, their children are already at a disadvantage as they grow older and face a multitude of systemic barriers, like a lack of access to quality healthcare and education their white peers have due to the comfort of generational wealth.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

Moving costs money, and people experiencing homelessness may not have enough money for a sandwich, let alone moving costs, security deposits, storage needs, or transportation to a different location. For many, Chicago may also be their home, meaning that they and previous generations of their family may have lived here for years. Even though the cost of living in Chicago may be more expensive than other cities or towns, leaving home is a daunting task, both mentally and physically. Additionally, if you are without stable housing, it would prove difficult to maintain gainful employment without regular access to food, water, and a comfortable place to sleep, let alone feel emotionally and psychologically well to maintain a job. The same is true vice versa — you can’t really afford suitable and stable housing without access to regular income, positive rental history, and funds saved up to afford the move. It’s a never-ending cycle unless you have support systems in place to get you started on that path.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

The best way to help a person encountered on the street is to start with acknowledgment. Make eye contact, smile, and say “hello.” People experiencing homelessness are ignored by hundreds of people every day, so a little acknowledgment and kind words can go a long way. Also, think about the times you’ve been in need of help or support. Doesn’t it always feel better when someone asks, “How can I help?,” rather than having someone assume and just do something for you or tell you what you should do? Some individuals (again, think of yourself) may not want anything more than someone to talk to, or they may want to be alone in that moment, and that’s okay. It’s all about respecting that person’s needs or wants. If a person responds that they want support beyond a conversation, like a referral, transportation fare, some food, or money, you must decide how you feel most comfortable responding to that request. On a broader scale, you can also consider donating/supporting a local shelter or social service center in your community. These agencies are always in need of funds, in-kind donations, and volunteers. Or perhaps they have a mobile outreach team, and you could connect and build a relationship/trust with the person you first encountered to support them on their journey toward greater stability.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

If a person experiencing homelessness asks you for money for rent or gas, you have the choice of offering something in return. If you aren’t able or comfortable providing money, you can say, “I can’t help you with that, but here is more information about Chicago Lights . . .” Or, “I can’t help you with that, but I’m sorry you’re experiencing this.” If you do offer money or other resources, know that they then have the freedom to use these resources as they wish. Part of being a giving person is being able to release control over how a resource is used.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

The Chicago Lights Social Service Center provides comprehensive supportive services for our guests who are experiencing homelessness and poverty. We connect with more than 1,300 adults each year to encourage self-development, deep connections, and brighter futures through food and clothing services, case management, housing resources, and enrichment programming. Together, these programs help adults pursue and reach their goals toward achieving greater stability. At the core of our work is ensuring guests are the authors and experts of their life journeys. We are there to support, encourage, and empower guests to make choices and progress that are realistic to them and in the appropriate time frame. Through Good Neighbors Street Outreach and drop-in services, we create a gateway to connection and trust. We provide guests with immediate needs and use those shorter engagements to assess what long-term goals they may want to focus on, gather more unique information about the guest and their life story, and continuously encourage engagement through their level of comfort. As these relationships strengthen among staff and guests, we suggest programming such as individual case management and/or enrichment groups, taking more intentional time to consider both a guest’s long-term goals (housing, mental and/or physical health, benefits/income, education, etc.) and the personal and systemic barriers that prevent a guest from achieving their goals. From there, we create a plan as partners on this journey and know that it can take support from a network of service providers, housing providers, community advocates, and health professionals to achieve some of these long-term goals.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

Many shelters and agencies are operating at limited capacities or closed entirely, leaving people experiencing homelessness even more vulnerable than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Chicago and its service providers are continuously evaluating how to best support those experiencing homelessness during, or because of, the pandemic. Shelters are partnering with nearby churches, community centers, and City-identified spaces to provide at least the same number of beds prior to the pandemic but with as much social distancing as possible. The Chicago Department of Public Health has deployed at least 40 nurses to act as consultants to shelters and congregate living environments to provide immediate care, offer strategies to mitigate the spread of symptoms, respond to outbreaks, and expand testing. While our building at Chicago Lights may be closed, we’re still able to provide curbside services of food, clothing, and toiletries to our guests while following health and safety guidelines. It’s important now, more than ever, that we remain a resource for our guests in any way we can. Additionally, we have met several new guests who are finding themselves new to the experience of homelessness because they are returning citizens, having served a majority, or all, of their court sentence. Folks who were sentenced to prison for over 20 years are coming to our doors and asking how to access payphones and bus tokens — this is a huge culture shock for a multitude of reasons. Individuals who have not been court-involved but experiencing homelessness have had to press pause on goals related to housing, employment, and identification documents. The Chicago Housing Authority is still processing applications and Chicago-area permanent supportive housing agencies are trying to remove as many barriers to housing as possible so applicants can reduce their time from (homelessness to housed) 60 to 45 days, but the current affordable housing inventory is still unable to meet the demand and need for shelter and housing.

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

As I moved into the role of Director of the Social Service Center five years ago, I took a step back from direct services and realized I’m now able to witness friendships and communities forming and thriving more than ever before. My previous role meant focusing on my particular caseload or engaging with a select group of guests. Now I get to learn about a much larger number of our guests through consultations with our staff and interns.

I am always strengthened by the fact that so many of our guests find community and welcome in our space, whether that’s through our staff and volunteers meeting them for the first time during Street Outreach and feeling ready and willing to walk into our offices on their own, or friendships forming among guests who attend our weekly enrichment groups, or rekindled relationships between guests and their families. I love being a part of a space that encourages second chances through new and repaired relationships.

One story that stands out in particular is our annual Open Doors Project (ODP) graduation. ODP is a year-long case management program for up to eight guests who participate in weekly individual case management meetings along with weekly support meetings with fellow participants. A few years ago, our graduates were coming to the end of their ceremony, and as is tradition, we invited attendees to share well wishes with a particular graduate, or with the entire group. A young woman stood up and shared how proud she was of her dad and how happy she was to reconnect with him recently so he could see his grandchildren more often. Following the ceremony, that same graduate pulled me aside to thank the Social Service Center for being able to participate in ODP, not only because he reunited with his daughter and his grandchildren, but also because it was the first time he graduated from something. He had dropped out of high school before his senior year and recently found the energy and motivation to work toward his GED. The pride and accomplishment in his voice and his eyes is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

I met Jennifer a couple months into her working with Chicago Lights. She was in her mid-30s and had a long history with substance abuse and chronic homelessness. Jennifer typically came in for clothing and hygiene items and grabbed a lunch from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago’s Meals Ministry program. Like many of our guests, Jennifer worked with a team of mental health providers at a partner agency, which would monitor her mental and physical health needs, with the hope of eventually locating permanent supportive housing through the agency’s housing subsidy connections. Jennifer worked with a number of our case managers over the years and was presented with a few housing opportunities, but deadlines passed and Jennifer was put back on waiting lists multiple times — we couldn’t access some of her identification documents in time, she missed interviews with the housing provider, and sometimes, we just didn’t see Jennifer for weeks at a time.

Around May 2017, her name came up for another permanent housing unit. Over the past year, she and I worked on applying for Social Security Disability Benefits, making sure she attended all medical appointments, and most importantly to her, rekindling her relationship with her teenage daughters, who lived with Jennifer’s mom. For some reason, this housing opportunity was different for Jennifer. She felt more ready. She was ready to commit to a new set of goals, and we worked together over the next several weeks to fill out assessments, obtain documentation, get medical records from physicians, and attend a Chicago Housing Authority interview.

Within a week of the interview, Jennifer was approved for permanent supportive housing, and I met her at her new building to help her sign her lease. Her first request was to get a few things to make the apartment more homey so her teen daughters could visit and spend the night that weekend. I’ve seen Jennifer less and less over the years, but she still lives in the same apartment and continues to work on both her recovery as well as her relationship with her family. She seems stronger, happier, and healthier. She always had the tools and skills to do this on her own, she just needed to feel ready and for someone to be patient and walk with her along the way.

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

  1. Support your local nonprofits and service providers, especially during this pandemic. Reach out to the staff and ask what they need most — donations (monetary and/or in-kind), volunteers, networking on their behalf for more supporters, sponsoring an event, etc. Staff who are on the frontlines know exactly what they (and their guests/clients/consumers) need. Let them be the experts in their work and their needs.
  2. Advocate for people of color. This can be through supporting the development and growth of black-owned businesses, calling out racial injustice when you see it(personally and institutionally), ensure your local government and economy provide equity and inclusion for communities of color, and be an ally. That means listening more than speaking, being willing to learn and make mistakes, and creating safe spaces so people of color have their voices heard by those in power.
  3. Combat the stigmas associated with mental illness, substance use, and of course, homelessness. What you see on TV and in movies is extremely exaggerated and inaccurate, regarding the causes, symptoms, and effects of all three issues. These are realities for too many people and should not be taboo topics, nor should people who experience them be ostracized. Talk openly about them, educate yourself, and acknowledge implicit bias.

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. Investment in affordable and public housing at the federal and state level, with the utilization of a Housing First model. The Ending Homelessness Act (H.R. 1856, S. 2613) is one of four bills that would appropriate funds for this effort. It was marked up and approved by the House Financial Services Committee in 2019, but no action has been taken since.

2. Federal Living Wage. Many cities, including Chicago, are taking on the task of increasing the minimum wage, but until the gap between the minimum wage and housing costs shrinks, poverty and homelessness will persist.

3. Abolishing the Three Strikes Law. While this harsher sentencing for a third offense was intended for those convicted of murder, rape, and other severe violent offenses, more than half of inmates sentenced under the law are serving sentences for nonviolent crimes. This law disproportionately affects minority populations, as well as defendants with mental and/or physical disabilities. Returning citizens have increased difficulty in overcoming homelessness when released due to additional stigmas.

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

Burnout in social services (and any field within the nonprofit sector) is real, and it definitely makes its presence known to me from time to time. However, the people I work with — my team members, my colleagues, my supervisor, our volunteers, and especially our guests — remind me why I’m committed to this work. For as many challenging moments or days that I have, I have an equal number of moments I keep in my back pocket to remind me of the successes and wins I witness among guests or how our team of staff, volunteers, and supporters are able to accomplish meaningful work as a community. Those successes and positive wins always outweigh the challenging moments and remind me that we as humans are all on this journey together. No one person can do it all, nor should they, and there’s a huge sense of relief in that.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I have . . . cautious optimism. There’s evidence in particular cities, like Houston and Salt Lake City, and even in particular countries, like Finland and Iceland, that curbing homelessness (especially among veterans) is very possible. But to eradicate homelessness across the United States, it would take more than hope — it would take deep structural change, in policy, in perspective, and in priorities. The aforementioned cities and countries prioritized collaboration between the nonprofit and public sectors and invested in the development of more public and affordable housing. Until that becomes a reality across the country and until we commit to destigmatizing mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness, poverty and homelessness will continue to exist.

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. Practice what you preach regarding self-care. I’m huge on encouraging my staff and colleagues to practice self-care but terrible at doing it myself. It is crucial to find actions or self-affirmations that give you joy and revive you, or burnout will always be around the corner.
  2. “I don’t know” is a very acceptable answer. This is pretty much the opposite of “fake it ’til you make it,” and it shows others that no one has all the answers. You are not, nor should you be, the smartest person in the room. You should constantly look for opportunities to learn, question yourself, and discover solutions with others.
  3. As you move up the nonprofit leadership ladder, prepare to wear every hat, sometimes on the same day. And sometimes, while juggling . . . and riding a unicycle. This reiterates why #1 is so important.
  4. Manage, and re-manage, your expectations — regarding your to-do list, your calendar, your fundraising goals, how flawless that difficult conversation will go with that colleague or donor, etc.
  5. Create a personal Board of Directors. Every nonprofit has a Board of Directors that provides guidance and accountability. One of my Leadership Cohort facilitators recently shared the idea of creating your own Board, and I love the idea of a personal powerhouse of leaders who can inspire you, provide wisdom, and keep you in check when you need it most.

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 expand social enterprise opportunities. Too many times I’ve heard guests share they would work or take a job if someone just gave them a chance. And so many individuals who are experiencing homelessness are not considered vulnerable enough to qualify for certain types of housing or government benefit, let alone maintain gainful employment because they lack safe shelter to return to each day. They haven’t been homeless “long enough,” or they’re in good health, or they didn’t serve in the armed forces, so they have to prolong their lack of housing and employment, while likely experiencing deteriorated health, before they are eligible for those who are considered “worse off.” Social enterprises create the opportunity for skill-building, a living wage, job experience, and contribute to the local economy. Several in the Chicago-area include supportive services like case management, counseling, and additional job placement because they recognize no matter the population they support (young adults, new mothers, returning citizens, or no specific demographics at all), you must support a person as a whole person, if you truly want someone to not just survive, but thrive and grow.

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

“You can either be the doctor, or the patient. And I refuse to be the patient.” — Tommy Wrenn, a Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, AL. I met Mr. Wrenn when I was leading a service immersion trip to Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama, and we visited the local Civil Rights Activist Committee Headquarters, which he founded. Mr. Wrenn gave two hours of his time to a group of young college students from Chicago and talked about his days of walking with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a Foot Soldier and a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It’s a metaphor that has stuck with me no matter the situation. We’re always faced with a choice of fighting and resolving an injustice or laying victim to it. We should always refuse to fall victim to an injustice, even if it doesn’t affect us directly.

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?

I would love to have breakfast with Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I have always admired her commitment to gender equality, her tenacity, and her determination to thrive despite facing adversity. Regardless of the years and roles she has served in her career, she has stayed true to her values and spoken truth to power. I recently had to share my favorite quote about leadership, and it comes from Justice Ginsburg: “Fight for the things you care about, but do so in a way that will lead others to join you.” I always strive to lead by example and live out my values, just as Justice Ginsburg has done her entire life.

How can our readers follow you online?

I highly recommend learning more about Chicago Lights at chicagolights.org and following Chicago Lights through its various social media channels on Facebook (@chicagolights), Instagram (@chicago.lights), and Twitter (@chicagolights). Readers can also connect with me on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/jackielorens)


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: “How Jackie Lorens Harris and Chicago Lights are providing… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Scott Leysath, The Sporting Chef, Has Helped Feed Tens Of…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Scott Leysath, The Sporting Chef, Has Helped Feed Tens Of Thousands Of People With The Hunt.Fish.Feed Program

Assembling a group of volunteers, most of whom have never worked in a kitchen or spent any time in a shelter, and feeding several hundred appreciative hungry people is both rewarding and sad. You feel for the folks who you’ve just fed, but there is some satisfaction in knowing that you were able to help out the people who feed them every day. Many of the volunteers end up making a promise to return to the shelter to help out in the future.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Leysath, aka The Sporting Chef.

Scott Leysath, former chain and independent restaurateur, now TV host of two cooking shows featuring fish and game on Sportsman Channel — “The Sporting Chef” and “Dead Meat.” For the past 12 years, Scott Leysath has been the Executive Chef for Sportsman Channel’s Hunt.Fish.Feed. program. They utilize renewable, high-protein resources like venison, salmon and wild boar to feed the nation’s homeless and hungry as well as military personnel and their families and encourage hunters and anglers to do the same in their communities.

Thank you so much for joining us Scott! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

I know it sounds crazy, but my parents would often leave me home during my high school years and go away for a week or two. Not being too responsible, my friends would hang out at our house and I would feed them. Oh sure, it might have gotten out of hand at times, but no one was hurt too badly. That’s how my interest in the culinary arts started.

My cooking career really started as a doorman in a high-volume casual theme bar and restaurant and eventually I became vice-president of the 33-unit chain. I co-owned a popular restaurant near Sacramento for seven years and a catering business for 10 years. I began what I refer to as my “so-called TV career” in 1999 on HGTV’s “Home Grown Cooking with Paul James.” I was the Executive Chef for 180 episodes, working both sides of the camera as the backstage chef and on-camera guest and regular contributor. I do miss the restaurant business, but not enough to do it again or to get a divorce in order to pursue my dream…or nightmare.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

I have always had a soft spot for the less fortunate, especially those who have been subjected to circumstances that would overwhelm anyone. I was invited to help out with my first Hunt.Fish.Feed. in Orlando 12+ years ago. After spending time with the facility and the folks we fed, I was hooked and knew that this is a worthy cause that both helps others and gives me a more clear perspective about what’s going on in the world.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

When the Great Recession hit in 2007/2008, I met people from all walks of life at shelters across the country. I’d listen to their stories about how they had jobs, were paying their rent and then there were no jobs. Many sold whatever possessions they had and never imagined that they would be without jobs or a place for their families to live. People who had good jobs, but were living paycheck to paycheck, were suddenly without a home. Of course, there were those who had alcohol and substance abuse problems, but I always wondered which came first — being homeless and hopeless, or getting hooked on drugs or alcohol. I soon realized that the problem exists in just about every sizable city in the country. The bigger the city, the larger the homeless population. Many cities did a “good” job of hiding homeless people in locations outside the mainstream, but as the number of homeless people grew, their visibility increased to city sidewalks where you couldn’t help but notice. The Hunt.Fish.Feed. event that had the most impact on me early on was at Skid Row in Los Angeles. We fed a couple thousand hungry folks who are fed by some group every single day, a monumental undertaking.

There are those people who just prefer to live “off the grid” and don’t want to be responsible to or for anyone other than themselves. It’s a lifestyle choice. They know where to get a free meal in any city and they just want to be left alone.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

There is not one circumstance that puts people on the street. Drugs and alcohol are a major problem and many food providers will not serve you, at least not indoors, when it appears that a person is drunk or high on something. Mental illness is obviously a problem. Many of the people who were formerly institutionalized are now living on the street fending for themselves. And then there are those who lost jobs, families or experienced horrifying tragedies that they couldn’t overcome either physically or mentally. Unless you’re living it, it’s hard probably best not to pass judgment.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

When you’re kicked out of your 1-room tenement apartment with no job and no friends or relatives to stay with, the options are dismal. There is no place to go besides a shelter or the street. You have no car, marketable skill and minimal education.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

Without exception, every shelter manager I’ve spoken with has told me not to give them money. That might help you feel better about yourself, but it usually just enables the homeless person to buy drugs or alcohol. If you feel the need to help, contribute directly to a shelter. Through their connections, they can make your donation dollar go much farther and it will have a more positive impact on the homeless community. If you want to give someone a sandwich or a cup of coffee, that’s better than giving them cash.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

If you feel safe with the person and you want to do something for him or her, let them know that you will be happy to buy them something to eat or drink (non-alcoholic). Some will appreciate it and others just want the money to buy drugs or alcohol. It’s important that you feel safe and not threatened. Many homeless people have learned what it takes to get people to part with money. Most are passive, but others can become extremely aggressive. Keep your guard up. If you do not want to give them anything, that is your choice and no one should judge you for that. I think it’s best not to give someone something because you feel guilty about not being homeless. You should give because you want to help.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

The Hunt.Fish.Feed. program as fed tens of thousands of people over the past 12 years. Those of us with the program understand that we’re only in a location for one day. Our goal is to encourage local media to see what we’re doing to let the locals know that a shelter exists in their town. Shelters seems to get most of their support during the holidays when people with homes are in a more giving mood. Shelters need help every day, not just during the holidays.

We also encourage area hunters and anglers to contact churches, shelters and other outreach programs to see what they can do to help. The outdoor community is very generous when it comes to supporting their communities. Whether it is through donations of processed meat and fish or putting a group together to help serve food once a month. It all helps.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

COVID-19 has greatly affected the ability for Hunt.Fish.Feed program to get off the ground in 2020. Our first event was scheduled in April — and we had 5 or 6 scheduled through June that have been postponed, may be canceled. We are working on a potential event to help those on the front lines e.g. first responders, nurses, doctors. The issue we are running into is getting people to the location to help put together the packaged food, and then distributing it, in a manner with the least amount of contact.

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

Assembling a group of volunteers, most of whom have never worked in a kitchen or spent any time in a shelter, and feeding several hundred appreciative hungry people is both rewarding and sad. You feel for the folks who you’ve just fed, but there is some satisfaction in knowing that you were able to help out the people who feed them every day. Many of the volunteers end up making a promise to return to the shelter to help out in the future.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

Around 2009, I was working alongside a cook at one of the shelters. He told me about how he had a house and family prior to the financial crisis the year or two before. He had lost his construction job due to layoffs from lack of work. He sold whatever he could sell to pay the rent, but eventually lost whatever he had left, including the home he and his family lived in. He ended up at the shelter, a place he’d never imagined he would be, and started working in the kitchen in exchange for a place to sleep. His wife and two kids went to live with her parents, but the crash was tough on their marriage, so he didn’t join them. He developed his culinary skills at the shelter which led to a job in a restaurant nearby. He was still living at the shelter but, with the added income from the restaurant job, he was about to move into an apartment with the hopes of getting his family back together. Now I wish I had followed up to see how his plans worked out.

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

1. Provide job training. Identify those people who want to break out of their homeless situation, but don’t have the skills to find and keep a job.

2. Teach life skills. Many of the homeless do not have the ability to manage money, their time or how to succeed in an unfamiliar world. Perhaps they grew up without much money, housing or parental guidance. Those of us who grew up in “normal” homes, went to school everyday and found jobs that would support us cannot imagine what it would be like to be raised without any of the things we take for granted.

3. Provide housing. Easy to write, much harder to implement. Most people do not want former homeless people living next door. To me, it makes sense to put people to work building their own homes or communities. When you have an investment in something, like helping to build your own place to live, I think it is more appreciated and respected.

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

More states should allow hunters and anglers to donate processed fish and game. With the Hunt.Fish.Feed. program we’ve discovered that some states, like Virginia, rely on hunters to supply high-protein, sustainable meat for their shelters. The biggest supplier of meat to the shelters in Virginia come from donations of venison from Hunters for the Hungry. We’ve also been reprimanded more than once for utilizing processed fish and game to feed shelters because the meat was not USDA inspected.

I’m not familiar with which laws might help, but I’d prefer to keep the lawyers out of the problem-solving equation. But, of course, that’s not possible.

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

At the end of the day, it’s rewarding to know that you’ve just made an impact, albeit a small one, on the community and helped shed some light on how others can help. Everyone needs to experience a shelter meal, whether it’s helping with the preparation, serving or cleaning up afterward.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

Of course, but I’m not sure it’s 100% possible. We would have to solve a number of other social issues like drug and alcohol dependence, education and health care as well.

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. Homeless people are much like the rest of us. I have friends who drink too much, too.

2. Many of the homeless folks are real victims of some very unreal circumstances.

3. Do not give them money.

4. Some are mentally ill, but most are not. I’ve had some great conversations with people I’ve fed at shelters.

5. Many of them want to work, but for a number of reasons, they cannot…or will not seek employment.

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

I’d like to be on a national morning TV show to show how we can all help supply food and support for the homeless in our communities. Many people want to pretend that the homeless situation doesn’t exist or just avoid coming in contact with people or places where homeless people can be found. We tend to avoid contact with them. Instead, let’s find people who are willing to help them with life and job skills while providing them with a nutritional meal. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to homeless population to grow. It seems reasonable that we’d all prefer them to have jobs and give back to the community.

Others need to see how the outdoor community supports homeless outreach programs through their donations of processed, high-protein, sustainable fish and game as well as helping to prepare and serve the food.

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

“You cannot control the behavior of others, but how you respond to it is what matters.” …or something like that. Not sure where I got it, but it does ring true for me. I can ignore the plight of the homeless person or do what I’m doing now with the Hunt.Fish.Feed. program.

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. 🙂

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. I really admire what he’s doing to encourage young folks to learn skilled jobs outside of a four-year college degree. Some young people are disappointed or discouraged that they can’t do what it takes to get a college degree when many of them would be much better off pursuing a technical or industrial skill that will eventually pay better and fit their lifestyle better than a job that requires a degree. There are many other options.

How can our readers follow you online?

Check out TheSportingChef.Com for more than 400 recipes from wild game soups, main dishes, sauces and more. Plus, I share my behind-the-scenes shenanigans at @TheSportingChef on Instagram and Facebook.Com/TheSportingChef

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Scott Leysath, The Sporting Chef, Has Helped Feed Tens Of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Scott Ackerson of Prospera Housing Community Services is helping

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Scott Ackerson of Prospera Housing Community Services is helping to address the root causes of homelessness

Whenever you’re making decisions about an individual or a group you’re working with, include the people who are affected in the planning and decision making. I worked with some young adults emancipating from foster care who put this very clearly: Nothing about us without us.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Ackerson. Scott Ackerson is the Executive Vice President of Strategic Relationships and Services for Prospera Housing Community Services in San Antonio, where he oversees resident support services, fund development, and strategic relations. Scott was previously a Principal for Health Management Associates, a national healthcare consulting firm, working across the country on homeless systems of care, Social Determinants of Health, supportive housing, and infant mortality and worked for Haven for Hope, a large homeless campus, prior to that. Scott has extensive experience in direct services, continuum of care coordination, and clinical and programmatic oversight. Prior to his career in homeless recovery services, Scott worked for 15 years in child welfare services, including opening a trauma-informed residential treatment center in San Antonio.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota in a predominantly tough, working-class area. It was a pretty typical inner-city upbringing where after school fist fights were almost as common as sports practice. I was an athlete growing up and played basketball, football, and baseball.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

When I was in middle school, a teammate of mine invited me to go to a downtown boys’ club, because they had a great basketball program. The draw for this boys’ club was all of the housing projects in St. Paul, which were, at the time, predominantly African American. At the time, the city was pretty segregated, so I was the only white kid in a group of more than 100 kids. The boys’ club was in the basement of the Union Gospel Mission, then St. Paul’s main homeless shelter, which is ironic given the path my career would take.

There was a guy who worked at the Union Gospel Mission named Stevie Randall. He was the “jack of all trades”: bus driver, janitor, snack vendor, and basketball coach. He was also a father figure to all these kids, many of whom didn’t have fathers at home.

I decided quickly that I wanted to be like Stevie when I grew up. He’s the one who influenced me to choose the path of social work, especially to work with children. In college, I majored in social work and after graduation I began my career in child welfare for 15 years. After moving to San Antonio, I worked for Casey Family Programs working with young adults exiting the foster care system and then ran programming at The Children’s Shelter. Unexpectedly, I received an offer one day to transition into homeless services as the Vice President of Programs for SAMMinistries (SAMM), an interfaith homeless services provider. SAMM was slated to become the largest service provider in the greater San Antonio area at a brand-new homeless facility that was under development, Haven for Hope of Bexar County. I’d done a lot of program development through my career and was interested in doing more. This opportunity to expand programming at the largest service provider in the area, I had to say “yes.”

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

A big part of the current crisis stems from unintended consequences of the 2009 HEARTH Act, which repurposed emergency shelter grant dollars into emergency solution grant dollars. We went from providing funding for emergency shelters to focusing on only permanent housing and supportive services. Theoretically, this is not a bad way to approach homelessness — but housing first is only effective if you have the housing capacity to make sure people have a home and the necessary resources to provide wraparound services.

In reality, it meant that many cities either downsized or eliminated shelters, because there wasn’t federal funding available. That, coupled with extreme rises in housing prices in major urban areas and increasing occupancy rates, meant the market dictated rental costs, effectively pricing a lot of people out of their homes.

When you have a dual phenomenon with the lack of emergency shelters and housing becoming out of reach for even the middle class, the only alternative after a point is the street.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

The problem with this proposed progression is that, even though we often treat it as one, homelessness is not a homogeneous phenomenon. When we peel back the onion, we discover that the causes of homelessness are broad and varied. And because of these variations, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is no one path into or out of homelessness and if we try to treat it that way, we set ourselves up for failure. Homelessness is not a homogeneous phenomenon; thus, we can’t expect homogeneous, one-size-fits-all interventions will be effective.

There are, however, trends we can infer to inform the kind of care and systems-level policies should put in place.

Causes of homelessness are often attached to trauma and we know there is a high correlation between trauma and mental health issues. For example, women experiencing homelessness often experience high rates of violence and/or childhood sexual abuse. And if we were thinking about a progression, you can imagine what likely happens next: That abused child is removed from their home, placed in a broken child welfare system until they turn 18, and then are thrown into the world with very little support, where they face new stressors at once. Underlying all of that, we likely have not effectively treated the original trauma, which then causes snowball effects.

Of course, this is just one progression and isn’t necessarily a typical case. Other progressions into homelessness could involve other types of childhood trauma, hospitalization later in life and other health issues, losing resources, or becoming financially homeless. But we can start to draw lessons from this.

And the big one is that homelessness in itself is not the problem; it’s a symptom of larger systems-level problems. And because of that, we need to enact systems-level solutions to truly address the root causes of homelessness.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

I have a couple answers to this. Firstly, fewer and fewer cities even have cheaper housing, so the feasibility of this is questionable to begin with. And then if you factor in that this person may not have the resources to fund the necessary transportation to arrive somewhere new, this becomes an even less workable solution.

But more importantly, this is similar to asking any one of us to leave our social networks, our communities, and everything we know, to start over. Picking up and moving to another city doesn’t bring community. In fact, it likely means having to start all over to build support networks, which compounds the issue. People need community — asking them to leave one to be able to survive is not a tenable solution.

We need to create and bolster the support systems in all communities, not foist responsibility onto others.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

Acknowledge a person experiencing homelessness as a human being and say “hello” like you would do with anyone else. Treat them with respect and dignity, not disdain and judgment.

To that end, I would encourage us all to think long and hard about who and what we’re referring to when we speak about people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is a state, not a trait, and none of us should be defined by our current living situation.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

I think people have to make their own judgments about how they respond to someone asking for money. For the 14 or 15 years I worked in direct services, I would hand out my business card, which had my cell phone number on it, to panhandlers and tell them to call me when they were ready to get off the streets. Over the years, I probably handed out over 1,000 business cards. I literally got only one phone call for assistance.

If you do choose to give, it shouldn’t come with strings. Your contribution ultimately might not be going to what you think it’s going to, and you have to be okay with that.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Broadly speaking, I hope my work helps people to see the entire spectrum and system that homelessness is part of. We often look at homelessness as a discrete phenomenon: it begins when someone becomes homeless and ends once they no longer are. But there is a lot that happens both before and after that contributes to homelessness and sustains the solutions. As someone overcomes homelessness, there is a huge need for permanent supportive housing and affordable housing at the end of the spectrum. But not only is access to affordable housing a backend solution, it’s also an effective front-end prevention mechanism.

I recently transitioned from working in direct homeless services to working at an affordable housing and supportive services provider. As I see it, homelessness is a symptom of a larger problem rather than the problem itself. Availability of and access to affordable housing is a key part of that system. Unless we address the root, system causes, we’ll just be treating symptoms and not solving the actual problem. I hope my work drives more urgency and action around upstream prevention tactics, which are more easily accomplished than downstream interventions.

One of my other goals is helping people recognize and begin to address the more profound societal issues that contribute to homelessness, including poverty, unemployment, underemployment, affordable housing access, as well as the impact of institutionalized racism and historical oppression. People of color are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, child welfare system, and as recipients of homeless services. Systemic problems require systemic solutions, but if we invest in those broad and overarching solutions, we’re investing in long-term wellbeing that perpetuates strength and progress.

On the direct services side, I am continuing to expand the use of evidence-based practices like person-centered planning, peer support integration, trauma-informed care, or motivational interviewing instead of behavior modification approaches. Behavior modification can be effective in altering behaviors, but does not address the core issues associated with behaviors.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on homelessness, those experiencing homelessness, as well as the people and organizations who provide services. What we know about COVID-19 is all it takes is one person for it to spread far, wide, and quickly. Emergency shelters are congregant living, which in this current situation means that staying in a shelter means you’re highly susceptible to the virus. At this moment, not only is it uncomfortable to stay at a shelter, it’s dangerous to your life. That’s a pretty big impact.

In my current position, our service managers are providing services like telephonic wellness checks but there is a significant portion of our work that necessarily remains face-to-face, such as on-site food pantry/distribution. For our property management team, there are essential maintenance repairs within apartments and on property that need to be addressed. The reality is, our service and maintenance providers are unheralded essential workers. Like medical professionals, they’re putting their lives in their own hands when they go to work. Rightly, medical workers are at the top of the list to get access to PPE, and even they are struggling to procure enough. Think, then, of the homeless service providers who are not at the top of the list to protect themselves and the people living in facilities, but who must still do their essential work in person.

I think COVID-19 has also shown how many of us live facing economic instability or precarity every day. These struggles are shared, and we have an opportunity to build a path to recovery that lifts entire communities.

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

During my tenure at Haven for Hope, I spearheaded a direct services transition from behavior modification practices to the evidence-based practices (EBPs) I previously mentioned. It was not a wildly popular idea when the work first began. One thing I learned in my social work college courses is that system change is difficult and Haven for Hope, as a large institution, was no different. Moving the organization from the belief that we need behavior modification to recognizing the importance and efficacy of evidence-based practices was both the most difficult thing I’ve done and the work I’m most proud of. Where Haven for Hope is now, with integrated EBPs implemented throughout its culture, is due to my team, me, and the organization’s leadership.

I’m also incredibly proud of the people I worked with. When I started at Haven for Hope, we didn’t have peer support programs. Over the course of 18 months, we worked with a local Texas organization to train and certify peer supporters, who are able to offer support and connection based on shared experiences. The enormity of that can’t and shouldn’t be discounted.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

There was one young man I worked with who had multiple addiction issues and had attempted suicide a few times. He’s been clean and sober now for several years and is now working with people who are currently experiencing the things he experienced. He’s using his story and skills to help people around him turn their lives around.

His is just one story out of hundreds of people who used their own strength to change their lives. Any time someone comes up to me and says, “you saved my life,” I always say back to them that “I don’t have the power to save your life. You saved your life.”

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

Some generic things people can do to address the causes of homelessness include getting involved, volunteering, and donating. Resources are always needed. Most of these programs nationally are underfunded. We can’t have the impact we need without resources. For people who are looking to volunteer, it’s great to volunteer to stock or sort through a warehouse, but there’s so much value in interfacing directly with people who are experiencing homelessness.

When I was an adjunct professor of social work at a local university, my students had a service-learning requirement, which they did at Haven for Hope. It’s incredibly gratifying to see the trepidation on day one transform into students not wanting to leave at the end of the semester. That’s the greatest lesson to learn. We tend to be cautious of what is unfamiliar, but people experiencing homelessness are just like us. In the course of working with anyone face-to-face, you learn that they’re a really cool person and they’re just like you and me.

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

I would introduce a combination of policies and laws. First, I’d reexamine the HEARTH Act and its impact.

I’d start creating additional affordable housing capacity and build up access to supportive services. Homeless interventions do not end homelessness; it only helps those who have already become homeless. In order to end homelessness, we have to address and solve the upstream issues, including poverty, economic instability, and the historical impacts of institutional racism. If we don’t address those, more and more people will become homelessness. And if we don’t act, we’ll have increasingly more to address.

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

When you come home from work, there’s a good tired and a bad tired. The bad tired is stress. Good tired is stress, but you know you’re making a difference. You’re walking with people to help people find their path. That’s extremely rewarding. I experience a lot of the good tired.

I’m an introvert, but I love the human interface. Sometimes people in the lowest points of their life are the most transparent, honest, and real. I appreciate that. Before working in homeless services, I was working in child welfare services. I was a single dad in an apartment and people were telling me I needed a house. Then I started working in homeless services and my little apartment became my absolute castle. One of my early experiences working at an emergency shelter, I was invited to join a nightly prayer. Everyone got in a circle and started praying. I was floored by the people living in an emergency shelter who were praising and grateful for all they had. That was a very sobering and humbling moment for me. It put into perspective how fortunate I was to have what I had. I carry that knowledge with me.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I’ve occasionally heard people say that homelessness is biblical: It’s in the Bible, so there will always be homelessness. I don’t believe that. I think there is hope. We can overcome homelessness as a nation. But we have to stop dealing with the symptoms and start dealing with the real issues.

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

Not sure I can come up with five, maybe just a couple. I don’t think I’ve been surprised in my career. I came into this work with my eyes wide open. I knew what I was getting into and have been blessed. But there are a few things that come to mind:

  1. The people we’re working with aren’t clients, they’re people. Even in our education system, when we talk about people accessing services, we label them as “clients” or some other label. This is a way we’re systemically dehumanizing and marginalizing them. I understand that it’s for the convenience of language, but the language we use is important.
  2. Whenever you’re making decisions about an individual or a group you’re working with, include the people who are affected in the planning and decision making. I worked with some young adults emancipating from foster care who put this very clearly: Nothing about us without us.
  3. At the end of the day, whether we are with or without a home, we all want versions of the same things: food on the table, a roof over our heads, and to feel respected and love.
  4. We all have trauma in our lives. The resources that you can access to help overcome or manage that trauma can influence and direct your path in life.

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. 🙂

We have great abundance in the US. We have more resources than any nation across the world. Yet, we allow these social conditions to exist. Is this acceptable for who we are as a nation? I think we need to look closely at that and examine it.

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:

  1. When I was working with children in residential treatment, some of the children at this particular treatment center occasionally exhibited extremely aggressive behavior and would become physical. I had this colleague named George, who, when he would walk in, all of the kids would immediately calm down. They would do what he asked them to do. When I asked him how he did it, he responded, “I look for the Jesus in every child.” I took it to mean to look for the good in anybody. If you look for goodness in people, you can find it.
  2. The second is, “You can’t start where the person is until you know where they’ve been.” You have to meet people where they’re at. Understanding where they’re at is understanding what’s happened to them, not what’s wrong with them. And from there, you can move forward together.

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. 🙂

Breakfast or lunch would be fine, but I’d rather have a beer and a game of H-O-R-S-E with Barack Obama. He was a great agent of social change and a great leader. I would love to hear his perspective in a casual one-on-one conversation.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow Prospera Housing Community Services on Facebook: facebook.com/prosperaHCS

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Scott Ackerson of Prospera Housing Community Services is helping was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Judy Hoff & Esther’s Place are helping to provide dignified…

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Judy Hoff & Esther’s Place are helping to provide dignified support to thousands of battered women

A homeless and battered woman, in general, has to leave her heart to tolerate the abuse and mistreatment that began for her often in early childhood. History does repeat itself, and words do leave scars in the heart. A child sees, hears, and feels her value to life itself, and consequently, she believes and is programmed with that experience, whether it’s good or bad.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Judy Hoff. Judy is the founder of Life Changing Community Services located near Seattle, Washington. Judy’s community programs include Queen’s It’s a New Day, a special event for homeless women transitioning to self-sufficiency, Esther’s Place, a day center for homeless women and children, New Creation Housing, clean and sober housing for women, and Pastor of New Creation Church. Her background includes pastor, speaker, published author, chemical dependency counselor and biblical counselor. She has lifted thousands of battered women out of devastation and into empowerment and self-sufficiency.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I grew up in a middle-class home with a homeless heart. Low self-esteem, no confidence, and inferiority to others lead me into a lifestyle of addictions. Out of addiction, I called out for help and God answered my cry. That was the beginning of a new lifestyle of loving myself and realizing I had a purpose. I have been serving in that purpose ever since as a chemical dependency counselor, pastor, author, volunteer and friend.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

A true story comes to my mind about a homeless woman who I so desperately wanted to get into an apartment. With the help of others, we got furniture for the apartment: a bed and dresser for the bedroom, and a kitchen table. We bought towels, sheets, a vacuum, broom, and literally, all the items it takes to make a house a home. We were so excited and pleased with how all of us worked together for the good of this person. We had dinner for her the first night she was in her new apartment, and we rejoiced on her behalf. She seemed pleased but quiet. We checked in a few days later and noticed no food had been cooked, and the bed was without the sheets, pillow and blankets we had provided. We asked, “How are you sleeping here?” She said, “Good!” Then, we saw all the blankets in a nest on the floor. Little did we know that the nest was a pattern of comfort for her, and later, we learned the bed meant bad things to her because of her past experiences. We left dismayed, but we kept a close watch on our homeless, now placed in a home, friend. The next few days, we took turns stopping by. We thought a kitten might help her feel more love, so we got one and all the fun toys, food, etc. She liked it, she said. We stopped by once again with excitement to see her and her kitten. When we arrived, we noticed bottles of beer and wine, and the house looked torn-up. There was no kitten in sight. We were afraid to ask what had happened. We waited to hear but she said nothing about the kitten. The blankets were on the floor still, the bed was unmade with nothing on it, and she was drunk, crying, and very upset. Never in a million years would we have guessed that our loving intentions drove her to such high stress that she went back to drinking after being sober for over a year. We didn’t know the kitten’s needs were more than she could handle, so she had put the kitten outside, walked to the store, and returned to the homeless-heart pattern to find the comfort that was so familiar. The bed was a reminder of a childhood of sexual abuse and the home drove her to drink. You see, first things first! We learned that you have to heal the homeless heart, the brokenness from within, before a home is a place where the heart can dwell.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

In my opinion, homelessness is much more than a lack of shelter. Does homeless begin in the mind, or is it from being in an environment that results in loss of security? What came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer is both. For some, homelessness began in childhood and history repeated itself. For others, it resulted from poor choices that led to addiction and/or abuse, jail, street life, and a shelter. This cycle is common for most homeless people. The definition of “homelessness” is not solely about a physical home but also having an adequate experience of connectedness with family and/or community. Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Program says, “Homelessness is about a lack of connectedness. Belonging somewhere is about belonging with other people, such as family or local community.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

Truly, homelessness begins in the heart. I refer to it as the homeless vacant heart with a hole because when life overwhelms us, we are left with our hearts empty and homeless. No matter what it looks like on the outside, on the inside it starts with a void of love and acceptance, and the lack of connectedness found when we are broken-hearted. Even the outwardly prosperous have places of void, holes in their hearts which then starts the downward cycle. The old saying “Home is where the heart is” states our home is first inside us. A homeless and battered woman, in general, has to leave her heart to tolerate the abuse and mistreatment that began for her often in early childhood. History does repeat itself, and words do leave scars in the heart. A child sees, hears, and feels her value to life itself, and consequently, she believes and is programmed with that experience, whether it’s good or bad.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

Homeless doesn’t begin with a house. It’s the inside out.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

Just look at them. Acknowledge them as a person and give them resources to the nearest day center, mission or food services in the local area.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Buy a burger and sit with them while they eat.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

In Snohomish County, Washington, we work with the Sherriff’s Program to provide housing to women who have completed drug/alcohol rehabilitation. Once in housing we will help these women with counseling, resources to obtain GED, college, jobs and the support to reestablish family ties by helping them fill the hole in their heart with loving community. At Esther’s Place volunteers talk with homeless women letting them know they are valued, meet their physical needs, and give them the opportunity for recovery. Helping one person at a time changes generations and will reestablish a healthy community.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

Our landlord has closed the building; therefore the women cannot come into Esther’s Place and connect with others which meets their heart’s needs. The result is the ladies are really depressed and experiencing feelings of hopelessness. The best we can give them at this time is a sack lunch once a day during the week. The ladies in our community homes have lost the ability to pay rent and provide for themselves some basic needs. We are reaching out to the community to help us help them with funds for rent, Covid safety supplies, and basic needs.

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

Seeing the value of helping a woman give a hand up and finding herself, her good qualities, her college, her kids, and who she in Christ. When you are helping one person, you are not just helping one-you don’t know the generational effect on other’s people’s lives. Full circle of changed lives.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

A true story as written by a homeless woman we will call Esther.

Raised the middle child of an upper middle-class family, married at 20 and was a mother nine months later. I was introduced to cocaine and speed and divorced within 7 years. The next part of my life, I moved to Washington, had a good job for 11 years, a new child, and remarried. Once again, I started with crack and heroin and ended up jobless, divorced and homeless. These drugs would run my life for years. I found out about Esther’s Place and I was grateful to go every morning to get coffee and to sleep with both eyes shut. Through the ladies I found resources for housing, but would need to get clean and sober. This took me four times to treatment, each time I was welcomed at Esther’s. They showed me love and unending compassion until I loved myself. Finally, I was clean and got a home at New Creation Communities. I have been 20 months clean and sober. I am a loved child of God full of compassion and kindness. No longer allowing others to control my life, I am creating a new me with the guidance of my Savior. I am living in a faith-filled home with the presence of God. I have complete trust in Judy and feel trusted and loved.

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

1) Engaging in relationships, volunteer to speak with a homeless person and see them through eyes of possibility.

2) Help provide major resource for the people we serve such as a change of clothes, mental health care, showers, medical/dental care.

3) Support strengthening the family, volunteer at local churches, schools, YMCA, and Boys and Girls clubs are examples to make a positive difference in someone’s life just by showing up and helping out with kindness.

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

You can’t legislate a solution, it takes personal communication and relationship. You need to give of yourself, that’s not a law, that’s community values.

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

The lives of the people we serve are valuable.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

Over the many years of helping and serving with love, I have seen lives healed, restored, and filled with hope; hope for a better way, a better life, dreams remembered, and lives fulfilled. As children, we dream, but when life gets too hard, our dreams hibernate. They don’t die. Hope opens the doors to the sleeping dreams, and like a butterfly breaking out of a cocoon, life begins. Yes, one day and one step at a time, a new creation is birthed.

How can our readers follow you online?

www.hofffoundation.org;

Facebook: https://www.hofffoundation.org/new-creations-church and https://www.facebook.com/esthersplacedaycenter/

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

https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Hole-Your-Heart-Devastation-ebook/dp/B00JFCP996/ref=sr_1_2

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Judy Hoff & Esther’s Place are helping to provide dignified… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes of the Homeless Crisis: How Melissa MacDonnell of Liberty Mutual Insurance is helping to…

Heroes of the Homeless Crisis: How Melissa MacDonnell of Liberty Mutual Insurance is helping to address the epidemic of youth homelessness

The reality is we all pass a lot more homeless people on the streets than we ever realize. The bulk of homelessness is invisible — most people who are living in shelter or in their cars look like every one of us.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa MacDonnell. Melissa is President of the Foundation at Liberty Mutual Insurance, a Fortune 100 global property and casualty insurer. Since Melissa founded it in 2003, Liberty Mutual Foundation has committed approximately $200 million dollars to 1,150+ organizations through direct grants, with a focus on accessibility, homelessness, and education; as well as employee matches to thousands of other nonprofits.

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 personal background, and how you grew up?

I was fourth of eleven children born in thirteen years and grew up west of Boston. My identity from an early age — and in some ways to this day — has tied to being part of a community much bigger than myself. I loved having so many brothers and sisters. They remain my closest friends.

As a teenager, I started volunteering at a halfway house for men with developmental disabilities. One of my most impressionable experiences there, was getting to know an older deaf gentleman who actually did not have developmental disabilities but had been institutionalized his entire life because people didn’t realize he was deaf. So tragic! He was a bit of a grandfather figure to me and I relished my weekly visits where I could practice my sign language.

My “professional” life was also rewarding early on. I started babysitting in my early teens and felt I had a great pitch, since I was the second oldest girl in a gigantic family. Once I was of age, however, I got myself a “real” job, first at an ice cream stand, and then working as a cashier at the grocery store in town where I met my best friend to this day. I will certainly be forever grateful for that job.

After high school, I attended UMass Amherst where I studied finance and Spanish. I started in banking and worked on my MBA nights at Boston College. With my MBA barely in hand, I began a full-time master’s program in public administration at Harvard Kennedy School. At this point, I had made the switch into philanthropy and I was extremely interested in learning about social investing for public good. By the time I graduated, I was enamored with public service.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

There is not a particular story or moment; but rather, people who have inspired me. In fact, working in philanthropy, I’ve been inspired over and over again by the brave men and women who have themselves experienced homelessness and who have shared their insights to help others. I have heard them speak the truth of their experiences, their roadblocks, their struggles, and often their way out. They are true heroes.

The other heroes are the men and women keeping shelters open, offering meals for our neighbors who are hungry, traveling alongside the scared, alone and forgotten. I’ve experienced the ethos of this community of caregivers firsthand for nearly thirty years. This unsung, sacrificial model of service has demonstrated one of the highest levels of humanity. These caregivers neither seek the spotlight nor revel in it. Their heroism lies in the relationships between themselves and the people they serve. At all costs. On all days. Including — and perhaps even more so — when times are toughest.

THEY inspire me.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

Over the last several decades, wages for lower-income people in particular have been relatively stagnant while housing costs have risen. Consequently, more and more people have been falling over the edge to homelessness. In many places, particularly the large cities such as the ones you mention, there is simply not enough available affordable housing. Pure and simple.

But the big question is what is going to happen now given the coronavirus. According to the latest national estimate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 567,715 individuals are homeless. That’s a pre-COVID number. Add to that number the fact that, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, $8 million low-income households pay at least half of their income toward housing. So many people had already been living one paycheck, one sickness, one twist of fate away from homelessness. Sadly, that twist of fate may be the coronavirus.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

Sure. It probably makes the most sense to follow the data. According to Chapin Hall’s Voices of Youth Count (VoYC) at University of Chicago, over a third of young people who experience homelessness lost a parent or caregiver within the prior year; more than half are exiting state systems either court or foster care systems. The data also shows that 36% of homeless youth are African American males and 20–40% are LGBTQ.

So the data helps us see clear progressions. For example, we know young people who lose a parent or guardian are extremely vulnerable. Therefore, as adults we need to be proactive, check in on these youth, and come around them as a community. We also know there is a cliff effect into homelessness for young people who are in the care of state systems; therefore, having a required exit plan could make a big difference. The disproportionality of homelessness experienced among black youth mirrors racial disparities documented elsewhere, for example in school suspensions, incarceration, and foster care placement. Finally, according to the VoYC report, the progression to homelessness for LGBTQ youth often stems from a lack of acceptance that young people experience both in and outside of the home.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

I think it’s pretty hard to pick up and move when you are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness. You would have to relocate with a job or a social network. Then the cost alone is prohibitive — the travel/ transportation and security deposit, along with first and last month’s rent requirements, create often intractable burdens . Plus, you need good credit to reestablish yourself and frequently people who have been living in poverty don’t have much of a credit history. They’ve been using check cashing facilities and pay day lending instead of banks and credit unions.

At Liberty Mutual one of our core beliefs is that progress happens when people feel secure. People who are experiencing homelessness are in survival mode. They have to be focused on where they will sleep or get their next meal. As one young person said to us recently, “until you’re homeless, you really don’t know what it’s like.” It’s hard to be in someone else’s shoes.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

The reality is we all pass a lot more homeless people on the streets than we ever realize. The bulk of homelessness is invisible — most people who are living in shelter or in their cars look like every one of us.

I believe the best way to help people who are homeless is to put resources in the hands of experts. I’ll never forget the night I went out on the Pine Street Inn outreach van. The outreach team provides blankets and food to people living on the streets. But even more importantly, they build relationships and problem solve with people on the streets, finding out what services they currently have access to, encouraging them to come in for the night, helping them make a connection with staff at the Inn. The outreach team treated each and every homeless person on the street with the utmost respect. The staffs behind the programs Liberty Mutual Foundation invests in know how to help people who are homeless get the services they need to get on a path toward self-sufficiency. I am a firm believer that the best way to do something meaningful for someone who is homeless is to get to know the experts in your community, and to support their work.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

I think the best way to respond to any person whether the person is homeless or not is with dignity and respect — regardless of whether you choose to give him/her money. Looking someone in the eyes and saying hello along with either yes or no, I think matters.

But again — whether you decide to give a person money, on the streets or not — I believe the most important way to do something that matters is to invest in groups that are expert at helping people transition from homelessness to stable housing and onto self-sufficiency. The more resources that can get in the hands of these programs and people the better. The leaders I speak with in this space want to solve for homelessness. They want to put themselves out of business. They want to ensure affordable housing, change systems that perpetuate homelessness and address root causes to homelessness.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Our most prominent social initiative addresses the epidemic of youth homelessness. Young people who are experiencing homelessness have to focus on the urgency of today … where am I going to find my next meal? Where am I going to sleep? They are not in a place to fully invest in their futures. The implications of youth and young adult homelessness are harsh and yet are just beginning to be understood. Recently, to help reduce and end youth and young adult homelessness, Liberty Foundation made 44 youth homelessness grants totaling $6.6million. These grants will support nearly 15,000 young people across the country. We are also raising awareness through convenings, social media, speaking at national conferences and seizing any opportunity we find to share what we’ve learned. In partnership with all those on the frontlines of this work, we are moving toward a world in which youth homelessness is non-existent; but in the meantime, when a young person does end up on the streets, we want it to be rare, brief and episodic.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

In a crisis where staying home is our best defense, those who are homeless are defenseless. Often compromised by preexisting health conditions, crowded facilities, and a lack of access to basic hygiene, people living in shelters or on the streets are among the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that a recent set of tests on guests seeking shelter at Boston’s Pine Street Inn showed some 36% were positive for COVID-19. It is a crisis within a crisis. Trauma on top of trauma.

Long before we had a stay-at-home advisory, Pine Street Inn, Boston’s largest shelter, began scrambling to put plastic dividers between cots that typically sit three feet apart, separating one guest from another.

Meanwhile, down the street at a day shelter, St. Francis House, they have been facing the seemingly insurmountable task of “social distancing” in a building sheltering 500 adults with no place to call home — tape was laid, lunch became prepackaged and dining shifts were orchestrated with precision over the course of six hours instead of two. Revenue down, costs up, volunteers not allowed, programming completely altered … and staff in harm’s way — including their executive director, Karen LaFrazia, who contracted COVID-19 and then passed it on to her daughter, who had to be admitted to Children’s Hospital.

At Liberty Mutual, we’ve chosen to respond to the crisis of COVID-19 in the community in a big and bold way. We’ve committed over $15 million in philanthropy to relief efforts. Of that, $10 million is aimed at helping organizations responding to coronavirus among the most vulnerable populations, including low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness. $4 million was allotted to support our full portfolio of 450 nonprofit grantees; and $1.1 million was contributed to pooled community funds.

In addition, we lifted $14.4 million in program restrictions for 2019 & 2020 grants, so organizations can use those funds as needed. We’ve redeployed our catering teams (external vendors) to prepare 100 lunches per day for youth living on the streets or in emergency shelters, and have done the same in New Hampshire for a family homelessness program. We’re running a “Torchbearers Calling” program to encourage employees around the globe to take 15 minutes every Friday to call someone who is isolated. Finally, business units around the globe contributed their own forms of support, from face masks and disinfectant in China, to major charitable donations in Spain, to boxed lunches for front line workers in Vietnam.

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

There are so many stories, but one of my favorites is the story of a young woman I’ll call Julia. She had a falling out with her family due to a traumatic history. With no sure footing, no support and no savings, she found herself in a very unsafe situation. Consequently, she had tremendous anxiety and PTSD.

Luckily, she received support from the staff at Bridge Over Troubled Waters. They provided the counseling services she needed to process the harm and the hurt she had been through and manage her anxiety. They helped her to hope again — and to reach for her goal of medical school. With Bridge by her side, Julia could see her future again and began studying for the MCATs.

At the same time, Bridge approached Liberty about potentially purchasing a home for young people like Julia who had been through their Bridge’s transitional housing or emergency shelter program and were attending college or trade school. We helped Bridge, and they moved Julia right in.

Hundreds of youth and young adults live on Boston’s streets or in our shelter system every night. Unaccompanied. Alone. Abandoned. They are strong and resilient, but those nights of homelessness mean they must focus on survival rather than skills development, school or other long-term solutions. Liberty House gives these young people the freedom to finish school, the freedom to build their credit, and the freedom to follow their dreams.

The day Liberty House was dedicated to Julia and all the Julias out there was one of the most special days in my professional life. In underwriting the cost of buying this house, Liberty Mutual was saying to Julia, we see you. We believe in you. We’re in it with you. And starting today, Julia you’ve got what every young person needs and deserves — the safety and security to thrive.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

Definitely. Let me tell you about a young woman I recently spent time with. I’ll call her Amy.

When Amy was ten years old, her family lost housing and had to move into a shelter. For over a decade, she moved with her mother from shelter to shelter, all the while, as she puts it, “scrounging for food.” During that time, Amy worked hard to stay in school, but it was just too hard, and she dropped out in the 12th grade.

About a year ago, some family friends helped her find Bridge Over Troubled Waters — Boston’s foremost agency providing life-changing services for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth — and one of Liberty’s significant partners. Everyone at Bridge was welcoming and Amy got involved in their GED program where she ultimately was able to finish her schoolwork and earn her GED!

The team at Bridge also told her about job training at More Than Words, an organization that gives young adults who were in the foster care system, homeless, court-involved or out of school an opportunity to learn skills and operate a business, all while working to turn their lives around.

At More than Words, Amy came out of her shell while working in customer service– earning promotions along the way and learning how to give feedback to her peers as she worked her way up to becoming a shift leader in the business.

But even with all this support, homelessness was still making it hard for her to focus on her future. She had to buy a backpack to carry all her possessions with her every day and bring it everywhere she went. And even then she still lost a lot of her things, including all her winter clothes.

That’s when More Than Words and Bridge selected her for a new housing program, also supported by Liberty Mutual, and now Amy lives in her own room (a single-room occupancy) in a beautiful space surrounded by a support system while she saves up for permanent housing and college.

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

First, several cities and towns have begun to build affordable housing. More affordable housing with different habitation models will decrease homelessness. There have been some very successful models, for example, of moving high-frequency shelter users out of shelter into single room occupancies with basic support services. On the one hand, this type of intervention frees up shelter for emergency services only (as opposed to a housing option which it was never meant to be); further, this kind of housing offers a level of independence and a place to call home; and finally, it costs less. That is just one of many potential affordable housing constructs.

Two, there are a number of things we can do as a community and society for young people. For example, as I mentioned, ensuring that every young person who exits foster care or any state system leaves with a plan/roadmap for surviving and thriving. Another example is gathering around young people who experience the death of a guardian or parent, to step in and to check on that child’s safety net. And a third example is to institute screening in schools to identify students who are unstably housed so interventions can take place prior to a young person ending up on the streets. This is important because research shows that young people “couch surf” long before they end up on the street. Intervening before that happens could make a big difference.

And third, there’s great value in listening to people who are experiencing, have experienced, homelessness who may lack visibility to leaders and policy makers. They know firsthand what has proven successful for them. We can all lift up organizations and programs that value the voice of people with lived experience can help us as a society invest in solutions that really work.

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. Require an exit plan for youth as they age out of state mandated foster care. This would help minimize the high number of youth and young adults falling into homelessness
  2. Support for creating and sustaining affordable housing. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has a matrix of recommendations about laws that would increase different types of affordable housing models for more than 2.2 Million households.
  3. Support in identifying young people within the school system who are experiencing homelessness both independently and with their families. A Way Home America has a platform calling for additions to the McKinney Vento law.

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

I am surrounded by goodness. Leaders from public and nonprofit sectors as well as colleagues who care deeply about people who are less fortunate.

There’s an entire network of shelter staff and countless public servants who lay it all on the line for the people they serve and empower. Often their stories are hard to come by because the servants in these stories are too busy serving. They are humble heroes — people who are not confused or distracted about what really matters, who know who they are, who they serve and how to maintain that precious human covenant of love, trust and understanding that shows us all a path to higher humanity.

Within the walls of Liberty Mutual, I see the deep passion of my colleagues who jump at the chance to give or to serve. It’s a goodness that I believe makes our company great.

The work my team and I do merely elevates the passion and purpose of these smart servant leaders.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

Yes, I sure do. I don’t think it’s outside our grasp.

Before the pandemic began, many cities, including Boston where Liberty has its headquarters, had made great strides with veteran’s homelessness and that was being elevated as a blueprint. As a whole, the community was gathering the data about who was experiencing homelessness, where they originated, what their needs were and right-sizing the response on services (health care, job training), benefits (like food programs) and housing (rapid temporary, congregate or long-term apartments). This is the kind of response that is well-suited to public-private partnerships and broad collaborations because it is tied to the availability of benefits, education, career training and jobs, as well as affordable housing. Certainly, the economic collapse due to COVID-19 will make solutions more difficult, but a model is there for making society work for people who have the least and are most vulnerable.

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

I wish someone had told me when I first started to: 1) Assume positive intent. This is one of our guidelines for inclusion at Liberty Mutual. I love to step into a conflict or challenging situation consciously assuming that the person on the other side of the conflict has good intentions of his/her own. And frankly, I appreciate interacting with others who are assuming the same of me. 2) Everyone has blind spots, the sooner you find yours, the less harm they’ll do to you and others. I’m very fortunate that Liberty Mutual invests in its leaders. Through that investment, I saw areas of opportunity for me to grow as a leader, for example, I saw the kind of pressure I could put on my team to be perfect — which brings me to my third lesson …3) Perfection is overrated. Sometimes, perfection is not the goal — knowing when that’s the case, can really help one’s effectiveness as a leader. 4) Find your voice — always know who you are and who you’re not and what’s at stake! 5) Lean heavily into your gifts. We all do certain things really well. Professionally, the more alignment between our gifts and our work, the greater our impact.

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

I would like to inspire an anti-poverty — pro-empowerment movement. It would need to have sub-movements to get at some of the root causes of poverty and examine how systems can perpetuate harm.

For example, education is the surest way to get and keep people out of poverty. We all know this. Yet access to quality education is not a given. In certain neighborhoods, the options for schools are abysmal. In certain countries, females have zero access to education. Yet we all know that quality education breaks the cycle of poverty. Therefore, quality education would be my number one sub-movement.

While education is the best investment in the future, I’d also want to address the immediacy of today’s needs.

We all have things happen to us that put us in peril, but for many of us, we have a social and safety network that can help us during these times of crisis. Some people just don’t have that. We see this a lot with youth and young adult homelessness. Many young people who are in the foster care system for example, transfer homes a half dozen times in their young lives, and never have the stability of one caring adult.

When I’ve had the opportunity to walk the streets of Boston during the City’s annual homeless census count or ride the nightly van with the Pine Street Inn, I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve met who were living on the streets. One critical lesson is that people need access to mental health services. They need their medications. They don’t need to be on the streets. Once their mental health is straight, all else can follow like job training and affordable housing.

Progress happens when people feel secure. Getting at the root of poverty helps people soar. We are all put on this earth to make a contribution. It is nearly impossible to live out your purpose when you’re simply struggling to survive.

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

There’s a quote from the Bible that has become my life lesson. It is an instruction to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” This spoke to me 20 years ago and has stayed with me ever since. Leading the philanthropy at Liberty Mutual is bigger than a job, it’s a privilege. I am helping a company that is full of caring people and leaders who desire to do a lot of good. I feel called to make the most of this opportunity. In my extremely large family, we were kind of like one big pack of kids, I always felt uniquely me, individually created for something I was called to do. And I believe that for every single person in this world.

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

I would love to have breakfast with Oprah Winfrey because, despite her enormous fame and fortune, she seems rooted in, and led by, a spirit of truth and goodness. I love how she has used her voice and platform to lift up so many others. I mentor and tutor young women from South Sudan, so of course I especially appreciate all that she has done to advance educational opportunities through her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on LinkedIn or learn about the work we are doing at Libertymutualfoundation,org..

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

My pleasure. Thank you


Heroes of the Homeless Crisis: How Melissa MacDonnell of Liberty Mutual Insurance is helping to… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kenn Fine of FINE: “5 things you should do to build a trusted and believable brand”

It has never been more important to be extremely clear on who you are and what you do for people inside and outside your company. You can’t just say how you’re different, you have to BE how you’re different. There’s too much noise and transparency in the marketplace to try and fake your way through with clever sales pitches alone.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenn Fine. As FINE’s founder and Executive Creative Director, Kenn Fine has served as creative visionary, strategist, consultant, and confidante to leaders in hospitality, wine, technology, and yet-to-be-defined industries since 1994, developing and growing dozens of award winning brands along the way.

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

Roughly 30 years ago, I founded a mountain bike clothing business, working through all the startup challenges to help make it successful before selling it off and beginning to do spot gigs with other companies. I found that I loved the continuous process of parachuting in to problem-solve creatively, and that my mind naturally used brand as a compass for making all sorts of decisions — not just the more obvious design and communications activities, but the operational and service practices that make the whole organization go. I developed this belief that brand is operations. So, whether it’s the minutiae of choosing which of 100 different varieties of Velcro straps work best in a new breed of biking shorts, or figuring out how to deliver service standards at a global hospitality brand, weaving brand into your operational DNA drives everything. So I’ve just been on one long, exhilarating, rewarding mountain bike ride from the start.

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?

It was back in the clothing company days, before we were even able to afford color printing. I had the genius idea to design a black and white “photocopyable” product brochure with a highly sophisticated scheme of delineated squares that could be colored in — manually! — using a suite of carefully selected colored pencils. I believed I had single-handedly defeated the entire overpriced offset printing industry with sheer ingenuity and elbow grease, while simultaneously imbuing our brand with a more personal and artistic flair! Then, of course, our very first promotional push required 1,000 pieces be ready to distribute within a few days. A few all-nighters and bad hand cramps later, I’d learned a valuable lesson on scale, and the real price of hard cost vs. opportunity cost.

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

It’s really our belief that brand has the power to make big things happen across your organization and your industry if you treat it as a compass heading for operations, not just a cosmetic layer on top of it all.

We take a vertical approach to brand integration, trying not to get lost in the top five percent of making things look good before understanding what connects the entirety of an organization’s behavior and practices. Again, to us, brand is operations.

We create brands from the inside out and design experience from the outside in. Meaning, we are thinking about the essence of what makes a company unique while simultaneously crafting the experience and expression of that brand as it meets the customer. That gives us the DNA and compass heading for everything from the product and service, to environments where it’s delivered, online and off.

The best stories in our industry come from the gaps that kind of thinking exposes, between what companies say their core purpose and promise is, and how they’re expressing it in the marketplace. We have these meetings all the time where the purported project calls for groundbreaking creative, but there’s nothing to attach it to — it is an empty sales pitch. I remember meeting with a global tech client developing what they said was a revolutionary smart phone accessory requiring breakthrough creative. We filled out NDAs, and flew down to meet with a sizable innovation team under strict security protocols, and shared our best work to be worthy of consideration. When it came time to reveal their idea, with great fanfare they pulled off the shroud concealing what appeared to be a makeshift lamp stand you could use to take photos of documents. To this day, I believe that our immediate, involuntary laughter may have lost us that project. And that perhaps a deeper understanding of brand would’ve led them to a different solution.

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

There’s so many. We’ve begun work with Canyon Ranch, pioneers in wellness who are looking to re-center on their mission of transformation that goes far beyond hospitality and into the impact they have on people’s quality and duration of life. The Hotel Del Coronado is completing a massive revamp and we’re helping use brand to guide and shape their vision for a new generation of Del guests to fall in love with that special place. Both follow this theme of re-imagining hospitality pioneers that started during our work with Kimpton several years ago.

Exciting ones in consumer products include our work for Chateau Ste Michelle, who’s evolving beyond traditional consumer packaged goods branding to meet today’s consumer tastes, rethinking the experience on their property and direct-to-consumer across their dozens of unique brands. And we’re working with some real digital upstarts that are changing the world by designing experience — Lime bikes are leading sharing economy urban transportation, and Mojo Lens is actually developing a contact lens that lets digital information integrate into your life seamlessly, rather than you bending to devices. That’s just a few examples of some very exciting stuff with companies who understand they need to dig deeper into how they deliver and communicate value to people in order to succeed today.

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 is who you are. It’s your DNA. We may “sequence” it using words and pictures initially, and then expand to other important forms of documentation and standards, but it gets expressed in all the ways you do what you do. Product marketing and advertising and even brand marketing are all examples of tactics where brand plays out and comes in contact with your customers in specific ways. The important thing to remember is that a single ad campaign or product line is not your brand; it should reinforce and emerge from it, but in order to do any of these things well and consistently, you need to have a very strong, very clear core understanding that connects them all. It’s not something that gets published only in a visual standards guide; it’s something that gets published, communicated, documented, trained, improved, and proliferated every day for as long as you are in business.

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?

It has never been more important to be extremely clear on who you are and what you do for people inside and outside your company. You can’t just say how you’re different, you have to BE how you’re different. There’s too much noise and transparency in the marketplace to try and fake your way through with clever sales pitches alone.

We make brands that are “pully” not “pushy”. The more you invest in the brand, the more people will come to it, and the less you will have to add your pushy voice to the chaos of information in the marketplace. You simply invite and introduce.

If you would like your company’s existence to depend upon paid media, buying eyeballs and clicks and one-time sales, focus only on marketing and advertising. If you would like your company to have a foundation of earned and owned customer relationships, focus on nurturing your core brand.

It takes resolve to not resort to quick-hit tactics — there are so many platforms and methods of communication that the biggest issues in brand and communications nowadays are what to say no to. Reduce noise, distractions, and wasted motion. Don’t focus on B2B or B2C marketing, focus on H2H: human-to-human value creation.

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: Know thyself. Have a clear brand foundation, value proposition, and experience intent to build upon that’s grounded in the right blend of historic reality and future aspiration. Pioneering brands, like Kimpton and their boutique hospitality or Canyon Ranch with wellness, often have a strong legacy spirit they’re trying to both recapture and reinvent. New brands are trying to build a lasting legacy, like Makr Hospitality that centers on the culinary hospitality vibe of its owner Charlie Palmer, or even Holt Homes who’s building residential communities on differentiation meant to last 100 years. Either way, it starts with knowing who you are.

#2: Be loud and proud. Confidently broadcast your distinction without fear of alienating those not in your audience. The urge to be “all things” or “common denominator” is a vestige of mass marketing past. Our work with wine brands like Ashes & Diamonds or Realm is a good example — they’re not for anyone who seeks a traditional wine vibe, and they’re highly successful at it. Pebblebrook Hotels set up a whole new brand — the Unofficial Z Collection — dedicated to the idea that hotels are not a place to sleep, but to wake up. I think of Mojo Lens, who’s leaning into the transformative impact of wearable tech at a time when some are afraid to tread there.

#3: Map the experience. It’s not just about sales funnels, it’s about knowing when you have permission and opportunity to impact a customer in some way. For Lime, knowing how customer use and need information drove digital communication strategy in a new sharing economy category. Bode is a brand trying to make hospitality group-friendly as never before by engineering a shared experience more reliably inspiring than Airbnb or branded hotels. Hotel Del Coronado expanded their property by mapping guest interest to earn added stays and spend by being more relevant and timely. Be methodical about where you can add value to the way customers think and behave.

#4: Empower your culture. We have a saying: “customers buy brands that employees buy into.” So many industries now depend on finding, attracting, retaining, training, motivating, and aligning their people around a common cause. Our tech clients are nowhere without committed engineers. Hospitality is nothing without great service. Our yearslong collaboration with Kimpton is the case in point. Aligning their customer brand and their employer brand, having those mapped journeys overlap to create “ridiculously personal experiences” is why they’re a great brand and consistently voted a top workplace, too.

#5: Acknowledge your customers. Maybe this sounds too basic, like it should amplify to “the customer’s always right” or “cherish your customers.” But start with this, that in every decision you make you will think of the people who pay the bills. You will find ways of considering their point of view and experience, with clarity and empathy. Doing this helps you keep your brand promises. It also leads you to all sorts of tiny gestures, rituals, and touchpoints that do not go unnoticed. I think of the loyalty program we helped Kimpton shape, Kimpton Karma rewarded guests not just for buying but for doing the things that ensure they had a great brand experience and kept the promise “good things come to those who stay” by acknowledging them all along the way. Also, it leads to lots of very cool brand schwag.

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?

I think it’s interesting to answer that question not by professional dissection but by observing our own human response toward it. I know in my own life I tend to gravitate toward unassuming natural brands like Tom’s of Maine (at least before they were bought out), or Bob’s Red Mill for many reasons. In my line of work, we get a lot of “I wanna be like Apple” input when we ask what brands they want to emulate and I’ve always been an Apple loyalist. But in recent years, a new brand has emerged to get more mentions: Tesla. We could attribute that to being purpose-driven, as much a cause as a brand. They have a strong loyalist community who will enumerate the ways the product is demonstrably superior, and some vocally conspiratorial detractors who will promote its risks and ulterior motives. They got there by emphasizing design, innovation, and continuous improvement in operations that’s reflected in all the experiences where the car and its driver intersect. Out of necessity, they maintain their own rebel operational infrastructure to provide everything from off-channel sales to roadside assistance. But more than all that, think of the many attempts to start even a standard car brand in the past that have failed while Tesla is inventing a category using no advertising. Their willingness and ability to take on the combustion engine institution and create a highly aspirational consumer and business brand is not much short of miraculous, and if you can approach your brand with half that drive and moxy, you will 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?

If your only measures of success attach to the short-term return on media spend investment, you will not build a brand. You can measure those returns in simple behavioral ways, from clickthroughs to purchases at points of sale, online or off, and optimize them over time. But if you do that to the exclusion of all else, you can become a victim of your own success where you begin chasing the market instead of creating one. You lure the wrong audience using the wrong message — often, you begin to discount and bend your message to suit short term returns.

The right measures to layer on top of that will depend a bit on your industry and model, but the things to measure in brand are about the price and margin your product commands (measures like revPAR or ADR in hospitality, average purchase price in real estate, contribution margin in consumer goods, etc), the lifetime value of the customers you attract and retain, and the equity that is created in your company by the “soft” asset that is the brand perception you’ve built in the marketplace. These are the measures that tell you you are no longer a commodity that must pay to maintain its place in the market, but a company that has a strong, loyal customer base willing to pay a premium for your product. That is the game.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

It’s really different for every organization. The important thing is to understand the extent to which social, or really any channel, is a hub or a spoke in delivering your message and connecting with customers.

It can be a very meaningful place to interact with people, and it’s important to treat it not just as a “broadcast” channel but as a place to have a conversation. The slippery slope of social media is when it becomes its own independent “activity engine” that requires constant content that may feel disconnected from the rest of what you do and just there to create noise. So we spend a lot of time orchestrating that using social media “playbooks” that extend from the core brand to do the job that’s right for the channel. And you have to be prepared to use it the way the customers want to use it, which means it will be some combination of promotional messaging channel, owned media, customer service department, and random incident report all mixed into one. The important thing is trying to retain the balance that is right for your company while remaining responsive to the customers who want to find you there.

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

Take care of yourself first, stay curious by doing creative and challenging things outside of work. Then bring your mad game to your workplace.

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. 🙂

People in the creative trades share a remarkable alignment on what makes organizations admirable, and we hold the power to help them succeed or not through our superpowers with strategy, ingenuity, words, designs, images, and ideas. What if our entire industry resolved to work only on behalf of organizations that could demonstrate responsibility for the positive impact of their products, services, and actions on people, communities, and our planet? Those companies we threw our weight behind would disproportionately and decisively win.

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

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. — Lao Tzu

It’s one of those quotes that should speak for itself. But the color I would add to it is that branding doesn’t get handed down from the mountain on stone tablets by aloof, black turtlenecked creative directors. It is created and enacted by aligning a great many people over a very long time who must all feel invested in the outcome.

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. 🙂

Tom Robbins. His imagination is an inspiration to me and, I find, unexpectedly very practical as it relates to how I approach my work. He could literally make a can of beans worthy of a story. Everything he did was ridiculously different, completely sincere, rich with irreverent statements on our social context and the human condition. I’d like to find out if you can teach and learn that.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@weare.FINE on Instagram.

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


Kenn Fine of FINE: “5 things you should do to build a trusted and believable brand” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brendan Heegan of Boxzooka: “To be a successful CEO you need a diverse skill set, an optimistic…

Brendan Heegan of Boxzooka: “To be a successful CEO you need a diverse skill set, an optimistic soul, and a pessimistic wallet”

Being a CEO sounds impressive, but it’s not for everyone. You need a diverse skill set, an optimistic soul and a pessimistic wallet… and leadership is a daunting role to play.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Brendan Heegan the Founder of Boxzooka Fulfillment & Global eCommerce. Headquartered in New Jersey with satellite operations around the country, Boxzooka is a fulfillment center with international landed-cost technology and proprietary warehouse management systems it also licenses, focusing on servicing the logistics needs of online retailers. Brendan has nearly 20 years of experience in transportation, fulfillment and distribution, both domestically and Internationally. He started Boxzooka because he saw consolidation happening in the marketplace, creating a need for more competition and more customizable solutions for best-in-class fulfillment management and technology solutions.

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

My background in logistics and business development has taken me to over 75 countries in ten years, and opened my eyes to countless possibilities for my career. These journeys have included tours of hundreds of transportation and fulfillment operations, and the business has always fascinated me. When working for other companies, I never felt truly in control of being able to provide my clients with the level of service and support that I wanted them to receive. At some point, I realized that if I truly wanted to be able to take my clients to the destination I was promising, I’d have to find my own ship.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

There is no shortage of challenges. We initially launched with a technology product, the road was rocky and lined with brilliant technology savvy personalities lacking business experience. I loved the passion of the team, but I knew the business plan needed to evolve to include a real infrastructure behind our business. After winning our first technology client from a laptop in my basement, we quickly moved into a strategy to offer more comprehensive services, like transportation and fulfillment. Once we started bringing on the right people, not only in technology, but also operations, sales and finance to foster scalable growth.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Never give up. Over the first couple of years I had figuratively fallen down on numerous occasions and had to pick myself up, dust off and continued to move forward. At first, it was hard to consider not giving up, or taking more risks, after a few times of coming out ahead, it became second nature that failure was not an option.

Finding good people that were willing to take a risk with me. Our technology provided the foundation for great service, but our people deliver every day for our clients… I personally have great satisfaction in creating jobs for people and doing good work for our clients.

The company eventually began to grow. Winning some key clients helped us further scale operations, open new facilities and expand our amazing team.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

Consumer expectations are high. There are disruptors in the marketplace that set expectations for free fulfillment services, free transportation and one hour delivery is the standard. Those “standards” are unrealistic.

Most e-commerce companies do not make money… We always hear the success stories… but the real track record of most online businesses is a struggle to grow and thrive, we continue to work with our clients to obtain success for them.

There are so many good resources available today including podcasts, TV Shows and YouTube. Listen to Ted Talks and shows like “how I built this”, even popular TV shows like Shark Tank and the Profit… all of these tools can provide insight to running a business. Even the simplest of ideas can turn your business for you.

Being a CEO sounds impressive, but it’s not for everyone. You need a diverse skill set, an optimistic soul and a pessimistic wallet… and leadership is a daunting role to play.

Building teams that know how to collaborate and work through issues is key. You can’t do it all yourself. You need to be able to delegate well and you shouldn’t do things that you are not capable of doing well.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Entrepreneurs are wired to work hard and usually get a charge out of the challenges. It is not surprising to endure peaks and valleys and you need to be prepared for the hardships that can take you away from a “normal life” (trying not to say work/life balance). That said, getting your vision into a business plan is critical at the start and surrounding yourself with great people is mandatory. Everyone needs to nurture their own existence with some fuel to avoid the burn… my dogs help me stay grounded — unconditional love and they make me get outside everyday. Maybe consider a dog friendly work environment, I’ve seen how they brighten the mood and it’s also great to have company on those late nights at the office.

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 had several great mentors in my sales career who emphasized building solid relationships internally and externally. I was always impressed by the business owner/founder who seemed to know everyone in the company by name and was in tune with all aspects of the operation.

Before starting Boxzooka, I witnessed an acquisition of a company with an entrepreneurial leader that impressed me, both with the business model and the straightforward approach dealing with people. It inspired me to say to myself “I can do that.”

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Scaling a business this rapidly has interrupted some of my personal goals around travel, beaches, ski runs, national parks, and family. I’m working on molding the next generation Boxzooka leaders and hope to shift to a more “balanced life” in the not too distant future.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

A quality business that gave a lot of people great careers and provided them with opportunities. Happy clients are a part of a lasting legacy.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

I don’t feel like a person of great influence. If I could start a movement that helped people have more fun in their lives it would be hugely satisfying… I’ll get to work on that tonight!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are @Boxzooka on Instagram and Facebook


Brendan Heegan of Boxzooka: “To be a successful CEO you need a diverse skill set, an optimistic… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.